Video Verdict: New DVDs for Oct. 28

(Left to right) Brendan Fraser, Josh Hutcherson and Anita Briem in "Journey to the Center of the Earth."

It’s an outstanding week for home video, particularly when it comes to family viewing. Not only has Disney released a new direct-to-DVD title, but we got a great family film from Abigail Breslin and an enjoyable remake of a science-fiction classic.

 
Journey to the Center of the Earth
3 stars (out of four)
Rated PG for intense adventure action and some scary moments
New Line Cinema
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray

As science-fiction films go, “Journey to the Center of the Earth” places the emphasis squarely on fiction, and that’s OK.

Anyone willing to buy into the concept of dinosaurs living within the Earth’s core shouldn’t much care that the plotting is ridiculous. The basic story — introduced in Jules Verne’s novel — has always been nutty, yet it’s still classic. In this version of the tale, Brendan Fraser plays Trevor Anderson, a scientist obsessed with finding his long-missing brother, Max.

Max believed the stories in Verne’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth” novel were based on fact, and he failed to return from an expedition to prove such. So, Trevor decides to embark on a similar adventure in hopes of finding Max and making scientific history.

Along with Max’s young son, Sean (Josh Hutcherson), and a mountain guide named Hannah (Anita Briem), Trevor begins an expedition in Iceland. In short order, the three explorers find themselves falling deep into the Earth’s core and learning that the fanciful stories in Verne’s novel are indeed true.

The storytelling is so silly that it can’t be taken seriously, but it’s also loads of fun. What’s more, the PG-rated action is intense enough to be interesting but not so overwhelming that it will scare most youngsters. That makes “Journey” a great movie for young families.

The DVD releases include 2-D and 3-D versions of the film, and the 3-D effects are great.

DVD extras include a commentary by Fraser and Brevig, a short feature on Hutcherson, and historical theories about our planet’s core.

 

Kit Kittredge: An American Girl
3 ½ stars
Rated G
New Line Cinema
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray
This wonderful feature is oh so timely in our trying economic times. Born from the American Girl doll and book franchise, the movie tells the story of Kit (Abigail Breslin), a 10-year-old living through the Great Depression in Cincinnati.

When Kit’s father (Chris O’Donnell) loses his car dealership, forcing him to leave home and look for work in Chicago, it turns life upside down. Doing whatever she can to keep their home, Kit’s kindly mother (Julia Ormond) takes in boarders who become part of the extended family.

The movie has the warm glow and conservative spirit of a picture made in the 1940s or 1950s, but the technical prowess of a modern effort. That’s a winning combination, and G rated films like this are too rare.

DVD extras are limited to trailers for other “American Girl” products and a handful of features available only to those with a computer DVD drive and internet connection.

 
Abbott & Costello: The Complete Universal Pictures Collection
4 stars
Unrated
Universal
Available on: DVD
The average movie fan may not be interested in all 28 films that Bud Abbott and Lou Costello made for Universal, but this set is a collector’s dream. It comes in an attractive cardboard chest packed with 15 discs containing the movies and numerous bonus features.

There are far too many titles to review individually, but most folks already know if they like Abbott and Costello. And fans will be in nirvana with this collection.

Of particular note this time of year are the titles “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” (1948), “Abbott and Costello Meet The Killer, Boris Karloff” (1949), “Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man” (1951), “Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (1953) and “Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy” (1955). As part of an early Halloween celebration, I watched “Frankenstein” with my 4- and 7-year-old sons, and it is amazing how well the storytelling holds up. The film is filled with slapstick moments, and features some terrific vintage performances, making it an outstanding choice for family viewing.

Abbott and Costello were about more than horror-comedies, so it’s important to note that the set also includes “In the Navy” (1941), “Buck Privates” (1941), “In Society” (1944), “Abbott and Costello Meet the Keystone Cops” (1955), and many more.

 
Tinker Bell
2 ½ stars
Rated G
Disney
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray
Everyone knows the story of Tinker Bell’s friendship with Peter Pan, but Tink’s origination was always a mystery … until now.

This direct-to-DVD title reveals where the famous Disney fairy came from, and it packs a valuable message about the need for varied talents and personalities in our world. Although the storytelling isn’t as layered as in most of Disney’s theatrical releases, it is strong enough to keep the interest of children.

“Tinker Bell” is also surprisingly beautiful for a direct-to-video title. The imagery is stunning throughout, surpassing the animation seen even in a handful of big screen features.

DVD extras include a guide to the fairy realm, a feature on how the filmmakers created it for screen, deleted scenes and a new music video.

 
Zombie Strippers
1 ½ stars
Available in an unrated version and the theatrical cut, which was rated R for strong violence and gore, sexuality/nudity and language
Sony Pictures
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray
Patterned after the low-budget horror-sexploitation films that were rampant in the 1970s, “Zombie Strippers” tells of a renegade zombie who escapes extermination to spread his curse to a Nebraska strip club.

When the joint’s top stripper (former porn star Jenna Jameson) gets massacred on stage, it looks like bad news for the club owner, Ian (Robert Englund). But when she mysteriously reanimates and takes the stage again, it becomes clear that men find zombie strippers even hotter than regular gals. In fact, the live nude girls have difficulty competing with the undead, so some of them willingly convert.

As the title suggests, there is plenty of nudity and an equal amount of over-the-top gore. Unfortunately, there aren’t as many laughs as the goofy premise would suggest.

It’s fairly clear that writer-director Jay Lee wanted “Zombie Strippers” to be like “Planet Terror,” the excellent B-movie homage director Robert Rodriguez delivered last year. The potential was there but the execution isn’t witty or loose enough to merit a recommendation … even at Halloween.

Special DVD features include two making-of features, deleted scenes, and a commentary with Jameson, Englund, Medina and director Jay Lee.

 
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK


“Hell Ride”: Executive producer Quentin Tarantino teamed with writer-director Larry Bishop to make this homage to the motorcycle flicks of the 1960s and ’70s. Dennis Hopper, Michael Madsen and Vinnie Jones star as bikers looking for vengeance against a rival motorcycle gang that killed one of their loved ones.

“Animal House” — 30th Anniversary Edition Gift Set: This memorable 1978 comedy about college kids behaving badly has achieved cult status. It’s been released on DVD numerous times before, but this two-disc set — packaged in a frat house-shaped box — includes the film, a new documentary about it and exclusive Scene-It games. John Belushi, Tim Matheson, John Vernon, Verna Bloom and Tom Hulce star.

“The Polar Express” 3-D: It may be bad form to start talking Christmas before the Halloween decorations are down, but there’s no denying the quality of this 2004 animated picture about kids who take a magical ride to the North Pole. This release marks the first time the film has been available on Blu-ray, and both regular and Blu-ray editions come with special glasses and the option of 3-D viewing.

“Mystery Science Theater 3000” — 20th Anniversary Edition: In this bizarre television series, an oddball collection of supposed space travelers provide humorous commentary for terrible B-movies. The set includes four of the show’s most-requested episodes plus a collection of bonus content.

“Dale Earnhardt 10 Greatest Wins”: NASCAR fans can relive some of the late driver’s greatest moments on the track with this five-disc collection. Featured races are the 1984 Talladega 500, the 1987 Winston, the 1989 Southern 500, the 1993 Coca-Cola 600, the 1995 Busch Clash, the 1995 Brickyard 400, the 1995 Save Mart Supermarkets 300, the 1998 Daytona 500, the 2000 Cracker Barrel 500 and the 2000 Winston 500.

Complete television series sets: As studios gear up for the holidays, they’re trotting out an increasing number of large, multi-disc sets designed for gift giving. This is a particularly busy week, as complete collections of more than five television series are hitting stores. The shows range from relatively new — “The 4400” — to old-time classics — “The Little Rascals,” “The Flintstones,” “Sanford and Son.” And, of course, there are a couple that fall in between — “Newsradio” and “Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman.” All of these sets have suggested retail prices exceeding $50, but you get a lot of viewing for the money.

 

Forrest Hartman is a film critic for the Reno Gazette-Journal, KTVN-TV (Reno), Alice Radio (Reno), the Free Daily Observer (Hotchkiss, CO) and New Jersey Voice. Contact him at forrest@forresthartman.com.

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