This week’s major home video releases are limited to a teen drama about a young man with unusual powers and an animated adaptation of one of William Shakespeare’s best-loved tragedies.
Gnomeo & Juliet
2½ stars (out of four)
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, digital download and on demand
Not many writers continue to have their work celebrated centuries after their deaths, but its nothing new for William Shakespeare. Over the years, we’ve seen countless remakes, modernizations and spinoffs of the Bard’s stories.
It should therefore come as no surprise that a clever group of filmmakers has decided to serve up an animated take on what is perhaps his most famous work: “Romeo and Juliet.” What is more surprising is that said filmmakers, led by co-writer and director Kelly Asbury (“Shrek 2”), decided to tell the story through the eyes of plaster garden gnomes. It’s a clever premise, but the translation falls short in large part because Asbury has removed all things heartbreaking from a play that is, first and foremost, a tragedy.
The movie is set in England, where two neighbors with immaculate gardens are harboring an ongoing feud. On one side we have a gentleman named Capulet who populates his spectacular yard with gnomes that favor red clothing. On the other side, is a woman named Montague who goes for blue. Their quarrels, of course, extend to their gardens, where the Montague and Capulet gnomes have long bullied one another. Then, young Gnomeo Montague happens upon the impetuous Juliet Capulet and sparks fly.
The animation is brilliant, and the gnomes and other garden denizens are beautifully rendered. Sadly, the visuals are diminished by the fact that the story never takes off. The plotting will be so familiar to anyone who has read or seen “Romeo and Juliet” that surprises are scarce, yet Asbury and company altered many of the darkest and most compelling moments in the story. They do maintain the death of a high-profile Capulet, but even his tragic undoing is downplayed. And the well-known ending has, of course, been turned family friendly.
“Gnomeo & Juliet” also features a soundtrack by pop star Elton John. Although there’s no debating the quality of his tunes, the use of such well-known songs as “Saturday Night’s All Right for Fighting” and “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” seem forced. In other words, the songs don’t serve the story so much as the story seems designed to serve the songs.
DVD extras are limited to a music video and a couple making-of featurettes. The Blu-ray releases include those features plus two alternate endings, a collection of deleted and alternate scenes and a bit about Ozzy Osbourne, who did some voice work for the film.
I Am Number Four
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and for brief language
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand
Just like “Smallville,” the long-running TV series about Superman’s early years, “I Am Number Four” attempts to blend the drama of teen angst with fantasy action. Trouble is, “Smallville” did it better, particularly during the show’s early seasons.
The parallels between “Number Four” and “Smallville” are plentiful, down to the fact that the protagonists of both are alien beings who look exactly like humans. In “Smallville,” viewers got Superman, a baby jettisoned to Earth before his home world exploded. In “Number Four” they get John Smith (Alex Pettyfer), one of the last living members of his civilization. John got a rawer deal than Supes, though. He is not only stuck on Earth trying to come to terms with life as an outsider, he and the handful of others like him are being hunted by the alien warriors who destroyed their civilization. That means he can’t develop lasting friendships because each time he settles in, the baddies get close and force him and his protector (Timothy Olyphant) to coin new identities and move on.
John is more than a little tired of this drill, and when he meets a beautiful blonde named Sarah (Dianna Agron of TV’s “Glee”), he grows determined to stop running. Like Superman, John’s alien form comes with a few special powers that he’s slowly learning to harness, and that sets the scene for a third act that is literally explosive.
Unfortunately, the whole venture seems formulaic and tired. We have the misunderstood teen who wants to fit in. We have the bad guys determined to bring him down. And we have the beautiful, but seemingly unattainable, love interest. The fact that John’s journey parallels that of one of the best-known comic book heroes of all time doesn’t help either.
DVD extras are limited to bloopers and a featurette on the making of the film. The Blu-ray release includes those bits plus a collection of deleted scenes.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
“Lemonade Mouth”: Disney Channel original movie about five high school students who meet in detention and form an extraordinary rock band. Bridgit Mendler and Adam Hicks star. Directed by Patricia Riggen.
“The Great Dictator”: Criterion Collection release of Charlie Chaplin’s first full-fledged talkie. The 1940 movie was meant as an attack on Adolf Hitler, and it tells the story of a Jewish barber who is mistaken for a cruel dictator. Chaplin played both roles, and he also wrote and directed the film.
“Solaris”: Also from the Criterion Collection, this Russian drama from 1972 tells the story of a cosmonaut sent to investigate mysterious transmissions from a space station. Once there, he begins to experience bizarre phenomena. Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky and presented in Russian with English subtitles.
Kids in the Hall releases: Fans of The Kids in the Hall comedy troupe have two releases to choose from this week: “The Complete Series Megaset” and “Death Comes to Town.” As the title indicates, the “Megaset” packs all five seasons of The Kids in the Hall sketch comedy series onto 22 discs. “Death Comes to Town” is an eight-part mini-series that aired on IFC last fall. In that release, the Kids tell a story about Death visiting a small Canadian town.
“Ice Road Truckers – Deadliest Roads” – Season One: This spinoff of the original “Ice Road Truckers” reality show follows drivers as they navigate India’s treacherous Himalayan highways.
“Childrens Hospital” – The Complete First and Second Seasons: Originally created as a short, Web-based show, this spoof of medical dramas graduated to the Adult Swim block of programming on Cartoon Network. Included on this set are 22 short episodes from a cast that includes Megan Mullally, Lake Bell, Malin Ackerman, Henry Winkler and series creator Rob Corddry.
“The Big Bang”: Direct-to-video drama about a Los Angeles-based private investigator (Antonio Banderas) who is hired to find a missing woman with a valuable stash of jewels. Sam Elliott, Snoop Dogg, James Van Der Beek, William Fichtner, Delroy Lindo and Autumn Reeser also star. Directed by Tony Krantz.
“Anton Chekhov’s The Duel”: New adaptation of Chekhov’s 1891 novella about two men whose drastically different outlooks on life pull them toward a duel to the death. Andrew Scott, Fiona Glascott and Tobias Menzies star. Directed by Dover Kosashvili.
“The Unknown War – WWII and the Epic Battles of the Russian Front”: Twenty-part documentary television series that originally aired in the late 1970s. The show, which is hosted and narrated by Burt Lancaster, focuses on the Soviet struggle against Nazi Germany.
“Capadocia – Un Lugar Sin Perdon”: This Spanish-language TV series focuses on a group of women living in an experimental jail in Mexico City. The set, released by HBO, features 13, hour-long episodes presented in Spanish with English subtitles.
– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. For more of his work visit http://www.ForrestHartman.com. E-mail him at Forrest@ForrestHartman.com.