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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

TheaterByte’s 2021 Film Anniversary Roundup

Surely the collective global entertainment biz doesn’t have any sort of crystal ball, but 2021 has turned out to be a prophetic year in an industry that loves celebrating their own milestones. We’ve witnessed a diverse roster of movies and TV shows revisited with new special editions on Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD over the past few months: I’ll leave most of the math to you, dear reader, as together we span the years in nice round multiples of five. Let’s take a trip, chronologically….


It’s a Wonderful Life 75th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray (Paramount)

[also It’s a Wonderful Life: The Official Bailey Family Cookbook Gift Set (Insight Editions)]

This could have just as easily gone on our Holiday Gift Guide list, but no matter: The 75th anniversary is as good a reason as any to revisit this Christmastime (Jimmy) stalwart that still brings a tear to many an eye. Joining black-and-white and colorized presentations on separate platters for this slightly giftier edition is a small set of recipe cards culled from Insight Editions’ recent Official Bailey Family Cookbook. If the dishes whet your appetite, you can pick up the whole tome (link below), available with or without a coordinated, quotable IaWL apron. On Blu-ray, three above-average featurettes explore the restoration, the nuts-and-bolts of the production hosted by filmmakers/historians Craig Barron and Ben Burtt (!) and some priceless footage from the original wrap party. (For those who wish to celebrate in 4K instead, an Ultra HD disc was released by Paramount in 2019.)


The Guns of Navarone 4K (Sony)

This World War II classic is one of the quintessential guy movies, with director J. Lee Thompson bringing Alistair MacLean’s bestseller to the screen with patriotic thrills and suspense, as a commando unit must overcome impossible odds to destroy a Nazi weapon emplacement in Greece. In fact, I did not properly grasp the affection that audiences have for this movie until I watched the three retrospective documentaries ported here, made years apart, including 2000’s especially excellent “Memories of Navarone,” alongside many featurettes and twin commentaries. Restored for the anniversary, the movie is gorgeous as it maintains that era-appropriate look, organic in all aspects including the Oscar-winning effects, while the soundtrack is reborn in bombastic Dolby Atmos.


A Clockwork Orange 4K (Warner)

Anathema in is day for its unapologetic depiction of sex and violence, hence X-rated in its initial release (a decision later softened to R by the MPAA), A Clockwork Orange remains Stanley Kubrick’s most shocking work. Part sci-fi, part comedy, part political statement, the film is ponderous and ultimately lifted by the dark charisma of star Malcolm McDowell as Alex, leader of a violent street gang in an unhappy future that I’m glad to say never came to pass. Graced with an overall crisper image flaunting a respectful preservation of grain and appropriate nuance to the color palette, down to the pasty complexions, overcast British exteriors, and goofy-as-hell “futuristic” production design. An assortment of legacy content is carried over in both SD and HD, in addition to the archived commentary by star Malcom McDowell and the late film historian Nick Redman, thankfully accessible on the 4K disc as well as the bundled 1080p Blu-ray.

(Contributing Editor’s NOTE: This is the same year and studio as the polar-opposite Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, its 4K release reviewed in depth by Brandon and included in my Summer 2021 roundup.)

Harold and Maude Blu-ray (Paramount)

As I get older, I appreciate love stories that offer a mature perspective beyond boy-meets-girl (see also: Up). Such is the case with the unique relationship between a troubled youngster (Bud Cort) and a free-spirited septuagenarian (the incomparable Ruth Gordon) whose escapades together affect them both in very deep, very different ways. It’s such a beautiful, original tale, and I can’t imagine how moviegoers reacted, half a century ago. This is another wonderful Paramount Presents edition (#29 to be precise) and in place of the more common “Filmmaker Focus” featurette we’re given a new audio commentary by filmmaker Cameron Crowe and screenwriter Larry Karaszewski sharing their appreciation for Collin Higgins and Hal Ashby’s work, plus a new sit-down with Yusuf/Cat Stevens, discussing his songs which are essential to the mood and narrative of the film.

Night Gallery Season One Blu-ray (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)

Audiences couldn’t get enough of the mind-bending tales of the supernatural pioneered by Rod Serling with his Twilight Zone, and so its full-color offspring, Night Gallery, brought us to a museum of sorts where each story was represented by an unusual painting unveiled by our host. It began with the 1969 pilot movie directed in part by young Steven Spielberg and co-starring screen legend Joan Crawford, leading to a mere half-dozen first-season episodes airing into 1971, hence its inclusion here. KLSC has brought the show back from the dead in fine 1080p form, far beyond its premiere broadcast quality, including new 2K scans of the 35mm interpositives for the pilot and six weekly installments. Eight new audio commentaries curate a variety of expert voices brimming with insight, in addition to a featurette about the show’s troubled existence in syndication and a handy episode guide for us to leaf through.


Reds Blu-ray

Ragtime Blu-ray (both Paramount)

A blend of fact and fiction given life by a menagerie of acting talent the likes of which we may never see again, Warren Beatty’s Reds is a sprawling romantic drama set against the backdrop of World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution that will keep viewers riveted for all of its three-plus hours. Owing to that runtime, all extras are parked on a second platter, a vast menagerie of archival content in SD, while the HD movie was newly mastered from a 4K scan of the camera negative, supervised by director Beatty (who won the Oscar here) and approved by Vittorio Storaro (who copped his own statuette for the cinematography).

Director Milos Forman’s adaptation of E.L. Doctorow’s 1975 novel about racial injustice in early 20th century New York, Ragtime gathered another astounding cast, this one led by the legendary James Cagney, who emerged from retirement for the occasion. It’s a very American story, interweaving history with drama that highlights the shortcomings of our society, shining a light on how far we’ve come and where we still need to go. The studio has gone all out for this two-disc Paramount Presents set, with another beautiful 4K remaster (again at 2K), deleted/extended scenes, a retrospective featurette, an archival commentary plus a never-before-released “director’s cut workprint” version–longer and understandably less slick–on the second platter.

(Editor’s Note: Films are also available digitally from Paramount in 4K UHD with Dolby Vision and/or HDR10)

  • Read our full review of Reds (Paramount Presents)
  • Read our full review of Ragtime (Paramount Presents)


“Crocodile” Dundee Trilogy (Paramount)

I’m sure I’ve said it before in this space, that comedy sequels are the hardest to successfully execute, but perhaps Paul Hogan did his best to ride the wave of Crocodile Dundee’s inexplicable success, starring as an affable Aussie in a string of sometimes-hard-to-categorize action-comedies. The original was a blockbuster second only to ‘86’s champ Top Gun (what a year for Paramount!), Crocodile Dundee II managed to keep his streak going with another odds-defying smash two years later, although perhaps due to a 13-year hiatus, his trip to Hollywood for Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles earned the review, “That’s not a flop… this is a flop!” Digital copies of all three are included.


The Addams Family 4K (Paramount)

Former cinematographer and first-time director Barry Sonnenfeld’s visual flair and comedic sensibilities were just what The Addams Family needed to evolve from comic strip and TV to the big screen. With humor more gleeful than truly dark, it remains delicious fun for all, enlivened by perfectly chosen actors for each member of the clan. This stunning Dolby Vision disc serves up both theatrical and “More Mamushka” versions, the latter just a tad longer for its expansion of a song with extra footage of Raul Julia as patriarch Gomez, which is an undisputed treat. Sonnenfeld provides a short new intro to explain, plus a Filmmaker Focus.


Scream 4K (Paramount)

Perhaps owing to screenwriter Kevin Williamson’s sly, postmodern take on the slasher genre, Scream still holds up remarkably well after all these years. It’s smart when it wants to be, funny when it should be, and as scary is it must be in order to work as a bona fide thriller at its heart, when an idyllic town is suddenly targeted by a relentless serial killer. Rebooted, spun off and cloned galore, the original is still the best, and certainly worthy of this terrific new native 4K, Dolby Vision remaster, adorned with the best of legacy extras and a brief, kinda-decent new 25-year featurette.

  • Read our full review of Scream on 4K Ultra HD

Superman: The Animated Series Blu-ray (Warner)

Not content to merely ape the expectation-busting success of Batman: The Animated Series, Superman enlisted much of the same talent to create a very different animal. The gloomy nights of Gotham were replaced by the optimistic, futuristic daytime exteriors of Metropolis, while the storylines leaned hard into the realms of fantasy and science fiction instead of gritty crime noir. Of course, the universe is shared and the character design was sufficiently similar to make crossovers possible, leading to some of the most memorable episodes, alongside major-league guest heroes and a truly shocking series finale, all given flight by an exceptional voice cast led by Tim Daly and Dana Delany as Kal-El and Lois. This silver anniversary set sees all 54 episodes together in punchy 4:3 HD with a great new featurette and a few old extras including a total of four commentary tracks. So now… where’s Justice League Unlimited on Blu-ray?

Beavis and Butt-Head Do America Blu-ray (Paramount)

For animated heroes of a different sort, there’s the duo from Highland who, three short years after their debut on MTV, proved so popular that the boob tube could no longer contain their pungent brand of idiocy. Apart from the early DVD releases of their adventures (which infuriated the true fans), this feature film was their first foray without the safety net of the music videos for which they provided running commentary. Instead, they must trek across the U.S. of A. in search of their missing television, meeting an array of colorful characters (voiced by the likes of Bruce Willis, Demi Moore, Robert Stack and Cloris Leachman) and the gambit paid off, giving us a memorable and enduring PG-13 comedy, finally on Blu-ray. (While production values improved overall from the series, these lads won’t be winning any beauty pageants.) Creator/director/writer/actor Mike Judge offers his musings, joined in his full-length track by animation director Yvette Kaplan, this in addition to a couple of solid featurettes and a handful of relevant clips. all ported from DVD if I’m not mistaken..


Vanilla Sky Blu-ray (Paramount)

Paramount Presents’ cavalcade o’ Cameron Crowe love continues with Vanilla Sky, his reunion with Tom Cruise by way of an English-language Abre los ojos (Open Your Eyes) remake with Ojos co-star Penélope Cruz. (Interestingly, that same year, Nicole Kidman–Cruise’s wife at the time–starred in The Others, written and directed by Ojos auteur Alejandro Amenábar.) It’s a twisty and often creepy journey, although the ending is not universally satisfying. The great many previously released special features carried over here are highlighted by an audio commentary from Crowe with then-wife Nancy Wilson, who wrote the music for the film, in addition to a new Filmmaker Focus featurette.

(Editor’s Note: Vanilla Sky is also available digitally from Paramount in 4K Ultra HD with Dolby Vision and/or HDR10)

  • Read our full review of Vanilla Sky (Paramount Presents)


Batman: Year One 4K (Warner)

For fans of writer Frank Miller and artist David Mazzuchelli’s original four-issue run, one thing becomes apparent upon first viewing: This is the most faithful adaptation of any comic book tale among the many DCU Animated movies thus far. And for good reason: “Year One” is taut perfection, taking the reader from January to December of young Bruce Wayne’s first annum returned to Gotham City after a decade studying crimefighting craft abroad. He’s ready to put his newfound skills to work, but he’s going to make painful mistakes on the way to becoming the Dark Knight we know and fear. His story also parallels that of a newly arrived Jim Gordon, destined to be commissioner but not before he overcomes his own demons and cleans up this town, with his bare fists if necessary. No fluff, no filler, for a brisk, thoroughly enjoyable 66 minutes. In 2011, Bryan Cranston was already a real “get” to voice Lieutenant Gordon, and who knew that star Ben McKenzie (Bruce Wayne/Batman) would go on to play Gordon himself in the weekly Gotham? The included HD Blu-ray ports the existing audio commentary, two substantial mini-documentaries, the animated Catwoman short, and there’s a new featurette about the man who would be the GCPD’s commish.


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