Spinning Discs: Whole New Worlds

Written by Film, Spinning Discs

Two hits and a ms.

A generation before Aladdin was a hit Broadway musical, it was the biggest hit movie of 1992. A spectacular Blu-ray edition shows why, and my favorite musical comedy from that golden era of Disney looks as spiffy as a freshly scrubbed lamp. Truly blue blues, drop-dead reds, pulsating pinks–it’s all that. Plus, awesome, a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track that had the kids diving under the couch as the flying carpet seemed to whiz inches from their ears and lava and serpents poured out from our screen. Perfection.

And–Robin Williams. If the movie has a flaw, it’s that he let fly with topical humor that is already puzzling to anyone millennial or younger. (Ed Sullivan impersonations may already have been past their sell-by date in the aborning Clinton era.) But–Robin Williams, in the only medium, animation, that could really contain his multitudes. Such tremendous enthusiasm, and firing away on all cylinders. It’s a tribute to the actual script that it’s sturdy enough to allow other performers, including Gilbert Gottfried as the squawky Iago and Jonathan Freeman as Jafar (my vote for the greatest of the Disney villains), to do some of their best work. Woven throughout the tapestry is that lovely, boisterous Oscar-winning score. Aladdin is perilously close to being an “old movie” now–so, welcome, old friend, into my man cave to delight new viewers.

Speaking of new–supplements, to go along with the prior ones from past DVDs (when Jessica Simpson was happening) in this sparkling Diamond Edition. We get, in HD, a few minutes with co-producers/co-directors Ron Clements and Jon Musker, about their long association; a tie-in feature, hosted by Darren Criss, about the Broadway show, a worthwhile adaptation; a “Genie 101” piece untangling some of those now-obscure references for small fry; and recording studio outtakes spotlighting Williams. (Yes, the Narrator was supposed to be revealed as the Genie at the end, but that went unrealized on film–maybe you just thought that detail was in there, but it never was.) That featurette ends with a warm tribute to the performer. Aladdin used to leave us laughing; today, via this first-rate Blu-ray, it leaves us with an affectionate tear.

Jurassic World is to the boxoffice of 2015 what Aladdin was to the boxoffice of its day, No. 1. Time will tell if the force will reawaken forcefully enough to overtake it. Right now, we have it on Blu-ray, with or without a 3D disc. Having seen both, I can say, “without” is my preferred viewing option. I can also say that my Epson projector setup is much better at finessing 3D than any theater in New York City (seriously), so it extends the “2.5D” I’m always complaining about to maybe 2.75D–bringing Indominus Rex a shade closer to my face, but still not close enough to justify the added expense. The movie is full of potential “pop-out” effects that veer off at the last second, each a missed opportunity for third-dimensional fun.

Missed opportunities abound in Jurassic World, a movie that’s just OK enough to translate to audiences worldwide, and no more. (Movies like this are like benign viruses, which get you into the theater, then pass from you the second you leave your seat, sated but mildly annoyed.) The plotting is perfunctory when not plain silly, the performances unremarkable. (The insufferable Bryce Dallas Howard gets another career extension, sigh.) What it has is the aw shucks charm of Chris Pratt, an actor Howard Hawks might have really done something with back in the 30s and 40s, and, dinosaurs. Lots of dinosaurs, coming out of the woodwork, and my speakers, in room-shaking DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, and right up to my eyeballs in a stunning transfer. Almost up to them, that is. (The 2D Blu-ray is darker and more refined in appearance, too.)

The supplementary material is decent, with Pratt and director Colin Trevorrow chatting about reviving the franchise after almost 15 years, some deleted scenes, and a good deal about the production and the effects, which is all anyone really cares about. A movie that’s ostensibly about restoring magic to our perceptions of prehistoric life settles for a thrill ride instead. Maybe it’s enough: good, bad, of indifferent, I’ll be back for the fifth installment, which has to end with the one character retained from the 1993 original dying a horrible, toothy death. It’s time.

91+94LT+X8L._SL1500_“It” actress Alicia Vikander–now, there’s an animatronic I can relate to. The actress, the soul of the machine in the indie hit Ex Machina, is in a bunch of movies this year, and is said to steal away the Oscar hopeful The Danish Girl from the actor playing the transgendered title role, Eddie Redmayne. There’s nothing quite so extraordinary going on in the BBC Films adaptation of Testament of Youth, except that Vikander quite credibly delineates the personal transformation of author Vera Brittain, a noted feminist and pacifist who came of age during the First World War.

It’s quite a story, handsomely filmed in that “BBC” way, but one that gets its hands bloodied. Brittain first upended convention by studying at Oxford in 1914. War brought her patient fiance, Roland (Game of Thrones star Kit Harington), beloved brother Edward (Taron Egerton, from Kingsman: The Secret Service), and two of their friends to the front lines. Brittain would follow, as a nurse, dispatched to London, Malta, and France. The experience reshaped her life. We see the war as she did–no battles, nor heroics, just bodies waiting to be bandaged, or buried. This is a quiet movie (written by Juliette Towhidi) that seethes at the horrors of war, and the mundane lot of women like herself, who were expected to know their place. (Dominic West and Emily Watson are the uncomprehending parents who try to keep Vera in hers.)

Testament of Youth is an ideal respite from thrills this week in home video, sturdy, and steady, in all regards. Extras are deleted scenes, a making-of, and a decent commentary track with Harington and director James Kent, Vikander being rather too busy these days to chat.