Although Genesis has stayed away from the studio since 1997’s poorly-received (and Phil Collins-less) Calling All Stations, the band hasn’t given their fans much reason to complain: Over the past 11 years they’ve released six boxed sets, covering studio material, rarities, and live concerts. The seventh and final in the set is Genesis: The Movie Box 1981–2007. The set includes five DVDs, including two concerts new to the format, all with new 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital sound mixes. Though it’s not without its faults, the box is a fine addition to the Genesis collection, and will appeal to anyone who’s enjoyed the band live in concert throughout its tenure as a pop group.

The Movie Box opens with Three Sides Live, available for the first time on DVD. Chronicling two New York performances from the 1981 Abacab tour, the band is in fantastic shape, though Collins’ voice shows a few signs of wear and tear on some of the higher notes in songs like “Abacab.” The video, already dark and grainy, has been cleaned up as best as one could expect, but the audio — particularly the DTS mix — is phenomenal. As with the original video release, many of the songs are interspersed with behind-the-scenes clips, giving the concert more of a “documentary” feel. While the clips are interesting — Collins taking calls on-air at Philly’s WMMR and a stage technician opening up one of Banks’ many synthesizers are some of the highlights — die-hard fans might be irritated that many of the songs are not fully complete in form. A number of songs, including obscurities like 1971’s “Fountain of Salamacis,” are available as audio-only tracks.

The Mama Tour, also being released on DVD for the first time, features the band once again operating on all cylinders, despite some unfortunate fashion choices. Collins is particularly engaging, maintaining a stage persona that delivers all the way to the back of the house, especially on songs like “Mama” and “Home By the Sea.” Always entertaining, Collins dons a tweed jacket and a boom box for “Illegal Alien,” playing the crowd recorded snippets of “Owner of a Lonely Heart” and “Jump,” which charmingly dates the show. (The inclusion of “Karma Chameleon” in an end-of-show medley achieves the same effect.) Once again, the sound quality is terrific. The main bonus feature on this DVD is a documentary filmed by Collins during the recording of the 1983 Genesis album, using a primitive personal camcorder. As an artifact from an earlier time, it’s certainly interesting — both the band and their crew have no idea how to react to the camera recording their more intimate, “working” moments, and much is made of producer Hugh Padgham physically splicing bits of tape together –but clocking in at 80 minutes, it’s about 50 minutes too long. Additionally, most of the video doesn’t feature the most charismatic member of the band, as he was behind the camera. Even those of us who could listen to the “Mama” drum track for hours on end will struggle to make it through.

By 1987’s Invisible Touch tour, the band had graduated from arenas to stadiums, playing to a crowd of 300,000 on the next disc, Live at Wembley Stadium. While this disc contains some of my favorite performances — particularly “Mama,” “Domino” and “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight,” this film hasn’t aged particularly well. The video quality is, for lack of a better word, very “’80s.” And while the disc logically focuses on newer material, the absence of a few older songs (like the “In the Cage/Slippermen/Cinema Show/Afterglow” medley performed on this tour), present on the previous discs, is noted. However, 1987 and Invisible Touch featured the band at the height of their pop stardom, and their resulting energy is palpable, proving that the transition to larger audiences didn’t have a negative effect on their performances. The behind-the-scenes tour film Visible Touch is also included here, and is mercifully shorter than the previous disc’s documentary.

By 1992’s The Way We Walk — Live in Concert, the band was a well-oiled, stadium-touring machine, and while the performances are all fantastic, the band has less to prove — and it’s noticeable. Though the visuals are great, and the “Old Medley” has finally been awesomely expanded upon (nice to see “Dance on a Volcano” and “The Musical Box” get their due, as well as one of my favorites, “Firth of Fifth”), it’s not enough to shake the feeling that the band is starting to get swallowed up by their huge set and mega video screens. Collins’ intro to “Domino” is almost exactly the same as the one used on the previous tour — a mildly amusing bit of audience participation that has lost its charm by this point. The concert was originally released on DVD in 2002 with a multi-angle viewing option, which has now been removed.

The final disc in the series is an expanded version of their 1999 VH1 Behind the Music special, updated to include the band’s reunion earlier this decade. If you’re a BHM junkie like I am, you’ll appreciate the additional footage and interviews with Collins, Banks and Rutherford.

Meticulous care has been put into The Movie Box. It’s beautifully designed, with a jewelcase for each disc, as well as a fantastic booklet containing many photos and a detailed essay about its contents. However, the coverage of each disc is uneven: while the Invisible Touch tour gets one page of text, for example, The Way We Walk only gets two paragraphs. And the most coverage — nearly four pages —  is afforded to Genesis’ most recent live DVD, When In Rome 2007. There’s only one problem: When In Rome 2007 isn’t actually included in the box. The official stance seems to be that the DVD set (as well as its accompanying documentary, Come Rain or Shine) was left out of the box because it was only recently made available for purchase (before this release), and the band/label didn’t want fans to have to buy it twice. While that sounds plausible, they still went to the effort of actually including not only an additional jewelcase in the set for When In Rome 2007 (plus a 14-page additional photo booklet), but three black circular papers that look like CDs and say “This space is reserved for your copy of When In Rome 2007.” I can’t imagine it would’ve cost the label that much more to include three actual CDs — or they could’ve left out the jewelcase and liner notes instead. This decision seems unnecessarily chintzy and a ploy to get people who haven’t purchased the 2007 set to do so, in order to fill the empty space in their box.

This one move notwithstanding, The Movie Box is well worth the purchase for Genesis fans. While not all four concerts are equal, they’re all entertaining, and do a great job of displaying the genius ensemble work and power of the individual members — most notably Banks, doing things on his many keyboards that just don’t seem humanly possible. And though this incarnation of Genesis has always been primarily known as a three-piece, The Movie Box spends plenty of time highlighting the outstanding artistry of guitarist/bassist Daryl Stuermer and drummer Chester Thompson, and really tracks the journey of a five-piece gaining their footing within a new genre, and ruling the stage with musical excellence and style.

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Jason Hare

Jason Hare used to love Christmas. He feels differently now.

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