DVD of the Week – ‘The Mummy: Universal Legacy Series’ July 8, 2008

There are actually a bunch of Mummy special editions coming out from Universal, not so coincidentally in anticipation of the new “Mummy Goes East” sequel The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor,” with Brendan Fraser taking on an ancient Jet Li (with the help of Michelle Yeoh). But I’m not referring to the “Raiders of the Lost Tomb” action-movie reboot of the classic monster movie but the 1932 original with Boris Karloff. While not the equal of the genre-defining Frankenstein and Dracula, it launched its own series of mummy-karloff.jpgsequels, none of which were nearly as evocative as the original.

The great cinematographer Karl Freund (whose resume includes Metropolis and Dracula) made his directorial debut here, creating a film that is all languid pacing, deep stares, and delicate, shadowy photography. While sedate and ageless on the big screen, it makes a less successful transition to the small screen, slowing to a crawl in its most leisurely moments. But it’s still a lushly photographed classic with a marvelous performances by the mesmerizing Karloff, as the former high priest embalmed alive for his forbidden love and awakened as a mummy 4,000 years later by a British expedition, and the haunted Zita Johan (in her only Universal horror turn) as the reincarnation of his ancient love.

The two-disc set includes two commentary tracks and a bunch of featurettes, but the essential supplements is Kevin Brownlow’s 1998 documentary Universal Horrors. Originally shown on Turner Classic Movies, this was the first production from film historian and silent-movie expert Brownlow since the death of his long-time filmmaking partner David Gill and it’s not as rich or magical as his earlier documentaries on cinema history (among them Unknown Chaplin, Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow and the silent film history masterpiece Hollywood), but it’s still one of the smartest, most informed and most well-made film documentaries you’ll have the pleasure to see on DVD. And true to Brownlow’s expertise, it’s all well grounded in the great expressionist horror films if the twenties that influenced the gothic style of the Universal’s early thirties monster movie masterpieces.

Read my complete review here on my MSN DVD column.

 

In keeping with the theme of cashing in on summer movie advertising blitzes (and, they hope, box-office blockbusters) is the direct-to-DVD animated feature Batman: Gotham Knight:

The stories are set between the live action movies “Batman Begins” and the upcoming “The Dark Knight,” but the tales draw from the Batman mythos past and present and the highly stylized and visually dynamic style comes from the various Japanese animation studios and directors helming the production. Kevin Conroy, the definitive voice of the animated Batman, returns to voice the Gotham Knight, and the supporting voice cast includes Gary Dourdan, Ana Ortiz, Parminder Nagra and David McCallum (as Alfred).

Read my complete review here.

Here’s a digest of the other DVD releases featured on my MSN column:

Movies: Kimberly Peirce’s Stop-Loss, The Tracey Fragments with Ellen Page, and the genre spoof Superhero Movie:

In all the copycat spoofing since Scary Movie revived the genre, Craig Mazin is the closest to recapturing the Airplane!-styled sight gags and rapid-fire delivery since David Zucker himself. They may not all connect but Mazin doesn’t linger and he avoids the tired TV gags and pop culture references that have clogged so many recent movie spoofs for more imaginative jokes. It’s hardly genius, but Superhero Movie at least understands that with the great power of filmmaking comes great responsibility: to be funny.

TV: new seasons (Monk: Season Six and Psych: The Complete Second Season), final seasons (I Dream of Jeannie: The Complete Fifth Season and Soul Food – The Series: The Final Season), and he debut cannon.gifreleases of Cannon: Season One Volume One and Jake and the Fatman: Season One Volume One:

High-living private investigator Frank Cannon (William Conrad) is considered the biggest and the best P-I in Los Angeles. That’s not the last fat joke you’re going to get, either in this review or in the series, which was launched in 1971 in a two-hour TV movie that establishes his tastes and his style. “I like to work alone,” he explains to a small town cop when asked why he left the LAPD, and so he does, taking clients and tracking clues without a receptionist, an assistant, or associates of any kind. He does, however, conduct a lot of business over food (both fine cuisine and home cooking) and snacks (he has a sweet tooth for stick candy). And while there is the unintentional humor of watching the hefty Conrad try to run after bad guys or hustle off to corner a witness, his girth does give him an advantage in fights: his punches pack a serious wallop and he can barrel through a crowd like a bull.

Special Releases: Mon oncle Antoine from Criterion, The Mummy (1999): 2-Disc Deluxe Edition and The Mummy Returns: 2-Disc Deluxe Edition, and Jet Li’s Fearless: Director’s Cut:

Jet Li plays real life Chinese folk hero Huo Yuanjia, the spiritual guru of Wu Shu, in this labor of love martial arts drama…. This new edition features the previously released PG-13 American and unrated international versions, plus the American debut of the “Director’s Cut,” which runs 35 minutes longer and features an entire deleted subplot starring Michelle Yeoh.

And a quick FYI: Blu-ray versions of the 1999 The Mummy and sequel The Mummy Returns come out later in July.

Blu-ray: As The Dark Knight prepares to swing into theaters, the 2005 cinematic make-over gets a re-release to remind us just how Batman Begins:

Christopher Nolan’s moody take on the character was inspired by the violent tales of the early comic books, the brooding comic book rebirth of the seventies and Frank Miller’s gritty revision of Batman’s early days with young Lt. Jim Gordon. The intense Christian Bale is an inspired choice for the part and he and Nolan get the character right: it’s Batman who is the real persona and millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne the secret identity, not a reprieve from crime-fighting but a carefully built and cultivated identity created to distract from his real work. It’s a film more concerned with mood and subtext than action set pieces and Nolan turns to a complicated flashback structure (not exactly a surprise from the director of “Memento”) to create his driven, psychologically dark, somewhat psychotic hero and establish the milieu of corruption and crime in the gothic Gotham City.

 

The weekly column goes live every Tuesday on MSN Entertainment.

 


Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website (www.streamondemandathome.com). I’m a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org).. I’ve written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly, GreenCine.com, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View.

I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

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