Dec 13 2009

TV on DVD for 12/15/09 – More with Henry VIII, overworked law students and the original Australian cowgirls

The Tudors: The Complete Third Season (Paramount) – England’s young King Henry VIII works his way through wives three and four in the third season of Showtime’s rather lusty take on the historical drama. This isn’t the rotund, boorish glutton as defined by Charles Laughton. As incarnated by Jonathan Rhys Meyers he is a robust, virile, hearty young king with a lust for life, power and women. The British/American co-production was made for Showtime as part of their strategy to challenge HBO’s primacy in original programming, and the pay cable venue means that it can indulge in the lustier aspects of this slice of old England: the affairs, the dalliances, the seductions in fleshy detail.

Henry VII (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and Jane Seymour (Anita Briem)

Henry VII (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and Jane Seymour (Anita Briem)

But while the sex is the lure, the show is all about power and politics: the jockeying for influence in the court, the behind-the-scenes scheming to keep Henry’s favor, the treaties and royal marriages engineered for European alliances, and the increasingly tense relationship between the monarchies and the Vatican, which wields a power almost of powerful as that of royalty… until now. Henry makes himself head of the Church of England and brings the country to the verge of civil war. Meanwhile he grieves over the death of this third wife, Jane Seymour (Anita Briem), due to complications from childbirth and gives up on Anne of Cleves (Joss Stone), an unsophisticated German aristocrat to whom he is betrothed sight unseen, without ever consummating the marriage (his displeasure at the his advisor’s poor judgment – Henry finds Anne homely and unappealing in every way – has fatal consequences for the unlucky matchmaker). And, of course, there are the various mistresses along the way. A king has needs. Max Von Sydow co-stars this season as a Vatican Cardinal scheming to return the Catholic Church to power in England. Eight episodes on four discs, plus a featurette on the historical timeline. The fourth and final season begins on Showtime in 2010.

The Paper Chase: Season Two (Shout! Factory) – “James, our second year of law school is going to be wonderful!” proclaims blue-blood Franklin Ford (Tom Fitzsimmons) to friend and fellow law student James T. Hart (James Stephens) at the start of the first episode of the second year, but the fact that they got a second year at all is almost a miracle. CBS dropped the acclaimed but low-rated show in 1979 and it existed only in reruns on PBS until Showtime revived the show in 1983 with most of the cast intact, including John Houseman as the feared and admired professor Charles W. Kingsfield. So four years later, James is now a sophomore at his vaguely Harvard-like law school, moves off campus with the tightly-wound Franklin, gets a girlfriend (Jane Kaczmerick as a First Year) and joins the Law Review (under upper-classman editor Michael Tucci). Meanwhile James’ study-group buddy Willis Bell (James Keane) is a dorm advisor and James becomes something of a campus legend: he’s the only student to ever get an A in Kingsfield’s class. 19 episodes on six discs in a box set of three thinpak cases. Unfortunately, some of the original masters were unavailable so four episodes are presented in edited editions.

McLeod’s Daughter: The Original Movie (E1) – Before the successful Australian TV series, which ran for eight seasons between 2001-2009 (and had a pretty good run stateside on the Lifetime Network), there was the 1996 TV movie starring Jack Thompson as the irascible rancher whose two daughters, tomboy ranch girl Claire (Tammy McIntosh) and estranged city girl Tess (Kym Wilson), struggle to reconnect and save the failing ranch after he dies. It’s a simple but effective story just made to be spun-off into a series, which of course is what happened, but not with the same cast. The disc also features the first two episodes of the subsequent series, which feels like a pale reworking of the story next to the original telefilm. The lead roles weren’t simply recast but completely reworked, along with the dynamic of the sisters, losing a lot of the drama in the process.

TV on Blu-ray: Star Trek: The Original Series Season Three (Paramount) – Is Blu-ray the final frontier for the original Star Trek TV series? It’s been warped into movies, spun-off into sequel shows and finally retooled in prequel relaunch, but the original series still has a hold on us. Now the third and final season of the original recipe comes to Blu-ray in restored editions that look astoundingly good considering their age and origins, plus “enhanced” versions. Otherwise, these are the original voyages of the Starship Enterprise and its legendary bridge crew: manly yet amiable Captain Kirk (William Shatner), unemotionally logical yet unfailingly loyal Vulcan science officer Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy, with elf ears and the Vulcan equivalent of a page boy cut), homespun Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley), a country doctor in space with a penchant for prodding Spock into debates about logic and emotion, Chief Engineer Scotty (James Doohan), navigator Lt. Sulu (George Takei), communications officer Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), and Ensign Chekov (Walter Koenig), who joined the cast in the second season to provide the show with a heartthrob. Highlights from the third and final season of the series include the classic episodes “The Enterprise Incident,” where Kirk’s rash detour into Romulan territory and his struggle with Spock over command masks a deeper motive, “Day of the Dove,” which pits them in hand-to-hand conflict with a Klingon warship led by Kang (Michael Ansara, who reprises the role in an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), “Plato’s Stepchildren,” which features what has been noted as the first interracial kiss on American network television, and “The Tholian Web,” where Spock takes the helm while Kirk is lost in the inter-dimensional space). Frank Gorshin, his face painted white and black, declares war on his mirror image in “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield,” McCoy falls in love in “For The World Is Hollow And I Have Touched The Sky,” Yvonne Craig (aka Batgirl) dances the hoochie koo in an insane asylum in “Whom the Gods Destroy,” Spock plays the lute for a band of galactic hippies in “The Way to Eden,” and in the series finale, “Turnabout Intruder,” Kirk’s body is taken over by a madwoman, and he winds up in hers, giving that old ham Shatner an opportunity get in touch with his feminine side. The fact is, this show became so iconic despite the fact it ran a mere three seasons that most episodes have some tug of the fans for one reason or another.

What’s new is the special effects and sound effects, redone with digital technology. (Don’t worry, the cheap sets and sixties color scheme remain untouched.) The producers have been careful to match the look and style with the rest of the show so the new ship is smoothly integrated into the existing footage. And along with the 26 episodes of the third and final season is the home video debut of the alternative version of “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” the original, unedited pilot (or rather the second pilot) featuring different opening narration, theme song and credits sequence, mastered from a recently discovered 35mm print in the Paramount vaults. Spock has an ashen pallor in this version and the crew isn’t all there, which shows how much more tinkering went into the series after it got the green light (the episode was re-edited and revised for broadcast). There are also new featurettes recorded at Comic-Con 2009 (including a lightweight tour of “Trek” quasi-celebs and fans conducted by writer David Gerrold) along with the are the featurettes, interviews and other extras from previous “Season Three” releases, including two versions of the original pilot episode “The Cage” (with Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Pike and Majel Barrett as his Number One): the reconstructed version with B&W work-print footage (with an introduction and afterward by Gene Roddenberry) that was originally released to video in 1986, and the complete, restored, full color version broadcast on TV in 1988.

For more TV on DVD, visit my weekly column, which goes live every Tuesday on MSN Entertainment: TV on DVD. For more new DVD this week, my DVD picks for the week at my blog and New Releases, Special Releases and Blu-ray at my MSN column.

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