Deck the halls with DVDs

Between extended editions, audio commentaries and loads of special features, DVD releases this winter are worth getting in debt for

These DVDs might make good gifts for friends and family, or, if you like to avoid the winter sports, make DVD-viewing your cold-weather pastime.

These DVDs might make good gifts for friends and family, or, if you like to avoid the winter sports, make DVD-viewing your cold-weather pastime.

If winter sports such as skiing, sledding or running around in the street like a maniac shrieking “Damn, it’s cold!” don’t interest you, there’s a gaggle of DVDs making their way to store shelves this freezin’ season to keep you more than occupied. From classic box sets to rushed-but-decent releases of last summer’s hits, there’s plenty to satisfy the voracious home entertainment appetite.

Last season, best DVD honors went to The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings Special Extended DVD Edition, and this year, sequel The Two Towers gets the same extraordinary treatment. It’s a four-disc set featuring an extended version of the film (40 minutes of additional runtime) and many hours of originally produced making-of documentaries. There are four full-length audio commentaries with everybody but Elijah Wood’s unpopular second cousin waxing poetic about their Rings experience. It’s bliss.

Rivaling Rings for best DVD box set is the release of all the Alien films. The Alien Quadrilogy is a nine-disc monster of a set. Each film is in its extended version accompanied by more special features than can be viewed by mortal man. Alien: The Director’s Cut, which was not shown on big screen in Reno, is included in the set. Purists take note: All theatrical versions of the films plus their new extended versions will be contained in what promises to keep Alien fans occupied not only through winter, but spring and summer as well. That’s a good thing because Alien fans are major creeps.

After a long wait, The Adventures of Indiana Jones has come to DVD in a four-disc set. While it doesn’t rival the above offerings in the extras department, having the films in pristine form after watching chewed-up VHS copies all these years is enough. A bonus disc featuring documentaries, one of which includes footage of a fedora-wearing Tom Selleck (originally cast as Indiana) doing his screen test, are priceless. The three films in the series are not available individually, so you must pony up for this set to get Indy on DVD.

For those of you wishing to see classic films getting the insane DVD treatment, Warner Brothers video has released the likes of Casablanca, James Cagney’s Yankee Doodle Dandy, Errol Flynn’s The Adventures of Robin Hood and collections dedicated to Lon Chaney and Charlie Chaplin, all packed with special features. Colombia-Tri Star entertainment has released the fantastically treated David Lean Collection, including the director’s classics Lawrence of Arabia, The Bridge on the River Kwai and A Passage to India.

One of my favorite discs of the season is Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West, a double-disc package dedicated to one of cinema’s all-time greatest and most exceptional westerns. Among the many special features: Halloween director John Carpenter does an audio commentary on Leone’s unorthodox approach to film.

While the recently released Looney Tunes: Back in Action now showing in theaters is somewhat of a dud, a four-disc set titled Looney Tunes: The Golden Collection is a must-have for any lover of Bugs Bunny and company. It features 56 of the best Looney short cartoons and copious amounts of commentary, documentaries and rarely seen vintage shorts. Disney plans to infiltrate many a stocking with special-edition versions of animated favorites The Lion King and Sleeping Beauty, as well as this year’s box office champ Finding Nemo.

If you missed them in theaters, summer blockbusters Terminator 3, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Bruce Almighty and personal guilty pleasure Bad Boys II are arriving in time for holiday wallet punishment. Other not-so-blockbuster films such as The Hulk (a good film that was unjustly crucified) and Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (a sucky film that was justly crucified) try to find new life via people’s home entertainment centers. Even Gigli will find its way to shelves this winter, giving audiences a chance to vomit all over again.

A slew of foreign films, some of which never had a Reno release, also get the chance for home viewing. This list includes New Zealand’s much-beloved Whale Rider, France’s Man on the Train and He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, bird documentary Winged Migration and Italy’s comedy The Last Kiss.

For those of you without the patience to tolerate commercials, there are plenty of TV shows being packaged for consumption. Most highly recommended is The Ben Stiller Show, a sketch comedy series that lasted only one season on Fox but netted an Emmy, gained cult status and included Mr. Show‘s Bob Odenkirk and David Cross as writer-performers. The DVD contains all 13 episodes (one of them was unaired) and entertaining commentary featuring the great Stiller, Janeane Garafolo and Andy Dick.

Art Carney has up and died just in time for the release of The Honeymooners: Classic 39 Episodes, which includes the entire series and footage allegedly not seen since 1956. For that generation of young viewers who think Jackie Gleason is a huge, unfunny asshole, they can get by on second-season collections of The Osbournes and Alias, the third season of South Park or the first season of the sometimes very funny The Jamie Kennedy Experiment, a sort of Candid Camera meets MTV’s Punk’d.

Music lovers can witness Peter Gabriel’s excellent 2003 tour with Peter Gabriel: Growing Up Live, featuring a wonderful moment where Gabriel rolls around his circular stage in an oversized hamster ball. Of utmost importance is Jack Black’s Tenacious D: The Masterworks. It contains a full-length London concert of the world’s self-proclaimed “best band” and all of the “lost” HBO short films that haven’t seen the light of day since their original airings in the ‘90s. While it’s been out for a couple of months, Christopher Guest’s folk music comedy A Mighty Wind, stuffed with unseen footage and outtakes, deserves holiday consideration.

Purchasing all these DVDs will cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $2,000 and will earn you the label of "super geek" by neighbors and pets. However, holing up in your living room, ingesting hour upon hour of special features while dodging office parties and family gatherings, you’ll be a DVD super geek brimming with glee.