Raiders of the lost scenes

Our movie critic recommends some recent DVD releases to dig through in search of bonus feature gold

Here are my personal top picks of the recent home entertainment offerings. The last few weeks have been a treasure trove for fans of offbeat comedy and Steven Spielberg when it comes to DVD and Blu-ray.

Shout Factory

Shows: A

Special Features: B

I’ve been waiting a long time for something like this, a collection of Steve Martin’s television specials and appearances. For fans of Martin, this is a dream come true.

The set includes specials like “Comedy is Not Pretty,” which contains the infamous staging of Marty Robbins’ “El Paso” with Martin and chimpanzees. You also get “Steve Martin’s Best Show Ever,” a live special released around the time of Pennies from Heaven. Martin does a tap dance showdown with Gregory Hines, and I think he wins it.

You also get a film of Martin’s ’70s standup, and that’s worth the price of the set right there. But no, there’s more. There’s an entire disc of various Martin TV appearances, from his first time on TV playing a banjo, to various award acceptance speeches where he skewers the institution rewarding him. There are also some gems from his Letterman and Carson appearances, and a banjo music video. It’s all awesome.

Special Features: Each disc contains portions of an excellent recent interview with Martin. I especially liked the moment where he recalled the “El Paso” shoot and how his heart broke when he inadvertently scared one of the little chimp actors.

Shout Factory

Show: A-

Special Features: B

I was deeply in love with this show’s first season, and at least mildly in love with the second. This is the first time the complete series is available on DVD.

Chris Elliot stars as a 30-year-old paperboy still living in his parent’s house (his father is played by real-life dad, Bob Elliott). Storylines included an episode where Chris builds a submarine in his bathtub in which he and his dad become trapped and get attacked by a miniature squid.

Every episode gets progressively weirder—no surprise considering the show’s writing staff included Elliot, Charlie Kaufman and Bob Odenkirk. The series lost a little steam when Elliot’s character moved out of his parent’s house in the second season, but it still had a lot to offer. The opening credits, with Elliot delivering newspapers to the tune of R.E.M.’s “Stand,” is classic.

Special Features: Plenty of commentaries, featurettes and interviews with show creator David Mirkin to keep fans busy.


Movies: See below

Special Features: B

Finally, you can get all of the Indiana Jones movies on Blu-ray. Until now, only Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was available in the format.

I took a day and watched all of the films in a row, and it was a blast. It’s always a great thing to return to the land of Indy, but now we get to do it with a brilliant, high-definition picture and sound that will have your apartment neighbors smacking their ceiling with broomsticks.

Raiders of the Lost Ark remains the franchise’s best, a wonder of a film that has lost none of its magic. It’s hard to imagine that Harrison Ford almost didn’t play Indy. The likes of Tom Selleck, Bill Murray and Steve Martin were all in the running, with Ford getting the role just weeks before filming. Steven Spielberg always wanted him, but series creator George Lucas wanted somebody new to his universe. Good thing Steven won out.

The movie is perfection, the quintessential action flick with a small flavoring of the supernatural. Nazis as the enemy, lots of snakes and spectacular chase after spectacular chase—the original can’t be beat.

Then came Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, a violent, crazy, sometimes gloomy installment that prompted the creation of a new rating from the MPAA, PG-13. I still don’t know how this movie, replete with still-beating hearts being ripped from people’s chests, didn’t get an R. Even though it’s awfully dark, it contains some of the franchise’s best set pieces, including the mineshaft chase and the raft/parachute scene.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade got a little heartwarming with the casting of Sean Connery as Indy’s father. It also played it a little safe, bringing back the Nazis as the bad guys and injecting more laughs. It didn’t’ take the franchise to new places, but it closed out the ’80s on a satisfying not for Indiana Jones.

And then, two decades later, we got Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, easily the franchise’s weakest entry, but still a fun watch. I’m actually getting a little tired of the fanboy beating this one continues to take. Sure, the monkeys are stupid, Cate Blanchett sucks in it, and the aliens are a bit hard to take. But Ford is AWESOME in this movie, and I happen to love the atomic bomb/refrigerator bit.

Talk of a fifth chapter continues, although I highly doubt it will ever happen, especially since Lucas has declared himself retired and Ford is 70. Hell, he’s older than Mick Jagger. Movie grades: Raiders (A), Temple of Doom (B), Last Crusade (A-), Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (B-).

Special Features: You get a ton of making-ofs and behind-the-scenes featurettes. Most of them are from prior editions, and they get a bit repetitive at times. Still, they contain a treasure trove of on-set footage and Spielberg interviews.


Movie: A

Special Features: B

This alien classic from Spielberg has also aged well (as has his Jaws, which also got a recent Blu-ray release). This is the original version of the film, not the one with the CGI embellished E.T. and walkie-talkies replacing guns. Hold on to your prior DVD release of that one if you like it, because I think Spielberg is trying to pretend it doesn’t exist.

Originally titled A Boy’s Life and probably Spielberg’s most autobiographical film—due to its divorce themes, not the funny alien in the closet—it still packs an emotional wallop. When E.T.’s ship streaks across the sky during the finale accompanied by that triumphant John William’s score, I’m always a puddle.

Watching it this time, I really found myself enjoying the smarmy kid work of Drew Barrymore as Gertie. It always smarts to see little Barrymore crying during the E.T. death scene. She kind of thought the animatronic creature was real.

And, yes, the Blu-ray is an incredible transfer, and fans will be very pleased. With this release, most of Spielberg’s major blockbusters have gotten a Blu-ray treatment. Still no 1941 or Schindler’s List, but I’m sure they will see their day.

Special Features: A deleted scene with E.T. in the bathtub, which was in the Special Edition, and a bunch of featurettes from prior editions. You do get a new interview with Spielberg discussing the film’s legacy.