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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

satisfy yourself: James Bond Ultimate Editions, 4 discs worth of Chronicles of Narina, Johnny Cash at San Quentin CD and DVD set

Okay, we’re done with all the sentimental crap now, and it’s time to get realistic: Santa didn’t bring you everything you wanted for Christmas, did he? And you were so good all year. So now it’s up to you to satisfy your DVD jones yourself. Don’t be embarrassed — we all need to take care of ourselves once in a while, and who knows what we need better than we do ourselves?
Oh, man, you know you want Volumes 3 and 4 of the James Bond 007 Ultimate Edition. We get jerked around by the DVD companies so often — they tease us with barebones discs we can’t help snatching up then torment us with Special Editions and Collector’s Editions and Extended Editions, and like Charlie Brown with the football we can’t resist running for the kick every damn time, knowing we’re fools the whole while but unable to stop ourselves. But with these sets, MGM goes all out to seduce us, and wins us over, and we’re happy to make breakfast for it the next morning. They’re not kidding with the whole “Ultimate” thing: the films are beautifully digitally restored, with awesome sound; even the DVD menus are gorgeous. Volume 3 includes From Russia with Love, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Live and Let Die, For Your Eyes Only, and Goldeneye. Volume 4 features Dr. No., You Only Live Twice, Moonraker, Octopussy, and Tomorrow Never Dies. (These sets were released December 12; Volumes 1 and 2 hit shelves on November 7.) And every film takes up two discs, for a whopping ten DVDs in every set: there’s a disc for each movie, and then a disc for each movie’s copious bonuses. Oh, man! There’s audio commentaries, production featurettes, old BBC interviews with Sean Connery, goofing around with Roger Moore, deleted scenes, on-location stuff, trailers, TV ads, stuff about Ian Fleming, music videos, James Brolin’s screen tests for Bond, and tons more. I’m almost embarrassed at how orgiastic an experience these sets are. [buy Vol. 3 at Amazon] [buy Vol. 4 at Amazon]

Production junkies get their own cinematic bacchanalia with The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: Four-Disc Extended Edition. Disc 1 is an extended version of the movie [read my review of the theatrical version], with additional scenes, commentary tracks with the child stars and director Andrew Adamson, and more. Disc 2 includes making-ofs, lots of insight from Adamson, tons of behind-the-scenes footage, a documentary on the kids’ experiences on the set (How’d they get the little one to be so in awe of Narnia at first glance? Why, they blindfolded her to preserve her first look at the Narnia set for the camera!), a breakdown of how the melting-waterfall scene was created, tons of creature peeks (Precisely how difficult was it to find just the right red scarf and just the right fake nose to transform cutie James MacAvoy into the faun Tumnus?); an audiovisual encyclopedia of the creatures and places of Narnia with interactive map, and more. Disc 3 is all-new feature-length doc on author C.S. Lewis. Disc 4 is perhaps the best of the lot: it’s a two-and-a-half-hour making-of production feature, kind of like a visual commentary track, featuring a split screen with the movie in one corner and behind-the-scenes footage in another, which lets us see how storyboards came to life, how FX depicted a world that doesn’t exist, and so on. It’s extremely cool and illuminating for anyone interested in how movies get on the screen. [buy at Amazon]

Narnia’s a year old and still cool enough to re-enchant us; if you’re still feeling the same way about last year’s Walk the Line, then you definitely need Johnny Cash – At San Quentin: Legacy Edition. This three-disc set includes two music CDs containing the entire, unedited 90-minute San Quentin concert — this has never been released before, and with 13 previously unavailable tracks, it’s now the longest Cash live performance you can find. (The concert also features performances by Carl Perkins, the Statler Brothers, and the Carter Family.) But the real highlight of the set is the DVD, a one-hour documentary from British television about the concert, and about life at San Quentin. With interviews with inmates and guards and clips from the concert, it puts Cash’s extraordinary performance in perspective, and reminds us what was so unique about Cash and his impact on pop culture. The crackles and hisses and generally messiness of this unretouched 1969 footage is charming in its own way, but it can’t hide the conclusion you’re left with, by the end: Johnny Cash was so ahead of his time that he was the first gangsta rapper. You can’t call yourself a Cash fan and not do yourself the favor of checking this out. [buy at Amazon]

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