May 22: DVD alternatives to this weekend’s multiplex offerings

We all know how it is. You’d like to get out to see a new movie this weekend, but you fear leaving your underground bunker will draw the attention of the machines. But you can have something close to that multiplex experience at home with the proper application of rental DVDs. In fact, you might even be able to one-up everyone else at the watercooler come Monday, because while they’re saying, “Hey, did you see that new Terminator flick?” you can respond, “No, I watched all the movies McG stole from to make it instead.”
INSTEAD OF: Terminator Salvation, the latest installment in the long-running saga of humanity’s last great battle, against the very machines we created…

RENT: Director McG and his screenwriters steal from so many sources for their killer-robot blow-’em-up that the only way to even come close to replicating the experience at home is with a whole bunch of DVDs. Start with James Cameron’s original 1984 Terminator, still one of the best sci-fi movies ever made, and a model of cinematic restraint the lesson of which McG could learn a lot from. For a sense of how desperately McG loves explosions, rent Michael Bay’s Transformers, from last summer, which was also clearly the inspiration for one of McG’s new-model Terminators. To cover the robot-that-thinks-it’s-human-or-can-at-least-pass-for-one angle, go with Steven Spielberg’s vastly underappreciated 2001 movie A.I. Artificial Intelligence, about a boy-bot who just wants to be real. Finally, for the kick-ass SF action movie McG wishes he’d made here, it’s back to James Cameron again: not only does 1986’s Aliens lend a lot of visual themes to Salvation, it also features a robot designed to look human in order to serve humanity’s overlords, in this case, Lance Henrickson’s Bishop, a product of Weyland-Yutani, the nefarious “Company” that keeps sending people to get face-hugged by ET.

INSTEAD OF: Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, which throws Ben Stiller into yet another encounter with some of history’s most impressive figures, from Ivan the Terrible to Amelia Earhart…

RENT: The first flick, which is so startling similar that they might as well be the same movie. Or the National Treasure flicks, which are obvious attempts to cash in on the sudden mania for ancient artifacts and silly fantasies about them. But if you want to actually enjoy what you’re watching, go with 1989’s Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, in which the charming airheads of the title use a time machine to gather together great personages from history — the actual people, not come-to-life waxworks statues of them — for a school project. You want to see Napoleon, Joan of Arc, Socrates, Sigmund Freud, Abraham Lincoln, and others all in the same room? Here ya go.

INSTEAD OF: Dance Flick, the latest attempt by the Wayans Brothers to convince us that the family business of making unfunny parodies of entire genres of film is a good idea…

RENT: Shall We Dance? (the 1996 Japanese original, not Hollywood’s tepid 2004 remake), in which a bored salaryman unexpectedly finds his footing on the dance floor. Or just go with the classic: 1977’s Saturday Night Fever, and boogie your way to movie bliss.

INSTEAD OF: The Girlfriend Experience, Steven Soderbergh’s new flick (opening in limited release) about a hooker who strives to convince her johns that she’s their one special gal…

RENT: Secret Diary of a Call Girl: Season One, the British TV series — it aired on Showtime in the U.S. — about a high-class London prostitute who does, we learn in one episode, have a regular client who pays extra for “the girlfriend experience.” The whole season is only eight episodes, and if you like it, you can jump right into Season Two when it’s released on DVD in Region 1 on June 30. (It’s already available in Region 2.)

Where to rent:

Rent DVDs by mail from, As Low As $9.95 Per Month! Unlimited rentals, choose from 80,000 titles. Free Shipping!

Netflix, Inc.

Where to buy:

Amazon U.S. | Amazon U.K.

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