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DVD Column: The Kings Speech, Teen Wolf, The Way Back and Secret of Nimh

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DVD Column: The Kings Speech, Teen Wolf, The Way Back and Secret of Nimh

When it was first greenlit, I seriously doubt that anyone would have taken bets on The King’s Speech grossing the amount of money it did. It was an Oscar-bait movie through and through, designed to charm arthouse audiences and win little gold trophies. But having producer Harvey Weinstein on one’s side is a good thing if you’re a small independent film that requires a special marketing push, or associated with such. Six months, $393 million in worldwide theatrical receipts and a stunning four top-shelf Oscar victories later, no one is laughing at this little British drama. I won’t pretend to necessarily agree with its Best Picture Academy Award win, and I understand the honoring of director Tom Hooper over The Social Network‘s David Fincher even less, but The King’s Speech, arriving this week on Blu-ray and DVD, remains an undeniable pleasure — an elegant and well-crafted drama that doesn’t luxuriate in moroseness, but instead infuses its story with recognizably human pockets of humor and discovered intestinal fortitude.

The story, of course, centers on the true story of King George VI (Colin Firth), who on the eve of an impending world war, rises to the throne in unlikely fashion, after the death of his father (Michael Gambon) and the royal abdication of his brother, Prince Edward (Guy Pearce). Browbeaten since adolescence for a crippling stutter, which has left him terrified of public speaking, George works through this issue with the assistance of his wife, Elizabeth (Helena Boham Carter), and a most unusual Australian speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). The rapport between Rush and Firth, who emanates a to-the-manor-born stuffiness that slowly melts away over the course of the picture, is a special thing, and at the heart of the movie’s appeal. It may not have quite the replay value of some other 2010 releases but The King’s Speech is well worth picking up for those who haven’t seen it, especially since its superb Blu-ray presentation includes a feature-length audio commentary track by Hooper, a 20-minute behind-the-scenes featurette, two speeches from the real King George VI, interesting Q&A footage with the cast and crew, and a five-minute interview with the grandson of the real Lionel Logue.

Films whose P.R. campaigns tout their insight into “the human condition” are often ponderously plotted, issue-based affairs, but six-time Oscar nominee Peter Weir’s The Way Back is a notable exception. A stirring, gorgeously photographed drama, based on actual events, the movie unfolds in 1940, when seven prisoners (including Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris and Colin Farrell) escape a Siberian gulag, and set out on a 4,500-mile trek to freedom across one of the world’s most merciless landscapes. Along the way they run into a teenage runaway (Saoirse Ronan) who strikes up divisions in the group about whether to take on a fellow traveler.

Few filmmakers can juggle environment, craft and performance like Weir. Full of stirring performances and evocative imagery, The Way Back is a gritty and ultimately uplifting tale which suffered from not having the benefit of a big studio marketing push, and so disappeared from theaters last awards season with scarcely a plunk. If it had been distributed by one of Hollywood’s heavy hitters, it would have been more lauded; as is, it’s an underappreciated gem. A theatrical trailer and 30-minute making-of featurette, inclusive of cast and crew interviews, anchor the film’s DVD release, in 2.35:1 widescreen, with Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound and optional English and Spanish subtitles.

A few older titles are just now hitting the Blu-ray market as well. Imagine my extreme disappointment when, after having been prepped by 1985’s Teen Wolf, starring Michael J. Fox and released in the wake of the commercial supernova that was Back to the Future, I arrived in high school to find it did not involve tuxedo-clad choreographed dance numbers and sky-flying, wolfish dunks. The pubescent allegory of this effects-laden comedy (the title really says it all) doesn’t entirely hold up, thanks in no small part to shoddy direction by Rod Daniel — as well as a breakdance sequence, which dates the film badly. But Fox’s undeniable screen charisma is not dimmed one iota by time; as a scrawny, nervous teen who copes with the awkwardness and discovers the flipside popularity of his newfound hirsute condition, he gives this movie a certain breezy charm. The Blu-ray release  is presented in an AVC-encoded, 1.85:1 widescreen transfer that provides adequate color separation but little in the way of grain brush-up. Unfortunately, too, there are no supplemental bonus features, save the movie’s theatrical trailer. Audio arrives in a DTS-HD 2.0 mix, with additional Spanish and French language mono tracks.

Finally, while animation has gone the way of computer-rendering and snazzy 3-D, another long-on-charm effort from the 1980s, Don Bluth’s The Secret of Nimh, is a 2-D delight that still holds up nearly 30 years since its debut, and is well worth either introducing to a new generation, or discovering yourself for the first time. Based on a novel by Robert C. O’Brien (a source credit you rarely see anymore on animated product), the movie transposes human problems and conditions onto animals, yes (a widowed farm mouse, seeking care for her sick son with plowing season approaching, has to strike uneasy bargins with potential predators), but is so intricately drawn and creatively arranged that it would be foolish to call it a relic. It’s heartening, too, the manner in which the film allows for darkness to creep in around its edges. Bluth knows something too many filmmakers forget — that kids can fairly readily handle scariness in movies, as long as it’s counterbalanced by a force or figure with whom they can identify, and root for. The film’s Blu-ray debut is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen on a single-layer disc, with a DTS-HD 2.0 surround sound audio track, Spanish and French tracks, and optional English, Spanish and French subtitles.

Written by: Brent Simon

The Secret of Nimh

The Secret of Nimh

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A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Brent Simon is a three-term president of LAFCA, a contributor to Screen International and Magill's Cinema Annual, and film editor of H Magazine. He cannot abide a world without U2 and pizza.

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