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Wintry Mix

Friday, December 10, 2004; Page WE31

This time of year, Weekend's critics are typically snowed under by special features, special editions and bonus tracks. With a little help from some holiday guests, they recently sat down to wrest a handful of recommendations from the undifferentiated mass of CDs and DVDs that were released this year.

Picture the hand-wringing: Is there any real reason to own "The Chronicles of Riddick: Unrated Director's Cut" when your precious shelf space is reserved for "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" (Platinum Series Special Extended Edition Collector's Gift Set)? This is no time for snap decisions.


Weekend recommends a flurry of CDs and DVDs for holiday gift-giving. (Julia Ewan - The Washington Post)

___CD and DVD Gift Guide___
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DVD Deconstruction
A primer on what to look for when buying DVDs this holiday season.


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__ DVD Features and Reviews __
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washingtonpost.com's DVD Guide
Transcript: Holiday DVD Chat
Review: 'Spider-Man 2'
Review: 'Harry Potter'
Review: 'Seinfeld' and Live Aid
Review: 'Shrek 2' and 'Gone With the Wind'
More DVD Reviews

Below you'll find our critics' Top Five CD and DVD picks in 10 categories. CDs are divided into four: classical and children's music, artists box sets and compilations. DVDs are grouped both by category (classic, music-related, children's films and television) and, in the cases of Weekend film critics Desson Thomson and Michael O'Sullivan, by nothing more than an eye and an ear for excellence, eccentricity and the coolest of extra features.

Finally, the standard disclaimer: We supply the suggested retail price for each item, but are duty-bound to warn you that, as the catchphrase goes, prices may vary.

CDs

Artists Box Sets Richard Harrington

U2, "The Complete U2." iTunes, $149.99. The first-ever "digital box set," from iTunes, covers the band's 14 albums, including the new, chart-topping "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb," plus 100 live tracks, B-sides and remixes, 40 previously unreleased songs from throughout the band's career, and a downloadable book. The treats among the set's 446 tracks include previously unheard material from the "All That You Can't Leave Behind" and "Atomic Bomb" sessions, three live shows (Boston 1981, Dublin 1989 and Mexico 1997) and early U2 singles previously available only on vinyl. But there's also some serious repetition (11 versions of "Lemon," nine of "I Will Follow"). Overall, this is a convenient way for tech-savvy folks to acquire the entire U2 catalogue: It takes but a single click at the iTunes online store, and dedicated fans can download it onto the new U2 special-edition autographed iPod, which costs $349, with room for more than 4,500 other songs.

Nirvana, "With the Lights Out." Geffen, $59.98. Originally intended for release in Christmas 2001 (coinciding with the 10th anniversary of the band's breakthrough album, "Nevermind"), this set was mired in since-settled lawsuits from Kurt Cobain's widow, Courtney Love. What we have now is 81 chronologically arranged tracks, 68 previously unreleased. It's a bounty of acoustic and electric home and studio demos, rehearsal and session outtakes, radio station and club shows, B-sides and oddities. Sound quality is verite variable, and the format shows a band finding its voice and character, from its 1987 house-party debut with a cover of Led Zeppelin's "Heartbreaker" to Cobain's solo home demos of "Do Re Mi" and "You Know You're Right," recorded just weeks before his 1994 suicide. The accompanying DVD features nine songs from a 1988 rehearsal at the home of bassist Krist Novoselic's mother, and other previously unreleased live performances, including the first public performance of "Smells Like Teen Spirit."

Michael Jackson, "The Ultimate Collection." Sony Legacy, $59.98. The master of hits collections puts out his first box set. Though the four-CD, one-DVD compilation is not quite as complete as the title suggests, it is the first collection to cover Michael Jackson's entire career: The first two discs contain hit tracks from the Jackson 5's Motown days, as well as Columbia-era Jacksons and "Off the Wall"/"Thriller" classics. Of 57 tracks, 13 are previously unissued, including substantially different demos of "Shake a Body" (which the Jacksons turned into 1978's "Shake Your Body") and "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)," and Jackson's solo demo of "We Are the World" (followed by the generic "We Are Here to Change the World" from the Imax 3-D short, "Captain EO"). Several '80s tracks making their first appearance are impressive, including a propulsive "Sunset Driver" and sinewy "Cheater," though his newest song, "We've Had Enough," is a weird antiwar song undermined by those odd Jacksonian hiccups. The DVD features 16 songs from a concert extravaganza shot in Bucharest during the "Dangerous" tour and originally shown on HBO in 1993.

"The Immortal Soul of Al Green. " Capitol, $69.98. Al Green's 1997 four-CD "Anthology" was a scattershot bio-box loaded down with too many previously unreleased live tracks, alternate takes and interview segments. This new four-CD, 75-track box set is the unadulterated goods, featuring almost all of the familiar hit singles and album tracks sequenced chronologically from Green's early rough-edged gospel-soul efforts to his emergence in the early '70s as the greatest, smoothest male soul singer ever at Memphis's Hi Records. That's where Green was blessed to collaborate with label-owner-producer-writer Willie Mitchell and Al Jackson Jr., the Booker T. & the MG's drummer who co-wrote and played on many of Green's biggest hits. The quintet of albums Green recorded between 1971 and 1973 -- centered by "Let's Stay Together," "I'm Still in Love With You" and "Call Me" -- remain a benchmark of modern soul, as well as the core of the set's first two discs. Though the latter Hi recordings are disappointing, and the gospel-heavy post-Hi legacy is erratic and often under-whelming, this collection's remastered sound helps make it a keeper.

Bon Jovi, "100,000,000 Bon Jovi Fans Can't Be Wrong." Island, $59.98. This hard-core, fan-directed four-CD, one-DVD set is composed almost entirely of unheard and unseen material from the band's archive. The first three CDs include 38 previously unreleased songs and a dozen variations on other recordings, such as a demo version of "Always," and new songs such as the Springsteen-style anthem "Nobody's Hero" and "Why Aren't You Dead?," a catchy kiss-off in the tradition of "You Give Love a Bad Name." The fourth CD consists of some of Bon Jovi's favorite rarities, such as "Edge of a Broken Heart" from the 1987 film "Disorderlies" and a different version of "Someday I'll Be Saturday Night." The hour-long DVD consists of interviews, video-shoot outtakes and backstage footage.

Richard Harrington is the pop music writer for Weekend.

Children's | Nicole Arthur

Milkshake, "Bottle of Sunshine." Milkshake Music, $15.99. The follow-up to its aptly titled 2002 debut, "Happy Songs," finds Milkshake no less happy. "Bottle of Sunshine" does, however, find the Baltimore duo -- vocalist Lisa Mathews and guitarist Mikel Gehl -- taking more chances. The disc includes songs in a dizzying array of styles: The singalong-ready "Bluebird" could be mistaken for a public-domain folk song, whereas "Book of Dreams" wouldn't sound out of place on an adult contemporary radio station. "ABC of Me" is as sassy as a show tune, while "MS R&R" is a '50s-style rave-up in the tradition of "Shake, Rattle and Roll." Whimsical spoken-word introductions add an intimate dimension to several of the tracks, and new parents will recognize the lyrics borrowed from "Goodnight Moon." While many of Milkshake's songs describe the world from a kid's point of view, others are more like love letters from parent to child. It was, after all, having kids that inspired Mathews and Gehl, veterans of the rock band Love Riot, to start making music for children.

Justin Roberts, "Way Out." Carpet Square Records, $15.98. On his fourth CD, Chicago children's musician Justin Roberts rocks out. His new disc chronicles the angst of the post-preschool crowd and has the decibels that go with it. (Yes, as a matter of fact, life does get louder as you age.) Longtime followers may react like crabby Dylan fans at the Newport Folk Festival, but probably with the same result. Certainly there are fewer potential lullabies here than on Roberts's previous recordings. Instead, songs such as "Picture Day," "Day Camp" and "Doctor, Doctor" are kid's-eye-view scene pieces from day-to-day life. The new songs are tuneful and engaging, and enlivened by unexpected stylistic flourishes -- there are Beach Boys-style harmonies on "Day Camp," and the disc's title track is set to a calypso beat. Roberts's dry wit surfaces in "Humpty's at It Again," a retelling of the nursery rhyme that posits the egg as a misunderstood visionary who sees wondrous things from his precarious perch.

"Beethoven's Wig 2: More Sing Along Symphonies." Rounder Kids, $12.98. There should be a warning label on Richard Perlmutter's recordings. Listen just once to his 2002 debut, for example, and you'll never hear the opening bars of the composer's fifth symphony without thinking, "Beethoven's wig . . . is very big!" The follow-up to that debut, "Beethoven's Wig 2," is just as hilarious as its predecessor. It also has the same format: On the first half of the disc, Perlmutter sets his own comic lyrics to a dozen or so well-known classical pieces. The second half contains instrumental performances of the same pieces. Although Perlmutter's lyrics are funny, that's not his main objective: Their content is intended to teach listeners something about the work and the composer. Thus Mendelssohn's "Wedding March" becomes "Wow, What a Wedding Cake" and Strauss's "Blue Danube Waltz" becomes "Please Do Not Tease the Viennese." In addition to being entertaining, his creations are frighteningly effective mnemonics. How much children's music actually makes you smarter?

Ralph's World, "The Amazing Adventures of Kid Astro." Minty Fresh, $15.98. The fifth children's recording by Ralph Covert, yet another rocker turned children's troubadour, may be his best yet. On "The Amazing Adventures of Kid Astro," the Chicago bar band veteran demonstrates why he's one of the biggest draws on the hip children's-music circuit. Covert wrote most of the tracks on the new disc, which range from the abbreviated funk of "Playground," which celebrates the joys thereof, to the bombastic pop of "Kid Astro," which trumpets the exploits of an interplanetary superhero. His malleable everyvoice seems adaptable to any genre: "Sun in My Eyes" is a pre-K power ballad, while "Miss Molly Crackerjack" sounds like a big-band number without the big band. Covert certainly knows what interests kids -- several of the songs have animal protagonists, for example, while "Dumptruck" mentions not only the titular vehicle but backhoes and earth movers as well. As if to establish the viability of his connection to his inner child, Covert even includes "Old Man Dan," a song he wrote when he was 8.

Various Artists, "cELLAbration! A Tribute to Ella Jenkins." Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, $11.98. Long before "Schoolhouse Rock," 80-year-old folk musician and children's performer Ella Jenkins was using music to educate young audiences. This tribute disc, which contains 18 tracks by 15 artists, mostly longtime folkies, brings together original material and some of the many songs that Jenkins wrote, adapted or helped popularize. As well as being a lively celebration of Jenkins's music, "cELLAbration!" is a showcase of Washington area talent: It was produced by Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer, and contains tracks performed by both, as well as by Sweet Honey in the Rock, Michele Valeri and Tom Paxton. The collection's standouts include Pete Seeger's "The World Is Big, the World Is Small" and Sweet Honey's "Go Miss Mary Mack." Appropriately enough, the collection, nominated for a Grammy for best musical album for children, is suffused with young voices: Paxton's grandsons chime in on "I Know a Tom," while the University Park Children's Ensemble appears on several tracks. Perhaps most important, "cELLAbration!" includes a Jenkins discography for listeners who are inspired to explore her work for themselves.

Nicole Arthur is a Weekend staff writer who covers children's entertainment.

Classical | Tim Page

Leon Fleisher, "Two Hands." Vanguard, $16.98. Pianist Leon Fleisher lost the use of his right hand in the mid-'60s at the height of his career, when he was in his mid-thirties. The condition was eventually diagnosed as dystonia, a neurological movement disorder, and Fleisher fought it like a tiger for the next four decades. Recently, experimental treatment with Botox restored most of the power to the damaged hand, and an exuberant Fleisher, now 76, entered the studio to make a new recording, titled, appropriately, "Two Hands." The disc begins with miniatures by Bach, Domenico Scarlatti, Chopin and Debussy, and then moves on to the massive Sonata in B-flat (D. 960), by Franz Schubert. All sentiment, all rooting-for-the-underdog, all yearning-for-the-happy-ending set aside, the result is a tender, wise, profoundly musical album that would make or enhance the reputation of any pianist now before the public.

Eighth Blackbird, "Beginnings." Cedille, $18.98. Daniel Kellogg may be the most gifted American composer under 30, and his "Divinum Mysterium," recorded by the new music ensemble Eighth Blackbird, is among the most immediately arresting pieces I've heard in years. Scored for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano and percussion, "Divinum Mysterium" lasts a full half-hour yet never comes close to wearing out its welcome. On the contrary: Such is the richness and fertility of Kellogg's imagination that one listens breathlessly, delightedly, to every passing inspiration, from the chimes and chanting that set the piece into motion through to its dynamic, ecstatic close. The disc also contains George Crumb's "Vox Balaenae (Voice of the Whale)," an evocative, if rather dated, work from a venerated master. But it is Kellogg who steals the show -- and, with any luck, he is just getting started.

"Shostakovich, Symphony No. 4." Philips, $16.98. Nobody has ever called Shostakovich's Symphony No. 4 a "perfect" composition. On the contrary: It is the anguished musical diary of a man who slept with a revolver under his pillow and who fully expected to disappear into one of Stalin's gulags at any moment. Indeed, so apprehensive was Shostakovich about public reaction to this hour-long, aggressively dissonant nightmare that he suppressed all performances until 1961, a full 25 years after the symphony was finished. It still comes across as pretty strong stuff -- a succession of ghostly marches, roaring brass, crashing cymbals and a magnificent riot of orchestral sound in the finale that, once heard, can never be forgotten. Nobody has ever made the symphony sound so fierce, frenzied and desperately inspired as Valery Gergiev does in his new recording with the Kirov Orchestra.

William Neil, "A Festive Proclamation." MSR Classics, $14.95. On those all-too-rare nights when the National Symphony Orchestra needs an organist, William Neil is there to fulfill his duties brilliantly. Now Neil has made his first solo recording, at Washington's National Presbyterian Church, where he also serves as organist. This varied and incessantly diverting program begins with Samuel Adler's charged, jubilant "Festive Proclamation" (written especially for Neil) and contains an aching and appropriately dignified "Hymn for the Lost and the Living" for trumpet and organ by Eric Ewazen. Some old favorites are here as well -- Handel's Organ Concerto in B-flat (Op. 4, No. 6); a selection of short works by Bach (mezzo-soprano Delores Ziegler joining in on a resplendent "Sheep May Safely Graze"); a chorale by Cesar Franck; and Charles-Marie Widor's romping and exhilarating finale to his Symphony No. 5. Gleaming and lifelike recorded sound adds immeasurably to the experience.

"A Vintage Christmas." 78s2cd.com, $11.99 plus $3.99 shipping and handling. Discs of Christmas music have been holiday favorites since the dawn of the modern recording industry. This fascinating album, assembled by collector-producer J.C. Lockwood, contains performances dating back almost a century -- including the great Irish tenor John McCormack's elegant and sweet-toned rendition of the Bach-Gounod "Ave Maria" with violinist Fritz Kreisler; the nonpareil Enrico Caruso in the "Cantique de Noel" ("O Holy Night"); selections from Handel's "Messiah" sung by the contralto Louise Homer and the short-lived (and underrated) tenor Evan Williams; contralto Ernestine Schumann-Heink's celebrated "Silent Night" -- even field recordings of London's Westminster Chimes gonging out "Adeste Fideles" sometime around 1905! This is a lovely disc -- one of a series of lovely discs from www.78s2cd.com -- but it is not available in stores, and Lockwood advises me that any orders that are expected by Dec. 24 should be placed by Tuesday. You can order online or by calling 877-286-0116; Visa, MasterCard and PayPal accepted.

Tim Page is chief classical music critic for The Washington Post.

Compilations | Richard Harrington

"Doctors, Professors, Kings & Queens: Big Ol' Box of New Orleans." Shout! Factory, $59.98. This musical potpourri plants you right in the middle of N'Awlins's legendarily diverse and influential music scene. Appropriately, the 85 tracks on four CDs are not organized by chronology (the set covers roughly 80 years), genre or theme. Instead, pioneers and originators mix with their progeny, recognition of the Crescent City's remarkable legacy as well as its ongoing vitality. Along the way you'll meet jazz giants Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton and Sidney Bechet; rock, R&B and blues avatars Fats Domino, Clarence "Frogman" Henry, Huey "Piano" Smith and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, as well as local institutions, including Professor Longhair, Dr. John, Allen Toussaint, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, the Meters, Irma Thomas, Preservation Hall Jazz Band and the Neville Brothers; young bloods Galactic, the Radiators and Coolbone; as well as Cajun and zydeco stalwarts Clifton Chenier, Beausoleil, Boozoo Chavis and others. The booklet offers terrific history as well as insider tips on the city's liveliest bars and restaurants by Mary Herczog, author of Frommer's New Orleans guidebook.

"This Is Reggae Music: The Golden Era 1960-1975." Trojan/Sanctuary, $54.98. With 90 tracks on four CDs, this is the most comprehensive collection of classic reggae ever, a sterling overview of the breadth and depth of Jamaican music, largely drawn from the seminal Trojan label. Arranged chronologically, it kicks off with some mento (Jamaican calypso) and ska (reflecting the huge and ongoing influence of classic American R&B), before exploring rocksteady (ska played at slower tempos) and the early reggae that paralleled the rise of Rastafari and its attendant spiritual and political vibes. The set ends with the rise of roots reggae in the early to mid-'70s, when the music was becoming popularized by Jimmy Cliff and the film "The Harder They Come" as well as Bob Marley, though the collection ends just as Marley's Island recordings are about to make reggae a worldwide phenomenon. Also featured are such pioneers as Desmond Dekker, the Ethiopians, Paragons and Lee Perry, Toots & the Maytals and Peter Tosh; choice rarities; and a lot of classics better known through pop, rock and R&B covers.

"Can't You Hear Me Callin' -- Bluegrass: 80 Years of American Music." Sony Legacy, $49.98. With 109 tracks and a 60-page booklet, this is a fairly comprehensive history with symmetry: It opens with Gid Tanner & His Skillet Lickers' 1929 recording of "Soldier's Joy" and closes with Mark O'Connor's recent variation on that British fiddle tune. The set traces the origin of bluegrass in Appalachian string bands in the 1920s before moving on to Ralph Peer's seminal field recordings in Bristol, Tenn., the concurrent rise of Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys and the Grand Ole Opry, the post-World War II emergence of Flatt & Scruggs and the Stanley Brothers, the bluegrass revival of the '60s and the neo-traditional movement of the '90s, and the rediscovery of Ralph Stanley in the wake of the film "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" Though there are many key historical and regional acts, among the MIA are the newgrass movement's two major advocates, the Country Gentlemen and the Seldom Scene, which is just wrong.

" Broadway: The American Musical." Sony Legacy, $59.98. A five-CD musical companion to the six-part PBS series spanning a century of Broadway history -- except here you get the complete songs, rather than the series' snippets. Virtually every important composer (and composing team) and artist is covered, and you're not going to go wrong with Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, the Gershwins, Blake and Sissle, Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, Leonard Bernstein, Kander and Ebb, Stephen Sondheim, and Andrew Lloyd Webber in a set that moves from "Ziegfeld Follies of 1919" through classics such as "Show Boat," "Oklahoma!," "My Fair Lady" and "West Side Story," and ends with such new offerings as "Hairspray," "The Producers" and "Wicked." All 106 tracks are from original cast recordings and include 64 Tony Award-winning performances.

"Autumn Thunder: 40 Years of NFL Films Music." Valley Entertainment, $98.95. Not just for the football fanatic, this 10-CD box set (housed in faux pigskin) will bring the game into your living room, thanks to superb orchestral evocations of what NFL Films head Steve Sabol calls "a sport of grand passions and bold gestures" by composer Sam Spence in the '60s and '70s and current composers Tom Hedden and Dave Robidoux. The ongoing popularity of NFL Films is due to superb cinematography, John Facenda's authoritative narration and old-fashioned orchestral scoring as powerful and suggestive as that of classic Hollywood features. Some tracks, such as "Drive to Glory"(from the fabled 1958 title game), "The Power and the Glory" and "A Golden Boy Again (Up She Rises)," are like greatest hits, constantly recycled, and it's illuminating to hear these works in their full glory rather than in snippets: The "Touchdown Suite" clocks in at nine minutes.

Richard Harrington is the pop music writer for Weekend.

DVDs

Critic's Picks | Desson Thomson

"Gone With the Wind Collector's Edition." Warner, $39.92. Not only can you watch once again a film that was (with the possible exception of "The Wizard of Oz") surely the most popular cultural event of 1939, but this Technicolor movie, starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh, has been digitally restored with "ultra resolution," allowing not only sharper detail than previous DVD releases but also parts of the image not visible previously at all. There is also a remastered soundtrack in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound, as well as more than five hours of extra features and a miniature reproduction of the original 22-page souvenir program -- an item that 1930s audiences used to receive for many "prestige" films. The extras in this four-disc package include mini-featurettes on producer David O. Selznick; his great search to fill the role of Scarlett O'Hara; and interviews with George Cukor (the first director on the production, who quit in frustration) and such supporting performers as Butterfly McQueen, who played Prissy. You can also view many of the screen tests that Selznick had shot of other actors and actresses who tried out for the principal roles. You can see how close Paulette Goddard came to landing the Scarlett role; in fact, I would have given her the part over the already outstanding Leigh.

"Spider-Man 2." Columbia-TriStar, $29.96. Let's face it, "Spidey Deux" was the best darned summer movie of the year, not just because of its fabulous performances (from Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, et al.) and special effects but because of a great, touching story. And let's not forget Alfred Molina as that unforgettable, tentacled villain. This two-disc, widescreen DVD has an incredible 10 hours of extras, which, if you have time to see it in one sitting, basically means get a job. But it also means hearing a commentary track on the movie with director Sam Raimi, Maguire and two of the movie's producers, and a host of other Spider-Man items. There is, for instance, a 12-part making-of documentary, which takes us from pre-production to the premiere.

"Dr. Strangelove -- 40th Anniversary Special Edition." Columbia-TriStar, $34.95. As we learn in this newly released version, director Stanley Kubrick's original idea for the landmark film was to make a scary thriller. But as Kubrick friend and collaborator (on other projects) James Harris reveals in one of the DVD's extras, they got increasingly giddy about the premise of mutually assured nuclear destruction. Kubrick decided to make it a black comedy. The result is, quite possibly, the darkest and greatest comedy of all time. See and marvel at Peter Sellers's immortal performances in three roles, as American President Merkin Muffley, Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake and the sinister German scientist Dr. Strangelove. The DVD has been restored to the original British widescreen aspect ratio as it was in 1964. And the extras include George C. Scott and Sellers giving canned answers (to questions already conveniently framed for gossip journalists) and interviews with such diverse personalities as The Washington Post's Bob Woodward, former defense secretary Robert S. McNamara and director Spike Lee.

"John Cassavetes: Five Films." Criterion Collection, $124.95. In many ways, John Cassavetes was the original indie filmmaker. He financed his own productions and gave himself the then-extraordinary luxury of complete artistic control. From the New York theatrical scene of the 1940s and 1950s, his signature style included long, wonderfully open-ended scenes designed to let actors explore their roles fully. Cassavetes argued that his films (most of them featuring his wife, actress Gena Rowlands) were tightly controlled affairs, rather than excessive improvisations. Judge for yourself. Criterion, guardians of the sacred flame of great art films, has assembled a wonderful, high-definition, digitally transferred collection of his masterworks, "Shadows," "Faces," "A Woman Under the Influence," "The Killing of a Chinese Bookie" and "Opening Night." Extras include more than two hours of new video interviews with Cassavetes troupers Lynn Carlin, Seymour Cassel, Peter Falk, Ben Gazzara, Lelia Goldoni and Rowlands; audio interviews with Cassavetes; and a 68-page book featuring new essays on the filmmaker and his work.

"Das Boot: The Director's Cut." Columbia-TriStar, $19.94. Director Wolfgang Petersen's original 1981 German film scored a direct hit with world audiences and also garnered six Academy Award nominations. (It was rereleased as the present extended version in 1997 as "Das Boot: The Director's Cut.") The movie, which has been refitted with digitalized sound, additional scenes, rerecorded sound effects and improved subtitles, is now a whopping 3 1/2 hours. But it never flounders. In fact, it propels itself through your consciousness with even greater power. This masterfully recomposed film, now remastered in high definition, is easily one of the richest, most humanistic depictions of wartime life since Jean Renoir's "The Grand Illusion." The extras include a behind-the-scenes featurette about the making of "Das Boot," as well as theatrical previews of the movie when it came out.

Desson Thomson is Weekend's movie reviewer.

Classics | Tim Page

"The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection," Universal, $59.98; and "The Marx Brothers Collection," Warner Bros., $59.92. After a surprisingly long delay, Chico, Harpo and Groucho have finally found their place on DVD. As of this year, all their films (with the not-likely-to-be-missed exception of "Love Happy," their last and least) are available in these two box sets. The first, Universal's "The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection," contains their most anarchic and consistently hilarious work -- "Monkey Business" (1931), "Horse Feathers" (1932) and "Duck Soup" (1933) -- as well as the genial, germinal "The Cocoanuts" (1929) and the wonderful "Animal Crackers" (1930), which turned Europe's leading surrealists, Salvador Dali and Antonin Artaud, into raving Marx Brothers freaks. The second box set, "The Marx Brothers Collection," issued by Warner Bros., takes up where Universal left off with "A Night at the Opera" (1935) and "A Day at the Races" (1937), which were considered the team's most perfect films for years but now seem rather dated and conventional, despite riotous moments. "Room Service" (1938), "At the Circus" (1939), "Go West" (1940), "The Big Store" (1941) and "A Night in Casablanca" (1946) round out the collection, along with some generous and unusually interesting extras (cartoons, interviews, commentary by film historians, and even two short, Marx Brothers-influenced films by the gentle humorist Robert Benchley, who deserves his own box set, and soon).

"Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts With the New York Philharmonic." Kultur International, $149.95. Composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein was also probably the most influential music teacher in history. Between 1958 and 1970, he made more than 50 appearances on CBS television, exploring and explaining myriad aspects of music with what was then "his" orchestra, the New York Philharmonic. Now Kultur International has issued 25 of these programs in a nine-DVD set. The results are extraordinary -- deeply substantial yet unfailingly entertaining hours of television that feature Bernstein at the peak of his powers, including learned, lively studies of jazz and folk music; tributes to Igor Stravinsky, Dmitri Shostakovich, Jean Sibelius and the then-underappreciated Gustav Mahler; and even a discussion of sonata form illustrated with a tune by the Beatles. The show was intended for children -- but most adults will find it mightily informative as well.

"The Ingmar Bergman Collection." MGM Home Entertainment, $112.96. Ingmar Bergman seems to be in the midst of a long-overdue revival. This summer, more than 25 of his films were shown in the Washington area as part of a six-week festival. Meanwhile, both Criterion and MGM Home Entertainment brought out a representative sampling of Bergman's work on DVD. The MGM set, titled "The Ingmar Bergman Collection," includes not only an uncut version of "Persona" (1966) -- a difficult, modernist masterpiece that holds roughly the same position in the Bergman catalogue that "The Waste Land" does in the oeuvre of T.S. Eliot -- but also the psychological horror show "Hour of the Wolf" (1968), the chamber drama "The Passion of Anna" (1969) and, bizarrely, "The Serpent's Egg" (1977), a slice of reconstituted Berlin decadence that is one of three films that Bergman, in his autobiography, refers to as "embarrassing failures." My own favorite here is "Shame" (1968), with Liv Ullmann and Max von Sydow in rare, raging symbiosis. Although this is one of the most brutally realistic depictions ever made of war and its attendant chaos, the ultimate effect is not morbid but cathartic, in the manner of Greek drama.

"The Fritz Lang Epic Collection." Kino Video, $99.95. Kino Video has followed up on its superb sets of the silent films of D.W. Griffith and F.W. Murnau with a tribute to the German director Fritz Lang, including spectacular reconstructions of some of the most celebrated -- and often badly mutilated -- cinematic fantasies of the 1920s. "Metropolis" (1927) is the best known of Lang's early films -- a stylized, horrific vision of class warfare in the now not-terribly-distant year 2027. But "Die Nibelungen" (1924) is equally fascinating -- an almost five-hour legend-pageant based on Norse mythology (comparisons to the tetralogy of operas by Richard Wagner are apt if inexact). "Spies" (1928) has been described as the first espionage thriller, while "Woman in the Moon" (1929) is an eerie prefiguration of the science fiction of the 1950s. Without exception, these are the best prints available -- the version of "Die Nibelungen" contains more than an hour and a half of material never before seen in the United States, as well as the original film score, essays, documentary footage, and a degree of love, scholarship and respect all too rarely showered on silent cinema.

"Orfeo ed Euridice." Kultur International, $29.95. There are few more moving myths than this tale of a grieving musician who ventures into Hades to bring back his beloved wife from the dead. Christoph Gluck's score is so beautiful it hurts: He gives us music of great sorrow and great joy and, ultimately, of such nobility and serenity that it seems to emanate from another world where joys and sorrows have ceased to matter. Dame Janet Baker was one of the leading Orfeos of her time, and this performance -- taped in 1982, with Elisabeth Speiser as Euridice and Elizabeth Gale as Amor, and newly available on Kultur -- captures Baker in all of her majesty and dignity. Raymond Leppard conducts the London Philharmonic and the Glyndebourne Festival Chorus.

Tim Page is chief classical music critic for The Washington Post.

Music | Richard Harrington

"That's Entertainment!: The Complete Collection." Warner Home Video, $49.92. MGM's acclaimed song-and-dance anthologies -- 1974's "That's Entertainment!," 1976's "That's Entertainment, Part 2" and 1994's "That's Entertainment! III" are packaged together with a bonus disc. Blending vintage clips, archival footage and new interviews, the first film celebrated MGM's 50th anniversary, the studio's classic movie musicals from A to Z ("Anchors Aweigh" to "Ziegfeld Follies") and iconic stars such as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Gene Kelly, Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Mickey Rooney and Bing Crosby. "Part 2" was more of the same, with Astaire and Kelly together for the first time in 30 years in all-new numbers directed by Kelly, and some love given to such non-singing stars as Greta Garbo, Clark Gable and the Marx Brothers. "III" celebrated MGM's 70th anniversary and reunited many of the veteran performers. The bonus disc, "Treasures From the Vault," features five hours of extras, including documentaries, TV specials and premiere-night coverage, odd newsreel footage from MGM's 25th anniversary celebration in 1949, and an Outtake Jukebox with cool musical leftovers featuring the likes of Sinatra, Garland and Lena Horne. The set has remastered video and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound.

"Elvis '68 Comeback Special Deluxe Edition." BMG Video, $49.98. Elvis Presley would have turned 70 next year. Yikes! Some folks had already written him off as a has-been in the '60s, when he seemingly abandoned live performing in favor of what passed for a movie career. That perception shattered after a 1968 NBC special that became a high point in his career as well as a milestone television moment in rock history. It had been seven years since Elvis had appeared before a live audience, and here he did so in front of a small studio audience, a black-leather-clad Elvis performing solo, then sitting down to jam with former bandmates Scotty Moore and D.J. Fontana, and later participating in several overdone production numbers. It's the intimate Elvis who still wows us now, reviving his classic rockabilly, rock and pop hits, and reminiscing about his career. This new three-disc set features all the material shot for the special: the broadcast version, two complete jam-session concerts and two complete solo concerts (never previously released in their entirety), as well as multiple takes of all the production numbers, all with remastered sound and picture.

"Festival Express," New Line Home Entertainment, $24.98; and "The Grateful Dead Movie," Monterey Home Video, $29.95. A double dose of delight for Deadheads. "Festival Express" charts an ill-fated 1970 venture that aimed to be a Canadian Woodstock on wheels. It failed as a business venture but inspired a great party train with a passenger manifest that included the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, the Band and others. Film crews were on hand for both the concerts and the journey, but when they weren't paid, the raw footage vanished until some music archivists uncovered it last year. Bob Smeaton ("The Beatles Anthology") put it together with new interviews with the participants, and, 35 years late, the film joins "Woodstock" and "Gimme Shelter" as a classic rock doc of great official and spontaneous performances, including the best-ever Joplin on film. The DVD adds 10 bonus performances, additional interviews and a short feature, "Derailed: The Making of Festival Express." As for "The Grateful Dead Movie," it might have become the band's "Last Waltz," capturing a 1974 farewell concert in which the members retired their massive but expensive Wall of Sound and prepared for a hiatus of undetermined length (they didn't retire until 20 years later, after Jerry Garcia's death). The landmark film deftly mixed concert footage and fan interaction to capture the Dead experience in its prime. The new DVD, featuring a high-definition widescreen transfer of the film and Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 audio mixes, adds 95 minutes of music that didn't make the cut when the film was released in 1977, including "Uncle John's Band," "Other One" and "Dark Star." The DVD also includes three documentaries, photo galleries and new interviews with band members.

"Live Aid." Warner, $39.99. Twenty years ago the notion of giant, all-star pop charity events was a novel concept though there had been precedents, such as George Harrison's Concert for Bangladesh in 1971. Then Bob Geldof, rock's good Samaritan, saw a BBC television documentary about the devastating famine in Ethiopia, and within eight months, his response -- the Band Aid single, "Do They Know It's Christmas?" -- had spawned USA for Africa's "We Are the World" and Live Aid, the greatest single-day gathering of pop stars, all aimed at raising relief funds and public consciousness about the situation in Africa. On July 13, 1985, concurrent concerts in London and Philadelphia were televised live around the world, reaching 1.5 billion people as the global jukebox became a bully pulpit for the cause. The lineup included such legendary acts as Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, the Who, Queen, David Bowie, Tina Turner, Duran Duran, Paul McCartney, Patti LaBelle, Eric Clapton, the Beach Boys and the young Madonna performing the cream of their pop in a program marked by reunions (Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young). Originally meant as a one-off event (no album, video, film), Live Aid has now been released as a four-disc DVD set with 10 hours of music, the two singles' videos and several documentaries. The original movement raised $145 million; proceeds from this DVD and a new version of "Do They Know It's Christmas?" are marked for famine relief in the Darfur region of Sudan.

" Wattstax 30th Anniversary Special Edition." Warner Home Video, $24.98. Three decades on, we finally get the complete version of a seminal social/musical event, 1972's Watts Summer Festival concert at the L.A. Coliseum. Commemorating the violent Watts riots that had taken place seven years earlier, the daylong concert featured a stellar Stax label lineup that included Isaac Hayes, the Staple Singers, Rufus Thomas, Johnny Taylor and the Bar-Kays, but director Mel Stuart went deeper, intercutting concert footage with on-the-street interviews with Watts residents and adding commentary, both caustic and hilarious, by a young comedian named Richard Pryor. Just as Columbia Pictures released the film in 1973, rival studio MGM demanded Stuart cut Hayes's grand finale of "Theme From 'Shaft' " and "Soulsville," whose rights were owned by MGM; the film disappeared soon after. Last year, on its 30th anniversary, "Wattstax" was rereleased with a restored soundtrack and picture, as well as its rightful ending. The new DVD version includes all that, plus a full version of Hayes's "Rolling Down a Mountain," actually recorded on a soundstage and craftily intercut with crowd scenes as a faux finale; Albert King's "I'll Play the Blues for You"; a documentary on the documentary; and commentary tracks by rapper-musicologist Chuck D and Stax historian Rob Bowman, as well as Stuart, Hayes, producer Al Bell and others. It's a scintillating snapshot of black America in the early 1970s, including both wild fashion and angry politics.

Richard Harrington is the pop music writer for Weekend.

Critic's Picks | Michael O'Sullivan

"The Up Series." First Run Features, $99.95. Forget reality TV. While waiting for the next installment to come out in this positively addictive, ongoing British documentary series -- which has been following the lives of a group of average English citizens beginning at age 7 and checking in every seven years thereafter -- fans of the project can bone up on the stories contained in the six films that have been made so far: "Seven Up," "7 Plus Seven," "21 Up," "28 Up," "35 Up" and "42 Up." Series director Michael Apted, who has been involved with "Up" since working as a researcher on the original film (which first aired on British television in 1964), says he no longer considers these people his subjects, but friends, and with good reason. After listening to Jackie, Tony, Neil and others talk about their lives -- their small moments of triumph and heartbreak collapsed into several hours of diamond-hard filmmaking -- you may become enamored, too. The set features audio commentary by Apted on "42 Up."

"The Fantastic Films of Ray Harryhausen: Legendary Science Fiction Series." Columbia-TriStar Home Entertainment, $57.95. So what if the giant, black-and-white octopus that threatens San Francisco in the 1955 thriller "It Came From Beneath the Sea" has only six tentacles? Who's counting? Spotting that cost-saving measure from the golden age of stop-action animation lovingly remembered in this five-disc boxed set only adds to the pleasure and amazement to be found on the tribute to special-effects wizard Ray Harryhausen. Harryhausen, of course, is the man who brought us the alien ant-people of "First Men in the Moon" (1964), the man-eating crab of "Mysterious Island" (1961), the lizardlike Ymir of "20 Million Miles to Earth" (1957), and the destruction, courtesy of a UFO, of the Washington Monument in "Earth vs. the Flying Saucers" (1956). Fans of the master's work will also want to check out "The Fantastic Films of Ray Harryhausen: Legendary Monsters Series" (Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment, $57.95), due out Dec. 28.

"Super Size Me." Hart Sharp Video, $26.99. What better way to encourage your friends and family members to stick to their diets over the holidays than with a festive screening of "Super Size Me," filmmaker Morgan Spurlock's hilarious, harrowing record of his month-long, all-McDonald's diet -- during which time the fit, trim 33-year-old gained nearly 30 pounds and almost ruined his health. One of the best and most important documentaries of the year, "Super Size Me" is not just an indictment of fast food (Mickey D's, coincidentally, announced the phaseout of supersizing after the film came out), but of a country that is making itself sick and fat. In addition to an interview with "Fast Food Nation" author Eric Schlosser that never made the film, the DVD's package of extras includes wry commentary by Spurlock and his vegan-chef girlfriend, along with her recipes for tofu and vegetable phyllo tart.

"Ed Wood -- Special Edition." Buena Vista Home Entertainment, $29.99. Johnny Depp's portrayal of the blindly naive filmmaker Edward D. Wood Jr., universally acclaimed to be the worst director of all time, makes Tim Burton's Oscar-winning 1994 homage to the auteur of the delicious stinker "Plan 9 From Outer Space" a pure delight, as does Martin Landau's channeling of a dying, drug-addicted Bela Lugosi. The fictionalized biography makes a great companion piece to "The Ed Wood Box" (Image Entertainment, $39.99), a six-disc collection featuring, along with "Plan 9," the transvestite howler "Glen or Glenda," starring Wood himself; "Jail Bait"; "Bride of the Monster"; and its less-well-known sequel, "Night of the Ghouls." Along with the feast of bad acting, incoherent writing, continuity gaffes and the cheesiest of cheesy special effects (pie plates for flying saucers!), you'll find a bunch of informative documentary and archival footage.

"Margaret Cho{+3}. " Wellspring Media, $49.98. This collection of all three of Margaret Cho's live concert films ("I'm the One That I Want," "Notorious C.H.O." and "Cho Revolution") is not for everyone. But it's a must-have for rabid fans of the self-described "inappropriate" comedian, who, in this year's "Revolution," gets more humorous mileage out of an anecdote about an episode of car-bound incontinence than you'd think humanly possible. "Don't go there?" Cho asks rhetorically. "I live there. I bought a house there." Raw and, like the best comedy, born of pain, Cho's jokes are never so good as when they're mined from the circumstances of her own life, such as her ongoing struggles with weight and eating disorders. The Korean American performer complains that she never gets offered acting roles except Asian stereotypes, and that's a shame. Cho is the consummate thespian, disappearing into such characters as her own immigrant mother -- Cho's most famous bit -- a performance she maintains for the entire commentary track on "Notorious." Truth be told, it's funnier than the movie itself.

Michael O'Sullivan reviews art and film for the Weekend section.

Children's | Nicole Arthur

"Mary Poppins, 40th Anniversary Edition." Buena Vista Home Video, $29.99. Whether the 40th anniversary of "Mary Poppins" evokes wistful nostalgia or a grateful reflection on societal progress, it's pretty much impossible to surpass the cinematic delight of Dick Van Dyke dancing with a quartet of animated penguins. Though much of the 1964 film seems dated today (naturally the Banks's dingbat mother is a suffragette), just as much has a creative exuberance missing from contemporary children's fare (picture the rooftop chimney-sweep dance). Like most Disney DVDs, this one is loaded with extras, but they don't add much value here. Richard Sherman, who wrote the score with brother Robert Sherman, performs a mercifully deleted song called "Chimpanzoo." The forgettable new short, "The Cat That Looked at a King," has no real connection to "Mary Poppins." Appearances by Julie Andrews and Van Dyke reveal that, though both are as charming as ever, neither has much to say. The most interesting fact to emerge from the background material is how doggedly Walt Disney pursued the rights to the novel; the wooing of reluctant author P.L. Travers lasted 20 years. Priceless audio footage captures Travers hectoring the filmmakers about the inadequacy of their adaptation.

"Thomas & Friends: The Early Years." Anchor Bay Entertainment, $39.98. The current popularity of Thomas the Tank Engine and the associated impedimenta has got to be one of the most unlikely phenomena in the history of children's entertainment. The first of the books, moralistic tales about a group of anthropomorphized trains by the Rev. W. Awdry, an Anglican clergyman, was published in 1945. (The series was later continued by his son Christopher.) It wasn't until 1984, when the books were adapted for British television by Britt Allcroft, that today's Thomas craze began to take shape. This three-disc set includes the first 26 episodes of "Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends" -- its simple stories "animated" with model trains -- and is narrated by Ringo Starr. (There's something so fundamentally English about the material that it sounds vaguely absurd in any but a British accent.) Awdry was a railroad buff who often based his stories on actual railroad news and fell out with his illustrator over the accuracy of his drawings. The author would surely be amused to know that, thanks to him, 21st-century toddlers who've never seen a train are fluent in archaic railroad terminology.

"Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" Warner Home Video, $19.98. "Everybody hates Christmas a little bit," remarks animator Chuck Jones matter-of-factly. Maybe that explains the enduring popularity of the 1966 Dr. Seuss cartoon "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" The animator makes the comment in a "making of" segment included in this release, which pairs the Grinch with "Horton Hears a Who," another collaboration between the two. As both cartoons illustrate, Jones's instinct for physical comedy was the perfect complement to Seuss's offbeat sensibility. (Think of the Grinch slithering under the Christmas tree like a snake or his small dog, Max, pulling a sleigh that is roughly 200 times his size up a mountainside.) The bonus material here is pretty ho-hum, with the exception of a TNT special featuring interviews with Jones, composer Albert Hague and others involved in the making of the cartoon. The disc's real bonus is its foreign-language options, which reveal that the marvelously Seussian concept of "roast beast" doesn't survive translation: In French it becomes "une dinde de belle taille" ("a good-size turkey"), and in Spanish, "pavo asado" ("roast turkey").

"The Wind in the Willows." A&E Home Video, $19.95. This 1983 television adaptation of Kenneth Grahame's beloved children's book is as languid and lyrical as its source material. Grahame's book is as slow and meandering as the river that serves as its centerpiece, and this adaptation from Cosgrove Hall studios is no different. Indeed, it makes "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" look like "Die Hard." Its charm lies in its loyalty to the book -- much of the dialogue is taken directly from its pages -- and in its lovingly detailed stop-motion animation. (Cosgrove Hall is best known for "The BFG," the 1989 film based on the Roald Dahl novel, as well as the British TV series "Danger Mouse" and "Count Duckula.") The production's delicate renderings capture the look of the book's drawings as well as the tenor of its prose ("The Wind in the Willows" was illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard, of "Winnie-the-Pooh" fame). From the cross-stitched sampler that hangs on Mole's wall to the ginger beer in Rat's picnic basket to the mangled debris of Toad's successive motor cars, every detail feels right.

"Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban." Warner Home Video, $29.95. The third and best installment in the Harry Potter series is as grim and oppressive as its predecessors were slight and perky. And, as any reader of J.K. Rowling knows, this is exactly as it should be. In director Alfonso Cuaron, Rowling found a collaborator whose sensibility suits her material. She says as much in one of the DVD's extra features, noting that book and filmmaker were seemingly "made for each other." Change is afoot in "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" -- the mood darkens, the plotting gets more complex and the lead characters become teenagers -- and the change of directors proves a timely one. Though the DVD's extras are elaborately presented, most are ultimately insubstantial. (This paucity is aggravated by the overly clever menu navigation; when was it decreed that the production values for DVD menus had to exceed those of the actual film?) The most compelling bonus feature is "Conjuring a Scene," which chronicles some of the drudgery behind the film's special effects -- the effort to construct a working skeletal system for a mythological creature, for instance. The added material also reveals the unusual extent of author Rowling's involvement in the day-to-day minutiae of the film. No P.L. Travers she!

Nicole Arthur is a Weekend staff writer who covers children's entertainment.

Television Shows | Jen Chaney

"Seinfeld," Volumes 1 and 2. Columbia-TriStar, $49.95 per volume or $119.95 for gift set. "Seinfeld" may be the most-hyped DVD debut of a TV show ever. Fortunately the two-volume collection lives up to its pre-release publicity by providing an abundance of absorbing bonus features -- including blooper reels, documentaries, pop-up trivia and commentary tracks -- to supplement the first three seasons of one of television's most influential comedies. Fans who fell in love with the show during its "yada, yada, yada" period may have forgotten how funny these installments were, particularly the ones from Season 3 (the collection's second volume). Sure, "No soup for you!" is an unforgettable catchphrase, but so is "These pretzels are making me thirsty." And the gift set comes with a script, salt and pepper shakers, and a set of playing cards. You can't go wrong by giving "Seinfeld" as a Secret Santa gift. Just make sure to say it's from Art Vandelay.

"The Simpsons," the complete fourth and fifth seasons. Fox, $49.98 per volume. What's better than owning the fourth season of "The Simpsons," released on DVD in June? Getting the fifth season only six months later when it arrives on DVD Dec. 21. There is no question that, as Comic Book Guy might say: "The Simpsons" is the Best Show Ever. And these two seasons may be the Best Seasons Ever. Show me the person who doesn't laugh until they hyperventilate during "Mr. Plow," "Marge vs. the Monorail" or "Cape Feare" and I'll show you someone in dire need of a sense-of-humor transplant. Given deleted scenes, Easter eggs and commentary tracks on every episode, Mr. Burns won't be the only one who thinks these box sets are "Ex-cellent."

"Freaks and Geeks:The Complete Series." Shout! Factory, $69.98. These days it seems even the most mediocre TV shows make their way to DVD. Seriously, was anyone really clamoring for the "Too Close for Comfort" box set released last month? On the other hand, all the TV-DVD mania means some truly exceptional but rarely seen programs finally get the recognition they deserve. "Freaks and Geeks," perhaps the most honest portrayal of high school life to ever grace the airwaves, is a perfect example. Canceled by NBC in the midst of its first season (1999-2000), "Freaks" built a staunchly loyal fan base whose grass-roots lobbying efforts were largely responsible for bringing the show to DVD. The set includes an abundance of commentaries, deleted scenes and audition footage. Though most will be satisfied with the six-disc version sold in stores, genuine "geeks" will go gaga over the eight-disc collector's set (available on www.freaksandgeeks.comfor $120), which comes with a stunningly realistic yearbook from 1980, the time period in which the show is set. It's the DVD that stands most proudly on my entertainment-center shelf.

"The Office: The Complete Collection." BBC, $59.92. This delightfully squirm- inducing BBC series about the dysfunctional British employees of a poorly run paper company is finally available from beginning to end on DVD. All 12 episodes from the first (and only) two seasons -- and the holiday special that brings the series to a satisfying if not quite gut-busting conclusion -- are included here. The set allows "Office" virgins to get fully acquainted with David Brent (played by series creator Ricky Gervais), the self-involved supervisor who makes everyone's Boss From Hell look like the patron saint of middle management. And those already familiar with Brent's antics will appreciate the bonus features, including a making-of documentary, outtakes and deleted scenes. Just try to watch without covering your eyes . . . or bursting into hysterical fits of laughter.

"24: Season Three." Fox, $69.98. Episodes of "24" are like Lay's potato chips: You can't eat just one. Thankfully, the DVD releases of Fox's real-time drama allow viewers to gorge on as many episodes as they can ingest in one sitting. Although the third season, which arrived on DVD Tuesday, isn't as consistent as the first two, it's absorbing enough to keep its audience interested through the two dozen tension-filled episodes. And like the second-season DVD collection, this box set contains featurettes, commentary tracks and 45 (no, that's not a misprint) deleted scenes. Perhaps not coincidentally, the DVD also provides a perfect way for fans to refresh their memories of Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) before the show's fourth season begins next month.

Jen Chaney reviews DVDs each week in her "Bonus Points" column on washingtonpost.com.


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