This month's DVD column is for geeks. Take a look at the lineup: First I review TV's "Freaks and Geeks," which arrives in box-set form four years after NBC removed the comedy from its prime-time schedule; then there's "Kill Bill, Vol. 1" from film-geek-extraordinaire Quentin Tarantino; and finally, "Master and Commander," the Academy Award-nominated film based on Patrick O'Brian's seafaring literary series, which has inspired its own set of Capt. Jack Aubrey geeks. So read on, and geek out to your heart's content. (And don't forget to check out the Q&A with "Freaks and Geeks" executive producer Judd Apatow.)
"Freaks and Geeks"
Release Date: April 6
John Daley, Martin Starr and Samm Levine finally find a home on DVD for their beloved series "Freaks and Geeks."
(Chris Haston - NBC)
Once in a while, I come across a DVD that I unabashedly adore. But it's rare to find a collection that actually restores my faith in humanity. "Freaks and Geeks," a six-disc set containing all 18 episodes of the TV comedy about adolescent angst circa 1980, has done exactly that.
To see this hilarious, brutally insightful show - prematurely canceled by NBC in 2000, before all of the first season's episodes even aired -- in crystal-clear DVD format is rewarding in itself. Every moment -- from Sam's locker room humiliation, to softhearted stoner Nicks ongoing paean to deceased drummer John Bonham - is captured in its entirety, with all of the evocative late '70s/early '80s soundtrack in tact. And if you can tear yourself away from watching one of the best teen TV shows ever (which, take it from me, isn't easy), hours upon hours of bonus material await. Each episode is accompanied by at least one commentary track, and there are more than 60 deleted scenes. The collection also boasts audition footage of some of the shows stars, including "E.R.'s" Linda Cardellini, and behind-the-scenes footage of the cast goofing around on set.
But what really makes this DVD stand out -- and renews my confidence in my fellow humans, or at least the ones who release DVDs -- is the level of fan involvement. As "Geeks" executive producer Judd Apatow admits, the show arrived on DVD largely because thousands of people signed an online petition demanding it. "Freaks" aficionados also played a large role in the DVD itself. Some of the menu screens were designed by fans, and even a couple of the commentary tracks feature loyal viewers talking about the show. Sure, the "Freaks and Geeks" DVD is a product, and one that distributor Shout! Factory surely hopes will make money. But like the show that inspired it, this collection seems a genuine labor of love.
"Freaks" virgins or casual admirers of the show will certainly be satisfied with the six-disc version available in most stores for around $50. However, ultra-hardcore geeks should check out the collectors edition available at www.freaksandgeeks.com. For $120, you get an eight-disc set (with seven more hours of bonus material, if you can believe it) packaged in an 80-page, 1980 high school yearbook, complete with dorky signatures by the characters, an embossed McKinley High School seal and retro-style fonts throughout. Since Im a sucker for all things '80s, I may be a bit biased, but it's one of the most beautiful DVD packages I've ever seen. True, it's quite pricey. But for those who love their "Geeks," it's the perfect memento of a fantastic show that died way before its time.
Most Creative Bonus Points: The number of commentary tracks on the set is impressive, and the ingenuity behind them is even more astounding. While some feature the usual actor-director-producer lineup, others take the road less traveled, such as the parents' commentary, which spotlights the thoughts of the moms and dads of some of the show's young actors. Or there's the track by the three actors who played Coach Fredericks, math teacher Mr. Kowchevski and guidance counselor Mr. Rosso, all of whom provide observations in character. Every moment of the commentaries isn't necessarily compelling, but they all get an A+ for inventiveness.
Least Interesting Bonus Point: Apatow and actors John Daley and Martin Starr also recorded commentary tracks for the set's deleted scenes. Aside from the amusement of hearing freshman geek Daleys now-manly voice, most of the tracks add little insight. The trio seems to realize this. "This is the legacy of the show," Apatow says at one point during a lull in conversation. "Millions upon tens of millions of people will pass this in the store and not buy it. Okay, 3,000 will buy it and 1,100 of them will watch it and eight of them will watch this commentary." At least they have a sense of humor about the process.
Most Squirm-Inducing (in a Good Way) Bonus Point: Some of the deleted scenes are average, but several are laugh-out-loud gems, including the moment when cheerleader Cindy forces geek Sam to slow-dance with her while singing Styx's "Come Sail Away." Jason Segels extended dance solo to Heatwaves
"The Groove Line," included with the episode "Discos and Dragons," is also a must-watch.
"Kill Bill, Vol. 1" (R)
Release Date: April 13
If you want to refresh your memory before you see "Kill Bill, Vol. 2," which slices its samurai sword into theaters April 16, then by all means rent Quentin Tarantino's ultra-violent grindhouse homage. But if you plan to buy it, bear in mind that this DVD's bonus features are practically nonexistent.
The few extras include a somewhat self-serving 18-minute documentary, "The Making of 'Kill Bill'"; performances by Japanese female rockers the 5,6,7,8's; and a collection of Tarantino trailers we've probably all seen a hundred times. It's bloody delightful (literally) to revist the adrenalized action scenes in this relentless revenge flick, but otherwise this is a pretty lackluster DVD. I'd bet a Royale with Cheese that both volumes of "Kill Bill" will be released in a collector's edition box set with plenty of supplemental material. And that version will be worth the purchase price.
Most Appropriate Bonus Point: While the set-up menu allows viewers to watch the film with the standard Spanish and English subtitles, it also adds Japanese, Korean and traditional Chinese to the list. A nice touch for a movie that borrows so heavily from classic kung-fu cinema.
"Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World" (PG-13)
Release Date: April 20
Patrick O'Brian aficionados and Peter Weir admirers will want to get their hands on this two-disc collector's set, packed with hours of extra features. In fact, this lovely DVD -- not to be confused with the single disc edition, which contains no bonus material -- reminds me a bit of "The Lord of the Rings" discs, which delve in great detail into the making of those films. "Master and Commander" isn't packed with as many extras as, say, "The Two Towers" extended edition, but it certainly mines its share of minutiae. (Ever wondered how the crew made the rope on Capt. Jack Aubrey's ship? Here that mystery is solved.)
Bonus features include the compelling "The Hundred Days," an hour-plus documentary about the film's production; "In the Wake of O'Brian," in which director Weir describes adapting the author's novels for the screen; six deleted scenes; segments from multiple camera angles; and various featurettes. No commentary track is included, but given the thoroughness of what's here, it won't be missed. The behind-the-scenes footage gives such a vivid impression of what it was like to film this ocean epic, one can still smell the salt air long after ejecting this DVD from the player.
Bloodiest Bonus Point: During the "Hundred Days" doc, Weir is shown pouring gallons of fake blood on actors felled during a key battle scene. This is the sort of thing I expected to see on the "Kill Bill" DVD.
Most Artistic Bonus Point: The collector's set comes with a 28-page booklet and a series of maps that trace Aubrey's voyage, sure to please those who can't get enough O'Brian paraphernalia.
Most Pointless Bonus Point: This is not the first time I've asked: Why do DVDs include photo galleries? I suppose it's interesting to take a closer look at "Master and Commander's" set design, but I'd much rather have seen an additional documentary about O'Brian and the history behind his creation of this epic tale.
Coming to DVD in May: Everybody will want to be closer to free when "Party of Five: Season One" arrives May 4; an extended version of "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" hits stores May 18; and the film worth its weight in Oscar gold, "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," debuts on DVD May 25.