"Finding Nemo" (G)
You have to be a pretty cold fish not to enjoy "Finding Nemo." It's a pleasure to see this charming and beautifully animated film already on DVD, especially since the aquatic blockbuster is still making decent money in cineplexes. With a gross of nearly $350 million, it's easily the biggest box office success of 2003, at least so far.
Most will primarily take pleasure in being able to view this marine-life movie over and over again in the privacy of their homes and/or minivans. Wisely, the studio includes both the widescreen and full-frame versions in this two-disc set, so there's no need to choose between formats. Plenty of bonus features are included, too, but some don't exactly come off swimmingly. For example, the behind-the-scenes studio tour with Alex Gould, who provides the voice for our hero Nemo, is lame even by a 6-year-old's standards, and a read-along-with-the-DVD storytime feature is equally pointless. Fortunately, the set compensates for those fish flops by including Jean-Michel Cousteau's amusing "Exploring the Reef" documentary, as well as "Making Nemo," an entertaining look at how the movie came to the big screen. As DVDs go, "Nemo" is a good catch and a sound investment. After all, no parent can afford to rent this as many times as your children will undoubtedly want to watch it.
Treasure Trove of a Bonus Point: The visual commentary option on disc one allows viewers to watch the film with an audio track and numerous featurettes sprinkled throughout the story, or to access those same featurettes individually. It's worth sorting through them because there are some gems here, including several deleted scenes, a short video of Ellen DeGeneres speaking whale and a montage that shows those possessive seagulls squawking "Mine! Mine" in French, Farsi and several other languages.
Most Difficult Bonus Point: The "Fisharades" game on disc two is more frustrating than fun. When a 31-year-old can't win, something's amiss under the sea.
Most Educational Bonus Point: "Mr. Ray's Encyclopedia" gives viewers the chance to learn interesting facts about the creatures who inhabit the film. For instance, did you know that clownfish are coated in mucous? Kinda makes Nemo and Marlin seem less cute, doesn't it?
Most Strangely Mesmerizing Bonus Point: Both discs contain a variety of virtual aquariums, which fill the TV screen with underwater images of crystal blue waters, coral and other sea life. But that's it. Nothing else happens. The same fish keeps swimming by for hours on end, which seems totally senseless until you realize you've been staring at it for the past 15 minutes.
"Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" Special Extended Edition (PG-13)
I haven't watched every single DVD released in 2003. But I feel fairly certain that the extended edition of "The Two Towers" is one of the best DVDs of the year.
Four discs come with this mammoth box set; the first two contain the film itself, with 40 minutes of extra footage added. The other two, called the Appendices, are jam-packed with fascinating documentaries that cover almost every aspect of putting the Tolkien adaptation on film. One could quite literally spend hours on end watching it all. The amazing thing is -- and this cannot be said of other bountiful box sets -- it's rarely boring.
Even non-Frodo freaks will get a kick out of the featurettes, which disclose, among other things, that punk icon Iggy Pop provided partial inspiration for the design of Gollum; during breaks, some of the vicious Uruk-hai imitate Austin Powers; and nasty Internet chatters, disturbed by initial reports about Arwen's role in the film, actually made Liv Tyler cry.
The only bummer about this set is that it doesn't include the original cut of the movie. For that, purists will need to buy the DVD version of "Two Towers" released last August, which is New Line's sneaky way of forcing Hobbit habitues to spend even more money. But that's a minor quibble about a remarkable DVD package that's refreshingly void of self-congratulatory rhetoric. Well, with one exception: On the introduction to disc four, Elijah Wood welcomes viewers to the DVD, then asks, "Doesn't it just kick ass?" Yes, dear Frodo. It does.
Most Oscar-Worthy Bonus Point: There was an outcry earlier this year among those who thought Andy Serkis -- the actor who "played" the role of the digitally created Gollum -- deserved an Academy Award nomination. An absorbing documentary about Gollum finally gives people the opportunity to see Serkis at work. His physical dedication to the part -- he bounds energetically and barefooted across jagged rocks -- and his convincing performance prove that a nomination truly would have been well deserved.
Most Drool-Inducing Bonus Point: Listen up, ladies. On disc four, in the "Warriors of the Third Age" feature, viewers are treated to shots of Orlando Bloom wearing a tank top and practicing his swordplay. Forget the ring. That's what I call "precious."
Most Pain-Filled Bonus Point: The "Cameras in Middle Earth" documentary provides details about the various ailments suffered by cast members, including the moment when Viggo Mortensen broke his toes (which actually ended up in the film's final cut); Bloom's struggles with a broken rib; and the pain inflicted on Merry and Pippin by Treebeard. Even Serkis and Sean Astin confess to having a terrible argument after Serkis overzealously ripped off Astin's wig during one scene. "I know you idiots are going to come along and do this behind-the-scenes DVD thing, and it's embarrassing," Astin says sheepishly about the incident.
Worst Bonus Point: Truly there aren't many. But the various design galleries, which have become a staple of many DVD bonus features, rarely add much to the mix.
The "Who Knew?" Bonus Point: A film about the creation of the sound effects is truly ear-opening. Among other things, it shows director Peter Jackson getting a crowd at a cricket match to chant like Uruk-hai and reveals that the movement of the fell beast's tail is actually the sound of a cheese grater twirling on the end of a string.
Is there an upcoming DVD that you'd like to see reviewed in this column? Or do you have suggestions for our movie content in general? E-mail and let me know.
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