Arthur(s) on Blu-ray disc

Warner Brothers is taking the opportunity offered by the release of its "Arthur" remake to release the original and its sequel on high definition in a double feature pack that gives you both films on one disc.

It's probably just as well. While the first Arthur is diverting enough, it's hardly a classic, let alone a film worthy of a remake - especially since it's hard to imagine anyone, even Helen Mirren, replacing Sir John Gielgud, whose Oscar-winning performance was the best thing about the original "Arthur."

But far be it for us to dump on a double feature, especially one that gives you two movies for the price of one. On the other hand, the second movie is so inferior to the first that you might not want to bother with it.

Arthur Bach (Dudley Moore) is a poor little rich boy, the son of a filthy rich family, a man-child who has never had to grow up or shoulder any kind of responsibility in his life. So he cruises around in his chauffeured Rolls Royce limousine, looking for adventure that, from what we can see, generally amounts to him forcing innocent bystanders to participate in what his inebriated mind thinks is grand comedy, but which is really just a soused ego-driven series of embarrassments that have him known around New York as the spoiled brat drunk that he is.

Then, just as he's preparing to be married off to the daughter of another rich family, he meets and falls under the spell of an Ordinary Woman, a waitress from Queens (Liza Minnelli, who's actually very good in the part) for whom he falls head over heels.

This leads to the film's conflict: marry Susan (Jill Eikenberry) and keep his $750 million inheritance or follow his heart - grow up, and marry the woman he loves - and have to get a job and live like other people.

Guess which he chooses.

Arthur 2: on the rocks picks up a few years later, with Arthur and his wife, Linda (Moore and Minnelli again, which tells you a bit about how the first film ended!) trying to adopt a child. But the past rears its ugly head again via a vindictive Susan and her family, who hatch a scheme to force Arthur to divorce Linda and marry Susan (played this time by Cynthia Sikes) or once again face pauperhood. This time, however, Arthur actually gives up his fortune and tries to live like ordinary mortals, giving the movie a "fish out of water" theme that was never really explored in the original.

In the end, the first "Arthur" is easily the better of the two films, with far more charm than the much weaker and more predictable sequel.

We also had a problem with Susan turning suddenly from being a vindictive hag to embracing true love even though it made her the loser; it seems a bit of a stretch considering everything that's come before.

The message we got from both films, if a message is there at all, is that money can't buy happiness, but it's sure nice to have it, anyway. So while there's a typically anti-capitalist bent, at least it isn't overtly anti rich.

The Blu-ray does both films justice; it's fine but, like the films, hardly reference quality. The 1080p widescreen picture (1.85:1) is sharp and clean, with good detail and color - easily the best video version of either movie to date - though we didn't notice a lot of that wonderful depth you can get from Blu-rays. The second film is better than the first (pretty ironic, eh?), but neither will go down in Blu-ray history as class acts.

Audio is dts HD Master Audio (mono for the first and stereo for the second) and it's merely okay. Again, we love a reference quality track we can use to show off our home theater, but even if this track were of that caliber we can think of a great number of other Blu-rays (anything from Pixar, for instance) that showcase your audio and video investment better.

Extras are confined to the trailers for each film.

Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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