Fox Kisses up to Families, Blacks with new DVD's
By Jim Bray
Just in time to cash in on the March release of its digitally animated
"Ice Age," 20th Century Fox Home Video has released DVD versions of several
And for Black History month, Fox is also unveiling a few "African-American-focused"
Fox sent me review copies of the animated titles Thumbelina, FernGully
- the Last Rainforest, and a Troll in Central Park (Gee, I thought Clinton
was in Harlem!). They also tossed in the live action Breaking Away, The
Sandlot and My Bodyguard.
Thumbelina and "Troll" come from the Don Bluth/Gary Goldman team that
brought us "An American Tail," "The Land Before Time" and "Anastasia."
These new DVD's aren't as good as those classics, and are nowhere near
the quality of their tour de force Titan A.E., but they'll be sure to
keep the ankle biters glued to the set while you and the significant other
go on empowering yourselves.
FernGully is a politically correct toon about forest creatures whose
habitat is threatened by humans and others. My gag reflex for such things
won't allow me to sit all the way through it, but it's said to be good
for kids and supposedly doesn't beat them over the head with the eco-message.
Breaking Away is a small town "Americana" drama that won the Best Screenplay
Oscar in 1979. Though relatively bland, The Sandlot's tale of a summer
spent playing baseball while avoiding the neighborhood dog is also relatively
harmless, while My Bodyguard is a pleasant enough story of a kid who gets
a big school mate to protect him from bullies. And bully for him!
They're all pretty good kids films, and it's nice to see that each DVD
includes two versions of the movie: an anamorphic widescreen one suitable
for homes with 16x9 TV's, and a Pan&Scan version where the original
widescreen picture is cropped to fit the 4x3 screen conventional of TV's.
This makes the movies compatible with all home theaters, which is nice.
Unfortunately, there's a big downside. While it's great to see that Fox
went to the trouble of giving the discs the anamorphic treatment, they
didn't ensure the picture quality itself is up to snuff.
When I auditioned the kiddie flicks on a 57" widescreen TV fed by a progressive
scan DVD player, the picture quality on Thumbelina and FernGully was extremely
soft, looking almost as if it were out of focus. The colors were fine,
but I was tempted to put on my reading glasses to sharpen up the picture.
It wouldn't have helped, though.
Likewise, My Bodyguard and Breaking Away are grainy, unacceptably so
for a DVD. The Sandlot and "Troll" looked much better, but still not spectacular.
I tried them again on a 36 inch 4x3 TV fed by a conventional DVD player
and much to my chagrin, they looked far better. So much for staying state-of-the-art!
I suspect the kids won't care, and most homes today probably have equipment
that's closer to the second setup than the high end one, but that isn't
the point. A little more care would have kept everyone happy - and there
may be some disappointment coming down the road when you upgrade to the
new TV standard.
Fortunately, Fox has done a much better job on the "Black History Month"
titles they sent. All of them feature good anamorphic video transfers
and one even offers an honest to goodness Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack.
None of the titles, however, has a Pan&Scan version included.
Carmen Jones is the 1954 Otto Preminger/Oscar Hammerstein effort that
adapts and "Americanizes" Bizet's opera "Carmen," though the original
is better. I love a good transfer of these old widescreen "Color by Deluxe"
and Technicolor features, and Carmen Jones is a good example. Add to that
Dolby 4.0 "surround" sound and a terrific cast and you have a fine DVD.
The Five Heartbeats is Robert Townsend's ambitious and quite watchable
tale of a 1960's singing group. It also features Dolby Digital 4.0 surround
audio. 1997's heartwarming family flick Soul Food gives you the whole
5.1 channel audio experience.
Carmen doesn't have much extra material, but "Heartbeats" comes with
a featurette and a profile of director/co-writer Townsend, while Soul
Food tacks on a director's commentary track and excerpts from "the Soul
Don't you love a DVD that can really cook?
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