Blu Ray Review – Planet Earth, Six Disc Special Edition


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(thanks to the BBC for providing me with a review copy!)

The Planet Earth series has set a new gold standard for what nature programs should be. It features wonderful information, great music, excellent narration and, oh, my goodness…the sights. The sights! If you haven’t got an HDTV, this title alone is valid reason to get one. It’s just flat-out beautiful to look at, and the best way to look at it is through blu ray.

And I’m not kidding. On my TV (1080p, 42 inches), it looks just stunning. I really could go on for days about how perfect the picture is. The series never looked this good when shown on TV, and it doesn’t even look as good streaming (I own the whole set on Amazon Instant Video). It’s truly a wonder to behold.

Planet Earth, the Six Disc Special Edition contains not only all eleven episodes of the ground-breaking series, but you also get a whole raft of special bonus features, including a special about the snow leopard, one about the Mayan underworld, another focusing on elephants trying to survive in the Namibian desert (better them than me!), as well as commentaries, production diaries, “Planet Earth: The Future”, a sneak peek at Frozen Planet and, fascinatingly, a music-only option. Yes, you can sit down and simply listen to the music as you watch the incredible beauty unfold on your screen.

Better still, for those of us in the USA, you get David Attenborough’s original narration. Don’t get me wrong; Sigourney Weaver did just fine. But, well, Attenborough. The guy’s just flat-out incredible, and really knows his stuff. He makes for a much better VO choice than Weaver did.

This really is the best nature documentary series ever made. Blu ray really is the best way to see it. If you want a great way to celebrate Earth Day, or really just want to have a great time watching some TV, this is a perfect choice. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

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Blu Ray Review – Jackson 5ive The Complete Animated Series


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(special thanks to the publisher for providing me with a review copy!)

In theory I remember watching The Jackson 5ive. It began airing around the time I was born, so I’m sure that at some point when I was a wee lad, I caught it in syndication. I had to have. But I don’t actually remember seeing it before, so maybe I missed it. The good thing is that lets me approach this set without any nostalgia. The bad thing is that it lets me approach this set without any nostalgia.

In this set, you get, on four discs, both the blu ray and DVD version of the complete series. You get every episode with 46 different songs, and a helpful book that helps you locate exactly where each song is, so if you want to watch a specific one, you know where to go for it. This is a good thing, since the music is definitely the highlight of this series.

I will say that the songs on these discs sound just great, and likely sound better than they did when they were first broadcast. The video quality is also excellent, even if the images themselves…well, look, it was the 1970s, ok? Most of us understand that it wasn’t a great time for certain forms of art, and animation is one of those. The whole thing looks exceptionally psychedelic, and not in a good way. Go to YouTube and look at some clips and you’ll see what I mean.

Beyond the animation, the stories are also really strange. In the first episode, for example, we have the boys trying to keep Michael’s pink snake from terrorizing Dianna Ross. And by “pink snake” I mean a snake that is pink, because of course. Michael Jackson also has a pair of pet mice named Ray and Charles because why not. Oh, and the whole thing has a laugh track, because, you know, that makes sense.

What you don’t get, sadly, is anything in the way of special features. Now I’m sure there weren’t a lot of things they could have done in the way of special features here, but surely a commentary or two would have been nice, or perhaps some interviews. As it stands, this creates a package that’s great for kids and hardcore Jackson 5 fans, but not so much for other people.

And I suppose ultimately, that’s how I’ll describe this. It’s for the hardcore Jackson 5 fans for those people who have kids and want to give them something safe and harmless that has a good soundtrack. If you’re looking for anything deeper than that, you’ll be severely disappointed. But if that’s what you want, I’m sure you’ll be happy!

Blu-Ray Review – Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol


Bonus features include razzleberry dressing. Possibly.

(special thanks to the publisher for providing me with a review copy!)

Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol was the first animated Christmas special to be produced. It predates pretty much any other Christmas special you can think of, really, and it is…surprisingly good.

You know the basic story, I should hope. A miserly man is visited by three spirits on Christmas Eve night (well, technically four, and it’s more like Christmas morning in the very, very wee hours), these spirits remind him of what his past was, show him the present and give him a glimpse of the future. This has a salutary effect on the man, who vows to be a better person and is soon beloved by all.

Now, then. This is an animated version of this classic Dickens tale and features Mr. Magoo (voiced by Jim Backus), in the Scrooge role. Beyond that, it is a surprisingly straightforward and faithful adaptation of the story. We don’t have (many) scenes of Scrooge bumping into things and apologizing to them (which wouldn’t work for his character anyhow), and while there are songs, there aren’t that many, though one of them did remind me that I probably saw this as a little kid back in the 1970s.

In addition to the show, you get a raft of bonus features, including a bit on the making of and a bit of audio commentary. Not bad for a TV program that could predate the birth of the grandparents of some of the children likely to view this.

Overall I found this a charming, entertaining program. It was far better than I expected, and I really think it’s worth picking up if you want a friendly, sweet, good adaptation of the Dickens story.

Blu Ray Review – It’s a Trap!


No, not that kind of trap, but yet another Family Guy spoof of the Star Wars saga, now available on exciting blu ray! Does it hold up? In a word, yes. It’s not as good as Blue Harvest or Something, Something, Something Dark Side, but it’s quite watchable and entertaining.

The story begins with our heroes sitting around watching TV. The lights go out, Stewie says, “Does this mean we’re gonna do Jedi?” and Peter says, “Might as well get this over with.” From there we go to the opening crawl, wherein it’s revealed, possibly accurately, that the Family Guy people didn’t want to do this one. We go from there to the usual set of sight gags and familiar characters in new roles, including appearances by Roger, Klaus, Rallo and Tim the Bear. You get Meg in the expected spot, though the addition of someone very unexpected as the Rancor was quite fun.

There’s several times I laughed out loud, including the Emperor’s efforts to get Luke angry by dissing on Seth Green, or Peter/Han’s efforts to make the movie “darker”. While overall it wasn’t quite as good as the other ones, or as funny as the TV series at its best, it was still very good and I feel happy that I bought it.

Extras include a digital copy that I was able to put onto my computer, but wasn’t able to get it onto my phone using the PocketBlu feature. I spent several frustrating minutes trying before I gave up. There’s also the expected commentary, a drawing lesson, “sock puppet” stuff and more! It’s not something you’ll really be likely to buy for the extras, but it’s good to have them there.

Overall this was a purchase I was quite pleased with, and if you don’t own the previous installments, you can get this, plus those, in a big ole boxed set set for a reasonable price. Not bad, and worth seeing!

Blu Ray Review – Fantasia and Fantasia 2000


I dimly remember seeing Fantasia in theatres as a child. Looking on Wikipedia, I see it was re-released when I was ten years old, so that must’ve been when I saw it. It doesn’t seem that long ago, actually, and seeing it again now it felt just as fresh as it did back when I was a wee little lad.

The original Fantasia dates back to 1940, and it’s an amazing piece of art. Each of the segments in the film is very well done, though the best in my opinion is the mix of “A Night on Bald Mountain” and “Ave Maria”, a song so lovely it almost makes me want to forgive religion for its many sins. Almost. The animation is incredible in all the sequences and the sound, oh, the sound! Everything one can expect from such a film. I’ll also confess to getting a mighty chuckle when the narrator mentions that “The Nutcracker” isn’t performed much anymore. Ah, such a different time.

Fantasia 2000 is also a great film, but flawed on several levels. First, it’s only 74 minutes. If you remove the really pointless celebrity cameos (and they are quite pointless. Who thought Bette Middler talking about music would be a draw to kids?) and the repeat of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” from the first movie, you’ve only got about an hour of new content. Second, while that content is generally good, none of it really stands out, except the “Rhapsody in Blue” and “Firebird” sequences. Lastly, there’s the aforementioned celebrity cameos. But despite that, it’s still a good movie and worth seeing.

As for the discs, the movies look and sound just spectacular! There’s really nothing wrong with the transfers, which are crisp, clean and delightful! You also get a raft of extra features, plus DVD versions of the films, though strangely no digital download versions.

This is two great films at a great price. Disney could’ve easily decided to release them separately at a high price. I’m glad they didn’t. It’s a great value!

Blu Ray Review – The Original Christmas Classics


(special thanks to Morris King for providing me with a screener!)

I was born in 1972 and remember well how, as a growing boy, every November and December I’d watch things like the Peanuts Thanksgiving and Christmas specials (always sponsored by Dolley Madison), various live-action shows that I remember seeing but remember nothing about, and, of course, watching the Rankin Bass Christmas specials.

Now somehow I’d never seen “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town”, but I do remember seeing “Frosty the Snowman” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (punchline in need of a joke: “Rudolph the Red knows rain, dear.”). “Frosty Returns” came out in 1992, and since I was 20 then, I didn’t bother to watch it. But the others I watched and enjoyed greatly back when I was a growing lad.

This set includes all four of the following specials:

“Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” – The “origin” story for Santa, staring Mickey Rooney, June Foray and Fred Astaire. See how the evil Burgomeister takes away everyone’s toys only to have Kris Kringle come along and give them back! The stop-motion animation holds up very well and it looks and sounds great!

“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” – Rudolph has a rather shiny schnoz, which sadly keeps him from being popular and beloved by all. Herbie is a disgruntled elf who wants to be a dentist (?!). Along with an insane prospector, they travel to the Island of Misfit Toys and hilarity ensues. This is easily the best of the specials. The animation is great, the picture and sound are wonderful and the story is… well, quite mad! Especially the resolution with the Abominable Snowman.

“Frosty the Snowman” – A traditional cell animation story. It doesn’t hold up quite as well as the other two, and the animation is very highly stylized (almost to the point of being distracting), but the story is pretty fun, Frosty is a hoot and the music really sticks in your head.

“Frosty Returns” – Well, John Goodman plays Frosty! Other than that… it came out in 1992. I don’t have any sentimental attachment to it, and that’s for the best given that it’s… not great. It has a central message that, hey, science sucks! You don’t need to prove things! Just go with your heart and your faith and turn off your brain! Yeah, so there you go.

The one and only complaint I have about these discs is that there are no special features, unless you count “Frosty Returns” (I don’t). You do get a disc of music from the specials, and that’s nice, but I would’ve loved to have had commentary by, say, June Foray and Mickey Rooney. Or how about a commentary by the “Robot Chicken” guys? What about some behind-the-scenes videos or a documentary talking about the creation of the stories? Anything would’ve been nice, and certainly better than nothing. True, most kids watching these now (and I do think kids now will enjoy them), won’t care much about the special features, but nostalgic Gen-X types would eat them up!

Despite that, this is a lovely box set and a wonderful price. I really enjoyed seeing these stories again!