DVD’s, Videos, TiVo, Downloadables

Bored of The Ring

You’ll eventually need something akin to the Dewey decimal system to keep your Lord of the Rings DVD collection in order.

The Return of the King , the third installment of the boffo series based on the novels by J.R.R. Tolkien, comes in a handsome boxed set that includes all three films and their respective bonus material. And Peter Jackson’s raison d’être hasn’t even been released yet! The special extended-version, four-DVD release of King arrives just in time for-here’s a shocker-Christmas (the scruffy director was apparently working on it when he was holed up in New Zealand before the Oscars, refusing to do press). Maybe consider a card catalog for the kiddies as well.

Unfortunately, the return of this King is none too spectacular. The movie, of course, is brilliant, but the bonus materials suffer from neglect. The two documentaries made independently for the release- The Quest Fulfilled: A Director’s Vision and A Filmmaker’s Journey: Making The Return of the King (both titles that would please our own auteurist, Andrew Sarris)-overlap each other and use redundant footage.

My advice is to wait, go through some LOTR withdrawal, begin to jones for the hobbits, Gandalf and the like, and then chow down on Mr. Jackson’s forthcoming Christmas feast.

[ The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), PG-13, 200 min., $29.95.]

Sweets from The Swede

One word kept popping up in Bosley Crowther’s 1957 New York Times review of Ingmar Bergman’s 1955 comedy Smiles of a Summer Night : droll, droll, droll. To him the film-about a turn-of-the-20th-century attorney married to an ingenue half his age while secretly coveting a more age-appropriate former lover-was “a delightfully droll contemplation of amorous ardors.” (Makes Peter Travers sound like Tarzan!)

Well, Mr. Crowther had a point: Smiles displays Mr. Bergman’s adroitness at balancing humor with whimsy, provocation with good-natured fun. And although Mr. Bergman followed this up with the dour Seventh Seal , even there one finds that the “Sullen Swede” always had time for a laugh, especially when it came at the expense of the human condition.

You can see why Smiles inspired both Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway musical A Little Night Music in 1973 and Woody Allen’s A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy in 1982. It continues to hold up tremendously well, showing none of the strain of its middle-aged hero, who clings so pathetically to his youth.

The DVD contains a video introduction by Mr. Bergman, a conversation between film historian Peter Cowie and writer Jorn Donner (the executive producer of Fanny and Alexander ), and a 24-page booklet that includes an essay by renowned film critic Pauline Kael, who never leaned too heavily on the word droll .

[ Smiles of a Summer Night (1955), NR, 108 min., $29.95.]

Def Leopard

Italian directors love their epics long. Hollywood loves to cut them down-and sometimes for the better; consider Giuseppe Tornatore’s lugubrious director’s cut of Cinema Paradiso . But Luchino Visconti’s 1963 adaptation of Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa’s novel The Leopard , about a Sicilian aristocrat grappling with the deterioration of the upper class following Il Risorgimento (the unification of Italy) in the mid–19th century, is a wonderful example of a film as long-three hours plus-as it is good.

This is thanks to Mr. Visconti’s elegant direction and Burt Lancaster’s surprisingly moving performance as the pensive, progressive Prince Don Fabrizio Salina-even though he wasn’t Italian and Mr. Visconti at first considered him an “American gangster.” They became fast friends and created the most memorable Italian patriarch in movie history until that other Don (Corleone) came along in 1972.

The film centers on the betrothal of Prince Salina’s nephew (the dashing Alain Delon) to a local politician’s daughter (the beautiful Claudia Cardinale-slumming it never looked so good), which represented the shifting balance of power in post-revolution Sicily. “It’s the story of a nobleman who marries ‘Peppe Cowshit,'” succinctly summarizes screenwriter Suso Cecchi d’Amico in the DVD’s supplementary material.

She’s among many of The Leopard ‘s key players to spill their guts for this hefty boxed set, which includes both the original Italian version (with “improved” subtitles) and the original American release-25 minutes shorter-with Mr. Lancaster’s voice dubbed in.

[ The Leopard (1963), PG, 187 min., $49.95.]

Peckinpah’s Preludes

Something to add to the Sam Peckinpah legacy: brilliant title sequences.

None are better than in the films he made with Steve McQueen: Junior Bonner and The Getaway . Peckinpah’s talent for tight, rhythmic editing-which made for some of the most exhilarating action sequences ever shot in a western-is well-suited to credits. His tick by with the precision of a metronome, providing the beat to which his edit dances.

In Bonner , the director kick-starts a movie about the rough-and-tumble world of the rodeo with a surprisingly wistful combination of shots: McQueen’s beaten-up, broken-down bull rider making his way back to his trailer to lick his wounds, combined with his slow-motion recall of being tossed around like a rag doll by one of those ferocious beasts. It is the perfect beginning to a film about an aging, lonely rodeo star returning home for one last shot at glory.

Peckinpah would have made an adroit music-video director. In fact, he made two videos for John Lennon’s son Julian, but alas, died soon after. Not all of his movies were hits ( Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia had many critics serving Peckinpah’s up instead), but no one could make that first five minutes more interesting.

[ Junior Bonner (1972), PG, 100 min., $14.95.]