THE JUNGLE BOOK 2 (2003)
*/**** Image A Sound A Extras C
screenplay by Karl Geurs
directed by Steve Trenbirth
THE BRADY BUNCH MOVIE (1995)
***/**** Image B+ Sound A-
starring Shelley Long, Gary Cole, Christine Taylor, Christopher Daniel Barnes
screenplay by Bonnie Turner & Terry Turner
directed by Betty Thomas
A VERY BRADY SEQUEL (1996)
***½/**** Image B Sound A-
starring Shelley Long, Gary Cole, Christopher Daniel Barnes, Christine Taylor
screenplay by Harry Elfont & Deborah Kaplan and James Berg & Stan Zimmerman
directed by Arlene Sanford
TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY (1991)
***½/**** Image A+ Sound A Extras A
starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong, Robert Patrick
screenplay by James Cameron & William Wisher Jr.
directed by James Cameron
DIE ANOTHER DAY (2002)
**/**** Image A Sound A+ Extras A-
starring Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry, Toby Stephens, Rosamund Pike
screenplay by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade
directed by Lee Tamahori
THE ANIMATRIX (2003)
***/**** Image A+ Sound A Extras A
written by The Wachowski Brothers*, Yoshiaki Kawajiri, Kôji Morimoto, Shinichirô Watanabe, Peter Chung
directed by Peter Chung, Andrew R. Jones, Yoshiaki Kawajiri, Takeshi Koike, Mahiro Maeda, Kôji Morimoto, Shinichirô Watanabe
(*We defer to screen billing but recognize this is inaccurate.-Ed., 2016)
by Bill Chambers The studios apply their stratagem for summertime theatrical releases to DVD in 2003, having overcrowded videostore shelves this month and last with sequels and offshoots to the degree that, a few weeks from today, you will notice that a Matrix film and a Terminator film are vying for attention both at home and at the multiplex. As Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, Bad Boys II, and Legally Blonde 2 touch down in theatres, Die Another Day, The Jungle Book 2, and the Brady Bunch movies land on DVD, and then there are the cross-promotions: It seems like everyone wants a piece of the fallout from Universal's big-screen Hulk, with Fox, Buena Vista, Anchor Bay, and Universal itself issuing "Hulk"-branded discs prior to the feature film's June 20th opening. Synergy this aggressive may well erase the line separating legitimate media from its ancillaries yet; Fox takes a bold step in this direction with the upcoming From Justin to Kelly, slated to debut on disc a mere six weeks past its theatrical premiere date, thus rendering the latter a glorified trailer for the former.
Disney's The Jungle Book 2 should have gone direct-to-video in the first place, although it's not worth any more of your attention as a rental. The film--a structural mirror image of the 1966 animated classic whereby Mowgli (voice of Haley Joel Osment) wanders back out of the civilized village he moved to at the end of the original only to reconnect with Baloo the bear (John Goodman), find himself once again in the sights of Shere Khan the tiger, and learn for the second time in his short life that he belongs in a place with other humans--is as charmless and ugly as last year's Return to Never Land, the characters encumbered by chintzy "three-dimensional" shadows (there is much less depth here than in the film's technically-cruder forebear) and always strategically placed in hollowed-out areas of the jungle so as to avoid addressing issues of foreground. Baloo is now a lewd shade of purple that exacerbates the character's newfound obnoxiousness--the production has him belting out songs better-suited to Goodman's occasional stints as a Blues Brother than to scat-man Baloo, though such deviations are almost preferable to the film's slavish components: There's a black hole in the performance of George Sanders soundalike Tony Jay where Sanders's drollery should be.
Note that I said almost. Remember that bewitching little lady who, with the sensual refrain "I have come to fetch some water," announces Mowgli's burgeoning adolescence in The Jungle Book's denouement? Whose lure--carnal, cultural, mystical--is so enticing that the boy turns his back on his best friend? (Baloo whispering the plea "come back, come back"--a Shane lift that elicits bigger goosebumps--might be the most melancholy finish in all of Disney.) They ought to have dispensed with her, for the girl is named Shanti, and she's got a chip on her shoulder against all boys because boys are not only gross but also believe themselves to be superior. Thirty-seven years between films and the best they could do is fall back on the Nickelodeon/Disney Channel technique of dressing up Fifties prudishness to resemble girl power? George Roy Hill's A Little Romance never seemed so sophisticated, and neither did The Jungle Book, though to hear the crew tell it within The Jungle Book 2's DVD supplements (specifically, the 14-minute featurette "The Legacy of The Jungle Book", which despite the title neglects to mention Rudyard Kipling), you'd think the sequel serves as some sort of redemption. The sparse disc (the adequate DTS track presumably ate up a lot of space) additionally includes a set-top game ("Mowgli's Jungle Maze"), lyrics optionally displayed in "sing-along" fashion, direct links to the film's musical numbers, two deleted scenes in storyboard form, and separate videos for "W-I-L-D," "Jungle Rhythm," and Smash Mouth's "I Wanna Be Like You." The 1.66:1, 16x9-enhanced transfer of The Jungle Book 2 itself is impeccable to no good end.
The Brady Bunch Movie and A Very Brady Sequel are ultimately as superfluous as The Jungle Book 2, but they're oodles of fun, self-validated by their wit and daring. Apparently someone else besides yours truly was watching the Eighties sitcom "Day by Day", for the episode in which Christopher Daniel Barnes dreamed he was the lost Brady, "Chuck" (a Dada swipe at "Happy Days"), demonstrated spin-off potential, if only to capitalize on his flawless evocation of Barry Williams. Barnes fills Williams's shoes proper as Greg--and in many ways transcends impersonation with a gentle charisma that was foreign to the roguish Williams--in the feature films, whose time-warp premise finds the Bradys exactly as we left them in TV Land, in all their homogenized flower-power glory, interacting with a society that's decades ahead of them. And their innocence has a nullifying effect on the ills of the modern world--which, amusingly, now looks as quaint as the Brady universe, since these pictures are very much a product of the grunge-y mid-Nineties.
Barnes is such an amazing talent, it's appalling that no one's had the imagination to make him a star. The rest of the cast shines, too: Christine Taylor (the future Mrs. Ben Stiller)--a dead ringer for small-screen Marcia Maureen McCormick--and Gary Cole are particular stand-outs, she for her peculiarly beguiling narcissism, he for transforming Mike into a precise satire of suburban patriarchy; you get the feeling that his predecessor Robert Reed, who acted ashamed to have Mike Brady on his resume, might've appreciated the subtlety of Cole's performance, which casts Reed's work on the series in a new, ironic light. ("I couldn't have said it better myself, Jan," Cole's Mike says when his daughter shares some words of wisdom with the family, adding, "but I'll try.") A Very Brady Sequel is the funnier of the two, its detours into surrealism (the Saturday-morning cartoon Brady Kids cameo) and kink (adoptive siblings Greg and Marcia begin a flirtation that reaches its zenith in a double-date worthy of Hawksian screwball comedy) richer and braver, yet audiences cowered from it after turning The Brady Bunch Movie into a hit. (Speaking of eras, I guess incest humour will forever be ahead of its time.) Due to the very nature of the format, Mac Ahlberg's deliberately flat cinematography is eye-catching on DVD, though each film is upstaged by its Dolby Digital 5.1 mix thanks to less-than-pristine source prints. The discs are devoid of extras.
For the DVD bells and whistles, you'll have to go to Artisan's T2: Extreme DVD and MGM's Die Another Day: Special Edition. Is there anything I can possibly contribute to the exhausted discussion of these movies? For the record, I love James Cameron's Terminator 2: Judgment Day, a movie with a simple-mindedness that holds laconic appeal; I like that Cameron doesn't seek to dispel the hypothesis he presents at the outset that a Terminator would make the perfect father--T2 is Shane with an excuse for the central figure to behave so robotically towards his charge, and its layered, Spielbergian action sense is still a joy to behold. Running seventeen minutes longer, the extended version of T2 leaves the theatrical cut in the dust through more honed characterizations and a leaner feel, proving it's never the length but the pacing. By contrast, one struggles to say something positive about Die Another Day; it was reasonable to expect that Halle Berry would not surpass her delivery of the "toad" rim shot in X-Men for sheer awfulness, but lo, she outdoes herself in Die Another Day with the miscued one-liner "I think I broke her heart." The film commits many other, less memorable sins (Madonna's title track not among them, if you ask me--hers is the first Bond song I've caught myself humming in years), yet on DVD, it atones for many of its sins with a ridiculously fantastic-sounding DTS 6.1-ES mix--the disc has been in constant rotation in my player for the past month because, from the gun barrel opening to the closing plane crash, it is candy to my ears. The film's 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer (pan-and-scan fullscreen DVD sold separately), from a digitally-graded master, is correspondingly lush.
Think of T2: Extreme DVD as an appendage to 2000's Ultimate Edition rather than an upgrade. Dropped for the ED was the excellent DTS track of the UE (to accommodate an "Interactive Mode," a Dolby Headphone mix, and James Cameron's commentary debut (T2 co-writer William Wisher joins him in the recording booth, though it need be said that the aforementioned Interactive Mode, branching text-, video-, and audio-based appendices, is vastly more informative)), in addition to the alternate, old-Sarah Connor ending, though contrary to early reports, the theatrical cut is on board Disc One of the ED as an Easter egg. It's accessed--according to people with nothing better to do--by clicking 'right' five times on your remote whilst sitting idle on the "Play Special Extended Edition" menu choice. The ED boasts improved, THX-certified video and a second platter housing the 1991 edit of T2 in HiDef as a Windows Media9 file; although system requirements are predictably unreasonable (a 3 GHz processor), Disc Two isn't a complete wash-out: "No Feat But What We Make" (24 mins.) is as articulate a defense for CGI as there ever was, courtesy Cameron, FX man Stan Winston, ILM's Dennis Muren, and others, plus there's the 8-minute, self-explanatory montage "T2: On the Set," a ROM-enabled morphing studio you won't stop fiddling with, and a vacuous online robot challenge. Note that removing the DVD from its metal sleeve absolutely shreds the keepcase. Artisan has established an e-mail hotline at firstname.lastname@example.org to get your keepcase replaced.
Disc 1 of the double Die Another Day DVD houses the film, a yak-track by director Lee Tamahori and producer Michael G. Wilson, another yakker featuring Pierce Brosnan (accompanied from the 50-minute mark on by his fetching co-star Rosamund Pike, Brosnan (affectionately?) calls the film "Homage City"), and a "Q Branch" fact-track (inaccessible when one of the commentaries is selected). The second platter gives us Charles de Lauzirika's whopping 82-minute "Inside Die Another Day", a documentary unfortunately drier than one of Bond's martinis. While Brosnan's knee injury and weather problems are duly noted, neither the obstacles encountered nor the triumphs achieved have scale enough to justify the length of the piece. (That said, editor Chris Wagner's defense of MTV-style cutting is worth a listen, if unlikely to convert the opposition.) Multi-angle storyboard-to-"scene evolutions;" multi-angle/multiple camera views of three sequences ("Interaction Sequences"); an instructive 10-minute segment on the creation of the main titles backed by a remix of Madonna's theme; a 3-minute tutorial on the digital grading process; equipment profiles for Die Another Day's gadgets; a 5-gallery "Image Database;" two Die Another Day teasers, the theatrical trailer, and a 4-minute block of TV spots; Madonna's video (in Dolby Surround); the making of Madonna's video; a preview of the videogame "007: Nightfire;" the making of the videogame "007: Nightfire;" DVD-ROM weblinky stuff; and additional MGM trailers round out the package.
I've saved perhaps the best for last. The Animatrix is the bet-hedger if you're searching for a quality film with quality tech credentials and bonus material, though it's likely to aggravate as many fans of The Matrix as The Matrix Reloaded has for marching to its own drummer. (I'm in the minority that prefers The Matrix Reloaded to its prequel.) Nine shorts animated in a variety of styles comprise The Animatrix, all of which were overseen and four of which were scripted by the Brothers Wachowski; instead of reviewing them individually (Walter Chaw briefed you on the inaugural The Final Flight of the Osiris last spring), I'm going to tell you that Beyond is the highlight of The Animatrix and A Detective Story is its nadir--I viewed The Animatrix as a collective and that's how it sits in my mind, as a sum greater than its parts. Beyond, though...wow: a punky lass tracks her missing cat to an abandoned property the neighbourhood kids think is haunted because it grants them the power to defy gravity. Explicitly set in Japan (the stoplight tune, "Tohryanse," gives it away), Beyond exudes an unspoken fear of contamination that's as tonally disturbing as Isao Takahata's animé Grave of the Fireflies and uniquely beautiful within the Wachowskis' Matrix-verse. Meanwhile, in Shinichirô "Cowboy Bebop" Watanabe's juvenile noir A Detective Story, the latest in a long line of private dicks is hired by the Agents to locate Trinity, a task he accomplishes with the aid of an Internet connection--guess the omnipotent Agents didn't think of that!
The Animatrix DVD contains subtitled commentary tracks by directors Mehiro Maeda (for The Second Renaissance Parts I & II), Yoshiaki Kawajiri (Program), and Takeshi Koike (World Record), as well as bios for the creators and segment producers and nine makings-of totalling 78 minutes that are notable for the candidness with which the interviewees speak. Take the brilliant mind behind Beyond, Koji Morimoto, for instance: he emerges as an alcoholic, esoteric prima donna with utter disregard for the budget and the schedule--"a producer's nightmare," The Animatrix wrangler Michael Arias calls him. There's a hint of xenophobia in that--you'd have to answer for such an unflattering portrait of an American artist--but it's refreshing all the same. A trailer for the videogame "Enter the Matrix" caps off the disc. The Animatrix is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen with rumble-happy Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Originally published: June 9, 2003.