We've come to it now - the great battle of our time," said a member of the fellowship in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. The new "Platinum Series Special Edition" four-disc DVD (New Line) renders the battle even greater, adding 50 additional minutes to the movie, which originally ran 3 hours and 21 minutes.
It turns what was already an epic, exhaustive finale to the best movie trilogy ever into a stately, spectacular summation. There are extended sequences, additional explorations of characters and motivations, and restored scenes that were sacrificed (including the last stand of Christopher Lee's Saruman and a romantic interlude between Miranda Otto's Eowyn and David Wenham's Faramir). One of the scenes compels us to consider something we've already seen from a decidedly different perspective. But I won't ruin it by spelling it out here.
It would take a J.R.R. Tolkien scholar or someone obsessed with director Peter Jackson and his work to take this in one sitting, especially because New Line's user-friendly assembly invites us to stop at various points to explore the history and mythology that Tolkien integrated into his philosophical fantasy, most of it explored on other discs in the set. (Oddly, New Line has chosen not to apply its innovative InfiniFilm branching options for any of the extended DVD editions, though it has been deployed on lesser titles like Elf.)
Also available is "The Motion Picture Trilogy," a box that contains the special editions of all three films.
Fantasy in all its permutations is the DVD theme of the week, continuing with Mary Poppins: 40th Anniversary Edition (Disney). The 1964 family musical comedy sees English stage star Julie Andrews making her movie debut as the title character, the "practically perfect in every way" nanny who brings troubled families together in 1910 England.
As is recalled in the accompanying disc's making-of documentary, Andrews had been passed over for the role of Eliza Doolittle in the movie version of My Fair Lady (she played Eliza on Broadway), and the Oscar she won for playing Mary Poppins was a kind of vindication. (My Fair Lady still won best picture.)
Dick Van Dyke was nearly as good as the chimney sweep with whom Mary falls in love, and the songs by Richard and Robert Sherman became classics. Extras abound in the DVD set, including a Van Dyke-narrated retrospective, but the most memorable extra is a newly produced short titled "The Cat That Looked Like a King."
It's a young girl's fantasy that is renewed in The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement (Disney). In the first installment, a geeky American high school girl (Anne Hathaway) discovered she was in line for the throne of fairy-talelike Genovia. Now she is expected to assume her role - but only if she finds a suitable prince and gets married.
Andrews is her grandmother, a queen who gamely attends a bachelorette slumber party and engages in staircase surfing. She also sings a lullaby that morphs into hip-hop lite courtesy of Disney teen star Raven. Hector Elizondo is back as the wise head of security, who offers the princess advice while pining over the widowed, outgoing queen. The original film was sweet and funny; this one, again directed by Garry Marshall, is sweet and cloying.
Sci-fi fantasy gets cleverly translated in I, Robot (Fox), an updated adaptation of Isaac Asimov's futuristic story about a robo-phobic detective who investigates a murder he thinks may have been committed by a robot, even though the robot has been programmed to never harm human beings.
Will Smith is the cocky cop, while the digitally animated primary suspect is brought to life by the process called motion capture, and gets life from Alan Tudyk , who was filmed in a specially designed suit and then rendered mechanical in a computer software program. Director Alex Proyas and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind) handle the commentary.
The other recent theatrical release receiving DVD reappraisal is Collateral (DreamWorks), starring Smith's Ali corner man, Jamie Foxx. He plays an L.A. cabbie who has the misfortune of picking up a hit man played by Tom Cruise. Cruise's character is in town to take care of his business before daybreak, and Foxx's cabbie is determined to avoid becoming his final victim.
Cruise is fine as the steely murderer with steel-gray hair, but the movie belongs to Foxx, whose performance here is far better than his much-touted impression in Ray. Extras include a fascinating deleted scene and film of Foxx and Cruise rehearsing.
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, Open Water, Garden State, Wimbledon, Intimate Strangers, Wicker Park, Code 46, Benji Off the Leash and Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence