THE AL QAEDA FILES -- PBS Home Video / $34.95
PBS' remarkable Frontline series long has been one of the surest bets on television. At a time when network news divisions are constantly being downsized and the line between entertainment and journalism is becoming more and more blurred, Frontline has continued soberly reporting the news, taking the time and making the effort to tell the whole story, completely and dispassionately.
The Al Qaeda Files collects seven programs that ran between March 2000 and January 2005, all of which focus on America's war on terror and its main target, Osama bin Laden, the 17th of 52 children of a Saudi businessman who had made millions in construction. All offer chilling evidence that this is a war unlike any other, against an enemy as dangerous as he is elusive.
The first offering, Hunting Bin Laden, originally aired March 20, 2000, almost 18 months before the events of Sept. 11 (which makes the program a relic from an America forever changed). At the time, law-enforcement agencies, whose officials had feared the start of the new millennium would prove an irresistible target for terrorists, were still basking in the glow of an uneventful New Year's Eve 1999. Months earlier, an Algerian national had been arrested trying to smuggle explosives across the Canadian border into Washington state. Things seemed under control, at least to those unwilling to notice the warning signs - which, as Hunting Bin Laden proves, clearly were there.
The last program, Al Qaeda's New Front, aired Jan. 25, 2005, in a far different America, one where little with regard to the war on terror seems under control. It chronicles terrorism in Europe, focusing on the March 2004 explosions that left 191 people dead and more than 1,400 injured in a Spanish rail station. Several of bin Laden's admirers are interviewed, and all seem determined to see this struggle through to the end.
Other Frontline episodes included in the two-disc set look at the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11 (Looking for Answers, aired Oct. 11, 2001), and profile an FBI agent whose warnings about al-Qaeda went largely unheeded (The Man Who Knew, aired Oct. 3, 2002).
The Al Qaeda Files includes no extra features, other than the promise that viewers will emerge from seven hours of TV viewing with a much fuller appreciation of the origins, intricacies and potential ramifications of the current conflict.
RICHARD PRYOR - LIVE IN CONCERT --HBO Video / $19.95
From 1979, Pryor's first concert film finds him at his fearless best, holding no cow sacred, including himself. Highlights include speculation on what animals think, self-mocking tales of his own drug use and an extended riff on boxing, including recollections of his time in the ring with Muhammad Ali. Most fans consider this the best of Pryor's concert films, and it would be hard to argue with them.
Extras: None. But with raw Pryor, what more do you really need?