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|Star Trek Into Darkness (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy)
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When the crew of the Enterprise is called back home they find an unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization has detonated the fleet and everything it stands for leaving our world in a state of crisis. With a personal score to settle Captain Kirk leads a manhunt to a war-zone world to capture a one man weapon of mass destruction. As our heroes are propelled into an epic chess game of life and death love will be challenged friendships will be torn apart and sacrifices must be made for the only family Kirk has left: his
A good portion of Trekkies (or Trekkers, depending on one's level of Star Trek obsession) have special affection for episodes of the original TV series that related to Earth and other-Earth cultures visited by the crew of the Enterprise, version 1.0. Some of the shows unfolded in distorted forms of the past, some in the present day of Star Trek's future reality. Director J.J. Abrams recognized the importance of this relationship in his origin-story reboot of the franchise in 2009, and in Star Trek Into Darkness he has made it an even greater touchstone to the roots of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry's defining philosophy from nearly 50 years ago. The human home world is key to the plot of this spectacularly bold leap into Star Trek lore, which cleverly continues along the alternate path that was established as separate from the "original" Star Trek universe in Abrams's first whiz-bang crack at advancing the mythology. But it's not just Earth that is cool and imperiled in this rendering of adventure in the 23rd century; Into Darkness also plays with the original conceit that Earthlings were member to a multi-species United Federation of Planets ruled by a "Prime Directive" of noninterference with other civilizations. The conflict comes when rogue elements in the Earth-based Starfleet Command hunger to shift focus from peaceful exploration to militarization, a concept that is anathema to the crew of the Enterprise and her ongoing mission. The new cast is again inventively reunited, each of them further investing their characters with traits that reveal novel acting choices while staying true to the caricatures that are ingrained in our popular culture. The interplay between Chris Pine as Kirk and Zachary Quinto as Spock is deeper, and Zoe Saldana as Uhura is a solid third in their relationship. John Cho (Sulu), Simon Pegg (Scotty), Anton Yelchin (Chekov), and Karl Urban (McCoy) all have standout roles in the overall ensemble mystique as well as the plot-heavy machinations of this incarnation's narrative. Fortunately, the burdens of the story are well served by some important additions to the cast. Benedict Cumberbatch's Shakespearean aura, ferociously imperious gaze, and graceful athleticism make him a formidable villain as the mysterious Starfleet operative John Harrison. Harrison has initiated a campaign of terror on Earth before leading the Enterprise to even greater dangers in the enemy territory of Klingon-controlled space. That his background may make dedicated Trekkies/Trekkers gasp is just one acknowledgment of the substantial and ingrained legacy Star Trek has borne. There are many references, nods and winks to those with deep reverence for the folklore (some of them perhaps a little too close to being inside-baseball), though the fantastical and continually exciting story stands as an expertly crafted tale for complete neophytes. Another new face is Peter Weller--iconically famous in sci-fi-dom as RoboCop--here playing a steely, authoritative Starfleet bigwig who may also be following a hidden agenda. Not only is he running a covert operation, he's also at the helm of a fearsome secret starship that looms over the Enterprise like a shark poised to devour its prey. Which brings us to the awesome CGI effects driving the dazzling visual style of Into Darkness and the endlessly fascinating cosmos it makes real. The wow factor extends from the opening set piece on an alien world of primitive humanoids, garish vegetation, and a roiling volcano to the finale of destruction in a future San Francisco that is elegantly outfitted with gleaming-spired skyscrapers and all manner of flying vehicles. (London also gets a breathtaking 23rd-century makeover). With a coolness that glistens in every immaculately composed shot, the movie never forgets that humanism and creativity make the myriad design details and hyper-technology pop out as much more than eye candy. The biggest achievement of Star Trek Into Darkness is that it hews to the highest standard of a highly celebrated tradition. Though Kirk and co. may bend it a little, the Prime Directive remains unbroken. --Ted Fry
|A Grand Day Out
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|The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Blu-ray/DVD + UltraViolet Digital Copy Combo Pack)
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List price: $35.99
The adventure follows the journey of title character Bilbo Baggins, who is swept into an epic quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the fearsome dragon Smaug. Approached out of the blue by the wizard Gandalf the Grey, Bilbo finds himself joining a company of thirteen dwarves led by the legendary warrior, Thorin Oakenshield. Their journey will take them into the Wild; through treacherous lands swarming with Goblins and Orcs, deadly Wargs and Sorcerers. Although their goal lies to the East and the wastelands of the Lonely Mountain, first they must escape the goblin tunnels, where Bilbo meets the creature that will change his life forever Gollum. Here, alone with Gollum, on the shores of an underground lake, the unassuming Bilbo Baggins not only discovers depths of ingenuity and courage that surprise even him, he also gains possession of Gollum's "precious" ring that holds unexpected and useful qualities A simple, gold ring that is tied to the fate of all Middle-earth in ways Bilbo cannot begin to know.
©2013 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY and THE HOBBIT, names of the characters, items, events and places therein are trademarks of The Saul Zaentz Company d/b/a Middle-earth Enterprises under license to New Line Productions, Inc. All rights reserved.
A fellow named Bilbo Baggins lives in the Shire--but perhaps you've made his acquaintance already? If you're familiar with J.R.R. Tolkien's epic Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the films that Peter Jackson wrought from them, of course you have. And here is Bilbo, played again by Ian Holm, shuffling about his hobbit hole and recalling a grand adventure from his past, when he left the Shire with a wizard and some dwarves and found a certain ring and a very peculiar creature named Gollum. This is The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which Jackson and his LOTR crew have expanded on from Tolkien's 1937 novel. And boy, have they expanded: this 169-minute escapade is merely the first of three separate movies made from that one book, and it gets the young Bilbo (played by Martin Freeman) only a little ways into his grand trek. Many loud, garish battles and chases fill the time, along with some (it pains one to say it) fairly tedious adolescent-level humor. Jackson tends to dally with scenes that might have been more effective in half the time, and the bumptious dwarves are some of the least charming characters in the Tolkieniad. Thank goodness, there's Gollum (played, as before, by the digitally transformed Andy Serkis), who shares a riddle-trading scene with Bilbo that sends genuine shivers up the spine. Ian McKellen returns as Gandalf, and a few other LOTR folk make cameos, but the more An Unexpected Journey goes on, the less you sense the magic afoot. Despite the fun moments, this feels like a prologue for the actual movie, which is still to come. (Originally released on many screens in 3-D, the film was also showcased in some theaters in a pioneering format that increased the clarity of the image--or made it look like a soap opera, depending on your receptiveness to the flat, frictionless technology.) --Robert Horton
|Oz the Great and Powerful (Blu-ray / DVD + Digital Copy)
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Disney’s fantastical adventure Oz The Great And Powerful, from the director of the Spider-Man trilogy,follows Oscar Diggs (James Franco), a small-time circus magician with dubious ethics. When Diggs is hurled away to the vibrant Land of Oz, he thinks he’s hit the jackpot — until he meets three witches (Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams), who aren’t convinced he’s the great wizard everyone’s expecting. Reluctantly drawn into epic problems facing Oz and its inhabitants, Oscar must find out who is good and who is evil before it’s too late. Putting his magical arts to use through illusion, ingenuity — and even some wizardry — Oscar transforms himself into the great wizard and a better man as well.
For sheer visual splendor, Oz the Great and Powerful is hard to beat. Even before the hot-air balloon of carnival magician Oscar "Oz" Diggs (James Franco) gets swept up in a tornado and hurled to the Technicolor land of Oz, the sepia tones of Kansas have a lush, almost velvety texture. Once Diggs arrives in Oz, he learns of a prophecy that he might be the wizard to free the land from the grips of a tyrannical witch--and from there, the movie juggles visual delights with a story that is regrettably half-baked. Some sequences and characters are skillfully realized (a little girl made of china is perfectly developed, both visually and narratively), while others seem propped up like cardboard cutouts. (Unavoidable comparisons to The Wizard of Oz, a masterpiece of vividly drawn characters, don't help.) Franco doesn't have the theatricality one might want for a carnival huckster, but fortunately his low-key performing style helps to ground the bright spectacle in human emotions. As witches wicked and good, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, and Michelle Williams all display charm and verve. The movie is flawed, but when Oz the Great and Powerful hits a right note, merging wonder and fear, dazzle and darkness, it's easy to forgive the weaknesses. --Bret Fetzer
|Star Trek: The Complete Original Series (Seasons 1-3) [Blu-ray]
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" Space...The Final Frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship, Enterprise. Its 5-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before!" The series is set in the 23rd century where Earth has survived World War III then moved on to explore the stars. Brought to you in a brilliant remastered edition….this is Star Trek like you’ve never seen it before!
The facts have become legend. Star Trek, the NBC series that premiered on September 8, 1966, has become a touchstone of international popular culture. It struggled through three seasons that included cancellation and last-minute revival, and turned its creator, Gene Roddenberry, into the progenitor of an intergalactic phenomenon. Eventually expanding to encompass five separate TV series, an ongoing slate of feature films, and a fan base larger than the population of many third-world countries, the Star Trek universe began not with a Big Bang but with a cautious experiment in network TV programming. Even before its premiere episode ("The Man Trap") was aired, Star Trek had struggled to attain warp-drive velocity, barely making it into the fall '66 NBC lineup.
The series' original pilot, "The Cage," featured Jeffrey Hunter as U.S.S. Enterprise captain Christopher Pike--a variation of the role that would eventually catapult William Shatner to TV stardom. Filmed in 1964, the pilot was rejected by NBC the following year, but the network made a rare decision to order a second pilot. "Where No Man Has Gone Before" was filmed in 1965, and only one character from the previous pilot remained--a pointy-eared alien named Spock (played by Leonard Nimoy), whom Roddenberry had retained despite network disapproval. The second pilot was accepted, and production on Star Trek began in earnest with the filming of its first regular episode, "The Corbomite Maneuver."
Never a ratings success despite a growing population of devoted fans, Star Trek was canceled after its second season, prompting a letter-writing campaign that resulted in the series' third-season renewal. It was a mixed blessing, since Roddenberry had departed as producer to protest the network's neglect, and Star Trek's third season contained most of the series' weakest episodes. And yet, the show continued to "to explore strange new worlds…to seek out new life and new civilizations…to boldly go where no man [a phrase later amended to "no one"] has gone before."
There were milestones along the way. The first interracial kiss on network primetime TV (between Shatner and series co-star Nichelle Nichols) furthered a richly positive and expansive view of a better, nobler future for humankind. The series offered a timelessly appealing balance of humor, imagination, and character depth. And at least one episode (Harlan Ellison's "The City on the Edge of Forever") ranks among the finest science fiction stories in any popular medium. Beloved by long-time fans in spite of its cheesy sets and costumes, and the now-dated trappings of late-1960s American culture, "classic Trek" has aged remarkably well, and its sense of adventure and idealism continues to live long and prosper. --Jeff Shannon
The three 2004 DVD sets collect all 79 episodes of the show, including "The Cage" in both a restored color version and the original, never-aired version that alternates between color and black and white. Each set is supplemented by over an hour of featurettes incorporating new and old interviews with Shatner, Nimoy, other cast members, and producers, and there's also some vintage footage of Gene Roddenberry. Accompanying the 20-minute seasonal recaps ("To Boldly Go...") are a number of interesting featurettes: "The Birth of a Timeless Legacy" examines the two pilot episodes and the development of the crew; "Sci-Fi Visionaries" discusses the series' great science fiction writers; Nimoy debunks various rumors in "Reflections of Spock"; "Kirk, Spock & Bones: The Great Trio" focuses on the interplay among Kirk, Spock, and Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley); and, in what is probably his last Star Trek appearance, James Doohan (Scotty), slowed by Alzheimer's but still with a twinkle in his eye, recalls his voiceover roles and his favorite episodes. As they've done for many of the feature-film special editions, Michael Okuda and Denise Okuda provide a pop-up text commentary on four of the episodes filled with history, trivia, and dry wit. It's the first commentary of any kind for a Star Trek TV show, but an audio commentary is still overdue. The technical specs are mostly the same as other Trek TV series--Dolby 5.1, English subtitles--but with the welcome addition of the episode trailers. The plastic cases are an attempt to replicate some of the fun packaging of the series' European DVD releases, but it's a bit clunky, and the paper sleeve around the disc case seems awkward and crude. Still, the sets are a vast improvement both in terms of shelf space and bonus features compared to the old two-episode discs, which were released before full-season boxed sets became the model for television DVDs. --David Horiuchi
|X-men: First Class
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|The Man Trap [HD]
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|Star Trek: The Motion Picture
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