July 11, 2008

Best-Selling Ruins Loses Some Fear Factor on Film

One of the scariest summer reads of recent years, The Ruins (Paramount, $29.99) didn't quite create the same level of excitement when it was brought to the big screen.

Perhaps author Scott Smith's tale of a man-eating plant that decides to dine on a group of friends who trek into the dense jungle surrounding an undisturbed Mayan ruin was a little too offbeat, even for fantasy lovers, when played out in the glare of reality created by a movie camera.

Nevertheless, The Ruins has its frightening -- and gruesome -- moments. They're even more gruesome in this "unrated edition" which contains footage that "was too intense for theaters," as the Paramount publicity department says, as well as a new ending. For the squeamish, the original theatrical version is also available.

There wasn't a big audience for Stop-Loss (Paramount, $29.99) which had the double whammy of dramatically telling about the home front crises caused by soldiers faced with another tour of duty in Iraq and a central character who goes AWOL rather than get back on a plane that will take him back to war.

Iraq has never played very well as entertainment or even in documentaries to a nation that would rather cheer on the contestants of American Idol. So a film that questions the repeated reassignment of America's volunteer fighting forces to battles in Iraq and Afghanistan didn't cut muster.

Too bad. For all its melodramatics, Stop-Loss is played as a no- way-out thriller. Ryan Phillippe stars as an Army sergeant who still feels guilt for leading his troops into an ambush where some died or were severely injured. So when he's reassigned for another tour of duty in Iraq on the day he believed he was going to be discharged from the Army, he sets off on a hare-brained cross-country trek with the soon-to-be-ex-fiancee of his best friend. Along the way they discover an America that can be as dangerous as Iraq. In the film's most touching moments he visits one of his men who is now a blind double amputee in an Army hospital. Perhaps at times, Stop-Loss came too close to reality for audiences to stomach.

Mummy dearest

In advance of the Aug. 1 return of the bandaged one in The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, Universal has resurrected three of its Mummy hits in three separate double-disc sets ($19.98 each) that have many bonus features.

That includes the still-creepy 1932 original starring Boris Karloff, which is on one of the discs in The Mummy -- Special Edition. There's also a documentary on the making of the film, commentary by film historian Paul M. Jenson and modern-day makeup wizards, original posters and publicity materials, a tribute to legendary makeup artist Jack Pierce and a look back at the start of the Mummy horror franchise.

Best of all the bonus features, however, is a retrospective look at some of the most memorable monster movies of all time in Universal Horror, narrated by Kenneth Branagh. This 90-minute documentary includes behind-the-scenes looks at the 1923 The Hunchback of Notre Dame, 1925's Phantom of the Opera, the evolution of vampire movies and scene-by-scene comparison scenes between 1931's famous Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi, and the not-so-famous but in many ways superior 1931 Spanish-language version, which was shot at night on the same sets at Universal that Lugosi and company used in the daytime. The Wolf Man, Frankenstein and his monster, the Invisible Man, King Kong and many more are here, with explanations of how some of the groundbreaking special effects were created. Best is an explanation of how, in the 1930s, without cutting or moving the camera, the handsome Dr. Jekyll turned into the frightening Mr. Hyde in a single shot.

The two-disc The Mummy -- Deluxe Edition includes not only a digitally restored copy of the 1999 remake of The Mummy, but a look at the film's special effects, deleted scenes, commentaries, storyboards and more. Its 2001 sequel also has been digitally restored in The Mummy Returns -- Deluxe Edition which includes a conversation with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, a step-by-step look at creating the film's visual effects, commentaries and more.

Batman again

As if Heath Ledger's death and the inherent interest from rabid fans weren't enough to fan Batman mania for The Dark Knight, the studio feeds the flames with a new DVD release and the Blu-ray high- definition debut of the 2005 hit film Batman Begins (Warner). With the Dark Knight sequel hitting theaters July 18, the first flick returns in two-disc DVD and single-disc Blu-ray gift sets. Highlighting the Blu-ray extras is the Dark Knight prologue, the first six minutes of the new film, in which Ledger's Joker and a team of thieves in clown masks pull off a wild bank heist. Other bonus materials include a 32-page DC Comics adaptation of the movie prologue and five Batman postcards. The movie also is available as a basic Blu-ray release. (DVD gift set, $39.92; Blu-ray gift set, $49.99; basic Blu-ray release, $28.99).

Also on the Batman front are seasons five of the animated shows The Batman and its cousin Teen Titans (Warner, $19.98 each), and the animated movie Batman: Gotham Knight (Warner, single-disc DVD, $19.98, two-disc DVD set, $29.98, Blu-ray release, $34.99).

Also this week

More than 35 minutes of Jet Li's martial arts moves have been added to Jet Li's Fearless -- Director's Cut (Universal, $19.98); a high school student develops super powers when he's bitten by a mutant dragonfly in the spoof Superhero Movie (Genius, $29.95); Luke Perry and C. Thomas Howell play a deadly game of cat and mouse in the Old West in The Pledge (Genius, $14.95); a blind man receives the eyes of a wolf and begins seeing humans as prey in Hybrid (Genius, $14.95); high-living zombies in Los Angeles struggle to gain acceptance in the mockumentary American Zombie (Cinema Libre, $24.95); a 12-year-old orphan struggles to find a better life for himself and his sister in Chop Shop (Koch Lorber, $26.98); a beach volleyball player's life becomes unsettled following the appearance of a mysterious stranger in Impact Point (Sony, $24.96); construction workers unearth an ancient artifact and unleash -- oops! -- the Bone Eater (Lionsgate, $26.98); a girl is held captive for six years in Dungeon Girl (Lionsgate, $26.98); Oscar nominee Ellen Page of Juno goes on a desperate hunt to find her missing brother in The Tracey Fragments (Image, $27.98); three brothers are enticed into a life of crime in 1930s Shanghai in Blood Brothers (First Look, $28.98); lives are altered when people run into an escaped mental patient in Toxic (Genius, $19.97).

From TV

Back for more on your small screen are: Stargate Atlantis: Season Four (MGM, $49.98); The X-Files Revelations (Fox, $22.98); Fastlane: The Complete Series (Warner, $59.98); The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet: Best of Ricky and Dave (Shout! Factory, $34.99); Monk: Season Six (Universal, $59.98); Psych: The Complete Second Season (Universal, $59.98); Jake and the Fatman: Season One, Volume One (CBS/Paramount, $40.99); Soul Food -- The Series: The Final Season (CBS/Paramount, $49.99); I Dream of Jeannie: The Complete Fifth Season (Sony, $39.95); Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan: Season Three (Screen Media, $27.98).

For children

Solve a mystery with Shaggy and Scooby-Doo Get a Clue! (Warner, $14.97); preschooler pals visit ancient Greece in The Backyardigans: Mighty Match-Up! (Nick Jr./Paramount, $16.99).


Check out your favorite musical artists with Sheryl Crow: Live (Koch Vision, $19.99); Punk's Not Dead (MVD, $16.95); Martin Atkins - - Tour: Smart Part 1 (MVD, $19.95); Martin Atkins -- 16 Days in China (MVD, $19.95); Snoop Dogg -- Drop It Like It's Hot (MVD, $19.95); Jadakiss -- Kiss of Death: Tour 2005 (MVD, $19.95); Bill Monroe -- Father of Bluegrass (MVD, $19.95).

With wire reports from the Associated Press



The original The Mummy (1932), starring Boris Karloff, left, and David Manners is still creepy.

Best friends Amy (Jena Malone, left) and Stacy (Laura Ramsey) find terror deep inside a mysterious Mayan temple in The Ruins. DREAMWORKS / Vince Valitutti

From left, Steve Shriver (Channing Tatum) with his fiancee, Michele (Abbie Cornish), and friend Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe) in Stop-Loss. PARAMOUNT PICTURES / Frank Masi [email protected] / (401) 277-7276

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