Did you know there was almost a blond Snow White and a blond Don Corleone? Several new DVD releases give movie lovers great insights and priceless trivia about some film favorites.
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The Godfather DVD Collection
The Movie: I used to think Godfather 2 was the best American film since Citizen Kane. A re-viewing on DVD changed my mind; I now think Godfather 1 is the best American film since Citizen Kane. The transfer is excellent. You'll enjoy it even more with a glass or two of Frances Ford Coppola's fine California wines. His Rubicon '94 is delicious.
The Extras: Three hours of behind-the-scenes history, most of which has been available in other venues. But the access is easy and Coppola is as charming a storyteller on camera as he is a riveting storyteller on film. One example: The studio wanted Robert Redford or Ryan O'Neal to play Michael Corleone. Blond dons? Make 'em northern Italian, Coppola sarcastically told the studio. We see screen tests of Martin Sheen, James Caan, Robert De Niro, and Marlon Brando's grinning makeup test.
The Movie: A gorgeous print from an original nitrate print (the original negative was lost in a fire). DVDs handle hues brilliantly — especially if your video equipment has been calibrated — so this great film has never looked better.
The Extras: The Oscar-nominated documentary, The Battle for Citizen Kane, is fun but not perfectly accurate (read Pauline Kael's great essay, "Raising Kane"; you can find it on the Internet). Audio commentary by Peter Bogdanovich, who knew Orson Welles, and Roger Ebert, who teaches a frame-by-frame course on Kane, are both enlightening.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
The Movie: One of the greatest films ever and the first full-length animated feature. When it was re-released in the '80s, it was so good I saw it twice in one afternoon to make sure it wasn't just nostalgia. It's not. It's great storytelling, great filmmaking.
The Extras: Amazing. There's a lot of stuff here that you could see on the Snow White anniversary laser disc. But the DVD version is so much more user-friendly.
You'll get original sketches, cut scenes, and other moments in generous doses. See Snow White as a blonde. See the 1930s vaudevillian whose drunken act became Dopey. To get a glimpse, take Angela Lansbury's tour. And, only on DVD, Barbra Streisand sings "Someday My Prince Will Come." One of the best DVD packages ever.
The Movie: Yes, it won the Oscar for Best Picture. Funny thing, it's aged well, in part, because the special effects novelty of seeing the actors interact with historic figures has worn off. Now we can more fully appreciate Gump with JFK as part of the story.
The Extras: There are a whole bunch of "how they did its" — and they are starting to tire me. But I just love the screen-test between Tom Hanks (before he got the voice down) and Haley Joel Osment, who plays Forrest's young son.
Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace
The Movie: It wasn't very good the first time we saw it. The hype and the expectations made it seem better than it was. Watch it again and Lucas' awkward attempts at humor and his absolute inability to get a reasonable performance out of his youngest stars brings the movie in at under mediocre.
The Extras: Here's the payoff: Lucas actually finished scenes that were cut from the original, doing the computer work, editing them seamlessly. There's about 10 minutes of pod race never seen before that's worth the price of admission all by itself.
The Silence of the Lambs
The Movie: Another Oscar-winning best picture. This one is even better than you remember, I think, because you're not as easily scared and it's easier to concentrate on the terrific acting and direction.
The Extras: The behind-the-scenes documentary here is one of the best. One section features a guy named Ray Mendez who created the death's head moths out of fabric and fake fingernail. Remember the moth larvae a medical examiner removes from one of the victims? Mendez made it out of Gummy Bears and Tootsie Rolls. One more reason I love the movies.