Apr 28, 2008

New Spy DVDs Out Today

Alright, after a number of slow weeks on the spy front, today the flood-gates are opened! Prepare to lighten your wallets, spy fans.

Young Indiana Jones

First up, we've got the final volume of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones Vol. 3: The Years of Change. There are only two more "movies" (amounting to four original episodes) chronicling Young Indy's spy career in this set, but the rest is well worthwhile anyway, especially for Indy fans. "Tales of Innocence" combines the original "Northern Italy 1918" episode (in which Indy contends with ambulance driver Ernest Hemingway for the love of an Italian beauty while running a mission behind enemy lines that requires him to disguise himself with an eyepatch) with a never-aired, never-before-seen adventure in which French Intelligence sends Indy undercover in the Foreign Legion to root out a traitor supplying North African insurgents with the latest French weaponry. While the first half of the story is fairly light on spying, the latter half is definitely espionage-heavy. "Masks of Evil" (which was previously available on VHS) puts together one of the best and most poignant of Indy's espionage escapades, the heavily Ashenden-inspired "Istanbul 1918" with his never-aired first ever run-in with the supernatural, "Transylvania 1918." The former finds Indy undercover in the heart of the enemy Ottoman Empire, unable to reveal his true identity to the woman he loves. MI-5's Peter Firth guest stars. The latter sees Indy assigned to investigate troop disappearances in the Carpathians and coming face to face with Dracula (Jurassic Park's Bob Peck in Nosferatu mode), hellbent on creating a vampire army of his own. As with the other volumes in this series, the copious documentaries included on each disc are all incredibly impressive, and I went straight to the one on Dracula. You won't actually learn as much about the historical personage as I expected, but it does trace the Count's popularity in popular culture from Stoker's book, through Lugosi and Lee, right up to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Interesting. I certainly didn't expect to see Buffy and Spike in a Young Indy documentary!

Indy's spy career ends with the conclusion of WWI, but his adventuring career begins in earnest with "Treasure of the Peacock's Eye." "Winds of Change" combines the original "Paris 1919" episode (about the peace conference that followed the First World War) with a new, never-before-seen (except for bits that were cannibalized to frame the original USA broadcast of "Travels With Father") homecoming story in which Indy is reunited with his estranged father (Lloyd Owen, doing an impressive Sean Connery) for the first time since running away from home to join the Mexican Revolution. "The Scandal of 1920" is a joyous Broadway farce, and "Hollywood Follies" follows Indy's brief career in pictures. The real treat of this set, though, is the DVD debut of "Mystery of the Blues." This episode (originally aired on ABC as a two-hour "movie event") features a wrap-around story with Harrison Ford as a bearded, 51-year-old Indiana Jones narrating the main event, which finds Indy learning jazz from Sidney Bechet (Casino Royale's Jeffrey Wright) and eventual "We Have All the Time in the World" crooner Louis Armstrong while investigating Al Capone with a young Elliott Ness. But it's Ford's bit that's a cause for celebration for Indy completists: finally, on the eve of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, we have Indy's first 1950s adventure (complete with John Williams' theme and a car chase through a snowstorm) on DVD! Like the first two volumes, The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones, Vol. 3: The Years of Change is essential viewing not only for spy fans and Indy fans, but fans of good television in general.

I Spy

You can actually pick up all three seasons of I Spy for less than the cost a single volume of Young Indy, thanks to Image's new priced-to-sell remastered discs. (At Best Buy they're just $12.99 apiece.) Image's initial collections of I Spy (three boxes of episodes in a random order) were the first TV-on-DVD releases to take advantage of the then brand new slimline DVD cases; the new season sets are even more compact... but now behind the times in terms of DVD packaging technology. They're in five-disc flippers as thick as an old double, even though Paramount now manages to pack such flippers into cases the width of a single DVD! (These things are important to people whose shelves are long out of room for discs.) Enough about the packaging! What's the show about!? Well, Robert Culp poses as a playboy tennis pro, and Bill Cosby as his trainer. Of course, they're both, in fact, spies. I Spy is a Sixties spy show in a more serious, Mission: Impossible vein than The Avengers or later seasons of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Its primary advantage over all those shows, though, is that I Spy was actually shot on location around the world instead of on the same Hollywood backlots that constantly (and unconvincingly) doubled for other countries on the other programs. For this alone, it's arresting viewing, but Culp and Cosby also have great chemistry together, and a parade of talented guest stars (including Jason King himself, Peter Wyngarde) keep things interesting. The Robert Culp audio commentaries and occasional isolated music tracks are retained from the original releases, and the picture and sound have supposedly been remastered.


Today you can also pick up Acorn Media's release the first season of Intelligence, a drama about Canadian spies, of all things (and that's a President's Analyst reference, my Canuck friends, not a knock on Canada!). The first season is 14 episodes and stars former Max Headroom and former Sherlock Holmes actor Matt Frewer. I don't know anything about his series or about the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), so my interest is definitely piqued.

The Golden Compass

Finally, we also have Daniel Craig's big budget fantasy extravaganza The Golden Compass in stores today. The whole affair felt kind of flat to me, but Craig was good and the Oscar-winning art direction by Dennis Gassner was outstanding. I mention this because Gassner is also art director on Craig's next movie, something called Quantum of Solace. Note that Best Buy offers an exclusive version in their stores with over forty minutes of bonus footage. Since so much of Craig's Lord Asriel was cut from the finished film (including the whole end of the book), it's possible that this will be included on the Best Buy disc. [UPDATE: Never mind. The Best Buy disc comes with forty minutes of behind-the-scenes bonus footage, not deleted scenes.] These exclusives tend to go quickly, though, so if you want one, you better pick it up today rather than on Ebay for $50 down the road!

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