May 19, 2009

New Spy DVDs Out This Week

Two major spy releases from Fox this week: 24 and Man Hunt. Just one day after its season finale aired on TV, 24: Season 7 debuts on DVD! That's got to be some sort of record, right? I wish every TV season would hit DVD this quickly; it makes way more sense than releasing a season immediately before the next one starts up on TV. You'll probably recall that the real-time series' seventh season was fraught with complications throughout its two-year journey to the screen. Despite all that, though, and despite a lacklustre TV movie "prequel," critics generally agree that the season marked a remarkable return to form for the Kiefer Sutherland vehicle. I only saw the (admittedly impressive) season premiere, but I'm looking forward to checking out the rest on DVD. As usual, there are oodles of extras, including commentaries, deleted scenes, and a documentary called "24-7: The Untold Story." If they actually go into all the troubles that plagued the season (from a writers' strike to a star's arrest for DUI to a showrunner quitting), this could turn out to be every bit as compelling as the show itself!

One interesting thing to note that first occurred to me when billboards of this wonderful Season 7 artwork started popping up around LA last winter is how Daniel Craig's James Bond has altered spy iconography. Earlier 24 promotional material (including the cover for the Season 5 DVD) depicted Jack Bauer in the classic "gun held close to face" spy pose popularized by Sean Connery in From Russia With Love publicity stills way back in 1963 and frequently embodied by Pierce Brosnan in posters and stills for his Bond films. But Daniel Craig didn't just reboot the character of James Bond in Casino Royale; the movie's clever marketing campaign also rebooted the way that Bond–and consequently the spy in general–is portrayed. The shorthand for "spy" was re-written with the film's one-sheet (below), which presented a full-body shot of Craig walking casually away from the casino, tie undone, gun by his side and–crucially–coat billowing. It's that new iconography that's reflected in the 24: Season 7 packaging: the billowing coat. It's the new look for spies everywhere!

Fox's other major spy release this week is Fritz Lang's WWII spy movie Man Hunt, starring Walter Pidgeon and George Sanders. This release has been rumored for over a year, but now here it is, for real! Man Hunt, based on the novel Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household, follows a British big game hunter (Pidgeon) who decides to put his talents to use by taking a shot at the biggest prize of all: Adolf Hitler. Upon returning to England, unsuccessful, he finds himself in a deadly cat-and-mouse game with Gestapo agents (including Sanders and John Carradine) who want him to sign a confession saying he was acting on behalf of the British government in his assassination attempt. Special features include the featurette "Rogue Male: The Making of Man Hunt," a trailer, a stills gallery and an audio commentary by film historian and author Patrick McGilligan.

The release of Lang's Man Hunt also reminds me of a recent British spy DVD release I overlooked: an ITC series called Manhunt–one word. Network released Manhunt: The Complete Series on Region 2 DVD in the UK in February. The critically-lauded 1970 series stars Peter Barkworth, Philip Madoc and Robert Hardy. It follows a downed RAF pilot in occupied France who hooks up with some resistance agents. They have to navigate treacherous waters, never sure of who to trust–even within the resistance movement. French freedom fighters as well as the Gestapo and Abwere agents all have secret agendas and murky loyalties. The eight-disc set includes all twenty-six episodes.

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