Chris Hicks: Steven Spielberg’s ‘Empire of the Sun’ gets sharp Blu-ray upgrade to lead new home-video releases
Steven Spielberg’s “Empire of the Sun” is finally upgraded to high definition and the final pair of Harry Potter movies arrives in a new Blu-ray box set this week.
“Empire of the Sun” (Warner/Blu-ray, 1987, PG-13, two discs, $34.88, documentaries; 36-page book packaging). Steven Spielberg’s true story of a young boy (played superbly by 12-year-old Christian Bale) scrambling to survive in a Japanese POW camp during World War II looks great in this Blu-ray edition.
The gorgeous cinematography is enhanced, as is Spielberg’s talent for framing eye-popping widescreen vistas, especially with the location work in China. And there are fine performances by an eclectic cast that includes John Malkovich, and, in a small role, Ben Stiller.
It’s also overlong and overambitious, with too many underdeveloped characters and a surprisingly intrusive musical score by John Williams. But despite those drawbacks, the film is well worth seeing.
And the bonus features are worth watching on their own. The Blu-ray disc has a 49-minute making-of documentary focusing on Spielberg as the first moviemaker from the West to film in Shanghai. The second disc is a DVD with a 47-minute documentary narrated by Spielberg about patriotic propagandistic films made by Warner Bros. from the 1920s through the ’40s, concentrating on World War II and beginning with the then-prescient 1939 film “Confessions of a Nazi Spy.”
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Parts 1 and 2: Ultimate Edition” (Warner/Blu-ray + DVD + Digital, 2010/2011, PG-13, six discs, $64.99, deleted scenes, documentaries, featurettes, trailers; 3D card, four character cards, 48-page booklet). As if you didn’t know, “Part 1” has Harry, Ron and Hermione on a mission to destroy Horcuxes and thereby chip away at Vademort’s powers, but for me that film was a bit too slow and dull.
“Part 2” on the other hand is much more engaging and moves at a more satisfying clip, with Harry gathering his friends and allies together for a climactic showdown with Voldemort and his cohorts. Builds nicely to a thrilling and satisfying conclusion for this epic multi-film journey, neatly wrapping up dangling plot points.
“Cinderella II: Dreams Come True”/“Cinderella III: A Twist in Time” (Disney/Blu-ray +DVD, 2001/2007, G, three discs, $39.99, two movies, featurettes, music video). Straight-to-video animated sequels to “Cinderella,” with respective plots about her Fairy Godmother and animal friends helping her adapt to her new lifestyle, and her evil stepmother casting a spell to erase that new life. (Also on two-disc DVD, $29.99.)
“Santa Paws 2: The Santa Pups” (Disney/Blu-ray + DVD, 2012, G, featurette, bloopers). Talking dogs at Christmas are becoming a cliché. Here a passel of mischievous puppies stow away on the sleigh being ridden by Mrs. Claus (Cheryl Ladd). (Also on single-disc DVD, $29.99.)
“The Expendables 2” (Lionsgate, 2012; R for violence, language; $29.95, deleted scenes, audio commentary, featurettes, bloopers). Sylvester Stallone rounds up his pals for more bloody mayhem and more silly wisecracks in this sequel. Jet Li disappears early but Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger have beefed-up roles. In addition to Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews and Randy Couture, this overstuffed musclebound arena has Jean-Claude Van Damme as a villain and Chuck Norris as a hero. (Also on Blu-ray, $39.99.)