Two stories that have been made into multiple films find their way to Blu-ray recently, “Peter Pan,” the Disney version, and “A Star Is Born,” the Streisand version, along with the wondrous silent classic “The Thief of Bagdad,” starring Douglas Fairbanks, and “Top Gun,” which made a top star of Tom Cruise.
“Peter Pan: Diamond Edition” (Disney/Blu-ray, 1953, three discs, G, $44.99; Blu-ray, DVD and digital versions; new introduction, deleted scenes/songs, alternate ending, audio commentary, featurettes, music videos; storybook app). Has it really been 60 years since my parents took me to see this film in its first release when I was 5? Yikes. But here it is, making its debut on Blu-ray.
“Peter Pan” has always been one of my favorite Disney classics but I hadn’t watched it in many years, not since my own kids were young. So it’s nice to report that it holds up wonderfully as a charming retelling of the oft-performed J.M. Barrie story, filled with action, memorable songs and laugh-out-loud comedy. Gotta love Captain Hook and his travails with that pesky crocodile (tick-tock) as Smee fumbles in his efforts to assist.
Some films look better but not necessarily amazing in hi-def, but this one definitely falls into the latter category. Watching Peter fly with Wendy and the boys from London to Neverland is stunning, and the film just gets better as it goes along. If you haven’t yet shared this one with your own children or grandchildren, it’s time. And this dazzling Blu-ray edition is a great way to do it. (Also on two-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo, $39.99)
“A Star Is Born” (Warner/Blu-ray, 1976; R for language, sex, drugs; $19.97, deleted/alternate scenes, audio commentary [by Barbra Streisand], wardrobe tests, trailers; 40-page book packaging). Reworking this venerable chestnut from a Hollywood cautionary tale — previously filmed with excellent results in 1937 with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March, and in 1954 with Judy Garland and James Mason — to a rock ‘n’ roll tragedy is an interesting idea.
The familiar story has a big star on his way down when he marries a younger star on her way up, which can only lead to unhappiness in the world of show biz. And casting Streisand for this version is a brilliant stroke; she’s more than up to the task and her concert performances provide the film’s highlights. But Kris Kristofferson is one-note and charisma-free, which is difficult to get past in this two-hour, 20-minute melodrama laced with music.
Still, it’s worth watching for Streisand and was a big hit in its initial release. And this new Blu-ray upgrade really gives the sound and picture a glorious reworking, while the colorful booklet will also please fans.
“The Thief of Bagdad” (Cohen/Blu-ray, 1924, b/w, not rated, $29.98, audio commentary, featurette/photo gallery). One of the biggest hits of the silent era and Douglas Fairbanks’ personal favorite of his own films, this swashbuckling fantasy adapted from “One Thousand and One Nights” is an especially athletic action epic laced with comedy and special effects, and loaded with charm. Two-and-a-half hours long but it zooms on by, and this Blu-ray restoration is absolutely stunning. Even if you opt for the DVD instead of the Blu-ray, you’re still getting a remastered print from two 35mm negatives with color tints, a vast upgrade from earlier editions. (Also on DVD, $24.98)
“Top Gun: Limited 3D Edition” (Paramount/Blu-ray 3D, 1986. PG, two discs, $39.99; Vlu-ray 3D, Blu-ray and digital versions; audio commentary, featurettes, music videos, ad spots). This one has been on Blu-ray before, but this 3D version is new. And with its video game-style action sequences, this film is a perfect complement to the format. Despite its huge popularity the film’s story and characters are not really all that compelling. But it’s fun to see all the supporting players who went on to bigger things: Meg Ryan, Tim Robbins, Val Kilmer and Anthony Edwards, along with veteran character actors Tom Skerritt and Michael Ironside.
“The Great Gildersleeve Movie Collection” (Warner Archive, 1942-44, b/w, not rated, two discs, $29.95, five movies). Harold Peary was pompous, befuddled Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve, a popular character on the “Fibber McGee & Molly” radio show, for two years before spinning off his own series. And Peary also played him in support of other radio stars in five films before the character rose to top billing for four movies of his own: “The Great Gildersleeve,” “Gildersleeve on Broadway,” “Gildersleeve’s Bad Day” and “Gildersleeve’s Ghost.” All are just OK B-movies aimed at fans of the radio show, but an enjoyable bonus is the inclusion of one of those early films, “Seven Days’ Leave,” a musical comedy with Peary’s Gildersleeve supporting Victor Mature and Lucille Ball. (Available at www.WarnerArchive.com)
“Tip on a Dead Jockey” (Warner Archive, 1957, b/w, not rated, $18.95, trailer). In the final decade of his career, Robert Taylor stars as a former World War II/Korean War pilot now paralyzed by a fear of flying related to guilt over sending young flyers to their deaths in two wars. When he divorces his wife without explanation, she travels to Madrid to find him drinking, gambling and getting mixed up with smugglers. No classic but an entertaining, introspective look at characters nearly undone by bad choices.Comment on this story
“Bagdad Café” (Shout!, 1987, PG, $9.99). Quirky comedy has hefty German star Marianne Sagebrecht showing up at the title café in a small town in the middle of the Nevada desert where she settles into a motel and eventually gets a job in the diner, under the suspicious eye of the owner (CCH Pounder). As the film progresses Sagebrecht wins over an array of kooks who pass through and becomes the unlikely muse for a painter, a retired Hollywood set designer played by a surprisingly low-key Jack Palance. More funny peculiar than funny ha-ha, but will appeal to those who can get into its offbeat rhythms.
“Gunfighters of Abilene” (MGM Limited Edition Collection, 1960, b/w, $17.95, trailer). B-western starring Buster Crabbe toward the end of his movie career is a routine, by-the-numbers programmer. Crabbe stars as a gunslinger looking to get revenge on his brother’s killers. (Available at www.WarnerArchive.com)
“Babar: The Movie” (eOne, 1989, G, $14.98). This big-screen Babar animated feature includes forgettable songs while strangely cribbing from several live-action films for its story, including “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and “Dumbo.” Would have done better sticking to its original source material. Strictly for small fry.