These new-to-DVD television programs are led by the debut of a high-profile film that helped propel Tommy Lee Jones to stardom in the early 1980s.
"The Executioner's Song: Director's Cut" (CBS/Paramount, 1982, $19.99). Made in Utah with a screenplay by Norman Mailer (based on his Pulitzer Prize-winning book), the film is about Gary Gilmore, the convicted killer who demanded execution by firing squad and when it finally happened in January 1977, it was the first execution in a decade.
An intense, gripping drama, which earned Tommy Lee Jones a well-deserved Emmy for his portrayal of Gilmore (and also gave career boosts to Rosanna Arquette and Christine Lahti), the film was initially shown in
November 1982 as a two-part, four-hour miniseries on NBC. (Without commercials, it was a three-hour VHS release in 1990.)
But there was also a 135-minute theatrical "European version," which included R-rated language and nudity, and which played in a few U.S. theaters some months after the miniseries aired. (This version was also released on VHS.)
Now comes the DVD debut of "The Executioner's Song," and it's being sold as yet a different "Director's Cut" version, although it's really just the "European version" without the nudity.
The full-length show is superb and the shorter film is still good but has some problems, primarily a number of plot references that leave questions (but which are answered in the miniseries). The most gaping plot hole comes when, after killing his second victim, Gary goes down the street and deliberately shoots himself in the hand.
Why does he do this? It's never explained in the movie version but in the miniseries Gary uses it as an alibi, telling the investigating officer that he was shot in the hand while trying to protect the man who was killed.
It's hard to believe that this shorter film is really filmmaker Laurence Schiller's preference, since the longer one is more cohesive and in-depth. And I don't think anyone would complain that the miniseries doesn't have the cussing of the movie versions.
Extras: full frame, trailers
"Inspector Lewis: Series 1" (WGBH, 2008, three discs, $29.95). Inspector Lewis (Kevin Whatley) was the young partner of the late "Inspector Morse." But now he is the older investigating officer with a younger partner of his own (Laurence Fox).
The gimmick here is that Lewis is a blue-collar workaday cop, while his partner is one of the educated upper-crust ... sort of the reverse of the "The Inspector Lynley" situation.
No matter. Whatley and Fox are great together, and the three feature-length episodes here are well written and highly entertaining.
Extras: widescreen, three episodes
"Family Ties: The Fourth Season" (CBS/Paramount, 1985-86, four discs, $29.99). By the fourth season of this venerable sitcom, Michael J. Fox was the biggest star, as conservative Alex P. Keaton, whose parents are liberal former hippies (Michael Gross, Meredith Baxter).
But the show maintains its ensemble flavor and is quite funny as it explores the family dynamic, to include Alex's sisters (Justine Bateman, Tina Yothers) and baby Andrew.
In addition to the full season, this set includes the less enthralling TV movie "Family Ties Vacation," which takes the cast to London.
Extras: full frame, 24 episodes, "Family Ties Vacation," promos, bloopers
"Foyle's War: Set 5" (Acorn, 2007, three discs, $49.99). This is the concluding season of the British mystery series set against the backdrop of World War II. Here, toward the war's end, Foyle (Michael Kitchen) reluctantly comes out of retirement to solve homicides in three final feature-length episodes.Extras: widescreen, three episodes, featurettes, text notes/filmographies
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