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'Sunrise' is old, but it's still great on DVD

Fox Home Video is offering a free copy of the silent classic "Sunrise" on DVD to those who purchase any three of its "Studio Classics" series released this year.

That's quite a deal, since "Sunrise" is one of the best silent movies ever made, and it's not available in stores.

"Sunrise" (Fox, 1927, b/w, not rated). This melodrama tells the story of a farmer (George O'Brien) who is cheating on his wife (Janet Gaynor) with a woman from the city (Salt Lake actress Margaret Livingston).

When Livingston convinces the farmer to kill his wife and run off with her, he attempts to do so, but in the middle of his attack on Gaynor, O'Brien sees the light, realizes his evil deed and spends the rest of the film trying to make it up to her. Which, as you might suspect, is a hard sell.

Despite its age and occasional creakiness, there remains an emotional power in "Sunrise" that most modern films can't even approach. While it's apparent the film has not been cleaned up digitally as much as it could be, this is still a treat for anyone who loves good storytelling. (Gaynor won the first best-actress Oscar for this and two other films.)

Extras: Full frame, audio commentary (by cinematographer John Bailey), outtakes, original score, a lost film by director F.W. Murnau — "Four Devils" — reconstructed through photographs, trailer, etc.

SO FAR, FOX'S "Studio Classics" include "All About Eve," "Gentleman's Agreement," "How Green Was My Valley," "An Affair to Remember" and, new this month, "The Day the Earth Stood Still."

"The Day the Earth Stood Still" (Fox, 1951, b/w, G, $19.99). This is one of the greatest of the many beloved low-budget science-fiction films of the 1950s and '60s — an anti-war film in the guise of a sci-fi thriller.

The story concerns an interplanetary traveler (Michael Rennie) who lands his ship in Washington, D.C., steps out and is promptly shot by a nervous soldier. The rest of the film has the visitor trying to warn the world that peace is the only answer, with help from a sympathetic woman (Patricia Neal) and a concerned scientist (Sam Jaffe).

A wonderfully evocative score by Bernard Herrmann, tight direction by Robert Wise (who would go on to direct "The Sound of Music," "West Side Story" and the first "Star Trek" movie) and excellent performances by seasoned actors lift this above its B-movie roots. And, despite primitive special effects, it holds up quite well today, proving once again, it's all in the script.

Extras: Full frame, audio commentary (by Wise, interviewed by filmmaker Nicolas Meyer), making-of documentary, newsreel, restoration comparisons, photo galleries, shooting script, trailer, etc.

A COUPLE OF other fantasies new to DVD this month are:

"Journey to the Center of the Earth" (Fox, 1959, G, $14.95). Here's a film I saw dozens of times in my youth, and it's a treat just to have this adaptation of the Jules Verne novel in a crisp widescreen transfer.

The story has James Mason as a scientist who travels to the title destination, with tagalongs Arlene Dahl and Pat Boone. Despite some goofy digressions, most of this is great fun, bolstered by a terrific Bernard Herrmann score. Too bad Fox didn't give us more extras here, too.

Extras: Widescreen, restoration comparison, trailers, etc.

"RoboCop: Dark Justice" (Lions Gate, 2000; R violence, language; $24.99). This is the first of a four-part Canadian miniseries, "RoboCop: Prime Directives," and by all accounts it's the weakest episode, pitting Alex Murphy/RoboCop (Page Fletcher) against a dumb villain called "Bone Machine."

It also sets up a second RoboCop, in the form of John Cable (Maurice Dean Wint), who shows promise.

Next up is "RoboCop: Meltdown," followed by "Resurrection" and "Crash and Burn." And all three have to be better than this one.

Extras: Widescreen, etc.


E-mail: hicks@desnews.com