The Disney animated classic "Sleeping Beauty" has received a top-of-the-line DVD release, and the first — and best — season of "ER" is also on local video-store shelves.
— "Sleeping Beauty" (Disney, 1959, G, $29.99, two discs). When the early Disney animated features are discussed, this one is often overlooked, which is a real shame. Though it has its flaws, "Sleeping Beauty" is a faithful and highly entertaining retelling of a classic fairy tale, set to Tchaikovsky's "Sleeping Beauty" ballet.
It's true that the princess and her prince are bland and uninteresting, and the troll-like demons are silly and unfunny. But the trio of good fairies makes up for them, as does the wonderfully chilling villain, Maleficent. (The princess is voiced and sung by future opera star Mary Costa, who is interviewed in the supplemental materials.)
But what really makes this film click is the intricate detail of the widescreen backgrounds (explored in depth in the second disc's documentaries), which marked a genuine departure for the studio in its artistic approach to animation design.
This was Disney's most expensive film at the time, and it took twice as long to produce as the studio's other animated features — some six years. The gamble paid off, as it was the second-biggest film of 1959 (after "Ben-Hur").
The extra features here include a delightful short film about the life of Tchaikovsky (shown on U.S. TV and in theaters around the world) and the short "Grand Canyon," which was shown in theaters with "Sleeping Beauty" — and which went on to win the short-film Oscar that year.
All in all, one of Disney's more fully entertaining "special-edition" releases.
Extras: Widescreen and full-frame options, audio commentary, making-of documentaries, games, music video, sing-a-long, "The Peter Tchaikovsky Story" and "Grand Canyon" 30-minute short films, etc.
— "ER: The Complete First Season" (Warner, 1994-95, not rated, $59.98, four double-sided discs). For those who have given up on "ER" (and, despite its continued high ratings, you aren't alone), here's a reminder of what all the fuss was about. The fast-paced pilot is a keeper, and each episode serves to put on display what was best about the show, from the writing to the casting. Before soap-opera machinations took over.
The central cast that first year — Anthony Edwards as the compassionate doc, Eriq La Salle as the brusque doc, George Clooney as the womanizing doc, nurse Julianna Margulies as Clooney's sometime lover, Noah Wyle as a rich-kid sensitive student and Dr. Sherry Stringfield (well before her five-year hiatus) — was by far the best, and the stories are strong and intelligent. (There is also an array of guest stars, including the late Rosemary Clooney, George's aunt.)
My advice: plunk one of these discs into your DVD player on Thursday nights instead of watching the new season. If this season is anything like the last couple, you'll just be disappointed anyway, but this first-season set does not disappoint.
Extras: Widescreen, the pilot, 24 episodes, making-of documentaries, audio commentary (on three episodes), additional scenes, outtakes, etc.
— "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation — The Complete Second Season on DVD" (Paramount, 2001-2002, not rated, $89.99, six discs). Although our favorite CSI team began to get into some sleazy business here and there during its second season (Grissom's infatuation with a dominatrix, for example), the show remains a gripping examination of forensics science— even if the cases occasionally seem contrived (and always a bit gross).
We even learn some things about the show's characters here and there — especially in the episode about Brass' daughter — and the penultimate episode is the "CSI: Miami" pilot. (There's also an episode with local boy Corbin Allred, who delivers a powerhouse guest role as a tragically naive teen taking the rap for his brother.)
"CSI" may often go the way of a pulp novel — but, hey, pulp novels can be pretty engrossing, too.
Extras: Widescreen, 23 episodes, selected audio commentaries, making-of documentaries, etc.