Television programs continue to come out on home video at an amazing rate; here are two that are new to DVD:
— "The Andersonville Trial" (Image, 1970, not rated, $24.99). After the cancellation of the original "Star Trek" series, William Shatner was cast in the lead role of this stagy but effective TV version of the Broadway play, under the direction of George C. Scott (who had starred in the Broadway show a decade earlier). Shatner is a bit hammy, but the production is so captivating that it doesn't detract.
He plays the prosecutor, Lt. Col. Chipman, who goes up against overconfident defending attorney Otis Baker (Jack Cassidy, at his condescending best) in a military tribunal to determine the fate of Confederate Capt. Henry Wirz (enraged Richard Basehart). Wirz was in charge of the death camp known as Andersonville during the Civil War, where Union soldiers were starved, became diseased or were shot and killed on a regular basis.
Wirz's defense is that he was only following orders, but Chipman contends that moral responsibility should have kicked in at some point. Both sides present convincing arguments, and the testimonies of soldiers who had been prisoners is just as riveting. (Along the way, Buddy Ebsen, Cameron Mitchell and a very young Martin Sheen also show up, as well as myriad familiar character actors.)
Extras: Full frame, etc.
— "Alias: The Complete First Season" (Buena Vista, 2001-02, not rated, $69.99, six discs). "Alias" is unquestionably the most heart-pounding action show on TV. It may get mired in the usual soap-opera antics now and again, but there's also an action sequence or two that deserve a "Wow!" And seldom have star (Jennifer Garner) and character (Sydney Bristow) been so well matched.
Sure, it's a cross between James Bond, Indiana Jones and "La Femme Nikita," and the convoluted plotting can get thick: Garner works for an intelligence agency called SD-6, which she thought was the CIA, but it's really a rogue agency. So she goes to work for the CIA as a double-agent inside SD-6, along with her father, from whom she is estranged. But wait, is Dad a Russian agent? Is Sydney's male best friend in love with her? And will he be killed by SD-6 because he's also a snoopy reporter?
The pilot is a knockout, and the season-ender has enough cliffhangers for a 15-chapter serial, while also bringing back a form of torture used in the pilot, torture that is right out of "Marathon Man" . . . if you get my dental drift. Can't wait for the season-two box set (due in December) — or for season three to start on ABC!
Extras: Widescreen, the pilot, 21 episodes, selected audio commentaries, making-of documentaries, deleted scenes, gag reel, previews, TV spots, DVD-Rom applications, etc.