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Category: Action and Adventure DVDs

Hot Fuzz (2 Disc Special Edition) [2007] (buy now)

A major British hit, a lorryload of laughs and some sparkling action? We'll have some of that. It's fair to say that Hot Fuzz proves that Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright's brilliant Shaun Of The Dead was no one-off, serving up a superbly crafted British homage to the Hollywood action movie.

Deliberately set in the midst of a sleepy, quaint English village of Sandford, Pegg's Nicholas Angel is sent there because, bluntly, he's too good at his job, and he's making his city colleagues look bad. The proverbial fish out of water, Angel soon discovers that not everything in Sandford is quite as it seems, and joins forces with Nick Frost's lumbering Danny Butterman to find out what's what.

Hot Fuzz then proceeds to have a rollicking good time in both tipping its hat to the genre films that are clearly its loving inspiration, and coming up with a few tricks of its own. It does comedy better than action, with plenty of genuine laugh-out-loud moments, but it's no slouch either when the tempo needs raising. One of the many strong cards it plays is its terrific cast, which includes former 007 Timothy Dalton, Bill Nighy, Bill Bailey, Paddy Considine, Edward Woodward and Jim Broadbent.

Hot Fuzz, ultimately, just falls short of Shaun Of The Dead, but more than does enough to warrant many, many repeat viewings. It's terrific fun, and in the true hit action movie style, all-but-demands some form of sequel. That said, with Pegg and Wright now with two excellent, and suitably different, genres ticked off, it'll be interesting to see what they do next. A period drama, perhaps...? --Simon Brew

Price: £13.98

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Pirates Of The Caribbean : Dead Man's Chest (2 Disc Special Edition) [2006] (buy now)

Take the first Pirates of the Caribbean film, add a dash of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and a lot more rum. Shake well and you'll have something resembling Dead Man's Chest, a bombastic sequel that's enjoyable as long as you don't think too hard about it. The film opens with the interrupted wedding of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), both of whom are arrested for aiding in the escape of Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) in the first film. Their freedom can only be obtained by getting Captain Jack's compass, which is linked to a key that's linked to a chest belonging to Davy Jones, an undead pirate with a tentacle face and in possession of a lot of people's souls. If you're already confused, don't worry--plot is definitely not the strong suit of the franchise, as the film excels during its stunt pieces, which are impressively extravagant (in particular a three-way swordfight atop a mill wheel). It may help to know that Dead Man's Chest was filmed simultaneously with some of Pirates 3, so don't expect a complete resolution (think more The Empire Strikes Back) or the movie will feel a lot longer than it really is. Bloom shows a tad bit more brawn this time around, but he's still every bit as pretty as the tomboyish Knightley. (Seriously, sometimes you think they could swap roles.) Bill Nighy (Love, Actually) weighs in as Davy Jones and Stellan Skarsgård appears as Will's undead father. But the film still belongs wholly to Depp, who in a reprise of his Oscar-nominated role gets all the belly laughs with a single widened eyeliner-ed gaze. He still runs like a cartoon hen and slurs like Keith Richards--and he's still one of the most fascinating movie characters in recent history. --Ellen A. Kim

Price: £17.98

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Blood Diamond [2006] (buy now)

Leonardo DiCaprio puts a handsome face on an ugly industry: In parts of Africa, diamond mining fuels civil warfare, killing thousands of innocents and drafting preteen children as vicious soldiers. DiCaprio (The Departed) plays Danny Archer, a white African soldier-turned-diamond-smuggler who gets wind of a large raw jewel found by Solomon Vandy, a native fisherman (Djimon Hounsou, In America) recently escaped from enslavement by a brutal rebel leader. Archer offers a deal: He'll help Vandy find his war-scattered family if Vandy will share the diamond with him. Drawn into this web of exploitation is journalist Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly, Little Children), who agrees to help if Archer will tell her the details of how conflict diamonds make their way into the hands of the corporations who sell them to the Western world. DiCaprio is compelling because he never flinches from Archer's utter ruthlessness; Archer ends up doing the morally justifiable thing, but only because his desperate greed has led him to it. Hounsou and Connelly, though saddled with all the moral and political speeches, rise above the cant and keep the movie's treacherously formulaic plot rooted in human characters. But in the end, the story won't stick with you as much as the dead stillness in the child soldiers' eyes; the horror of African civil strife refuses to be contained by Blood Diamond's uplifting message--and the movie is all the more potent as a result. --Bret Fetzer

Price: £8.97

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James Bond - Casino Royale (Daniel Craig) [2006] (buy now)

The most successful invigoration of a cinematic franchise since Batman Begins, Casino Royale offers a new Bond identity. Based on the Ian Fleming novel that introduced Agent 007 into a Cold War world, Casino Royale is the most brutal and viscerally exciting James Bond film since Sean Connery left Her Majesty's Secret Service. Meet the new Bond; not the same as the old Bond. Daniel Craig gives a galvanising performance as the freshly minted double-0 agent. Suave, yes, but also a "blunt instrument," reckless and possessed with an ego that compromises his judgment during his first mission to root out the mastermind behind an operation that funds international terrorists. In classic Bond film tradition, his global itinerary takes him to far-flung locales, including Uganda, Madagascar, the Bahamas (that's more like it) and Montenegro, where he is pitted against his nemesis in! a poker game, with hundreds of millions in the pot. The stakes get even higher when Bond lets down his armour by falling in love with Vesper (Eva Green), the ravishing banker's representative fronting him the money.

For longtime fans of the franchise, Casino Royale offers some retro kicks. Bond wins his iconic Aston Martin at the gaming table, and when a bartender asks if he wants his martini "shaken or stirred," he disdainfully replies, "Do I look like I give a damn?". There's no Moneypenny or "Q," but Dame Judi Dench is back as the exasperated M who, one senses, admires Bond's "bloody cheek." A Bond film is only as good as its villain, and Mads Mikkelsen as Le Chiffre, who weeps blood, is a sinister dandy. From its punishing violence and virtuoso action sequences to its romance, Casino Royale is a Bond film that, in the words of one character, 'makes you feel it', particularly during an excruciating torture sequence. Double-0s, Bond observes early on, "have a short life expectancy". But with Craig, there is new life in the old franchise yet, as well as genuine anticipation for the next one when, at last, the signature James Bond theme kicks in following the best last ! line ever in any Bond film. To quote Goldie Hawn in Private Benjamin, "now I know what I've been faking all these years". --Donald Liebenson

Price: £12.98

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Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire [2005] (buy now)

Price: £5.47

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Flags of our Fathers & Letters from Iwo Jima (2 Disc Special Edition) [2006] (buy now)

Thematically ambitious and emotionally complex, Clint Eastwood's Flags of Our Fathers is an intimate epic with much to say about war and the nature of heroism in America. Based on the non-fiction bestseller by James Bradley (with Ron Powers), and adapted by Million Dollar Baby screenwriter Paul Haggis (Jarhead screenwriter William Broyles Jr. wrote an earlier draft that was abandoned when Eastwood signed on to direct), this isn't so much a conventional war movie as it is a thought-provoking meditation on our collective need for heroes, even at the expense of those we deem heroic. In telling the story of the six men (five Marines, one Navy medic) who raised the American flag of victory on the battle-ravaged Japanese island of Iwo Jima on February 23rd, 1945, Eastwood takes us deep into the horror of war (in painstakingly authentic Iwo Jima battle scenes) while emphasizing how three of the surviving flag-raisers (played by Adam Beach, Ryan Phillippe, and Jesse Bradford) became reluctant celebrities - and resentful pawns in a wartime publicity campaign - after their flag-raising was immortalized by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal in the most famous photograph in military history.

As the surviving flag-raisers reluctantly play their public roles as "the heroes of Iwo Jima" during an exhausting (but clearly necessary) wartime bond rally tour, Flags of Our Fathers evolves into a pointed study of battlefield valor and misplaced idolatry, incorporating subtle comment on the bogus nature of celebrity, the trauma of battle, and the true meaning of heroism in wartime. Wisely avoiding any direct parallels to contemporary history, Eastwood allows us to draw our own conclusions about the Iwo Jima flag-raisers and how their postwar histories (both noble and tragic) simultaneously illustrate the hazards of exploited celebrity and society's genuine need for admirable role models during times of national crisis. Flags of Our Fathers defies the expectations of those seeking a more straightforward war-action drama, but it's richly satisfying, impeccably crafted film that manages to be genuinely patriotic (in celebrating the camaraderie of soldiers in battle) while dramatising the ultimate futility of war. Eastwood's follow-up film, Letters from Iwo Jima, examines the Iwo Jima conflict from the Japanese perspective.

Critically hailed as an instant classic, Clint Eastwood's Letters from Iwo Jima is a masterwork of uncommon humanity and a harrowing, unforgettable indictment of the horrors of war. In an unprecedented demonstration of worldly citizenship, Eastwood (from a spare, tightly focused screenplay by first-time screenwriter Iris Yamashita) has crafted a truly Japanese film, with Japanese dialogue (with subtitles) and filmed in a contemplative Japanese style, serving as both complement and counterpoint to Eastwood's previously released companion film Flags of Our Fathers. Where the earlier film employed a complex non-linear structure and epic-scale production values to dramatise one of the bloodiest battles of World War II and its traumatic impact on American soldiers, Letters reveals the battle of Iwo Jima from the tunnel- and cave-dwelling perspective of the Japanese, hopelessly outnumbered, deprived of reinforcements, and doomed to die in inevitable defeat.

While maintaining many of the traditions of the conventional war drama, Eastwood extends his sympathetic touch to humanise "the enemy," revealing the internal and external conflicts of soldiers and officers alike, forced by circumstance to sacrifice themselves or defend their honour against insurmountable odds. From the weary reluctance of a young recruit named Saigo (Kazunari Ninomiya) to the dignified yet desperately anguished strategy of Japanese commander Tadamichi Kuribayashi (played by Oscar-nominated The Last Samurai costar Ken Watanabe), whose letters home inspired the film's title and present-day framing device, Letters from Iwo Jima (which conveys the bleakness of battle through a near-total absence of colour) steadfastly avoids the glorification of war while paying honorable tribute to ill-fated men who can only dream of the comforts of home. --Jeff Shannon

Price: £16.98

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Ghost Rider - Extended Cut [2007] (buy now)

Once intended as a feature for Johnny Depp, the long-germinating feature film adaptation of Marvel Comics' cult title Ghost Rider stars Nicolas Cage as motorcyclist Johnny Blaze, who transforms into a skull-faced angel of vengeance to battle the forces of evil. Though perhaps a bit too mature for the role, Cage brings a degree of humour to the outrageous proceedings; he's well matched by the Easy Rider himself Peter Fonda, amusingly cast as Mephistopheles, the demon with whom Blaze strikes a bargain to save his father, and in turn, causes his transformation into Ghost Rider. Wes Bentley is also fine as Blackheart, the rebellious offspring of Mephistopheles, and Blazes' chief opponent in the film. They're joined by a solid supporting cast which includes Donal Logue, Eva Mendes, and Sam Elliott, but their participation and a relentless barrage of CGI effects can't hide the fact that the story itself, though largely faithful to its comic origins, is rife with clichéd characterizations and glum B-movie dialogue. Fans of the venerable title may cry foul over this adaptation (as they did over helmer Mark Steven Johnson's previous comic-to-movie feature, Daredevil), but less stringent viewers may enjoy the fiery visuals and Cage's typically quirky performance. --Paul Gaita

Price: £12.98

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Star Wars Trilogy (Episodes IV-VI) [1977] (buy now)

Four-disc set includes:

  • Episode IV, A New Hope (Special Edition)--with commentary by George Lucas, Ben Burtt, Dennis Muren and Carrie Fisher; Easter egg: credit roll (2 min)
  • Episode V, The Empire Strikes Back (Special Edition)--with commentary by George Lucas, Irvin Kershner, Lawrence Kasdan, Ben Burtt, Dennis Muren and Carrie Fisher; Easter egg: credit roll (2 min)
  • Episode VI, Return of the Jedi (Special Edition)--commentary by George Lucas, Lawrence Kasdan, Ben Burtt, Dennis Muren and Carrie Fisher; Easter egg: credit roll (2 min)
  • Bonus disc: all-new bonus features, including the most comprehensive feature-length documentary ever produced on the Star Wars saga, and never-before-seen footage from the making of all three films
Subitles (all material across all four discs): English, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish

Click here to see detailed information on the special features included on the bonus disc.

Amazon.co.uk Review

George Lucas's original Star Wars trilogy is a clever synthesis of pop-cultural and mythological references, taking classic fairy-tale themes, adding more than a dash of Arthurian legend, and providing cinematic high adventure inspired as much by Kurosawa's Samurai epics as by Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. As a result, audiences of all ages can find something to identify with in Luke Skywalker's journey from disaffected teenager dreaming of adventure to Jedi Knight and saviour of the galaxy. He not only rescues a Princess, but discovers she's a close relative. And if there's a lesson to be gleaned from the Skywalker clan, it's that no matter how bad things get in the average dysfunctional family, it's never too late for reconciliation.

Originally released in 1977, Star Wars, the first film, was made as a standalone. Perhaps that's why Obi-Wan Kenobi seems a tad inconsistent in his attitude towards his old pupil Anakin Skywalker, and perhaps also why Luke is allowed to develop a guilt-free crush on Princess Leia. Lucas's story, told from the point of view of the two bickering droids (a device taken from Kurosawa's Hidden Fortress), also borrows freely from Errol Flynn's Robin Hood, as does John Williams's seminal Korngold-inspired music score.

Thanks in equal part to Leigh Brackett's screenplay and Irvin Kershner's direction The Empire Strikes Back (1980) is the most grown-up instalment in the series. The basic fairy-tale is developed and expanded, with the principal characters experiencing emotional turmoil--blossoming romance, mixed feelings and confused loyalties--amid a very real threat of annihilation as Darth Vader's motivations become chillingly personal. Luke's quasi-Arthurian destiny is complicated still further by the half-truths of his wizardly mentors; and swashbuckler Han Solo finds the past catching up with him, quite literally in the form of bounty hunter Boba Fett. The film is graced by more fabulous landscapes (ice, forest, clouds), more unforgettable new characters (Yoda), more groundbreaking special effects (the asteroid chase), and John Williams's finest score.

The difficult third film, 1983's Return of the Jedi, seems schizophrenic in its intentions, hoping to please both the kiddies who bought all the toys and an older audience who appreciated the narrative's epic and mythological strands. The result is a film that splits awkwardly into two. One thread, which might be subtitled "The Redemption of Anakin Skywalker", pursues the story of the Skywalker family to a cathartic conclusion. The other thread, which might be described as "The Care Bears Go to War", attempts to say something profound about primitivism versus technological sophistication, but just gets silly as furry midgets doing Tarzan whoops defeat the Emperor's crack legions.

In 1997 Lucas re-released the three original films in digitally remastered "Special Edition" versions, in which many scenes have been restored and enhanced (some would say "unnecessarily tinkered with"). Despite loud and continued criticisms from fans, these Special Editions are now considered definitive, if only by Lucasfilm. --Mark Walker

Price: £13.97

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Superman: The Movie (4 Disc Special Edition) [1978] (buy now)

Price: £4.97

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Apocalypto [2006] (buy now)

Forget any off-screen impressions you may have of Mel Gibson, and experience Apocalypto as the mad, bloody runaway train that it is. The story is set in the pre-Columbian Maya population: one village is brutally overrun, its residents either slaughtered or abducted, by a ruling tribe that needs slaves and human sacrifices. We focus on the capable warrior Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood), although Gibson skillfully sketches a whole population of characters--many of whom don't survive the early reels. Most of the film is set in the dense jungle, but the middle section, in a grand Mayan city, is a dazzling triumph of design, costuming, and sheer decadent terror. The movie itself is a triumph of brutality, as Gibson lets loose his well-established fascination with bodily mortification in a litany of assaults including impalement, evisceration, snakebite, and bee stings. It's a dark, disgusted vision, but Gibson doesn't forget to apply some very canny moviemaking instincts to the violence--including the creation of a tremendous pair of villains (strikingly played by Raoul Trujillo and Rodolfo Palacias). The film is in a Maya dialect, subtitled in English, and shot on digital video (which occasionally betrays itself in some blurry quick pans). Amidst all the mayhem, nothing in the film is more devastating than a final wordless exchange of looks between captured villager Blunted (Jonathan Brewer) and his wife's mother (Maria Isabel Diaz), a superb change in tone from their early relationship. Yes, this is an obsessive, crazed movie, but Gibson knows what he's doing. --Robert Horton

Price: £12.48

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Die Hard Trilogy (6 Disc Collector's Edition) [1988] (buy now)

Price: £12.97

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Star Wars Episode 3 : Revenge of the Sith (2 Disc Edition) [2005] (buy now)

Ending the most popular film epic in history, Star Wars: Episode III, Revenge of the Sith is an exciting, uneven, but ultimately satisfying journey. Picking up the action from Episode II, Attack of the Clones as well as the animated Clone Wars series, Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and his apprentice, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), pursue General Grievous into space after the droid has kidnapped Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid). It's just the latest manoeuvre in the on-going Clone Wars between the Republic and the Separatist forces led by former Jedi turned Sith Lord Count Dooku (Christopher Lee). On another front, Master Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz) leads the Republic's clone troops against a droid attack on the Wookiee homeworld of Kashyyyk. All this is in the first half of Episode III, which feels a lot like Episodes I and II. That means spectacular scenery, dazzling dogfights in space, a new fearsome villain (the CGI-created Grievous can't match up to either Darth Maul or the original Darth Vader, though), lightsaber duels, groan-worthy romantic dialogue, goofy humor (but at least it's left to the droids instead of Jar-Jar Binks), and hordes of faceless clone troopers fighting hordes of faceless battle droids.

But then it all changes.

After setting up characters and situations for the first two and a half movies, Episode III finally comes to life. The Sith Lord in hiding unleashes his long-simmering plot to take over the Republic, and an integral part of that plan is to turn Anakin away from the Jedi and toward the Dark Side of the Force. Unless you've been living under a rock the last 10 years, you know that Anakin will transform into the dreaded Darth Vader and face an ultimate showdown with his mentor, but that doesn't matter. In fact, a great part of the fun is knowing where things will wind up but finding out how they'll get there. The end of this prequel trilogy also should inspire fans to want to see the original movies again, but this time not out of frustration at the new ones. Rather, because Episode III is a beginning as well as an end, it will trigger fond memories as it ties up threads to the originals in tidy little ways. But best of all, it seems like for the first time we actually care about what happens and who it happens to.

Episode III is easily the best of the new trilogy--OK, so that's not saying much, but it might even jockey for third place among the six Star Wars films. It's also the first one to be rated PG-13 for the intense battles and darker plot. It was probably impossible to live up to the decades' worth of pent-up hype George Lucas faced for the Star Wars prequel trilogy (and he tried to lower it with the first two movies), but Episode III makes us once again glad to be "a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away." --David Horiuchi, Amazon.com

Price: £4.98

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Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones [2002] (buy now)

The most densely plotted instalment of the saga so far, Attack of the Clones is a tale of both Machiavellian political drama and doomed romance; it's epic war film and silly comic-book fantasy combined, as teenage Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) chafes at the restrictions imposed by his mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and falls in love with Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman). Renegade Jedi Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) is leading a breakaway federation of disgruntled systems; while the insidious influence of Darth Sidious is felt rather than seen as his invisible hand guides apparently unrelated events, from Jar Jar's unwitting instigation of a disastrous Senate decision to bounty hunter Jango Fett's revelatory role at the centre of the conspiracy.

Along the way the story has fun with the conventions of Chandleresque detective fiction as Obi-Wan explores the seedier side of Coruscant, and incorporates the noble warrior ethos of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in its portrayal of the Jedi order. The portentous tone is lightened by tongue-in-cheek self-referential dialogue and the antics of robotic clowns R2D2 and C3PO. (One niggle for music fans, though, is the cavalier cut-and-paste approach to John Williams's music score.) Like the Empire Strikes Back, Clones is the bridging film of the trilogy and thus ends on an equivocally bittersweet note.

On the DVD: Attack of the Clones is an all-digital film, and so looks suitably superb in this anamorphic widescreen transfer, accompanied by a THX encoded Dolby 5.1 soundtrack. Anyone who owns The Phantom Menace two-disc set will know what to expect from the special features: here's another group commentary led by George Lucas, two lengthy documentaries on the digital effects ("From Puppets to Pixels" and "The Previsualisation of Episode II") plus several other featurettes and Web documentaries, notably "Films Are Not Released, They Escape", a look at the sound design. There's also a fun trailer for the R2-D2 mockumentary "Beneath the Dome", trailers, photo galleries and more to satisfy any Star Wars fan. --Mark Walker

Price: £6.97

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Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace [1999] (buy now)

George Lucas transports audiences back to the future with Star Wars: Episode I, The Phantom Menace, the first instalment of a prequel trilogy in which the director imagines the foundation for the entire six-part saga. Reflecting the symbolic and mythological bases of at least five story arcs, The Phantom Menace wields a newly emerged, youthful vibrancy courtesy of Lucas' invigorating return to the director's chair and his healthy respect for the emotional sources of fantasy. Despite receiving a storm of adverse criticism (notably for Jar Jar Binks) Lucas continually fascinates with his ability to place his characters--some new, some old, some CGI--in the same dramatic situations posed in the original trilogy: whether it be the juxtaposition of primitives with technologically advanced societies or the timeless battle between good and evil, the very familiarity of these recurring scenarios and rhythms galvanises the viewer. Of course, the state-of-the-art visual effects contribute mightily to the final impact. Much has been written about the kinetic Pod Race sequence (compared favourably with the chariot race in Ben Hur) and the War and Peace-style military battles, but even these events are upstaged by the new planetary vistas: consider the Romanesque grandeur of Naboo, the underwater city of Otoh Gunga illuminated by Art Nouveau lamps, the decadent brio of Tatooine, or the dizzying skyscrapers of the city planet Coruscant (imagine Blade Runner in daylight). Despite the beauty of his iridescent images, Lucas exercises discipline, cutting fast within frames filled with rich detail and activity. As a result, The Phantom Menace lends itself to repeated viewings.

On the DVD: This spectacular two-disc DVD set was certainly worth the wait. Simply put, this is the most comprehensive packaging of supplementary materials so far assembled for DVD. Most importantly, Lucas film offers an anamorphic, 2.35:1 film transfer and a highly active Dolby 5.1 audio mix. Disc 1 includes an insightful commentary with Lucas--his first for DVD--and other key personnel, making for a great tour. The bulk of extra treasures can be found on Disc 2, including seven deleted scenes completed just for this set that possess the same quality as the film; in fact, some moments (the "Air Bus Taxi" and "Pod Race Grid" sequences) are so good that Lucas reincorporated them into the film proper. Viewers can also enjoy no less than 12 Web documentaries, five informative featurettes, the popular John Williams music video "Duel of the Fates" and numerous galleries of stills, trailers and television spots. Better yet, Lucas premieres "The Beginning," a 66-minute documentary edited from hundreds of hours of behind-the-scenes footage. This is not your standard-issue studio documentary, instead "The Beginning" is an Oscar-worthy, cinema verityé-style exploration of the creative process behind every aspect of the film's production. One of the most memorable moments involves a late-day visit to the set by Steven Spielberg: watching Lucas and Spielberg behave like kids in a candy store is one more reminder why the Star Wars saga remains enduringly popular. --Kevin Mulhall

Price: £12.98

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Pirates Of The Caribbean - The Curse Of The Black Pearl - 1 disc [2003] (buy now)

The movie that helped breathe new life into the summer blockbuster, the success of Pirates Of The Caribbean: Curse Of The Black Pearl is remarkable for several reasons.

Firstly, there's the unlikely source material. There's no previous history of theme park rides inspiring major hit movies, yet that's just what's happened here. Secondly, there's the patchy performance of pirate-related movies over the years (does anyone remember seeing Cutthroat Island in a cinema?). And then there's that performance from Johnny Depp, the one that had Disney executives in a flap prior to the release of the movie. His Captain Jack Sparrow is a fantastic, unlikely creation, proving to be both unpredictable yet utterly compelling. Such is his impact on the film that it's hardly surprising Depp snared an Oscar nomination for the role.

Yet Depp's performance shouldn't blind anyone to the film's many other qualities. The supporting cast, particularly the likes of Geoffrey Rush, Jack Davenport and Jonathan Pryce are all clearly having a whale of a time, while Gore Verbinski's pacey yet controlled direction rarely lets the momentum slow. And with all their work grounded by a quality script and worthwhile story, the end result is a film that clicks in many, many different ways.

Of course, it's now proved the inspiration for a pair of sequels, yet no matter how they turn out, Pirates Of The Caribbean: Curse Of The Black Pearl will always stand as a quite brilliant example of what happens on those rare occasions when Hollywood blockbusters get it absolutely right. And it's a treat that can easily be enjoyed time after time.--Simon Brew

Price: £8.97

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300 (2-Disc Edition) (buy now)

Like Sin City before it, 300 brings Frank Miller and Lynn Varley's graphic novel vividly to life. Gerard Butler (Beowulf and Grendel, The Phantom of the Opera) radiates pure power and charisma as Leonidas, the Grecian king who leads 300 of his fellow Spartans (including David Wenham of The Lord of the Rings, Michael Fassbender, and Andrew Pleavin) into a battle against the overwhelming force of Persian invaders. Their only hope is to neutralise the numerical advantage by confronting the Persians, led by King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), at the narrow strait of Thermopylae.

More engaging than Troy, the tepid and somewhat similar epic of ancient Greece, 300 is also comparable to Sin City in that the actors were shot on green screen, then added to digitally created backgrounds. The effort pays off in a strikingly stylised look and huge, sweeping battle scenes. However, it's not as to-the-letter faithful to Miller's source material as Sin City was. The plot is the same, and many of the book's images are represented just about perfectly. But some extra material has been added, including new villains (who would be considered "bosses" if this were a video game, and it often feels like one) and a political subplot involving new characters and a significantly expanded role for the Queen of Sparta (Lena Headey). While this subplot by director Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead) and his fellow co-writers does break up the violence, most fans would probably dismiss it as filler if it didn't involve the sexy Headey. Other viewers, of course, will be turned off by the waves of spurting blood, flying body parts, and surging testosterone. (The six-pack abs are also relentless, and the movie has more and less nudity--more female, less male--than the graphic novel.) Still, as a representation of Miller's work and as an ancient-themed action flick with a modern edge, 300 delivers. --David Horiuchi

Price: £14.98

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Ben Hur (4 Disc Special Edition) [1959] (buy now)

Price: £4.97

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Braveheart [1995] (buy now)

A stupendous historical saga, Braveheart won five Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director for star Mel Gibson. He plays William Wallace, a 13th-century Scottish commoner who unites the various clans against a cruel English King, Edward the Longshanks (Patrick McGoohan). The scenes of hand-to-hand combat are brutally violent, but they never glorify the bloodshed. There is such enormous scope to this story that it works on a smaller, more personal scale as well, essaying love and loss, patriotism and passion. Extremely moving, it reveals Gibson as a multitalented performer and remarkable director with an eye for detail and an understanding of human emotion. (His first directorial effort was 1993's Man Without a Face.) The film is nearly three hours long and includes several plot tangents, yet is never dull. This movie resonates long after you have seen it, both for its visual beauty and for its powerful story. --Rochelle O'Gorman

Price: £2.97

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Independence Day [1996] (buy now)

In Independence Day, a scientist played by Jeff Goldblum once actually had a fistfight with a man (Bill Pullman) who is now president of the United States. That same president, late in the film, personally flies a jet fighter to deliver a payload of missiles against an attack by extraterrestrials. Independence Day is the kind of movie so giddy with its own outrageousness that one doesn't even blink at such howlers in the plot. Directed by Roland Emmerich, Independence Day is a pastiche of conventions from flying-saucer movies from the 1940s and 1950s, replete with icky monsters and bizarre coincidences that create convenient shortcuts in the story. (Such as the way the girlfriend of one of the film's heroes--played by Will Smith--just happens to run across the president's injured wife, who are then both rescued by Smith's character who somehow runs across them in alien-ravaged Los Angeles County.) The movie is just sheer fun, aided by a cast that knows how to balance the retro requirements of the genre with a more contemporary feel. --Tom Keogh

Price: £2.97

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Blade Runner (Remastered Directors Cut) [1982] (buy now)

Price: £5.97

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The Indiana Jones Trilogy (Box Set) (buy now)

As with George Lucas's other movie franchise, there's a vein of mysticism running through the Indiana Jones Trilogy. Watching all three back-to-back it's possible to unravel the chronology and chart the spiritual journey of our hero: the idealistic Young Indy ("It belongs in a museum", implores River Phoenix in the opening escapade of The Last Crusade) grows up to become a cynical fortune-hunter seen trading archaeological treasures with Chinese gangsters at club "Obi-Wan" in The Temple of Doom. From there we follow his path to redemption via three mystical religious objects: respectively Hindu (the Shankara stones in Temple of Doom), Jewish (the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders), and Christian (the Holy Grail itself in Last Crusade).

But that's just the subtext. Along the way, this knight-errant archaeologist undertakes improbable adventures (featuring spiders, snakes, rats, insects and Nazis galore), rescues damsels in distress (even when they really don't want to be rescued, such as Kate Capshaw in Temple of Doom), and still finds time to bond with his dad (Sean Connery, in one of cinema's great cameo roles as Dr Jones Sr.)

Steven Spielberg revels in Lucas's recreation of 1930s cliff-hanger serials, infusing every scene with kinetic energy and infectious enthusiasm and creating any number of iconic sequences that have become touchstones of cinematic history. Director and producer are more than ably assisted by regular composer John Williams, whose swashbuckling Korngold-inspired "Raiders" theme casts Harrison Ford as a modern-day Errol Flynn. Although a fourth movie is promised, this trilogy plays like a self-contained whole that leaves nothing wanting: from the witty dialogue and breathtaking action choreography to the near-perfect casting, this is popular movie-making at its very peak.

On the DVD: The Indiana Jones Trilogy four-disc box set, as has been widely noted, contains the slightly edited version of The Temple of Doom--1 min 6 seconds of cuts according to the BBFC--though this is exactly the same version that was originally shown in UK cinemas and released on video (missing is a bit of extra blood and gore during the heart-ripping scene). By way of compensation, the digitally remastered anamorphic 2.35:1 picture and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound for all three movies are joyfully impressive, the screen crammed full of colour and rich detail accompanied by one of Hollywood's most glorious soundtracks. The fourth bonus disc contains about three hours of additional material, most of which can be found in the new 127-minute documentary that takes the viewer chronologically through the making of the series and includes plenty of interviews and fascinating nuggets of background information. There are also independent featurettes "From the Lucasfilm Archives" on John Williams's music, the sound design, stuntwork and the special effects. There are subtitles in various European languages. --Mark Walker

Price: £24.97

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Sharpe - The Complete Series (15 Disc Box Set) (buy now)

Price: £42.97

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The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (Extended Edition Box Set) (buy now)

The extended editions of Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings present the greatest trilogy in film history in the most ambitious sets in DVD history. In bringing J.R.R. Tolkien's nearly unfilmable work to the screen, Jackson benefited from extraordinary special effects, evocative New Zealand locales, and an exceptionally well-chosen cast, but most of all from his own adaptation with co-writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, preserving Tolkien's vision and often his very words, but also making logical changes to accommodate the medium of film. While purists complained about these changes and about characters and scenes left out of the films, the almost two additional hours of material in the extended editions (about 11 hours total) help appease them by delving more deeply into Tolkien's music, the characters, and loose ends that enrich the story, such as an explanation of the Faramir-Denethor relationship, and the appearance of the Mouth of Sauron at the gates of Mordor. In addition, the extended editions offer more bridge material between the films, further confirming that the trilogy is really one long film presented in three pieces (which is why it's the greatest trilogy ever--there's no weak link). The scene of Galadriel's gifts to the Fellowship added to the first film proves significant over the course of the story, while the new Faramir scene at the end of the second film helps set up the third and the new Saruman scene at the beginning of the third film helps conclude the plot of the second.

To top it all off, the extended editions offer four discs per film: two for the longer movie, plus four commentary tracks and stupendous DTS 6.1 ES sound; and two for the bonus material, which covers just about everything from script creation to special effects. The argument was that fans would need both versions because the bonus material is completely different, but the features on the theatrical releases are so vastly inferior that the only reason a fan would need them would be if they wanted to watch the shorter versions they saw in theaters (the last of which, The Return of the King, merely won 12 Oscars). The LOTR extended editions without exception have set the DVD standard by providing a richer film experience that pulls the three films together and further embraces Tolkien's world, a reference-quality home theater experience, and generous, intelligent, and engrossing bonus features. --David Horiuchi

Price: £25.97

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Night At The Museum (2 Disc Special Edition) [2006] (buy now)

An irresistible concept meets computer-generated wonders in Night at the Museum, inspired by a 1993 children's book by Milan Trenc. Ben Stiller stars as Larry Daley, an underachieving inventor waiting for his ship to come in while getting evicted from one apartment after another for lack of funds. Larry's son needs some stability, so the well-meaning ne'er-do-well takes a job as night watchman at New York City's Museum of Natural History. What the soon-to-retire guards (Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, Bill Cobbs) don't tell him is that an ancient pharaoh's tablet in the museum causes everything on display to come to life at night. Thus, Larry meets representations of Teddy Roosevelt, Attila the Hun, fire-worshipping cavemen, and Roman Empire soldiers, and learns to cope with an excitable T-Rex and man-eating, ancient animals. The film might have left things at that, but an added story element gives Night at the Museum some extra urgency and excitement, especially for kids: Larry becomes responsible for keeping this nightly miracle going and preventing anything in the museum from dying due to exposure to sunrise. Computer effects, as well as wildly imaginative costumes and makeup, help make the film appeal to the 8-year-old in everyone. Director Shawn Levy (The Pink Panther) works with a hugely talented cast, including Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, Ricky Gervais, Carla Gugino, and Steve Coogan. --Tom Keogh

Price: £14.98

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Ocean's Twelve [2004] (buy now)

Like its predecessor Ocean's Eleven, Ocean's Twelve is a piffle of a caper, a preposterous plot given juice and vitality by a combination of movie star glamour and the exuberant filmmaking skill of director Steven Soderbergh (Out of Sight, The Limey). The heist hijinks of the first film come to roost for a team of eleven thieves (including the glossy mugs of Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Bernie Mac, and Don Cheadle), who find themselves pursued not only by the guy they robbed (silky Andy Garcia), but also by a top-notch detective (plush Catherine Zeta-Jones) and a jealous master thief (well-oiled Vincent Cassel) who wants to prove that team leader Danny Ocean (dapper George Clooney) isn't the best in the field. As if all that star power weren't enough--and the eternally coltish Julia Roberts also returns as Ocean's wife--one movie star cameo raises the movie's combined wattage to absurd proportions. But all these handsome faces are matched by Soderbergh's visual flash, cunning editing, and excellent use of Amsterdam, Paris, and Rome, among other highly decorative locations. The whole affair should collapse under the weight of its own silliness, but somehow it doesn't--the movie's raffish spirit and offhand wit soar along, providing lightweight but undeniable entertainment. --Bret Fetzer, Amazon.com

Price: £4.48

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Deja Vu [2006] (buy now)

In his most effective thriller since Enemy of the State, Tony Scott makes time travel seem plausible. It helps that his New Orleans hero, ATF agent Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington in his third go-round with the director), spends more time in the present than the past. In order to catch a terrorist, FBI Agent Pryzwarra (Val Kilmer) invites Carlin to join forces. They have the technology to see the past. He has the expertise to interpret the data. Unfortunately, the bomb has already gone off and hundreds of ferry passengers have died. Then there's the body of a beautiful woman, Claire Kuchever (Paula Patton, Idlewild), that turns up in the vicinity of the blast. Evidence indicates she was killed beforehand. Since the FBI enables him to observe Claire prior to her murder, Carlin gets to know what she was like and finds himself falling in love. He becomes convinced that the only way to solve the case--and prove her innocence--is to travel to the past. But as Pryzwarra's colleague, Denny (Adam Goldberg), argues, "You cannot go back in time. It's physically impossible." Or so he says. Déjà Vu is constructed around a clever script and executed by a top-notch cast, notably Washington, Patton, and an eerie Jim Caviezel (miles away from Passion of the Christ). In shedding the excesses of recent years--the sadism of Man on Fire and weirdness of Tarantino favorite Domino--Scott re-affirms his rep as one of the action movie's finest practitioners. --Kathleen C. Fennessy

Price: £12.98

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Grand Prix (2 Disc Special Edition) [1966] (buy now)

Price: £2.97

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Saving Private Ryan - Dvd [1998] (buy now)

Since its release in 1998, Steven Spielberg's D-Day drama Saving Private Ryan has become hugely influential: everything, from the opening sequence of Gladiator ("Saving Marcus Aurelius") to the marvellous 10-hour TV series Band of Brothers, has been made in its shadow. There have been many previous attempts to recreate the D-Day landings on screen (notably, the epic The Longest Day), but thanks to Spielberg's freewheeling hand-held camerawork, Ryan was the first time an audience really felt like they were there, storming up Omaha Beach in the face of withering enemy fire.

After the indelible opening sequence, however, the film is not without problems. The story, though based on an American Civil War incident, feels like it was concocted simply to fuel Spielberg's sentimental streak. In standard Hollywood fashion the Germans remain a faceless foe (with the exception of one charmless character who turns out to be both a coward and a turncoat); and the Tom Hanks-led platoon consists of far too many stereotypes: the doughty Sergeant; the thick-necked Private; the Southern man religious sniper; the cowardly Corporal. Matt Damon seems improbably clean-cut as the titular Private in need of rescue (though that may well be the point); and why do they all run straight up that hill towards an enemy machine gun post anyway? Some non-US critics have complained that Ryan portrays only the American D-Day experience, but it is an American film made and financed by Americans after all. Accepting both its relatively narrow remit and its lachrymose inclinations, Saving Private Ryan deserves its place in the pantheon of great war pictures.

On the DVD: Saving Private Ryan on disc comes in a good-quality anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer with a suitably dynamic Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix in which bullets fly all around your living room. Extra features are pretty minimal, with a standard 30-minute "making of" piece called "Into the Breach" and two trailers. There are text notes on the cast and crew as well as the production, and a brief message from Mr Spielberg himself about why he decided to make the movie. --Mark Walker

Price: £2.98

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Alien Quadrilogy (9 Disc Complete Box Set) (buy now)

The Alien Quadrilogy is a nine-disc box set devoted to the four Alien films. Although previously available on DVD as the Alien Legacy, here the films have been repackaged with vastly more extras and with upgraded sound and vision. For anyone who hasn't been in hypersleep for the last 25 years this series needs no introduction, though for the first time each film now comes in both original and "Special Edition" form.

Alien (1979) was so perfect it didn't need fixing, and Ridley Scott's 2003 Director's Cut is fiddling for the sake of it. Watch once then return to the majestic, perfectly paced original. Conversely the Special Edition of James Cameron's Aliens (1986) is the definitive version, though it's nice finally to have the theatrical cut on DVD for comparison. Most interesting is the alternative Alien3 (1992). This isn't a "director's cut"--David Fincher refused to have any involvement with this release--but a 1991 work-print that runs 29 minutes longer than the theatrical version, and has now been restored, remastered and finished-off with (unfortunately) cheap new CGI. Still, it's truly fascinating, offering a different insight into a flawed masterpiece. The expanded opening is visually breathtaking, the central firestorm is much longer, and a subplot involving Paul McGann's character adds considerable depth to the story. The ending is also subtly but significantly different. Alien Resurrection (1997) was always a mess with a handful of brilliant scenes, and the Special Edition just makes it eight minutes longer.

On the DVD: Alien Quadrilogy offers all films except Alien3 with DTS soundtracks, the latter having still fine Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation. All four films sound fantastic, with much low-level detail revealed for the first time. Each is anamorphically enhanced at the correct original aspect ratio, and the prints and transfers are superlative. Every film offers a commentary that lends insight into the creative process--though the Scott-only commentary and isolated music score from the first Alien DVD release are missing here--and there are subtitles for hard of hearing both for the films and the commentaries.

Each movie is complemented by a separate disc packed with hours of seriously detailed documentaries (all presented at 4:3 with clips letterboxed), thousands of photos, production stills and storyboards, giving a level of inside information for the dedicated buff only surpassed by the Lord of the Rings extended DVD sets. A ninth DVD compiles miscellaneous material, including a Channel 4 hour-long documentary and even all the extras from the old Alien laserdisc. Exhaustive hardly begins to describe the Alien Quadrilogy, a set which establishes the new DVD benchmark for retrospective releases and which looks unlikely to be surpassed for some time. --Gary S Dalkin

Price: £16.98

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The Shield - Season 1 [2002] (buy now)

Teeming with gang-bangers, perverts, rapists and killers, The Shield is unabashedly adult TV drama; and even liberal viewers may flinch at plots involving child pornography and serial murder. The first series of this uncompromising police drama focuses on pugnacious detective Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis), whose amoral Strike Team employs dubious tactics in the crime-ridden (and fictional) Farmington district of Los Angeles. Mackey and his maverick partners are at odds with seasoned detectives and beat cops, escalating tensions with precinct Captain Aceveda (Benito Martinez), a Latino with flexible scruples and a political agenda.

The series invites viewers to form their own judgments regarding Mackey's volatile behaviour, which includes killing an undercover cop in the electrifying pilot episode. While each episode stands alone, the arc of the series incorporates Aceveda's campaign to end Mackey's career, the self-loathing of a homosexual rookie (Michael Jace) whose partner (Catherine Dent) is Mackey's occasional mistress, a straight-laced detective (Jay Karnes) yearning for respect, Mackey's compassionate attempt to rehabilitate a crack whore (Jamie Brown, giving the season's finest guest performance), the autism of Mackey's young son and the recklessness of his closest partner (Walton Goggins) and the vigilant stoicism of Det. Wyms (CCH Pounder), who's as sensibly upright as Mackey is corrupted. The Shield is excellent TV for those who can grasp its complexities; all others beware. --Jeff Shannon

Price: £12.97

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