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Category: Sci-fi/Science Fiction / Fantasy DVDs

Life On Mars : Complete BBC Series 1 [2006] (buy now)

How would the modern face of policing cope in the land of The Sweeney? That's the question posed by Life on Mars, as DI Sam Tyler (John Simm) a modern cop transported back to 1973 after a nasty car accident. There, he finds himself dealing with the significantly rougher attitudes and behaviours of "old-school" British policing, as exemplified by his new boss, DCI Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister). It's a fish-out-of-water story, as Tyler attempts to teach his new colleagues some very modern methods, while attempting to get used to sheepskin jackets, wide lapels and man-made fibres.

This first series of the hugely successful BBC programme sets the scene and introduces the characters that make up Tyler's new world, but stumbles a bit by trying too hard to explain exactly how he got there (the "coma" subplot just gets in the way). Life on Mars is at its best when Glenister is on screen--he's bigoted, chauvinistic and aggressive, and goes through each episode alternately bellowing or scowling. But he's a product of his times, and in his heart, all he wants is to catch the bad guys. For Tyler, it's all about the means, while for Hunt it's all about the ends. They may not like each other much, but their on-screen chemistry is undeniable, and just one of the things that make this excellent series so watchable. --Ted Kord

Price: £14.98

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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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Doctor Who - Series 3 Vol. 2 (buy now)

The latest DVD release from the third season of the revived Doctor Who is one many fans will have been eagerly awaiting, due in no small part to the return of the iconic Daleks.

A pity, then, that of the four episodes on this DVD, it's the Dalek double-header that's the weakest. So let's deal with those two episodes first. "Daleks In Manhattan" and "Evolution Of The Daleks" are set in 1930s New York, where the Daleks have hatched their most daring plan to date: to use the biology of a human to evolve their own, resulting in a hybrid human/Dalek creature.

Yet in spite of some neat moments across the two episodes, the double-header never really clicks, and the hybrid creation utterly fails to convince. It leaves a few good lines, some neat action sequences and the sheer status of the Daleks to drag the episodes through.

Things perk up though with the other two episodes on this Doctor Who DVD. "The Lazarus Experiment" is a fun romp, with The League Of Gentlemen's Mark Gatiss experimenting, with predictably chaotic results, in age reversal. What marks this episode out though is the intriguing building of the story that's set to pay off later in the series.

Finally, the best episode on the disc, 42. While derivative, it's pacey, funny and has a real-time feel to the action that works extraordinarily well. Some smashing direction too, not least when the episode goes silent as the Doctor mouths "I'll save you" to a seemingly doomed Martha.

In all then, a mixed bag of Doctor Who, but still a terrific value DVD given the four episodes it contains. Even if the best of series three is yet to come... --Simon Brew

Price: £12.48

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Doctor Who - The Complete Series 2 Box Set (buy now)

Most have agreed that the BBC's decision to revive Doctor Who has proven inspired, with the Christopher Ecclestone-led 'first' series proving a critical and ratings success. Yet when Ecclestone announced he was departing the role after just one season, eyebrows were raised. Could the momentum be kept going for a second series?

Absolutely. The seamless casting of David Tennant as Ecclestone's successor in the TARDIS has been equally inspired, and while it's a fair debate as to whether he matches the standards set by his predecessor, the show rarely lets you draw breath to think about.

This second series collection kicks off with the 2005 Christmas special, which finds the Doctor struggling to overcome the effects of his regeneration, just as the Earth happens to be invaded. It's a smashing episode, and much of the thirteen that follow manage to match it. Particular highlights? There's "School Reunion", which cleverly works old favourites K-9 and Sarah-Jane back into the mix, while "The Girl In The Fireplace" finds the Doctor in a slightly more romantic frame, "The Idiot's Lantern" is a super, snappy episode set just before Coronation Day, while the two part "Impossible Planet" and "Satan Pit" shows just how far you can stretch a BBC budget.

Yet the series will ultimately be remembered for different reasons. The triumphant return for the Cybermen for one, and the depature of Billie Piper's Rose Tyler in the superb final two-parter, which also happens to see two of the Doctor's deadliest foes waging war. And while it's not unfair to say that this series of Doctor Who hasn't been without one or two low moments too, the vast majority of it has been really quite brilliant. Fast, energetic, well-written and cracking entertainment, you're only left wondering how they can top all this next time round… --Simon Brew

Price: £49.98

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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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Doctor Who - Series 3 Vol.1 [2007] [2005] (buy now)

Price: £11.98

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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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Doctor Who - Series 3 Vol. 3 [2007] (buy now)

Among the very finest episodes broadcast since Doctor Who returned to our screens in 2005, this collection of "Human Nature", "The Family Of Blood" and "Blink" surely adds up to the best single DVD release of the show to date.

Let's start with the best. "Blink" is an episode where the Doctor takes a back seat. Yet while this approach resulted in one of Doctor Who's worst ever episodes in season two, here it generates one of the very finest in the history of the show. It's from the pen of Steven Moffat, the man behind the best stories since the show's return, and manages to be clever, frightening and intricate in a way that will easily reward repeated viewers. To tell any more would be to spoil it. So we won't. Just know that while the BBC is happy to wheel out the `hiding behind the sofa' cliché, this is one episode that may have you doing just that.

Nearly matching it for sheer quality is the superb double header, "Human Nature" and "The Family Of Blood". Here we find the Doctor being hunted, and thus converting his biology to that of a human. With no knowledge of his real identity, it's down to the Doctor's assistant, Martha, to unravel what's going on.

Again though, there's plenty to lift these two episodes above run of the mill. Creepy scarecrows, even creepier schoolkids, a moving wartime setting and the willingness to take their time and build up the story all pay major dividends. The end result? Just terrific.

With not a weak link to be found, these three episodes find Doctor Who in outrageously strong form. And the season three finale is coming up on the next DVD release, too... --Simon Brew

Price: £11.98

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Forbidden Planet - 50th Anniversary 2 Disc Special Edition [1956] (buy now)

Ahead of its time in many, many ways, Forbidden Planet has been cemented in its role as a science fiction classic over the past few decades, to the point where its 50th birthday is being marked with this special DVD release.

What's more, the iconic film has never looked better. The print of Forbidden Planet has been buffed up to a terrific standard, and while it's a cliché to report that it's never looked better, we challenge anyone to disagree.

The film too is just as compelling. Set in the 23rd century, on a far and distant star Professor Morbius, his daughter and Robby the Robot are seemingly alone, until a space craft from Earth arrives. This sets events in motion that bring a real human core to a genre where such a factor, right to this day, is often lacking.

But it's not just that which makes Forbidden Planet continually worthy of attention. The special effects, for instance, are astounding given the era in which the film was made, while the ideas and ambition that underpin the production are equally of merit. At heart, though, it was and is an utterly compelling movie, which has had a long and profound influence on the genre as a whole.

This 50th anniversary edition also comes armed with extra features, notably several documentaries. But after all these years, it's still the film that's the star, and you simply wouldn't wager against it enduring for another 50 years after this. --Jon Foster

Price: £10.98

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Serenity [2005] (buy now)

Serenity is a film that, by rights, shouldn't have been made. For starters, it's spun out of the short-lived and quickly-cancelled TV series Firefly, which has only itself got the full recognition it deserves on DVD. It then marries up two seemingly incompatible genres, the western and science fiction, has no major stars to speak of, and pretty much has `hard sell' written all over it.

Perhaps that explains its modest box office performance back in 2005. What it fails to reflect, however, is that this is one of the most energetic, downright enjoyable sci-fi flicks in some time. Not for nothing did many rate it higher than the Star Wars movie that appeared in the same year.

It follows renegade captain Mal Reynolds and his quirkily assembled crew, as they work on the outskirts of space, trying to keep out of the way of the governing Alliance. That plan quickly changes when they take on a couple of passengers who have attracted the attention of said Alliance, and thus the scene is set for an action-packed, cleverly written movie that deserves many of the plaudits that have rightly been thrust in its direction.

What's more, Serenity works whether you've seen the TV series that precedes it or not. Clearly fans of the Firefly show will be in their element, but even the casual viewer will find an immense amount to enjoy.

The only real problem is that given the film's box office returns, further adventures of Reynolds and his crew look unlikely. Unless Serenity turns into a major hit on DVD, that is. It's well worth playing your part in making that happen.--Simon Brew

Price: £3.98

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Firefly - The Complete Series [2003] (buy now)

Much praised and much missed after its premature cancellation, Firefly is the first SF TV series to be conceived by Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy and cocreator of Angel. Set five centuries in the future, it is a show where the mysterious personal pasts of the crew of the tramp spaceship Serenity continually surface. In fact, it's a Western in space where the losers in a Civil War are heading out to a barren frontier. Mal Reynolds is a man embittered by the war, yet whose love of his comrades perpetually dents his cynicism--even in the 14 episodes that exist we see him warm to the bubbly young mechanic Kaylee, the preacher Book, the idealistic doctor Simon, even to the often demented River, Simon's sister, the psychic result of malign experiments.

Firefly is also about adult emotional relationships, for example Kaylee's crush on Simon, the happy marriage of Mal's second officer Zoe and the pilot Wash, the disastrous erotic stalemate between Mal and the courtesan Inara. Individual episodes deal with capers going vaguely wrong, or threats narrowly circumvented; character and plot arcs were starting to emerge when the show was cancelled. Fortunately, the spin-off movie Serenity ties up some of the ends; and in the meantime, what there is of Firefly is a show to marvel at, both for its tight writing and ensemble acting, and the idiocy of the executives who cancelled it.

On the DVD: Firefly on DVD is presented in anamorphic 1.78:1 with Dolby Surround Sound. It includes commentaries on six episodes by various writers, directors, designers and cast members as well as featurettes on the conception of the show and the design of the spaceship Serenity, four deleted scenes, a gag reel, and Joss Whedon singing the show's theme tune, more or less. One of the things that emerges from all of this is how committed to the project everyone involved with it was, and is--unusually, you end up caring as much for the cast and crew as for the characters.

Price: £14.98

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Battlestar Galactica - The Mini Series [2004] (buy now)

Despite voluminous protest and nitpicking criticism from loyal fans of the original TV series (1978-80), the 2003 version of Battlestar Galactica turned out surprisingly well for viewers with a tolerance for change. Originally broadcast on the Sci-Fi Channel in December 2003 and conceived by Star Trek: The Next Generation alumnus Ronald D Moore as the pilot episode for a "reimagined" TV series, this four-hour mini series reprises the basic premise of the original show while giving a major overhaul to several characters and plot elements. Gone are the flowing robes, disco-era hairstyles, and mock-Egyptian fighter helmets, and thankfully there's not a fluffy "Daggit" in sight... at least, not yet. Also missing are the "chrome toaster" Cylons, replaced by new, more formidable varieties of the invading Cylon enemy, including "Number Six" in hot red skirts and ample cleavage, who tricks the human genius Baltar! into a scenario that nearly annihilates the human inhabitants of 12 colonial worlds.

Thus begins the epic battle and eventual retreat of a "ragtag fleet" of humans, searching for the mythical planet Earth under the military command of Adama (Edward James Olmos) and the political leadership of Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell), a former secretary of education, 43rd in line of succession and rising to the occasion of her unexpected Presidency. As directed by Michael Rymer (Queen of the Damned), Moore's ambitious teleplay also includes newfangled CGI space battles (featuring "handheld" camera moves and subdued sound effects for "enhanced realism"), a dysfunctional Col. Tigh (Michael Hogan) who's provoked into action by the insubordinate Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff), and a father-son reunion steeped in familial tragedy. To fans of the original BG series, many of these changes are blasphemous, but for the most part they work--including an ominous cliffhanger ending. The remade Galactica is brimming with smart, well-drawn characters ripe with dramati! c potential, and it readily qualifies as serious-minded science fiction, even as it gives BG loyalists ample fuel for lively debate. --Jeff Shannon

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Doctor Who - The Complete Series 1 Box Set [2005] (buy now)

It was always going to be a risk for the BBC to revamp Doctor Who--few television programmes inspire as much rabid and cultish adoration. With the 2005 series, however, the BBC have really outdone themselves. Their updated Doctor Who is a revelation: a cult science fiction series that has real mass appeal, and works for both children and their parents. Christopher Eccleston is an inspired and charismatic Doctor--he leaps around the sets with an unrestrained glee, like he's a child running amok in a toy shop. His enthusiasm in downright infectious. His sidekick Rose (Billie Piper) adds a real human touch, particularly as she gradually and believably matures from in-over-her-head city kid to tough-minded interplanetary hero. Much of the credit must go to writer Russell Davies, who has a much-practiced knack for finding popular appeal without dumbing-down his ideas, and who appears to have let his imagination run riot. Even the special effects, whilst not of a big-budget cinematic quality, still manage to strike a balance between cheesiness and realism. Thrilling, funny and thoroughly entertaining, this Doctor Who is a hero for the new millennium. --Robert Burrow

Price: £50.98

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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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Battlestar Galactica: Season 2 [2005] [2004] (buy now)

Price: £17.98

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Battlestar Galactica: Season 3 [2004] (buy now)

Let's get straight to the point: bar none, Battlestar Galactica is the best science fiction television programme currently showing. In fact, let's go further. It's the best of the last decade. And truthfully? You'd find very few sci-fi fans who'd disagree.

What's more, plenty of people must be busy eating their words, too. Back when it was announced that Battlestar Galactica was being revived, feelings were mixed, not helped by the divided reaction to the mini-series that kickstarted this iteration of the show. Yet over the past couple of years, it's cleverly proven to be a tense, gripping mix of action and drama, with a tightly-woven plot.

This third season? It's arguably the best so far. A delicious soup of mystery, relevations, actions, striking characters and winding narrative, Battlestar Galactica is also served superbly well by a quality cast, some quality special effects, and a real focus on what matters from behind the camera.

As usual, there are no spoilers in this review, although it's not giving much away to say that the deadly cylons have to share the screen time with some intriguing and revealing character development this time round. And with word that season four of the revived Battlestar Galactica will be the last, things are set up for a terrific final act.

Season three of the show though is extraordinarily good, a real, genuine sci-fi classic that's going to have one mighty shelf life once this particularly iteration of the programme has gone. And with umpteen surprises to go back and check out, it's never likely to be one to gather dust on the shelf, either. --Jon Foster

Price: £37.49

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

Price: £5.97

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Doctor Who - Series 3 Vol. 4 [2007] (buy now)

The return of The Master has been one of the many recent triumphs of Doctor Who. And with this, the final single DVD release of season three of the show, the three concluding episodes deliver John Simm's majestic take on one of the Doctor's deadliest and oldest enemies.

These three episodes also see Torchwood's Captain Jack Harkness rejoining the Tardis, and along with the Doctor and Martha, there's a mighty battle to be fought.

It all starts with "Utopia", one of the very finest episodes of Doctor Who's third season. This is a clever, slow-burning tale, with Derek Jacobi guest-starring, and it features a final ten minutes so good it's enough to make Who fans weep. Things continue with some style in "The Sound Of Drums", where The Master really comes into his own, replete with a devastating cliffhanger to set up the season finale. And ironically, it's that finale, "The Last Of The Time Lords", that's the weakest of the three here, a slightly muddled--but still very enjoyable--wrapping up of a very strong series.

The skill of these three episodes is how cleanly they interweave with the subtle building blocks that have been put in place for them over the duration of Doctor Who's run. And with an ending the bodes well for the 2007 Christmas special too, this DVD is further proof of just what strong shape Doctor Who is in. Cracking stuff. --Jon Foster

Price: £10.98

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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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Doctor Who - Timelash [1985] (buy now)

Believe the vocal Doctor Who fanbase, and you'd have Timelash's card marked as a story to steer clear of. But thanks to the perspective of time, and another smashing DVD, this really is a whole lot better than you may be expecting.

Timelash is a tale from the undercooked Colin Baker era in the TARDIS, and on face value, there are lots of problems that were symptoms of this period of the show: hammed up acting, unconvincing monsters and a script that could have used a good deal more work are all present and correct here.

But--whisper it--Timelash is actually good fun. Really. There's the always-likeable Peri, H G Wells, an overarching sense of entertainment and ultimately a breezy 90 minutes to enjoy. Even those who don't usually warm to Colin Baker will find him in a calmer state here, although perhaps that's more to do with the hideously over-the-top performance from Paul Darrow.

There's never likely to be a revisionist call to instate Timelash as a classic piece of television, but time has at least proven that it's an enjoyable one. Factor in a DVD that features a commentary track (including Darrow!), a 25-minute documentary and assorted notes and listings, and it's hard to feel shortchanged. --Jon Foster

Price: £9.48

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Doctor Who : The Runaway Bride [2006] [2005] (buy now)

Price: £10.98

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Torchwood - Series 1 Vol.3 [2007] (buy now)

Price: £17.98

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Torchwood - Series 1 Vol.1 (2 Disc Set) [2006] (buy now)

Price: £16.98

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Torchwood - Series 1 Vol.2 [2006] (buy now)

There are many reasons why Torchwood is unlikely to ever match the appeal of its parent show, Doctor Who, and this collection of episodes from its maiden series ably demonstrates why.

Firstly, the show is blatantly aimed at an older demographic, both through crude and clever means, and that's already lost it as many fans as it's won. Secondly, there's a real sense of risk-taking to some of the writing, and that's why those who wrote the show off after just a couple of episodes should perhaps give it another whirl.

On this disc are four more shows from the first series, the highlight of which is the first: Countrycide. The following three aren't too shabby either, although Greeks Bearing Gifts, They Keep Killing Susie and Random Shoes aren't as consistent or engaging.

But here's the thing about Torchwood. Even on an off day, it's still interesting. Sure, it's a muddled sci-fi programme, with plenty of peaks and troughs, but it's also a grower, a programme that'll gradually win you over should you give it a reasonable chance to do so. This particular DVD release is worth it for the one episode alone. Treat the others as an added bonus, and you'll have little quarrel over the value you get from the disc. --Jon Foster

Price: £17.98

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Doctor Who - The Complete Series 3 Box Set (buy now)

There were a few moments in the third season of the revived Doctor Who when you begin to wonder if the bubble has burst. A couple of tepid Dalek episodes, and a handful of forgettable stories, make you begin--perhaps for the first time since the show's revival--whether it's already hits its peak.

But never underestimate the new Doctor Who. For the back run of series three is as good as anything that's gone before it, with ingenious plotting, the clever layering of elements it casually--nah, crucially--refers to later on, and some quite superb individual episodes. It not only restores any hint of lost faith, it sets the bar even higher.

Examples? The stunning single story Blink is extremely clever, genuinely scary and has immense rewatch value. While the equally strong double-header of Human Nature and The Family Of Blood is a two-parter in the traditional Doctor Who way, building up its story in a measured and really effectively creepy way.

Then there's the finale. Presenting the Doctor with one of his finest, most ingenious villains makes for quite brilliant television (albeit with a slightly underwhelming concluding episode), as exciting to long-time fans of Doctor Who as it is for the newcomers.

And that, ultimately, is the brilliance of Doctor Who. It staggers so many levels of viewer enthusiasm, appeals to an extremely broad age demographic, and woos over fans new and old in a manner that no show currently on television can manage. And while the cliché of hiding behind the sofa may not be as accurate as it once was, Doctor Who season three will undoubtedly leave you gripped to the TV. --Simon Brew

Price: £51.98

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2001: A Space Odyssey [1968] (buy now)

Confirming that art and commerce can co-exist, 2001: A Space Odyssey was the biggest box-office hit of 1968, remains the greatest science fiction film yet made and is among the most revolutionary, challenging and debated work of the 20th century. It begins within a pre-historic age. A black monolith uplifts the intelligence of a group of apes on the African plains. The most famous edit in cinema introduces the 21st century, and after a second monolith is found on the moon a mission is launched to Jupiter. On the spacecraft are Bowman (Keir Dullea) and Poole (Gary Lockwood), along with the most famous computer in fiction, HAL. Their adventure will be, as per the original title, a "journey beyond the stars". Written by science fiction visionary Arthur C Clarke and Stanley Kubrick, 2001 elevated the SF film to entirely new levels, being rigorously constructed with a story on the most epic of scales. Four years in the making and filmed in 70 mm, the attention to detail is staggering and four decades later barely any aspect of the film looks dated, the visual richness and elegant pacing creating the sense of actually being in space more convincingly than any other film. A sequel, 2010: Odyssey Two (1984) followed, while Solaris (1972), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), The Abyss (1989) and A.I. (2001) are all indebted to this absolute classic which towers monolithically over them all.

On the DVD: There is nothing but the original trailer which, given the status of the film and the existence of an excellent making-of documentary shown on Channel 4 in 2001, is particularly disappointing. Shortly before he died Kubrick supervised the restoration of the film and the production of new 70 mm prints for theatrical release in 2001. Fortunately the DVD has been taken from this material and transferred at the 70 mm ratio of 2.21-1. There is some slight cropping noticeable, but both anamorphically enhanced image and Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack (the film was originally released with a six-channel magnetic sound) are excellent, making this transfer infinitely preferable to previous video incarnations. --Gary S Dalkin

Price: £4.97

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A Scanner Darkly [2006] (buy now)

How well you respond to Richard Linklater's A Scanner Darkly depends on how much you know about the life and work of celebrated science fiction writer Philip K. Dick. While it qualifies as a faithful adaptation of Dick's semiautobiographical 1977 novel about the perils of drug abuse, Big Brother-like surveillance and rampant paranoia in a very near future ("seven years from now"), this is still very much a Linklater film, and those two qualities don't always connect effectively.

The creepy potency of Dick's premise remains: The drug war's been lost, citizens are kept under rigid surveillance by holographic scanning recorders, and a schizoid addict named Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) is facing an identity crisis he's not even aware of: Due to his voluminous intake of the highly addictive psychotropic drug Substance D, Arctor's brain has been split in two, each hemisphere functioning separately. So he doesn't know that he's also Agent Fred, an undercover agent assigned to infiltrate Arctor's circle of friends (played by Woody Harrelson, Winona Ryder, Rory Cochrane, and Robert Downey, Jr.) to track down the secret source of Substance D. As he wears a "scramble suit" that constantly shifts identities and renders Agent Fred/Arctor into "the ultimate everyman," Dick's drug-addled antihero must come to grips with a society where, as the movie's tag-line makes clear, "everything is not going to be OK."

While it's virtually guaranteed to achieve some kind of cult status, A Scanner Darkly lacks the paranoid intensity of Dick's novel, and Linklater's established penchant for loose and loopy dialogue doesn't always work here, with an emphasis on drug-culture humor instead of the panicked anxiety that Dick's novel conveys. As for the use of "interpolated rotoscoping"--the technique used to apply shifting, highly stylized animation over conventional live-action footage--it's purely a matter of personal preference. The film's look is appropriate to Dick's dark, cautionary story about the high price of addiction, but it also robs performances of nuance and turns the seriousness of Dick's story into... well, a cartoon. Opinions will differ, but A Scanner Darkly is definitely worth a look--or two, if the mind-rattling plot doesn't sink in the first time around. --Jeff Shannon

Price: £5.97

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Children Of Men (2-disc Special Edition) [2006] (buy now)

Price: £6.98

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Battlestar Galactica: Season 1 (buy now)

Battlestar Galactica's Edward James Olmos wasn't kidding when he said "the series is even better than the miniseries." As developed by sci-fi TV veteran Ronald D. Moore, the "reimagined" BG is exactly what it claims to be: a drama for grown-ups in a science-fiction setting. The mature intelligence of the series is its greatest asset, from the tenuous respect between Galactica's militarily principled commander Adama (Olmos) and politically astute, cancer-stricken colonial President Roslin (Mary McDonnell) to the barely suppressed passion between ace Viper pilot "Apollo" (a.k.a. Adama's son Lee, played by Jamie Bamber) and the brashly insubordinate Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff), whose multifaceted character is just one of many first-season highlights. Picking up where the miniseries ended, season 1 opens with the riveting, Hugo Award-winning episode "33," in which Galactica and the "ragtag fleet" of colonial survivors begin their quest for the legendary 13th colony planet Earth, while being pursued with clockwork regularity by the Cylons, who've now occupied the colonial planet of Caprica. The fleet's hard-fought survival forms (1) the primary side of the series' three-part structure, shared with (2) the apparent psychosis of Dr. Gaius Baltar (James Callis) whose every thought and move are monitored by various incarnations Number Six (Tricia Helfer), the seemingly omniscient Cylon ultravixen who follows a master plan somehow connected to (3) the Caprican survival ordeal of crash-landed pilots "Helo" (Tahmoh Penikett) and soon-to-be-pregnant "Boomer" (Grace Park), whose simultaneous presence on Galactica is further evidence that 12 multicopied models of Cylons, in human form, are gathering their forces.

With remarkably consistent quality, each of these 13 episodes deepens the dynamics of these fascinating characters and suspenseful situations. While BG relies on finely nuanced performances, solid direction, and satisfying personal and political drama to build its strong emotional foundation, the action/adventure elements are equally impressive, especially in "The Hand of God," a pivotal episode in which the show's dazzling visual effects get a particularly impressive showcase. Original BG series star Richard Hatch appears in two politically charged episodes (he's a better actor now, too), and with the threat of civil war among the fleet, season 1 ends with an exceptional cliffhanger that's totally unexpected while connecting the plot threads of all preceding episodes. To the credit of everyone involved, this is really good television.

Price: £14.98

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