Armchair Cinephile

Wild-card gift suitable for, heck, everybody: J.R.R. Tolkien's famous trilogy has always held an appeal that reaches far beyond the boundaries of sci-fi/fantasy fandom, and I'll eat an orc if Peter Jackson's film version doesn't do the same thing. The new Special Extended Edition of Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (New Line) is, amazingly, a three-and-a-half hour movie that is still wonderful after three or four viewings. The newly added extra footage isn't self-indulgent, but instead makes the film a richer experience that is more faithful to the source material - and that's quite a feat, considering how nearly perfect the film already was.

The family anglophile: Let's face it: Eventually Dubya is going to finish destroying the Bill of Rights and get around to minor travesties like abolishing public TV. Prepare your loved one for that day with one of the most treasured BBC productions ever to grace PBS. The Complete Upstairs Downstairs (A&E) compiles one of the most popular programs ever to run on Masterpiece Theater, a chronicle of an upper-crust English family during the early part of the last century. Interweaving their stories with those of the downstairs servants who waited on them, the involving series was surely an influence on last year's excellent Robert Altman film, Gosford Park.

That guy whose name you drew at the office: If you're going to stoop to gag gifts, you might as well go with a classic. At about $8, Rhino's Happy Holiday Hearth might actually be worth the money. It's corny, but there is also something surreally funny about turning your television into a "virtual fireplace" - you might see it as subverisve commentary, even, considering that the tube is such a focal point in today's households. Or it might just be a cheap, low-cal alternative to one of those big tin cans of caramel popcorn.

Your niece & nephew: Consider this one a gift for the tykes' parents as well: Considering that it will be played roughly 50 times a month, they will be grateful that Monsters, Inc. (Buena Vista) is such a smart, charming, and adult-friendly film. It's a real looker, too - I still can't get over the lifelike way the John Goodman character's thick, candy-colored fur moves in the air, or the visionary thrill of an enormous hangar full of doors, each one leading to a room in a different part of the world.

Your aunt the old maid: Sure, the "old maid" is an outdated social construct, fostered by a patriarchy that blah, blah, blah. But if you have one on your list, consider the Alec Guinness Collection (Anchor Bay), which contains some of the finest work of Sir Alec the droll, young comedian. The highlight of the set is probably The Ladykillers, a black-ish comedy that may soon be remade by the Coen Brothers.

Your junior-high pal who never grew up: Two '80s classics are new to the DVD format this season, both from Universal. Steven Spielberg's sentimental masterpiece E.T. recently got a digital tune-up, but it's worth noting that, contrary to early rumors, the regular DVD edition does also include the original version of the movie. And just in time for Christmas Eve comes one of the most requested releases ever, the Back to the Future trilogy. The studio knew what they were doing when they decided to sell these movies as a set - you won't meet too many people who claim the sequels live up to the first one - but most self-respecting fanboys would want all three of them anyway.

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