Screens Armchair cinephile

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This December isn’t the most lavish on record for DVD junkies. Many of the big releases came early in the year, and most of the remaining gift-worthy stuff has been covered here already. Still, aspiring Santas do have some excellent options for the movie-lovers on their lists:

The sound of silents: One of the season’s (the year’s, in fact) truly big events is the arrival of The Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection (New Line), a long-anticipated box set (most of which is also sold individually) made with the full cooperation of the Lloyd estate. The third member of the Keaton-Chaplin-Lloyd holy trinity of silent comedy, Lloyd has long been underrepresented on disc because his heirs wanted to ensure a top-notch presentation of his legacy. They got it, and anyone interested in early film (and plenty of folks who fear they’d be bored by silents) will swoon over the result.

Lloyd is also represented in Kino’s multi-volume Slapstick Symposium series; his two volumes overlap the new box somewhat, but also contain early shorts New Line’s set doesn’t include. Other recent Slapstick installments feature Oliver Hardy and Charley Chase. Finally, A&E has issued Unknown Chaplin, a nearly three-hour program made for British television that boasts behind-the-scenes and unused footage Chaplin meant to destroy.

For the softies: Most of us know someone whose idea of a great present is something to watch next Christmas. For those sentimental folks, there’s Warner’s swell new Classic Holiday Collection, a straightforward box of the vintage favorites Boys Town (1938), A Christmas Carol (1938), and Christmas in Connecticut (1945). Let the caroling begin.

Kid (and former kid) stuff: Also sure to warm some cockles are a plethora of new Muppet titles. In addition to the first seasons of The Muppet Show (Buena Vista) and Fraggle Rock (Hit Entertainment), nostalgic fans can now pick up anniversary editions of The Muppet Movie, The Muppet Christmas Carol, Muppet Treasure Island, and The Great Muppet Caper (Disney). Now if only somebody would start putting out all that great ’70s Sesame Street material.

Tube toppers: Speaking of TV, there’s more new stuff out there than could ever fit in this column. One release that would look especially good under the tree is Sex and the City: The Complete Series (HBO), which bundles everything into a hot-pink, velvet-covered hardback encased in a clear plastic shell. It probably costs as much as a pair of Manolos, but it won’t rub a blister on your ankle.

Mining the vaults: If you have that kind of Complete Series money lying around, has some drool-worthy options for you. Maybe you want to start someone’s classic-cinema library off in style with The Complete Fox Studio Classics Collection, which bundles nearly 40 titles (including the latest, Two for the Road, Orchestra Wives, and The Rains Came) for the heavily discounted price of $299. Less pricy but very appealing is the Fox Film Noir Collection, with nine hard-boiled titles for $75. The latest titles in that series -The Dark Corner, Kiss of Death, and Where the Sidewalk Ends—you’ll have to snap up separately.

Making the living room an arthouse: Foreign film buffs know the Three Colors trilogy, but many could stand to dive into Kino’s Krzysztof Kieslowski Collection, a six-film box of early work that is less glossy but every bit as smart as his best-known movies. Much of that work was made for television, as was Lars von Trier’s The Kingdom, Series One, now enjoying its first DVD release from Koch Lorber.

Swordslingers: Lest we think that Akira Kurosawa was the only auteur making samurai films in the ’60s, Criterion offers Rebel Samurai, a four-movie set of chanbara with heroes that aren’t as noble as their predecessors. Toshiro Mifune pops up to star in one, but for the most part the casts and crews of these films will be discoveries to all but the most devoted viewers of Japanese film.

Remake-friendly blockbusters: Finally, Hollywood’s big guns, which hold their appeal no matter how many times their stories are told:

Just in time for the release of Christopher Nolan’s very satisfying Batman Begins, we have Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology, which gives loving two-disc attention to both the classic titles (the two made by Tim Burton with Michael Keaton) and the horrible pair, made by Joel Schumacher, that are certainly worth revisiting now for their camp value. Not enough Bats? Volume four of The Animated Series just hit stores. (All titles from Warner Bros.)

And Peter Jackson followers who quiver in anticipation of his Kong can bide their time with a truly lovely release of the original King Kong. Available in some different configurations (including a Best Buy bundle that evidently has everything), the movie really shines in Warner’s two-disc “Collector’s Edition,” a metal box with miniature reproductions of sought-after vintage posters. The movie’s the thing, of course, and Kong looks glorious here. What’s more, the bonus features benefit from the above-and-beyond efforts of Jackson himself, who painstakingly re-created some of master animator Willis O’Brien’s work so we can see how it was all done.

By John DeFore

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