O, Brother, More to Sea

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Washing up on DVD shores this week is Fox's vastly entertaining and informative two-disc edition of the box-office hit "Cast Away" ($30).

Tom Hanks received his fifth Oscar nomination and the Golden Globe for best actor as a Federal Express executive who, after a plane crash, washes up on a desolate Pacific island. He is stranded there for four years.

The digital edition features the wide-screen version of the film and a better-than-average "HBO First Look" documentary on the complicated production of the movie, which was shot in Russia, Los Angeles and a small island in Fiji. The production had to shut down for nearly a year while Hanks lost 50 pounds for the part.

Equally compelling are three featurettes: one on how difficult it was to find the perfect island; the second on Wilson, Hanks' volleyball companion; and the third on screenwriter Bill Broyles' research. Broyles actually went to the Sea of Cortez with three survivalist experts to discover what it would be like to be a castaway and cut off from modern society.

Also included are the theatrical trailers, Hanks' appearance on PBS' "The Charlie Rose Show," a concept art gallery, storyboard-to-film comparison of several scenes and a special-effects featurette.

The super commentary track features not only director Robert Zemeckis' reflections on the film--the script went through more than 125 rewrites--but also insights from cinematographer Don Burgess and members of the sound and special-effects crews.

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Joel and Ethan Coen refer to their Depression-era comedy "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" as a Ma and Pa Kettle film with a big budget. They even liken their offbeat take on Homer's "The Odyssey" to a Three Stooges movie. The DVD (Touchstone, $30) includes a nice wide-screen transfer of the comedy that stars George Clooney, Tim Blake Nelson, John Turturro and John Goodman, an above-average "making of" featurette that includes interviews with the Coen brothers and the actors, a Soggy Bottom Boys music video and a multi-angle storyboard-to-film comparison of several scenes.

The most interesting feature, though, contains an explanation of how the film's unique Dust Bowl, sepia-tone look was achieved digitally.

The only downside to the digital edition is the fact that the Coen brothers don't offer a commentary track.

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The 1993 feature "The Fugitive" has been given the "special edition" DVD treatment by Warner Home Video ($25). The disc features a crisp wide-screen transfer of the blockbuster, a special introduction by star Harrison Ford, who seems a mite uncomfortable, a standard featurette on the making of the film and an above-average featurette examining how the film's amazing train wreck was accomplished.

Director Andrew Davis and Tommy Lee Jones, who won the supporting actor Oscar as federal marshal Gerard, supply the audio commentary. Jones is a man of few words, but Davis more than makes up for the laconic actor. He talks about the genesis of the film, the many rewrites the script endured and the fact that the movie started production without a complete script. In fact, a lot of the film's dialogue was improvised, including the powerful scene in which two detectives question Ford at the police station after the murder of his wife.

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The Duke is going DVD in a big way. Four of John Wayne's later films have recently made their digital debuts. From Warner Home Video is the exciting 1959 Howard Hawks western "Rio Bravo" ($20), which also stars Dean Martin, Angie Dickinson, Walter Brennan and a miscast Ricky Nelson. The disc features a nice wide-screen transfer and the trailer.

Paramount Home Video is offering three new installments in its John Wayne collection ($30 each): John Ford's landmark 1962 western "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance"; the 1963 Ford comedy "Donovan's Reef"; and the 1965 sagebrush saga "The Sons of Katie Elder," which re-teamed Wayne with Martin. Each of the Paramount films is in wide screen and includes trailers.

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Though Imax movies lose a lot of their power on the small screen, these large-format films are still worth checking out on DVD. Warner Home Video is offering three Imax movies ($20) in the DVD format: "Blue Planet," "The Dream Is Alive" and "T-Rex--Back to the Cretaceous." Each film is presented in full-screen format and includes trailers. "T-Rex" also includes a very short "making of" documentary.

Shot in the Imax format by NASA astronauts in orbit some 200 miles above Earth, "Blue Planet" offers some extraordinary glimpses of our planet.

"T-Rex," which was originally shown in 3-D, has some neat computer-generated dinosaurs, but the story involving a father and daughter is for the birds. Peter Horton stars.

Walter Cronkite narrates "This Dreams Is Alive," an exciting 1985 documentary that follows the lives of two flight crews as they get ready for their space shuttle trip.

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Richard Roxburgh from "Moulin Rouge," Oscar nominee Cate Blanchett ("Elizabeth") and Frances O'Connor of "Mansfield Park" headline the bittersweet 1997 Australian comedy "The Wedding Party" (First Look, VHS only). Roxburgh plays a lovelorn singleton who falls in love with a neighboring doctor, Lizzie, (Blanchett). During his wedding ceremony and reception, though, he begins to think back to his former relationship with the free-spirited Jenny (O'Connor) and wonders if perhaps he hasn't made a mistake marrying Lizzie. Blanchett made her film debut in this romantic comedy, which is also known as "Thank God He Met Lizzie."

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