The Golden Compass
New Line, $28.98/$34.99; Blu-ray, $39.98
Blockbuster filmmaking is all about broad strokes, but fantasy stories demand detail, so it’s no wonder that Chris Weitz’s neither-fish-nor-fowl 2007 adaptation of Philip Pullman’s “The Golden Compass” had a rough time finding an audience. On the big screen, its complicated story of children and animals fighting fascism is too unwieldy to grasp right away and not substantive enough to satisfy long-term. But on DVD, “Compass” proves much more entertaining, impressing with its burnished look, eye-popping special effects and ice-cool performances by Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig. The double-disc set includes a thoughtful commentary track by Weitz and more than two hours of behind-the-scenes material.
20th Century Fox, $29.99; Blu-Ray, $39.98
Even though it’d be hard to make a romantic comedy in which the heroine was already married, it’s even harder to buy the statuesque, sharp-witted Katherine Heigl as the “always a bridesmaid” type. In “27 Dresses,” Heigl plays a perpetual also-ran who gets her shot at matrimony when she meets a suave wedding reporter played by James Marsden (though she’s still hung up on her boss, played by Edward Burns). No surprises here, but the cast is game and the production design suitably luxe. The DVD adds featurettes every bit as breezy as the movie.
How She Move
For those keeping track, this is the uplifting dance movie about the privileged kid who moves to the ghetto and finds refuge in a step troupe, not the one about the ghetto kid who moves uptown and shows the uptight rich folks how dancing should be done. (And no, it’s not “Save the Last Dance”; it’s the other one.) If you can’t figure out which movie you’re watching, the DVD includes a trio of featurettes that should help.
The Fall of
the Roman Empire
Genius Products, $24.95/$39.92
This 1964 Anthony Mann-directed epic covers the disastrous family squabble that ensues when Emperor Marcus Aurelius (played by the super-sage Alec Guinness) dies before clarifying his succession plans. The movie’s plot-bloat and polyglot cast are typical of the era, but Mann wisely breaks a big story down to a series of intimate scenes in which men struggle with their sense of honor and their lusty desires. The special-edition DVD is generous with features, adding a commentary track, a series of historical shorts, and a set of well-produced documentaries that contrast fiction and reality.
The Red Balloon/White Mane/Paddle to the Sea
Janus Films, $14.95 each
For decades, children have been introduced to art-house fare via this trio of short films, new to DVD. Albert Lamorisse’s “The Red Balloon” and “White Mane” tell the story of a child’s symbiotic relationship with, respectively, a friendly balloon and a wild horse, in ways both poetic and gripping; Bill Mason’s “Paddle to the Sea” follows a toy boat from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic. No extras, but they look fantastic.
“The Big Gay Sketch Show: The Complete First Season” (MTV, $26.98); “The Complete Toxic Avenger” (Troma, $59.95); “Sabrina the Teenage Witch: The Complete Animated Series” (Genius Products, $29.95); “Saludos Amigos/Three Caballeros” (Walt Disney, $19.99); “Zappa Plays Zappa” (Razor & Tie, $24.98/$39.98)
-- Noel Murray