DVD review: Crime docs win a positive verdict

In 1994, Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley Jr. — teenagers who came to be known as the West Memphis Three — were convicted of murdering three little boys in a Satanic ritual. There were a lot of things wrong with their trial, and in 1996 filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky stirred up public interest with “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Woods” — the first of this set's three features. Despite the subsequent activism by their supporters, it was 17 years before the boys-now-men were released. Along the way, Berlinger and Sinofsky made two follow-ups — subtitled “Revelations” and “Purgatory” — in 2000 and 2011.

All three are included in this set, along with a fourth disc that adds an hour's worth of extras — mostly deleted scenes and interviews. Each individual disc repeats the extras from the original stand-alone DVDs, bringing the grand total to something like three hours. It's a testament to the films' quality that, despite each being over two hours, most of this extra material is completely absorbing.

Yet another unrelated documentary on the subject, Amy Berg's “West of Memphis,” is scheduled to open in December. Being a single film, it's far less detailed than the Berlinger/Sinofsky trilogy, but Berg has the advantage of greater distance from the events: as soon as the first Berlinger and Sinofsky movie was shown, the two men themselves became significant characters in the story they were following. Berg's film is first-rate, and it whets the appetite for the trilogy rather than supplanting it.

"The Paradise Lost Trilogy Collectors Edition" (Docurama, DVD, 4 discs, $49.95)

ANDY KLEIN is the film critic for Marquee. He can also be heard on “FilmWeek” on KPCC-FM (89.3).

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