DVD Picks and Passes
Watership Down (1978) - Pick
Sleeping Beauty (1959) - Pick
The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) - Pick
Psycho (1960) - Pick
Vertigo (1958) - Pick
Rear Window (1954) - Pick
This week’s crop of new DVD releases includes three splendid family classics and three dark thrillers from the “Master of Suspense”: Alfred Hitchcock.
Newly available in a one-disc “deluxe edition,” director Martin Rosen’s Watership Down brings Richard Adams’ unforgettable, much-loved tale of an epic quest for survival among rabbits on the English countryside to life in a low-key, realistic animated style well suited to the naturalism and mature tone of the book.
The story, involving a group of wayfaring rabbits who flee their warren on a premonition of doom and try to establish a new warren elsewhere, is adapted with remarkable fidelity from the book.
Disney goes back to the vault for a two-disc “platinum edition” of Sleeping Beauty, a worthy successor to the early classics Snow White and Pinocchio — the one great fairy-tale adaptation of Disney’s post-war period — outshining Cinderella and unrivaled until 1991’s Best Picture candidate, Beauty and the Beast.
Although Disney neglects to establish that the occasion of the initial crisis is the baby’s christening, traces of Christian imagery are incorporated in the climactic battle: The good fairies equip the prince with a “shield of virtue” bearing a cross as well as a “sword of truth” to fight a dragon embodying “the powers of hell.”
The 50th anniversary edition of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad is a splendid occasion to revisit this classic fantasy, highlighted by Ray Harryhausen’s astonishing stop-motion animation creature effects, including the Cyclops, a Medusa-like figure and a climactic battle with a dragon.
Condemned in 1960 by the Legion of Decency, Psycho is a disturbing but brilliant study in misdirection and psychological storytelling. Although the guilty are all punished in one way or another, the randomness of events, the shocking violence and the lingering menace of Anthony Perkins’ Norman Bates are more unsettling than reassuring.
Though less intense in content, Vertigo is arguably even creepier, with Jimmy Stewart cast against type as a traumatized police detective who becomes unhealthily obsessed with a woman (Kim Novak) who shouldn’t exist, or who isn’t what she seems, or may be another woman, or … He doesn’t know what to think.
Stewart plays closer to type in Rear Window, a sweltering, claustrophobic melodrama in which mild voyeurism becomes serious alarm when an injured photographer begins to suspect that a neighbor on the other side of a shared courtyard has committed murder. Grace Kelly embodies elegance as Stewart’s high-society fiancée.
Content advisory: Watership Down, Sleeping Beauty and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad all contain fantasy menace and frightening sequences that could be too much for sensitive youngsters. Watership Down includes graphic rabbit violence, and Sleeping Beauty contains bestial imps and brief comic drunkenness. Psycho, Vertigo and Rear Window all contain sustained menace, disturbing behavior, violence and sexual themes. Psycho includes an adulterous liaison and an excruciating murder scene. Rear Window is okay for teens; Psycho and Vertigo are mature fare.
- October 5-11, 2008