DVD Picks & Passes 05.17.2009

Spectacular Spider-Man, Volumes 1–3 (2008)

Galaxy Quest (1999)

Wise Blood (1979)

New this week on DVD, Volume 1 of the new Kids WB series “The Spectacular Spider-Man” is a rousing start to what is fast shaping up to be one of the best super-hero cartoon series ever made. (Volumes 2 and 3 are also available on DVD.)

I still enjoy watching those hokey old 1960s’ cartoons with my kids, and I like the Tobey Maguire trilogy — but “The Spectacular Spider-Man” is smarter and more substantial than those incarnations.

This Peter Parker is sympathetic, likeable and has real moral conviction. Smart, too — when Betty comments that Mr. Jameson is a decent man “deep down,” Peter replies, “Are we talking Marianas Trench deep or Dante’s ninth circle deep?” I’m pretty sure the cartoon characters I grew up with never said anything remotely that erudite.

The anime-influenced artwork is bright and colorful, the villains and storylines cleverly developed, the moral dilemmas thoughtfully realized. Peter’s Aunt May is strict (keeps him on a curfew, makes him stay in touch via cell phone) but loving, and he considers himself lucky to have “such an amazing person” looking out for him. About the only drawback is the grating rock theme — no match for the cornball classic 1960s’ theme!

Newly available in a “Deluxe Edition” DVD, Galaxy Quest is smart, satiric entertainment that succeeds, like The Princess Bride, in sending up a genre, even as it honors it.

The comic premise: A “Star Trek”-like TV show, witnessed in space by real aliens, has been taken for “historical records” — and the aliens have modeled their entire culture after the series, just like the old poster “Everything I Really Need to Know I Learned From Star Trek.”

There are no great moral lessons; Galaxy Quest is what it is: an entertainingly silly film that will appeal to anyone who’s a “Trek” fan, who knows any “Trek” fans, or who wouldn’t want to know any. Pretty broad appeal.

Flannery O’Connor fans rejoice: John Huston’s Wise Blood, his uncompromising adaptation of the Southern Catholic author’s brilliant first novel, is newly available on DVD from the Criterion Collection.

As deeply disturbing and darkly satiric as its source material, Wise Blood tells the story of Hazel Motes (Brad Dourif), the strident freethinker with the soul of a preacher who founds the “Church of Truth Without Jesus Christ Crucified” only to see the purity of his vision corrupted by the rival upstart “Holy Church of Christ Without Christ.”

Typically generous Criterion extras include interviews with Dourif, screenwriters and producers Benedict and Michael Fitzgerald and actress Amy Wright.

CONTENT ADVISORY: “The Spectacular Spider-Man”: Animated action violence; some scary sequences. Some episodes might be a bit much for very sensitive children. Galaxy Quest: Some action violence (mostly involving space aliens); comic use of drunkenness; some strong language and profanity; mild sexuality. Teens and up. Wise Blood: Sexual themes including prostitution and cohabitation (nothing explicit); violence; sophisticated treatment of religious themes. Mature viewing.