DVD Picks & Passes 06.28.2009

The Swiss Family Robinson (1976) -Pick

Blu-ray: Miracle (2004) -Pick

Blu-ray: The Greatest Game Ever Played (2005) -Pick

Not to be confused with the 1960 Disney film by Ken Annakin, “The Swiss Family Robinson,” new this week on DVD in a 3-disc box set from Image Entertainment, is one of the numerous TV series adaptations of the 1812 novel by Swiss pastor Johann David Wyss — and given the richness of Wyss’ narrative, the serialized TV approach does better justice to the original.

The 1976 Canadian TV series, starring Chris Wiggins and Diana Leblanc, seems to be the most popular series adaptation, and it may be the best (better, apparently, than the 1975 series from Irwin Allen). During the 26 half-hour episodes, the family braves storms, explores caves, finds pirate treasure, endures illness and faces predatory cats, poisonous snakes and other dangers.

Unlike the Disney film, which omitted Wyss’ religious themes, this version allows the Robinsons to be both religious and reverent, drawing on the Bible and instilling moral lessons. Offering more than 10 hours of decent family entertainment, “The Swiss Family Robinson” is well worth the price tag (about $30).

New on Blu-ray are a pair of well-done Disney David-and-Goliath real-life sports movies that, refreshingly, celebrate David without demonizing Goliath — and that can be enjoyed by both sports fans and non-fans. Both films are also available on standard DVD.

Miracle celebrates the 1980 Winter Olympics “Miracle on Ice,” in which the upstart American ice hockey team pulled off the upset of the century against the more skilled, indomitable Soviet squad, simply by training harder than any team had ever trained.

And The Greatest Game Ever Played, perhaps the most visually and emotionally dynamic film ever made about a game of golf, tells the rousing story of poor, young American caddy Francis Ouimet (Shia LaBeouf) who, at a time when golf was a rich man’s hobby, stunned the genteel golf world and the nation by winning the U.S. Open against the best amateur and professional player in the English-speaking world.

Miracle doesn’t resort to having the Russians sneer and swagger or belittle our team, and Greatest Game doesn’t pillory British professional Harry Vardon (Stephen Dillane), a top-ranked player nicknamed “the Stylist.” The Russians in Miracle are simply the other team, and Vardon in Greatest Game even stands up for his opponent to the odious Lord Northcliffe.

Anchoring Miracle is Kurt Russell’s expertly focused, restrained performance as Herb Brooks, NCAA coach and former Olympic hockey player. With Greatest Game, the hook is the unique visual style that director Bill Paxton uses to express how the game of golf feels inside the head of the golfers. Both warmly recommended.

CONTENT ADVISORY: The Swiss Family Robinson: Some action and menace. Fine family viewing. Miracle: Recurring sports roughness and an on-ice brawl; minor profanity and a crass expression. Could be okay for kids. Greatest Game: A few objectionable words; fleeting fisticuffs. Fine family viewing.