DVD Picks & Passes 12.07.2008

Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who! (2008) -Pick

The Dark Knight (2008) -Pick

Man on Wire (2008) -Pick

A banner week for DVD releases! Three of the year’s best films hit shelves this week, including one of the best family films, one of the best films for mature viewers, and one somewhere in between.

Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who! brings the beloved, conscientious elephant Horton to the big screen with equal parts heart and humor in a jaunty computer-animated adaptation of Seuss’ parable of principle versus pragmatism and solidarity with the smallest and most helpless.

The best film to date from Blue Sky Studios — surpassing Ice Age and Robots — this retelling gives full weight to the pro-life resonances of a story about a principled defender of microscopic life resisting efforts to destroy it by others (including a sour mother figure) who deny its reality, including Horton’s much-repeated line “A person’s a person, no matter how small.”

Conscience, moral truth, fidelity — it’s hard to count all the positives in this little gem.

Also new this week, The Dark Knight is the even darker and more dazzling sequel to the brilliantly crafted 2005 hit Batman Begins. It’s a super-hero movie for grown-ups who know that “heroes” — from soldiers to saints, policemen to priests, presidents to popes — are limited, fallible human beings, just like we are.

Heath Ledger’s capriciously nihilistic Joker plunges us into a terrifying world in which all semblance of rules has been blown away, while those we look to protect us scramble to catch up. Yet, amid this virtual symphony of ambiguity are ringing notes of grace and redemption. Heroes may not be untarnished, but heroism is still possible.

The week’s third notable release is less familiar, but just as worth catching. Man on Wire is a remarkable documentary about a striking achievement: a crime of art rather than malice.

On Aug. 7, 1974, French high-wire artist Philippe Petit stepped off the roof of the South Tower of the World Trade Center onto a 3/4-inch steel cable and proceeded to spend about 45 minutes walking, running, jumping, kneeling and even lying down on the wire between the two towers.

That’s astonishing enough, but even more incredible is the six-year effort of planning and preparation that went into perpetrating this “artistic crime of the century.” The bravura humanism of Petit’s grand stunt and the effect it had on the policemen and other witnesses is inexplicably powerful; only a late, comic depiction of Petit having a fling with a groupie prevents the film from being family fare for older kids.

CONTENT ADVISORY Horton Hears a Who!: Some mild rudeness and mild animated menace. Fine family viewing. The Dark Knight: Intense menace; some brutal violence, including beating and injuring villains for information; a number of gruesome deaths; some grisly images; a few profane and crass references; some innuendo. Mature viewing. Man on Wire: Brief rear nudity, including a brief comic depiction of a one-night stand; drug-related references. Teens and up.

Advent Reading

We take a look at three books countering the arguments of atheists: Greater Than You Think: A Theologian Answers the Atheists About God, by Thomas D. Williams, LC, and Answering the New Atheism: Dismantling Dawkins’ Case Against God, by Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker, both reviewed by John Grondelski, and The Irrational Atheist: Dissecting the Unholy Trinity of Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens, by Vox Day, reviewed by Brian Welter.