DVD Picks & Passes

A Panda is Born/Baby Panda's First Year (2005) - Pick

High Noon-Special Edition (1952) - Pick

Cannily timed to take advantage of this weekend’s big-screen Panda-monium (I can’t believe I stooped to that) is the DVD release of a pair of Animal Planet documentaries, A Panda Is Born and Baby Panda’s First Year.

Featuring panda-cub superstar Tai Shan, who was born in 2005 in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Zoo, the double feature offers, first, an eye-opening look at the difficulties of bringing a baby panda into the world in captivity, and, second, a captivating look at the early life of a wide-eyed panda cub.

Of the two baby-panda episodes, the second is the better bet for family audiences looking for maximum panda cuteness. Climbing, exploring, munching bamboo and trotting around after his mother Mei Xiang, Tai Shan is as cuddly and adorable as any panda enthusiast could wish.

The first episode is just as fascinating, though parents should note it deals frankly with the exigencies of dealing with reproduction-challenged pandas in captivity, including artificial conception and insemination — obviously not a moral problem with pandas, but still a delicate subject — as well as Mei Xiang’s puzzling labor and unexpectedly abrupt delivery.

Also new on DVD is the Western classic High Noon in a two-disc collector’s edition, featuring a new restoration of the film that looks and sounds appreciably better than earlier DVDs, as well as a number of special features including a new making-of featurette as well as extras from previous editions, including commentary track and a couple of earlier making-of featurettes.

Gary Cooper stars as Will Kane, a popular small-town sheriff whose wedding to a beautiful young Quaker gal (Grace Kelly) on the day of his retirement represents his attempt to leave his old life behind. But then Kane learns that an old enemy who has sworn revenge has been released from prison.

Shunning panoramic Western landscapes and colorful action sequences, High Noon generates claustrophobic suspense by focusing on three images: Kanes’ increasingly tense, pained expression; implacably ticking clocks counting down to noon in (almost) real time; and the ominous train tracks bringing Kane’s arch-enemy to town.

High Noon is a portrait of resolute moral courage in a man who is opposed by his community, his friends, even his wife, and is ultimately willing to die for his principles.

Content advisory: A Panda Is Born/Baby Panda’s First Year: Frank coverage of artificial panda conception and insemination in the first episode requires parental discernment; otherwise, fine family viewing. High Noon: Constant tension and some menace; brief gunplay and violence; romantic complications. Teens and up.