‘Argo,’ ‘Thrones’ among new DVD and Blu-ray releases

By Rich Heldenfels
Beacon Journal popular culture writer

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Alan Arkin as Lester Siegel and Ben Affleck as Tony Mendez in in Argo.(Claire Folger/Warner Brothers)

Argo has become the runaway favorite to win the Oscar for best picture. See if you can tell what academy voters are seeing when the movie comes to Blu-ray and DVD on Tuesday.

Directed by Ben Affleck, who also co-stars, the movie dramatizes a plan to get out of Iran a group of Americans in hiding after many of their colleagues were taken hostage in 1979. The elaborate effort involved the CIA’s creation of a fake movie company supposedly scouting locations in Iran, with the idea that the Americans could depart under the guise of a production crew.

As I said when the movie was in theaters, it is a curious and confident blend of humor and suspense. The oddities of moviemaking and fantasy intersect with the harshness of global politics, with death and danger all too real possibilities. As such, the film also can be read as the politically active Affleck’s commentary on lives like his, lived partly in the entertainment business and partly among grander concerns.

I like a great deal about the movie, although Affleck’s performance as the CIA agent overseeing the plan is lacking. And the video releases (Warner, $28.98 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray/DVD/digital combo) include some noteworthy extras. A 16-minute segment on both the DVD and Blu-ray releases has some of the real-life participants talking about the events in the movie, intercut with scenes from the film. The Blu-ray adds audio commentary by Affleck and writer Chris Terrio, picture-in-picture comments by the real participants and other elements.

Also of note this week is Game of Thrones: The Complete Second Season (HBO, 10 episodes, $59.99 DVD, $79.98 Blu-ray/DVD/digital combo). It was based on the second book in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire saga of warring families in a land full of swordplay, scheming and magic; the series title comes from the name of the first book.

Much loved in its first season, the show’s second season irked some critics with its sometimes awkward attempts to juggle hosts of characters and locations in a story that is a transitional part of a much longer tale. At the same time, the series ranked among the five best of 2012 in a Hitfix.com poll of TV critics. And the second season contained the epic episode Blackwater, written by Martin, which is widely considered one of the best TV episodes ever.

And it is, especially on Blu-ray, where the beauty and brutality of a pivotal battle are even more evident. Much the way Argo created suspense even though I knew its outcome, so Blackwater was still energizing and fascinating even though I had read the book.

Extras on DVD include a 30-minute segment just on the making of Blackwater, as well as an actors’ roundtable, discussion of the show’s religions, character profiles and 12 audio commentaries (including three episodes with two commentaries, six with one and only the fifth episode, The Ghost of Harrenhal, commentary-free). The Blu-ray set adds an in-episode guide providing background information as you watch the show, hidden dragon eggs to additional content, animated histories and an interactive guide to the war.

The series, by the way, begins its third season on HBO on March 31.

If you want to see wonders from Hollywood’s past, consider The Thief of Bagdad (Cohen Media, $19.98 DVD, $24.98 Blu-ray), the beautifully restored release of the 1924 silent film starring Douglas Fairbanks (not the acclaimed 1940 film of the same name, which is also on DVD). A true epic — with a huge cast of extras and a running time exceeding 2½ hours — it includes special effects that still look pretty good today, and a fine performance by the athletic and charismatic Fairbanks. While Kino released a restored version of the film on DVD in 2004, the new restoration looks even better, at least on Blu-ray. Extras include a commentary by Jeffrey Vance, author of the biography Douglas Fairbanks, and a making-of segment.

Also of note on DVD and Blu-ray this week are: Undefeated (Anchor Bay, $19.98 DVD, $24.99 Blu-ray), the Academy Award-winning documentary about a poor school’s football team and its volunteer coach; the 3-D rendition of Top Gun (Paramount, $29.99 Blu-ray) in a package with both the 3-D version and a remastered 2-D version that not only enhances the aerial sequences but also somehow makes Tom Cruise look even cockier; Atlas Shrugged: Part II (Fox, $22.98 DVD, $29.99 Blu-ray), the continuation of the screen trilogy based on Ayn Rand’s novel, with significant recasting from the first film; Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome Unrated Edition (Universal, $29.98 DVD, $34.98 Blu-ray/DVD/digital combo), the movie sequel to Caprica and prequel to the most recent Battlestar Galactica TV series; and Anna Karenina (Universal, $29.98 DVD, $34.98 Blu-ray/DVD/digital combo), the 2012 version of the love story, starring Keira Knightley.

Down video road: Les Miserables — the huge, Oscar-nominated screen version of the musical, with Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway— will be on DVD and Blu-ray on March 22. Maverick: The Complete Second Season, with James Garner, will be on DVD on April 23. Rise of the Guardians will be on Blu-ray and DVD on March 12.

Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and Ohio.com, including the HeldenFiles Online blog, www.ohio.com/blogs/heldenfiles. He is also on Facebook and Twitter. You can contact him at 330-996-3582 or rheldenfels@thebeaconjournal.com.

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