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What to give the film connoisseur for the holidays

By Noel Murray

DECEMBER 13, 1999:  As a raging cinephile, I can't help but salivate when I walk into a video retailer this time of year. Everywhere I turn, there are meaty box sets and special deals on film paraphernalia, and I want them all! To help sort the cream from the lesser cream--or to help those who have a movie addict on their holiday gift list--I offer this handy map to the coolest presents currently available.


Children are well-served by this season's best video release, the new animated classic The Iron Giant, which the folks at Warner Bros. are bundling for sale with a toy and a comic book, boosting the whole package via eye-catching store displays. The film is worth the hype--it's a rich, thrilling meditation on war toys and the potential within us all. Even if you don't have children, pick up The Iron Giant. It's one of 1999's best films.

If your family has a DVD player, and you don't yet have any of the dazzling claymation works of Nick Park, check out Wallace & Gromit: The First Three Adventures, which puts A Grand Day Out, The Wrong Trousers, and A Close Shave on one disc, with selected Aardman Animation shorts and a handful of DVD-only extras. Next year will see the release of Nick Park's first feature-length film, Chicken Run, so now is the time to catch up with Aardman's unique blend of deadpan British comedy, whirlwind action sequences, and meticulous three-dimensional detail.

Box sets

Speaking of collections and kids, perhaps it's time to revisit your childhood (if you grew up in the '70s) with The World of Sid & Marty Krofft--a three-tape set that features one episode each of the Kroffts' surreal live-action kiddie shows. The Bugaloos, Lidsville, The Lost Saucer, Electra-Woman and DynaGirl--all of those and more are available for a quick jolt of sugar-fueled Saturday-morning memories.

Or you could relive the idle moments of your more recent past (if you were a college slacker in the '90s) with the latest box set of Mystery Science Theater 3000 videos. The new three-tape set may be the best, as it includes the second volume of hilarious short films and two of the wackiest features in MST3K history--the beach-bound Catalina Caper and the truly inept Coleman Francis opus The Skydivers.

The most highly touted box set of the season is The Indiana Jones Collection, which features all three films in the Steven Spielberg/George Lucas/Harrison Ford collaboration, plus one installment of the Young Indiana Jones TV series. All the adventures have been remastered and renumbered, to give the impression that the TV episodes and big-screen adventures are now one long story. Be sure to get the widescreen edition.

For those with bucks, there are two other heavyweight box sets worth considering. The 14-tape Hitchcock 100 collection celebrates the master director's birthday in fine style, including most of his classic '50s and '60s work for Universal Studios and some of the best episodes from the Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV series. Two warnings: 1. Don't confuse this with other, cheaper Hitchcock sets, and 2. Be aware that Hitchcock 100 is missing some masterpieces and contains some true duds.

The other director retrospective to seek out is The Stanley Kubrick Collection (available in VHS and DVD), which assembles seven of the late artist's finest works. Two caveats: 1. Couldn't Warner Bros. have added The Killing and Paths of Glory?, and 2. why is only the DVD set available letter-boxed?


If you're unsure about which video to buy for a film buff, get him the next best thing--a book about film! The top reference volume going is Videohound's Golden Movie Retriever 2000, a thick collection of well-written capsule reviews distinguished by its massive set of indices. Or, for fun instead of data, purchase Ebert's Bigger Little Movie Glossary, an update of Roger Ebert's compendium of amusing cinema clichs, mostly submitted by his readers.


Perhaps the best film-related book in stores right now is Batman: The Complete History, a coffee-table-ready melange of pictures and commentary (by Les Daniels) on the persistent presence of The Dark Knight in popular culture. Comics, television, animated shorts, and film appearances are all covered, wrapped in an attractive package.

Two outstanding "prestige" Batman comics have also been published in the past two months. Batman: Strange Apparitions is a collection of the classic Steve Englehart-written, Marshall Rogers-penciled Detective Comics run of the late '70s. Even more exciting is Batman: War on Crime, an oversized graphic novel written by Paul Dini and painted by Alex Ross. A Norman Rockwell-like illustrator, Ross is known for the breathtaking realism he's brought to projects like Marvels and Kingdom Come; Dini is one of the geniuses behind the animated Batman/Superman Adventures on the WB. Together, they tell a touching tale of what's behind Batman's obsession with crime-fighting.

Dini's best work is also available on video, in several collections of the animated Batman series. The best is the feature-length Batman: Sub-Zero, a Mr. Freeze story timed to coincide with the disastrous 1997 live action film Batman and Robin, but about a hundred times better than that fiasco. If you have a superhero fan in your family, you couldn't do much better than to gift them with a really great Batman story.

But give The Iron Giant first.

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