Children of Men, Casino Royale

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Director Alfonso Cuaron has two remarkable films on the "Children of Men" DVD -- the dystopian feature and a startling half-hour documentary that explores the macro-global issues raised by the movie.

"The Possibility of Hope" docu doesn't have much hope in it. Cuaron rounds up a half-dozen philosophers and futurists who see overpopulation, economic repression and global warming sending the planet into a new dark age. These guys make Al Gore look like a shiny-eyed optimist.

"It's not a matter of people surviving," scientist and philosopher James Lovelock says. "It's a matter of civilization surviving. ... It can easily degenerate into a dark age again. It's quite possible that will happen."

Writer-activist Naomi Klein says of global warming: "I wouldn't say human extinction. But a genocidal (outcome)."

The short is an unusual made-for-DVD extra because it doesn't exist to promote the film or exploit its thinkers' big-headline conclusions. This is grad school territory, where the first reference is to Hegel's metaphysics. The topic is no less than the fate of the human race.

The downtrodden future always seems to elude filmmakers, but many have tried, including the mighty Stanley Kubrick ("A Clockwork Orange"). Few of the films feel plausible, probably because the filmmakers overamped their visions. "Children of Men" succeeds by Cuaron's insistence that all scenes from his year 2027 "show me the reference in real life." The movie -- about a world where women have mysteriously become infertile -- was one of the best of last year, overlooked at the Oscars. Clive Owen, Julianne Moore and Michael Caine star.

"Children of Men" looks suitably grim on Universal's single-disc release, with the grit, grain and grays of the film all intact. The 1.85 widescreen images are enhanced for 16x9 monitors. (There also is a full-screen version.) The front-centered audio is Dolby 5.1 only.

Other extras include an analysis of the film by philosopher Slavoj Zizek, who calls it, curiously, a remake of Cuaron's "Y tu mama tambien"; a trio of deleted scenes, including one in which Owen and Danny Huston wander nonchalantly among the great artworks of the lost civilization; a discussion of Cuaron's technique of long, "incredibly choreographed takes"; and a special-effects study of the film's miracle baby.

****

The A/V operatives at Sony outdid themselves on MGM's "Casino Royale" DVD. From the high-grain black-and-white intro to the richly colorful scenes in the Bahamas and old Europe, the visuals come across as truly stirring.

The extras don't follow the MGM template for Bond titles (as on the "Ultimate Edition" box sets), so look for a collector's edition down the 007 double-dip road.

The main docu tracks actor Daniel Craig as he becomes James Bond, including footage of the gloomy day when he first met the press -- the water-shy actor shaken by his Jet Ski ride across the Thames. Instead of a goofy life preserver, Craig says, he'll use water wings next time.

The hottest, most popular Bond girl of them all? Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman), followed closely by Honey Rider (Ursula Andress). That's the verdict of "Bond Girls Are Forever," a fun, frothy bonus feature. The lite docu, made for AMC when "Die Another Day" came out, has some "Casino" material tacked on at the end to justify its inclusion.

Hostess Maryam d'Abo of "The Living Daylights" wanders around the globe checking in on her 007 sorority sisters. Andress, our host points out, was both the original and the ideal: "We all tried to live up to Ursula." The chatty Andress loves talking about "Dr. No," whose script struck her as so lame that "we laughed and laughed."

A side benefit of watching this series-stretching docu is the reminder that most Bond movies came up lame after Sean Connery -- and how lucky we are to have Daniel Craig delivering the goods as Ian Fleming intended back in 1953.

There's also a stunt-work chronicle and a tired music video, one of those where the singer wanders around in the movie like he belongs there.

The movie comes elegantly letterboxed (2.40:1) or full-screen. The Dolby audio starts off distinctly front-biased, but once the big footrace scene starts, the six-speaker soundstage roars into action. Q must have been fresh out of DTS audio, unfortunately.

****

Warner's release of "Bullitt" and "The Getaway" in HD-DVD was big news in guysville: Hand us a Steve McQueen action flick in a trick video format and life is very, very good.

It's hard to watch the old DVDs after seeing the high-def presentations, but as with most older films that have been processed for HD, there are a few issues.

These movies come from a dicey period for film stock, especially "Getaway," so they don't have the punch, pop and clarity of, say, older Technicolor titles like "Mutiny on the Bounty." Skin tones tend to be ruddy, contrasts are jacked up and some detail is lost to the darker bias. On "Getaway," the audio sounds overprocessed -- the regular DVD's sonics are almost preferable. The HD "Bullitt" audio nails it, though, with warm, realistic voices, great environmental detail and big bangs.

These are quibbles because an A-B comparison is no contest at all. The existing DVDs look flat and lifeless compared with the HD-DVDs. (The older discs were decent DVDs, special editions from just a year ago.) The high-def discs port over the extras. "Bullitt" has an additional extra about editing for 1080p HD. "Getaway" adds several more bonus features about the movie.

Now that the studios have run through a lot of the easy-sell titles, we can expect more adventurous titles like these. Now is a good time to jump into high-definition. Think: What would Steve McQueen do?

Glenn Abel's new home video blog is dvdspindoctor.com.
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