Eclipse discs rising at Criterion

'Lost, forgotten' works in no frills sets

The Criterion Collection, known as the Cadillac of DVD suppliers because of its elaborate DVD collector's editions, is about to unveil an entry-level model.

Criterion in March will launch a line of boxed sets designed to give consumers a taste of a particular director or theme. The Eclipse line, according to its mission statement, will feature "lost, forgotten or overshadowed films, in simple, affordable editions." Each set will contain three to five films, sans bonus features, made from the best available masters, but not getting a full Criterion restoration. Retail pricing, on average, will be less than $15 a disc. Regular Criterion Collection DVDs start at about $30.

"The goal is to make these films available, to make sure that Criterion's own work style doesn't contribute to the continuing unavailability of these films," Criterion Collection president Peter Becker said. "Once our producers and restoration crew get started on a Criterion edition, the project takes on a life of its own. Months later, with a little luck, we'll have something really special to show for it, but at that rate we can't make a dent in the number of important unreleased films that we'd like people to be able to see."

The Eclipse line launches March 27 with the five-disc set "Early Bergman," which includes a quintet of psychological character studies from the career of legendary Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman a decade before "The Seventh Seal" and "Wild Strawberries" earned him a reputation as one of the greatest directors ever. Among them: "Torment," a 1944 coming-of-age drama that was Bergman's first produced screenplay, and 1949's "Thirst," a complex film about the human condition told in flashbacks. Also included in "Early Bergman" are "Crisis" (1946), "Port of Call" (1948) and "To Joy" (1949).

The second Eclipse release, scheduled for April, will be "The Documentaries of Louis Malle." The six-disc set includes seven of the celebrated French films he shot at the same time he was helming such landmark films as "Elevator to the Gallows" and "My Dinner With Andre." Among them: "Phantom India" (1969), which Malle once called the most personal film of his career; "Calcutta" (1969), a chaotic portrait of the equally chaotic city that consists of footage shot during the making of "Phantom India"; and "Vive le tour" (1963), an almost staccato-like look at the Tour de France. Other documentaries included in the package are "Humain, trop human" (1972), "Place de la Republique" (1972), "God's Country" (1985) and "And the Pursuit of Happiness" (1987).

Future releases in the Eclipse line include rarely seen films from Kenji Mizoguchi, Mikio Naruse, Yasujiro Ozu and Raymond Bernard.

Criterion Collection DVDs are distributed by Image Entertainment.