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To Have and To Hold On To

The year's most essential, best, all-time super-duper boxed DVD sets—bar almost none

 ALIEN QUADRILOGY
20th Century Fox

Call it the most anguished, symbolically loaded, and Dantean science fiction movie project of all time, just don't call it complete. Ellen Ripley's reproductive stations of the cross, after four movies, several centuries, and too many unfortunate births, clonings, and transmutations, are far from over. (Let's hope the upcoming Alien vs. Predator isn't the series' Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein.) Here's the whole odyssey so far, on nine discs—each of the movies has two discs, to accommodate original and directors' cuts, massive audio commentaries, and a tangle of interviews, making-of programs, alternate takes, trailers, and production art. (All the evidence of Vincent Ward's original conceptualization of Alien 3 is on view, as well as whatever work Jean-Pierre Jeunet's partner Marc Caro did on Alien: Resurrection before he dropped from sight.) The ninth disc is for supplemental overflow. It'd take you months to exhaust the thing, and then you'd have to find the Easter eggs. MICHAEL ATKINSON


Soundless bites: Murnau's Nosferatu
photo: Kino International
Soundless bites: Murnau's Nosferatu

FASSBINDER'S BRD TRILOGY
Criterion

The penultimate block of masterworks from Rainer Werner Fassbinder, the much missed whale-king of mordant, self-analyzing meta-melodrama, gets the bells-and-whistles treatment. This famous tripartite ode to the Bundesrepublik Deutschland—The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979), Lola (1981), and Veronika Voss (1982), all three newly restored—needs little introduction, but the box also contains an exclusive illustrated booklet with ruminations by critic Kent Jones and RWF scholar Michael Toteberg, audio tracks by Wim Wenders, cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, and critic Tony Rayns, and a fourth disc piled high with cast and crew interviews, trailers, the feature-length portrait I Don't Just Want You to Love Me, and a documentary about yesteryear German superstar Sybille Schmitz, the wilting-lily basis for Veronika Voss. It's an inestimable brick of art-cinema's autumn years, and a must-have. M.A.


THE F.W. MURNAU COLLECTION
Kino

This lovingly produced five-DVD set includes all Murnau's extant German films and fragments, which is to say, three of the greatest silents ever made, restored and digitally mastered: Nosferatu (1922) is the original, and still the creepiest, version of Dracula; the visual tour de force, made without intertitles on a fabulous big-city set, known in the U.S. as The Last Laugh (1924) showcases Emil Jannings's ultimate performance as a fallen hotel doorman; the gloriously baroque Faust (1926) challenges Fritz Lang's Metropolis as UFA's supreme spectacle. Murnau's less-known Tartuffe (1926), which like The Last Laugh and Faust, stars the incorrigible Jannings, uses a double story to update as well as stage Molière. Thanks to Milestone, the set also offers Murnau's swan song, the 1931 South Seas romance Tabu, co-directed by Robert Flaherty. Now if the grinches at Fox would only release Murnau's Hollywood masterpiece, the long unavailable Sunrise. J. HOBERMAN


LOONEY TUNES GOLDEN COLLECTION
Warner Bros.

Forget George-is-my-favorite-Beatle—the ultimate arbiter of compatible human relations might be your choice of Looney Tunes figure. (Fudd is the fave of sadists, Bugs the wishful avatar of the insecure and unempowered, Wile E. the identifier for hapless capitalists. For me, Daffy is the great existentialist hero of the modern era.) Whatever your tack, this 400-minute collection is a walking-talking-cliff-falling Alexandrian library of 20th-century pop culture—both swallowed by the cartoons (the references to '30s-'50s media manifestations are as complex and bottomless as Finnegans Wake's idioglossia), and vomited back out for future decades into the TV-nurtured brainpans of a billion American kids. Of course, there are extras: "lost" shorts, profiles, histories, interviews, art. Who cares: the main course, 56 of the best-known, most quoted cartoons ("Thanks for the sour persimmons, cousin!"), is priceless. M.A.


THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS (SPECIAL EXTENDED EDITION)
New Line

Unlike those Star Wars extendoes where tech trumps the films, LoTR's presciently culled doc footage, hyper-articulate commentary, and gorgeous stills (from talking books, storyboards, and set paintings) genuflect to the finished product. The three-and-a-half-hour Towers finds David Wenham smoldering in a Faramir backstory, Christopher Lee getting his goth on, and hobbits giddily sharing deep smokes. We learn that Viggo Mortensen slept beside his horse to bond and that animators used Iggy Pop as a reference for Gollum's wiry musculature. LAURA SINAGRA


THE MONDO CANE COLLECTION
Blue Underground

Quite possibly the most relentlessly guileless and amoral exploitation filmmakers to ever get reviewed by Pauline Kael, Italian exotica-peddlers Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi made six films, beginning with the worldwide success of Mondo Cane (1962), that sold third-world ritual, suffering, and ignorance as bourgeois entertainment. Hippie-era psychotronia at its most fascinatingly pretentious, these films get the archival V.I.P. treatment here—both Africa Addio (1966) and the absolutely notorious slave-trade docudrama Goodbye Uncle Tom (1971) come in both the American-release version and the pre-censored directors' cut. Ancillary treats include an original doc-profile of the directors, trailers, and art. Were the Mondo twins outrageous interrogators of racial prejudice, as some claim, or craven proto-colonialists? You decide. M.A.


THE PAUL VERHOEVEN COLLECTION
Anchor Bay

Long before Paul Verhoeven secured his reputation as Hollywood's nastiest, kinkiest pulp sleazoid, he was Holland's nastiest, kinkiest pulp sleazoid. The box compiles five of the Dutchman's early movies, from 1971's proto-Showgirls, Business Is Business, a goofy comedy about working girls in Amsterdam's red-light district (conceived as a porno, no surprise) to 1983's proto-Basic Instinct, The 4th Man (still among his best films), a cheerfully blasphemous tale of a gay, alcoholic, Catholic, and possibly psychic writer lured into a hallucinatory downward spiral by an icy blonde minx with three dead husbands. Alongside the quaintly randy pseudo-nouvelle-vague softcore Turkish Delight (1973), there are also two period pieces: the WWII epic Soldier of Orange (1977)—largely sober though it foreshadows Starship Troopers in some ways—and the Sister Carrie-ish Katie Tippel (1975). The gay motorcross spitball Spetters (1980) is an unfortunate omission (MGM owns the rights), but it's a superbly distinctive set all the same, not least thanks to Verhoeven's candid, bluntly insightful commentaries. DENNIS LIM

 
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