If you're looking for a seasonal item on DVD, Neal Blomkamp's District 9 (Two-Disc Edition) (Sony), which will be released Tuesday, doesn't exactly fit the bill. But as one of 2009's best films, its arrival is certainly among the year's high points, especially in this outstanding package that contains several key extra features.
While it begins like a mock documentary, District 9 quickly segues into a dramatic and compelling tale about paranoia, bigotry and fear. It also integrates secondary fugitive and romance sagas into its thematic mix, with all these elements buttressed by remarkable special effects.
The main story spotlights a group of aliens originally welcomed by residents in Johannesburg, South Africa when they arrived in the early '80s. But over time, the citizens' friendliness turned to resentment and ultimately fear. It didn't help matters that some aliens committed criminal acts. So the populace decided to put all these creatures (called "Prawns") into camps quite close to the shantytowns of the apartheid era. Another of those mysterious corporations that always pop up in films and television shows is put in charge of keeping the aliens under control
Now the government wants them relocated, and career bureaucrat Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley) is dispatched to handle the job. But van de Merwe not only bungles things, he becomes infected with a mysterious virus that begins to change his DNA. Eventually he's being hunted both by scientists who want to turn him into a lab specimen and the government, anxious to discover whether what he's contracted can be used to their advantage.
The two-disc version (also available in a single disc package as well as Blu-ray) includes director's commentary, a three-part documentary on the making of the movie, extra and deleted scenes, and a visual effects spotlight called "Alien Generation."
But the amazing visuals aren't nearly as important as tremendous acting from Copley, David James, Jason Cope and the entire cast. District 9's tale unfortunately isn't a new one, but Blomkamp and company nicely use the trappings of sci-fi to present it in a dashing and unforgettable manner.
The week's other big DVD release is (500) Days of Summer (Fox Searchlight), an unorthdox but outstanding romance film co-starring Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
Gordon-Levitt portrays a greeting card writer whose glib one-liners and snappy witticisms don't mask his desire to find true love. The only problem is he can't seem to find the ideal woman, and often mistakenly thinks he's discovered her whenever he meets a new person.
When Summer Finn (Deschanel) rockets into his life, Gordon-Levitt's character thinks he's finally discovered the woman he's destined to marry. Only as their romance unfolds over a 500-day period, he discovers that Finn is exasperating, self-absorbed and abrasive, as well as smart, funny and charming.
Their up-and-down relationship is chronicled here in alternately comic and tragic situations, and those who missed this the first time around should definitely get it now.
TV on DVD
After four mostly successful seasons on ABC, Taxi was canceled in 1982. But NBC, then as now struggling in the ratings, decided to pick it up and see if the show had any ratings magic. It turned out the audience had already deserted them, and the 1983-84 season proved the final one for Taxi. But the show won its final two Emmy awards (for a total of 18), with Danny DeVito capturing Best Supporting Actor that season.
This week the three-disc set Taxi - The Final Season (Paramount) will be released on DVD. It's the opportunity to see the last episodes of a great show, even if these shows weren't quite as funny or well produced as the ones done during their peak years.
But Taxi not only helped elevate the careers of Tony Danza, Christopher Lloyd, Jeff Conaway and Marilu Henner, it made DeVito and Judd Hirsch elite actors and turned into one of ABC's most consistent quality programs through most of its run. It's taken many years, but finally the show's sign-off period is on DVD.