OnDVD: ‘G.I. Joe’ rises again

Monday, November 2, 2009 at 12:29am
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A scene from 'G.I. Joe – The Rise of Cobra,' to be released on DVD Tuesday.

The original G.I. Joe animated series and films were mildly successful properties in syndication, and have also been reissued multiple times in various DVD lines.

Various editions presented the adventures of an elite team of soldiers battling an international crime syndicate known as Cobra. There were a series of action figures marketed by Hasbro and comic books as well. But none of these have come close to duplicating the runaway success of this summer's film G.I. Joe – The Rise of Cobra which debuts Tuesday as a two-disc DVD (Paramount).

Despite getting lackluster reviews, the movie opened in the number one spot at the box office and went on to gross more than $300 million worldwide. Stephen Sommers' treatment utilized plenty of CGI effects, mixed locations in both California and Prague, and featured a minimum amount of character interaction and backstory and a maximum of action scenes, explosions and visual spectacle.

The movie does a competent job of establishing the franchise, establishing the friendship of Duke (Channing Tatum) and Ripcord (Marlon Wayans), two guys whose lives are dramatically transformed from mere employees into members of the ultra-secret G.I. Joe combat team.

Duke and Ripcord were transporting missiles when they were attacked, and are rescued by G.I. Joe members. Duke recognizes one of the villains as his former girlfriend Anna (Sienna Miller), who subsequently becomes the Baroness.

Despite the objections of Lt. Hawk (Dennis Quaid), Duke and Ripcord are recruited for the team, and enlisted to battle what turns out to be a conspiracy organized by a mysterious arms dealer (Christopher Eccleson) and his friends that include the Baroness and another oddball character (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who's also a weapons and tactics genius.

The origins of Cobra Commander and Destro, as well as other colorful G.I. Joe characters like Scarlett (Rachel Nichols), Heavy Duty (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and Snake Eyes (Ray Park) also get explained in this very enjoyable, if also extremely lightweight presentation. The two-disc and Blu-ray editions offer several bonus features including picture galleries, extra scenes, interviews and making of featurettes.

Other releases

The Taking of Pelham 123, also planned for release on Tuesday (Sony) proved the rare sequel that could be favorably compared with the original. The 1974 edition that was based on John Godfrey's 1973 novel pitted Walter Matthau as an aging, cynical transit inspector battling against Robert Shaw's renegade criminal mastermind, who threatened to blow up a subway car if he wasn't given a million dollars in one hour's time.

The new version made some changes, among them increasing the ransom to $10 million dollars, eliminating some rather dicey comments and language, and increasing the racial and cultural diversity in the cast.

Denzel Washington was the new hero, although his character had just been demoted from a management position for taking a bribe. He just happens to answer the phone when the demand comes in from a villain (John Travolta) who's equal parts driven, angry and crazy. The Washington/Travolta match-up is one of the things that make this far better than anticipated, as well as James Gandolfini's appearance as a pompous and corrupt New York Mayor forced to get involved in the situation despite his reluctance.

Good, solid action films where character development and storytelling matter more than scope and gimmicks are rare these days. While far from perfect, this new version of The Taking of Pelham 123 was suspenseful and well acted, and if you missed it in theaters, here's the opportunity to catch it on DVD.

TV on DVD

Even before it debuted in 2002, The Shield generated considerable controversy.

The early promotional scenes showing Michael Chikils' character hitting a suspect in the interview room with a rolled up paper and knocking him down had outraged some who felt Shawn Ryan was trying to make a heroic figure out of a rogue cop.

However, over its seven-season tenure, The Shield rivaled The Wire for offering complex, realistic and provocative explorations of hot-button social and political issues. The members of the Strike Team constantly shifted gears between commendable and deplorable actions, between helping the community and lining their pockets.

The Shield also brought to FX the same kind of commercial and critical prestige that similar programs gave HBO, Showtime, TNT, AMC, and USA — and during its first season it earned more Emmy nominations than any prior basic cable show in history.

Though each season has been issued in DVD, on Tuesday The Shield – The Complete Series, a 29-disc boxed set (Sony), will be released. This is truly the ultimate collection for any Shield devotee.

Besides all 88 episodes in chronological order, the package includes a 34-page book, new featurettes, cast interviews and reflections from Ryan and others about the seven-year story of a program that certainly had major impact in cable and broadcasting history.