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Giving the Gift of Film on DVD

Folks in the current economy just haven’t warmed to the whole Blu-ray concept just yet. So while they are still commercially viable (even though they are waning in popularity), there are still a number of special edition DVDs funneling into the market. As the holiday approaches, it can be confusing for consumers as they toggle between choosing the “Special Dynamic Super Edition” or the “Ultimate Collectors Shiny Happy Edition” of the same films that have been released, re-released, and re-re-released.

I am not going to include the latest films that have perhaps just been released this year in theaters and are receiving their big DVD debuts, but rather the digital roads less traveled, providing a range of options for all to fit every price range for DVD films and box sets released in 2008.

As you are striking off names of cinephiles from your holiday gift list, consider some of the following options:

FOR THE KIDS/FAMILY

All kids will clamor for the WALL·E and Horton Hears a Who, but do you want your child to be a follower or a leader? Here are some healthy alternatives:

The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection, Vol 2. Woody was sort of like the Rodney Dangerfield of cartoon characters for me and my friends growing up. The ubiquitous bird was really just animated padding as we awaited what we perceived to be better cartoons that would come on when we returned home from school. He was the television equivalent of Ziggy. And while there are several valleys in this three-disc collection of shorts produced between 1952 and 1958, there are countless peaks, including Niagara Fools, which could quite possibly be the best of his entire run on the tube.

Classic Caballeros Collection: (The Three Caballeros/ Saludos Amigos) Walt Disney, cash strapped after spiraling budgets of Pinocchio and Fantasia threatened to bankrupt the company, found himself traveling to Central and South America in search of distributing his product and cashing in on new markets. The results are these two (and a few other) shorts that are bouncy enough to satiate the kids in the house (with staples like Donald Duck and Goofy), but filled with enough behind-the-scenes travelogues to keep the parents entertained long after the tots head off for bed. It’s a time capsule that shows the first footsteps taken in Disney’s now-global stranglehold on all things relating to childhood.

American Slapstick 2 In this three-disc compilation of shorts, 30 silent-era films are featured, demonstrating the breadth and depth of this oft-chided comic institution where public recognition usually focuses solely on some guy named Chaplin. Harold Lloyd, a then-unknown Oliver Hardy, Bebe Daniels, and Snub Pollard all share screen time with even lesser-known pioneers. The popularity of the one-half silent slapstick of this year’s WALL·E will perhaps encourage viewers to uncover these long-forgotten pearls.

The Red Balloon A lonely Parisian boy befriends the helium-filled titular object that seems to have a mind of its own in this 1956 film that is still as enchanting today. Janus Films has done an impeccable job in its cleanup of the print. The result is a simple, sweet, funny, and even moving tale (the balloon’s flirtatious dance with a blue balloon is priceless) that would still be as meaningful for children today as those in post-war France, when it was made.

BIG, BEEFY SETS

For those who still have job security and can perhaps shell out a few extra dollars, here are some options that are actually worth the money:

The Godfather (Coppola Restoration Giftset) Yes, Coppola and company have returned to this well many a time on DVD, but even if you have one of the former incarnations, you may want to start using them as coasters as this is by far the best-looking version of the films you are likely to find. For those film geeks who appreciate the film for its nuances like the chiaroscuro lighting, era-perfect costuming, and flawless framing, this is one sweet cannoli. It's about $45 for the whole set, though films can be purchased separately to avoid that whole Godfather III mistake.

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