With Blu-ray fast becoming the norm, many studios have started re-releasing their older catalogue titles in glorious high definition. One such studio is Fox Home Entertainment, which released three entirely different titles to Blu-ray September 1, including M*A*S*H, The Girl Next Door, and High Crimes.
I’m fairly certain that just about everyone on the entire planet has heard of M*A*S*H, mostly due to the still strong presence of the television series. But certainly, no one could have predicted M*A*S*H would reach the status it has reached today — especially when Robert Altman was directing the initial stream-of-consciousness film that inspired said series. Ditching most of the script in favor of improvisation, Altman tells the story of several maverick surgeons (Donald Sutherland, Elliot Gould, and Tom Skerritt) stationed at the 4077th Mobile Army Surgeon Hospital in Korea. With the world around them at war, the surgeons call on their own insanity to keep themselves sane — sipping martinis, bucking authority, and causing revelry all around.
At the time of its release, M*A*S*H was nothing more than an anti-war comedy, produced from the frustrations America felt about the Vietnam War. In the years following M*A*S*H’s original theatrical run, it earned several awards, spawned a TV series, reached #56 on the American Film Institute’s top 100 films list, and has become a cult classic.
The Girl Next Door (2004)
After Universal released American Pie, I felt it was all over. The film industry quickly returned to making the same kind of lame teen sex comedies that nearly caused audiences to go Theatrically Celebrate several years prior. With each new comedy that slept its way to a green light, the humor often became raunchier, the plot thinner, and the overall purpose of the film invisible. The Girl Next Door was one of many movies that had passed me by. Little did I know that it wasn’t as bad as it looked. Its intentions are purer, its humor less vulgar, and it even possesses what may be a moral.
High school senior Matthew (Emile Hirsch) is about as book-smart as you can get. His goal in life is to become a politician and his recent acceptance into Georgetown University has him jumping for joy. And then, a young temptress named Danielle (Elisha Cuthbert) moves in next door — and Matthew develops a debilitating crush on the wild child. As it turns out, Danielle is actually an incognito porn star. The arrival of her sleazy producer (Timothy Olyphant) drags Matthew and his equally dorky pals (Chris Marquette and Paul Dano) into the world of adult entertainment. While the basic plot of any teen sex comedy is usually “nerdy guy gets laid,” The Girl Next Door seems to set that device on the back burner, opting to jump around from one silly situation after another. The result was actually far more entertaining than I expected it to be.
High Crimes (2002)
Just when you though it was safe to go back to the cinema. High Crimes isn’t a very good film. In fact, it’s rather pathetic. In it, a prominent and seemingly indecisive San Francisco attorney Claire Kubik (Ashley Judd, who has been in worse) attempts to defend her husband Tom (Jim Caviezel, who has been in much worse) in a military court. Tom is up against nine counts of murder, crimes he claims he did not commit.
Throughout the course of the overlong and predictable film, Claire’s life is threatened and endangered from shady military personnel. The fact that this movie portrayed the armed services in a negative light so soon after 9/11 probably didn’t help box office business any. The further fact that the whole production is overly-ostentatious to begin with (including the acting — Judd’s Annette Bening-like performance being at the top of the list) really didn’t help any. Morgan Freeman (as the archetypical Morgan Freeman character of the time), Adam Scott, Amanda Peet, and Bruce Davison co-star in this hyped-up turkey.
Audio/video quality varies on each title. Since M*A*S*H was a low-budget late '60s/early '70s film to begin with, one shouldn’t expect it to look immaculate. The Girl Next Door and High Crimes fare much better. Each film is presented in its original widescreen ratio (The Girl Next Door is a 1.85:1 affair, while the other two are both 2.35:1) and boasts an MPEG-4 AVC/1080p codec and resolution. Sound-wise, all three titles carry a DTS-HD Master Audio Lossless 5.1 soundtrack, with a Spanish and French Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. M*A*S*H also features Portuguese, Thai and German 5.1 DD sound options, as well as the original English mono mix. English, French and Spanish subtitles are the norm for each release — but M*A*S*H once again outguns them by adding German, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, Cantonese, Mandarin, and Thai to the fray (what, no Korean?).
Sadly, practically all of the special features featured on these releases have been recycled from previous SD-DVD incarnations (The Girl Next Door only contains the unrated edition). Worse, all of these salvaged features are presented in standard definition and without the benefit of anamorphic widescreen when applicable. As far as I can tell, the only indigenous bonus material is the “Complete Interactive Guide To M*A*S*H.” While probably best-suited for die-hard fans or folks looking for a drinking game, the guide keeps tallies on various subjects by having an avatar pop up with a number next to it. Among the subjects are drinking, fighting, and flirting. The best one of course is the “Altman Mumble Meter,” which keeps track of how many times the director has more than one character speaking at once.
While the lack of very many new (or at least improved) special features may warrant some to reconsider the upgrade to Blu-ray, it’s nice to see the studios re-issuing their older titles in high def. M*A*S*H is definitely something fans will want to get hold of, as is The Girl Next Door. High Crimes, on the other hand, delivers the better A/V performance of the three — but, phew, what a stinker of a movie it is.