Blu-Ray Round Up, Feb. 26, 2009: ‘Futurama,’ ‘Ronin,’ ‘Vanishing Point’

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CHICAGO – Still trying to get over an Oscar hangover? There’s no better way to deflate the pomposity of awards season than with a wicked car chase. Of course, one of the best of all time hit Blu-Ray this week in the controversial Blu-Ray release of “The French Connection,” but the same studio also released another pair of movies dedicated to automobile aficionados and an animated sci-fi comedy when all the metal destruction gets too much to take.

Two of the best car movies of all time - 1971’s “Vanishing Point” and 1998’s “Ronin” - hit Blu-Ray for the first time this week and the final “Futurama” movie, “Into the Wild Green Yonder” also hit the format. All three of these titles were released on February 24th, 2009.

“Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder”

Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder
Photo credit: Fox

I was as excited about the “Futurama” movies as much as anyone, but now that the fourth one has been released, we can accurately assess if this project worked and I think we’d all agree that it didn’t quite come together. I’d love to see “Futurama” return to the air like “Family Guy,” but I’d also never watch four episodes of the show in a row and every movie except maybe the first, “Bender’s Big Score,” has left be bored by the half-hour mark or earlier. “Into the Wild Green Yonder” is slightly better than the last one, “Bender’s Game,” and about on par with the second, “The Beast With a Billion Backs”.

“In the most epic “Futurama” ever, dark forces older than time itself are on the attack, hell-bent on stopping the dawn of a wondrous new green age. Don’t you hate when that happens? Even more shocking: Bender’s in love with a married fembot, and Leela’s on the run from the law - Zapp Brannigan’s law! Fry is the last hope of the universe, recruited for an ultra-top-secret mission. Could this be the end of the Planet Express crew forever? Say it ain’t so, meatbag! Off we go, “Into the Wild Green Yonder”!”

“Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder” is presented in 1080p with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio and with a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. Special features include a crowded audio commentary by Matt Groening, David X. Cohen, John DiMaggio, Maurice LaMarche, Patric M. Verrone, Michael Rowe, Lee Supercinski, and Peter Avanzino, video commentary by the same crew, storyboard animatic, “Docudramarama: How We Make Futurama So Good,” “Louder, Louder!: The Acting Technique of Penn Jillette,” “Golden Stinkers: A Treasury of Deleted Scenes,” “Matt Groening and David X. Cohen in Space!,” “How to Draw Futurama in 10 Very Difficult Steps,” “3-D Models with Animator Discussion,” “Bender’s Movie Theater Etiquette,” and “Zapp Brannigan’s Guide to Making Love at a Woman”. The package also comes with some awesome postcards featuring images from all four movies.

“Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder” stars Billy West, Katey Segal, John Di Maggio, Tress MacNeille, Maurice LaMarche, Phil LaMarr, Lauren Tom, David Herman, Snoop Dogg, and Penn Jillette. The film is not rated.


Photo credit: MGM

John Frankenheimer’s “Ronin” is far from a perfect film but it does feature some of the best driving stunt work of the ’90s, a perfect fit for the video and audio of Blu-Ray. If you own the movie on DVD, this is one that you might want to consider upgrading but be forewarned that MGM has stupidly decided not to import any of the special features.

“The Cold War may be over, but a new world order keeps a group of covert mercenaries employed by the highest bidder. These operatives, known as Ronin, are assembled in France for a seemingly routine mission: steal a top-secret briefcase. But the simple task proves explosive as other underworld organizations vie for the same prize…”

“Ronin” is presented in 1080p with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio and with a DTS HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio track. Special features include, well, nothing. Sadly, Fox/MGM doesn’t include a single special feature, not even transferring the audio commentary on the last DVD edition, much less the second disc of special features. Sigh. Why does this madness happen? Instead, they choose to advertise on the back “Smart Menu Technology” that floats on-screen during playback so you never leave the film. Ooooh. You can access a menu to change audio settings and skip scenes without leaving the film. There’s nothing special about that. Come on.

“Ronin” stars Robert DeNiro, Jean Reno, Natascha McElhone, Stellan Skarsgard, Sean Bean, and Jonathan Pryce. The film was written by J.D. Zeik and Richard Weisz and directed by John Frankenheimer. The film is rated R.

“Vanishing Point”

Vanishing Point
Photo credit: Fox

Richard Sarafian’s “Vanishing Point” is one of the great car movies of the ’70s but often gets overlooked by features that focus on action flicks with people who like to drive very, very fast. Quentin Tarantino references the film in “Death Proof” and the film is clearly in inspiration for that piece of cinematic greatness. Now you can see it for yourself in HD.

“Barry Newman stars as Kowalski, the last American hero, who sets out to proves that he can drive from Denver to San Franciscio, in just fifteen hours. Along the way, he meets an old prospector, a nude woman on a motorcycle, and a blind D.J. who “sees” danger ahead in this super-charged, action-packed adventure!”

“Vanishing Point” is presented in 1080p with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio and a 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio track. Special features include bot U.S. and U.K. movie versions, “Interactive 1970 Dodge Challenger,” “Built for Speed: A Look Back at Vanishing Point,” Virtual Dashboard, commentary by director Richard C. Sarafian, “Vanishing Point” trivia challenge, “Cars, Cops and Culture” ’70s trivia track, “OA-5599,” “Super Soul Me,” and the theatrical trailer & TV spots.

“Vanishing Point” stars Barry Newman, Dean Jagger, and Cleavon Little. The film was written by Guillermo Cain and directed by Richard C. Sarafian. The film is rated R. content director Brian Tallerico

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