Digital Week – October 22

This week’s roundup features two new Criterion Collection Blu-ray releases of memorable silent-era films, a Netflix nostalgia series and Rob Zombie’s latest bloody mess.

Blu-rays of the Week

Häxan (Criterion)

Benjamin Christensen’s’s 1922 silent, a one-of-a-kind classic that remains innovative and modern nearly a century after its creation, depicts the linking of witch hunts and hysteria with an unorthodox marriage of unsettling visuals and documentary-like detachment. Criterion’s hi-def transfer is miraculous; extras include the director’s 1941 intro; outtakes; music from the original Danish premiere, arranged by specialist Gillian Anderson and performed by the Czech Film Orchestra in 2001; 2001 commentary by film scholar Casper Tybjerg; a 76-minute version of the film, Witchcraft Through the Ages (1968), narrated by author William S. Burroughs and with a soundtrack featuring violinist Jean-Luc Ponty; and Bibliothèque Diabolique, a photographic glimpse at the film’s historical sources.

3 from Hell (Lionsgate)

In this belated sequel to his own House of 1000 Corpses (2003) and The Devil’s Rejects (2005), director Rob Zombie returns to his trio of murderers for one last go-round, prefacing it by showing that they were survived the previous installment to ruin another two hours of our lives. In his increasingly desperate attempt to create another “shocking” horror show, Zombie again mistakes blood and crudeness for art, and after awhile is content to show off his wife Sherri Moon Zombie’s carefully crafted body tattoos in lieu of anything close to character development or insight. The film looks solid on Blu-ray; extras include a director’s commentary, four-part making-of and the even more sadistic unrated cut.

3 Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg (Criterion)

This necessary boxed set upgrade collects a trio of the best of the early Hollywood director’s silent-era movies—the gritty Underworld (1927), the engrossing The Last Command (1928) and the often stunning The Docks of New York (1928)—and even includes two separate music scores for each film. Criterion’s magnificent hi-def transfers make these 90-plus year-old features look the absolute best that they can, and the audio is equally impressive. Extras include a 1968 von Sternberg interview covering his entire career and two video essays about the director’s visual style and legacy.

The Toys That Made Us—Seasons 1 & 2 (Nacelle)

In this entertaining Netflix series, nostalgia is on permanent display in these overviews of some of the biggest children’s toys from the decades of the ‘60s, 70s, 80s and 90s, comprising Star Wars, G.I. Joe, Barbie, Lego, Hello Kitty, Transformers, He-Man and Star Trek. Each 50-minute episode contains new and old interviews, lots of archival footage—including shots of stores being deluged by excited kids and their less-than-happy parents—and a lighthearted attitude toward the whole enterprise, even if these items threatened to ruin our childhoods almost as much as phones and other far more expensive gadgetry do today. The Blu-ray image looks good; extras include several featurettes, extended interviews and nine deleted scenes.

4K of the Week

Wonders of the Sea (Screen Media)

Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of the legendary oceanographer Jacques, is the center of this stirring documentary—which he codirected with Jean-Jacques Mantello—that displays the astonishing beauty of our underwater civilization, bringing to vivid life the sea’s amazing colors and diversity that most of us never get to witness. Narrated by Arnold Schwarzenegger—also a producer— Wonders of the Sea is a Cousteau labor of love that takes full advantage of the ultra hi-def process, but some may be disappointed that a 3D option is not included, since that’s how the film was originally seen. The 4K image is spectacularly rendered; extras include a Cousteau interview.