(Photos: Time Life; Paramount)
If there’s one thing all of us need at the end of this particularly brutal year, it’s a massive group hug. Alas, the continuing COVID-19 crisis prevents that, so maybe it’s best just to mail out no-contact gifts to those friends and distant family members in need of some seasonal comfort.
To that end, here are some suggestions in the realms of film and television. Mind you, none of these would be cheap presents, but they’re perfect for those near and dear to your heart. And don’t forget to include yourself in that equation. While you can always give yourself a hug, it wouldn’t last as long as the hours upon hours of entertainment provided by the picks below.
(Note: The retail prices are included as starting points only. Obviously, most of these titles can be found for lower costs on numerous websites, sometimes even on the sites of the distributors themselves.)
BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25TH CENTURY: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION
Studio / Distributor: Kino Lorber Studio Classics (www.kinolorber.com/shop)
The Scoop: While the phenomenal success of 1977’s Star Wars had every filmmaker and his mother attempting to cash in on the sci-fi craze (Starcrash! Star Odyssey! Battle Beyond the Stars!), those toiling in television were also hell-bent on not missing out. Chief among these folks was Glen A. Larson, who followed the short-lived Battlestar Galactica (1978-1979) with the short-lived Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979-1981). Before the launch of the Buck Rogers series, though, Universal Pictures decided to release what would become the pilot episode as a theatrical feature; its respectable box office led NBC to go ahead with the series. Gil Gerard (Buck) and Erin Gray (Wilma Deering) were the only regulars to appear throughout the series, as the second season shifted the setting from Earth to a spaceship. Disappointing ratings and reportedly diva behavior from Gerard (who, among other things, objected to the comedic tone) led to its cancellation, but not before the show featured such guest stars as Jamie Lee Curtis, Jerry Orbach, Woody Strode, Buster Crabbe (the 1930s Flash Gordon), Dorothy Stratten (the year before she was murdered), and former Batman villains Frank Gorshin, Julie Newmar, and Cesar Romero. This box set contains the feature film as well as all 32 episodes.
Extras: Special features include audio commentaries on 10 select episodes by author Patrick Jankiewicz (Buck Rogers in the 25th Century: A TV Companion); audio commentary on the feature film by film historians Steve Mitchell and Nathaniel Thompson; an interview with Gray; and a 9-minute special theatrical preview.
Retail Price: $99.95
DOLLY: THE ULTIMATE COLLECTION
Studio / Distributor: Time Life (www.timelife.com)
The Scoop: Dolly Parton may not be an actual goddess, but she certainly comes close. The country music superstar has repeatedly revealed her loving heart, whether through donating $1 million to COVID-19 research, supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, or establishing Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which mails a monthly book to participating children from birth through pre-K (and, yes, our 20-month-old daughter receives one each and every month!). Of course, her primary claim to fame is as a consummate entertainer, and this collection offers quite the variety over a 50-year period. Included in this assemblage are episodes of The Porter Wagoner Show, on which she appeared for seven years; her short-lived TV variety shows from the 1970s and 1980s (both named Dolly); appearances opposite Bob Hope, Johnny Carson, and Oprah Winfrey; and even footage of the Library of Congress dedication ceremony in honor of her Imagination Library sending out its 100 millionth book. Fans have the choice of over 23 hours on 11 DVDs or over 35 hours on 19 DVDs.
Extras: Both editions include a bonus DVD housing the 2019 BBC documentary Dolly Parton: Here I Am, as well as a collector’s book.
Retail Price: $119.96 ($239.92 for the deluxe edition)
THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE MOTION PICTURE TRILOGY / THE HOBBIT: THE MOTION PICTURE TRILOGY
Format: 4K Ultra HD + Digital Code
Studio / Distributor: Warner Bros. (www.wbshop.com)
The Scoop: There’s not much fresh to say about Peter Jackson’s impressively mounted adaptations of the J.R.R. Tolkien works. The Lord of the Rings is the superior trilogy, of course, consisting of 2001’s The Fellowship of the Ring, 2002’s The Two Towers, and 2003’s The Return of the King. Among its ample pleasures are Ian McKellen as Gandalf, Andy Serkis as Gollum, and some of the most impressive visual effects ever put on the big screen. All three received Best Picture Oscar nominations, with The Return of the King actually winning the prize (although going 11-for-11 was absurd overkill; were these Academy members or fanboys doing the voting?). The Hobbit films — 2012’s An Unexpected Journey, 2013’s The Desolation of Smaug, and 2014’s The Battle of the Five Armies — don’t compare, although there’s still plenty to enjoy in them. Both trilogies have been released on 4K (each trilogy set is sold separately), and if you think these films looked dynamic before…
Extras: The good news is that these sets include both the theatrical and extended versions of each film. The bad news is that they contain none of the bonus content found on the generously packed Blu-rays from years past. So fans who purchase these trilogies will want to hold onto their Blus for all the extras. In related news, there are rumors that Warner Bros. will be releasing all six films next year in a Middle Earth 4K set that will include new (and, presumably, the old) bonus features.
Retail Price: $89.99 each
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE: THE ORIGINAL TV SERIES
Studio / Distributor: Paramount & CBS DVD (www.cbshe.com/MissTVBR)
The Scoop: Let’s not give Tom Cruise all the credit. Long before the wildly popular film series that stands at six releases and counting, there was the wildly popular television series that ran for seven seasons (1966-1973) on CBS. It was a steady performer for the network, even though it surprisingly only hit the Nielsen Top 25 once (#11 for the third season). It won Emmy Awards for Outstanding Writing in a Drama once, Outstanding Dramatic Series twice, and Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama (Barbara Bain) thrice. It featured one of the all-time best theme music compositions (courtesy of Lalo Schifrin), which became so popular that it was released as a single and made it onto the Billboard Hot 100. The team leader in the first season was played by Steven Hill, but he was replaced by Peter Graves, who remained with the show for all subsequent six seasons. Bain and then-husband Martin Landau were regulars for the first three seasons, but Greg Morris and Peter Lupus were the only cast members to appear in all seven seasons. Others who came and went over the years included Leonard Nimoy, Sam Elliott, Lesley Ann Warren, and Lynda Day George. All told, there were 171 episodes, and all of them are included in this hefty box set that houses 46 discs offering 144 hours of entertainment.
Extras: There are no extras.
Retail Price: $144.99
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE: THE EARLY YEARS
Studio / Distributor: Time Life (www.timelife.com)
The Scoop: It’s astounding that SNL has remained on the air for 46 years, especially when one recalls those seasons when (for ample reasons) the show struggled to be funny and relevant and appeared to be in free-fall. That wasn’t a problem during the first five seasons, when the sketches were hilarious, the musical guests were sizzling, and the “Not Ready for Prime Time Players” included arguably the greatest collective assembly of talent in the program’s lengthy history. The first season debuted with the roster of Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman, and Gilda Radner; Bill Murray began appearing the next season and became an official fixture the following year; and Steve Martin guest-starred on a handful of occasions. For those who would like to sample those early years, Time Life is offering a box set of 33 episodes on 12 DVDs. Hosts featured in this collection include Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Carrie Fisher, and Walter Matthau, while musical guests include Blondie, Billy Joel, Devo, and Paul Simon. For those who would like the whole enchilada, the label is offering all 106 episodes on 37 discs. Added attractions here include Christopher Lee, Kirk Douglas, Burt Reynolds, and Sissy Spacek as hosts and David Bowie, Linda Ronstadt, ABBA, and The B-52’s as musical performers.
Extras: Bonus material includes screen tests for the original seven cast members plus Andy Kaufman; a wardrobe test for Belushi; and Today Show interviews with Belushi and Radner.
Retail Price: $99.95 ($199.90 for the deluxe edition)
TCM ESSENTIALS COLLECTION
Studio / Distributor: Turner Classic Movies (shop.tcm.com)
The Scoop: If you need a break from watching movies and instead want to read about what movies to watch next, then this TCM package is just the ticket. The website has countless unique items showcased under its Holiday Gift Guide, including a TCM Noir Silk Scarf, a TCM Oven Mitt, a TCM Nautical Beach Towel, and a TCM Dog Leash. Among the most inviting offerings is what’s being billed as the “TCM Essentials Collection.” This features the two books that take their cue from The Essentials series that began on the channel back in 2001: The Essentials: 52 Must-See Movies and Why They Matter (released in 2016) and its follow-up (released two months ago). Written by Jeremy Arnold, these books examine 104 select movies spanning 62 years (1927-1989). There are the established motion picture masterpieces like King Kong, Casablanca, All About Eve, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Jaws, but also included are some gems that aren’t always as widely celebrated, despite their greatness — these include Cat People, Winchester ’73, Sweet Smell of Success, and A Face in the Crowd. And since it’s best to strum through these books with a warm beverage on hand, the collection also includes an official TCM mug.
Extras: Since that doesn’t really apply here, let’s take a peek instead at one of the other TCM gift-giving options: The TCM Wine Club. Movie-themed wines are delivered along with suggestions on which films would nicely pair with them. Among the current crop are James Dean Pinot Noir, Jimmy Stewart Cabernet Sauvignon, and Eartha Kitt Red Blend. Head to www.tcmwineclub.com to take advantage of the introductory offer of 15 wines (a $240 value) for only $79.99 plus tax and shipping.
Retail Price: $78.98