The Watcher - Super or superfluous?

Pianist, Punch-Drunk show best and worst DVD extras

The Fox Theatre's annual film festival makes Atlanta's oppressive summer heat almost welcome. Every year, the palatial auditorium reverts to its former movie house mode and puts on an eclectic parade of summer blockbusters, Academy Award-winners and canonized classics.

The series usually gives me a chance to fill in the blanks from the most recent round of Oscar contenders or enjoy some glitzy favorite in deluxe surroundings. Seeing Chicago, for example, in the Fox's splendor this summer made for a movie outing I'll never forget.

It may be local heresy to suggest that someone actually skip a Fox film, but I'll risk ostracism and say stay home and rent The Pianist instead. The film, which the Fox shows July 28, tackles subject matter suitable for the theater's larger-than-life proportions. It depicts a talented musician's (Adrien Brody) profound isolation and fight to stay alive during the German occupation of Warsaw. Director Roman Polanski wisely puts the horrors of war on a human scale, as the protagonist slowly watches his city crumble.

But The Pianist, in spite of its epic pedigree, might fare better on a decent home entertainment center. The two-and-a-half hour film comes with long stretches of silence and some truly harrowing (though thankfully not gory) war footage that begs for a bathroom-and-smoke break halfway through.

Perhaps I've just been spoiled by the recently released DVD, which includes a superb documentary on the making of the film, "A Story of Survival." Interviews with the actors and director confirm what critics largely noted when the movie was released, that The Pianist is Polanski's effort to exercise the demons of his own childhood memories of hiding from the Nazis.

The archival footage fascinates even more, especially when paired with scenes from the movie. The seamless blend from black-and-white to Polanski's somber gray-and-brown palette reinforces the film's verisimilitude and gives a greater appreciation for the production's mammoth efforts at accuracy.

An obsessive Polanski fan would opt to catch the film at the Fox and then rent the DVD just for the documentary. Still, there's only so much Holocaust one can take.

Not all DVD extras are created equal. Consider the new __T2: Extreme DVD, which suggests that 2001's "Ultimate Edition" of the 1991 Ah-nold vehicle just didn't offer enough carnage. The "Extreme" edition comes with more options than your average luxury vehicle, and a handful of "build-your-own-Terminator"-type features that make it practically a PlayStation experience. But it's hard to classify the new DVD as much more than a marketing tie-in for the new T3 product.

What's more depressing is the apparently pointless special edition of Punch-Drunk Love. Yes, the new Superbit encoding boosts picture quality on a digital level, and the movie does sparkle in a strictly visual sense. Too bad the technology can't work out the kinks in Paul Thomas Anderson's meandering plot.

The special edition comes in a two-platter set, the second disc devoted to deleted scenes, trailers and a funny fake commercial for "Mattress Man." The extra footage gets lumped under the pretentious header of "Blossoms & Blood," which implies art-house coolness but proves to be an exercise in frustration. There's also even more "Scopitones," the chromatic full-screen diversions that already weigh down the film. Apparently you'd have to be punch-drunk to dig the movie — or its extras — in the first place.


The Watcher is a weekly column on television, DVDs and other small-screen delights.

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