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Originally published Sunday, December 9, 2007 at 12:00 AM


DVDs | Give a disc in a box (set)

Unless you're closest to Ted "Unabomber" Kaczynski or the Amish, DVDs remain the all-time safest bet for Christmas presents. In most other homes...

Seattle Times DVD writer

Unless you're closest to Ted "Unabomber" Kaczynski or the Amish, DVDs remain the all-time safest bet for Christmas presents.

In most other homes, the players are nearly as ubiquitous as indoor plumbing, and the choices are as tightwad or extravagant as you feel your victim — that is, recipient — deserves. As far as variety, here are a few numbers from the more than 10,000 titles released this year alone: 532 were theatrical films, 1,076 were older "catalog" movies, 528 were TV box sets, 1,099 were music DVDS. In other words, you shouldn't have a problem finding something suitable for anyone.

Super-special editions of movies (seems like every other one released is a special edition anyway) and full-series TV box sets in funky, unwieldy packaging are getting the big push. For instance, the entirety of "Everybody Loves Raymond" comes in a cute metal container shaped like a house — and is a certain relationship-ending gift. Or take "The O.C.," whose 92 episodes come in something shaped like a long photo album in a clear plastic case. Sure, it's splatter-proof, but are you really going to watch those shows again and again over the years?

So below is a list of titles that's admittedly subjective but looks to have stood the test of time. As always, ignore the suggested retail price, because the DVDs are nearly always available for substantially less. For instance, the mammoth "X-Files" box set lists for the swerve-off-the-road price of $330, but sells it for $100 less.

"Twin Peaks — The Definitive Gold Box Edition" (Paramount,$99.99). Season two of David Lynch's immortally bizarre TV show set in the Northwest came out in April, six years after the first season set. Not only does this damn good box mark the first time they're both in one glob, but the set also includes the U.S. and international versions of the pilot movie, an exclusive documentary, interview with Lynch, footage of "Peaks Freaks" at a festival and, of course, intros from the Log Lady.

"The X-Files — The Ultimate Collection" (Fox,$329.98). The truth — and a hernia — is out there. All nine seasons of Chris Carter's paranormal hit series, plus the 1998 feature film, plenty of documentary/interview/deleted scenes material. There's also a cache of nerdy collectibles: theatrical poster, comic book, cards and a 60-page episode guide. But beware: The box is flimsy. So the DVDs stored on top are heavy and have been known to collapse the cardboard above the drawer beneath that houses the other junk. I still haven't been able to get mine open without nearly destroying the thing. Need a push in the right direction from Deep Throat.

"The Man from U.N.C.L.E. — The Complete Collection" (TimeLife,$249.95). Easily one of the most-requested and sorely missed titles on DVD, and the coolest packaging of the year. However, you may still get beaten up if you carry it around by the handle. All four seasons of the beloved 1964 TV spy sensation come in a little silver cardboard attaché case that would make Illya Kuryakin and Napoleon Solo proud. It doesn't come with any tchotchkes — the series itself spawned more merchandise than any other — but two blessedly exhaustive supplemental discs cover the making of the show, the fantastic gadgets, the unforgettable music, the U.N.C.L.E. car, interviews with stars David McCallum and Robert Vaughn and plenty more. Take note: You can get this only through Time Life for now. See

"Here's Johnny — The Definitive DVD Collection from The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson" (CarsonEntertainment,$99.99). The box opens from the front like Johnny's old curtains. Inside: the six-disc "Timeless Moments," exclusive to the box set, along with three recently released smaller boxes: "Stand-Up Comedians," "Carson Country" and "The Ultimate Collection" compilation. Your best bet if the writers' strike drags on and keeps the late-night shows off the air; it might make you realize you don't really miss half of the new guys.

"Ford at Fox" (Fox,$299.98). Less of a doorstop and more of a cornerstone. Measuring more than 13 inches square and 3 inches deep, this mother lode contains 24 of the great John Ford's films, including the thrilling "Guns Along the Mohawk," "Young Mr. Lincoln," "My Darling Clementine" and "How Green Was My Valley" (which robbed "Citizen Kane" of the Oscar). There's also the documentary, "Becoming John Ford," a coffee-table-worthy "Ford at Fox" photo book and reproduction theatrical brochures for "The Iron Horse" and "Four Sons," as well as a fifth of bourbon and an Omaha Steak. All right, not the last two.

Cable and Criterion

Almost anything from HBO is outstanding and deserves to be watched like you'd read a novel: "Rome" season two ($99.98); "The Wire" season four ($59.99); "The Sopranos" season six, part two, with That Ending ($99.98); "Entourage" season three, part two ($39.98); and the first season of the ingeniously deadpan comedy "Flight of the Conchords" ($29.98).

You could close your eyes and point at any title in The Criterion Collection, and it would be a first-rate gift for anyone who's into film. Some of this year's best: Billy Wilder's "Ace in the Hole" (1951, $39.95); Monte Hellman's existential road flick, "Two Lane Blacktop" (1971, R, $39.95), which includes a booklet of the screenplay; and Rainer Werner Fassbinder's "Berlin Alexanderplatz" (1983, $124.95), if you want to get someone out of your hair for 15 hours or so.


Mark Rahner: 206-464-8259 or

Arts DVDs recommended

by Seattle Times critics

"Slings & Arrows," Series 1, 2 and 3 (Acorn Media). The best TV cable drama ever made about the hilarious, sad and insane goings-on backstage and on stage at a Shakespeare festival, this series also is arguably one of the best cable drama series ever made — period. Broken into three short seasons that each focus on the New Burbage Theatre's production of a single play ("Hamlet," "Macbeth" and "King Lear"), and written by several cast members (and alums of Ontario's Stratford Shakespeare Festival), "Slings & Arrows" is packed with colorful characters and compelling plot lines — not the least of which is the haunting of the anxious artistic director Geoffrey (wonderful Paul Gross) by his deceased, meddling predecessor, Oliver (terrific Stephen Ouimette). You don't need to be on familiar terms with Shakespeare plays to enjoy this series. But be forewarned: It may turn you into a Bard buff.

Misha Berson, Seattle Times theater critic

"Jazz Icons: Series II," Various Artists (Reelin'intheYears/Naxos,$119.99). It's hard to imagine a better holiday gift for a jazz lover than the second series of Jazz Icon DVDS. Last year's batch was like a dream come true — hours and hours of rarely, if ever, seen concert and studio footage from Europe in the 1950s, '60s and '70s — with each crisp, carefully transferred performance featuring an individual artist. This year's gift basket of seven features John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Dave Brubeck, Dexter Gordon, Wes Montgomery, Duke Ellington and Sarah Vaughan. The release is available at a discount as a box set with an eighth bonus disc. Twenty-four-page booklets include intelligent liner notes, full credits and loads of photographs. No bootleg outfit, production company Reelin' in the Years assures buyers that artists (or their estates) have authorized release of the material and a portion of the profits goes for jazz education.

The Coltrane disc features the saxophonist in a 1960 German TV show with Miles' band, minus the leader, who declined to perform, but with the added bonus of a jam with Stan Getz and Oscar Peterson, who were on the same tour. Eric Dolphy's flute flies through a 1961 concert with Coltrane's hit, "My Favorite Things," which gets a much more "outside" treatment, musically, in a 1965 Belgian performance that is physically outdoors.

The Mingus DVD showcases lots of Dolphy, on flute, bass clarinet and alto saxophone, including a remarkable performance of Mingus' long masterpiece "Meditations on Integration." Brubeck is caught in 1964 and 1966; Gordon in 1963 and 1964; Montgomery, in 1965; Ellington in 1958; Sarah Vaughan in 1958 and 1964. You can't go wrong with these.

Paul de Barros, Seattle Times jazz critic

"Jumpin' & Jivin' Volume 1," Various Artists (AcornMedia,$19.99). This collection looks back at 1940s jazz from a pop/rock point of view, perceiving there the "roots" of rock 'n' roll in boogie-woogie piano, jump, jive, vocal quartets and — sadly — google-eyed minstrel mugging. Most of the segments come from "Soundies," early-'40s minimovies on juke boxes that preceded MTV by four decades.

There are a few throwaway fillers, but most of the choices are excellent: Louis Jordan, Cab Calloway, Lionel Hampton, Albert Ammons, Fats Waller and Count Basie among them. There are also a couple of amazing vocal groups, the Delta Rhythm Boys and The Treniers. The Anita O'Day/Roy Eldridge collaboration "Leave Me Off Uptown" is a classic. An amusing short features vocalist Jimmy Rushing as a dreaming saxophonist in the Basie band. The video quality is not great, and personnel credits are incomplete.

Paul de Barros

"Pavarotti Forever," Luciano Pavarotti, tenor (Decca, $17.98). The great tenor, who died recently after one of the most celebrated careers in history, is commemorated here in a DVD drawn from six of his live performances (including "The Three Tenors" and solo engagements in both Hyde Park and Central Park). His larger-than-life personality comes vividly across in arias from "Tosca," "La Bohème," and (of course) his signature card, "Nessun Dorma" from Puccini's "Turandot."

Melinda Bargreen, Seattle Times music critic

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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