The long-awaited release of "Seinfeld Seasons 1 & 2" (Columbia-TriStar, $49.95) and "Season 3" ($49.95) may have unexpected economic ramifications. Both will, of course, immediately join the ranks of the all-time best-selling series sets, but has anyone considered the effect they could have on all those TV stations that survive on dusk-to-dawn repeats? Their programming is rendered instantly redundant.
The title of the first box is a bit of a joke. As many fans know, "Season 1" is a combination of two different sitcoms: "The Pilot" is the solitary episode of what was called "The Seinfeld Chronicles," which, aside from the primary characters, had little in common with the revamped version that arrived the following season. (It's seen here in two versions. The first is how it was originally broadcast, and the second includes the introduction and the bass guitar riff added after the episode was added to the syndication package.)
Things are much improved when the series continues with four episodes that begin anew, introducing the far less warm-and-fuzzy "Seinfeld" that audiences grew to love. There were still adjustments to be made, however. In the classic episode "The Revenge," where George (Jason Alexander) quits his job for the first time, we hear the notorious Newman on the phone threatening suicide, but the voice does not belong to Wayne Knight, who would portray him for the rest of the series. For the purist, the set's compilers have included both the originally aired version and the one seen in syndication, with Newman's lines dubbed over by Knight.
Otherwise, these and the 23 episodes collected on "Season 3" are those originally broadcast on NBC. That means they are all a couple of minutes longer than the ones trimmed for syndication. Anyone who plans on collecting the entire series (at least two more seasons will be released next year), may want to bite the bullet and buy the "Seinfeld Gift Set" (list price is $119.95, but it will be discounted in the $80-$90 range).
"The Terminal" (Dreamworks, $29.99) was a decidedly unsuccessful reteaming of director Steven Spielberg and his friend Tom Hanks, to tell the story of a traveler from Eastern Europe who, because of a bureaucratic problem, finds himself residing in an airport, unable to enter the United States or return home.
- Terry Lawson, Knight Ridder Newspapers
"Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" (Warner, $29.95). Though the DVD release capturing the most attention today is undoubtedly "Seinfeld," young wizards may be more excited about the arrival of "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," one of the major releases of the holiday season.
Easily the most compelling of the first three "Potter" films, "Azkaban" comes in a two-disc set, the second of which is filled with deleted or extended scenes, short documentaries, games and interactive features. Like the "Potter" DVDs that preceded it, the package is peppered with nicely designed menu screens that evoke the enchanting world inhabited by Harry and chums Hermione and Ron.
As for the extras, some are more magical than others. The featurettes "Care of Magical Creatures," a five-minute look at the movie's animals and their trainers, and "Conjuring a Scene" are far more interesting than all 43 minutes of cast interviews. The DVD also could do without the self-guided tours of Honeydukes candy shop and Professor Lupin's classroom. Every Potter DVD contains features like this, which look cool but tend to get boring pretty quickly. Fortunately some of the other games - including my favorite, "Catch Scabbers!" - make up for the more-monotonous moments.
Despite its shortcomings, most Potter-philes will happily dig into every nook and cranny of this DVD. Given the number of times "Harry" will be viewed and reviewed, Potter-phile parents can feel satisfied that money for this DVD is money well spent.
Most Revealing Bonus: The "Conjuring a Scene" featurette squeezes a lot of behind-the-scenes details into roughly 15 minutes. Among other things, viewers will learn how those creepy dementors were created and how Buckbeak the hippogriff came to life.
Most Annoying Bonus: Kids with crushes on Daniel Radcliffe may enjoy the "Head to Shrunken Head" series of cast interviews, conducted by British journalist Johnny Vaughan and (no, I'm not making this up) the talking shrunken head from the movie. But most will be embarrassed for the actors, who are forced to answer a barrage of inane questions. Honestly, should Gary Oldman ever have to answer to a shrunken head? I think not.
Most Fun Bonus: Perhaps it's my penchant for getting rid of rodents, but I got a kick out of the "Catch Scabbers!" game that allows the viewer to assume the role of Crookshanks, Hermione's ornery cat. Using visual clues and the arrow keys on the DVD remote, Crookshanks attempts to navigate through various obstacles in the hope of nabbing Ron's rascally rodent. The game boasts three levels, which means you can spend (or waste, depending on your perspective) three times as much time playing cat to this DVD's mouse.
- Jen Chaney, Special to the Washington Post