Whatever happened to John Travolta - again? Icarus never had this many ups and downs.
In the late 1970s, he had two monster hits, Saturday Night Fever and Grease. A couple of years later, he was gasping and puffy-faced. (Anyone out there remember Two of a Kind? Perfect? The Experts? Shout?) A decade after his fall, and at least one commercial pilot's license later, he made some of his finest films: Pulp Fiction, Get Shorty, Face/Off - then having reached the $20-Million-A-Film Club, he quickly followed up with some of his worst: Battlefield Earth, A Civil Action, Lucky Numbers, and Mad City.
While you ponder the temper of fate and its relation to the fortunes of Travolta, Paramount has released four new DVD editions of his first rise to fame: Grease ($26.99), Saturday Night Fever ($24.99, available Tuesday), Urban Cowboy ($24.99, available Tuesday), and Saturday Night's sequel, Staying Alive ($24.99, available Tuesday). This quartet is a kind of microcosm of Travolta's career.
Step one: Saturday Night Fever (1977). Plot: Joe Six-Pack becomes dance-club king. DVD extras: A few deleted scenes (fun); a nostalgic commentary track from director John Badham; some Behind the Music clips. A decent package, but a terrific film. Impact on Travolta: Move ahead 10 spaces.
Step two: Grease (1978). Plot: Joe Six-Pack woos hot Australian. DVD extras: New interviews with the entire cast. Overall, disappointing DVD for such a beloved movie. Impact on Travolta: He became The Artist Formerly Known as Barbarino.
Step three: Urban Cowboy (1980). Plot: Joe Six-Pack romances Debra Winger and a mechanical bull. DVD extras: Zip. Impact on Travolta: “Who's this Debra Winger?”
Step four: Staying Alive (1983). Plot: The same Joe Six-Pack from Saturday Night (Tony Manero) goes to Broadway. Showgirls isn't this funny. DVD extras: Nil. Impact on Travolta: Go back 100 spaces, marry Kelly Preston, and while you're at it, please go into deep freeze for 10 years until Quentin Tarantino decides you're cool again.
Incidentally, if cheesy '80s dance movies are your bag, new DVD editions of Footloose and Flashdance ($24.99 each, also from Paramount, and with scant extras) are due Tuesday.
Boogied out? This week we also have one recognized classic and one soon-to-be classic, both from the Criterion Collection. Ratcatcher ($29.95) would be the latter. You've never heard of it, but this beautiful debut from filmmaker Lynne Ramsay (soon to adapt The Lovely Bones), about a boy growing up during a trash strike, is the kind of below-the-radar masterpiece that gets rediscovered decades later. Criterion is trying to expedite the process with a noble package that includes three of Ramsay's shorts - two of which earned her the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1996 and 1998.
Spellbound ($39.93) is, of course, from Alfred Hitchcock, a psychological thriller starring Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck, and a famous dream sequence designed by the surrealist master himself, Salvador Dali. Personally, my favorite Hitch is Notorious, but for the budding film historian, extras include the 1948 radio production of Spellbound, an illustrated essay on Dali, studio production documents, and a radio piece about the coolest musical instrument ever, the theremin - best known for its eerie UFO warble.
New on video: The Scorpion King (The Rock makes his debut as a leading man in this Conan-ish adventure goof that's almost dumb enough to enjoy; the Rock himself proves to be a decent action figure); Brotherhood of the Wolf (The best French werewolf martial arts costume drama with an environmental agenda you will ever see; that said, this silly, overlong, entertaining monster movie was huge in France. 'Nuff said.).
New on video, never played Toledo: The Lady and the Duke (The 82-year-old master Eric Rohmer returns with more of a curiosity than a great film: a sumptuous, beautiful-looking French Revolution drama studded with almost as many digitally crafted locations as Attack of the Clones; special effects aren't just for the multiplex anymore).
New on DVD: Three very different television shows: My So-Called Life ($115), The Mary Tyler Moore Show: The Complete First Season ($49.98), and The Young Ones: Every Stoopid Episode ($59.98). Mary is the 11th-best sitcom of all time, according to TV Guide - but what does it know? This four-disc set is a master class on sitcom situations and a time capsule, all in one. Extras include a 90-minute documentary on the show.
For something completely different: The Young Ones, a caustic BBC sitcom about four incompatible flatmates, landed a cult following on MTV. This three-disc set includes every episode of its short run, as well as two episodes of other BBC sitcoms featuring the cast. The best of the bunch, but also the priciest, is the six-disc My So-Called Life box, featuring all 19 episodes of this early '90s trailblazer. (One can't imagine Buffy, Dawson's Creek - the entire WB, in fact - without it.) The shows hold up well and the packaging is great: Discs come in a My So-Called Life lunchbox. One drawback: This nifty set is only available for purchase online at anotheruniverse.com.
Chris Borrelli's Fast Forward column runs every Thursday in the Peach section. E-mail him at email@example.com.