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Published: Thursday, 12/14/2006

Getting personal with DVD gift sets

BY CHRISTOPHER BORRELLI
BLADE STAFF WRITER

There's a war on Christmas.

Wait - there is?

I mean, right, there is.

And it has nothing to do with elementary school Christmas pageants stripped of every last spiritual element until they resemble insurance seminars with green felt. It has nothing to do with big-box wage slaves who wish "a happy holiday," and nothing to do with commercialism (come on, that's so A Charlie Brown Christmas), and nothing to do with "a liberal plot to ban the sacred Christian holiday" (in the words of War on Christmas author John Gibson), and nothing to do with that M&M balloon that mauled a parade watcher in New York City last Thanksgiving.

It has to do with gift cards.

Here's how I see it: First, they took away LPs and the glorious album covers you could paw over all Christmas morning and use for cheap bedroom art, and now they've taken away the gifts altogether and told us to be happy with small pieces of plastic called gift cards - if you're one of the people receiving a small percentage of the $25 billion in gift cards that Americans are expected to give this holiday, sorry but you are part of the problem.

I certainly am.

I appreciate the gift-card thought - I think. Yet I long for wasted paper, landfills of wrapping that ruin the environment and when torn away reveal unnecessarily large packaging sure to destroy additional acres of old-growth forests.

In <i> Ant Bully,</i> a shrunken boy does hard labor and learns a lesson. In <i> Ant Bully,</i> a shrunken boy does hard labor and learns a lesson.
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Good news! In just the past year or so, DVD manufactures have embraced the creative waste of the LP age.

Of the latest budget-busting sets, HBO's Six Feet Under: The Complete Series ($279.98) comes in a tombstone topped with a patch of grass. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe: The Extended Edition Gift Set (Buena Vista, $79.98) is flanked by adorable Hummel-like bookends perfect for breaking within two minutes. And there's the rich irony of a series about an environmentalist president - The West Wing: The Complete Series (Warner, $299.98) - that comes in the kind of expensive blue folder you associate with commission reports on governmental waste.

With this in mind - D.I.Y.

Do it yourself.

Make a box set. Identify the recipient. Decide on a theme. Assemble a batch of discs accordingly. Place in a totally unnecessary package that looks cool and will probably get thrown out two weeks later. It's official: You have now put thought into your gift giving. Here are a few ideas, helpful demographic included:

•The Sorry-Honey-Mommy-Can't-Buy-You-a-Penguin Box. Give to: Children sizing their backyards for a future aquatic exhibit. Include: Walt Disney's Legacy Collection: True-Life Adventures (Buena Vista, $32.99), pick one of four volumes from Disney's Oscar-winning nature films (I suggest Vol. 1: Wonders of the World and its beaver documentary); Duma (Warner, $14.98), woefully underseen drama from Carroll Ballard about an African boy and his large feline; Meerkat Manor: Season One (Discovery, $29.98), reality TV's wildly popular answer to Lassie. Package with a stuffed penguin.

• The Best of Criterion Box. Give to: Supporters of the arts and/or anyone with a sense of movie history. Include: Pandora's Box ($39.95), two-disc salute to the iconic Louise Brooks masterpiece, one of the last great silent films; The Double Life of Veronique ($39.95), Krzysztof Kieslowski's most accessible work, overstuffed with rare shorts and interviews; Grey Gardens ($49.95), generous reissue of the Albert Maysles classic about a pair of bizarre spinsters. Package in a faded antique tin.

•The Save-the-Earth Box. Give to: That family eyeing a Prius. Include: An Inconvenient Truth (Paramount, $29.99), Al Gore's sharp polemic, with updates (and entirely recycled packing); Ice Age: The Meltdown (Fox, $29.98), the happiest film about global apocalypse yet; The Ant Bully (Warner, $28.98), the year's most underrated animated film, a plea for peace between shoe soles and insects. Packaging: Tie together with a single strand of (recycled) twine.

••The Underrated-in-'06 Box. Give to: The relative who sees the most heavily hyped films in theaters.

Include: Friends With Money (Sony, $28.95), Nicole Holofcener's keenly observed study of the way we live right now; Dave Chappelle's Block Party (Universal, $19.98), exuberant portrait of friends making music, simple and charming; Prison Break: Season One (Fox, $59.98), an innocent man sent to death row, a plot so intricate and engrossing the second season is an entirely different series. Package in a box, cover with reviews.

•The Shut-Up-and-Sing Box. Give to: The friend who cancels vacations when it conflicts with American Idol. Include: A Star is Born (Warner, $19.98), remastered Barbra Streisand melodrama with Babs commentary on (no kidding) the wardrobe tests; High School Musical: Remix (Buena Vista, $29.99), the TV movie your children were obsessed with last spring, now with dance-karaoke and a sing-along version; Hannah Montana, Vol. 1: Livin' the Rock Star Life! (Buena Vista, $19.99), the Disney Channel guilty pleasure about the most obviously disguised famous person since Clark Kent. Wrap in a standard box but cover every square inch with mirrors.

w The Political-Animal Box. Give to: The newly radicalized teenager home from college. Include: What We Want, What We Believe: The Black Panther Party Library (Eclectic, $37.95), a fascinating four-disc set of vintage newsreels and interviews and FBI files; When the Levees Broke (HBO, $29.98), Spike Lee's towering, overwhelming aria to the fall of New Orleans; V For Vendetta (Warner, $19.98), because firebrand polemics are rarely so entertaining. Wrap in recent newspaper front pages.

•The Not-In-Toledo Box. Give to: That friend who used to spend hundreds of dollars driving to Detroit and Ann Arbor to see movies that don't open here (but was waylaid by the cost of gas). Include: The Devil and Daniel Johnson (Sony, $24.98), fascinating documentary portrait of the artist as a lovably exploitable oddball; Duck Season (Warner, $27.98), a Mexican Breakfast Club in black and white that quietly overtakes you; Townes Van Zandt: Be Here to Love Me (Palm, $24.98), woefully overlooked documentary about the hard life of America's most overlooked great songwriters. Bundle with gasoline gift certificates.

Contact Christopher Borrelli at: cborrelli@theblade.com or 419-724-6117.



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