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Published: Thursday, 9/27/2012

'Avengers' release(s) packed with extras

BY RICH HELDENFELS
AKRON BEACON JOURNAL

Marvel's The Avengers is both a box-office sensation and a critical darling. So how do you top that on your DVD and Blu-ray?

Cool extras, of course. And the video released on Tuesday knows that.

The Avengers brought together a team of Marvel Comics characters who had separately inspired a bunch of hit movies. Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and the Hulk (newly played by Mark Ruffalo) were brought together with newcomer Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to battle a massive threat to Earth.

Joss Whedon, the man behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, co-wrote and directed the film, managing the huge special effects (including a 3-D version), while offering personal moments for the characters and a wealth of pop-culture references. The result was very satisfying to audiences, taking in more than $622 million in the United States and about $1.5 billion worldwide; it's the most lucrative movie of 2012, and ranks high among movies all-time. But it was also a hit with critics; the review-aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes calculated that 98 percent of The Avengers reviews were positive, and it received a five-star rating in The Blade.

As I said when the movie was in theaters, it is big, generally satisfying entertainment: a contemporary equivalent of one of those World War II movies where a scrappy, seemingly mismatched bunch becomes a team united in a common cause.

Dialogue is a problem at times, and some scenes are too heavy-handed when it comes to message; Hawkeye in particular is more of a sketch than a fully realized character. The acting varies considerably. Much as I admire Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Ruffalo, Downey, Renner, and Johansson, they contend with the more wooden Evans and Hemsworth -- and a Jackson performance that too often seems reduced to rigid line readings. But the action is marvelous. Scenes aboard a helicarrier -- a flying battleship -- are good, and then topped by the pace and excitement of a battle in New York City.

So the movie is, well, cool. As for the video, it is being offered in three hard-disc packages as well as digital download. Those include a four-disc combo ($49.99) with the 3-D Blu-ray, standard Blu-ray, standard DVD, digital copy, and a digital download of music inspired by the film; a two-disc pack ($39.99) with the standard Blu-ray and DVD; and a single-disc DVD ($29.99).

The four-disc and two-disc sets include a blooper reel, said to be a first with a Marvel Studios movie; several making-of featurettes, and deleted scenes; an audio commentary by Whedon; a Soundgarden music video; and a "Second Screen" app providing access to additional material through a second device like an iPhone. Bits about the making of the film are quite entertaining when discussing the assembling of the cast and the use of settings like the Cleveland locations. There are bits in the deleted scenes that add to the storytelling in the movie; they may not have been essential but they do provide another peek into the characters' world.

But my favorite among the extras is Item 47, a short film set after the end of The Avengers, which offers an amusing view of one aftereffect of the movie's final battle, as well as hinting at some new characters for the next Avengers movie, due in a few years.

The single DVD includes only a making-of piece and Whedon's commentary.

On the TV side, Time Life video is bringing to stores several packages of The Carol Burnett Show, with episodes selected by Burnett herself. The options include a Carol's Favorites six-DVD set ($59.95) with 16 episodes and extras, such as the Let's Bump Up the Lights reunion special and Burnett's first Tarzan yell, on the old Garry Moore Show. There are also selections in a two-disc set ($22.95) and a single disc ($12.95). And, if that's not enough, there's an Ultimate Collection ($199.95) with 50 episodes and bonuses on 22 discs.



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