The British serial Downton Abbey has become a considerable sensation in the United States, with people breathlessly following the characters living and working on a country estate. But it also poses something of a challenge to viewers who cannot wait to know what will happen -- and those who try to avoid spoilers.
Because the series airs overseas before it is on PBS, online commentaries abound before most viewers have had a chance to see all the episodes, And on Tuesday, the third season -- currently in progress on PBS -- arrived in its entirety on DVD and Blu-ray, in versions edited differently from what you have seen on public TV.
As with previous releases on home video, Downton Abbey: Season 3 (PBS Video, nine episodes, $49.99 DVD, $54.99 Blu-ray) proudly proclaims that it is the "original UK edition," which was edited and reconfigured in spots for U.S. telecast. Not only do running times vary, but also the first two episodes of the third season in Britain were reshaped into a single two-hour telecast for American audiences; thus, the fourth episode on DVD and Blu-ray begins with scenes from the third American telecast.
So, if you want to see the program as originally made, DVD and Blu-ray are where you should be watching. And the new set includes eight regular episodes and a Christmas special, Journey to the Highlands.
Extras are also in ample supply. They include a 48-minute Behind the Drama piece; a 17-minute piece on Downton in 1920, when the third season begins; two pieces about Downton weddings, each running about 15 minutes; a nine-minute segment about Shirley MacLaine joining the cast in the third season, and more beyond that.
Another release of note on Tuesday was Hotel Transylvania, the animated monster movie featuring the voices of Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, and Selena Gomez. While reviews were decidedly mixed -- it has a 43 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes -- box-office grosses were impressive, passing $321 million worldwide. Sony is releasing it in a combo pack with the 3-D Blu-ray, 2-D Blu-ray, DVD and digital copy ($55.99); a combo of 2-D Blu-ray/ DVD/ digital ($40.99), and a DVD/digital set ($30.99). Extras include a Goodnight Mr. Foot mini-movie.
Then there's Hello, I Must Be Going (Oscilloscope, $26.99), a movie starring Melanie Lynskey -- Rose on Two and a Half Men -- as a divorcee who begins a romance with a 19-year-old (Christopher Abbott of Girls). Lynskey is very good at conveying her character's confusion and vulnerability, and Abbott makes a good match, although the movie has trouble sustaining interest for more than 90 minutes. The cast also includes Blythe Danner and John Rubenstein; among the DVD extras is a brief interview with Lynskey.
Director Luis Bunuel's last film, That Obscure Object of Desire, makes its Blu-ray debut in a remastered version (Lionsgate, $29.99). Fernando Rey stars as a businessman in love with an unpredictable younger woman. One of the ways Bunuel conveyed the complications of the woman was to have her played by two different actresses -- Carole Bouquet and Angela Molina. Extras include a look at Bunuel and an interview with the actresses.
Cinemax series Femme Fatales has its first season on DVD (Entertainment One, 14 episodes, $29.98). The anthology series showcases the tough-talking guys and dangerous women of pulp fiction and film noir; unfortunately, it also embraces cliches and some really terrible acting. Extras include alternate and deleted scenes, audio commentaries, a piece on the "anatomy of a sex scene" and more.
Down video road
Skyfall, the most recent addition to James Bond's cinema history, comes to Blu-ray and DVD on Feb. 12. The Mob Doctor, the recently canceled Fox series, brings its 13 episodes to DVD on March 12. Douglas Fairbanks' silent adventure The Thief of Bagdad has been restored and remastered for DVD and Blu-ray release on Feb. 19. The remake of Red Dawn arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on March 5.