Games 8/22: Bioshock, Heroes of Mana

PDF Clip: Games 2008-08-22

For: Xbox 360 and PC
From: Irrational Games/2K Games
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood and gore, drug reference, intense violence, sexual themes, strong language)

“Bioshock’s” supreme greatness comes down to three factors, each of which could fill this review’s space and then some in its own right.

Factor No. 1: variety. In terms of weapon selection alone, “Bioshock” is a terrific first-person shooter, boasting a healthy roster of guns and drastically different ammo types for each. All weapons are upgradeable, and you can craft special ammo from junk littered thoughout the game world.

But where most shooters end, “Bioshock” merely begins, allowing you to outfit your character with a trove of genetic modifications — telekinesis, fireballs, enemy possession, a portable insect swarm and so much more — that make your guns look downright impotent. When all else fails, you also can hack various machinery — security cams, gun turrets, bots — to work for instead of against you.

Thanks to factor No. 2, technical polish, all things are possible. “Bioshock’s” artificial intelligence is brilliantly alive, and the gorgeous world of Rapture — a mid-20th century underwater utopia gone horribly wrong — is your playground as result. Your weapons and genetic powers work together in all manner of creative ways, and the game leaves you free to play to whatever strengths you have as a gamer.

It doesn’t hurt, either, that everything just works. The controls are perfect, the framerate’s rock-solid, and a clever respawn system allows the game to lay it on thick while also allowing players of all abilities, with persistence, to see it through to the end.

That brings us to factor No. 3: the presentation.

Put simply and without spoiling even the intro, “Bioshock’s” 20-ish-hour storyline belongs on the same pedestal as the best of science fiction entertainment, regardless of medium. Few games possess the ability to genuinely creep you out, and fewer can do so with their tongue simultaneously planted in cheek. Only one — this one — can do all that while “How Much is That Doggy in the Window?” plays on a bullet-riddled jukebox while you fight for your life.

The supernova of discovery, polish and beauty makes “Bioshock” an obvious candidate for multiplayer, and the lack of any such mode is the game’s only true drawback. Fortunately, that same explosion gives “Bioshock” a level of replayability most shooters, multiplayer or not, will never achieve. Plenty of great ones will hit Xbox Live this fall, but none will do even half of what this one does so splendidly.


Heroes of Mana
For: Nintendo DS
From: Square-Enix
ESRN Rating: Everyone 10+ (language, mild fantasy violence)

Yes, first impressions are important. Sometimes, though, lasting impressions matter more. Just ask anyone who gives “Heroes of Mana” more than a couple hours of their time.

It isn’t a pretty sight at first. Players have been waiting a long time for a real-time strategy game to arrive on the Nintendo DS, and Square-Enix initially appears to fumble the opportunity entirely. “Mana’s” derivative, dreadfully slow introduction is a buzz killer, and the oppressive level of handholding in the opening levels does little to alter the perception that this is anything more than a strategy game for babies.

But around the third mission — as if it’s reading your mind — the game loosens the leash and eases up on the storytelling. Not surprisingly, the experience improves exponentially from there.

Around the same time, “Mana” starts to pull the covers off its potential, allowing for the creation of more facilities and detailing a surprisingly strong chain of power for its various unit classifications. While the game never reaches the same level of complexity as a “Starcraft” or “Company of Heroes,” the self-contained mythos it creates allows it to challenge you in different but similarly gratifying ways.

That said, this is still a DS game, and no DS game will ever be privy to the same level of horsepower a PC strategy game receives. “Mana’s” battlefields are impressive for a portable game with 16-bit graphics, but they’re modest by RTS standards. Unit information is similarly limited, making it hard to research various units and exploit enemy weaknesses.

Most notable of all is the game’s stunted artificial intelligence. Units respond to commands, but they commonly experience more difficulty than they should in getting from points A to B. Sometimes they take the long way around. Other times, they stop completely. Usually, they get where they’re supposed to go, but it’s wise to keep an eye on crucial units when they’re on the move. You just never know.

In spite of that rather notable problem, “Mana” perseveres and emerges as a fun validation of the DS’ ability to handle real-time strategy. It’s visibly flawed, but it works, and the stylus controls make it easy to select multiple units and zip around the map. The aforementioned issues and omission of online multiplayer keep this one from being all it could be, but at least the ball is finally rolling now.

DVD 8/21: The Host CE, Dexter S1, Yo-Yo Girl Cop, The Ex, Renaissance, I Pity the Fool S1, Pandemic, new special editions roundup

PDF Clip: DVD 2008-08-21

The Host: 2-Disc Collector’s Edition (R, 2006, Magnolia)
Sometimes, it’s not about what you have so much as what you do with it. Witness “The Host,” which is home to not one (chemical disturbance in water creates unstoppable monster), but two (monster carries a deadly virus) completely banal plot synopses. A little character goes a long way, and “The Host” is simply loaded with it, led by a ragtag and wholly likeable family that has no business antagonizing a trout, much less one of the most awesome monsters to emerge from celluloid waters in decades. The creature, cast and culture “The Host” create allow for tremendous versatility, and the film responds by bouncing from thrilling to scary to funny to sweet and back without breaking a sweat. It’s the latest in an endlessly long line of monster and virus movies, but it’s also two hours of pure, unchained entertainment that puts most of that line to shame. Fans of either genre best not miss it. In Korean with English subtitles, but an English dub is available as an option.
Extras: Director commentary and reflections, deleted scenes, 10 behind-the-scenes features, interviews, casting footage, bloopers, storyboards.

Dexter: The First Season (NR, 2006, Showtime)
How’s this for a concept? A guy named Dexter (Michael C. Hall) helps the police by day as a forensics expert with an advanced knowledge in blood splatter. He has a girlfriend (Julie Benz), a good relationship with his sister (Jennifer Carpenter) and a rather delightful personality. Come nightfall, though, this same Dexter is Miami’s most accomplished vigilante serial killer, trapping Miami’s nastiest scum, disposing them, and completely getting away with it. It’s a heck of a dichotomy, and it makes for one seriously interesting crime drama that’s gruesome, funny and psychologically searing, with an equally damaged supporting cast to match. That said, a fair warning: “Dexter” exercises impressive restraint given its subject matter and the freedom being on Showtime allows, but anyone expecting a show about a serial killer-slash-forensics expert to be clean and easy on the eyes is living in dreamland. Still, if you can handle it and couldn’t see it until now, this is the can’t-miss show of last year.
Contents: 12 episodes (commentary on two), plus two episodes of the Showtime show “Brotherhood,” a free “The Tudors” episode download, two behind-the-scenes features and DVD-ROM content.

Yo-Yo Girl Cop (NR, 2006, Magnolia)
A Web site is counting down the days, hours and minutes to an unknown event, and the only possible lead is a high school that allegedly is harboring an unknown number of terrorists bent on leveling their surroundings. Fortunately, a troubled but violently capable girl (Aya Matsuura), armed with a special yo-yo, has accepted a government deal to infiltrate the school and get to the bottom of things. Why a yo-yo, you might ask? Eh, who knows? Like a vast many things in “Yo-Yo Girl Cop,” the weapon of choice doesn’t exactly hold water on the sensibility scale. The good news is that authenticity doesn’t appear to be the film’s intention any more than its strength. “YYGC” might be construed on some small level as a metaphor for any number of phenomena related to school shootings and suicide bombings, but it’s much more fantasy — and fun, action-packed fantasy at that — than anything else. In Japanese with English subtitles, but an optional English dub is available.
Extras: Making-of feature, original Japanese trailer.

The Ex: Unrated (NR, 2007, TWC)
Like its name, “The Ex” is short. Even in unrated form, the film only clocks in at 84 minutes long. So it says something when, despite the short length, “The Ex” still feels a bit long. The concept is sound: Loser husband (Zach Braff) moves with frustrated wife (Amanda Peet) back to frustrated wife’s hometown, only to get a job working under both her father (Charles Grodin) and her wheelchair-bound ex (Jason Bateman). Furthermore, the comedic potential of the aforementioned cast members — with reinforcements from Donal Logue and Amy Poehler — is immense. But while “The Ex” does have the occasional laugh-out-loud moment, most of the valuable time is wasted on elaborate plot turns that don’t really go anywhere (or worse, lead to one of those dreaded “serious scene within a comedy” moments). Calling “The Ex” a bad movie is too harsh, because it’s not altogether bad. Calling it a disappointment, though, isn’t. (On a side note, nothing about this edition screams R, much less unrated, so don’t let the packaging excite you.)
Extras: Deleted scenes, alternate endings, bloopers.

Renaissance (R, 2006, Miramax)
Like a young starlet at a red carpet interview, “Renaissance” is better at looking impressive than sounding impressive. The monochromatic, ultra-high-contrast, computer-animated visual style immediately grabs the eye, and there’s little denying the high level of visual flair on display throughout the picture. Unfortunately, once the novelty inevitably wears off, all that’s left behind is an all-too-familiar story of a corrupt corporation, a lone wolf cop, a love interest, some mad science and the cold, futuristic world in which they exist. The hokey, wannabe-noir dialogue merely exacerbates the story’s problems. “Renaissance” still works as curiosity fulfillment, and any film that experiments with the medium is worthy of applause on at least some level. It’s just too bad the style-to-substance ratio leans so heavily toward the former. A little balance would’ve done wonders. Daniel Craig, Romola Garai and Ian Holm, among others, lend their voices.
Extra: Making-of feature.

I Pity the Fool: Season 1 (NR, 2006, Lions Gate)
Perhaps the most amusing thing about “I Pity the Fool” is the fact that the very first word uttered in the opening theme is “reality.” That’s amusing because, even by reality television’s completely damaged perceptions of reality, this one rates awfully low. In “Fool,” helpless car dealerships, dance troupes, families and more call on Mr. T to help them get their act together. Mr. T arrives, spits out a few clichés about trust/leadership/respect/insert your own word here, and generally acts like a parody of himself. Twenty minutes later, after a few very predictable and TV-friendly twists, all appears resolved. One can only conclude that these people (a) never needed Mr. T’s help in the first place or (b) are so far beyond help that Mr. T’s cocktail napkin advice actually looks good to them. Either way, the results are neither enlightening nor particularly entertaining.
Contents: Six episodes, no extras.

Pandemic (NR, 2007, RHI Entertainment)
ABC went for the jugular when it aired an awful movie about a bird flu pandemic that may or may never happen. But that’s child’s play next to “Pandemic,” which leapfrogs the avian flu and instead imagines the ramifications of an even worse virus. As it turns out, a really bad movie is what happens. “Pandemic” leaves no cliché unexploited, trotting out scheming politicians, mad dog reporters, selfish businessmen, surfer dudes, militia nuts, drug lords and other wholly unlikable characters whose deaths are somehow supposed to touch us. A barrage of useless, tired side plots push the run time past 170 minutes, and the film outdoes itself with a pat, rushed ending that effectively neuters whatever impression the preceding 165 minutes aimed to leave. Had “Pandemic” left any such impression in the first place, that would be most disappointing news. As it happens, it’s merely the last in a long line of disappointments in what amounts to nothing short of an embarrassment for all involved. Tiffani Thiessen, Faye Dunaway, French Stewart, Vincent Spano and others star.
Extras: Cast interviews, behind-the-scenes feature.

Roundup of the Week: Latest Special Editions
— “Hard Boiled: Two-Disc Ultimate Edition” (R, 1992, Dragon Dynasty): New transfer, Bey Logan commentary, interviews, behind-the-scenes feature, trailer gallery, location tour. Playstation 3 owners, take note: A Blu-ray edition of “Boiled” will come packaged with the special edition of the “Stranglehold” video game, which takes place following the events of the film.
— “Bubba Ho-Tep: Limited Edition” (R, 2003, MGM): Bruce Campbell/director commentary, commentary by “The King,” Joe R. Landale reading, deleted scenes (with commentary), four behind-the-scenes features, promo spots, photo gallery, music video, special Elvis jumpsuit packaging.
— “Kung Fu Hustle: Axe-Kickin’ Edition” (R, 2003, Sony Pictures): Deleted footage, three behind-the-scenes features, storyboards, interviews, outtakes, DVD-ROM game.
— “Robocop: 20th Anniversary Collector’s Edition” (NR, 1987, MGM): Extended and theatrical cuts, crew commentary, six behind-the-scenes features, storyboards (with commentary), deleted scenes, galleries, promo spots, tin case.
— “Serenity: Collector’s Edition” (PG-13, 2005, Universal): New commentary with Joss Whedon and cast, deleted/extended scenes (with commentary), outtakes, six behind-the-scenes features, “Sci-Fi Inside” episode, fancy packaging.

Games 8/15: Madden NFL 08, Jeanne d'Arc

Madden NFL 08
Reviewed for: Xbox 360 and Playstation 3
Also available for: Every system imaginable
From: Tiburon/EA Sports
ESRB Rating: Everyone

The annual arrival of “Madden” is video gaming’s answer to New Year’s Day — the opening float in a parade of blockbuster games that runs, non-stop, until after the holidays.

For the first time in three years, it’s also a day worth celebrating. After a pair of glitchy and/or feature-starved false starts, “Madden NFL 08” finally (mostly) delivers the kind of next-generation football that owners of next-generation hardware have wanted all along.

Fittingly, the gameplay itself is the greatest beneficiary. A.I.-controlled players play smarter and more authentically react to situations at hand than in games past. Exploiting the secondary isn’t the cakewalk it once was, and even untrained eyes will recognize improvements in the running and blocking games. A fantastic new weapons feature places special emphasis on star players’ various intangible strengths and weaknesses — a crucial aspect of football that wasn’t possible until now.

The game also looks better — and, at least on the Xbox 360, runs faster — than ever. (As with EA’s college football game, “Madden” is slower, though entirely playable, on the Playstation 3.) Animations are far more organic than the canned stuff of years past, and that leads to timelier plays when little time to react is available. The benefit this has on tackling, along with some refinements to the hit stick controls, help bridge the fun gap between playing offense and defending the end zone.

While gameplay deservedly garners the spotlight, secondary features either get a fresh second chance (Superstar Mode, which adds new options and improves its on-field execution) or a return to and beyond former glories (the Franchise Mode, which brings back owner features, adds a scouting component, and even allows you to relocate the team if you so please). Players looking for a headline-grabbing new mode won’t find one this year, but the rash of on-field improvements render this issue moot.

That leaves online play, which once again proves to be the Achilles heel. “Madden” supports two-on-two offline multiplayer, but online is one-on-one only. Online league support also misses the cut, so those holding their breath for it will have to do so for at least one more year. Given that EA’s NHL game is rolling out online leagues this fall, this hopefully is the last time that happens. The game does plays fairly well online, so you at least can practice until that fateful day arrives.


Jeanne d’Arc
For: Sony PSP
From: Level 5/Sony
ESRB Rating: Teen (alcohol reference, fantasy violence, mild language)

As it did on the Playstation 2 and soon will do on the Playstation 3, Sony is quietly but assuredly gifting the PSP with an impressive library of original, polished games that aren’t available anywhere else.

Emphasis on “quietly.”

Take, for instance, “Jeanne d’Arc,” an elegant gem of a surprise that takes the legend of Joan of Arc and cleverly immerses it in a world of magical creatures and enchanted objects. The storytelling is inspired, the in-game graphics are a treat for the eyes, and the numerous anime cut-scenes are superbly animated and voiced (though the lack of optional subtitles is a puzzling oversight).

More than all those things, though, “d’Arc” finally gives the PSP an original, well-designed tactical role-playing game it can call its own. In fact, tactical RPG connoisseurs who don’t own a PSP might find themselves a bit jealous of the refinements developer Level 5 brings to the genre.

Specifically, “d’Arc” excels at customization, almost but never quite to the point of overwhelming unseasoned players. While the game’s armor and weapon diversity isn’t worth bragging about, the degree to which you can assign abilities to different members of your party most certainly is. Victory in combat yields ability gems, and your skill in spending these wisely — and, if you’re feeling bold, mixing them together in hopes of creating extra-special abilities — will set the course for your party’s strengths and weaknesses.

“d’Arc” doesn’t mess too much with convention when it comes to combat: Standard turn-based rules apply, and the action takes place on a grid per usual.

Where Level 5 makes it interesting is by imposing limits on the number of turns a battle can last. The turn limits vary based on the urgency of the battle at hand, but the general message is that “d’Arc” wants you to step up and fight rather than take baby steps and make the enemy come to you. Other tweaks reveal themselves as the adventure progresses, but this is by far the most interesting.

Mixed together, “d’Arc’s” pieces complement one another nicely. When the adventure plateaus, time is available to play around with ability gems and battle plans. And when that gets old, the difficulty curve often kicks up a touch while pushing the story forward.

The only missing piece of the puzzle? Sony’s promotion of the game. Now that “d’Arc” is available, here’s hoping that changes.

DVD 8/14: Aqua Teen Hunger Force CMFFTFDVD, The Method, The Lookout, Fracture, Live Free or Die, Cashback, 51 Birch Street, MGM Movie Legends Collections, Elvis! LCE Collection, Hanna Barbera Cartoon sets, other cartoon collections, Space 1999 Megaset

Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theatres for DVD (R, 2007, Warner Bros.)
Remember that Lite Brite-like sign that recently sent the city of Boston into a terror-related panic? This is the movie that sign was promoting. If that’s all you know about “Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theatres,” be warned: This wasn’t created with your best interests at heart. “ATHFCMFFT” is expressly made for fans of the “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” cartoon, and the evidence lies in the dizzying array of characters who pop in with little introduction and explanation. Fans will cheer their arrivals; you’ll just wonder who they are. Still, to those who fancy the bizarre and have a sense of humor to match, “ATHFCMFFT” nonetheless comes recommend. Watching a manic 11-minute cartoon transformed into a manic 85-minute movie is an exercise in endurance, but it’s made easier by how genuinely funny it is. That it remains funny all the way to the last scene is an accomplishment precious few TV show-to-movie conversions can claim.
Extras: A deleted movie (no kidding), 10 fake endings, extended/deleted scenes, half-hour making-of feature, music video, music video making-of, image and music gallery, movie poster and more.

The Method (NR, 200, Palm Pictures)
Seven candidates for one job assemble for what they assume will be a series of final interviews with an as-yet-unseen HR manager. What happens instead is a daylong series of psychological tests that set out to eliminate them, one by one, until a single candidate remains. Say, doesn’t that sound like [insert reality TV show here]? It sure does, but here’s the irony: Despite being a scripted film with paid actors, “The Method” achieves a level of biting, darkly funny authenticity far beyond anything attained by the heavily-contrived television programs that share its concept. The film flirts with excessive complication toward the end, but by then the metaphor has sunk its teeth in so deep that it almost doesn’t matter. Some might find “The Method” a bit claustrophobic — a good 97 percent of the movie takes place in a single conference room — but those who can handle the coziness will discover a beautifully ugly picture of human nature that may hit a little closer to home than most would care to admit. In Spanish with English subtitles.
Extra: Making-of feature.

The Lookout (R, 2007, Miramax)
Once upon a time, Chris Pratt (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) had the world at his feet. One car crash and subsequent head injury later, he’s barely able to cook dinner, much less manage his own life. What a perfect time for someone from his past to come along and … something. Plot details for “The Lookout” are intentionally left vague here, because the less you know going in, the better. Miramax did a lousy job of promoting this one, but the advantage there is that countless trailers, commercials and press haven’t spoiled the film’s first act, much less its third. What should be known about “The Lookout” before going in: It’s a thriller and a multiple-character study, and it excels in both respects. Jeff Daniels, Matthew Goode, Isla Fisher and Sergio Di Zio round out a great cast, whose performances are as essential as the script they follow.
Extras: Crew commentary, two behind-the-scenes features.

Fracture (R, 2007, New Line)
Ted Crawford (Anthony Hopkins) shot his wife. This isn’t a spoiler, nor is it a mystery: We see it happen during one of “Fracture’s” first scenes. Arresting officer Rob Nunally (Billy Burke) is 100 percent sure he did it, and hotshot district attorney Willy Beachum (Ryan Gosling) sees no reason to feel differently. Of course, given that “Fracture” is a two-hour film and not a 10-minute short, there’s more to the story than you’re reading here. And that’s where the mystery, different feelings and fun take over. “Fracture” is an old-fashioned thriller, investing all its gold into its story and characters and letting the twisting narrative dominate in place of excessive style and other tricks. The strategy leads to a few dry scenes midway through, but it also delivers a terrific final showdown in which everything that was in front of us the whole time is cleverly laid bare. Rosamund Pike and David Strathairn also star.
Extras: Two alternate endings, deleted scenes, DVD-ROM content.

Live Free or Die (R, 2007, ThinkFilm)
Given the scarcity of good comedies on TV these days, it’s almost a shame “Live Free or Die” is merely a film instead of something bigger. Among other sitcom-perfect pieces, you have a troubled cop on the brink (Michael Rapaport), a sleazoid hardware store owner (Judah Friedlander) who doesn’t keep secrets terribly well and a con for hire (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) whose methods are excruciatingly questionable. But “Die” isn’t even primarily about these people, who instead play second fiddle to a criminal nobody with grand delusions (Aaron Stanford) and an idiot sidekick (Paul Schneider) who can’t decide whether he’s excited or scared to be in on his friend’s disastrous tumble toward oblivion. Potential runs wild in “Die” (not to be confused with the similarly-titled Bruce Willis film), and it’s a real shame to say goodbye so soon after we say hello. Fortunately, the film makes the most of the 90 minutes it gets. Zooey Deschanel also stars.
Extras: Cast/crew commentary, alternate ending, making-of feature, deleted scenes, bloopers.

Cashback (R, 2005, Magnolia)
In a sense — and perhaps bolstered by the pitch on the DVD case — “Cashback” is another comedy about bored employees finding ways to have fun at a boring job (in this case, a grocery store). But “Cashback” is just a workplace comedy like “Titanic” is just a film about going on a cruise. It began life as an Oscar-nominated short film about the power of heartbroken insomniac/art student Ben Willis’ (Sean Biggerstaff) imagination, and it remains that more than anything else. (Case in point: The entire short film returns, untouched, as one the feature-length film’s narrative turning points.) Wacky workplace hijinks and imagined existentialism make for strange bedfellows in a not-quite-two-hour film, and “Cashback” will inevitably aggravate and alienate as many people as it enchants. What some see as funny and inventive, others will find pretentious and scrambled. Neither argument is without merit. If the point of the film is to get people talking, mission definitely accomplished.
Extras: The original “Cashback” short film, making-of feature.

51 Birch Street (NR, 2005, Image Entertainment)
One day, somewhat casually, filmmaker Doug Block decided to turn on his camera and film his parents, who to that point had been a model of domestic consistency after more than 50 years of marriage. But as he attempted to chronicle what made them work after all these years, everything stopped working. Block’s new problem: How do you reminisce about two people’s lives when the two people in question won’t, for vastly different reasons, reminisce with you? “51 Birch Street” ultimately ends up fulfilling its nostalgic mission, albeit on much different terms than originally intended. The result lies in the eye of the beholder: Some will see a selfless sharing of hard lessons learned, while others will see an ungrateful child selfishly exploiting the two people who raised him. Some simply will feel smothered by a heavy-handed soundtrack that regularly undermines the film’s many moods. The filming style and subject matter make “Street” impossible to universally recommend, but those who find common ground in Block’s predicament will almost certainly take something away — maybe good, maybe not — from his work.
Extras: Feature on the family’s reaction to the film, “I Flunk Adultery” music video (makes sense after you’ve seen the movie)

Roundup of the Week: New Collections on DVD
— “MGM Movie Legends” Collections (NR, various years, MGM): Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and Frankie & Annette are the three newest honorees in MGM’s excellent “Movie Legends” series. The Elvis collection features four films (“Kid Galahad,” “Clambake,” “Follow that Dream,” “Frankie and Johnny”), while Sinatra gets five (“A Hole in the Head,” “Guys and Dolls,” “Kings Go Forth,” “The Manchurian Candidate,” “The Pride and the Passion”). But Frankie & Annette fans win this round, reaping eight films (“Beach Blanket Bingo,” “How to Stuff a Wild Bikini,” “Beach Party,” “Bikini Beach,” “Fireball 500,” “Thunder Alley,” “Muscle Beach Party,” “Ski Party”) on four discs. No extras in any of the sets.
— “Elvis!: Lights! Camera! Elvis! Collection” (NR, various years, Paramount): Perhaps Elvis fans win after all, thanks to this set, which packs eight films (“King Creole,” “G.I. Blues,” “Blue Hawaii,” “Roustabout,” “Girls! Girls! Girls!,” “Fun in Acapulco,” “Paradise Hawaiian Style,” “Easy Come Easy Go”) into one very attractive box. No extras.
— New “Hanna Barbera Classic Collection” sets (NR, various years, Warner Bros.): Space Ghost and Birdman have found new lives as a talk show host and lawyer, respectively, on the Cartoon Network. But if you’d like to see what they were like before they settled down, “Space Ghost & Dino Boy: The Complete Series” (20 episodes, plus a retrospective) and “Birdman & the Galaxy Trio: The Complete Series” (20 episodes, plus a different retrospective) can shine all the light you need.
— Speaking of Cartoons: Complete series sets for “Todd McFarlane’s Spawn” (NR, 1997, HBO) and “The Archies” (NR, 1968, Genius Entertainment) also are available, as is “The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection: The Walter Lantz Archive” (NR, various years, Universal), which compiles 75 remastered theatrical shorts from the original cartoon. Each set comes with extras, including behind-the-scenes material and interviews.
— “Space 1999: 30th Anniversary Edition” (NR, 1975-77, A&E): This sci-fi classic is the latest series to get the A&E Megaset treatment, with all 48 episodes (three with commentary) packaged together on nine discs. A bounty of extras includes production/promotional galleries, behind-the-scenes features, interviews, alternate scenes and a fan-made series ending.