DVD 10/27/09: Battlestar Galactica: The Plan, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, Medicine for Melancholy, Nothing Like the Holidays, Soldiers of Conscience, Life After People S1, Adult Swim in a Box, A&E/History Channel Series Sets

Battlestar Galactica: The Plan (NR, 2009, Universal)
With all due respect to the curious general public, this one is strictly for the fans. “Battlestar Galactica: The Plan” takes it from the top of the show’s first season, retelling the events and aftermath of the Cylon invasion from the viewpoint of the Cylons instead of those aboard Galactica. But while “The Plan” basically goes where it already has been, it does so under the assumption that those watching have taken the same trip. More than merely look at old footage from new angles, “The Plan” uses information revealed in later seasons to add extra color to events and exchanges that played out earlier on. That translates into some terrific pieces of fan service, including entire storyline threads devoted to characters whose origins and existences weren’t in question or even known during the show’s earlier seasons. If you know enough to follow along, that translates into a fun trip through “Galactica” history. But if this is your first “Galactica” experience, save it: “The Plan” occasionally charges into a major timeline event without setting it up or fully explaining why it happened, and if you didn’t already experience the long form version during the show’s run, you’re bound to be lost here. Best to experience the show first and return to this later.
Extras: Writer/Director commentary (Edward James Olmos, who plays William Adama on the show, directed), deleted scenes, four behind-the-scenes features.

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (PG, 2009, Fox)
Unless you have just now yourself woken up from the last ice age, you probably can sort of guess how this goes. And really, there’s nothing wrong with that. “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” continues the prehistoric adventures of Sid (sloth), Diego (saber-toothed tiger), Manny (woolly mammoth), Ellie (same) and Scrat (squirrel). This time, as the title implies, they have a new species with which to contend. But “Dinosaurs” also has its share of subplots: Manny and Ellie are starting a family, Diego is contemplating a return to his predatory ways, and Scrat is, as usual, trying desperately to hoard an acorn. The familiarity works to the film’s credit, because the first two “Ice Age” movies already did the hard work of turning what otherwise is a group of archetypes into a comfortably likable bunch of characters. “Dinosaurs” does its part with a few new faces of its own, including the aforementioned dinosaurs and a fantastically affable eye-patched weasel named Buck. Like the first two movies, “Dinosaurs” struggles to stretch its storylines around a feature-length runtime, occasionally opting for action scene overload and sometimes halting entirely for the sake of a gag the writers couldn’t fathom leaving behind. But all that aforementioned likability carries the script when it needs help, and per series tradition, “Dinosaurs” is pleasant to look at no matter what’s taking place.
Extras: New Scrat short, four Scrat features (including a drawing tutorial), four other behind-the-scenes features, Scrat pinball DVD game, music video (featuring, of course, an appearance from Scrat).

Medicine for Melancholy (NR, 2008, IFC/MPI)
As the sun rises on “Medicine for Melancholy,” we’re introduced to Micah (Wyatt Cenac) and Angela (Tracey Heggins). And once they wipe the cobwebs from their eyes, get a glimpse of their surroundings and get over the initial surprise/regret/[insert gut reaction here] that greets two people facing the harsh light of day following a one-night stand, Micah and Angela have a chance to make their own introductions to each other. Or not. The next 24 hours — the key moments of which we’re privy to during “Melancholy’s” 88 minutes — will be crucial. The vast comic potential of the awkward morning after has been exploited many times over in film and television, but “Melancholy” opts instead for a low-key, low-concept approach that, in addition to striving for authenticity, presents all manner of opportunity to get to know both characters on a level few movies have time to do. It capitalizes on that opportunity and, working with a nearly monochromatic color palette, looks very good doing so. But with all that said, if you’re the type who despises movies that sometimes stand still or use tangential dialogue rather than full-speed-ahead plot development to tell its story, consider this your warning to turn back. The day after sometimes has copious amounts of both, and “Melancholy,” consequently, does as well.
Extra: Director interview.

Nothing Like the Holidays (PG-13, 2008, Overture/Anchor Bay)
Pick a storyline, any storyline: Chances are, if you’ve seen it in an ensemble family comedy/drama before, you’ll see some variation of it in “Nothing Like the Holidays,” which brings the whole Rodriguez family home to Chicago for what, intentionally or otherwise, becomes a holiday to remember. There’s the struggling actress (Vanessa Ferlito). There’s the homecoming soldier (Freddy Rodríguez). There are the parents (Alfred Molina and Elizabeth Peña) with separate secrets that inevitably spill out. Lost loves, homewrecking workaholism, attempts to keep ugly pasts in the past — “Holidays” has it all. So it’s to the movie’s arguably amazing credit that it neither collapses under the weight of so many storylines nor lets an intrusion of heavy-handedness turn the whole thing into a humongous downer. “Holidays” doesn’t trivialize its situations, and at least one storyline feels unnecessarily wedged in for no useful reason. But at no point does it lose sight of the good humor that accompanies it from the start, and that spirit, working in tandem with a smart and consistently funny script, is infectious. The Rodriguezes have a lot of fixing to do, but it’s pretty apparent why it’s work worth doing, and “Holidays” makes it fun to root them on. John Leguizamo, Debra Messing, Jay Hernandez, Melonie Diaz and the perennially underrated Luis Guzmán also star.
Extras: Director/Producers commentary, cast reunion, bloopers.

Soldiers of Conscience (NR, 2007, Docurama)
There seems to be a conventional train of thought suggesting that because soldiers are trained to kill, it’s somehow easier for them to actually do so. But as “Soldiers of Conscience” argues, who is anybody to assume who hasn’t actually been in those shoes? The points made in “Conscience” — that soldiers aren’t capable of toggling their ingrained senses of normalcy and humanity on and off at will with any less difficulty than the rest of us — are by no means new ideas in year seven of what presumably is the most documented war of all time. Some soldiers fight in spite of their beliefs about the war, while others choose not to even let it come to that. Ho hum, right? But “Conscience,” as any good story about the conflict should at this point, steps aside and lets a handful of soldiers do just about all of the talking, and their personal accounts respective to their diverse backgrounds and beliefs put some powerful faces to the otherwise familiar talking points.
Extra: Half hour of bonus footage.

Worth a Mention
— “Life After People: The Series: The Complete Season One” (NR, 2009, History): The entertaining what-if special becomes a series of similarly entertaining what-if episodes exploring what would happen if Earth rid itself of every last human being. Each episode takes on a topic, ranging from a rat kingdom that erupts in Las Vegas to the inconvenient matter of what happens to all those bodies. They have to go somewhere. Includes 10 episodes, no extras.
— “Adult Swim in a Box” (NR, Cartoon Network): Both a sampler and a celebration, the 12-disc “Adult Swim in a Box” contains select seasons from six Adult Swim shows — “Robot Chicken,” “Metalocalypse,” “Sealab 2021,” “Space Ghost: Coast to Coast,” “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” and “Moral Orel” — and all the extras that shipped with each DVD set’s respective initial release. But Adult Swim completists should be most concerned about the 12th disc, which contains unreleased pilot episodes of five other shows: “Cheyenne Cinnamon and the Fantabulous Unicorn of Sugar Town Candy Fudge,” “The Best of Totally for Teens,” “Korgoth of Barbaria,” “Perfect Hair Forever” and “Welcome to Etingville.”
— A&E complete series sets for the spatially conscious: New, slimmer versions of the massive “Homicide: Life on the Street” (35 DVDs) and “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” (42 DVDs) series sets are now available, while “The Prisoner” makes its Blu-ray debut in a very portable five-disc set. The complete series run of “Dogfights,” from A&E sibling History, also is available in a reasonably-sized 12-disc set.