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DVD selection

We've been catching up on films we missed at the cinema recently, and the last week saw us through three on the list – War of the Worlds, Kingdom of Heaven, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

We kicked off with H.G.Wells' classic, redone for the present-day by Spielberg. The effects were brilliant, and action steady, but somehow it just didn't do it for me. Now, part of the reason for that may be the legacy of Jeff Wayne's musical version, which was a big influence on me when I was barely into my teens. Morgan Freeman's introductory narrative jarred, because it just wasn't Richard Burton.

Into the film, and we see Tom Cruise playing a variation of the arseh*le character that he made his career with. A divorced father of two, he looks as if he is what the characters in Top Gun and Days of Thunder would have become when their arrogance finally led to a real fall. I found it hard to be sympathetic to him until later in the film when his impotence against the alien invaders became apparent, and his fear of loosing his family took over. One sensible change was that the aliens were no longer 'Martians' – it would have been hard to justify after the amount of exploration missions to Mars that as the setting is the current day.

The arrival of aliens was dramatic – not the capsules of the original book and films, but a very dramatic lightning storm and a personal capsule for the invader. It was pretty impressive, as was the CGI when the war machines emerged from the ground. But therein lies another issue for me. The claim was that the war machines had been there all along, buried, waiting for the invasion. This just didn't seem right to me, so I'd like to propose an alternative; the invading forces actually drop a penetrating device with a nano-tech programmed building device to create a war machine. The dramatic lightning was power to initiate the seed's growth. The humans assume that the war machines were buried because the technology is so far ahead of their current usage. Works for me!

So War of the Worlds is worth it for a wet and rainy night in, but it isn't on my list of DVDs to buy. Next up was Kingdom of Heaven, Ridley Scott's new epic film. I love Scott's direction and photographic style. The way he uses light and dark has always impressed me, and I own a fair few of his films so I really wanted to see this. In addition, my recent purchase of Crusader Rex re-ignited my love of the period.

I was pleasantly surprised by the film. As I expected, it looked gorgeous. It did have the whole epic film feel, but it didn't manage to achieve the same emotional engagement that Gladiator did. I think it suffered from two things; firstly, the theme of Balian (Orlando Bloom's character) seeking redemption never really comes out clearly enough in the story to make you feel bothered for the character. Secondly, the whole film feels very truncated. Watching the additional 'Pilgrim's Way' subtitles that link the decision behind the film to historical reality makes it clear how complicated the real-politick that was going on was. There are hints of this in the film, but it never seems to be developed properly, probably because it would need too much screen time. This leaves an enjoyable, but flawed film. I could see myself watching this again, but I may wait and see if a director's cut comes out that has some more of the politics in before I buy it.

The final film of the three was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. This was Tim Burton's re-imagining of Roald Dahl's masterpiece. I never much liked the Gene Wilder version, and hoped that Burton's dark and weird approach would really reflect the book better. And, I think it did. The imagery, the whole attitude and style was brilliant. It was pretty faithful to the original and Johnny Depp was fantastic! I only surprised that Michael Jackson hasn't sued!

Wholeheartedly recommended. I will be buying it, but probably once it drops from the initial launch price. What's the point of paying £15 to £17 when you can get it for £7-8 four or five months later?