Students learn to be tunefully true to themselves

Critics' Picks : New Dvds

May 21, 2006

HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL: ENCORE EDITION / / Walt Disney Home Entertainment / / $26.99

Ah, high school -- when people spontaneously broke into song every 15 minutes or so. No? That is the world of the Disney TV movie High School Musical, which tells the story of basketball star Troy and super-smart Gabriella, who meet and, in a contrived way, discover they can sing during a New Year's Eve vacation. Fast-forward to the start of the new semester, and who but Gabriella is the newest transfer student at Troy's East High. (Choruses of "Summer Lovin'" do not break out here, however.)

Both teenagers want to try out for the school musical, but they worry what the jocks, the academic decathlon team and the drama department queens will think. Will they overcome their concerns? (Come on, what do you think?)

It's a fluffy and fun, charming but cheesy TV movie with a message ("be yourself") that just happened to become the highest-rated original program in the Disney Channel's history and unexpectedly spawned a double-platinum soundtrack, a platinum single ("Breaking Free") and four gold singles. A special edition of the soundtrack also comes out Tuesday, and the cast is slated to reprise its roles in a sequel on the Disney Channel in 2007, according to Buena Vista Entertainment.

* Special features:

All the kids who have memorized the songs from the soundtrack won't need the singalong mode, which shows the lyrics along the bottom of the screen whenever the characters burst into musical numbers. Of most interest to fans will be the behind-the-scenes featurette, on which the stars, director and choreographers discuss the energy on the set and how complicated it was to choreograph and learn the dance numbers, including one with a cafeteria full of kids and one on a basketball court that required the steps to match the lyrics. There's also a "Learning the Moves" featurette, with director and choreographer Kenny Ortega leading viewers through the steps of Sharpay and Ryan's "Bop to the Top" number, and two music videos.



THE CECIL B. DeMILLE COLLECTION / / Universal Home Video / / $59.95

Cecil B. DeMille never apologized for giving the people what they wanted: vast, cast-of-thousands epics, with lots of action, lots of big stars and plenty of sex.

He directed the first feature-length film made in Hollywood (1914's The Squaw Man), helped put Paramount Studios on the map, and proved there was box-office gold in the Bible (he brought The Ten Commandments to the screen twice, once as a silent, once as a talkie). From silent days through the 1950s, DeMille specialized in the overblown, over-dramatized and undeniably crowd-pleasing.

This stellar collection brings together five of his earliest sound films, including 1932's The Sign of the Cross, with a sneering Charles Laughton as Nero and a sexy Claudette Colbert as Poppaea.

There is also 1934's long-unavailable Four Frightened People, with Herbert Marshall and Colbert (again) trying to find civilization on a tropical island; 1934's Cleopatra, with an incongruously saucy Colbert (yet again!) as the Queen of the Nile and Henry Wilcoxon as her Marc Antony; 1935's The Crusades, a 12th-century warrior epic starring Wilcoxon, Loretta Young and Joseph Schildkraut; and 1939's Union Pacific, a story of the Transcontinental Railroad starring Barbara Stanwyck, Joel McCrea and Robert Preston.


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