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HOME VIDEO

Adding a Song to 'Chicago'

By PETER M. NICHOLS

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Marshall, Rob



"Chicago," Rob Marshall's Oscar-winning screen adaptation of Bob Fosse and Fred Ebb's stage musical, works well on DVD. To begin with, it looks fine. "I spent a lot of time on the color correction," Mr. Marshall said by telephone this week. "When you're color-tuning for film, the projector can change the way it looks. It's not scientific; on DVD it can be."

On disc a film is stamped with digital exactitude. "DVD is forever," Mr. Marshall said.

"Chicago" is to be released on Tuesday by Miramax. Mr. Marshall and Bill Condon, the screenwriter, have a commentary, and there is a separate clip of the song "Class," which was dropped from the film. "One of the great things about the DVD for me was the moment I had to call Catherine Zeta-Jones and Queen Latifah and tell them that `Class' has been cut from the movie, but being able to say in the same breath but it will be on the DVD," Mr. Marshall said.

DVD, of course, gives directors latitude to alter and expand upon what they did or didn't do on the big screen. (Or, in this case, acknowledge fine work by two of the stars.) Discs often include discarded scenes and directors' explanations, usually obvious. "Class," however, is an interesting case. In that scene the club performer Velma Kelly (Ms. Zeta-Jones) and the prison matron Mama Morton (Queen Latifa) are conversing about the sudden rise to celebrity engineered by Roxie Hart (Renée Zellweger) with the guidance of her slippery lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere).

Accused of murdering her husband, Roxie fans her cravings for song-and-dance stardom and helps Billy work the press into a sensationalist furor. Gripped by anger and jealousy, Velma, also imprisoned for murder, breaks into song.

"It was dishonest to our concept," Mr. Marshall says on the DVD. The song didn't belong, he says, because it slowed the narrative. As important, it originated with Velma and Mama and didn't spring from Roxie's imagination, as does everything else in the film.

This introduces another benefit of "Chicago" on DVD. Roxie's fantasies trigger swift transitions from stage to prison and courtroom and back. There is much to keep up with. "Rarely do people say, `I saw your movie,' but `I saw it two or three times,' " Mr. Marshall said this week. Now there's DVD for stopping, backing up, repeating.

On the disc Mr. Marshall notes that most of the effects are natural and not computer-generated. During his commentary he also has a chance to build a case for the singing and dancing abilities of stars who, with the exception of Ms. Zeta-Jones, had little or no experience in musicals. (Ms. Zellweger had none.)

Some critics have questioned their competence, but this week Mr. Marshall had the same answer to that as he does on the DVD. "I didn't have to disguise their limitations very much," he said. "If I had another week or so, I could have put this entire cast on stage."

New Video Releases

The Hunted

A military assassin named Hallam (Benicio Del Toro), back home from the killing fields in Kosovo, can't turn off his trigger finger and starts shooting hunters in the woods. To put a stop to it, the government assigns an all-American tracker and mountain man named L. T. Bonham (Tommy Lee Jones). Bonham tells the F.B.I. that Hallam kills without regret. That's not entirely true, but it is a human element entirely overlooked in a by-the-book film that lets nothing come in the way of its action sequences. "Oscar winners deserve better than the man's-man games both Mr. Jones and Mr. Del Toro are subjected to here," Elvis Mitchell wrote in The New York Times.

2003. Paramount. VHS, $95.99; DVD, $29.99. 94 minutes. Closed captioned. R.

Head of State

An alderman from a beleaguered Washington neighborhood, Mays Gilliam (Chris Rock) is recruited to run for the presidency. When he drops the smarmy campaign rhetoric and starts talking hard-hitting populist, Mays climbs in the polls. Later, though, he commits a gaffe, and white suburbia panics at the prospect of a black president. As Mr. Rock's film looks for easy laughs while trying to avoid them at the same time, its "timidity, combined with haphazard plotting and uninspired direction, just makes a mess of Mays's character" (A.O. Scott).

2003. DreamWorks. VHS, $107.99; DVD, $26.99. 95 minutes. Closed captioned. PG-13.

The Lizzie McGuire Movie

The junior high graduate from the Disney Channel series (Hilary Duff) goes on a class trip to Rome, where she is to explore 31 historic landmarks but discovers Paolo (Yani Gellman), an Italian pop star. Complications ensue when Lizzie turns out to be the double of Isabella (also Ms. Duff), Paolo's partner and fixture on billboards and record charts. Parents will find a tolerably entertaining romantic comedy "while their age-appropriate offspring will be transported to new heights of cinematic enchantment" (Dave Kehr).

2003. Disney VHS, $22.99; DVD, $29.99. 90 minutes. Closed captioned. PG.

Cradle 2 the Grave

Su (Jet Li), an agent of the Taiwanese Central Intelligence Agency, tries to keep track of a bag of black diamonds (really little pieces of "synthetic plutonium" coveted by arms dealers). The deft Su, about five feet tall, beats up goons by the dozen. Mr. Li can be thrilling to watch, but in the film's drive for hyperkinetic overkill, the director, Andrzej Bartkowiak, "sacrifices coherence to wallow in barely contained chaos" (Stephen Holden).

2003. Warner. VHS, $19.96; DVD, $27.95. 110 minutes. Closed captioned. R.

Straight to Video

Other new titles of interest, some of which may have had a theater release, appeared on television or been on videocassette or DVD in earlier editions.

A VERY BRITISH COUP. On "Masterpiece Theater" in 1989 but set in the 1990's, Mick Jackson's production, based on Chris Mullin's novel, stars Ray McAnally as Harry Perkins, a radical Socialist from a line of steelworkers, who has just been elected prime minister. Liberal isn't the term for Harry, who has defeated Conservatives on a platform that calls for, among other things, the removal of American weapons from Britain. "The people are sick of being an aircraft carrier for the United States," Harry says. Naturally, domestic resistance builds as the establishment scrambles to adjust and get on board with the abrasive, often quite funny new leader. "Just when the label liberal is deemed to be a liability in mainstream circles, along comes British television with a riveting, walloping unapologetic celebration of left-of-center politics," John O'Connor wrote in The New York Times in 1989. Acorn. DVD, $29.95. 153 minutes.

STACY KEACH AS HEMINGWAY. A thoroughly serious and generally intelligent television biography tries to capture the man and writer by relying primarily on "Collected Letters 1917-1961" and Carlos Baker's "Hemingway: A Life Story." Filmed in Paris, Pamplona, Venice, the Alps, Africa and Key West, the film is full of handsome vistas. If considerable license is taken with the real-life actualities, Mr. Keach manages to reveal the man's considerable flaws while retaining an edge of sympathy. "There's a basic integrity at work, and that's rare enough for prime-time television," John O'Connor wrote in The Times in 1989. Wellspring. DVD, $39.99, two discs. 300 minutes.




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