"United 93": Hollywood's first big-screen dramatization of the Sept. 11 attacks is one of the year's best films yet almost unbearable to watch. Using a cast of unknowns that lends an authentic sense of the strangers-on-a-plane feeling of air flight, director Paul Greengrass re-creates the plight of doomed passengers aboard one of the four hijacked jets. The film's documentary style makes it seem as though viewers are watching the actual events surrounding Flight 93, the plane that crashed in rural Pennsylvania, killing all aboard, after passengers fought back against the terrorists. A single DVD release includes a documentary segment with interviews from passengers' families, who gave their blessing to Greengrass' film. The disc also has biographical capsules of the 40 passengers and crew who died on the flight, plus commentary from Greengrass. A two-disc set also includes a documentary segment on the air-traffic controllers and military personnel coordinating the response to the hijackings. Single DVD, $29.98; two-disc set, $30.98. (Universal)
"The Seven Samurai": The previous single-disc Criterion release of Akira Kurosawa's masterpiece came with minimal extras. A new three-disc set has a new digital transfer of the 3 1/2-hour version of the 1954 film that was the basis for "The Magnificent Seven," after a group of mercenary samurai hired by villagers to protect their town from marauders. Accompanying the film are a great range of background documentaries, including a two-hour conversation with Kurosawa from 1993 and a making-of segment. The set also has two commentary tracks featuring a group of film experts and a booklet with essays by and conversations with critics, filmmakers and frequent Kurosawa star Toshiro Mifune. DVD set, $49.95. (Criterion)
"Amarcord," "Playtime": Two playful films satirizing serious matters get fabulous two-disc makeovers with new digital transfers. Federico Fellini's 1973 tale "Amarcord" applies the filmmaker's carnival visual style to a portrait of the longings, family ties and politics of his youth in Fascist Italy. Jacques Tati's 1967 masterpiece "Playtime" features the director's comic hero Monsieur Hulot in a manic romp through the confusions and convulsions of modern times in Paris. Both films are accompanied by commentary from film scholars, while "Playtime" comes with an introduction by Tati admirer Terry Jones of the Monty Python troupe, and "Amarcord" includes a deleted scene. The sets come with interviews with the filmmakers and collaborators, plus background documentaries. "Amarcord" also has a booklet featuring a lengthy Fellini recollection of his hometown that was something of a blueprint for the film. DVD sets, $39.95 each. (Criterion)
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