Box Set Bonanza 2012

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 2nd October 2012.

Every October, dark forces return to unleash unspeakable horrors upon our supermarket and department store shelves. No, I’m not talking about Halloween. I mean the Christmas merchandise that’s already started to appear in our stores. So if it’s good enough for a multinational corporation, it’s good enough for me. In preparation for the silly season, here are my picks for the best box sets to buy for your favourite movie fanatic (or Tuesday columnist).

If too much Bond is never enough, grab Bond 50 – The James Bond Collection which celebrates half a century of Bond adventures with 22 films on 22 discs. If you buy the blu-ray set, there’s also an extra disc full of exclusive new content. Unfortunately, the non-canon Never Say Never Again from 1983 is not included, which is a shame because I’d gladly exchange it for the invisible car and wooden Madonna performance from Die Another Day. With the latest Band mission, Skyfall, hitting cinemas in November, a space has been generously left in the box for you to complete your collection next year. You can then rest easy knowing you own every single minute of Bond goodness, until the next movie is announced and you’ll have to buy a new box set. Start saving your money, Penny.

Speaking of great franchises, Indiana Jones has finally taken the leap to high definition. Indiana Jones – The Complete Adventures features all three original films on beautiful blu-ray, plus an extra disc chock full of bonus stuff. The films have been remastered under the supervision of Steven Spielberg, with Raiders of the Lost Ark receiving a complete restoration from the original print and sound mix. The set also includes a special Indiana Jones coaster. You can protect your tabletops knowing that The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has finally found a useful purpose.

The Universal Monsters Collection on blu-ray celebrates the 100th anniversary of Universal Studios by unleashing some of its iconic creature features in high definition. Featuring a 48 page book and 8 discs, I can’t wait to get my hands on this one and experience horror classics Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, Bride of Frankenstein, The Wolf Man and Phantom of the Opera for the first time. Best of all, The Creature from the Black Lagoon will make his (or is it her, or its) debut in blu-ray 3D.

Finally, the master of suspense has been given a high definition makeover to bring you Alfred Hitchcock – The Masterpiece Collection. The box set features 14 Hitchcock  classics including Rear Window, Frenzy, Psycho and Vertigo, plus every ornithophobe’s favourite, The Birds.  There is also 15 hours of bonus content for your enjoyment. Strangely, my favourite Hitchcock flick, North by Northwest, is not featured. Neither is Gus Van Sant’s disastrous 1998 shot for shot remake of Psycho, which is good thing.

One last thing, all of these box sets are labelled as limited editions. This is a rather meaningless marketing term nowadays so don’t rush out and buy them all just in case. With all of the above around or above the $100 mark, the limiting factor may well be your wallet.

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A MacGuffin with bacon please

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 10th August 2010.

Remember Quentin Tarantino’s classic 1994 film, Pulp Fiction? Some of the many intertwining plot strands involved a mysterious briefcase, the contents of which were never revealed. As frustrating as that may be to die-hard fans, what was really important to the storytelling process was how the briefcase motivated the characters to pursue it, kill for it or protect it. The contents were irrelevant. Anything could’ve been in there. It doesn’t really matter. In filmmaking, that briefcase is known as a MacGuffin.

Defined as a plot device that catches the viewers’ attention, or drives the plot of a work of fiction, the term MacGuffin was possibly coined by Alfred Hitchcock, who first mentioned the screenwriting technique during a lecture in 1939. In fact, Hitchcock’s celebrated 1934 spy thriller, The 39 Steps, revolves around the search for a MacGuffin. In the final minutes of the movie, it is revealed that the MacGuffin is actually the top secret plans for a silent plane engine.

Sometimes the MacGuffin is not a thing, but a meaning. Orson Welles’ brilliant Citizen Kane, released in 1941, is acclaimed as one of the best motion pictures of all time. A critical depiction of the life and times of media magnate William Randolph Hurst, the film centres on the meaning of renamed lead character Charles Foster Kane’s dying word, “Rosebud”. With the storyline following a newsreel reporter desperately seeking to find the meaning of this word, the film climaxes with said reporter unable to solve the mystery, concluding that perhaps “Rosebud” represents something that Kane had once but lost, or could never attain. Before the credits roll, it is revealed to the audience that Rosebud is a childhood toy from Kane’s past: a sled. Citizen Kane is a truly great film, and proof that the smart use of a MacGuffin can weave a breathtaking tale, no matter what the MacGuffin ultimately ends up being.

MacGuffins are utilised regularly in modern cinema, especially in espionage thrillers. This year’s Knight and Day, starring Tom “Xenu” Cruise and Cameron Diaz, revolves around a never ending battery. Mission: Impossible 3 (2006), also starring Cruise, features the mysterious Rabbit’s Foot. John Frankenheimer’s action thriller, Ronin (1998), stars Robert DeNiro chasing after another enigmatic suitcase. All are perfectly good MacGuffins.

Even last year’s mega money maker, Avatar, featured a MacGuffin. Strip away the motion capture technology and immersive 3D layering and what do you have left? You have mercenaries killing smurfs to get something and the blue natives fighting the invading forces to protect the very same something. What is that something? It’s the rather obviously named Unobtainium. Talk about a MacGuffin with cheese.

So keep an eye out for MacGuffins in your favourite movies and television shows. They are everywhere and you are bound to recognise them easily now. Remember, it is not important what the MacGuffin is, but how it catches the audience’s attention. Perhaps the MacGuffin phenomenon is even creeping into real life? Tony Abbott’s boat people MacGuffin anyone?