It’s been a banner year for older film and TV making its way back to the spotlight via often elaborate re-releases. I’d planned to simply roll a few of these into the Film and Series categories above, but I quickly realized there was enough here to warrant its own section. As a proponent of physical media in an increasingly digital world, it seems the future lies in these sorts of beautifully packaged endeavors with loads of special features. I was pleased to add each of these beauties to my collection.

Space Adventure Cobra: The Movie (4k) [Discotek Media]

My first exposure to Space Adventure Cobra: The Movie came via the video for Matthew Sweet’s song “Girlfriend”. A rousing power pop track, the video was directed by Roman Coppola and used chunks of Space Adventure Cobra to tell its tale. This was before Japanese animation had fully broken in America and I was hungry for every scrap of it, particularly those bits that showcased the extra attention to detail in animation and visual appeal that happened with feature length films, as opposed to the often looser and rougher styles seen in animated TV series.

A few years later, finally able to see the film in full, I was utterly blown away. While you’ll still catch a few anime tropes popping in here and there, there’s something so fresh and dazzling about the Cobra film, due in large part to its far-flung fantasy sci-fi setting. It evokes a kind of James Bond in space feel, with elements of Barbarella and other sexy sci-fi exploitation film, and another layer of dizzying psychedelia over top of that. The abstract moments are pure visual bliss, full of kinetic energy, and it’s no wonder that a decade after its premiere in Japan it was being cobbled into a US power pop video. If you’ve yet to see it, there’s never been a better time.

Polyester (Criterion)

I recently encountered a poster for Polyester’s original VHS release featuring a pull quote from People Magazine claiming it to be “The funkiest fun since Animal House and Airplane.” The idea of anyone picking this up and expecting the delightfully raunchy-but-mainstream comedy of either of those films and instead getting… well… this… is almost as entertaining as the film itself. Polyester may not be John Waters’ greatest film, but it was the first to really flirt with any popular success. After years of cult-only status, Waters had a budget and former teen heartthrob Tab Hunter in a starring role. He also had a vision for a broader appeal that eschewed the shit-eating, chicken-fucking and downright filthiness that had become a hallmark of his career.

But “toned down” for Waters is still pretty wild. In satirizing American suburban life and romance film, he dips into foot fetishism, cocaine use, glue-sniffing, murder, and the suicide of the family dog. The theatrical release of the film also included an insane gimmick, an “Odorama” card with scratch-and-sniff sections that synced up to moments in the film, allowing you to “smell along”.

Part of the brilliance of Criterion’s edition here is the inclusion of a perfect recreation of the “Odorama” card! It’s also wonderfully restored, a blessing after years of muddy transfers on VHS and DVD. It’s worth the price of admission alone for the newly commissioned cover, a send-up of every cheesy romance novel cover ever featuring the inimitable Divine.

Godzilla: The Showa Era Films (Criterion)

While these films have continued to hold a dedicated audience over the decades since their release, it’s astounding to see them so lovingly collected and treated here. Because as serious as we Godzilla fans may take them, there’s no denying that a good chunk of the later Showa era are campy at best entries into the oeuvre.

Veering from the stark horror of the original film to the goofiness of Minilla (aka Baby Godzilla), this set covers a lot of ground. Fans are particularly happy to have the original Japanese language tracks for each, helping to mitigate the silliness that many of the less than stellar dubs added. I’m still working my way through them, my only complaint being that the absolutely massive coffee table book-style packaging for the set can be quite unwieldy, though the gorgeous pop-art layout is truly a sight to behold.

Here’s hoping that Criterion is up for a Hesei collection next!

Perfect Blue (Shout Factory)

In conjunction with the Blu-Ray release of the film, there was a limited theatrical screening I was fortunate enough to attend. It’s hard to explain how absolutely brilliant and insightful this film is, how eerily it predicts a near future where even the most minor of celebrities can be obsessed over to the point of violent stalking and assault. It was chilling to see again after all these years and underscored what an incredible force we have lost in director Satoshi Kon. He used the animated medium like no one else, and the Hitchcock comparisons leveled at him for this and other work should be taken with every bit of praise and seriousness intended. Perfect Blue is a masterful and inventive use of the medium and should be considered by any true fan of film even if animation isn’t typically your thing.

The Blob (1988) [Scream Factory]

This update of the ‘58 classic manages to elevate the proceedings with appropriately updated special effects and gore, while also keeping things just dark and trashy enough to hold on to that grindhouse midnight drive-in feel. Shout Factory imprint Scream Factory has a knack for plucking these sorts of grimy gems from our forgotten past and giving them new life. The late 80’s vibe here only adds to the fun, with an oily-mulleted Kevin Dillon sharing the lead with scream queen Shawnee Smith in a showdown against the titular amorphous space terror.

Batman Beyond (Warner Brothers)

Bruce Timm struck gold with Batman: The Animated Series in a way so profoundly that we’re still feeling the ripples of impact decades later. Not only did he define an iconic design style and approach to storytelling, he refreshed the entire history of Batman, Superman, and eventually the entire Justice League in a way that DC comics themselves have never quite been capable of. For many fans, these became the definitive versions of these characters.

With Batman Beyond, Timm and company wandered into entirely new territory to tell a tale of the future, featuring new heroes and rogues that somehow still managed to retain the endemic feel of Batman. I never thought I’d see the day when this relatively lesser-known by comparison chunk of the Timm-verse would be given the deluxe treatment and restoration, but here we are.

It’s aged incredibly well for a series created in 1999 that focuses on the future, blending elements of cyberpunk and a weird futurism extrapolated from the 50’s-influenced DNA of Batman: The Animated Series. It features a teenage Batman, but he’s not some cloying byproduct of the CW teen drama craze, rather a grounded but angsty character motivated by his own dark personal history. It was both a surprise and a treat to see it given a proper release this past year.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Criterion)

Sorely underappreciated upon its release, the film version of John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask’s stage play is a glorious glam rock opera that is finally emerging from obscurity into its own right. We can thank a Broadway revival of the stage play that began in 2014, starring a series of high-profile performers (Neil Patrick Harris, Michael C. Hall, Taye Diggs) for getting the ball rolling again. With renewed interest, this Criterion treatment of the film may be overdue but it is certainly welcome.

Directed by and starring John Cameron Mitchell, it captures the brilliance of the play with an expanded scope, combining the feel of music videos pastiched with wide angle film and the focused energy of the stage. It’s a story of failure, redemption, love, mentorship, and success in the music business, shot through with exploration of gender identity and philosophical and historical commentary. While that may seem like a heady mix to approach, it’s done so with such riveting energy via the soundtrack that one never feels overwhelmed. Get ready to have “Wig In A Box” stuck in your head for weeks after viewing.

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