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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962) / THE STING (1973) / THE DEER HUNTER (1978), TOY STORY (1995)

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962) / THE STING (1973) / THE DEER HUNTER (1978). As is par for the course in the world of DVD, Universal Studios Home Entertainment has taken a few of its popular titles already available on disc and reissued them in brand new editions. Launching a new line with the selected trio -- The Legacy Series -- the studio has insured that the upgrades are worth the cost by offering each film in a two-disc edition that boasts of improved picture and sound (DTS on the first two titles).

Forget James Bond and Indiana Jones: When the American Film Institute offered its picks of the top movie heroes in its 100 Greatest Heroes and Villains special, it was Atticus Finch, the soft-spoken protagonist of To Kill a Mockingbird, who emerged at the top of the list. It was a fitting tribute not only to the memorable character created by Harper Lee in her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel but also to the actor who played him: Gregory Peck, who passed away shortly after the AFI's picks were revealed. Peck's performance is the bedrock of this classic 1962 film, one of those rare instances when a movie perfectly captured the essence of its source material without compromising it in any way. One of the best films ever made about children and the unique way in which they view the world around them, this also benefits from the perceptive work by Mary Badham as Scout, Atticus' young daughter who learns about justice and integrity by watching her lawyer dad defend a black man (Brock Peters) against fraudulent rape charges in a small Southern town. Nominated for eight Academy Awards (including Best Picture), Mockingbird had the misfortune of being released the same year as Lawrence of Arabia; it still managed to snag three well-deserved awards, for Peck's lead performance, Horton Foote's screenplay and Henry Bumstead's sets. DVD extras include Barbara Kopple's excellent 97-minute documentary A Conversation With Gregory Peck, audio commentary by director Robert Mulligan and producer Alan Pakula, a 90-minute feature on the making of the movie, a 1999 interview with Mary Badham, and excerpts from Peck's Oscar acceptance speech, his AFI Life Achievement Award speech and daughter Cecilia's speech at the Academy's tribute to Peck after his death. The set also includes 11 gorgeous color reproductions of Mockingbird posters from around the world.

Few movies offered me as much pure pleasure during my childhood as The Sting, and while the picture has lost much of its luster over the ensuing years, it's still a highly entertaining lark -- and miles ahead of the overrated Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Reuniting the principal team from Butch -- stars Paul Newman and Robert Redford and director George Roy Hill -- The Sting proved to be an even greater success, nestling near the top of the all-time biggest moneymakers list alongside Gone With the Wind, The Sound of Music and The Godfather (not a fantasy film among them; how times have changed!). Redford (earning the only Best Actor Oscar nomination of his lengthy career) stars as Johnny Hooker, a small-time con artist in 1930s Chicago who teams up with master hustler Henry Gondof (Newman) to swindle ruthless mob kingpin Doyle Lonigan (Robert Shaw). Winner of seven Academy Awards (including Best Picture), The Sting offers opulent period detail and a script (by David S. Ward) packed with a dizzying array of twists and turns. DVD extras include an hour-long making-of documentary, production notes and the theatrical trailer.

Highly controversial in its day, The Deer Hunter was released in what proved to be a landmark year for Hollywood's willingness to finally make serious films that addressed the Vietnam War. Coming Home and the sleeper Go Tell the Spartans (released last week on DVD) also centered on the conflict, yet it was this three-hour epic that garnered most of the ink. The film doesn't even head for Southeast Asia until the second hour -- first, we're slowly introduced to some of the residents of a small Pennsylvania steel town, three of whom (Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken and John Savage) will soon be heading off to war. The second chapter deals with their ordeal in Vietnam (including the notorious "Russian roulette" sequence, a scripter's dramatic device that enraged the film's critics), while the final hour centers on their attempts to cope with their physical and emotional handicaps. Powerfully acted (especially by Walken and Meryl Streep) and directed (by Michael Cimino), the film's depiction of a senseless war remains relevant today: It's impossible to watch the scenes centering on wounded soldiers and not become filled with anger and disgust at the Bush Administration's callous disregard for the lives of our young Americans. This earned five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor (Walken). DVD extras include audio commentary by cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond and film journalist Bob Fisher, deleted scenes and the theatrical trailer.

To Kill a Mockingbird: 4 stars.

Extras: 4 stars.

The Sting: 3.5 stars.

Extras: 2.5 stars.

The Deer Hunter: 3.5 stars.

Extras: 2.5 stars.

TOY STORY (1995). Has it really only been a decade since computers began their siege on Hollywood moviemaking? When Toy Story was originally released at Thanksgiving 1995, it was able to promote itsel f as the first animated feature created exclusively by computers. Little did anyone realize that this would sound the death knell for the traditional hand-drawn toon flicks, as CGI imagery would soon take over the industry. Still, even aficionados of old-school animation can't hold a grudge against this ceaselessly inventive yarn in which a cowboy doll named Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) becomes increasingly nervous after his young owner receives a Buzz Lightyear action figure (Tim Allen) for his birthday. Frame for frame, this is arguably still the best of the Pixar-Disney animated features, though its own sequel (Toy Story 2) comes awfully close to knocking it off its perch. DVD extras in this two-disc, 10th Anniversary Edition include interviews with the filmmakers, a making-of special, deleted scenes and an early peek at Pixar's upcoming Cars.

Movie: 3.5 stars.

Extras: 3.5 stars.

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