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'Bender's Big Score' scores big for Bender

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

A "lost" gem, a funny new animated film and a British television series are all in this week's DVD column.

New Street Law

Koch Vision is a company that frequently imports British television series and I'm sure it's greatest successes have been with shows that have first had some exposure to American audiences on BBC America.

The company's newest import is a show that is new to audiences over here although it stars a number of familiar British television actors, including John Hannah and Paul Freeman. There are no extras on this three-disc DVD set.

Hannah plays an attorney who has broken away from his friend and mentor (Freeman) to form his own firm that specializes in advocating for the underdog. There is considerable tension between the two firms as they rent offices in the same building and Hannah is making points with his former boss's daughter, now a member of her father's firm herself.

Unlike American shows in which most, if not all, of the information about the characters are given to audiences in the first episode, "New Street Law" rations it out in the first several outings. The result is that I felt thrown into the deep end of the pond.

I also had some problem adjusting to the British legal system, which is sort of important when you're watching a legal drama. I didn't know the difference between a "solicitor" and a "barrister" Hannah plays a barrister who argues the cases in court and I didn't understand why his team of lawyers wasn't getting paid.

These details needed to be explained somehow, but of course the show was made for British audiences who understand their system rather than ours.

I did like the legal dramas and the prickly relationships between Hannah and his staff, but ignorance of the British legal system did make the going slow at times.

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Witchfinder General

"Witchfinder General" is the original title for a 1968 film that was released here as "The Conqueror Worm" as part of the American International Picture series of Edgar Allan Poe horror films.

The problem is the film was not a Poe adaptation the distributors had star Vincent Price record a Poe poem to be used at the beginning and end of the film and to make matters worst they re-cut the film as well. For years, the abridged version was the only one available to fans.

Now the original British print has been released on DVD with a documentary on the making of the film and a commentary track. The result is the revelation of the talent of the late director Michael Reeves who died shortly after completing this film. A whiz kid still in his twenties, Reeves had directed two other films when he started this project based on a real life "witchfinder" named Matthew Hopkins. Hopkins went about England in the mid-1600s from village to village finding "witches" who were then executed upon his evidence of coerced confessions. He was paid handsomely for his services.

Reeves didn't want Price for the role, and the clashes between the star and the director produced an icy performance from Price, which is considered one of his best. I've been a Vincent Price fan for years and this film was one I always wanted to see in its proper form.

It is less a horror film and more a historical drama in many ways as well as a commentary on the inhumanity of man. Although its low budget occasionally shows, it's a handsome film that any Price or horror fan should make a point to see.

Futurama: Bender's Big Score

I loved Matt Groening's other animation series "Futurama" and was sorry to see its cancellation by FOX in 2003. The news the series has returned through four direct-to-DVD movies is cause for celebration as the first film, "Bender's Big Score," is a very funny film.

If you've missed "Futurama" during its original television run from 1999 to 2003, then the film might seem a bit confusing. What you need to know is the future is just about as messed up as 2008 is and our heroes of an interplanetary delivery service are no more enlightened than we are hey, the preserved living head of Richard Nixon is the president of the Earth in the future.

The action in this film centers around three aliens who've discovered the secret of time travel and use Bender the amoral robot to go back in time to loot the Earth. There are alien nudists, gold-plated Death Stars and Al Gore all in the film who could want more?

The vocal performances from Billy West, Katey Sagal and Joe DiMaggio, among others, are stellar as usual and the visual look of the production is a tad richer than the original series.

The making of this film actually affected the future -- the producers say it lowered carbon emission. For more information log onto