By George Bass (Contributor New York Times | The Guardian | New Scientist)
The first DVD was sold in March 1997, and Network weren’t far behind in opening up shop. While the new medium meant deluxe multi-disc releases for new films, we turned our eye to lost treasures, and over the last quarter-century, have spent more time going through vaults than John Dillinger. To celebrate 25 years of restoring works that may have otherwise remained confined to storage, as well as a glorious Summer, here are eight of our favourites…
Stiff Upper Lips 
Released when Brit-coms were gaining international traction thanks to hits like Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), this comedy-spoof took aim at the Merchant-Ivory films that were synonymous with English cinema in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Sean Pertwee plays token dashing manservant George who, if he wants to win the heart of 22-year-old “spinster” Georgina Cates, has to navigate the pitfalls of Edwardian high society (such as learning the correct way to stride into a drawing room). The film has the honour of being one of Brian Glover’s final appearances: the ex-wrestler turned Kes star is hilarious as George’s inverted snob of a dad.
25 years in prison is what you might face for committing murder, and it’s what the protagonists of this trilogy of plays each risks in their deadly actions. ‘Killer Waiting’ sees The Sweeney’s John Thaw as an ex-army major now retired and turned to writing, little knowing that an IRA assassin has tracked him down. ‘Killer Exposed’ features Anthony Valentine as a murderous dentist who’s being tailed by Detective Sergeant Dearbhla Molley – with whom he’s romantically involved. Finale ‘Killer Contract’ pits tech giant Edward Woodward against a rival corporation: one whose shady operatives will assassinate his daughter if he goes ahead with a new satellite project. A taut mini-series that will have viewers contemplating an order of Kevlar.
25 years ago marked the last knockings of the British Empire as governance of Hong Kong was handed back to China. Anyone insisting that the Brits were better administrators would do well to revisit this 50-year-old travel series, where an unflappable Alan Whicker brings his best blazer to the sea-city dwelling of the Yau Ma Tei “boat people”. Whicker takes in floating theatres and people forced out of urban living spaces who’ve made a vibrant community of their own: their Waterworld-like habitat is the size of “York, or Oxford”; Whicker reports from its shores without judgment, getting to know the people who locals have dubbed “sea gypsies”.
What happened to the less-mainstream documentaries released in the pre-VHS era? This fascinating peek behind the curtain of Gerry Anderson’s Terrahawks intrigued us so much that we felt it deserved its own release, freeing it from the bunker where it had languished for 25 years. If you enjoy this its forensic look at life at Bray Studios, be sure to check out our HD restoration of the series it’s covering.
Things to Come 
Mars Attacks! (1996) and Twister (1996) were the first films released on DVD, and this sci-fi adventure from 60 years earlier is just as gripping, and destructive. A lavish adaption of the HG Wells novel, we see the grisly consequences of a world war fought across three decades, and how it culminates not in nuclear devastation, but in a bioweapon called “the wandering sickness”. Luckily, a group of airborne boffins have a plan to build a peaceful, hi-tech utopia. But will the citizens of tomorrow support them? We’ll get to find out in 14 years, when we catch up with the 2036 setting of the movie.
Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) 
This supernatural detective series from Champions creators Monty Berman and Dennis Spooner sees a pair of sleuths even more mismatched than average. Mike Pratt is fiery Jeff Randall, while Kenneth Cope is the ghost of his late partner: the wise-cracking (and permanently white-suited) Marty Hopkirk. The two exchange insults while solving a string of murders, with Randall trying to appear normal as he bickers with a buddy that only he can see. As 25 is considered an “angel number” by numerologists, there’s no way we couldn’t offer this afterlife-set series as part of our anniversary discounts.
The Siege of Pinchgut 
In 1997, one movie was inescapable: James Cameron’s Titanic. This ocean- and island-set 1959 thriller – the last from Ealing Studios – makes the water seem just as menacing, and finds convicts Aldo Ray, Victor Maddern, Carlo Justini, and Neil McCallum escape their Australian prison and make a break for the titular island fortress. When they discover it’s still inhabited, a stand-off develops between police sharpshooters and the cons – who just might use the fort’s cannon to destroy the local harbour. A highly underrated siege movie, and one that inspired Quentin Tarantino to steal its star’s name for Brad Pitt’s character in Inglorious Basterds (2009).
How to Survive a Plague 
25 years ago, in spite of outbreaks of plague in Zambia and Mozambique, the only epidemic generating significant headlines in Britain was CJD, and Mad Cow Disease. This American documentary from 2012 shows that it isn’t just scientists working to halt the spread of infectious disease: we follow a group of laypersons as they sneak their way into the pharmaceutical industry, and begin the process of shifting new medicines from laboratory trials to the patients who most need them. In light of Covid, How to Survive a Plague is a sobering watch, made more potent by the fact the world’s population has risen by almost a billion since the film first aired.