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Mourning 'Law & Order'? Try 'Foyle's War'

John DeFore
Honeysuckle Weeks, Anthony Howell and Michael Kitchen star in 'Foyle's War.'

Fans of TV's "Law & Order" got bad news last week when NBC canceled the NYC-set mothership of the long-running franchise. Sure, 17 or so "L&O" spinoffs are still in production, and I believe there's a cable channel devoted solely to reruns of the show. But maybe it's time for a change of pace?

Detective shows currently on the air differentiate themselves mostly by what American city the flatfoots patrol and what part of government employs them. (Didn't David Caruso make a pilot about hardboiled Animal Control agents in Cleveland?) But a trip to the video store offers a bit more variety. "Foyle's War," for instance.

"Foyle's War" isn't just set in another country — in the English town of Hastings, which makes for some lovely scenery — but in another era, during World War II. Christopher Foyle fought in the first world war and would like to have a more direct hand in protecting England this go-round, but instead he works in the war's shadow, tracking smugglers, traitors, corrupt officials and, of course, murderers.

Michael Kitchen is around retirement age, but his Foyle is no Matlock. Self-possessed and a bit mysterious, he works with interesting younger subordinates but dominates the series, which is produced by an English company but doesn't have the vacuum-sealed quality of some "Masterpiece Theater" material. It doesn't suffer from the formulaic vibe of most American detective shows, either. Acorn has released the first five seasons on DVD in America and will have Season 6 out in a couple of weeks.

In more consumer-y news, DVD collectors still debating the move to Blu-ray have a new argument in the "for" column. Warner Bros. just announced a campaign taking some of the pain out of re-buying old favorites in hopes that, once customers see how much better the new version looks, they'll be happy to buy Blu in the future.

The promotion can be found at dvd2blu.com. There, visitors find a list of nearly a hundred WB titles that have been released on both formats. Users select the titles they own on regular DVD, then stick those movies in an envelope (just the discs, not the packaging, so it won't cost much to mail) and send them to Warner, which within a few weeks will send back Blu-ray versions of those titles.

The swapping service costs about 5 bucks a disc, and you have to order seven or eight at a time if you don't want to be charged for shipping. But it's a lot cheaper than giving your old movies to a non-technophile buddy and buying the latest-greatest editions all over again.

Of course, not all Blu-rays represent an enormous improvement. Rumblings have spread across the Internet about Universal's upcoming "Spartacus" reissue, suggesting that fans might want to wait for some future high-def version. Robert A. Harris, an esteemed film preservationist trained to cope with all the bad things age does to celluloid, claims that the new disc, thanks to poor implementation of picture-enhancement software, turns the widescreen epic into "a sideshow pipsqueak, an ugly and unfortunate bit of home video fodder, which would be far better suited to VHS." Harris worked with director Stanley Kubrick on a previous restoration of "Spartacus," so he should know what he's talking about.

On another quality-control front, a reader wrote this week to complain about one of her favorite movies, the World War II prison-camp tale "Paradise Road." It turns out that the DVD, released by Fox a few years back, is missing crucial scenes from the film. At least one customer at Amazon.com cites the problem, noting that the scenes were in not just the theatrical release but also the VHS version. My inquiries to Fox's representatives have gone unanswered so far, but we'll let you know if the studio does the right thing and offers replacements for the defective DVDs.