DVD Alternatives to This Weekend's Theatrical Offerings

We know how it is: You'd like to go to the movies this weekend, but you'll be busy planning your wife's prison breakout. And you might find some instruction in some DVD tales of love and rescue. So when someone asks you on Monday, "Hey, did you see The Next Three Days this weekend?" you can say, "I lived it."

INSTEAD OF: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, in which Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his friends engage in a final battle with the evil Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) for control of the wizarding world and the safety of muggles, too...

WATCH: Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010), in which a teenaged boy (Logan Lerman) discovers he can do magic -- he's the secret son of one of the classical gods -- and embarks upon a quest to save the world from the wrath of the deified side of his family. Or try another fantasy movie that would not exist without the success of the Harry Potter franchise: Eragon (2006), in which a teenaged boy (Ed Speleers) discovers a magical dragon egg and joins with the resultant creature to rid his land of evil. For a classic tale of magic for the kiddies, revisit Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971), the Disney tale of a 1940s witch (Angela Lansbury) who enlists three kids to help her defend England against the evil that is Nazi Germany. For a more adult look at magic and mayhem, check out Bell, Book and Candle (1958), a romantic comedy about a New York City witch (Kim Novak) who casts a love spell on James Stewart, because who wouldn't?

INSTEAD OF: The Next Three Days, in which a mild-mannered college professor (Russell Crowe) plots to bust his wife (Elizabeth Banks) out of prison, where she's serving time for a terrible crime she may or may not have committed...

WATCH: Proof of Life (2000), in which Russell Crowe also goes to bat for a woman he loves ... though in this case, it's the wife (Meg Ryan) of the kidnapped man he's been hired to rescue from his captors. For more men rescuing women they love, check out Frantic (1988), in which Harrison Ford's wife disappears in Paris, mistaken for a smuggler of dangerous contraband, or Taken (2009), in which Liam Neeson races to save his daughter -- also, coincidentally, snatched in Paris -- from a fate worse than death. For more from writer-director Paul Haggis, see his murder mystery In the Valley of Elah (2007), in which Tommy Lee Jones searches for the killers of his Iraq War vet son.

That's it for new wide releases this weekend, but two art house flicks expand ... though not enough to be wide. So you might have no choice but to go with DVD alternatives for these.

INSTEAD OF: Fair Game, based on the true story of CIA operative Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts), whose identity was leaked by the White House in retaliation for the anti-Iraq War stance of her husband, former ambassador Joe Wilson (Sean Penn)...

WATCH: Nothing But the Truth (2008), about a journalist (Kate Beckinsale) who is jailed for contempt of court for refusing to reveal her source for a fictionalized version of the Valerie Plame leak. Or try Lions for Lambs (2007), a thoughtful movie about exploring the ways a war against terrorism could be prosecuted, featuring Meryl Streep as a journalist probing for answers. For another narrative take on a true story of American foreign policy, don't miss Charlie Wilson' War (2007), in which a U.S. senator (Tom Hanks) helps clandestinely support Afghanistan's rebellion against the Soviet Union (which helped pave the way for the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden). For more spy stuff from director Doug Liman, don't miss the exciting but entirely fictional The Bourne Identity (2002), in which Matt Damon's government operative seeks the people who burned him.

INSTEAD OF: 127 Hours, based on the true story of outdoorsman Aron Ralston (James Franco), who gets stuck in a remote Utah desert canyon and is forced to take drastic measures to survive...

WATCH: Touching the Void (2004), a half-documentary, half-dramatized true-life tale of injury and survival in the Andes, amidst brutal weather in high altitudes. For another real story of endurance, don't miss Alive (1993), in which an Uruguayan rugby team crashes in the remote Andes and attempt their own rescue after weeks in the wilderness. Another authentic tale of feral living -- this one taken up deliberately -- can be found in the oddly riveting Into the Wild (2007), in which a young man (Emile Hirsch) walks into the Alaskan backwoods without a workable plan for living there. For more of James Franco in a perilous situation, see him as American volunteer fighter pilot in World War I France in Flyboys (2006), a job that came with a ridiculously low life expectancy.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

MaryAnn Johanson touches the void at FlickFilosopher.com. (email me)