News and Commentary: November 1998

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Monday, 30 November 1998

Trust Nobody: Being the weekend, there was no way to get any official word on why The X-Files: Fight the Future has been delayed, so when we hear something concrete we will post it here. However, here's one theory that's floating around out there, and it sounds plausible to us: Chris Carter wants time to put more extras on the disc, and Fox has agreed to let him. If this is true, expect the disc to hit the streets later, but better.

On the Board: A new double-feature review has been posted for The Day of the Jackal and last year's remake The Jackal. It can be found in the Full Reviews index. New quick reviews this week include Gone With The Wind, The Opposite of Sex, Face/Off, A Perfect Murder, The Rainmaker, and Zero Effect. We have also added some new items to our links page this week.

A Tale of Two Discs: The staff have been seeing some excellent discs from Paramount since their recent entrance into the DVD market, including Star Trek: First Contact, which we thought wasn't just a great movie, but a great example of how good movies can look on disc. Last week we looked at two more Paramount discs, Face/Off and John Grisham's The Rainmaker. In fact, we watched them back-to-back, and the differences couldn't be more striking. As far as extras go, neither was a special edition or anything (Face/Off only had a trailer; The Rainmaker didn't even have that). And, while Face/Off is clearly the more audio-intensive of the two, both had perfectly fine 5.1 audio tracks. It was the video transfer that was the difference, and makes us wonder if Paramount is using a two-tiered strategy for DVD production. Face/Off looked gorgeous, with a full 16x9 anamorphic transfer and a real film-like quality to the picture. The Rainmaker, however, is frankly one of the least-impressive video transfers I have ever seen. I'm not saying that it was soft and smudgy like a widescreen VHS , but it had broken, pixelated edges along angled lines and a lot of shimmer on finer details. This did not look right at all.

What gives? We don't know yet, but we will be looking closely at other Paramount discs in coming weeks and let you know what we find. If you have seen The Rainmaker or other Paramount discs and can give us any info, drop us a line at

We have assumed control: And while I'm at it, members of staff have noticed that Paramount discs have a nasty habit of defaulting to the Dolby 2.0 track instead of DD 5.1. Columbia-Tristar discs do this too. I know that most people don't have Dolby Digital equipment, but frankly, this is lame, especially when discs from other studios allow the audio track to be selected from the player's preferences. We are patiently waiting for both Paramount and Columbia-Tristar to stop doing this. Please.

And now a word from...: The entire team here at The DVD Journal is pleased to welcome our new sponsor, They sell movies on DVD and other stuff, like you can't figure that out. But anyway, we like 'em. Click any of the banners to visit their online store.

We'll be back tomorrow to let you know what this week's street discs will be.

-- Ed.

Saturday, 28 November 1998

Top of the Pops: We're still enjoying the long weekend here, but for those of you who are checking in, we thought we'd post the VideoScan Top 20 DVD sellers for the week ending Jan. 15:

  • 1. Godzilla (Columbia TriStar Home Video)
  • 2. Gone With The Wind (MGM Home Entertainment)
  • 3. Horse Whisperer (Buena Vista Home Entertainment)
  • 4. Perfect Murder (Warner Home Video)
  • 5. Predator (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment)
  • 6. Lost in Space (New Line Home Video)
  • 7. Top Gun (Paramount Home Video)
  • 8. City of Angels (Special Edition) (Warner Home Video)
  • 9. Hope Floats (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment)
  • 10. Speed (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment)
  • 11. Species 2 (MGM Home Entertainment)
  • 12. U.S. Marshals (Special Edition) (Warner Home Video)
  • 13. The Wedding Singer (New Line Home Video)
  • 14. Star Trek: First Contact (Paramount Home Video)
  • 15. Wild Things (Columbia TriStar Home Video)
  • 16. South Park 3 (Warner Home Video)
  • 17. Face Off (Paramount Home Video)
  • 18. South Park 1 (Warner Home Video)
  • 19. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (MGM Home Entertainment)
  • 20. South Park 2 (Warner Home Video)

See ya.

-- Ed.

Friday, 27 November 1998
--- Second Update ---
--- Newsroom Code Red ---

Denied!: Laserviews is reporting that Fox's release of The X-Files: Fight the Future, originally scheduled for February, has been indefinitely postponed. More on this breaking story when we get the skinny.

Friday, 27 November 1998
Weekend Dispatch

Time Off for Good Behavior: Well, for you poor slobs who are logging in from work this morning, we feel for you. Since we at The DVD Journal are gracious employers, we have granted our staff a four-day weekend -- which, along with yesterday being a real no-news, feed-your-face-with-a-shovel, sleep-in-front-of-the-Sony kind of day, will make today's comments brief.

But have no fear. Our crack team will be back on duty Monday morning, which is "New Reviews" day around here. A handful of quick reviews are on the way of new discs (or discs that are new to us, at least), and we are working to expand our section of full reviews.

South Park: As has been reported by Steve Tannehill at The DVD Resource Page, as well as other sources, there is an odd "clicking" sound on South Park, Vol. 1 -- or at least on our review copy. Because of this, our quick review of this very, very funny disc has been delayed until we can get a clearer idea of if this disc is defective, or if the problem is only on a few discs. If you have South Park, Vol. 1 and have noticed (or not noticed) this problem, please drop us a short note at We'd like to hear from our readers about this disc before making any recommendations.

-- Ed.

Thursday, 26 November 1998

Sitting in front of the TV: I have been reliably informed by the staff that I am supposed to take today off, and for some reason members of my family intend to feed me. I guess I'll watch some movies while I'm at it. Those of you who are Yanks and proud of it, have a good day. See you tomorrow.

-- Ed.

Wednesday, 25 November 1998

Traffic: Thanks for all of your letters yesterday, I appreciate the comments. It seems we're getting some first-time visitors here this week. And for those of you who found a couple of broken links, thanks for pointing them out. They should be fixed now.

Don't forget to send your comments to

Silly Season: BusinessWire is reporting that this will be the best Christmas ever for DVD, which is not surprising nor a difficult achievement considering that this is also the second Christmas for DVD, and at this time last year nobody even knew what DVD was. Research company Cahners In-Stat Group predicts more than 350,000 players will ship during the fourth quarter of this year. I don't think 350,000 players even sold during all of 1997.

However, of those 350,000 units, 80,000 are predicted to be Divx players. Think they're gonna sell? Well, I was at my local Good Guys the other day (depositing a considerable amount of slack-jawed drool on a Sony DA50ES, if you must know) and while talking to one of their gearheads he admitted (under his breath, as if he were taking me into his strictest confidence) that open DVD decks were selling many times over the Divx players. He even admitted to me that he personally hadn't even sold one Divx player. I don't think he was too shook up about it though.

Top of the Pops: have announced their top-ten DVD sellers for the week of Nov. 15 to Nov. 21:

  • 1. South Park
  • 2. Dances with Wolves
  • 3. Casablanca
  • 4. Tomorrow Never Dies (Limited Edition)
  • 5. Godzilla
  • 6. From the Earth to the Moon
  • 7. Gone with the Wind
  • 8. The Horse Whisperer
  • 9. Star Trek: Generations
  • 10. Young Frankenstein

They don't mention which South Park disc is doing such good business, but if they are lumping all three volumes together, I can see how it's doing so well, especially with a street price of around $15.00. From the Earth to the Moon, the four-disc set with a street price of around $100.00, is also selling well. Now, where are the Ken Burns documentaries? The Civil War on DVD anyone?

Okay, I smell a national holiday or something around the corner. Let's go spin some discs.

-- Ed.

Monday, 23 November 1998

THX and DTS slammed: The December issue of Stereo Review features a blistering column by Corey Greenberg regarding recent moves by DTS and THX. In the DTS arena, apparently the company is considering suing Work Group 4, the international DVD authority on DVD Audio, for accepting Meridian's "lossless" compression system for the new DVD Audio standard instead of DTS's "lossy" compression. DTS wants more time, and claims that they are working on a new lossless system, but according to Greenberg, they didn't announce this until after they lost out to Meridian. If they decide to sue, the product launch of DVD Audio could be delayed. Considering that DTS is currently playing catch-up in the DVD Video field with Dolby Digital, entering into litigation with WG-4 can't help their reputation. For now it's wait and see.

Regarding THX, the once high standards of this revered audio-video authority seem to be changing. Instead of one rock-solid THX standard in consumer electronics, THX is now developing something called "THX Select," a badge they will license to products that don't actually meet the original standards. Those original standards will now be called "THX Ultra." Can you say "marketing strategy?" It looks to me like THX's priorities are shifting from high A/V standards to licensing those little badges to a wider range of consumer-electronics products. That's good for their bottom line, but bound to be confusing to consumers. My own advice? Don't sweat the THX badge on your home theater gear. It's expensive, and unless you plan to do your entire home theater in THX (including lighting, seating, etc.), it's kind of pointless.

The December Stereo Review is on the stands now, so get Greenberg's column and read it if you have a chance.

Studio Day reports: Both The Digital Bits and The DVD File have posted extensive reports on the annual "Studio Day" in Los Angeles, where members of the general public can meet representatives of various home video companies and grill them for rumors, innuendo, non-denial denials, and sometimes actual information. Both Bill Hunt and Peter Bracke have done an excellent job getting the scoop on 1999. My favorite tidbit: word that a special edition disc for Glengary Glen Ross is on the way. I rent the VHS of this film so often that I might as well buy a copy, but in the end I decide to wait. Maybe the wait will be over soon.

On the board: New quick reviews this week include Casablanca, Deconstructing Harry, Get Shorty, Primary Colors, and The Wedding Singer. I also have the discs for The Opposite of Sex and Zero Effect, and will have my comments here next week.

On the street: Tuesday's street discs include The Bicycle Thief, Criterion's The Long Good Friday, and two gift sets from Warner. Slow week.

In the works: According to Laserviews, Warner has announced a disc of Mr. Roberts, due out on December 22. Anchor Bay is planning a special release of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead with five different picture discs in special clear Amaray cases, so that you Raimi completists can buy four more copies of this film than you actually need. Look for it on January 19. Paramount has several new announcements, including 48 Hours, Star Trek 6: The Undiscovered Country, and The Truman Show, all due on January 12.

Short Takes: Unfortunately, the excellent Short Cinema Journal has gone missing, and we can only hope it won't be for long. Short Cinema Journal 4, which has been rumored for several weeks, has been postponed. As a fan of the previous three Short Cinema Journal releases, I've been hoping to see the next issue in my mailbox someday soon. While we wait, I will try to work on some extensive reviews of the first three editions of this innovative DVD series.

-- Ed.

Monday, 16 November, 1998

Spooky: I know I'm not up with the times, but I did finally see The X-Files: Fight the Future on VHS this week. While not spectacular, it's probably equivalent to the best two-part episode of the TV show. I am looking forward to the DVD release, which was officially announced this week to be on February 9.

On the board: Lots of new reviews are up this week, including a long review of Godzilla, the summer crap-fest of the year. Also look for new quick reviews of Last Tango in Paris, A Bridge Too Far, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and others.

On the street: Casablanca: Special Edition is out on Tuesday. I traded my VHS Casablanca: 50th Anniversary months ago in anticipation of this disc. Look for a review next week.

Image is releasing Dances With Wolves: Special Edition, which has been highly anticipated since a limited-edition release of this Oscar-winner last year was deemed short on features and quality. The new disc will feature a commentary with Kevin Costner and will be RSDL to allow uninterrupted viewing.

Also on the way Tuesday will be Star Trek: Generations, Mission: Impossible, The Rainmaker, Billy Madison, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and Crash. Also look for a new DVD box set of Jackie Chan movies this week, which features some of his hard-to-find Hong Kong releases.

"The War Room": As an extra surprise, the excellent documentary The War Room, which chronicles the behind-the-scenes struggle of the 1992 Clinton campaign for president, was unexpectedly moved up from Dec. 10 and hit the street last week. I first saw The War Room when I was going to university overseas (I was living in the UK when Clinton was elected, in fact) and was fascinated by my first real look at Bill Clinton and the people with which he surrounds himself. I am eager to see this documentary again now that Clinton's second term is in its last two years. I didn't know what kind of president Clinton would make in 1992, but the "win-at-all-costs" strategy depicted in The War Room seems illustrative of Clinton's subsequent presidency. Featuring George Stephanapolus and James Carville, this may be the best documentary ever made about American politics.

In the works: Fox has finally announced a date for Die Hard, which we can look for on February 9. They will also release a "Die Hard Triple Pack" featuring the entire trilogy, but frankly, I'm only planning on buying the original. The disc will be in Dolby 5.1, but at this time Fox has not announced if there will be any extras on the disc. I would guess probably not.

Satan, lawyers, 'nuff said: If you have the original Devil's Advocate disc from Warner, hang on to it. It has been discontinued, and Warner has announced a "re-master," which will be released on December 1. Don't worry, the original disc isn't defective, they've just removed a controversial sculpture after an artist who had fabricated an oddly similar work sued the makers of the film. I don't know exactly how they plan to re-cut the scene that features the sculpture, and I really don't want to watch this film again, so give it a rent if you're curious.

-- Ed.

Monday, 9 November, 1998

What's in a Number?: Various news organizations are now reporting that DVD players have passed the 1,000,000 mark in sales. Of course, these numbers have a little voodoo in them, since they normally only account for dealer orders and not consumer sell-throughs. Furthermore, the official numbers have never taken into account DVD-ROM drives, which are selling like mad in new Macs and PCs. That seems a little silly, since people with DVD-ROM are still going to purchase and watch DVD movies. Were DVD-ROM numbers taken into account, it's likely that 1,000,000 DVD drives and not just players would have been accounted for several months ago.

Still, I guess a million players is a good enough number. For those of you who are still saying "I'd like a DVD player, but I don't know if it's going to catch on," go buy a player and some fat-ass speakers for Christmas. DVD is here to stay -- at least until an improved HD-DVD arrives in several years. But even then, the HD players will likely play your current DVD discs, just like all DVD players play audio CDs.

On The Board: New quick reviews of Happy Gilmore and Red Corner have been posted this week. I also have received my discs for Last Tango in Paris and A Bridge Too Far, two excellent films, and will have reviews on the way. I've had a chance to sample both of them, and they look very good. MGM once again gets high marks for presenting great films on DVD, and I'm glad that they are doing back catalog titles and not just concentrating on new releases. We now have almost 2,000 films committed to DVD, but that's just a drop in the bucket compared to all of the great film out there that is languishing on VHS. Many important titles have yet to even be announced for DVD transfer, and with the continued success of the format, I'm sure that I will be reporting and reviewing back catalog titles for years to come. Fine by me.

I also got my hands on South Park: Volume 1 on DVD, which contains such instant classics as "Cartman Gets an Anal Probe" and "Big Gay Al's Big Gay Boat Ride." My own comments on this disc will be on the site next week.

All Quiet on the Street: Tuesday's street discs, according to Laserviews include Stripes, The Bad Lieutenant, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. That's called a slow week, I guess. Unless you want I Spit on Your Grave or Frankenhooker on disc. If anybody knows if these are good films or not, let me know. I'm guessing not -- but I could be wrong.

Paramount has announced a street date for Deep Impact on Dec. 15, showing that they continue to support DVD releases of their most recent and popular titles. Warner has announced their first theme-oriented box set of DVDs, this one being the "Action Pack" on Nov. 24, with Blade Runner: The Director's Cut, Eraser, The Fugitive and Twister (MSRP $99.92). Sounds like Christmas is coming and they want to make things easier on people who are getting (or giving) their first player this year.

We'll Always Have This Disc: Yes, it's true: Casablanca: Special Edition is due out on Nov. 17! I'll get a review of this one on the site as soon as I get my hands on a copy.

"Real Horrorshow": Various Internet sources are reporting that several Kubrick films will be released in mid-1999 to promote Kubrick's latest film, Eyes Wide Shut, which Kubrick has been shooting since, what, 1989 or something? In any case, look forward to A Clockwork Orange and at least two others. Also, they are supposed to have special edition content. Can't complain about that.

"Point, Click, Stay. Good Surfer.": Finally, some of you may have noticed a few minor changes at The DVD Journal this week. It is my ongoing intent to make this site as easy to use as possible, and linking between different pages should be faster. However, it's possible that a few broken links are in the code somewhere (I keypunch this entire site into Microsoft Word, having not yet found an HTML editing program that doesn't piss me off). If you find a broken link, please e-mail me a description of the error.

'Nuff computer geek stuff. It's time to watch movies.

-- Ed.

Monday, 2 November 1998

On The Board: A full review of The Usual Suspects has been posted this week. New quick reviews on the site include The Right Stuff, one of my favorite historical movies, and entirely appropriate with the return of Sen. John Glenn to space last week. If you've never seen it, or just haven't seen it for a while, check it out. Also look for the new quick review of All The President's Men, another film that has echoes in our present day. More short reviews are on the way, including Happy Gilmore and Red Corner.

In the Works: Steve Tannehill at The DVD Resource Page has had a look at some upcoming Fox titles for 1999, and I'm happy to note that, if it all pans out, we can expect to see Die Hard and Alien sometime in the spring. Another highly anticipated Fox title, Speed, is due out on DVD this week. Also, The DVD File is reporting that Warner will dip more fully into their back catalog for 1999 releases, and among titles being discussed are several Kubrick films (heretofore notably absent from DVD releases), and my favorite Kubrick film, A Clockwork Orange, could surface soon.

Look Out Behind You: Dolby Laboratories and LucasFilm THX have jointly announced a new audio standard to be introduced next year. Dolby Digital -- Surround EX, which probably will be referred to simply as DD 6.1, will add a rear center channel to the mix, presumably to improve rear directional effects (any ambient enhancement seems a marginal consideration). It sounds logical insofar as enhancing the rear soundstage, which has become more important to sound mixers since the introduction of DD 5.1 in 1992, and I would not be surprised to see competing audio standards (DTS, SDDS) adding a rear center channel in the near future. However, I'm wondering how I'm going to get a rear center into my living room if this system ever appears in a consumer format, and my girlfriend refuses to even have a discussion about this. The first film of any new audio standard is always carefully chosen, and DD 6.1 is planned to debut in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace on Memorial Day of 1999.

Dork Wars: As for Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (the name says it all, doesn't it?), while many Luke 'n' Han geeks are awaiting this film, hoping that it will continue the Star Wars tradition in the style of Episodes 4 and 5, I have contended that the last film that Lucas did (i.e., Return of the Jedi) really, really sucked, and I have no reason to believe that the trend will change. Exhibit #1: The Special Editions, which "improved" upon the originals with such schlock as Greedo shooting first, a Jawa being thrown from a beast in Mos Eisley (in true Ewok fashion), Luke yelling in fear when he falls at the end of Empire (I thought this was supposed to be a silent, noble suicide, but I supposed I was only enjoying gravitas that was never really there), a musical scene in Jabba's palace that sounded like the "Fat Albert" theme, and not one Ewok digitally removed.

In short, Lucas' claim that he wanted to make the Special Editions for mere technical enhancements is just not true. In fact, it smacks of a flat-out lie. The new special effects were impressive, yes, but Lucas changed key aspects of the overall story as well, and for only one reason: an attempt to sanitize the archetypal purity of Star Wars and Empire into the family-friendly, merchandise-moving pabulum that was Jedi. Everything that was thematically complex (Han killing Greedo in cold blood, Luke trying to kill himself) was eliminated -- eliminated "for the sake of the children," no doubt, since Lucas has recognized from years and years of selling toys that children and their attendant parents are a key element of his box office. Have no doubt: The Phantom Menace will make a lot of money. But so has Barney, the purple, didactic dinosaur.

Well, I have no reason to expand on this further, thanks to Mr. Slander. Read this. I'm done talking.

-- Ed.

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