News and Commentary: April 1999

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Friday, 30 April 1999
Weekend Dispatch

In the Works: Here's some new disc announcements posted yesterday over at Laserviews:

  • Disney has announced several new discs, including Enemy Of The State (June 15), starring Will Smith and Gene Hackman; A Civil Action (July 13), the legal thriller starring John Travolta and based on the excellent book of the same name; Little Voice (July 13) the popular Brit comedy with Brenda Blethyn, Jane Horrocks, Michael Caine, and Ewan McGregor; the offbeat Rushmore (June 29) starring Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray; Cool Runnings (July 20), the John Candy comedy about the Jamaican Olympic bobsled team; Dangerous Minds (July 13), starring Michelle Pfeiffer; The Faculty (June 29), one of this year's popular teen slasher flicks; I Love Trouble (July 27), with Julia Roberts and Nick Nolte; Little Buddha (July 20), starring that Keanu dude; Mr. Holland's Opus (July 20), starring Richard Dreyfuss; The Pallbearer (July 27), with David Schwimmer and Gwyneth Paltrow; the epic Restoration (July 20) with Robert Downey Jr. and Meg Ryan; Romy and Michele's High School Reunion (July 27), with Mira Sorvino, Lisa Kudrow, and Janeane Garofalo; the teen comedy She's All That (July 13); the Native American drama Smoke Signals (July 27); Spy Hard (July 13) with Leslie Nielsen; What's Love Got To Do With It (July 27), the Tina Turner biopic starring Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne; and the Henry James adaptation The Wings Of The Dove (July 27), with Helena Bonham Carter.
  • In addition to the many Stanley Kubrick discs on the way from Warner, the studio has also announced a disc of the cult fave The Hitcher (June 8), starring Rutger Hauer, C. Thomas Howell, and Jennifer Jason Leigh; the critically mixed Hurlyburly, (June 22), which will include two audio commentaries, one from Sean Penn, the other from director Anthony Drazan and writer David Rabe; Murder In The First (June 22), with Christian Slater, Kevin Bacon, and Gary Oldman; Sweet Dreams (June 8), the Patsy Cline biopic starring Jessica Lange and Ed Harris; and Nicolas Roeg's The Witches (June 22), with Anjelica Huston.
  • MGM has a number of classic war films in the works, including Bataan, Pork Chop Hill, Run Silent, Run Deep, and They Were Expendable . Look for all of them on May 18.
  • Fox is planning to release a disc of Terence Malick's The Thin Red Line, although they have not yet announced a firm street date.

boxcoverCommentary Clip: "I play music to dalies, and I remember playing a lot of Lonesome Dove and a lot of different kinds of music, western music, to our scenes.... It made the people who came to dalies have a lot more fun. And since (myself and co-producer Jim Wilson) were both unknown, and I had never directed a movie, people also started to think maybe the picture could work, as a result of the music in a way. It began to come alive to them."

-- Kevin Costner, Dances With Wolves

Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including Armageddon: The Criterion Collection, Badlands, Apt Pupil, Hair, Volcano, and The Last Boy Scout. Look for these and others on Monday morning. We also will announce the winner of our April contest on Monday (will you win the Die Hard DVD?), and we will have a new free DVD contest and reader poll up and running as well.

Time to open a cold six-pack of Bridgeport IPA. Have a great weekend.

-- Ed.

Thursday, 29 April 1999

"Missing in Action" Flick of the Week: Pixar has garnered critical kudos for its recent DVD release of A Bug's Life, which features an eye-popping transfer of the movie's digital source directly to disc, and they've earned it. Not only does A Bug's Life look fantastic, but it's a very funny movie that relies not only on brilliant animation, but also clever writing and amusing voice-overs from several well-known Hollywood stars. Sound familiar?

boxcoverOh, that's right -- 1995's Toy Story was made by Pixar, was an all-digital animated film, and was a box-office smash. But unlike, A Bug's Life, this recent Disney classic is sadly MIA on DVD. Starring the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, and others, Toy Story crafts an amusing adventure from a pile of (seemingly) inanimate toys who find themselves at odds with each other and a dastardly neighbor boy as they prepare to move house -- a traumatic experience for anybody, including this eclectic, store-bought bunch. Few animated films are more highly anticipated than this one, and we don't have to tell you that the Mouse has the rights. So when can you expect it on disc? As of now, there's no word from Disney, but here's our inside information -- Toy Story 2 is due to arrive in theaters this December, which would be a perfect time for Pixar to prep a new disc. And we shouldn't have to tell you that, after the success of A Bug's Life, nothing less than a direct-from-digital transfer will be expected.

DVD Audio 101: With DVD Audio on the horizon, we're the first to admit that we probably will not be early adopters. For all of the excitement that any new format with the initials "DVD" in front of it can entice, DVD Audio doesn't have nearly the promise that DVD Video did when it first arrived in 1997. Why? First of all, there's nothing very sexy about DVD technology, in and of itself. DVD discs are simply high-capacity storage media, and the DVD Video format relies on three further technologies: The MPEG-2 video encoding system, and Dolby Digital or DTS audio encoding systems. Unless you're an engineer, it's all terribly arcane. What's sexy about DVD Video is that the format delivers vastly superior image and sound quality over the ubiquitous, low-res VHS tapes that we all grew up with and suffered for years. DVD Video makes our favorite movies look better than ever, and lets us enjoy at home the new movies we missed in the cineplex with everything that home theater has to offer. That's why the format has been such a success.

But DVD Audio faces a much different battle than DVD Video. Instead of positing its superior technology against some shabby audio format like vinyl LPs or cheap cassette tapes, DVD Audio is in the unenviable position of trying to outdo an already excellent technology -- the purely digital PCM signal of Compact Disc, which was the DVD of its day when it arrived in the early 1980s. DVD Audio -- based on the Meridian Lossless Packing technology -- only has a few marginal advantages over CD. First, the signal will be in multi-channel audio, unlike the two-channel signal of CD. However, seeing that most people use music as background filler during their day (at work, in the car, on the Walkman, during a dinner party), it's hard to see how a multi-channel music system will gain a substantial following outside of the high-end audiophile market. Secondly, as the name implies, MLP is a "lossless" audio system that does not eliminate data, unlike Dolby Digital or DTS, which are compressed signals that use intricate encryption schemes to imply a lot of sound from very little information. But PCM is also a lossless format, and unless Hollywood studios start making films with MLP multi-channel audio, the issue is moot. Finally, DVD Audio has a greater depth of signal than CD -- but again, unless you are an audiophile with golden ears who loves to sit in your living room for hours on end and enjoy nothing but beautiful music, the distinction probably will not matter to you.

This is not to say that we are anti-DVD Audio. In fact, we love any technology that enhances an aesthetic experience. But with all of the recent developments in the format, we feel the need to point out that DVD Audio will probably not have the paradigm-shifting effect on the marketplace that DVD Video has enjoyed over these past two years. For more info on DVD Audio, you can check out Mark Fleischmann's excellent essay at E-Town, but we already know what the paradigm-shifting audio format will be over the next few years, and it isn't DVD Audio or Sony's Super Audio CD. It's called MP3 -- and there ain't no DVD in that.

Quotable: "I realized George Lucas was about to do Star Wars, and I really wanted to be in Star Wars... In interviews I started saying 'I'd really love to work with George Lucas.' I said something like, 'I'll be Luke Skywalker's slave if they just put me in the movie.' "

-- Samuel L. Jackson


-- Ed.

Wednesday, 28 April 1999

Mancuso out at MGM: MGM chief Frank Mancuso stepped down yesterday as head of the legendary studio, on the same day that the Lion reported a first-quarter loss of $306.6 million, on the heels of the disastrous Mod Squad, The Rage: Carrie II, and other box office clinkers. MGM Grand casino president Alex Yemenidjian will take over for Mancuso. MGM, which recently concluded deals with Universal and Warner that increased their film holdings and overall Hollywood clout, has indicated that they intend to pursue an aggressive growth strategy under the new management, especially in the home video market, where -- with their massive film library -- they have the strongest potential. "The pieces are now in place for a new generation of leadership to take full advantage of the extraordinary global opportunities MGM will have in an era when content indisputably is king," Mancuso said in a statement.

Meanwhile, in the midst of the their first-quarter financial flogging, the Lion announced that their home-video division was still going strong, with DVD sales up nearly 400%. MGM Vice President Daniel J. Taylor cited "the explosive growth of the DVD market" as a key element of the company's future.

Mailbag: Once again, it's time to clean out some of the reader mail here at The DVD Journal:

  • I was wondering if there is any information on whether Pulp Fiction, Terminator 2, or Halloween are being re-released on DVD as special editions. I have heard from several sources that all three films are supposed to be re-released, and a laserdisc version of Halloween does exist with special edition-material. I have heard that the Halloween DVD is terrible, with no extras and badly in need of restoration. T2 is a great DVD itself, but I've heard of something called Ultimate T2 coming out soon. Finally, Pulp Fiction would make a great special edition, and I'm surprised it hasn't been re-released yet. If you have information on any of these fine films, please let me and the public know. I am just about to purchase one of them, and I hope I won't be wasting my money if a better (perhaps Criterion) version is released soon.

    -- Thomas

    Pulp Fiction is a Miramax film, which means it's owned by Disney, who recently launched a "Miramax Collector's Series" on DVD. However, in an interesting news item posted recently at, Peter Bracke noted that Disney is now wavering over the future of the Miramax special editions. Pulp Fiction seems like an obvious choice for re-release (even the VHS has deleted scenes on it), but things don't look very promising right now for the Tarantino flick.

    We've also heard rumors about an Ultimate T2 DVD, but as of now they're just rumors. If it does happen, it probably won't be this year. The same goes for Halloween, unfortunately. And as for Criterion, many of their splendid Laserdiscs will probably never arrive on DVD. Criterion has had a much harder time gaining licenses from studios for DVDs than for Laserdiscs, simply because the studios are marketing DVDs through their own home-video divisions and have no interest in the competition. Criterion may have gotten the rights to Armageddon out of Disney, but that sort of thing is the exception, not the rule.

  • Any word on if Raiders of the Lost Ark or Saving Private Ryan will be released on DVD anytime soon?

    -- Martin

    There were a number of rumors flying around some weeks ago that Raiders would arrive on DVD from Paramount this December, but such is very unconfirmed. DreamWorks recently announced that Private Ryan would arrive on VHS on May 25, but only as a wholesale tape for rental outlets, and not as a sell-through item. Since DVDs are always sell-throughs, expect a disc of Ryan to arrive sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas, which is when a retail tape will likely hit the street.

  • Your site kicks ass.

    -- Dmitry

    Golly... thanks!

    Top of the Pops: Here's the top-selling DVDs last week from our friends at

    1. The Silence of the Lambs
    2. Dances with Wolves
    3. Casablanca
    4. West Side Story
    5. The Negotiator
    6. Ronin
    7. Pleasantville
    8. Driving Miss Daisy
    9. Antz
    10. Meet Joe Black

    See ya tomorrow.

    -- Ed.

    Tuesday, 27 April 1999

    Hi-res music war gets going: For those of you still scratching your heads over the difference between DVD-Audio and Super Audio CD, E-Town has posted a comprehensive story with all of the dirty details, as Sony and Philips square off against the rest of the consumer-electronics industry in the bid to become the next generation of hi-resolution digital audio. And while Sony announced earlier this month that their SACD players will support the DVD Audio format, the announcement was by no means a flag of surrender. Instead, Sony and Philips are digging in, marketing their spendy SACD decks to the audiophile market -- i.e., people who have no problem paying $3,000 for a CD transport. Seeing as an ordinary CD player can be had for less than $200 nowadays, we think we'll be watching this war from the sidelines.

    On the Street: Music dominates the day as several classic Hollywood musicals hit the street. Here's the full rundown of this morning's street discs, courtesy of Laserviews:

    • The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
    • An American In Paris
    • At First Sight
    • Badlands
    • The Big Red One
    • Boys On The Side
    • Carousel
    • Clay Pigeons
    • Dawn Of The Dead: Theatrical Version
    • Gigi
    • Hair
    • The King and I
    • Mariah Carey: Around The World
    • Oklahoma!
    • Return To Paradise
    • Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
    • South Pacific
    • State Fair
    • Stepmom
    • Time Bandits (Anchor Bay edition)

    And two great titles we can't possibly overlook:

    • Slave Girls From Beyond Infinity
    • Nude For Satan


    "South Park" nose-dive: The South Park DVDs from Warner and Comedy Central may have been hot sellers over the past several months, but the animated cult fave has taken a beating in the television ratings lately, losing almost 50% of its audience in the past several weeks. However, even though the pop-culture phenomenon will eventually fade away (Beavis and Butthead, anybody?), don't count these potty-mouthed boys out yet -- Comedy Central has stated that they are still committed to the series, and expecting another ratings surge when Paramount's South Park movie arrives in theaters this summer.

    Quotable: "We can no longer shut our eyes to the impact that the media is having on all of our children and on the potentially violent impact it's having on some."

    -- Hillary Rodham Clinton

    "I am deeply saddened that we are seeing such horrific acts of violence in our schools. These senseless and deplorable acts reaffirm my personal commitment to bringing the v-chip to parents around the world to shield children from violent images on television. The time for talk is over -- we need action now. The increasing frequency and level of violence associated with these tragic events brings to the fore the urgent need for all of us, whether legislators, educators, businesses or parents, to take responsibility for quickly implementing the tools that are available today to protect our children.''

    -- Tim Collings, inventor of the
    Clinton-backed v-chip technology

    "I trust that the families in Paducah, Kentucky, who are suing the producers of The Basketball Diaries will collect, just as people have collected against tobacco companies."

    -- The Rev. Jerry Falwell, on the
    Fox News Channel's Hannity and Colmes

    Time to give the new disc of Terence Malick's Badlands a spin -- before it's banned forever.

    -- Ed.

    Monday, 26 April 1999

    boxcover Disc of the Week: At the risk of appearing insensitive, we got a copy of the 1995 film The Basketball Diaries over the weekend and decided to post a new review of it -- and not only because the film is currently part of the controversy surrounding last week's shootings in Littleton, Colo., but also because MGM has indicated that they intend to pull the film from store shelves on June 30, when they officially assume the rights from PolyGram (see last Friday's update). Starring Leonardo Di Caprio, The Basketball Diaries chronicles the early years of New York poet/musician Jim Carroll, and his descent from Catholic high school basketball star to drug-addicted homeless thief. Di Caprio may be best known for the billion-dollar film with the big boat, but he demonstrates much greater acting skill here, with a thoroughly convincing, gut-wrenching performance that belies his pretty-boy looks. Carroll and director Scott Kalvert may have wanted viewers to leave with a deeper sense of Carroll's life and the cost of drug use (the anti-drug message of The Basketball Diaries is abundantly clear), but what sticks in the mind is Di Caprio's harrowing performance. The one scene that may get the film pulled involves De Caprio, in a drug-induced dream sequence, invading his high school and shooting several students and a teacher. While the scene is powerful (and more than a little unsettling in light of recent events), it's impossible to believe that it could actually incite young people to violence. The real irony is that, with all of the debate over how the media holds sway over our young, MGM is planning to pull a film that actually illustrates the dangers of drug addiction. In fact, any teenager who sees The Basketball Diaries is likely to be scared away from drugs and stay in school -- and not hatch a plot to kill other students.

    In further news regarding The Basketball Diaries, family members of victims in a separate school shooting -- the Dec. 1, 1997 shooting by Michael Carneal in Paducah, Ky. -- filed a $130 million lawsuit earlier this month against PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, the producers of the film, as well other film studios and several video-game companies. The suit claims, in part, that The Basketball Diaries "had the effect of harmfully influencing impressionable minors such as Michael Carneal and causing the shootings."

    Now that's insane.

    boxcover"Menace" tix will pre-sell after all: It wasn't long ago that Fox and LucasFilm announced that movie tickets for Episode I: The Phantom Menace wouldn't be available for pre-purchase, but they have now done an about-face an announced that tickets will in fact be available for sale one week in advance at movie theaters, as well as through the MovieFone ticket service. There has been no word as to why Lucas and Fox changed the policy -- although the howls of protest across the Internet from many rabid Star Wars fans may have had something to do with it.

    "Wider is better": E-Town recently concluded a poll in which they asked their readers if they preferred to watch movie at home in letterbox or pan-and-scan. Not surprisingly, more than 80% of respondents said they watched films in widescreen, but there were still a few of the age-old complaints about the letterbox format, especially the "I hate those black bars at the top and bottom of my screen." We've said it before, we'll say it again -- those black bars magically disappear when you turn your lights off and watch letterboxed films in relative darkness. If your TV is small, sit closer. Was that so hard? As one E-Town wag noted, "Do you like a screwdriver without the vodka? Then why watch half a movie?"

    Box Office: Here's the top-grossing films at American theaters from last weekend:

    1. The Matrix
      $12,900,000 ($117,300,000 to date)
    2. Life
      $11,600,000 ($37,300,000 to date)
    3. Never Been Kissed
      $6,200,000 ($31,200,000 to date)
    4. Pushing Tin
      $3,600,000 ($3,600,000 to date)
    5. Analyze This
      $3,200,000 ($95,600,000 to date)
    6. Lost and Found
      $3,100,000 ($3,100,000 to date)
    7. Ten Things I Hate About You
      $2,800,000 ($28,800,000 to date)
    8. The Out-of-Towners
      $2,025,000 ($23,300,000 to date)
    9. Go
      $2,000,000 ($12,500,000 to date)
    10. Forces of Nature
      $1,700,000 ($48,200,000 to date)
    11. Cookie's Fortune
      $1,310,000 ($5,200,000 to date)
    12. Shakespeare in Love
      $1,300,000 ($91,700,000 to date)

    On the Board: A new full review has been posted for Billy Madison, and can be found on our Full Reviews index. New quick reviews this week include The Basketball Diaries, A Bug's Life, The Siege, Meet Joe Black, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, and Chinese Box, and can be accessed under the New Reviews menu here on the main page.

    We'll be back tomorrow with news on this week's street discs.

    -- Ed.

    Friday, 23 April 1999
    Weekend Dispatch

    MGM targets "Basketball Diaries": After the tragic shootings this week in Littleton, Colo., that have left Americans in a state of shock, MGM has attempted to recall all DVD and VHS copies of The Basketball Diaries, which feature a scene of a shotgun-bearing Leonardo Di Caprio invading a high school in a black trenchcoat and opening fire. It's a scene that some have suggested Columbine High School's "Black Trench Mafia" watched and used as partial inspiration for their brutal killing spree. However, much to their consternation, MGM has discovered that they cannot pull the video from store shelves. Why? That super-complicated three-way deal between PolyGram, Universal, and MGM gave the Lion rights to the Leo flick, but they do not have control over the film's distribution until June 30, when PolyGram's ownership officially ends. While we understand and respect MGM's sentiments, we also feel the need to say that movies do not cause people to become homicidal, they can only add fuel to a fire that is already burning, and it's a shame that MGM won't stand on this fundamental truth and keep the film in distribution for the millions of people who have already seen it and remain law-abiding citizens. That said, if you have yet to see The Basketball Diaries, you had better buy it now or be certain that one of your local renters has the film in stock. MGM hasn't made any official statement, but it appears June 30 will be the last day the video will be available for some time to come.

    Kubrick flicks announced: After months of rumor and speculation, Warner Brothers has announced that many unreleased Stanley Kubrick films will arrive on disc on June 29 under the banner "The Stanley Kubrick Collection." The highly anticipated titles include A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, Lolita, and Barry Lyndon. Warner is also teaming up with MGM and Columbia TriStar to offer a seven-film "Kubrick Collection" boxed set (on both DVD and VHS) that will also include a repackaged Dr. Strangelove and 2001: A Space Odyssey (which will be a new disc from Warner, who recently acquired the rights to the sci-fi classic from MGM). New Kubrick DVDs from MGM (which will not be in the box set, but will be part of "The Stanley Kubrick Collection") include Paths of Glory and The Killing. After the relative lack of Kubrick films on disc during the past two years, it looks like June 29 will break the bank for Kubrick fans. But hey, we're not complaining or anything.

    boxcoverCommentary Clip: "I hate kids' films. I hate kid actors. They're all too cute, especially American ones. It was important to have a kid (in Time Bandits) who was a real kid, who was interested in things kids are but had all the faults that kids have as well. When we were casting the film, the casting lady came up with a lot of different suggestions, and there was one particular kid she thought was going to be the one. And he came in and he was very bright and perky, and he brought his brother along, who was very quiet and somehow contained and reserved and had a quality that intrigued me because he wasn't trying to be clever and cute and the typical kid actor. And that's who we chose."

    -- Terry Gilliam, Time Bandits: The Criterion Collection

    Clinton queuing up?: Is President Clinton standing in line to see Episode I: The Phantom Menace? Well, if he were, The Onion would be the website to break the story. For Star Wars nutsacks, this is simply a must-read.

    Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including A Bug's Life and The Siege. Check back on Monday morning for all the latest stuff.

    Have a great weekend.

    -- Ed.

    Thursday, 22 April 1999

    Spielberg stays put: Steven Spielberg may have scooped up the Best Director Oscar last month for Saving Private Ryan, but some news outlets reported that he was bitterly disappointed over losing the Best Picture statuette to Shakespeare in Love, sparking rumors that he would leave DreamWorks SKG, the studio he founded with David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg in 1995. However, Spielberg said in a statement yesterday to the Los Angeles Times that he has no intention of leaving the studio, bringing all of the recent Hollywood gossip to a halt. "The very idea that responsible publications... have rumored this fiction that I have grown weary of DreamWorks is false and damaging," Spielberg said, adding that the hearsay had "undermined the morale of a company that I helped form, love very much and continue to be unequivocally devoted to." Meanwhile, construction of the new 47-acre DreamWorks studio in the Marina Del Ray section of Los Angeles has been given the green light by local authorities. DreamWorks will relocate to the new facility upon its completion, leaving Universal Studios, where the company is currently headquartered.

    Restored "Sense" The Talking Heads groundbreaking 1984 concert-film Stop Making Sense, directed by Jonathan Demme, is scheduled to return to the big screen next week at the San Francisco International Film Festival, complete with a restored print and a digitally remastered soundtrack. Palm Pictures owner Chris Blackwell, who describes Sense as "one of the best concert films ever made," has said that the film will get a limited national release sometime this fall through his company, and that we can expect a new DVD sometime thereafter.

    boxcover"Missing in Action" Flick of the Week: We had a fun time watching Sylvester Stallone in Cliffhanger last week, and even more fun watching Jon Lithgow play the icy villain who will kill friend and foe alike if it means he can recover the $100 million he lost over the Rocky Mountains. Even though Lithgow is currently slumming on some "must-see-TV" show (which we never watch), and he may be a minor character actor compared to the Hollywood big-shots with whom he often shares the screen, he is easily one of our favorites. Blessed with extraordinary range, he excels at playing bad guys (Qualen in Cliffhanger, Burke in Brian De Palma's Blow Out), hopelessly likable guys (The Rev. Shaw Moore in Footloose), and even very, very strange guys (the transsexual Roberta Muldoon in The World According to Garp). One of our favorite good-guy Lithgow films is 1986's The Manhattan Project, in which he plays Dr. Mathewson, a gifted nuclear scientist who loses some potent plutonium to the equally gifted Paul Stephens (Christopher Collet), a teen genius who decides to fabricate a "small" A-bomb in the hopes of winning a regional science fair. But when Paul arrives in New York to show off his homework, he soon learns that he hasn't just upset Mathewson and his staff, but several U.S. government agencies as well (the sort of agencies you never hear about and would rather not anyway). While some pundits have criticized the lighthearted, comic tone of The Manhattan Project -- believing perhaps that it lacks the gravitas its subject matter deserves -- Marshall Brickman's script is well-plotted, intricate, and great fun. Brickman's dialogue (he also co-wrote a little film called Annie Hall) is full of clever quips and frothy asides, and includes one of our favorite movie lines ever: "I never thought I would say this to anyone, but... I have to go get the nuclear weapon out of the car."

    The Manhattan Project has yet to arrive on DVD, but the home-video rights are currently owned by HBO, which has been releasing DVDs through Warner's distribution system. We're betting we'll see this one on disc eventually.


    -- Ed.

    Wednesday, 21 April 1999

    Mailbag: It's Wednesday, and that means it's time to clean out some of the reader mail here at The DVD Journal:

  • I really think things with Circuit City are getting out of hand here. Now I can understand how ridiculous the notion of Divx is, and it is obvious that Divx is completely inferior compared to DVD. The problem I have is with all these Internet sites referring to Circuit City as the enemy here. In a sense, they are the enemy. They are the only ones competing with DVD over the future of home entertainment. Nevertheless, I support Circuit City for one primary reason. They are the only store in my town, or anywhere near it, that sells lots of DVDs, even the hard-to-find ones. In fact, you can find almost any DVD disc you're looking for aside from the Criterion Collection discs, which are mysteriously absent from most electronics stores. So look at it this way -- Circuit City obviously supports DVD as well, even if they are required to show support for Divx and sell Divx players. I'm sure that more than a few of the whiny Divx-haters secretly sneak out to Circuit City on a weekly basis and purchase a DVD at a pretty reasonable price without hassle.

    Basically, we all know Divx is doomed, and that is why I don't understand why everyone with a DVD website feels the need to post childish remarks towards Circuit City. Are you really worried that Divx will take over? Are you kidding? They have no special features, no widescreen, and are not geared toward collectors in general. So calm down and let Divx blow over. I'm sure it will soon enough. See you guys at Circuit City....

    -- Thomas

    While we don't think that our Divx Information Page is "childish," we agree that there is probably a little too much vitriol out there about Divx, especially since -- at this point in time -- the pay-per-view system has no chance of dislodging open DVD as the premier format for digital home video. Furthermore, we at The DVD Journal have never advocated a boycott of Circuit City. However, the price of liberty is vigilance, and as we explain on our Divx Information Page, Hollywood studios hate open home-video formats (you buy it, you watch it when you like) because they generate no further income after the initial sell-through of a disc or tape. This is why so many studios were easily enticed into adopting the Divx format, and why so many titles are available on pay-per-view cable. "By-the-slice" home video may be convenient now and then, but as a rule it is not in the consumer's best interest, because if pay-per-view (cable or Divx) becomes the dominant format, watching a movie at home will be no different than buying tickets at the cineplex. We promise not to whine or be childish Thomas, but capitalism thrives with educated consumers, and this is a serious point that warrants repeating -- and often.

  • I would like to see the recently remastered and re-released Wizard of Oz on DVD with all the frills, including the extended "If I Only Had A Brain," "Jitterbug," etc. This is a standard in any DVD or film collection, so why can't we get the very best? The current DVD (from MGM) is disappointing in both visual and sound quality compared to the recent theatrical re-release.

    -- H.P.

    If you're looking for a special edition of The Wizard of Oz on DVD, don't go asking MGM, because it appears they no longer have the home-video rights, due to an intricate deal the Lion made with Warner a few weeks ago. Warner apparently now owns the Judy Garland classic (one of many titles in the immense Turner library), and how much longer the MGM release will be available is undetermined ( apparently no longer sells the DVD, and at least one other Web retailer only has a limited number of tapes left). Warner has not announced if a special edition of will arrive on DVD, but we're betting it's going to happen, simply because a new print is a great excuse for a new home-video release. However, it will probably be later rather than sooner. It wouldn't hurt to write them, but don't count on anything for the rest of '99. Hang on to that disc.

    Quotable: "I don't see Star Wars as profoundly religious. I see Star Wars as taking all the issues that religion represents and trying to distill them down into a more modern and easily accessible construct--that there is a greater mystery out there. I remember when I was 10 years old, I asked my mother, 'If there's only one God, why are there so many religions?' I've been pondering that question ever since, and the conclusion I've come to is that all the religions are true."

    -- George Lucas, in a recent interview with Time Magazine.

    Top of the Pops: Here's the top-selling DVDs last week from our friends at

    1. Dances with Wolves
    2. The Silence of the Lambs
    3. The Deer Hunter
    4. Casablanca
    5. West Side Story
    6. Pleasantville
    7. Reefer Madness
    8. Meet Joe Black
    9. Antz
    10. Speed

    See ya tomorrow.

    -- Ed.

    Tuesday, 20 April 1999

    In the Works: Here's a few new disc announcements posted recently at Laserviews:

    • Paramount is planning to release new discs of Sam Raimi's A Simple Plan, the Johnny Depp/Christopher Walken thriller Nick Of Time, the Jane Fonda sex-kitten sci-fi Barbarella, and The Parallax View, starring Warren Beatty and Hume Cronyn. All four discs will be 16x9-enhanced, and all are due on June 22.
    • Criterion has announced a disc of Erik Skjoldbjaerg's 1997 Swedish thriller Insomnia starring Stellan Skarsgard (Good Will Hunting). Look for it on May 25.

    Mouse prints: Readers in L.A. may want to check out a month-long series of live-action Disney films that are screening with restored prints at the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood. Among the films in the series are Mary Poppins and Tron, which have already been released on DVD. However, films such as 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and Swiss Family Robinson, also part of the series, have yet to be released by the Mouse on disc. There is no word yet from Disney if the latter two films will be transferred to DVD from the new prints, or if the previous two can be counted on for re-release.

    On the Street: Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of Laserviews:

    • Armageddon: The Criterion Collection
    • Beautiful Girls
    • A Bug's Life
    • Bullets Over Broadway
    • Father Of The Bride (1991)
    • Four Rooms
    • The Jazz Singer (1980)
    • Millennium
    • A Night At The Roxbury
    • Paulie
    • The Punisher
    • The Relic
    • Savior: Special Edition
    • The Siege
    • Star Trek 5: The Final Frontier
    • The War of the Worlds

    Would you spend $15,000 on the Web?: The Internet may be a great place to buy DVDs and other low-priced commodity items, but dealers of Runco video projectors (you know, the three-gun units that cost well into five figures) are now considering Web marketing as a component of their overall sales strategies. While Runco projectors and other spendy A/V components normally sell in high-tech boutiques with plenty of attentive salespeople (wouldn't you want to be spoiled if you were paying 15 large for a TV?), dealers at the current Runco Getaway Conference 1999 are said to be investigating ways to use the Internet as a method of introducing wealthy people to their products and services. But Randy Massey, a Runco dealer who owns Electronic Home Consultants in Atlanta, says he wouldn't want his Web presence compromised by techno-geeks looking for a good price. Bargain hunters are not merely undesirable, according to Massey, but "they're actually capable of doing the installations themselves."

    See ya later.

    -- Ed.

    Monday, 19 April 1999

    boxcoverDisc of the Week: Kevin Costner may take his share of licks from the press for his overblown box-office duds Waterworld and The Postman, but his 1991 Oscar-winning Dances With Wolves is an entirely different matter. Some pundits have criticized the film as an over-long exercise in political correctness, but Dances With Wolves is such a powerful epic that even the best of intentions couldn't possibly wreck it. Costner is outstanding as U.S. Army Lt. John Dunbar, who is assigned to a barren outpost in South Dakota and builds a relationship with a local Sioux tribe, who he comes to understand as people and not enemies. Graham Greene (Kicking Bird) and Rodney A. Grant (Wind In His Hair), who portray leading members of the local Lakota Sioux tribe, also deliver engaging perfromances, but perhaps the best performance of all comes from Mary McDonnell (Stands With A Fist), playing a white woman who was kidnapped by the Sioux as a young girl and who knows very little of her former language or culture. The recently released THX-remastered DVD from Image offers an excellent widescreen transfer that highlights cinematographer Dean Semler's spellbinding panoramas of the South Dakota badlands, and the reconstructed DD 5.1 audio track makes John Barry's score sound more magnificent than ever. The commentary track with Costner and co-producer Jim Wilson is both insightful and entertaining -- especially for those who have already seen the film numerous times. Considering that Dances With Wolves cost a mere $15 million to make (as opposed to the $100 million-plus Waterworld and The Postman), the studios might do better to keep Costner on a lean budget if he make any more epics in the future.

    Crichton moves into DVD-ROM: Michael Crichton, no stranger to the world of Hollywood blockbusters, has announced the formation of Timeline Studios, a new video-game development company with an eye on DVD-ROM technology. "As a computer gamer for the past 20 years, I've noticed a lot of 3D games have featured large environments -- big worlds, a few monsters, some puzzles -- but limited interaction," Crichton said. Using new 3D gaming software Chrichton says he intends to create video "games with dozens of characters and hundreds of objects with which a player can interact." Look for Timeline DVD-ROMs to hit the market sometime in the middle of next year.

    Box Office: Here's the top-grossing films at American theaters from last weekend:

    1. Life
      $20,700,000 ($20,700,000 to date)
    2. The Matrix
      $18,100,000 ($99,100,000 to date)
    3. Never Been Kissed
      $8,700,000 ($23,200,000 to date)
    4. Analyze This
      $4,000,000 ($91,200,000 to date)
    5. Ten Things I Hate About You
      $3,700,000 ($25,100,000 to date)
    6. The Out-of-Towners
      $3,200,000 ($20,600,000 to date)
    7. Go
      $3,000,000 ($9,300,000 to date)
    8. Forces of Nature
      $2,600,000 ($45,900,000 to date)
    9. Shakespeare in Love
      $1,900,000 ($90,000,000 to date)
    10. Cookie's Fortune
      $1,800,000 ($3,200,000 to date)
    11. Life is Beautiful
      $1,700,000 ($50,000,000 to date)
    12. Doug's First Movie
      $1,300,000 ($15,700,000 to date)
    13. Twin Dragons
      $1,300,000 ($4,800,000 to date)

    On the Board: A new full review has been posted for The Manchurian Candidate, and can be found on our Full Reviews index. New quick reviews this week include Dances With Wolves, Time Bandits, Cliffhanger, Conspiracy Theory, and Twilight, and can be accessed under the New Reviews menu here on the main page.

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

    -- Ed.

    Friday, 16 April 1999
    Weekend Dispatch

    Long weekend: We're taking the day off here at The DVD Journal so we can watch some more movies, do some site maintenance, and make sure everything has been sent to the IRS. In the meantime, if you haven't done so already, you may want to browse our DVD reviews or check out other sections of our site (it's all over there, just to the left). We hope you all get the chance to crack open a beer or two this weekend, and we will see you on Monday morning.

    -- Ed.

    Thursday, 15 April 1999

    In the Works: A number of exciting new disc announcements have been posted by Laserviews:

    • Universal has announced several new discs, including a 16x9-enhanced Gods and Monsters: Special Edition (June 8) starring Ian McKellen, Brendan Fraser, and Lynn Redgrave, and featuring an audio commentary with director/writer Bill Condon, as well as other extras; Affliction (July 6), starring Nick Nolte and James Coburn; the Spielberg flick Always (July 20), with Richard Dreyfuss and Holly Hunter; The Last Starfighter: Special Edition (June 8), which will feature an audio commentary with director Nick Castle and production designer Ron Cobb, a 40-minute documentary, and more; the original pilot episode of Battlestar Galactica (June 8), starring Richard Hatch, Dirk Benedict, Lorne Greene, and their rag-tag fleet; the Jim Belushi and slobbering-dog cop-comedy K-9 (June 8), which will be 16x9-enhanced; Kevin Smith's Mallrats: Special Edition (July 20), which will include an audio commentary, deleted scenes, a 16x9-enhancement, and other neat stuff; a 16x9-enhanced October Sky: Special Edition (July 27); two separate discs of the Robin Williams comedy Patch Adams (June 22), one with special-edition content, one without; Gus Van Sant's terrible Psycho: Special Edition (June 8), which will include a commentary track with Van Sant, Anne Heche, and Vince Vaughn; The Trigger Effect (July 20), starring Kyle MacLachlan and Elisabeth Shue; Virus: Special Edition (July 20), which will include a 16x9-enhanced transfer, a commentary track, and other stuff; and the 1980 Olivia Newton John roller-disco acid-trip Xanadu (July 20). That's a studio that's getting busy.
    • Criterion has announced that they will release a three-DVD edition of Brazil: Special Edition (June 29), with all of the goodies previously found on their mammoth five-platter Laserdisc box set, including a commentary with director Terry Gilliam, documentaries, storyboards, and more stuff. Also look for a new Criterion disc of the foreign favorite Black Orpheus, which will include previously unseen footage.
    • Columbia TriStar is planning to release a 16x9-enhanced disc of Martin Scorcese's Taxi Driver: Special Edition, which will include a documentary, an interactive screenplay with access to the film, advertising materials, a storyboard sequence, and a portrait gallery; a 16x9-enhanced disc of the neo-western Silverado (June 1) starring Kevin Kline, Scott Glenn, Danny Glover, and Kevin Costner; and Mike Myers' offbeat So I Married An Axe Murderer, which will also be 16x9-enhanced. Look for all three on June 1.
    • Disney has announced discs for Arachnophobia (June 15), starring Jeff Daniels and John Goodman; the Brit comedy Brassed Off (June 15) with Pete Postlethwaite, Tara Fitzgerald, and Ewan McGregor; Kevin Smith's Clerks: Special Edition (June 29); Ben Stiller's Flirting With Disaster (June 15); Mrs. Brown (June 15), starring Judi Dench and Billy Connolly; Oliver Stone's Nixon (June 15) with Anthony Hopkins and Joan Allen; the French fashion comedy Ready To Wear (June 29) starring Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren; Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead (June 29) with Andy Garcia and Christopher Lloyd; and White Squall (June 15), starring Jeff Bridges, Caroline Goodall, and John Savage. Supplemental information for these discs has not yet been announced.
    • The features for Fox's The X-Files: Fight The Future: Special Edition have been confirmed, and while it will not feature 16x9 enhancement, it will include a 30-minute commentary with Chris Carter (no feature-length track?), deleted scenes, interviews with Carter and Gillian Anderson (no David Duchovny?), two trailers, and a collector's card (no bubble gum?). Everybody scratch your heads now.
    • Street date changes include Alice Cooper: Welcome To My Nightmare (May 4), Amistad (May 4), Henry V (1944): The Criterion Collection (May 18), Gloria Estefan: Everlasting Gloria (June 1), and Halloween 4 (August 3).
    • If you happened to buy one of A&E's discs of the original Avengers TV show and wound up watching a bad film with Bruce Willis and Richard Gere, you're not crazy. A&E Home Video has announced that a few discs of The Avengers Set #1: Vol. 2 were accidentally pressed with the 1997 "thriller" The Jackal. A&E says you can return the disc to the point-of-purchase. However, if you return it directly to A&E, they will give you a new disc and also throw in an Avengers t-shirt. Call 1-800-982-1313 for more info.

    boxcover"Missing in Action" Flick of the Week: If you saw American History X and, like us, found yourself perversely fascinated with the neo-Nazi skinhead subculture it so effectively depicted, you may want to hunt down the obscure 1991 documentary Blood in the Face for further viewing. Directed by Anne Bohlen and Kevin Rafferty, and based on the non-fiction book by James Ridgeway, Blood in the Face takes an understated approach to its topic, as the filmmakers visit a white supremacist retreat and proceed to have several casual on-camera conversations with the attendees, who range from the mildly kooky to the downright frightening. Many of the skinheads and Klan members seem as if they are going off talking points, reciting the shopworn tenets of their beliefs (we won't repeat them here), and the overall effect underscores the message of American History X -- namely, that racism, hatred, and fear is something that is programmed into simple-minded people, rather than a trait that people are born with. In addition to the numerous interview sequences, Bohlen and Rafferty also dig up documentary footage of some infamous American white supremacists, including George Lincoln Rockwell, the founder of the American Nazi Party, and David Duke, a prominent southern Klan leader and politician whose career highlights we'd rather not dignify on this website.

    First Run Features has the U.S. distribution rights for Blood in the Face, and, as far as we can tell, none of their (mostly uncelebrated) titles have yet to reach DVD. However, Blood in the Face is still available from many online retailers, including If there's an independent video shop in your town that specializes in hard-to-find titles, you may find it there as well.


    -- Ed.

    Wednesday, 14 April 1999

    Mailbag: We're overwhelmed with reader mail here at The DVD Journal, and yet we still do our best to read all of it. Here's a few from last week:

  • I have just finished reading your review of Sunday in the Park With George. I find it utterly amazing that Image Entertainment and the producers of this DVD are not called on the carpet in this review for the inexcusable action of releasing this title as well as the previously released Into the Woods in Dolby Digital compressed two-channel downmix. Any two-channel original master that principally involves music should be released on DVD in PCM stereo ONLY!!! Until people like us start screaming bloody murder, this travesty of good sound will continue. Music lovers have a right to sound on DVD at least the equivalent of CD. The fact that the DVD video consortium permits this is an example of their total disregard for sound quality. There is no way the folks at DTS would give us this kind of audio garbage. Unfortunately they are having their hands tied by the DVD powers who believe that Dolby Digital is good enough for tone-deaf Americans At least we have the PCM two-channel laserdisc of Into the Woods. Shame on them, shame on you, and shame on all of us for accepting this crap.

    -- Howard

    Associate Editor Greg Dorr responds: Being only a layman in matters of sound quality, I can only agree with your general premise that all DVDs should be released with the best quality sound possible. As an owner of both Warner Bros.' hi-fi stereo VHS edition of Sunday in the Park With George and Image's new DVD version in Dolby Digital, I can attest that the DVD sounds much, much better -- not perfect, however. Being more concerned with the disc's relatively lousy picture artifacts, I guess I attributed the difference in sound quality between the DVD and the terrific cast recording I own on CD to the fact that the DVD is transferred from the original broadcast video source, which was recorded live, not in the optimal conditions of a studio setting. Let it be known: this is a sub-par disc; but, as I tend to bias my opinions based more on content than package quality, the strengths of Sunday as an artistic achievement outweigh the defects of Image's product, which are considerable. Should they decide to issue an improved DVD of Sunday in the Park With George in the future, perhaps it will earn that four-star rating which currently eludes it.

  • I already had a laserdisc player and about 60 movie titles when I bought my DVD player. The question of course now is what I should do with my player and all the movie titles. I feel like I should keep them. Sentimental (?) value you know? But if I do sell them, what is the best way? I know there are places that buy used laserdiscs, but what about the player? By the way I have the Pioneer clds201. What might be a fair asking price? $25? 100? It is in great condition.

    -- James

    Many DVD fans have abandoned the Laserdisc format over the past two years, but frankly, we think having a Laserdisc player around isn't such a bad thing. First of all, Laserdisc is still a quality home-video format, even if it has less resolution than DVD and requires side breaks. Many laserdiscs that are currently available -- new or used -- will probably never be released on DVD, and in particular much of the Criterion Collection, since Criterion had an easier time getting the licenses for movies in years past than they do now. For movie fans, owning a Laserdisc is the best way to see these valuable films. You may want to consider keeping your player. But if you do want to sell it, getting some opinions at the Home Theater Forum or the newsgroup may be a good place to start.

  • I'm glad to see a web site with a section called DVD MIA. There have been several web sites that are lacking such support, and it's good to see somebody appreciates movies just as much as us fanatics. By the way, I was wondering about the movie Bob Roberts. I had it on laser, but someone stole my disc, so now I wait for the DVD version. Just wondering if it will be released at all soon.

    -- Trent

    Thanks for your comments, Trent. Bob Roberts, written by, directed by, and starring Tim Robbins, is a Working Title film, originally distributed by PolyGram. Universal recently bought the PolyGram library and sold all pre-1996 films to MGM, where the DVD rights to Bob Roberts currently reside. That's not bad news for DVD fans, although no release date has been announced.

    "Menace" madness: And while we're digging through the mail, DVD Journal reader Douglas McCorquodale got a little miffed at the Detroit Free Press's Mitch Albom and his column "Star Wars Geeks Need to Get a Life" (see yesterday's update). Here's what he told both us and Mr. Albom:

  • Attached is the message I e-mailed to that moron at the Detroit Free Press. I thought you might get a kick out of it. Thanks for the article pointing that story out. Is it just me or do you hate people who complain about something without really having a reason to dislike it? If he had made an intelligent argument, I probably would not have agreed, but I could have at least respected his opinion.

    Keep up with the wonderful site.

    -- Douglas

    To Mitch Albom:

    I'm sure you probably already got thousands of e-mails regarding this already. In fact, I will be shocked if you actually read this. I didn't appreciate your comments. Now don't get me wrong. I will not be waiting in line for a month. If I have to wait a day or two after the opening to avoid the crowds, I will gladly do it. But I will see The Phantom Menace (probably a couple of times). I can understand your disagreement with those people. An event like that is not necessary just to see the movie. But you're missing the entire point. It's not to "see a movie." It's to be a part of an event. It's not like there will be two or three people there. There will be hundreds.

    That being said, I would also like to say that I was disturbed by the cruel nature of your attack. An article on the effects of this event on popular culture could have been done. It would have actually been interesting. And I'm sure even people who hate Star Wars would agree with me on this.

    If George Lucas was only worried about making money, why would he spend so much money making the film? He already had a built-in audience for the film. All he had to do was spend a couple a million on some quick rehash. But George Lucas is an artist with a vision. It's people like Lucas, Coppolla, and Spielberg who entertain our culture -- not tabloid writers such as yourself.

    Douglas McCorquodale

    Top of the Pops: Here's the top-selling DVDs last week from our friends at

    1. Dances with Wolves
    2. The Silence of the Lambs
    3. Casablanca
    4. Pleasantville
    5. West Side Story
    6. Antz
    7. The Deer Hunter
    8. Driving Miss Daisy
    9. Speed
    10. Die Hard Trilogy

    See ya later.

    -- Ed.

    Tuesday, 13 April 1999

    Sony bows to DVD-Audio: The standard for DVD-Audio, the next generation of consumer digital sound, was recently established by WG4, the international committee that has overseen the format since its inception, but two high-profile companies were conspicuously absent from the proceedings -- Sony and Philips, who declared support for their own advanced audio system, the Super Audio CD, back in 1997. Sony announced yesterday that their first SACD player will debut in Japan next month (well before DVD-Audio decks are due to arrive), but in a surprise move, the CE giant has also announced that their SACD players will be DVD-Audio compatible. Is the death of Betamax and the continuing struggle of MiniDisc -- both proprietary Sony formats -- starting to worry the corporate chiefs? Perhaps, but in any case, this brewing format war may be just a tempest in a teacup.

    On the Street: Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of Laserviews:

    • Apt Pupil
    • Born On The Fourth Of July (DTS)
    • A Boy and His Dog: Special Edition
    • The Doors Collection: Special Edition
    • Dragonheart (DTS)
    • For Richer Or Poorer (DTS)
    • Gloria Estefan: Everlasting Gloria
    • Gorillas In The Mist
    • The Jackal (DTS)
    • Pillow Talk
    • Progeny: Special Edition
    • Shadowlands
    • Somebody Has To Shoot The Picture
    • La Traviata
    • The War
    • The Wiz

    "Menace" dissing: With May 19 and the premiere of Episode I: The Phantom Menace drawing nearer, Mitch Albom at The Detroit Free Press has posted a column titled "Star Wars Geeks Need to Get a Life." And don't blame us after you read it -- we just report the news where we find it.

    Brit Awards: Gwyneth Paltrow may have beat out Cate Blanchett for this year's Best Actress Oscar, but Blanchett got her own award over the weekend at the British Academy of Film and Television Awards (BAFTA), getting the Best Actress nod from voters. Paltrow and Co. didn't fare too badly though, as Shakespeare in Love took home Best Picture honors. Meanwhile, Roberto Benigni, who won this year's Best Actor Oscar for his film Life is Beautiful, also scooped up the BAFTA trophy for top man. "This is my first prize in England," he told attendees. "Really, I am full of joy, like a watermelon."

    Okay, this guy's starting to get annoying....

    -- Ed.

    Monday, 12 April 1999

    boxcoverDisc of the Week: Edward Norton was nominated for an Academy Award for Best actor in American History X, and it's not hard to see why. This story about group of California skinheads and their leader's desire to break from the fold isn't as much about racial relations in America as it is about how hatred is learned, and thus can be unlearned. Norton delivers an impressive turn as Derek Vinyard, a young white supremacist who is arrested for murder and sent to prison for more than three years. Upon his release, he is warmly greeted by his compatriots, as well as his young brother Danny (Edward Furlong), a nascent skinhead himself. But while in prison, Derek inexplicably abandoned his supremacist convictions, and is faced with the task of telling his followers that he no longer wants to be a party to their struggle -- in addition to convincing his younger brother that he must abandon their hollow cause. Norton is brilliant here, and while director Tony Kaye may have disowned the film altogether because of some post-production disputes, his color cinematography interspersed with black-and-white flashbacks creates wonderful context between Derek then and Derek now. Norton is at his most disturbing during the flashback that explains why he was sent to prison -- for the murder of a black thief. The scene contains an image so disturbing you might never forget it, and while Norton is empathetic during much of this film, he manages during scenes such as these to convey pure hatred. That fact that Italian funnyman Robert Beningni won the Oscar this year for Best Actor over Norton may not mean much -- but it says a whole lot about the Academy Awards themselves.

    Box Office: Here's the top-grossing films at American theaters from last weekend:

    1. The Matrix
      $22,200,000 ($72,900,000 to date)
    2. Never Been Kissed
      $11,700,000 ($11,700,000 to date)
    3. The Out-of-Towners
      $5,300,000 ($16,500,000 to date)
    4. 10 Things I Hate About You
      $5,200,000 ($20,500,000 to date)
    5. Analyze This
      $5,100,000 ($85,900,000 to date)
    6. Go
      $4,700,000 ($4,700,000 to date)
    7. Forces of Nature
      $3,700,000 ($42,500,000 to date)
    8. Twin Dragons
      $2,800,000 ($2,800,000 to date)
    9. Doug's First Movie
      $2,300,000 ($13,900,000 to date)
    10. Foolish
      $2,260,000 ($2,300,000 to date)
    11. EDtv
      $2,200,000 ($19,000,000 to date)
    12. Shakespeare in Love
      $2,200,000 ($87,500,000 to date)

    On the Board: A new full review has been posted for Dazed and Confused, and can be found on our Full Reviews index. New quick reviews this week include American History X, The Outlaw Josey Wales, The Last Days of Disco, Mr. Nice Guy, and The Man Who Fell To Earth, and can be accessed under the New Reviews menu here on the main page.

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

    -- Ed.

    Friday, 9 April 1999
    Weekend Dispatch

    Paramount, Fox to float "Titanic": Reuters is reporting that Paramount intends to release James Cameron's Titanic on DVD in North America sometime in September. Meanwhile, Fox has officially announced that Titanic will be released on DVD outside of North America at the same time. The Fox release will not feature any extras besides trailers, although special-edition content for the Paramount release has yet to be determined. Paramount and Fox co-produced the $200 million Academy Award winner and divided the international home-video rights. The release of both North American and international discs may seem a coordinated effort between the studios, but such hasn't been confirmed, nor is it necessary. In our world of international shipping, video piracy, and code-free DVD players, a DVD release of Titanic anywhere means it must be released everywhere -- before illegal activities start eating up legitimate revenues.

    Weinsteins accept "Dogma": Kevin Smith's forthcoming film Dogma, the subject of some religious controversy, has been purchased by Miramax's Bob and Harvey Weinstein -- but it won't be a Miramax film. Because Miramax is owned by Disney, the Weinsteins have decided to form a new company and find an independent distributor for the Smith flick. "We feel that this action is the best to remain true to the film and to our corporate parent," the cinema siblings said in a statement. Dogma, which stars Matt Damon and Ben Affleck (who previously teamed up for Miramax's Good Will Hunting), concerns two angels who run afoul of the laws of Catholicism and seek re-entry into heaven. "As per usual, Bob and Harvey are the only ones willing to stick by us or back our goofy little flicks," Smith said.

    Quotable: "I didn't ask anyone to cut their trailer in half to play with The Matrix."

    -- Dan Fellman, head of Warner Brothers distribution, responding to the fact that studios may be forced to run 60-second trailers before The Phantom Menace.

    Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including American History X, Dazed and Confused, The Outlaw Josey Wales, and The Man Who Fell To Earth. Look for these and others on Monday morning.

    Have a great weekend.

    -- Ed.

    Thursday, 8 April 1999

    Open DVD fights back!: In a unprecedented move to further the growth of open DVD, eight home-video companies and DVD manufacturers have announced a new promotion with the hopes that DVD player sales will reach more than 4 million units by the end of 1999. Warner Brothers, New Line, Columbia TriStar, and Artisan have teamed up with hardware manufacturers Panasonic, Philips, Sony and Toshiba to offer five free DVD movies with the purchase of a new DVD player, starting on April 30 and running until June 30.

    Why five discs? Could it be that Circuit City has long offered five free Divx discs with the purchase of every new Divx player? If rivalry is afoot, the open DVD backers aren't talking about it, but instead singing the praises of their fee-free format. "This cooperative effort is a clear signal of our industry's intent to assure the success of DVD," said Paul Culberg, executive vice president of Columbia TriStar Home Video. Thomas F. Lesinski, senior vice president of Warner Home Video, said the goal "is to capitalize on DVD's momentum in 1998, increasing consumer awareness and stimulating sales." In addition to the five-free promotion, the group will also launch a $10 million DVD advertising campaign during May and June -- something open DVD has long needed in the face of endless Divx commercials and newspaper ads over the past several months.

    boxcover"Missing in Action" Flick of the Week: What's the most popular Rob Reiner film requested by readers at The DVD Journal? Not surprisingly, it's The Princess Bride, which we like as much as anybody. But we're not afraid to thwart public opinion, because the Rob Reiner film we most want to see on DVD is The Sure Thing, which is not just a great comedy, but also required viewing for anybody who is a John Cusack fan. Cusack stars as Gib, a New England college freshman who suffers through his own winter of discontent while his pal Lance (Anthony Edwards), who is going to school in L.A., keeps calling and telling him about the sun, the surf, and the babes. By the time Spring Break rolls around, Gib signs on for a carpool to California to meet one of Lance's available female friends ("She's a sure thing, Gib!" Lance tells him). But when Gib gets in the car, he discovers that one of his traveling companions is Alison (Daphne Zuniga), a frosty bookworm who has a class with him and can't stand his relentless juvenile behavior. Okay, so they get stranded and start to fall for each other, and okay, so maybe it isn't all that original. The Sure Thing may be a loose rehash of Frank Capra's It Happened One Night, but it's still good fun, and succeeds with funny performances and crisp dialogue (unlike, for example, the wretched Six Days, Seven Nights, which is sort of the anti-Sure Thing, mostly because it just isn't very funny).

    PolyGram had the home-video rights to The Sure Thing, but in a now-infamously complicated chain of events, Universal bought the PolyGram library and sold all of the pre-1996 PolyGram films to MGM --- who now owns most of Rob Reiner's comedies. Being that MGM is very pro-DVD, it isn't the worst of all possible outcomes. Then again, if you think you're going to see this one on disc in next few months, we'd like you to come out to California and meet this girl....

    And if you have to drive cross-country...: It was only a matter of time. Panasonic, long an innovator in the world of consumer electronics, has announced a new DVD player for cars, and despite it's diminutive size, it's no lightweight. The DVD mighty-mite features a DVD transport, a ceiling- or midseat-mounted LCD screen, a 5.1-channel Dolby Digital/DTS processor, a remote control, and enough speakers to shake yer shock absorbers (are we supposed to yell "Sweet-spot!" instead of "Shotgun!" before climbing aboard?). If it sounds bitchin' to you, it sounds dangerous to us, mostly because we don't want to be driving behind anybody who's watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. And before all of you get too excited, the list-price for the entire package is a stiff $3,200. After you buy it, you'll probably be living in your car anyway.

    -- Ed.

    Wednesday, 7 April 1999

    See Dick Run: Circuit City's sales figures for March have been released, and the CE retailer (and Divx proponent) is still going strong, earning $893.8 million in revenues during March -- a 17% rise over $762.9 million of sales in March of 1998. In the midst of praising Circuit City's sales figures, CEO Richard Sharp also said that the company is "excited about the possibilities for Divx. In the fourth fiscal quarter (of 1998), we believe that Divx-featured DVD players accounted for 20 percent to 25 percent of all DVD players sold. In the coming year, we expect to add four more brands, giving us a total of eight player brands in the market."

    However, The New York Times has posted an article on the giant sucking wound that Divx has become on the Circuit City empire (ed. note: The New York Times website requires that readers request a free subscription for access). According to the Times, Divx is a chink in the CC armor, and stockholders are patiently waiting for Dick Sharp & Co. to hang the venture out to dry. While Divx sales have been growing, the overall operation has cut into CC's profits -- a bottom line that has much more importance to investors than the need to return discs to their local video stores.

    Meanwhile, Reuters and Variety have posted stories on the booming sales of the open DVD format, whose first-quarter numbers were recently announced by The DVD Video Group (see yesterday's update). Reuters notes that Divx sales are lagging far behind open DVD's massive figures, including the fact that the one-millionth Divx disc was sold recently, compared to the 30 million open DVDs currently in the hands of free-format fanatics.

    Don't tell to it Dick. "We also continue to pursue financing and distribution alternatives (with Divx)," he said, "and believe that we can conclude one or more transactions during the year," referring to a potential distribution agreement or equity investment in the Divx format with one or more national retailers. Circuit City has recently flirted with Blockbuster Video for an equity investment in their fledgling pay-per-view format (CC has dumped as much as $200 million into the technology to date). A spokesman for Viacom Inc., which owns the Blockbuster chain, recently ruled out an equity investment in Divx, but stopped short of denying that a non-equity distribution agreement may be on the horizon.

    The saga continues....

    Top of the Pops: Here's the top-selling DVDs last week from our friends at

    1. Dances with Wolves
    2. The Silence of the Lambs
    3. Casablanca
    4. Antz
    5. Pleasantville
    6. West Side Story
    7. The Waterboy
    8. Driving Miss Daisy
    9. The Deer Hunter
    10. Die Hard Trilogy

    Mailbag: We get lots of letters here at The DVD Journal, and we do our best to read all of them. Here's a few we've received lately:

  • What's going on with the Bond films? Why is From Russia With Love no more? This makes zero sense to me.

    -- Todd

    In a simple word: Marketing. MGM has placed the Bond DVD series on moratorium until this November, when Bond 19, The World Is Not Enough, is released in American theaters. The only exception to this is the enormously popular Tomorrow Never Dies, which is still available (although the limited special-edition disc went out-of-print earlier this year). When Bond 19 arrives, MGM is expected to roll out the 007 discs again, including several special editions. Be upset now if you must -- but plan on being much happier in December.

  • My only problem with DVD seems to be a reoccurring thing. While I love the slight 1:85 widescreen version of my favorite, I cannot stand the 2:35 widescreen because it simply takes so much away from my television screen. I would like to see all 2:35 widescreen movies with an option to view then in pan-and-scan, as a few movie companies like Columbia TriStar and Paramount have been doing.

    -- Thomas

    We have to disagree with you on this one, Thomas, because we love widescreen DVDs, but we know that many DVD consumers like their full-frame movies. And while we would encourage everybody to go out and buy a bigger TV to compensate for the reduced size of the widescreen image, we know that such is not practical. It has long been the editorial opinion of The DVD Journal that content providers should distribute DVDs in both pan-and-scan and widescreen (16x9 enhanced if possible) -- and preferably with RSDL formatting so that we don't accidentally put the disc in the player with the wrong side down.

  • I'm pissed off that Fox's remastered widescreen box set of the Planet of the Apes films wasn't released on DVD. The first film is great, although, taken together, the five films tell an interesting, circular sci-fi tale.

    -- Michael

    No shit. We're pissed off about it too.

    "Menace" mandates: If you thought that having to stand in line for tickets was a painful prerequisite for seeing Episode One: The Phantom Menace, Fox and LucasFilm have released their requirements for cinemas that intend to screen the film in May, including:

    • The Phantom Menace must run in the largest auditorium in the cineplex.
    • Minimum runs will be either 8 or 12 weeks for theaters that open the film.
    • Cineplexes will not be allowed to present the film on two screens with one print (a practice known as "interlocking").
    • Theaters cannot honor passes for the first eight weeks.
    • Paid onscreen advertising will be prohibited for the first two weeks of the film's run.
    • No more than eight minutes of trailers will be allowed to run before the film.
    • Blast-off? 12:01 a.m., 19 May 1999 -- and no sooner. Don't plan on going to work that day, nutsacks.

    Quotable: "The work was so complex with all the special effects and stuff that I found myself hanging around for days. I was frowning a lot. It became just a frowning exercise."

    -- Ewan McGregor, willing to take the pain
    for The Phantom Menace.

    See ya tomorrow.

    -- Ed.

    Tuesday, 6 April 1999

    DVD sales still on the rise: The first-quarter sales figures for DVD are in, with 390,000 players shipping to dealers between Jan. 1 to March 1, according to The DVD Video Group. Approximately 1.6 million players have sold to consumers since the product launch in March of 1997, and more than 30 million DVDs have been shipped since that time. "These numbers would have been even more impressive if the industry had not been affected by hardware shortages during the critical holiday selling season," noted Emiel N. Petrone, the chairman of the DVD Video Group. The total number of DVD players in American households is expected to reach 3.3 million by the end of this year. The DVD Video Group, a non-profit organization, represents a consortium of major DVD hardware manufacturers and content providers.

    On the Street: Here's this morning's very short list of notable street discs, courtesy of Laserviews:

    • American History X: Special Edition
    • Aretha Franklin: Live At Park West
    • Desk Set
    • The Cat From Outer Space
    • Hard Times
    • Howards End
    • I Still Know What You Did Last Summer
    • La Bamba: Special Edition
    • Meet Joe Black
    • Tina Turner: Live In Amsterdam
    • Unidentified Flying Oddball

    Playstation 2: The DVD-ROM driven Sony Playstation 2 is still more than a year away, but video-game developers are already excited about the increased disc capacity and processing speed that the new console will offer. E-Town has posted a two-part story on what gamers can expect from the new technology when it finally arrives -- including Internet connectivity and movie-quality 3D images.

    See ya.

    -- Ed.

    Monday, 5 April 1999

    In the Works: Here's a few new disc announcements posted over the weekend at Laserviews:

    • Columbia TriStar has some new 16x9-enhanced discs on the way, including The China Syndrome with Jane Fonda, Jack Lemmon, and Michael Douglas, Hero starring Dustin Hoffman, Geena Davis, and Andy Garcia, and Gloria with Sharon Stone. Look for all three on May 25.
    • Criterion is preparing a disc of Fellini's 1957 Nights Of Cabiria starring Giulietta Masina and Francois Perier, due to hit the street on June 29.
    • Warner Brother's Gremlins, which was recently announced as a discontinued title, will now return to the stores on March 30.
    • Street date changes include The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (April 27), Henry V (1944) (April 27), Amistad (April 29), Paulie (April 29), White Man's Burden (May 11), Star Trek: Insurrection (May 11), Action Jackson (May 18), Bonnie and Clyde (May 18), Caddyshack 2 (May 18), Dead Bang (May 18), Fearless (May 18), My Blue Heaven (May 18), On Deadly Ground (May 18), Out For Justice (May 18), Power (May 18), With Honors (May 18), and Lord Of The Flies (1963) (postponed, no new date).

    boxcoverDisc of the Week: A Fish Called Wanda was originally announced as a pan-and-scan disc from MGM last year (going on the theory that comedies don't need to be in widescreen), but the studio soon thought better and delayed the disc until a widescreen transfer could be made. The recently released DVD does the film justice, and is now one of our favorites. Concerning a group of London diamond thieves who are betrayed by their leader and set out to find the loot he tucked away, A Fish Called Wanda has continued to win fans over the years, and while it doesn't feature the off-the-wall, gross-out humor of most Monty Python movies, John Cleese's script (co-written with director Charles Chrichton) is intricately plotted and full of many funny twists. Kevin Kline, as the aggressive, half-witted Otto, steals much of the movie with his over-the-top performance (he also snagged an Academy Award), but A Fish Called Wanda would not work without the entire cast, including Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Michael Palin, whose detailed characters find humor through interaction with each other. MGM's disc is short on extras (just a trailer and an 8-page booklet), but the 2:35:1 widescreen transfer is excellent. This one was worth the wait.

    E-Cinema Outlook: Disney has announced that their long-time distribution chief Phil Barlow will head up their development of digital-cinema technology. E-cinemas, which will feature digital video projections rather than traditional film, are still a long way from becoming the standard in movie theaters, but Hollywood studios have indicated an interest in developing the technology, primarily due to the cost savings that the production and distribution of digital films offer over their more expensive celluloid counterparts. George Lucas has already shown a great deal of interest in e-cinema, and has announced that his forthcoming Episode I: The Phantom Menace will be screened at a select number of digital theaters when it is released. A nationwide roll-out of e-cinemas could be anywhere from two to five years away.

    DVD on the Web: Thanks for the team at DiVerse DVD for making The DVD Journal their "Site of the Week." If you get the chance, visit their excellent site and say hi.

    Box Office: Here's the top-grossing films at American theaters from last weekend:

    1. The Matrix
      $27,600,000 ($37,200,000 to date)
    2. 10 Things I Hate About You
      $8,700,000 ($11,900,000 to date)
    3. The Out-of-Towners
      $8,100,000 ($8,100,000 to date)
    4. Analyze This
      $6,300,000 ($78,500,000 to date)
    5. Forces of Nature
      $6,300,000 ($36,600,000 to date)
    6. EDtv
      $4,600,000 ($15,500,000 to date)
    7. Shakespeare in Love
      $3,300,000 ($84,300,000 to date)
    8. Doug's First Movie
      $3,100,000 ($9,300,000 to date)
    9. Life is Beautiful
      $2,800,000 ($44,800,000 to date)
    10. The Mod Squad
      $2,400,000 ($10,300,000 to date)
    11. Baby Geniuses
      $2,000,000 ($18,500,000 to date)
    12. True Crime
      $1,900,000 ($13,400,000 to date)

    On the Board: A new full review has been posted for Sunday in the Park with George, and can be found on our Full Reviews index. New quick reviews this week include A Fish Called Wanda, Escape From L.A., The Big Lebowski, A Time to Kill, The Real Blonde, and Crimes and Misdemeanors, and can be accessed under the New Reviews menu here on the main page.

    We'll be back tomorrow with news on this week's street discs.

    -- Ed.

    Friday, 2 April 1999
    Weekend Dispatch

    The return of "Hannibal the Cannibal": Thomas Harris, the author of both The Silence of the Lambs and Red Dragon (on which the film Manhunter is based), has finished his latest book on Hannibal Lechter, the psychotic psychiatrist who has a taste for both Chianti and human liver. Entitled Hannibal, the novel will be a sequel to The Silence of the Lambs, which Harris wrote in 1988, and it will also feature the return of FBI Special Agent Clarice Starling. The new book will arrive in stores on June 8 (we'll be reading with the lights on that night). Will there be another movie? If Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster are persuaded to sign on, how could there not be?

    boxcoverCommentary Clip: "I called Phil Tippett, the effects guy, to say I'm recording this (commentary track) today. 'Do you remember anything?' He said, 'No. Working on Robocop was like being a victim of a violent crime.' You know, your mind just blanks it all out. I have that same reaction. I hardly remember a thing."

    -- Producer John Davison, Robocop: The Criterion Collection

    Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including A Time to Kill, The Big Lebowski, Sunday in the Park with George, and Crimes and Misdemeanors. Check 'em out on Monday morning.

    Have a great weekend.

    -- Ed.

    Thursday, 1 April 1999

    boxcoverThis month's Free DVD Contest: We've waited a long time, and it's finally here. Die Hard, the bad-daddy of all action films, was our favorite disc from last month, and we're giving away a copy at the end of April. All you have to do is drop by our Monthly Contest Page and answer a simple trivia question. And while you're there, you can also take our Monthly DVD Poll. Good luck!

    And the winner is: John Martin of Rancho Cordova, Calif., wins the free DVD of Ronin from our March contest. Congrats, John!

    Zenith's return: After filing bankruptcy last year and undergoing a massive financial restructuring, Zenith Electronics, the once-lauded consumer-electronics manufacturer, has returned to the market with a new line of DVD players, TVs, and VCRs. However, unlike most other CE manufacturers, Zenith is no longer making their own equipment, and instead is subcontracting their gear to other manufacturers while relying on the Zenith nameplate to attract consumers. Zenith gained notoriety last year for producing the first Divx player just before going bankrupt -- a turn of events that did little to enhance the mystique of Circuit City's fledgling pay-per-view DVD scheme. Zenith DVD players will be manufactured by LG Electronics for the foreseeable future, and they have two new Divx models on the way, along with three open DVD players. Other Zenith products, such as televisions and VCRs, will be manufactured by Hitachi, Fujitsu, and DaeWoo.

    boxcover"Missing in Action" Flick of the Week: When Cary Grant first began working in Hollywood in the 1930s, he was frequently cast as the good-looking-but-boring leading man. In fact, when Mae West first spotted the unknown actor on a movie set, she was said to have told her director "If he can talk, hire him." West gave Grant one of his first starring roles (in 1933's She Done Him Wrong), but the ambitious actor and former circus acrobat soon realized he needed to broaden his scope if he would ever become a major movie star. In 1937's The Awful Truth, he took the day's movie fans for a ride, playing against his smoldering good looks in what would be the first of his many excellent screwball comedies. Grant stars in The Awful Truth with Irene Dunne, as a separated couple who begin dating other people, but who are still so jealous of each other that they do everything they can to muck up each other's newfound relationships -- in addition to suing each other over custody of their dog Gags. Free-spirited Grant begins seeing wealthy heiress Molly Lamont, while the vivacious Dunne takes up with bonehead Ralph Bellamy (a particular delight for Bellamy fans, who would see Cary and Ralph face off again in 1940's His Girl Friday in similar roles). Like all screwball comedies, it ends happily, but not after plenty of acrid rapport and some great physical comedy. Columbia TriStar owns the rights to The Awful Truth, and that's an awful shame, since they are concentrating on new films and more recent library titles for their DVD releases. Were this classic in the public domain, one of the budget DVD companies (such as Madacy or LaserLight) might already have it on the street. For the time being, we'll hang on to our tape.

    We'll see you tomorrow.

    -- Ed.

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