News and Commentary: May 1999

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Friday, 28 May 1999
Weekend Dispatch

"Secure" what?: The press release is about as vague as a third-generation VHS dupe, but AT&T, BMG Entertainment, Panasonic, and Universal Music Group announced yesterday the development of a new "secure music and media distribution" technology that will be known as Electronic Media Distribution, or EMD for short. But whether the new system -- which will deliver digital music and video programming to consumers via a new online distribution infrastructure -- will be another pay-to-play scheme (a la Divx) or simply a cheap, convenient way to access and/or purchase open media (a la MP3) remains to be seen. Our guess is that the technology will offer a combination of both, but that's only if EMD somehow catches on. Certainly, AT&T, Matsushita Electric (Panasonic) and Universal Music are heavy hitters in the technology and entertainment markets, but history tells us that virtually every manufacturer and content provider has to sign on to a new technology if it has even a chance of survival (VDO, anybody?). Still, we'll keep our eyes on this one.

"Insider" redux: The excellent and informative DVD Insider underwent a facelift earlier this week, has added several new features, and is in the process of changing over to a new server. It all looks great, so check it out if you get the chance.

boxcoverCommentary Clip: ""I didn't want music to tear the fabric of the show, because it's quite delicate, and you've got to be careful. If the numbers are too forceful, it's wrong for the show. Once that was determined, it was very easy. Not easy to write, but easy to know what was right from what's wrong. I never mind writing a bad song, but I can't stand writing a wrong song."

-- Composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim,
Sunday in the Park with George

Quotable: "There is nothing in (The Phantom Menace) that is racially motivated. Star Wars is a fantasy movie set in a galaxy far, far away.... It is populated with humans, aliens, creatures, droids, robots and other fantastic creatures that have no resemblance to the world we know today. The way a particular character looks or sounds is part of the imaginative fantasy that is Star Wars."

-- LucasFilm spokesperson Lynne Hale, responding
to some critics' comments that The Phantom
includes racially stereotyped characters.

Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way for next week, including Monty Python's Life of Brian, Animal House: Collector's Edition, Ever After, and others. We will also announce the winner of this month's free DVD contest (will you win the Happy Gilmore DVD?), and we will have a new contest and DVD poll up and running as well. We'll be taking Monday off, but check back on Tuesday morning for all the latest stuff.

Time to open a cold six of Oregon microbrew. Have a great Memorial Day weekend.

-- Ed.

Thursday, 27 May 1999

boxcover"Missing in Action" Flick of the Week: After telling you a few weeks ago that the DVD of The Usual Suspects has been placed on moratorium, we should also point out that it's not the only film to suffer from the PolyGram sell-off. Rob Reiner's classic mock-"rockumentary" This Is Spinal Tap was also a PolyGram title, but unlike Suspects, PolyGram never got around to streeting a DVD edition. Of course, Spinal Tap has arrived on DVD, but as a Criterion Collection disc. But here's the rub -- The Criterion Spinal Tap is now out of print, since it was licensed from PolyGram, but MGM now has the rights. Spinal Tap only appeared because Criterion was able to produce a DVD very quickly, using the special-edition material they had already obtained for their Laserdisc edition, which was released a few years ago. But while MGM (which currently owns the bulk of the PolyGram library) will likely release new discs of both Suspects and Spinal Tap, it is unclear if Criterion will be able to obtain a license from The Lion for their extras-packed Spinal Tap and allow the DVD to reach the stores again. And since Criterion, and not MGM, has the rights to the special-edition footage on their Spinal Tap disc, MGM will not be able to re-release the Criterion disc under their own banner.

Our prognosis? Don't expect to see the Criterion This Is Spinal Tap on DVD for a very long time, if ever again. While the studios were happy to license many of their titles to Criterion for Laserdisc editions in the past (the studios were never very involved in the Laserdisc business anyway), all of them -- and especially MGM -- are very interested in controlling their own DVD product, and the Criterion Collection on DVD has mostly concentrated on foreign titles and public-domain films as a result. If you have the Criterion Spinal Tap DVD, don't even think about trading it for something else.

Get in the game: What, you haven't entered our monthly contest to win a free DVD of Happy Gilmore? Well don't wait, because there's only a few days left. Be sure to drop by our monthly contest page to answer our simple trivia question -- and don't forget to take our DVD poll while you're there.

Quotable: "I don't know, that's up to George. But I am available for weddings and bar-mitzvahs."

Actor Ahmed Best, responding to the question if
Jar Jar Binks will appear in Star Wars: Episode II,
on last night's "The O'Reilly Factor" on the Fox News Channel.


-- Ed.

Wednesday, 26 May 1999

Mailbag: It's time to clean out some of the reader mail here at The DVD Journal:

  • I heard that at a recent convention (within the last month or two), someone demonstrated that they had indeed broken the Divx encryption. Is this news true? I am not interested in the actual algorithm to do it, although some facts would be good to help back up this claim.

    -- L. Hu

    For some reason, cracking the ultra-tight encryption scheme behind Divx -- the pay-per-play version of DVD owned by Circuit City -- has become a sort of hacker's Holy Grail, primarily because the format has fostered an incredible amount of hostility with many home-video nuts who would love nothing better than to see it go down in flames. As for the alleged "Divx-buster" you mention, we hear rumors all over the place about these sorts of things, but we rarely discuss them here, and for a couple of reasons. First, this sort of activity is illegal, pure and simple. The Divx technology is owned by Circuit City, and the movies on Divx discs are owned by the various studios who provide their content for $4.49, and not the $20 - $30 they charge for unlimited viewings on open DVD. Breaking the Divx encryption and watching these cheaper discs is no different than stealing cable television from your local provider, or finding a way to access the Internet without paying your ISP, or even eating a meal in a restaurant and then walking out without paying the bill.

    But here's the irony of any potential "Divx-buster" technology -- if the food is so bad (and Divx movies are nothing great), then why are some people so obsessed with eating in this particular restaurant? Divx movies rarely come in widescreen and offer none of the extras that open DVD lovers crave so badly. The truth is, people who are interested in breaking Divx only want to compromise or destroy the format by illegal means, even though Circuit City is legally marketing a product with the consent of the studios who own the content. Kids will be kids, but as for us, we'll go with quality and accept the price we have to pay. We'll let the free market sort it all out instead.

  • I would like to respond to your comments about motion-picture studios that are worried that people may soon be taping movies in the theaters and encoding them into high-quality MPEG-2 files. I think that the best way for movie studios to compete with pirated versions of their movies is to be sure to include bonus materials on all of their DVDs. It's easy for someone to get a copy of any movie being shown in the theaters, but how many people out there can get their hands on deleted scenes or commentary tracks? In the end, piracy of motion pictures might encourage studios to offer more with each DVD in order to entice consumers to spend their money on commercial copies.

    -- J.P.

    We're all for more extras on DVD, but our main concerns about video piracy on the Internet have little to do with Minicam-captured films in the MPEG-1 or superior MPEG-2 format (see last Wednesday's update). However, the MPEG-2 data used for DVD movies is purely digital information, unlike the analog data of VHS, Laserdisc, or personal video cameras, and is thus ready-made for transferring across the Internet.

    As of now, the problem is almost non-existent because DVD movies require several gigabytes of data, which is simply too massive an amount to be efficiently transmitted with current modem speeds and the limitations of electronic wires. However, much faster access speeds are now available with non-voice circuits (such as ISDN or cable), and in a matter of five or ten years, optic-based photonic data transmission will be a reality for many people, operating at unheard-of data rates. When you consider that an ordinary DVD movie requires perhaps 6-8 gigabytes of data -- and that it's not hard to find hard drives that are at least that big -- it's only a matter of time before people start trading pirated DVD movies across the 'Net and then toasting their own discs on DVD burners with cheap, blank media.

    Nobody knows how many years away this will be, but if it becomes a substantial revenue drain, the studios may reconsider their current policy of distributing films in a digital format. In our opinion, this is also part of the reason that only one of the top-ten-grossing films of all time (Titanic) is currently scheduled for release on DVD, and why we probably won't see the other nine for some time to come. The studios and other content providers will have little recourse against Internet DVD piracy and may have to rack it up as a collateral loss if they can afford it. But in any case, adding special-edition content to their DVDs will only allow that data to be pirated as well.

    We enjoy reading the mail, so keep those letters coming:

    Upgrade-made: It's the biggest complaint amongst DVD owners -- you buy a new player, and then another one comes along that's cheaper and has more features. But now Philips has announced the Philips Magnavox DVD825AT, a new DVD player that will be feature-upgradable, courtesy of a flash-RAM chip that can be overwritten with a special disc when software upgrades become available. Upgrades may also be available to Philips owners on the Internet, although those details have yet to be hammered out. Of course, you're still stuck with your hardware, so if you expect to upgrade from 24/96 audio to the new DVD Audio standard, or replacing your S-Video line with component inputs, plan another visit to your local retailer. But a variety of software-based features -- such as new screen-savers and faster reverse-scan speeds -- will be available to owners of the new Philips deck. If it catches on, expect other manufacturers to follow suit.

    Top of the Pops: Here's the top-selling DVDs last week from our friends at Click the links to read our reviews of these discs:

    1. Star Trek: Insurrection
    2. You've Got Mail
    3. Conspiracy Theory
    4. The X-Files: Fight The Future
    5. A Bug's Life
    6. Billy Madison
    7. Armageddon: The Criterion Collection
    8. The Mask of Zorro
    9. Babe: A Pig in the City
    10. Antz

    We'll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

    -- Ed.

    Tuesday, 25 May 1999

    Family-friendly DVD: The DVD Video Group and VideoScan have announced that sales of non-action films on DVD have jumped this year from 13% of DVD top-sellers to a sizable 25% -- a figure that is starting to resemble family-film sales on VHS, and indicating that the DVD consumer demographic is beginning to shift from the professional-white-male and into more mainstream markets. Twenty-five of the current 100 best-selling DVD titles are wholesome family fare, including Antz, A Bug's Life, and Mighty Joe Young. "We're encouraged that DVD Video is popular with the entire household," said Paul Culberg, executive vice president of Columbia TriStar Home Video and the president of the DVD Video Group. "I think you'll see studios releasing more family titles to satiate the consumer's appetite for these titles." But don't think that sales of action films on DVD are slowing. The top-five DVD titles sold for the year 1999 to date are (in order) Armageddon, Rush Hour, Blade, Ronin, and The Waterboy. Sounds like a bunch of guy consumers to us.

    The DVD Video Group is a non-profit consortium that represents major DVD hardware manufacturers and content providers.

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

    • After Dark My Sweet
    • The China Syndrome
    • Commando
    • Days Of Thunder
    • Drop Zone
    • The Edge
    • Elizabeth: Special Edition
    • Firestorm
    • Gloria
    • Great Barrier Reef: IMAX
    • Hero
    • The Jewel Of The Nile
    • Last Metro
    • The Most Dangerous Game: The Criterion Collection
    • The Newton Boys
    • Parents
    • The Phantom
    • The Princess and the Pirate
    • Q & A
    • The Red Shoes: The Criterion Collection
    • Romancing The Stone
    • Romeo + Juliet
    • Shoot The Piano Player
    • Space Truckers: Special Edition
    • A Taste Of Cherry: The Criterion Collection
    • They Got Me Covered
    • True Lies
    • Two English Girls
    • Virtuosity
    • What Dreams May Come: Special Edition

    Box Office: Exhibitor Relations didn't have their weekend box-office figures posted until yesterday, so here's a belated posting of the top-grossing films at American theaters from last weekend. Guess which film came out on top:

    1. The Phantom Menace
      $64,810,970 ($105,661,237 to date)
    2. The Mummy
      $13,791,960 ($100,210,165 to date)
    3. Entrapment
      $6,312,182 ($59,889,421 to date)
    4. The Matrix
      $2,875,521 ($149,507,510 to date)
    5. The Love Letter
      $2,692,819 ($2,692,819 to date)
    6. A Midsummer Night's Dream
      $2,608,636 ($8,233,427 to date)
    7. Never Been Kissed
      $1,745,212 ($46,190,583 to date)
    8. Black Mask
      $1,665,811 ($7,313,503 to date)
    9. Life
      $1,565,215 ($57,526,494 to date)
    10. Election
      $1,474,508 ($9,157,870 to date)
    11. Trippin'
      $1,414,155 ($5,213,961 to date)
    12. Tea With Mussolini
      $1,280,867 ($3,596,320 to date)
    13. Shakespeare in Love
      $745,400 ($95,940,373 to date)
    14. Analyze This
      $629,481 ($103,075,946 to date)
    15. Ten Things I Hate About You
      $584,961 ($34,596,955 to date)

    See ya tomorrow.

    -- Ed.

    Monday, 24 May 1999

    boxcoverDisc of the Week: In Star Trek: Insurrection, the latest installment of the Trek franchise, Starfleet plans to re-locate the Ba'ku, a small colony of people, from a planet that offers its residents eternal youth. But when the Starship Enterprise is drawn in to the conflict, Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) decides to break ranks with his superiors, and is joined by his crew in a battle to save the colony and uphold the "Prime Directive" of Starfleet, which says that alien cultures may be observed, but not interfered with. It is during the defense of the Ba'ku colony that the crew finds themselves affected by the regenerative "metaphasic radiation" of the planet -- Geordi (LeVar Burton) regains his sight, Worf (Michael Dorn) experiences a second Klingon puberty, Riker (Johnathan Frakes) and Troi (Marina Sirtis) rekindle their long-dormant romance, and even Picard finds himself falling for a Ba'ku woman (Donna Murphy) in a rare love story for the stoic Next-Gen captain. After the success of the tense and atmospheric First Contact, the producers of the Trek series made a wise move to follow it with the lighter fare that Insurrection offers, although the film didn't sit well with some Trekkies when it arrived. And even though some of the humor overstays its welcome, the story manages to stay interesting. Director Frakes -- who also helmed First Contact -- oversees the proceedings with a gentle touch. The new disc from Paramount offers an excellent transfer that highlights the mountainous panoramas of the Ba'ku planet (which are actually the American Sierras), and includes a behind-the-scenes featurette and two trailers.

    On the Board: We've been down for site maintenace over the weekend, but a new full review has been posted for Happiness, and can be found on our Full Reviews index. New quick reviews this week include Star Trek: Insurrection, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, Eraser, and Maverick, 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, 21 May 1999
    Weekend Dispatch

    In the Works: Here's some new disc announcements, courtesy of Laserviews:

    • Anchor Bay is preparing new discs of John Huston's Prizzi's Honor, Mike Nichols' Silkwood, and Woody Allen's Take The Money and Run. Look for all three on June 15.
    • Warner is on the board with several new music titles, including Madonna: The Immaculate Collection, Prince: The Hits Collection, Van Halen Live: Right Here, Right Now, and three Frank Sinatra television specials from the '60s and '70s. Look for all of 'em on June 8.
    • Not to be left out of the fun, Sony is planning to release a disc of the hilarious Pop Up Videos '80s series, everybody's favorite show on VH1. The '80s crap destined for DVD eternity includes "She Works Hard for the Money" by Donna Summer, "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" from Poison, and "Sister Christian" by Night Ranger (a bad song made strangely poignant in Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights). Get it all on June 29.
    • Horror specialist VCI is planning to release the 1945 classic And Then There Were None, based on Agatha Christie's classic novel Ten Little Indians. Also look for a disc of the 1972 favorite Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things. Both are due on June 8.
    • Attention Ron Howard fans: We know you've been patiently waiting for his directing debut, 1977's Grand Theft Auto, to show up on DVD, and New Horizons is planning to street a new disc on June 8. Gee, Fonz....
    • The suggested retail price of Kevin Smith's Clerks: Special Edition has been bumped from $29.99 to $39.99. And don't write us if you're pissed -- we have nothing to do with the matter.
    • Street date changes include Gleaming The Cube (June 1), Kickboxer 1 (June 8), and The Faculty (June 15).

    Image signs another indie: Overseas FilmGroup, an international independent film distributor, has signed a licensing agreement with Image Entertainment to release 55 of its titles to DVD. The specific titles have yet to be announced, but OFG, which owns FirstLook films, has some interesting titles in its vault, including The Designated Mourner from Wallace Shawn (My Dinner With Andre, The Princess Bride) and the cult films Six String Samurai and Drive. The forthcoming Titus (based on Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus and starring Anthony Hopkins and Jessica Lange) is also a FirstLook picture, and is a likely candidate for DVD release as well.

    boxcoverCommentary Clips: "I asked Michael (Bay) why it was easier to train oil drillers to become astronauts than it was to train astronauts to become oil drillers. He told me to shut the f#%k up, so that was the end of that talk. He said, 'You know, Ben, just shut up, okay? You know, this is a real plan.' I was like, 'You mean it's a real plan at NASA to train oil drillers?' And he was, 'Just shut your mouth.' See, here's where we demonstrate that, because Bruce (Willis) is going to tell the guys they did a bad job of building the drill tank. See, he's a salt-of-the-earth guy, and the NASA nerd-o-nauts don't understand his salt-of-the-earth way, his rough-and-tumble ways. Like somehow they can build rocket ships, but they don't understand what makes a good tranny. Like eight whole months, as if that's not long enough to learn to drill a hole. But in a week, we're gonna learn how to be astronauts. I mean, this a little bit of a stretch, let's face it. 'They don't know jack about drilling'? How hard can it be? Aim the drill at the ground and turn it on."

    -- Ben Affleck,
    Armageddon: The Criterion Collection

    "The fact that there will be an impact in the future that will be as big as this, or will destroy most of life, is unquestionable. It will happen. It's not a question of 'if' -- it's a question of 'when.' And to illustrate that point, about four years ago astronomers discovered a one-mile-diameter chunk of asteroid rock had passed between the earth and the moon, and we didn't even know it was coming. We saw it after it was gone. That's extremely embarrassing to the astronomical community, of course, but it illustrates the fact that we just are not that sure. We've only mapped some two or three percent of the asteroids that are out there."

    -- asteroid consultant Ivan Bekey,
    Armageddon: The Criterion Collection

    "Did you ever notice how everyone in all these movies, they always have to be the best? 'He's the smartest man in the world!' Bruce Willis is the best deep-core driller? I didn't know they rated deep-core drillers, you know what I mean? If you went around and asked somebody, like, 'Who's the best? Who's the best deep-core driller?' You know what I mean? Like, 'I'm the best espresso-maker there is in Manhattan!' How do you know? Who's keeping track of these things?"

    -- Affleck (again),
    Armageddon: The Criterion Collection

    Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including Star Trek: Insurrection, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, and others. Check back on Monday for all the latest.

    Have a great weekend.

    -- Ed.

    Thursday, 20 May 1999

    boxcover"Missing in Action" Flick of the Week: What could be funnier than Cary Grant and Tony Curtis in a movie? Gary Grant, Tony Curtis, and a pink submarine in a movie -- or so say fans of the 1959 Operation Petticoat, directed by Blake Edwards. Grant stars as Navy Commander Matt Sherman, who's trying to fight the Japanese during World War II, but is encumbered by both a less-than-seaworthy sub and his First Officer , Lieut. Nicholas Holden (Curtis), who sees the Navy as a convenient way to transfer his libido and con-jobs from port to port. When the crew is forced to take on a group of stranded nurses, Sherman finds himself more worried about keeping the men and women separated than he is about the Japanese. Sure, Grant's got that inimitable "whats-it" accent that makes him sound more like a Member of Parliament than an American sailor, but the slapstick comedy and priceless one-liners have made this a popular favorite. Republic Home Video currently has the rights to Operation Petticoat, and it would make a great DVD title. However, since very few classic comedies from Hollywood's Golden Age have reached DVD (and finding titles with either Grant or Curtis on DVD is next-to-impossible), our hopes are not high. We'll hang on to our widescreen VHS tape for now.

    Sick out: We know a lot of you are feeling a little dazed from the recent media frenzy over The Phantom Menace, and frankly, we are too. So for those of you who think the "Wookie Hooky" sounds like one of Denny Terrio's disco moves from 1978, we've found a link for you: Funny stuff.

    See ya.

    -- Ed.

    Wednesday, 19 May 1999

    Mailbag: Wednesday is mail day around here, so let's get to it:

  • I own an AIWA home theater system, which has Dolby Pro Logic. How much different is DD 5.1 than what I am using? Is it really worth the investment? I have six speakers and a 90-watt subwoofer, and it all rocks. I find it difficult to believe a Dolby Digital system is much better.

    -- Thomas

    Er... it is. We started out with a Dolby Pro Logic system, just like you, and probably waited too long before upgrading to Dolby Digital 5.1 (also known as Dolby AC-3). When we did, we were blown away. The rear channels are louder and much more dynamic in 5.1 and the entire surround signal offers substantially improved separation. We don't want to belabor any audiophile adjectives, but if we had to pick one word, we'd say that the DD 5.1 signal has more "presence" -- it's much more distinct and enveloping. Of course, for a 5.1 system to really work, you should invest in a quality HT amp from a reputable manufacturer and get a matched set of speakers that will accurately reflect the improvement in signal quality. We're not slavish to any brand names (most well-known manufacturers deliver pleasing results), but for the record, we use Sony components and a matched set of JBL home theater speakers for our reviews. We also strongly recommend that you get a decibel meter to balance your channels for maximum effect (Radio Shack sells a great one). Don't go running up your credit cards, but if you can afford DD 5.1, there's no need to hold off. It's an integral part of any DVD-based home-theater system.

  • This is a really great site! Any chance you guys are going to start doing some hardware reviews?

    -- Chris

    Sorry, Chris, but at this time we have no plans to begin hardware reviews, and for a few reasons. First, while getting our hands on lots of DVD titles for reviews isn't such a big deal, any publication -- in print or on the Web -- that does hardware reviews has the components provided to them by the manufacturer (they have to give them back, by the way). We have plenty of readership at The DVD Journal, but not nearly enough to convince hardware manufacturers to send us new gear. Moreover, even if we could get our hands on the stuff, we are so busy with DVD news and movie reviews that we probably wouldn't have the time, or the facilities, to do any proper analyses. We recommend that all of our readers regularly visit the excellent E-Town website for all the latest hardware reviews. We are also subscribers to both Stereophile Guide to Home Theater and Sound and Vision, two HT-based magazines that we heartily endorse. Finally, our staff's professional backgrounds reside squarely in the worlds of journalism, film production and criticism, and Web publishing. With no real experience reviewing consumer electronics, any attempt at such by us would likely be ill-informed -- if not downright bad.

    But we're not stuck in a rut just yet. We have recently upgraded our review systems to include DVD-ROM capability, so keep your eyes open for more discussion of DVD-ROM content in our reviews and commentary.

    Top of the Pops: Here's the top-selling DVDs last week from our friends at Click the links to read our reviews of these discs:

    1. You've Got Mail
    2. The X-Files: Fight The Future
    3. A Bug's Life
    4. Billy Madison
    5. Conspiracy Theory
    6. Armageddon: The Criterion Collection
    7. Babe: A Pig in the City
    8. Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn
    9. Stepmom
    10. The Pink Panther Cartoon Collection

    Dubious downloads: The MP-3 audio format may be giving the record companies a headache lately with lots of popular music available on the Internet for free, but the movie studios may not be far behind. Several recent films, including The Matrix and Shakespeare in Love, have arrived on the Internet in the form of pirated copies, apparently videotaped in movie theaters and then transferred to the MPEG-1 format (as opposed to the superior MPEG-2 format of DVD Video). The Motion Picture Association of America -- which has enforced the laws surrounding film copyrights for years -- is already chasing down rogue code on the 'Net, and it's bound to get worse, not better. We wouldn't get too jazzed by a Minicam-captured, MPEG-1 Matrix, but with the purely digital content of DVD and transfer rates on the rise, how many more years will it be before clever, carbuncle-faced teenage boys start trading home-toasted copies of Terminator 2 or Starship Troopers?

    If we owned a film studio, we'd be worried too.

    -- Ed.

    Tuesday, 18 May 1999

    In the Works: Here's some new disc announcements, courtesy of Laserviews:

    • Warner has taken over the distribution duties of Short Cinema Journal on behalf of DVD Mags, and will release Short Cinema Journal 1:4 on June 15. Warner will also re-release the previous three SCJ editions, which were previously distributed by PolyGram. There's no word if Warner will continue the intricate, well-designed SCJ packaging that PolyGram offered, but look for a lower street price on this much-appreciated DVD series. Warner is also planning to release the new DVD Mags title Circuit Music Journal 1:1 on June 15, which will look at the world of popular music.
    • Warner is also preparing a 16x9-enhanced disc of their animated The King and I (July 6), which will include "making-of" footage, a "sing-along" lyrics supplement, and a video game as DVD-ROM content.
    • DreamWorks is planning to release a new 16x9-enhanced disc of Neil Jordan's In Dreams on June 1.
    • Universal has some new DTS DVD titles on the way, including Mercury Rising and Patch Adams. Expect both on July 20.
    • Street date changes include Taxi Driver: Special Edition (June 15), Henry V: The Criterion Collection (1944) (June 22), and Rock & Roll High School: Special Edition (no new date).

    What's up with that?: One major online DVD retailer (it's not our sponsor,, by the way) is now taking orders for The Shawshank Redemption on DVD, claiming that it will be released sometime in the next few months. However, we never saw the press release, and are working under the impression that Shawshank still doesn't have a street date. Did we miss something?

    On the Street: Here's this morning's notable street discs, also from Laserviews:

    • Action Jackson
    • The Arrival/The Arrival 2
    • Bataan
    • Beloved
    • Bonnie & Clyde (letterboxed!)
    • Caddyshack 2
    • Dead Bang
    • Divine Madness
    • Fearless
    • First Deadly Sin
    • Funny Farm
    • Holy Man
    • The Hudsucker Proxy
    • Kingpin: Special Edition
    • The Last Metro
    • Mighty Aphrodite
    • Monument Ave.
    • Muriel's Wedding
    • My Blue Heaven
    • On Deadly Ground
    • Out For Justice
    • Pork Chop Hill
    • Power
    • Robin Hood (silent)
    • Run Silent, Run Deep
    • Shoot The Piano Player
    • Simon Birch
    • Sirens
    • They Were Expendable
    • The Three Musketeers (silent)
    • Two English Girls
    • Velvet Goldmine
    • Very Bad Things
    • With Honors

    A DVD "flipper" of a different sort: With all of the buzz surrounding the next-generation of video-game systems from Sony and Sega, some may have forgotten that Nintendo is still a formidable player in the gaming market, as evidenced by the announcement of their new DVD-based Dolphin console at the E3 show over the weekend in Los Angeles. And Nintendo -- which has no intention of shying away from the violent, shoot-em-up content that sells well with kids and freaks out the grown-ups -- has apparently decided that there's no point in challenging CE titan Sony on their own. Look for a new 400 MHz PowerPC chip in the Dolphin deck from IBM, as well as a DVD transport from Matsushita.

    Quotable: "Chances of (The Phantom Menace) beating the original (Star Wars at the box office) are slim to none, and I don't really even expect it to beat E.T. But I do expect it to be one of the top 10 grossers of all time... If it didn't, I'd probably be disappointed."

    -- George Lucas, crunching the numbers
    at a recent press conference.

    "Those are the London film execs. They're not allowed to get out."

    -- Stanley Kubrick, explaining to Vincent D'Onofrio
    why there was a van full of people
    on the set of Full Metal Jacket.

    See ya tomorrow.

    -- Ed.

    Monday, 17 May 1999

    boxcoverDisc of the Week: Henri-Georges Clouzot's excellent 1955 French thriller Diabolique (the actual title of which is Les Diaboliques, or The Devils), holds an unusual place in cinema history, as an obscure-but-much-studied film that borrows heavily from the works of Alfred Hitchcock, and yet has served as the inspiration for many subsequent mainstream Hollywood films that thrive on high-octane suspense and wide-ranging audience misdirection (including the cheesy-but-fun 1997 Wild Things). Sadistic teacher Michel Delasalle (Paul Meurisse) is the headmaster of a French boarding school for boys, gaining the position from his put-upon Spanish wife Christina (Véra Clouzot), who inherited the property and owns it. Michel is not only brutish towards his wife, but he also likes to have affairs on the side, including one with fellow schoolteacher Nicole Horner (Simone Signoret), whom he is not afraid to beat now and then. It is only a matter of time before the two women -- meek, ex-nun Christina and headstrong Nicole -- begin to plot Michel's murder, hatching an intricate plan that involves drowning Michel hundreds of miles from the school and then returning to dump his body in the murky swimming pool and nervously await its discovery. While this Criterion disc is thin on extras (it's pretty much just the movie), it comes at a reasonable street price. The source print is showing some damage, but it's more than watchable, presented in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, with optional English subtitles. For film buffs, this one's definitely worth a look.

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

    1. The Mummy
      $25,100,000 ($80,800,000 to date)
    2. Entrapment
      $8,700,000 ($50,700,000 to date)
    3. The Matrix
      $4,500,000 ($145,100,000 to date)
    4. A Misdummer Night's Dream
      $4,400,000 ($4,400,000 to date)
    5. Black Mask
      $4,200,000 ($4,200,000 to date)
    6. Life
      $2,900,000 ($55,300,000 to date)
    7. Trippin'
      $2,600,000 ($3,200,000 to date)
    8. Never Been Kissed
      $2,450,000 ($43,800,000 to date)
    9. Election
      $2,300,000 ($7,000,000 to date)
    10. Tea With Mussolini
      $1,700,000 ($1,700,000 to date)
    11. Analyze This
      $940,000 ($102,200,000 to date)
    12. Ten Things I Hate About You
      $900,000 ($3,400,000 to date)

    On the Board: A new full review has been posted for Scarface: Collector's Edition, and can be found on our Full Reviews index. New quick reviews this week include You've Got Mail: Special Edition, Diabolique: The Criterion Collection, The Doors, and Slap Shot, and can be accessed under the New Reviews menu here on the main page.

    Finally: We'd like to say thanks to all of our readers, old and new, who overwhelmed us with e-mails this past weekend -- some nice, but most very nasty. Our exclusive early review of Episode I: The Phantom Menace -- one of only a handful on the Internet last week -- sent our hits through the roof, being requested from our server every few seconds for almost three days straight. We'd also like to thank The and NewsDroid for their prompt links and comments. And we'd also like to thank our friends at FilmThreat, who were nice enough to stop by and share their Phantom Menace comments with our staff. Last week kept us busy, but things should be returning to normal around here this week. For those of you who visit The DVD Journal for actual DVD news and commentary (or those of you who just plain hate Star Wars hype), we hope you weren't too annoyed with the whole thing.

    We'll be back tomorrow with a look at some new DVD announcements and to let you know about this week's street discs.

    -- Ed.

    Thursday - Friday, 13 - 14 May 1999
    -- Newsroom Code Red --

    You want it, we got it: The DVD Journal's exclusive review of Episode I: The Phantom Menace is right here!

    boxcover"Missing in Action" Flick of the Week: Our appreciation for Tin Cup's insights into athletic achievement made us wistful for another of our favorite sports films yet to find its way to DVD. As a sort of flipside to Tin Cup, which focuses on internal, somewhat metaphysical competitive urges, Barry Levinson's 1984 The Natural, starring Robert Redford, approaches sport externally, examining its status as modern mythology. Redford stars as Roy Hobbs, a golden boy slugger, whose only dream in life is to be the best there ever was in the game of baseball. Armed with a bat hewn by his loving father from a mighty tree split open by lightning, innocent Roy heads off for the major leagues -- and finds a darker world of sin, malice, and corruption. Roy is the hero, albeit a haunted one, this world was in desperate need of. There isn't much verisimilitude in The Natural; its beauty lies in its rich mix fantasy and the creeping hints of reality that underline it. Director Levinson and cinematographer Caleb Deschanel create a marvelous, glowing, romantic vision of baseball's "pure" days in the early part of the century. Screenwriters Roger Towne and Phil Dusenberry, on the other hand, adapt Bernard Malamud's novel with a rueful awareness of what lies behind the magical facade of sport and heroism. Redford turns in one his most complex performances, never sure of himself without his trusty bat in his hand. Randy Newman's stirring score is also his very best. The terrific cast also features Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Kim Basinger, Wilford Brimley, and Barbara Hershey. Columbia TriStar currently has the rights to this one, so maybe we'll see it on DVD before too much longer.

    Divx Watch: With absolutely no fanfare or warning (and not even a press release), Disney has decided to license the animated classic Alice in Wonderland to Divx format, while DVD fans everywhere clamor for animated Disney titles on open DVD. Distressing? Yes. But the bottom line? One animated Disney classic will not resurrect Divx. Moreover, since animated titles are most in demand by parents who let their children watch them ad infinitum, placing Alice in Wonderland or any other Disney flick on a pay-per-view format makes no sense whatsoever. Mom and Pop aren't going to buy this one in record numbers.

    Nice try, guys.

    -- Ed.

    Wednesday, 12 May 1999

    This is not a joke: Two of our DVD Journal staffers were invited to a special preview screening of Episode I: The Phantom Menace last night, and even though a handful of newspapers and Internet websites have already released early reviews of the LucasFlick, we still plan to post our sneak preview right here tomorrow (or early this evening). Be sure to drop by and read it.

    Mailbag: It's time to clean out some of the reader mail here at The DVD Journal:

  • My all-time favorite of "old" movies is the Thin Man series, which is terrific, and IMHO much better than a lot of the old movies on DVD now. Given the current revival of the cocktail hour, I am sure that these movies would find welcome new audiences. Any insights? In the meantime, I keep watching the new release lists with hope.

    -- Jeff

    The video rights to the entire Thin Man series, starring William Powell and Myrna Loy, is owned by MGM, and unfortunately, they seem to suffer from the particular DVD curse of being too classic, too old, and very black-and-white. While many of us love The Thin Man, et. al., our guess is that the films are not high on The Lion's list of DVD priorities. And that's a shame.

  • Thanks for the heads up on The Usual Suspects. After reading last Thursday's post, I made sure to keep an eye out for the DVD. Tonight, while looking for a possible rental at Blockbuster, they happened to have a brand-new copy for sale. I grabbed it and will be able to enjoy a great film. I enjoy your website -- it's very informative.

    -- Chris

    Thanks Chris, and congrats on getting your hard-to-find copy of The Usual Suspects. We knew there was a reason we were doing this site.

    Top of the Pops: Here's the top-selling DVDs last week from our friends at Click the links to read our reviews of these discs:

    1. A Bug's Life
    2. Armageddon: The Criterion Collection
    3. The Negotiator
    4. Antz
    5. Stepmom
    6. Pleasantville
    7. Conspiracy Theory
    8. Billy Madison
    9. Happiness
    10. The King and I

    Don't forget, our sneak preview of The Phantom Menace will be right here as soon as we can post it!

    -- Ed.

    Tuesday, 11 May 1999

    Star WarsThe Day After: We've received plenty of e-mail from DVD Journal readers who are understandably upset that George Lucas apparently has no plans to release the Star Wars saga to DVD until all of the Star Wars prequels are complete (see yesterday's update). However, we've also heard from a few conspiracy theorists who claim that Lucas's peculiar choice of words in his brief statement to Leonard Maltin last weekend indicates that he didn't really say what we all heard. In particular, some have focused on how the DVD plan is only the "primary" plan, and that Lucas was not definitive enough, claiming that waiting until around 2006 is merely "what we're trying to do."

    With all due respect, we think it's time to let go kids. Hanging on to all of the films until he can release a six-DVD boxed set sounds a whole lot like George Lucas to us, and this isn't a guy who really needs the home-video revenue anyway. Moreover, when Lucas said that the THX remastered editions of the original trilogy, released a few years back, were your opportunity to "own them again for the last time," he wasn't joking. The original Star Wars trilogy is as missing as Jimmy Hoffa. George Lucas doesn't play by the normal rules. He doesn't have to.

    If Star Wars shows up on DVD by some miracle in the next year or two, we will be just as pleasantly surprised as the rest of you. But we're going to drop the matter and focus on all of the other great films that are arriving on DVD right now. If a hi-res Star Wars trilogy is really important to some people, it should be noted that they were all released on Laserdisc, including the THX-remastered originals. And considering how cheap Laserdiscs and used Laserdisc players are currently selling, now is a good time to make the investment.

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

    • Alaska: IMAX
    • Another Day In Paradise: Special Edition
    • Broken Blossoms (silent)
    • Curse Of The Voodoo
    • Greatest Places: IMAX
    • In The Grip Of Evil
    • Master Of Disaster
    • Space Truckers: Special Edition
    • Star Trek: Insurrection
    • White Man's Burden

    Clinton targets Tinseltown: We're not surprised that President Clinton -- a master of political opportunism and idealistic, oversimplified policy initiatives -- has decided to blame Hollywood for the recent killings in Littleton, Colo., but just for the record, here's an excerpt from the comments he made yesterday during a "strategy session" with studio executives, firearms manufacturers, and gun-control advocates:

    "We cannot pretend that there is no impact on our culture and our children that is adverse if there is too much violence coming out of what they see and experience. We have to ask the people who produce things to consider the consequences of them, whether it's a violent movie, a CD, a video game."

    Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, found himself in the less-than-surprising position of disagreeing with the president, claiming that "You can't tell a director what to do. These are people who operate under the canopy of the First Amendment... You have to allow in the marketplace that which you find to be meretricious and tawdry and unwholesome."

    We agree with Valenti, and we have a very simple question for our president: If you say it's possible to smoke pot but not get stoned, have an extramarital affair but not have "sexual relations," and bomb a country but not declare war, then wouldn't you also say that it's possible to watch a violent movie and not become violent?

    Just asking.

    -- Ed.

    Monday, 10 May 1999
    -- Newsroom Code Red --

    Lucas speaks: Been wondering about the Star Wars trilogy on DVD? Of course you have, nutsacks. All of us want the goddam thing. But here's what George Lucas told Leonard Maltin last night on "Entertainment Tonight" (and by the way, the DVD question was the most-asked of 5,000 viewer inquiries that Maltin fielded from Star Wars fans):

    "We have been kind of waiting on the DVD because I've been trying to make sure that the DVD is the ultimate 'repository' of the Star Wars saga, and primarily what we're trying to do is wait until I have all six of them before we release them on DVD."

    There's the word from the man himself. Our prediction for Star Wars on DVD? 2006 -- at the earliest. So relax, kids. We're gonna keep our widescreen VHS boxed set in the freezer.

    boxcoverDisc of the Week: Judging by the bumpy starts that television shows have endured over the years when they bid for the big screen, you'd be forgiven if you thought that The X-Files: Fight The Future would be terrible. Fortunately, for fans of the hit TV series and fans of movies in general, this one is far from it, thanks to smart writing and some tight, engrossing direction. Fight The Future stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, who reprise their roles as FBI Special Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully for their first film outing, picking up where the end of the fifth season left off, with the X-Files closed down by the FBI and the inveterate alien-chasers assigned to routine agency duty far from Washington. But when a federal building in Texas is destroyed by unknown persons, a mysterious whistle-blower (Martin Landau) tracks down "Spooky" Mulder and urges him to start an "X-Files"-style investigation, putting both him and Scully back on the trail of a conspiracy that reaches to the highest levels of world power. While Fight The Future has all the goods to keep die-hard X-Philes happy (and there are revelations contained herein), series creator Chris Carter wisely decided to enclose the narrative of the film as much as possible, allowing X-Files neophytes the opportunity to meet Mulder and Scully on the big screen and still enjoy the ride. Fight The Future was originally announced for release on DVD last February, and when it was subsequently postponed by Fox, fans everywhere started to worry. After all, Fox had already announced and then pulled The Abyss for unknown reasons. However, it seems that the extra three months were set aside so that Carter could add some special edition content to this new disc, including a commentary track with himself and director Rob Bowman. We think it was worth the wait.

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

    1. The Mummy
      $44,600,000 ($44,600,000 to date)
    2. Entrapment
      $12,200,000 ($38,400,000 to date)
    3. The Matrix
      $6,000,000 ($138,700,000 to date)
    4. Life
      $3,500,000 ($51,400,000 to date)
    5. Election
      $3,300,000 ($3,800,000 to date)
    6. Never Been Kissed
      $3,000,000 ($40,500,000 to date)
    7. Analyze This
      $1,800,000 ($100,900,000 to date)
    8. Ten Things I Hate About You
      $1,200,000 ($32,700,000 to date)
    9. Cookie's Fortune
      $900,000 (N/A)
    10. Shakespeare in Love
      $765,000 ($93,900,000 to date)
    11. Idle Hands
      $750,000 ($3,100,000 to date)
    12. The Out-of-Towners
      $750,000 ($26,000,000 to date)

    On the Board: A new full review has been posted for Tin Cup, and can be found on our Full Reviews index. New quick reviews this week include The X-Files: Fight the Future, Amistad, An American in Paris, Q: The Winged Serpent, Passenger 57, and The Philadelphia Story, 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, 7 May 1999
    Weekend Dispatch

    The Phantom Menace"Phantom" fallout: We hate to do this to you people, we really do, but when the major wires run with a story, we damn the torpedoes and post the links. It's no secret that Episode I: The Phantom Menace was screened this week for select audiences in eight American cities, and Variety, The Associated Press, and Reuters are all now reporting that the mammoth box-office expected for the forthcoming LucasFlick may not be guaranteed after all, describing audience reaction to the film as altogether underwhelming. While it is generally agreed that The Phantom Menace is entertaining stuff, some viewers have claimed that the film is too oriented towards children and not to the young-adult audience who have embraced the series for two decades now. Others have said that the film is overly dependent upon CGI effects, and that both Jake Lloyd (as the young Anankin Skywalker) and the animated character Jar Jar Binks are flat-out rotten. And even though "Entertainment Tonight" has been a ready shill for Menace this week by saturating their syndicated television show with clips from the film, Reuters, AP, and Variety are not the only major news outlets to declare that The Force may not be with Lucas. The Fox News Channel -- which is owned by the same corporation that is promoting and distributing the film -- declared last night that the early Menace reaction in New York City was "Luke-warm." Ouch.

    Divx Watch: Circuit City's sales figures for the month of April have been released, and while the Big Plug enjoyed a 17 percent increase in sales compared to April of 1998, their press release contains nary a word of Divx sales -- which of course causes us to think that sales are down. In fact, the only mention of Divx in the entire release simply refers to the pay-to-play format as "DVD with Divx." Remember just a few short months ago when Circuit City was proud to advertise Divx as a format unto itself? It's a shame that Bill Clinton is bombing Serbia and not Circuit City, because if Slobodan Milosevic doesn't understand the meaning of retreat, Dick Sharp sure does.

    In the Works: A few new disc announcements were posted at Laserviews yesterday, and while most of them were negligible, we are happy to note that the Peter Weir films Witness and Gallipoli are due from Paramount on June 29, and both discs will include interview footage with the director. We called Marv Albert and told him about the new discs, to which he simply replied "Yes!" We agree with Marv.

    boxcoverCommentary Clip: "I go up and down about (Sid and Nancy). I thought I was not good in it. There's a lot of work involved when you're dealing with a famous character. It presents a set of hurdles that you have to kind of leap. I think when you play people who have lived, you have a responsibility... People who died young, as (Sid Vicious) did, they tend to leave behind family, relatives, and I think that you have a certain obligation to them to at least try and make it as accurate as you possibly can. So that meant looking at a lot of video material. You have to go somewhat towards looking like the guy. I took bass lessons. I didn't do a lot of reading, because I don't think that acting is an intellectual process -- acting's a sensation. I listened to a lot of radio interviews to get the voice down. I had brown contact lenses in the movie -- apart from Dracula, I've never used them since. I had short hair at the time, about an inch, and I had to have hair extensions. Ultimately, I wanted to capture an essence or a spirit of Vicious and not completely do an impersonation of him, because we've already had one Sid Vicious. Why give (the public) another? And it's a movie, and it's (director Alex) Cox's interpretation. It's not mine."

    -- Gary Oldman, Sid and Nancy: The Criterion Collection

    Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including The X-Files: Fight the Future and Amistad. Look for these and others on Monday morning.

    Have a great weekend.

    -- Ed.

    Thursday, 6 May 1999

    boxcover"Missing in Action" Flick of the Week: "Wait a minute!" you say, "I already have The Usual Suspects on DVD! That's not a missing-in-action flick!" Well if you do, consider yourself fortunate, because this disc has been out of circulation for several months due to the liquidation of the PolyGram library. Many DVD fans snapped up The Usual Suspects before the moratorium was announced, but we've received more than a few letters from DVD Journal readers who just bought DVD players and have found that they cannot add this neo-noir thriller from director Bryan Singer and writer Christopher McQuarrie to their collections. Not only is the film one of the best exercises in multiple misdirection ever dreamed up, but the cast members -- including Gabriel Byrne, Kevin Spacey, Stephen Baldwin, Kevin Pollak, Benicio Del Toro, Pete Posthlewaite, and Chazz Palminteri -- deliver outstanding, memorable performances. In addition, the commentary track by Singer and McQuarrie is one of our favorites ever, and is a must-listen for fans of the film.

    But, while it's a shame that many people can't buy this DVD edition of The Usual Suspects, it should be noted that the disc had its drawbacks, including the failure by PolyGram to transfer the original DD 5.1 audio (and instead substituting a Dolby 2.0 mix), and the fact that most copies were distributed in the dreaded LaserFile case, which, we are happy to note, is no longer being used by any DVD manufacturer. MGM now has the rights to The Usual Suspects, and it is certain that they have every intention of producing a new DVD (and hopefully with the commentary track intact). But when you own the largest proprietary film library in the world -- as the Lion does -- everything takes time. As of now, no new release date has been announced.

    Chatter: A very long and interesting thread has popped up at the Home Theater Forum regarding Ron Epstein's early review of The Phantom Menace (see yesterday's update). Again, we wish to warn those of you who intend to see Menace without any preconceptions to avoid reading both Ron's insights and the forum thread -- but we have a sneaking suspicion that the reactions brewing over at HTF are merely a sampling of comments we will be hearing everywhere after May 19.

    See ya later.

    -- Ed.

    Wednesday, 5 May 1999

    First on the Web: Ron Epstein, webmaster of the excellent Home Theater Forum, managed to get an invite to a super-secret screening of The Phantom Menace in New York, and he's posted his review. Those of you who are dying to see the movie probably shouldn't read it, but if you just can't wait, you can click... here.

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

  • I have been reading several reports about how movies are affecting society, and I find that Hollywood is getting an unnecessary black eye over this. I'm very sad for what happened in Colorado a week ago, and my heart goes out to the families and victims of that tragedy, but Hollywood is not to blame. Being part of the VCR generation, my brain has absorbed every violent movie in history, and I don't run around with a gun in my hand killing people. Movies have not made me a rabid, violent man, and they never will. Now The Basketball Diaries is being put through the grind. Our society is washing its hands, blaming the problem on Hollywood, and not looking at the news media. Some classrooms have CNN shown to their students every day, and they are watching this horrific violence because it's news. I'm 27 years old, and I'm appalled that watching the Colorado killings was like watching a football game. A graphic visual of a bloodied student falling out of a window into the arms of the police is very horrific to me and to many other people because it's real and not fake. But in today's world, where money is the almighty ruler, the news media is hungry for stories like the massacre in Colorado. That's sad to see, because people are becoming desensitized to real violence, and that's where we should look -- not Hollywood.

    -- Trent

    We couldn't agree with you more, Trent, and we are additionally disgusted that our elected leaders, Republican and Democrat, are so willing to make political hay out of such a senseless tragedy. Very few people -- especially elected officials -- have the courage to admit that some social problems can have a variety of inexplicable origins, and instead feel the rash urge to "do something." Unfortunately, their "doing something" may result in a stifling of both free speech and complex artistic expression -- and the excellent anti-drug drama The Basketball Diaries, which probably will be placed on hiatus by MGM, may be only the first of many films that are driven underground as a result.

  • I have heard a lot of talk recently about the new Ghostbusters DVD that is coming out from Columbia-TriStar, primarily because it's going to include so many added features. While I've read about these special features and they are impressive, the film itself hardly qualifies as a classic. Don't get me wrong, Ghostbusters is a wonderfully fun film that will never be forgotten, but what about Columbia-TriStar's Taxi Driver: Special Edition, which will be released soon? Taxi Driver is a classic film in every sense of the word, and a special edition of this film is much more exciting to me. Ghostbusters will make a great rental, but if this new Taxi Driver DVD is as good as it could be, it's mine!

    -- Thomas

    If we were stranded on a desert island and could only take a special-edition DVD of either Taxi Driver or Ghostbusters, we'd take the Scorcese disc too. But let's not knock the new Ghostbusters DVD around too much -- the Mystery Science Theater 3000-style commentary track alone is bound to make it a legendary disc.

    Top of the Pops: Here's the top-selling DVDs last week from our friends at Click the links to read our reviews of these discs:

    1. A Bug's Life
    2. Armageddon: The Criterion Collection
    3. The Negotiator
    4. Pleasantville
    5. Antz
    6. The Siege
    7. Rush Hour
    8. Swingers
    9. Meet Joe Black
    10. Heart and Souls

    R.I.P: Oliver Reed, one of our favorite actors and one of the baddest Brit boys ever, died last Sunday in Malta. The hard-drinking thespian and star of such films as The Three Musketeers, Oliver!, and Women in Love died the way he lived, running up a $435 bar tab in a Malta pub with a crew of British sailors before succumbing to a heart attack. In a recent interview, the politically incorrect Reed stated his few regrets in life: "That I haven't drunk every pub dry, slept with every woman on earth, and kissed every dog's nose." Reed was 61.

    -- Ed.

    Tuesday, 4 May 1999

    Divx Watch: If you think news on the Divx front has been slim lately, there's a reason for it -- namely, the Circuit City-owned pay-to-play DVD format appears to be suffocating. Robert Lundemo Aas at Robert's DVD Page has noted that only 24 Divx titles were released during April, and a mere eight films are due to arrive on Divx during the month of May, and this despite the fact that Circuit City is still apparently promising 50 new Divx movies per month -- the figure they first bandied about when Divx was launched nationally last year. In addition to the dwindling titles, Paramount is still refusing to allow Divx users to "silver" their discs, which would allow them to be played an unlimited amount of times on the owner's registered Divx player. The fact that Paramount has not even released a film on Divx since Deep Impact last December indicates that this policy probably will not change. Furthermore, Disney's A Bug's Life -- a monster seller on open DVD -- has yet to reach the Divx format.

    If it appears that the studios are jumping ship, that may not be the worst of Circuit City's problems. The Richmond-Times Dispatch, the paper of record in Circuit City's hometown of Richmond, Va., posted a story yesterday on the Divx dilemma, acknowledging that the format has had a bumpy start, but claiming that it could still find a market if CC lands a distribution agreement or equity investment with another national retailer. As of this point, CC is the only nationwide Divx retailer, with all other retailers (such as The Good Guys) being regional chains. With Wal-Mart, Viacom/Blockbuster, and Tandy/Radio Shack all recently bowing out of the Divx hunt, this one fact, above all others, could bring about the final demise of CC's plans to conquer digital home video.

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

    • Alice Cooper: Welcome To My Nightmare
    • Amistad
    • Babe: A Pig in the City
    • Blues Brothers 2000 (DTS)
    • The Boxer (DTS)
    • The Burbs
    • Dawn of the Dead: Theatrical Version
    • Junior Bonner
    • Monty Python's Life of Brian
    • Out of Sight (DTS)
    • Primary Colors (DTS)
    • Stevie Wonder: Songs in the Key of Life
    • The X-Files: Fight The Future (finally!)
    • You've Got Mail: Special Edition

    Oh my, you have a very large...: Been wondering about those digital video projectors from Hughes/JVC and Texas Instruments that will be used to screen The Phantom Menace later this month at a select handful of digital theaters? The folks at E-Town got a peek at them last week at the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas. Bargain hunters should note that they only cost $100,000 and probably won't even fit in your house. If you would like to buy a smaller version of these big daddies that's approved for home use, those are available too -- and they're comparably cheap, going for a mere 25 large.

    See ya tomorrow.

    -- Ed.

    Monday, 3 May 1999

    It's just a rumor, folks: But it's an interesting one and it's all over the 'net today, regarding the Star Wars trilogy on DVD. Apparently there is an interest in re-mastering the original trilogy in the new Dolby Digital -- Surround EX audio format, which will debut with The Phantom Menace in theaters. And since the new technology is available for producers, but not in a home-theater environment yet, the powers-that-be at LucasFilm may hang on to Star Wars until Surround EX-compatible HT amps reach the shops.

    Is the rumor true? Well, anybody with an ordinary HT amp could downmix any audio signal -- they could even play a Star Wars DVD through a crappy mono speaker on a 13" television -- so it all seems like overkill. And why would LucasFilm wait for Surround EX amps to arrive when they know damn well that 95% of all consumers would listen to the films in either 5.1 or 2.0 anyway, since upgrading is always expensive. On the other hand, George Lucas has been in no hurry to put Star Wars on DVD (he's had two years now to do it), and waiting for Surround EX in a home environment sounds like a plausible LucasFilm policy to us.

    In any case, the rumors that Star Wars would arrive on DVD by the time The Phantom Menace reached the cineplexes are obviously false at this point. And as marketing cycles go, we do not expect anything from Fox or Lucas until Christmas of 1999 -- at the very earliest.

    The saga continues...

    And the winner is: Steven Hauck of Indianapolis, Ind., wins the free DVD of Die Hard from our April contest. Congrats, Steven!

    Our Free DVD Contest for the month of May is up and running, and we have a copy of Happy Gilmore starring Adam Sandler up for grabs. Be sure to drop by our contest page and send us your entry, and don't forget to take our Monthly DVD Poll while you're there.

    boxcoverDisc of the Week: With all of the recent controversy surrounding Hollywood films and how they may be encouraging our young people to do horrible things, don't tell anybody that Terence Malick's debut film, 1973's Badlands, arrived on DVD last week -- we're hoping it slipped by the guardians of American morality. Starring Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek, Badlands tells the story of Kit Carruthers (Sheen), a directionless adolescent who just wants more fun out of life. But when he is forbidden to see his 15-year-old girlfriend Holly (Spacek) by her father, the soft-spoken South Dakota youth shoots him, and he and Holly embark on a week-long killing spree that leads them to the barren plains of Montana. Malick based his fictional tale on the real-life events of Charlie Starkweather and Carol Fugate, two teenagers who also went on a crime spree in 1957 that shocked the nation, but Malick's directorial choices in Badlands avoid the gratuitous shocks one might expect from such material. Instead of focusing on the murders, Malick spends most of his time with his two leading characters, allowing us to eavesdrop on their mindless conversations and their imagined, contrived inner dramas. Ultimately, we are left with the paradoxical impression that these are just unsophisticated kids, not bloodthirsty savages, forcing us to wonder how on earth two children could kill so many people and not care about it. The genius of Badlands is that Malick leaves these questions unanswered -- perhaps understanding that problems such as this don't always have simple solutions.

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

    1. Entrapment
      $20,700,000 ($20,700,000 to date)
    2. The Matrix
      $8,700,000 ($129,700,000 to date)
    3. Life
      $6,400,000 ($46,200,000 to date)
    4. Never Been Kissed
      $4,200,000 ($36,600,000 to date)
    5. Analyze This
      $2,200,000 ($98,500,000 to date)
    6. Ten Things I Hate About You
      $1,800,000 ($31,100,000 to date)
    7. Idle Hands
      $1,800,000 ($1,800,000 to date)
    8. Pushing Tin
      $1,300,000 ($6,000,000 to date)
    9. Lost and Found
      $1,280,000 ($5,000,000 to date)
    10. Go
      $1,200,000 ($14,400,000 to date)
    11. The Out-of-Towners
      $1,100,000 ($25,000,000 to date)
    12. Shakespeare in Love
      $860,000 ($92,900,000 to date)

    On the Board: A new full review has been posted for The Last Boy Scout, and can be found on our Full Reviews index. New quick reviews this week include Badlands, Armageddon: The Criterion Collection, Apt Pupil, Sid and Nancy: The Criterion Collection, Hair, and Volcano, 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.

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