News and Commentary: June 1999

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Wednesday, 30 June 1999

Mailbag: Wednesday is mail day here at The DVD Journal, so let's get to it:

  • I was just wondering if studios are going to start to put movie previews at the beginning of DVDs from now on. The reason I ask is that I just bought The Last Starfighter on DVD yesterday, and when you start the DVD the first 90 seconds is a preview of Universal's DVDs and the menu cannot be accessed until you are done watching this. It is very annoying that this has to be watched every time you want to watch the movie. Have you heard of any other movies like this? Are more movies going in this direction? Geez!

    -- James

    You are referring to the "Universal DVD" trailer, which (for those who have not seen it), features clips from several Universal films on DVD, along with a funky drum track in 5.1. We have no direct knowledge, but we're betting that Universal has no intention of eliminating this trailer, and The Last Starfighter isn't the only DVD that contains the promo. Many Universal DVDs include the intro, and they have for some time now (we haven't seen this from other studios, but we wouldn't be surprised if they followed suit). We'd join you in your complaint, except for the fact that a tap on the chapter-skip button on our DVD player's remote (we have a Sony DVP-S300) shoots us right past the promo and to the start of the film. See if you can skip past it with your chapter or menu button. If you can't, your particular choice of DVD player may be the culprit.

  • It would be great if you could start updating on weekends!

    -- Charon

    We would like to do that too Charon, except that all staff members at The DVD Journal are very busy during the week, and nobody around here has volunteered to work the weekend (which is when we do most of our DVD watching and reviewing anyway). Besides, there's not much DVD or movie news going on over the weekends, and if we did Saturday or Sunday updates, we probably would just wind up talking about ourselves, our friends, our jobs, the new toys we've bought, and where we're planning to go on vacation. Who would want to read stuff like that on a DVD website? It's unheard of!

    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. Enemy of the State
    2. Austin Powers
    3. So I Married an Axe Murderer
    4. Alien: Twentieth Anniversary Edition
    5. Taxi Driver: Collector's Edition
    6. Cabaret
    7. Waking Ned Devine
    8. Aliens: Special Edition
    9. Psycho: Collector's Edition (1998)
    10. The Faculty

    Quotable: "He's the kind of person it's easy to feel good with. Michael has always been great to me. He's given me a lot of support when I've needed a friendly helping hand, and he's a charming guy and a real gentleman."

    -- Mask of Zorro star Catherine Zeta-Jones,
    referring to Michael Douglas, with whom she
    was recently photographed in a topless embrace (!)
    while vacationing.

    Great. Now we have one more reason to hate Michael Douglas.

    -- Ed.

    Tuesday, 29 June 1999

    "Matrix" meltdown: Many of you probably caught the news yesterday that Warner will not allow their VHS edition of The Matrix to sell-through to consumers, and only release the film on tape as a rental item. Of course, this doesn't mean that the VHS won't be for sale to the general public, but it will cost upwards of $100 per copy -- the wholesale rate that video stores pay for new releases. Warner's reasoning is flawed at best, and dishonest at worse, as they claim that they do not want the film to fall into the hands of impressionable teens and pre-teens, who presumably will watch the sci-fi fantasy -- full of trenchcoats, firearms, and kung fu -- and then drop by their local school and kill a lot of people. Why this reasoning is flawed should go without saying. The Matrix was barely mentioned after the Columbine shootings, and gained nowhere near the attention that The Basketball Diaries and Marilyn Manson received. The film contains no parents, no kids, no schools, and barely an America as we know it today. If there ever was a fantasy movie, The Matrix is it.

    If this isn't a case of Warner not thinking the issue through clearly, then we are all being had. Even with a controversial movie (which The Matrix decidedly was not), studios and their home-video divisions have every incentive to retail video editions of popular titles -- to not do so isn't merely ridiculous, it's an affront to the corporation's shareholders, who have every right to expect that the company will maximize their profits with all of the product they have on hand. Warner claims that they will street the Matrix DVD because such a title has less potential to fall into the hands of young folks (the argument being, we guess, that young people don't have parents with DVD players, and they never have $20 in their pockets.)

    So what's the real story? Is Warner afraid of all the election-year politics going on right now? Do they really have a moral dilemma with The Matrix? Are they trying to hype sales of DVD players and discs by only allowing the film to sell-through on disc? We have no idea.

    Now let's talk about people with cajones: Warner may be playing 'possum when it comes to movie violence, but the Directors Guild of America passed a resolution over the weekend declaring that they refuse to be intimidated by Bill Clinton, the entire Republican Party, and any other politician who is willing to scare the hell out of people in order to get elected. At the same time, they will create a task force to research violence in movies. In a statement, DGA President Jack Shea said "Our mission is both to ensure that the First Amendment rights of our members are not trampled upon by overzealous legislators and also to raise the consciousness level of the entertainment community with regard to the social responsibility of filmmakers." The DGA resolution itself says that "the issue of the portrayal of violence in motion pictures and television should be decided between filmmakers and their audience."

    Give 'em hell, gang.

    On the Street: Kubrick Tuesday is finally here, along with several other new DVDs. Here's all the notables, courtesy of Image Entertainment:

    • 2001: A Space Odyssey (re-release)
    • And Then There Were None (1945)
    • Barry Lyndon
    • Clerks: Special Edition
    • A Clockwork Orange
    • Dr. Strangelove (re-release)
    • Full Metal Jacket
    • Gallipoli
    • Ghostbusters: Special Edition
    • Ghostbusters 2
    • Killer's Kiss
    • The Killing
    • Lolita
    • The North Avenue Irregulars
    • Paths Of Glory
    • Ready To Wear
    • Rushmore
    • School Ties
    • The Shining
    • The Stanley Kubrick Collection (box set)
    • Stir Crazy
    • Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead
    • Varsity Blues
    • White Squall
    • Witness

    Hi-Def Horizon: We often hear from potential DVD consumers who want to know when "high-definition" DVD will come out, i.e., a DVD standard that will take full advantage of HDTV's increased line-resolution (1080 or 720 lines, as opposed to the 480-line standard of current DVD players). Our response has always been simple: If you're waiting for "HD-DVD," plan on waiting for a long time. Not only is the technology a long way off, but enough consumers have to actually buy HDTVs to get both manufacturers and content-providers interested. And with thousands of DVD titles available today (and players going for as little as $300), the time to watch movies on DVD is now. Doubters can read Murray Slovick's recent article at E-Town, which offers an in-depth look at the blue-laser technology that would be required by any "HD-DVD" format. His take? Blue-lasers will inevitably arrive in future DVD players. But not for several years.

    See ya later.

    -- Ed.

    Monday, 28 June 1999

    boxcoverDisc of the Week: In 1941, Alcatraz inmate Henri Young (Kevin Bacon) inexplicably attacks another prisoner in the dining area, stabbing him with a spoon handle and killing him. His case falls upon inexperienced public defender James Stamphill (Christian Slater), who is told by all around him that the trial is a guaranteed loser and that he should only worry about covering his own ass in the courtroom if he wants his career to continue. But when Stamphill finds his defendant in a catatonic state, he starts to investigate the prison and learns that Young had been held in solitary confinement for three years, reducing his mental state to that of an enraged imbecile. Stamphill knows he has a simple diminished-capacity case on his hands -- his only problem is that he will have to go up against Alcatraz, the Justice Department, and the U.S. Government to save his client from the gas chamber. Disturbing, hypnotic, and at times brilliant, Murder in the First is a wonderful amalgam of prison movies and courtroom flicks, bolstered by a spellbinding, suspenseful plot and very good performances all around. Slater -- who has always struggled to find a niché in Hollywood -- is effective as the young PD on his first case, but even with his fine work, he is entirely outclassed by Bacon, a choice supporting actor who gets one of his few lead roles here. While some might dismiss his performance at first as that of a drooling, spastic idiot, Henri's rehabilitation is a fascinating process as his memories and desires gradually overcome the cruelty that has robbed him of his humanity. Gary Oldman, as a sadistic associate warden and Henri's chief nemesis, has a supporting role that is brief but blood-chilling. Director Marc Rocco helms the film with an ambitious style, and even if some of his long-take stylistics are distracting, the compositions and art direction are impressive. The only crime here is that Warner streeted this disc with no extras -- not even a trailer. Give it a spin anyway.

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

    1. Big Daddy
      $41,200,000 ($41,200,000 to date)
    2. Tarzan
      $23,500,000 ($77,000,000 to date)
    3. Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me
      $18,500,000 ($150,800,000 to date)
    4. The General's Daughter
      $15,600,000 ($47,200,000 to date)
    5. The Phantom Menace
      $14,600,000 ($352,200,000 to date)
    6. Notting Hill
      $5,100,000 ($89,100,000 to date)
    7. The Mummy
      $2,100,000 ($146,000,000 to date)
    8. Instinct
      $1,900,000 ($30,700,000 to date)
    9. An Ideal Husband
      $1,100,000 ($1,400,000 to date)
    10. The Matrix
      $1,000,000 ($165,700,000 to date)
    11. Entrapment
      $750,000 ($83,300,000 to date)
    12. Life
      $251,000 ($62,500,000 to date)

    You haven't entered yet?: There's only a few days left in our Free Armageddon DVD contest, so if you haven't sent us your entry, be sure to drop by our Monthly Contest Page, and don't forget to take our Monthly DVD Poll while you're there.

    On the Board: A new full review has been posted for A Simple Plan, and can be found on our Full Reviews index. New quick reviews this week include Murder in the First, The Last Starfighter: Collector's Edition, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), and Risky Business, 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, 25 June 1999
    Weekend Dispatch

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

    • Fox has several new (and non-16x9-enhanced) discs on the way, including There's Something About Mary: Special Edition, featuring a commentary by directors Peter and Bobby Farrelly and deleted scenes; the Coen Brothers' Raising Arizona; Eddie Murphy's Dr. Dolittle; and A Life Less Ordinary. Look for all of them on August 3.
    • The 16x9-friendly Columbia TriStar is planning new discs for Cruel Intentions: Special Edition, featuring a commentary track, deleted scenes, and music videos; Monty Python's And Now For Something Completely Different; Stephen King's Christine; and Todd Solondz's Welcome to the Dollhouse. Look for these on August 3 as well.
    • Criterion is planning a new disc of Federico Fellini's And The Ship Sails On, due on July 7. Criterion also announced this week that they will no longer be producing Laserdiscs, but will make every effort to bring all of their existing LD titles to DVD, provided they can still get the rights.
    • After announcing that Shakespeare in Love would be a Miramax Collector's Series release, Buena Vista is now saying that the disc will not be a special edition "at this time," although they may release one in the future.

    boxcoverCommentary Clip: "About three years after I made (The Manchurian Candidate), I was in Europe filming The Train. And I had some time off from that picture and I was asked to go and do publicity for another movie I made called Seven Days in May, and one of the stops was Athens and I had never been to Greece before. Anyway, I got to the hotel and a United Artists representative said to me, 'You must come and see your movie The Manchurian Candidate. It's playing at this huge amphitheater right in the middle of Athens, way up on a hill. You get up there and see all of Athens below you. There are 5000 people that come to every showing of the movie. You will just be overwhelmed by it.' So, indeed I went to the movie. I went into the amphitheater, and it was huge, and it was all the things the guy said it was. I was sitting way down at the bottom so I could see the whole screen. Up at the top, like way at the top of this was the projection booth, separated from where I was by about 200 steps... Now as the film was playing, there came a time when the reels changed... and it just came time for this section of the movie to come up, and -- this, I believe, is reel four -- suddenly instead of this whole section of the movie, on comes reel five. In other words, this whole section of the movie, that you're looking at now, he skipped! Well, I was hysterical. I ran out of my seat, I grabbed the Greek interpreter with me, and ran up 200 steps to the projection booth, wildly out of breath, but still I'm just obsessed with grilling him on this, and I said, 'Tell him! Tell him! He skipped reel four!' And the man is saying this in Greek, and the projectionist starts to laugh, and he says something back. And I say, 'What's he laughing about? What is he saying?' He said, 'Well, he always skips reel four. He feels the picture plays much better without reel four, that reel four doesn't make any sense. And this way he gets another show in.' Well, I want to tell you, I was just shocked. That's what they did every night."

    -- Director John Frankenheimer,
    The Manchurian Candidate

    "Menace" Cliffs Notes: Sure, we've all seen The Phantom Menace by now (although if you haven't, we certainly wouldn't hold it against you). But for those of you who would like to see the film again without actually paying money or investing the two hours of your valuable time, you may want to read this abridged screenplay. Worked for us.

    Have a great weekend. We'll see you on Monday.

    -- Ed.

    Thursday, 24 June 1999

    boxcover"Missing in Action" Flick of the Week: With most everyone currently devouring -- and vomiting praise upon -- Thomas Harris' new novel Hannibal (and undoubtedly picking up a copy of Criterion's disc of Silence of the Lambs), it's important to remember that there is an even better movie featuring cannibal psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter, and it's not available on DVD. The specter of Lecter was first raised in Harris' 1986 novel Red Dragon, subsequently made into the absorbing, stylish psychological thriller Manhunter, directed by Michael Mann. In Manhunter, William L. Petersen stars at FBI forensic specialist Will Graham, recently back on duty after receiving several deep physical and emotional scars during his capture of the aforementioned, and now infamous, human-hungry doctor. Graham's got a new case, a serial killer dubbed "The Tooth Fairy" by the press for the distinct dental patterns he leaves imprinted in his victims' flesh. As Graham narrows in on his savage target he finds himself more than uncomfortably empathetic with the predator -- and with the incarcerated Lecter (Brian Cox), from whom he elicits help. Mann, then the celebrated creator of TV's Miami Vice, shows no shortage of style as a feature film director. Graham stalks the Tooth Fairy through Mann's trademark world of darkness pierced with sharp, tinted light, and Mann is second to none in choosing the right music to set the prefect mood. Mann also builds character swiftly and without waste, finding more in one brooding close-up than Jonathan Demme can capture with 100 quirky affectations. The acting in Manhunter is superbly underplayed, which may have deprived it of the Oscar attention given its unofficial sequel, but amplifying its effect. As The Tooth Fairy, Thomas Noone supplements his ominous physical stature with a sublimated frustration -- and even a touching tenderness in his scenes with excellent Joan Allen, a blind woman who is not affected by his freakish appearance. Imagine that: a serial killer with feelings. And Cox plays Lecter straight, eschewing the cartoony theatrics Sir Anthony Hopkins employed for the same character. As a result, Cox is easily the more chilling. He appears as a calm, brilliant man, in whom one would never detect the evil that resides. Graham is a perfect, haunted predecessor to Jodie Foster's Clarice Starling, and Petersen was emerging as a riveting portrayer of FBI agents, with another fine, troubled performance in the brilliant (yet also DVD-less) To Live and Die in LA, until his career derailed into supporting character oblivion in the early '90s. There is no time wasted in Manhunter. It moves quickly -- and humorlessly -- in its pursuit of a terrific, intense finale. Warner's got the rights to this one, and Laserdisc owners may want to check out the Warner LD, which was released in 1992. The rest of you DVD fans will simply have to wait, because no Manhunter date has been announced.

    Kubrick exposed: With DVD-owning Stanley Kubrick fans everywhere looking forward to next week's release of the comprehensive "Stanley Kubrick Collection," this summer's other highly anticipated Kubrick item -- the super-secret Eyes Wide Shut -- has been outed by London's Evening Standard, who have published an early review of the film by writer Alexander Walker, a close friend of Kubrick's who got a rare advance preview from Kubrick's widow. According to Walker, it's a great film (he describes it as "extraordinary" and "a victory"). But according to a very frosted Warner Brothers, who will be distributing the film, Walker has stooped far too low, being well aware that Kubrick did not want reviews of his work to be published before opening day. Walker was under no binding contract when he saw the film, but as Warner spokesperson Nancy Kirkpatrick noted, "When you invite somebody over to your house... do you ask for a written agreement?" Eyes Wide Shut opens on July 16 in the States, and will have its European premiere on Sept. 1 at the Venice Film Festival.

    See ya.

    -- Ed.

    Wednesday, 23 June 1999

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

  • Anyone who was "in" to the technology enough to consider buying Divx was also intelligent enough to know that it represented the first steps toward ultimate Hollywood control of their dollar. Good riddance.

    -- Bryan

    You got that one right, Bryan. Divx will surely go down as one of the worst consumer-electronics concepts in the history of CE marketing, and by comparison, Betamax was a stellar success. After all, there are still Betamax die-hards out there, and the Sony tape-technology (which is superior to VHS) is still used by professionals for a variety of purposes. What killed Beta is what killed Divx -- Sony had total control of Beta content, and far more content was available on the free-for-all VHS format. Does anybody wonder now why Sony had no faith in Divx from the very beginning?

    But perhaps the ultimate lesson of Divx is that there is no point in providing a technology to a consuming public when the demand does not exist, nor likely will be created. Whatever benefits Divx offered over open DVD (we only noted a few) were far outweighed by numerous disadvantages -- economic, ergonomic, technical, and otherwise. It simply is not possible to hoodwink consumers on such a grand scale, and as you note, it's absolutely insane to propose an inconvenient, low-quality technology to early adopters, who are notoriously educated, skeptical, loaded with cash, and necessary to win over if the product will be properly "evangelized" to secondary consumers by word-of-mouth testimonials. Nobody was going to show off their Divx player to their friends (at $3.25 per go, why bother?). However, many current DVD consumers didn't get their first demonstration of the format in a cavernous electronics store -- they got it at the home of an early-adopter friend, over popcorn, adult beverages, and lots of oohing and ahhing. It's no different than the first CD players, VCRs, and even early televisions back in the '50s, when only a few people had them and their neighbors were always visiting. Early adopters offer the sort of advertising that even Circuit City and their $200 million Divx investment could not buy. And yet, early-adopter testimonials don't cost anything. Go figure.

  • Do you know of any U.S. sites that offer DVD player code modification similar to (European) Multimod, for example? I know that there are U.S. suppliers of DVD players already modified but I am also pursuing the option of a later modification.

    -- Charles

    Code-free DVD player modification is a tricky issue. Some people have suggested that it is not entirely legal to modify your DVD player, while others have claimed that there are no existing U.S. laws that prohibit anybody from modifying any consumer electronics they already own (as opposed to modifying a cable box, for example, which all consumers actually rent from the cable provider). But when it comes to talking about code-free players, we at The DVD Journal have a simple policy -- no comment! We are not in the business of handing out legal advice or assisting people in obtaining technology that may (or may not) screw up their expensive gear. If anybody out there wants more information on code-free DVD decks, all we will say is that Altavista is a pretty good place to start. And for those of you who are a little unclear as to what a code-free DVD player actually is, a visit to our DVD Lexicon page should sort you out.

  • A suggestion -- change the button for your Divx page from "What is Divx?" to "What was Divx?".

    -- Steve

    Yeah, no kidding! But since Divx is operational for two more years for registered users, and Circuit City is still selling existing Divx discs, it is still an "is" -- strictly speaking. In any case, the change has been made, and while we will leave our Divx Information Page intact for now, we have added an introduction for those who will arrive late to the DVD party, if only to let them know what all that Divx fuss was about.

    And now that we've said our peace: David J. Elrich at E-Town has posted the best Divx post-mortem we've yet read. Isn't is amazing how CE journalists seem to know more about basic marketing principles than corporate CEOs and their army of focus groups?

    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. Enemy of the State
    2. The Silence of the Lambs
    3. Alien
    4. Austin Powers
    5. Taxi Driver: Collector's Edition
    6. Psycho: Collector's Edition (1998)
    7. Aliens: Special Edition
    8. So I Married an Axe Murderer
    9. True Lies
    10. Bonnie and Clyde

    Down(ey) and Out: Robert Downey Jr., Tinseltown's top naughty-boy and the Oscar-winning star of Chaplin, was returned to lockdown yesterday after a relapse from his drug-rehab program. According to E! Online, Downey told Judge Lawrence Mira "that I still find [staying clean] difficult." Downey will be confined for the next six weeks in a rehab house and undergo a psychological evaluation. The news comes on the heels of Downey's dismissal from the NBC sitcom "God, The Devil, and Bob" last week, which some sources suggest was due to his relapse. Downey, 34, will re-appear before Judge Mira on August 5.


    -- Ed.

    Tuesday, 22 June 1999

    In the Works: With Divx giving up the ghost last week, we've been remiss is new discs announcements, so here's a slew of them courtesy of Image Entertainment:

    • Disney is on the board with new discs of Shakespeare In Love: Special Edition (August 10); Jackie Chan's Operation Condor (September 14), Operation Condor 2 (September 14), and Twin Dragons (September 7); Woody Allen's Celebrity (August 10) and Everyone Says I Love You (August 17); and Albino Alligator: Special Edition (September 7), with a commentary track by Kevin Spacey. Also look for new discs of 54 (August 17), Adventures in Babysitting (September 14), The Crossing Guard (September 14), The Distinguished Gentleman (August 24), Encino Man (September 28), The Englishman Who Went Up A Hill But Came Down A Mountain (September 7), The House Of Yes (September 14), Like Water For Chocolate (August 10), Medicine Man (August 17), Powder (August 10), A Price Above Rubies (September 28), The Program (August 17), Quiz Show (September 7), The Rocketeer (August 17), and Up Close and Personal (September 14).
    • Warner is planning some new discs, including Michael Mann's Heat (July 27), which will include three trailers; Analyze This: Special Edition (August 17), including a commentary track with Billy Crystal and Robert De Niro, and a second track with director Harold Ramis; and John Waters' Serial Mom: Special Edition (July 13) with a commentary by Waters. Also expect new discs of Bed Of Roses (July 27), Blast From The Past (July 27), City Hall (July 27), In Love and War (July 27), Love Jones (July 27), Message In A Bottle: Special Edition (August 3), Ron Howard's Night Shift (July 27), Striptease (July 27), Clint Eastwood's True Crime (August 10), and a pan-and-scan disc of Deathtrap (July 27).
    • New announcements from Columbia TriStar include 8MM: Special Edition (July 20) including a commentary by director Joel Schumacher, Red Rock West: Special Edition (August 10) with a commentary by director John Dahl, and Central Station: Special Edition (July 13) with a commentary track by director Walter Salles, producer Arthur Cohn, and actress Fernanda Montenegro. Also look for discs of the 1966 The Professionals (July 13) with Burt Lancaster and Lee Marvin, the 1963 Bye Bye Birdie (July 13), Orlando (July 13), and Baby Geniuses (July 27).
    • Look for new Paramount discs of Mel Gibson's Payback, the 1976 King Kong, Congo, and Heaven Can Wait. All are due on July 27.

    On the Street: Here's this morning's notable street discs, also courtesy of Image Entertainment:

    • And Then There Were None (1945)
    • Barbarella
    • Billy Jack
    • Cannonball Run 2
    • Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things
    • A Farewell To Arms (1932)
    • Frances
    • Henry V: The Criterion Collection (1944)
    • Hurlyburly: Special Edition
    • Jawbreaker: Special Edition
    • Just Cause
    • Murder In The First
    • Nick Of Time
    • The Parallax View
    • Patch Adams
    • Patch Adams: Special Edition
    • Plenty
    • Power Of One
    • A Simple Plan
    • The Sixties: Special Edition
    • Sour Grapes
    • Sweet Dreams
    • Tender Mercies
    • Witches

    Scary stuff: Horror and suspense fans around the world are thinking of Stephen King this week, as he continues to recover from a terrifying accident that is almost as disturbing as anything he has committed to paper. King was struck by a runaway van in North Lovell, Maine last Saturday, and underwent a second round of surgery yesterday to treat hip and leg injuries. King also suffered a collapsed lung in the crash. The driver of the van, who claimed he was distracted by his dog, has not been charged by the police. Doctors expect that King, the author of such books as The Shining and The Stand, will undergo another surgery later this week to deal with injuries to his pelvis, but while his condition is still serious, he is also listed as stable.

    -- Ed.

    Monday, 21 June 1999

    boxcoverDisc of the Week: Travis Bickle spends his nights driving a taxi through the crime- and whore-infested neighborhoods of New York City. Days, he subsists on pornography and junk food. Detached and inarticulate, he keeps a journal documenting the rot he sees around him and the growing rot inside him. He spends his life in squalor, and is at once repulsed and ensnared by it. Spurned at love, Travis fixates on Iris (Jodie Foster), an adolescent prostitute. Travis sets out to save her soul and purge his own demons in the only violent way his narrow, enraged mind can conceive. Taxi Driver is a near perfect-film, and has managed to assimilate into our cultural consciousness in very deep, and sometimes disturbing, ways. Robert De Niro's performance as Travis Bickle has become an icon of dislocation, both charming and repellent, eager only to please or destroy, and director Martin Scorsese's kinetic, brooding style has never been better used. When Taxi Driver first appeared on disc in 1997, a lot of the movie's fans refused to buy it, since it had none of the extras such a landmark film requires on DVD. But with the arrival of the new Collector's Edition last week, Scorsese cinephiles can finally get their money's worth. The plentiful extras include a long "making-of" documentary featuring all the principal cast and crew, the full screenplay with interactive access to corresponding scenes, theatrical trailer, advertising materials, storyboards of the climactic sequence, a photo montage, a portrait gallery, and textual supplements. Now when does the Raging Bull special edition arrive?

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

    1. Tarzan
      $34,100,000 ($34,300,000 to date)
    2. Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me
      $31,900,000 ($116,700,000 to date)
    3. The General's Daughter
      $22,300,000 ($22,300,000 to date)
    4. The Phantom Menace
      $17,800,000 ($327,000,000 to date)
    5. Notting Hill
      $7,000,000 ($79,900,000 to date)
    6. Instinct
      $3,100,000 ($27,000,000 to date)
    7. The Mummy
      $3,000,000 ($141,800,000 to date)
    8. The Matrix
      $1,300,000 ($163,900,000 to date)
    9. Entrapment
      $1,200,000 ($81,800,000 to date)
    10. Tea With Mussolini
      $635,000 ($8,700,000 to date)
    11. The Thirteenth Floor
      $380,000 ($10,700,000 to date)
    12. Election
      $300,000 ($13,800,000 to date)

    On the Board: A new full review has been posted for Taxi Driver: Special Edition, and can be found on our Full Reviews index. New quick reviews this week include Enemy of the State, Alien3: Special Edition, Waking Ned Devine, What Dreams May Come, Flirting With Disaster, and Meeting People is Easy, 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, 18 June 1999
    Weekend Dispatch

    And we thought George Lucas was strict: With Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan on VHS and scheduled to arrive on pay-per-view cable next month, the Hollywood heavyweight has demanded that cable providers not allow previews of his D-Day epic to appear anywhere near previews for Jerry Springer's "Too Hot for TV 2000," upcoming professional wresting specials, or anything else that promotes gratuitous sex or violence. While Spielberg's demands are not binding, the memo released this week from his DreamWorks studio makes it clear that he doesn't expect to see Tom Hanks' helmeted head within 60 seconds of the aforementioned material. According to Variety, Spielberg first began feeling frosted by pay-per-view when trailers for Schindler's List were often run next to promos for low-minded cable crap, causing him to pull Schindler from PPV and send it directly to the Starz movie channel. He later allowed Schindler to run twice on NBC with little or no commercial interruption -- which, if anything, demonstrates that Tinseltown's top man is not hard-up for money. There's no word if Spielberg is considering removing his titles from PPV altogether -- but with Divx going belly-up this week, little would surprise us anymore.

    boxcoverCommentary Clip: "(Brendan Fraser had) the hardest part in the movie actually. He is by definition a character who is inarticulate. There's a lot going on under the surface. He's also someone who has to sit and have his portrait taken and be quiet while Ian (McKellan) entertains us and talks a lot, so it's almost a technical challenge as a director to be able to have somebody to cut to and hold the screen, and I think you'll notice what Brendan can do with so little, his comic instincts are just so refined.... Obviously Ian's doing all of this incredible stuff too, there's such a slyness to everything that's happening there, but with Brendan, there's just endless variations on this idea of somebody who kind of doesn't 'get it' but underneath does. When I was done with the film and I had my cut done I sent a tape of it to Ian in London, and he watched it over and over and over again. He came over here to do Enemy of the People and we set up a screening for him to watch it with other actors from the show. It was the first time he'd seen it on screen, and the first thing he said when it was over was 'I have a lot to learn from that boy.' "

    -- Writer/director Bill Condon,
    Gods and Monsters: Collector's Edition

    Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including Taxi Driver: Special Edition, What Things May Come, and Alien3. Look for these and others on Monday morning.

    Have a great weekend.

    -- Ed.

    Thursday, 17 June 1999

    "You're not gonna have Dick Sharp to kick around anymore": Yes, it's true. Divx is gone. Over. Fini. Nada. And while the pay-to-play DVD format from Circuit City has received scant attention in the press over the past several months, Reuters, The Associated Press, E-Town, and ZDNet news have all written post-mortems on the anti-DVD "enhancement" we all loved to hate (and frankly, may even miss a little, if only because it made for juicy news copy).

    We'd also like to thank a DVD Journal reader who sent us the internal memo distributed yesterday to CC employees:

    Rick Sharp
    06/16/99 08:12 AM

    To: CCS Accounting, CCS Advertising & Marketing, CCS Consultant, CCS Consumer Affairs, CCS Cool Line, CCS ESP-Ric, CCS Esuite-Legal, CCS Express, CCS HR, CCS Merchandising, CCS MIS, CCS National Parts and Service, CCS Operations, CCS Purchasing, CCS Roadshop, CCS Site Development, CCS Stores Training, CCS BAS


    Subject: Today's announcement

    To all Circuit City Associates:

    This morning, Digital Video Express announced that it will cease marketing of the Divx home video system and discontinue operations. I regret that we were compelled to make this decision. The Divx feature won enthusiastic support from customers who received a fair presentation of its benefits and was included on the great majority of players sold in our stores. I wish that we could continue to offer it to our customers.

    Unfortunately, Divx was unable to obtain sufficient movie studio support to ensure an adequate and up-to-date selection of movie titles for customers or the retail distribution necessary to provide convenient disc purchase options as originally envisioned. Without support in these essential areas, we cannot adequately serve our customers or create a viable business.

    The Circuit City and Divx press releases are available on Link.

    As part of closing the Divx business, Circuit City will incur a one-time write-off of $114 million. Although this is a substantial amount of money, your company is financially sound and this will cause no disruption to our ongoing businesses. In today's press release we also announced a very generous rebate program for those customers who purchased a Divx featured DVD player prior to June 16th. All associates who supported us through the purchase of a player will be eligible for the same rebate program.

    Although I am disappointed that we can no longer make the Divx feature available, I am extraordinarily proud of the efforts of all of our associates in support of our Divx business. I am also extremely proud of our Divx associates who worked tirelessly to develop a terrific product that performs so well for our customers. Our decision to discontinue operations is entirely the result of conditions far beyond our associates' control.

    While this is certainly a painful decision I am encouraged by your outstanding performance over the last several quarters and our prospects for the future. The many current and emerging digital products should drive our industry for many years to come. Thanks to each of you, Circuit City is in the best position to take advantage of these positive conditions. Our associates' knowledge and customer service focus will insure that Circuit City remains the consumer's choice for these exciting new technologies.

    Thank you again for your support.

    Rick Sharp
    Chairman and CEO

    Hey, don't feel too bad for The Big Plug. They may have to eat $114 million for breakfast, but their stock rose $8.50 yesterday, closing at $90.37 on the New York Stock Exchange. As far as CC shareholders are concerned, things are looking up.

    And some final thoughts...: Was there ever a Divx disc available for the unlimited-play "gold" upgrade? Will we ever know just how many Divx users registered their players? Now that Divx is gone and all major studios are releasing movies on DVD, who are we gonna get mad at now?

    Oh, right. We forgot. Disney.

    -- Ed.

    Wednesday, 16 June 1999
    -- Newsroom Code Red --

    How the mighty have fallen: Fresh off this morning's newswire comes word that Divx will discontinue operations. Here's a portion of the press release:

    Digital Video Express, LP announced today that it will cease marketing of the Divx home video system and discontinue operations, but existing, registered customers will be able to view discs during a two-year phase-out period.

    "Sales at participating Divx retailers reflect strong consumer interest in the Divx feature," said Richard L. Sharp, chairman and chief executive officer of Digital Video Express and of Circuit City Stores, Inc. (NYSE: CC, KMX), the majority partner in the Digital Video Express venture. "The majority of customers purchasing DVD players in Circuit City stores have selected players that include the Divx option. Unfortunately, we have been unable to obtain adequate support from studios and other retailers. Despite the significant consumer enthusiasm, we cannot create a viable business without support in these essential areas."

    Digital Video Express will provide a $100 cash rebate to all consumers who purchased Divx-enhanced players prior to June 16, 1999. Rebate forms will be available at, participating retailers and by calling 1-888-639-DIVX. The rebate will ensure that no Divx customers have paid more for the Divx-featured player than they would have paid for the least expensive, comparable DVD player available at the time of their purchase. All Divx-featured DVD players are fully functional DVD players and will continue to operate as such. All Divx discs, including those previously purchased by consumers and those remaining in retailer inventories, can be viewed on registered players anytime between now and June 30, 2001. Subsequent viewings also will be available during that period. Discs can no longer be upgraded to unlimited viewing, known as Divx Silver. Customers who have converted discs to Divx Silver can continue viewing the discs until June 30, 2001, or can receive a full refund of the conversion price at their request. Divx expects to provide registered owners with written notification of the details related to the system phase-out. Effective today, Divx will no longer register new customers.

    "We want to thank all our existing Divx customers and regret that this decision was necessary," Sharp said. "We hope to work closely with all Divx retailers and customers to ensure that the closure process is as simple as possible."

    The total life-span of the Divx venture? One year and one week. And now that it's over, we don't have to be stock-market geniuses to predict that Circuit City's stock value will be substantially higher by the end of business today.

    Image hits a speed bump: With the demand for DVD movies constantly on the rise, producers over the past year have battled with production schedules and limited manufacturing facilities to get their product in the stores. Now, Image Entertainment -- a veteran Laserdisc company and one the biggest content-providers on DVD -- is reporting that they may suffer a first-fiscal-quarter loss because of distribution problems at a plant in Las Vegas. "The May shortfall and potential June shortfall may prove significant enough to result in a net loss for the June 1999 quarter," Image said in a statement released yesterday. The news is especially bad for Image, who suffered financial losses in 1998 when their Laser product took a nosedive. In fact, it was only because of Image's ability to quickly enter the DVD market with many popular titles that they returned to profitability, reporting $1.1 million in earnings in their fourth fiscal quarter of '98. The company further noted in their statement that they expect to resolve their current distribution woes by July or August.

    It was all over the web yesterday...: But in case you missed it, the Paramount DVD of Titanic reportedly now has a street date of August 31.

    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. The Mask of Zorro
    2. Star Trek: Insurrection
    3. You've Got Mail
    4. Much Ado About Nothing
    5. A Bug's Life
    6. Kingpin
    7. Get Shorty
    8. Armageddon: The Criterion Collection
    9. Very Bad Things
    10. Big Night

    Quotable: "I don't think we have anything to be ashamed of. I'm outraged by a lot of what we hear blaming the media for what's going on.... The same motion pictures that are distributed in the United States are distributed in Canada and in England, and the kids don't kill each other as a result of seeing those movies."

    -- Sumner Redstone, chairman of Viacom International,
    speaking yesterday at a conference of the National
    Cable Television Association in Chicago.


    -- Ed.

    Tuesday, 15 June 1999

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

    • Shakespeare is on the board for Image, who are planning new discs of the 1964 Hamlet, starring Richard Burton and directed by John Gielgud, as well as Orson Welles' 1952 Othello, which will include a "Restoring Othello" documentary. Also look for a new disc of Public Access, the first film from Usual Suspects director Bryan Singer. Image has also announced several new music titles, including Classic Albums: Paul Simon: Graceland, Classic Albums: The Band: The Band, and Rickie Lee Jones: Live At The Wiltern Theatre. All are due on August 31.
    • Criterion has several exciting new discs on the way, including Akira Kurosawa's 1961 Yojimbo and his 1962 Sanjuro. Both will include theatrical trailers. Also look for Criterion discs of The Unbearable Lightness Of Being (which will include a commentary track with Philip Kaufman, co-writer Jean-Claude Carriere, editor Walter Murch and actress Lena Olin), and the 1989 space-race documentary For All Mankind (which will feature a commentary track and numerous supplements). Expect all of these on July 20.

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

    • Arachnophobia
    • Brassed Off
    • Circuit Music Journal 1:1
    • Dancing At Lughnasa
    • Enemy Of The State
    • The Faculty
    • Flirting With Disaster
    • Just The Ticket
    • Mrs. Brown
    • Nixon
    • Patriot
    • Prizzi's Honor
    • Short Cinema Journal 1:4
    • Silkwood
    • Take The Money and Run
    • Taxi Driver: Special Edition
    • White Squall

    Plas-mania: Everybody's talking about those new rear-projection HDTV sets, but if you ask us, the four-inch-thick plasma televisions currently manufactured by a handful of companies are the sexiest CE items out there -- and now Fujitsu has announced that they are selling their PDS-4203 plasma TV for $6,995. Okay, that still isn't cheap, but it's a good $5,000 less than what most plasma screens sold for last year. Expect plasma-prices from other manufacturers to follow suit over the next few months.

    See ya tomorrow.

    -- Ed.

    Monday, 14 June 1999

    boxcoverDisc of the Week: After the initial successes of Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein, and other early Hollywood horror classics, British-born director James Whale stopped making movies and dropped out of sight -- mostly because of disputes with producers, and partly because he was openly gay, which left him with few friends when times got tough. Suffering a series of debilitating strokes in the 1950s, Whale retreated from the world altogether, living in his comfortable southern California home until his suicide in 1957, when he was found floating in his swimming pool. Based on the novel Father of Frankenstein by Christopher Bram (and with more than a few echoes of Thomas Mann's classic novel Death in Venice), Bill Condon's excellent Gods and Monsters launches a fictional inquiry into Whale's final months, as the effete filmmaker and painter (played by Ian McKellan) strikes up an unorthodox friendship with his gardener Clayton Boone (Brendan Fraser), a womanizing ex-Marine with few opinions about film or art and no strong feelings towards homosexuals. With so little in common between the two, they find themselves wondering why they are drawn to each other's company (as does the viewer), but as the story gradually unfolds, we discover that the universal pain of loneliness binds the souls of these disparate men. McKellen is excellent here, which should surprise nobody, but at times he is actually upstaged by his junior, for Fraser's job is much more difficult in some ways. While McKellen is given several long (and interesting) monologues, Fraser often must react non-verbally, and his limited dialogue at points does nothing to diminish his contribution to the overall effect. It is surely Fraser's best performance to date, and one that will make film fans anticipate his next project. Gods and Monsters also features Lynn Redgrave in another excellent performance as Whale's God-fearing Hungarian housekeeper, and Lolita Davidovich as Boone's fiery ex-girlfriend. Along with a great transfer, the Collector's Edition supplements include a commentary track with Condon, a 30-minute "making-of" documentary, and a trailer. Condon may have nabbed a well-deserved Academy Award this year for Best Adapted Screenplay, but let's be honest -- the fact that McKellan lost the Best Actor Oscar to Roberto Benigni is almost criminal.

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

    1. Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me
      $54,700,000 ($57,200,000 to date)
    2. The Phantom Menace
      $25,400,000 ($296,700,000 to date)
    3. Notting Hill
      $11,200,000 ($67,500,000 to date)
    4. Instinct
      $6,800,000 ($21,300,000 to date)
    5. The Mummy
      $5,100,000 ($135,900,000 to date)
    6. Entrapment
      $2,600,000 ($79,300,000 to date)
    7. The Matrix
      $2,100,000 ($161,600,000 to date)
    8. The Thirteenth Floor
      $1,300,000 ($9,700,000 to date)
    9. Never Been Kissed
      $850,000 ($52,100,000 to date)
    10. Tea With Mussolini
      $770,000 ($7,700,000 to date)
    11. A Midsummer Night's Dream
      $700,000 ($14,300,000 to date)
    12. Election
      $620,000 ($13,200,000 to date)

    And by the way....: You may recall our quoting George Lucas a few weeks back, when he said that he'd be "disappointed" if The Phantom Menace didn't crack the top-ten all-time U.S. box office. Worry not, George. The new Austin Powers flick may have dropped Menace out of the top spot last weekend, but a quick look at this week's Stat Sheet reveals that Menace is now the ninth-highest-grossing film ever at U.S. theaters, and still climbing. It's even passed The Empire Strikes Back on the list -- a factoid that is bound to make some die-hard Star Wars fans declare "I'll see Jar Jar Binks in Hell!"

    On the Board: A new full review has been posted for The Newton Boys, and can be found on our Full Reviews index. New quick reviews this week include Aliens: Special Edition, Elizabeth: Special Edition, Gods and Monsters: Collector's Edition, The Thing: Collector's Edition, and Demolition Man, 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, 11 June 1999
    Weekend Dispatch

    DVD clears Justice Department: While technology titans Microsoft and Intel have recently fallen under the scrutiny of the U.S. Justice Department and the complicated (and often nebulous) world of antitrust law, six leading DVD manufacturers were given permission yesterday to pool their patents and license the technology to other companies who want to produce DVD hardware. The ruling clears the way for more DVD consumer products to enter the market, but such wasn't guaranteed, and especially under the current JD administration, who have of late shown an almost unprecedented scrutiny of potentially unfair trade practices. But according to Assistant Attorney General Joel I. Klein, who oversees the JD antitrust division, the pooling of DVD patents will reduce manufacturing costs and probably will not result in monopolistic market practices. Among the six CE manufacturers involved in yesterday's ruling are Matsushita, Toshiba, and Hitachi. Sony, Pioneer, and Philips had a similar patent pool approved by the Justice Department last December.

    Gone With The Solar Wind: Get ready to love every techno-toy you own that uses closed-circuit wiring (DVDs, cable television), while you loathe your cell phone, your satellite dish, and the radio in your car. E-Town, by way of the Associated Press, notes that the months of January to April of 2000 will be marked by extreme solar flares -- the nasty sort of solar belching that tends to screw up wireless communications around the globe. It may not be Y2K, but in any case, rest assured that your home theater should work just fine.

    boxcoverCommentary Clip: "I think the best technology ever presented (on film) was in 2001, and so it was very difficult because Stanley (Kubrick) had done that, and it was, and still is, one of my favorite films -- so, y'know, 'What's your twenty favorite movies of all time?' It would have to be in there. And therefore it was tricky not get influenced by what he had done, and of course what he had done I think had worked.... Inevitably, it's fair to say that I was very much influenced by 2001."

    -- Ridley Scott,
    Alien: 20th Anniversary Edition

    Quotable: "I was driving home and I heard 'The Look of Love' on the radio, and you know how smell is a very potent sense memory, I think that songs do it, too. And I just started talking like Austin, and I was saying to my wife 'Do I make you horny, baby? Do I?' It just came out like that."

    -- Mike Myers, explaining the genesis of his
    Austin Powers
    persona. Myers new movie,
    Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged
    , arrives in American theaters
    this weekend.

    "I got a big kick out of reading that the scenery in my film didn't bear the slightest resemblance to the real Tibet."

    -- Director Jean-Jacques Annaud, who revealed
    to Daily Variety this week that 20
    minutes of footage from his film Seven
    Years in Tibet
    was secretly shot in the
    Chinese-occupied territory, where both
    himself and actor Brad Pitt are officially
    denied entry.

    Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including Gods and Monsters, Elizabeth, Aliens, The Newton Boys, and others. Look for all the new stuff on Monday morning.

    Have a great weekend.

    -- Ed.

    Thursday, 10 June 1999

    boxcover"Missing in Action" Flick of the Week: Who is the most profitable writer in the history of cinema? William Shakespeare, a playwright who died almost three hundred years before the invention of motion pictures. To date, more films have been produced based on Shakespeare's plays than any other writer, and if any one person owned the rights to his work, he or she would be wealthier (and more powerful) than George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and James Cameron put together. Knowing this, it wouldn't be hard to guess that Hamlet is the most-filmed of all Shakespearean works (the Internet Movie Database lists no less than 25 theatrical films and several more television productions). Popular recent versions of Hamlet have featured Mel Gibson and Kenneth Branagh, but our favorite film version is Laurence Olivier's Oscar-winning 1948 production, which, along with the more recent films, is sadly missing on DVD. What's worse, the Olivier Hamlet has also been withdrawn on VHS, and is currently only available if you can find a place that rents it. Sure, this edition is black-and-white, was made on a limited budget, and omits the characters of Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and Fortinbras, but it's still wonderful, and movie studios 50 years ago weren't very willing to back four-hour films anyway. For the definitive version of Hamlet, Branagh's 1996 film probably wins the highest marks, but for a swift and exciting two hours of Shakespeare, Olivier's Hamlet has yet to be surpassed. We're not sure who has the rights since this film was discontinued on VHS, but Criterion is preparing to release Olivier's 1944 Henry V on DVD in coming weeks. Can we hope that Criterion will eventually get a license for his Hamlet as well?

    • An unsung Hamlet: The extensive 1982 BBC television production of Hamlet, starring Derek Jacobi and Patrick Stewart, may equal both Olivier's and Branagh's theatrical films. A likely DVD date? Never. The VHS edition has been only marketed to colleges, universities, and other public institutions for many years, and last we checked, the tape will run you more than $100 if you want to purchase it. Drop by your local public library if you're curious.

    Mum's the word: Our pals at DVD Review dropped us a note to let us know that they have confirmed Universal will street a DVD of the classic 1932 The Mummy on DVD day-and-date with the 1999 remake. Look for both discs this fall. Sounds pretty cool to us.

    Divx Watch: This week marks the one-year anniversary of the Divx launch, and Robert Lundemo Aas at Robert's DVD Page has posted the preliminary post-mortem. Everybody can bitch and whine about Circuit City's pay-to-play DVD format, but the numbers speak for themselves:

    • There are currently 302 open DVD players and 137 DVD-ROM drives on the market. Only 5 Divx players are currently available.
    • While many Hollywood studios initially agreed to provide content for the Divx format, both Warner and Columbia TriStar have never signed over any of their movies to Circuit City. In the meantime, open DVD holdouts Fox, Paramount, and Disney began to release their titles on open DVD during the last year. And with the last Paramount film on Divx arriving in December of 1998, that studio has also become a de facto Divx holdout.
    • After initially announcing that 50 new titles would be released on Divx every month, that number has dropped to 30, and may continue to dwindle.
    • Circuit City has not released any sales figures for Divx players or discs since the fourth quarter of 1998.
    • Some regional Divx retailers, such as Future Shop and Dow Stereo/Video, have either gone out of business or abandoned the format. The Good Guys, a west-coast retailer, also carries Divx, but overall revenues for the chain have slumped in the past year.
    • Circuit City is the only national Divx retailer, with potential Divx partners Wal-Mart, Radio Shack, and Blockbuster Video all declining to invest in the format.
    • Not one non-consumer-electronics retailer, such as supermarkets or convenience stores, has agreed to carry Divx discs -- a marketing element that the Divx company has earmarked as a key to their success.
    • Not one video store or chain -- national, regional, or local -- carries Divx discs either, but nobody expected that to happen anyway.
    • Circuit City's overall investment in Divx has now amounted to at least $200 million. What's more, the Los Angeles entertainment law firm Ziffren, Brittenham, Branca & Fischer, who originally invented the Divx concept and sold it to Circuit City, is now said to be bailing out, leaving The Big Plug to cover all Divx operating expenses.

    Happy birthday, Divx!

    -- Ed.

    Wednesday, 9 June 1999

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

  • I'm new to DVD technology and I've probably got a very lame question, but I need to know. It's about screen size of DVD movies -- it appears that all of them are in letterbox format or widescreen, but they don't have a pan-and-scan option. My television is 36", but half of it is not used when I play DVD. Is it supposed to be this way? For me, it's a terrible waste. I can barely see the movie. Are the studios planning to release those movies in pan-and-scan? John Carpenter's Vampires was cool because it had two sides -- one for letterbox, the second for regular pan-and-scan. Why isn't every movie made this way? Is there any way to find out which of the already released DVD movies contain both options 4:3 and 2.35:1?

    -- Paul

    Well Paul, you may have written to the wrong DVD website, because we're no fans of chopping off the sides of a movie just so it can be "bigger" on a 4:3 television (and if the notion that pan-and-scan formatting makes a movie bigger isn't a complete paradox, then we don't know what one is). However, we understand that the demand for cropped movies exists out there -- somewhere -- and we have often stated that we would like to see studios release all DVDs with a pan-and-scan option, if only to keep everybody happy. As for John Carpenter's Vampires, it isn't the only movie with pan-and-scan on the flip side. As all DVD fans know, a great many discs come with the pan-and-scan option, including most Warner, MGM, and New Line titles. The best place to find out all the details on any given DVD is the Internet Movie Database. Just look up a movie and then scroll down the left menu until you find the "DVD Details" selection. Everything you want to know is there.

    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. True Lies
    2. The Alien Legacy: 20th Anniversary Collection
    3. Elizabeth
    4. The Silence of the Lambs: The Criterion Collection
    5. What Dreams May Come
    6. Aliens: Special Edition
    7. The Mask of Zorro
    8. Get Shorty
    9. Star Trek: Insurrection
    10. Silverado

    Quotable: "Next time some high school kid breaks up with his girlfriend (and) wipes out half his classmates, maybe he'll think of us."

    -- Bobby Farrely, accepting the Best Picture award
    for There's Something About Mary
    at last weekend's MTV awards. Farrely has
    since apologized. MTV will delete the
    remark from this Thursday's television broadcast.

    We'll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

    -- Ed.

    Tuesday, 8 June 1999

    Divx Watch: David J. Elrich of E-Town has posted a lengthy article on something most of us already know -- namely, that Divx is taking a financial toll on Circuit City. Overall revenues are up for The Big Plug ($977.2 million in sales for May 1999, compared to $826.6 million in May 1998), but it's scarcely anything to boast about as virtually all national consumer-electronics retailers have been enjoying the economic boom of the 1990s and the increased consumer demand for more and more gee-whiz toys. And while market shares for CC competitors Best Buy and Tandy/Radio Shack continue to rise, the Divx venture has compromised CC's stock value by 16 cents per share in the first quarter of '99. The total investment in Divx by Circuit City to date amounts to $207 million, with profitability still a long way off (if it ever happens), but with CC's overall stock value still on the rise, it looks like they can afford the losses for now. Elrich also asked Divx spokesman Josh Dare the Big Kahuna of Divx questions: How many Divx players have actually been registered by consumers? "We announced over one million discs were sold earlier in the year," Dare told him. "That means plenty of people have registered."

    Nice waffle, Josh.

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

    • Avia Guide To Home Theater
    • Battlestar Galactica
    • Black Orpheus: The Criterion Collection
    • Chaplin's Art Of Comedy
    • Depeche Mode: The Videos '86-'98
    • Frank Sinatra: Francis Albert Sinatra Does His Thing
    • Frank Sinatra: Ol' Blue Eyes Is Back
    • Frank Sinatra: Sinatra in Concert at the Royal Festival Hall
    • Gods and Monsters: Special Edition
    • Grand Theft Auto
    • The Hitcher
    • The Jungle Book (1942)
    • K-9
    • Kickboxer 1
    • The Last Starfighter: Special Edition
    • Madonna: The Immaculate Collection
    • The Most Dangerous Game: The Criterion Collection
    • Prince: The Hits Collection
    • Psycho: Special Edition (1998)
    • Van Halen Live: Right Here, Right Now

    United Artists gets smaller: On the heels of MGM's recent library acquisitions and management restructuring, the legendary Hollywood studio has announced that their United Artists division will become a small-budget studio that will focus on art-house fare as MGM assumes direction of all larger-budget UA productions, including the James Bond series. "We've had these two labels that are essentially producing in the same budget-range films for a while," MGM spokesman Craig Parsons told Reuters, "so the decision was to try to create stronger identity for both. Up to now there wasn't any specific delineation between the two." MGM films with a budget of $10 million or less (The Lion prefers to call them "specialty films") are now expected to come under the United Artists banner -- a category that studios like, since they offset financial losses and have the potential to bring in substantial revenue if they catch the public's attention. Other art-house studios owned by the major players include Searchlight (Fox), Fine Line (Warner/New Line), and Miramax (Disney).

    Sony claims supremacy: In a recent press conference, CE titan Sony declared that they had won the hat trick in sales of DVD players, rear-projection televisions, and big-tube front-view TVs, topping sales figures in all three categories. Sony Electronics (U.S.) President Teruaki Aoki announced that Sony had snagged 25%-30% of DVD player sales in the previous fiscal year. However, other Sony product categories, such as personal computers, cell phones, and PC peripherals, have shown only limited growth. While still dominant in the home-theater and DVD arena (and kicking butt with their Playstation system), Akoi admitted that 1998 "was a tough year for Sony." We'll be happy as long as they keep selling Trinitron TVs.

    And the box of popcorn goes to: Here's the winners of the anti-Oscars, the MTV movie awards, which were held last weekend:

    • Best Movie: There's Something About Mary
    • Best Male Performance: Jim Carrey, The Truman Show
    • Best Female Performance: Cameron Diaz, There's Something About Mary
    • Best Comedic Performance: Adam Sandler, The Waterboy
    • Best Villain: (Tie) Matt Dillon, There's Something About Mary; Stephen Dorff, Blade
    • Best Onscreen Duo: Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker, Rush Hour
    • Best Song: "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing," Armageddon
    • Breakthrough Performance--Male: James Van Der Beek, Varsity Blues
    • Breakthrough Performance--Female: Katie Holmes, Disturbing Behavior
    • Best Action Sequence: Armageddon's asteroid shower
    • Best Kiss: Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Feinnes, Shakespeare in Love
    • Best Fight: Ben Stiller and Puffy the Dog, There's Something About Mary
    • Best New Filmmaker: Guy Ritchie, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels

    See ya tomorrow.

    -- Ed.

    Monday, 7 June 1999

    boxcoverDisc of the Week: Ridley Scott's 1979 Alien is a perfect concoction. Part sci-fi flick, part horror story, were it not a movie it would be best suited for telling to your friends late at night around a campfire, miles away from civilization. The crew of the Nostromo, an interstellar towing vehicle, respond to a distress call on an uncharted planet, resulting in one of their members being possessed by a mysterious life-form -- a life-form the crew must return to the ship with their helpless comrade. It is only when the creature begins to gestate in an unpredictable manner that the crew finds themselves pitted against an unknown-but-deadly presence. With a remarkable cast (Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm, and Yaphet Kotto), chilling direction by Scott, and special-effects that still hold up after 20 years (and frankly, surpass much of the CGI in use today), Alien was destined to be a cross-genre classic the day it was released. The gloriously creepy art direction by noted Swiss surrealist H.R. Geiger has been often copied by subsequent films, but never matched. This new Twentieth Anniversary-edition disc from Fox has an excellent transfer from a very good source print, and includes audio in DD 5.1 or Dolby 2.0. It's also packed with extras, including:

    • A commentary track with Ridley Scott
    • Deleted scenes (including the oft-discussed "cocoon" sequence)
    • Conceptual art by H.R. Geiger, Ron Gibb, Jean "Moebius" Giraud, and Chris Foss
    • Storyboards by Scott
    • Production photos
    • Promotional art and photos
    • Personnel files of the Nostromo crew
    • An analysis of the alien reproduction cycle
    • A screensaver and Web links as DVD-ROM content

    How much do we like this disc? It's cracked our own Top Ten List -- the first DVD in months to do so.

    And for those of you who are Ridley Scott fans: E! Online and other news sources are now reporting that Scott is in discussions with legendary Hollywood producer Dino De Laurentiis to direct the upcoming sequel to The Silence of the Lambs after Lambs director Jonathan Demme dropped out of the running. Other items up in the air include who will act as principal screenwriter, what studio will back the production, and if Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster will reprise their original roles. "Everything is in flux, no deals have been set," Shirley Delovich, a spokeswoman for De Laurentiis, recently said. De Laurentiis has already paid $10 million to secure the rights to Thomas Harris' new novel, simply entitled Hannibal, and if both stars and a top-flight director and screenwriter are signed on, pre-production expenses for the highly anticipated slasher-sequel could surpass $100 million.

    DVD-ROM drives boosted: Reuters is reporting that Japanese CE manufacturers Toshiba and Hitachi have both announced increased production of DVD-ROM drives over the next year. Toshiba will boost their DVD-ROM output to six million units this year, compared to 2.5 over the previous 12 months, while Hitachi will manufacture 6.5 million DVD-ROM drives in the next year, compared to three million units in 1998/99. Both companies have cited greater consumer demand in the United States and Japan as the reason for their production increases.

    "Ryan" overtakes "Mary": The VHS release of Saving Private Ryan, which arrived on rental-store shelves last week, has overwhelmed the initial rentals of There's Something About Mary, grossing $9.6 million in revenue in its first six days, compared to the $9.08 million earned by Mary earlier this year. We don't have to tell you that neither film is currently available on DVD, and if you think Fox and DreamWorks are shying away from hi-res formats, There's Something About Mary has been available as a Divx title for several months, and SPR will arrive on Laserdisc in just a few weeks. The DVD edition of SPR is expected to arrive sometime in the fourth quarter of this year, but we'll give the SPR laser a spin as soon as we get our hands on it. Call us impatient.

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

    1. The Phantom Menace
      $32,200,000 ($255,000,000 to date)
    2. Notting Hill
      $15,000,000 ($49,400,000 to date)
    3. Instinct
      $10,200,000 ($10,200,000 to date)
    4. The Mummy
      $7,500,000 ($127,600,000 to date)
    5. Entrapment
      $3,500,000 ($74,700,000 to date)
    6. The Matrix
      $2,400,000 ($158,200,000 to date)
    7. The Thirteenth Floor
      $1,900,000 ($7,300,000 to date)
    8. Never Been Kissed
      $1,400,000 ($50,800,000 to date)
    9. A Midsummer Night's Dream
      $1,100,000 ($13,000,000 to date)
    10. Election
      $900,000 ($12,300,000 to date)
    11. The Love Letter
      $800,000 ($6,200,000 to date)
    12. Life
      $759,000 ($60,500,000 to date)

    Screenwriters squabble: Jack Valenti, head of the Motion Picture Association of America and the top Washington lobbyist for Hollywood interests, has taken some heat over the past several weeks by defending Tinseltown in the wake of the Littleton, Colo., shootings, but at a recent seminar with some heavyweight screenwriters entitled "Guns Don't Kill People... Writers Do," (!) he pleaded for a moderation of film violence, claiming that writers "should look at their creative work and say, 'Is this the best that I can do? Is there something here that is gratuitous as I define it?' " Pow-wow attendee Brian Hegeland, who wrote the screenplay for L.A. Confidential, said "I wouldn't know how to respond to a code or a consensus as to what's responsible and what isn't acceptable. That is only for me to answer in my own work."

    The saga continues....

    On the Board: A new full review has been posted for Poltergeist, and can be found on our Full Reviews index. New quick reviews this week include Alien: 20th Anniversary Edition, True Lies, Stripes, Kalifornia, and One False Move, 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, 4 June 1999
    Weekend Dispatch

    DVD Audio and SACD face off: With both the DVD Audio format and Sony's Super Audio CD preparing to launch sometime this fall, lines are already being drawn in the sand. And while both formats offer multi-channel signals, it looks like DVD Audio will have the mass-market edge, primarily because it will be (relatively) less expensive and have a wider range of popular music titles. In contrast, SACD, which will offer more classical and jazz titles, is poised to capture the small-but-lucrative audiophile market. Does this mean you need to get rid of your CD player, or get a new DVD player that will be DVD-A or SACD compatible? Unless you're the sort of person who loves sitting in your living room and listening to music for hours on end, probably not. In fact, the real format race doesn't seem to be between DVD-A and SACD, but rather, the competition of both advanced formats against the cheap, common, and excellent PCM technology of two-channel Compact Discs. And until prices on the new hi-def decks come down, don't expect to see any real threat to CD for some time yet.

    boxcoverCommentary Clip: "I think cowboys are funny and I think black cowboys are funny. That seems to be funny to me, I don't really know why, and I think it's funny to (Don) Cheadle too. I don't know, maybe some kind of Blazing Saddles thing in my head or some kind of Putney Swope/Bob Downey influence. I don't know what the f#%k I was thinking. But what I'm most proud of is not the black cowboy in the Valley who's also a porn star who sells stereo equipment, but the black cowboy who sells stereos in the Valley with a coffee mug. It came from this photo that (the costume designer) just tore out of this '70s magazine with this guy sort of posing with this shirt, a very similar shirt that Don wears and similar pants, and the guy was holding a coffee mug. And Cheadle and I looked as this picture and said -- 'We need a coffee mug.' And God I love it. I'm sorry, that's it."

    -- Paul Thomas Anderson,
    Boogie Nights: Platinum Series

    Quotable: "The question will be whether we want to make it illegal to market inappropriate entertainment products to children. I've tried very hard to avoid having the government determine what is appropriate. But I can imagine a law saying it's illegal for a video game store to sell or market to a minor products that are rated inappropriate for minors. I believe that could be sustained constitutionally.... If I was the one-man government, shows like 'Friends' would be shown only in movie theaters or late at night so some 9-year-old can't watch it."

    -- Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), in an interview
    with Daily Variety this week.

    Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including Alien: Special Edition, True Lies, Stripes, Kalifornia, and others. Check back on Monday for all the latest.

    Have a great weekend.

    -- Ed.

    Thursday, 3 June 1999

    boxcover"Missing in Action" Flick of the Week: Fox, long the whipping boy of die-hard DVD fanatics, has gone some way to redeem themselves over the past several months, and their slew of releases in the past two weeks has included many highly anticipated titles. But while we're glad to see new discs of True Lies and the Alien series, the Fox folks ain't off the hook yet -- at least not until they street a disc of The French Connection. Starring Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider, this William Friedkin thriller isn't just an exciting cop film, but it's also a landmark of American cinema as one of the first movies that was willing to portray the police as little better then the criminals they pursue. Hackman dominates the film as the as the violent, temperamental Popeye Doyle, a New York cop so obsessed with busting an international drug ring that he doesn't just bend the laws -- he breaks them, and his pursuit of "The French Connection" soon ceases to be a mere assignment and instead becomes a personal crusade. After making more than 70 films over the course of 40 years, it still may be Hackman's best-ever performance. Unforgettable moments of The French Connection include Doyle's shakedown of an illicit drug bar, the dismantling of a black sedan that Doyle believes to be "dirty," and of course, that tense, intricate car chase under the tracks of an elevated train. Prints of The French Connection on VHS have been of acceptable-to-poor quality over the years, but we suspect that Fox must have a clean print somewhere that's ready for transfer to DVD. As of yet, no release date has been announced.

    Shales on DVD: Tom Shales, the TV critic for The Washington Post, has written a lengthy pro-DVD article that is available on the Post's website. While it may be a bit rudimentary for DVD Journal readers, it's still interesting, and especially since Shales is one of the most high-profile entertainment writers working today.

    Porn platters: So you figure that porn flicks, long a mainstay of early adopters, have helped fuel sales of DVD players over the past two years? Maybe, and maybe not. Rob McGee of E-Town has posted an extensive article on hi-def, interactive DVD porn, and the numbers might surprise you. What surprised us most is that some porn flicks on DVD actually feature director's commentary. We'll let you make up the "in-depth" jokes for yourself.

    -- Ed.

    Wednesday, 2 June 1999

    Divx Watch: Suffering the slings and arrows of the free market, Circuit City's pay-to-play Divx format has lost another retailer, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The San Diego-based DOW Stereo/Video, which has nine outlets in the San Diego area, has been bought out by Tweeter Home Entertainment Group, and THEG is no fan of Divx. In fact, not only has THEG announced that DOW Stereo/Video will no longer carry Divx, but they also want their entire Divx inventory gone by July 1, the date of acquisition. The news arrives just a few short months after Canadian retailer and Divx re-seller Future Shop closed their U.S. operations, diminishing Divx's market penetration in the Pacific Northwest. As of this date, Circuit City is still the only national retailer that carries the Divx format, and at least four U.S. states have no Divx retailers whatsoever. In contrast, open DVD is not currently carried by retailers in Antarctica, nor on the moon.

    Mailbag: Wednesday is mail day at The DVD Journal. Let's get to it:

  • I've just rented the Blade Runner: Director's Cut DVD. My intention was to purchase it, but I wanted to check it out prior to purchase. I was surprised and dismayed to find it so lacking in features. While it did give you the choice between standard and widescreen versions, where were the commentaries and extras that make the DVD experience worth the extra cost? Most notably missing was additional sound choices. The Director's Cut left out the narration that was contained in the original movie (which I happened to like). It would have been nice to include that piece as an additional option so that we could compare the "before and after" results of the Director's Cut. And it wouldn't have been that hard to include soundtrack and commentary extras.

    -- David

    To be fair to Warner, their Blade Runner DVD arrived very soon after the format's launch, and they did a commenable job of getting such a popular sci-fi film in the hands of early adopters, which only helped DVD sales in the early days. As such, many of the early DVDs from Warner were understandably sparse on extras, and none of the longer movies had the RSDL formatting that we all take for granted today. But we agree with you -- a dual-layered disc of Blade Runner featuring both versions of the film would be a DVD actually worthy of the "Special Edition" mantle, and we'd love to see it. Everybody go bug Warner now.


    -- Bryan

    As will a lot of people. One of our favorite isolated music tracks is on the L.A. Confidential disc, which features a brilliant Jerry Goldsmith score (that quiet, haunting trumpet over the orchestra has a tendency to raise the hairs on the neck). The DVD we'd most like to have seen isolated music on, but which didn't include it, would probably be Das Boot: The Director's Cut. And while we're fans of the concept, we know it's not a feature we will see all that often, now or in the future, since most films have accompanying soundtracks on CD, and isolated music tracks on DVD have the potential to cut into the additional revenue stream. So be glad when you get isolated music on DVD, and plan on paying extra anyway.


  • Recently, I found a site on the Web that allows users to download CD covers and print them for personal use. I was surprised to discover a Star Wars DVD cover in the list. What is the DVD cover of "A New Hope" that I found?

    -- Jerome

    It's a fake. And not a very good one either.

    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. The Mask of Zorro
    2. Star Trek: Insurrection
    3. You've Got Mail
    4. Much Ado About Nothing
    5. A Bug's Life
    6. Kingpin
    7. Get Shorty
    8. Armageddon: The Criterion Collection
    9. Very Bad Things
    10. Big Night

    We'll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

    -- Ed.

    Tuesday, 1 June 1999

    And the winner is: David Hillyer of Lafayette, Ind., wins the free DVD of Happy Gilmore from our May contest. Congrats, David!

    Our Free DVD Contest for the month of June is up and running, and we have a copy of Buena Vista's Armageddon 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.

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

    • Alien: Special Edition
    • Aliens: Special Edition
    • Alien3
    • Alien Resurrection
    • Alien Legacy (four-DVD box set)
    • The Beach Boys: The Lost Concert
    • In Dreams
    • Silverado
    • So I Married an Axe Murderer
    • Soul Food
    • A Taste of Cherry: The Criterion Collection
    • Waiting to Exhale
    • Waking Ned Devine

    Another Lucas snippet: Okay, maybe you're getting sick of all of this (we certainly are), but George Lucas, in an interview last week with the Fox News Channel's Bill McCuddy, said that the six-DVD box-set of the Star Wars saga will appear in "2005." That's the year, if not exactly a street date, from the man himself, and that's what we're going with. Conspiracy theorists and others who believe that Lucas is lying may now talk amongst yourselves.

    Box Office: Here's the top-grossing films at American theaters over the Memorial Day weekend:

    1. Episode I: The Phantom Menace
      $64,800,000 ($205,000,000 to date)
    2. Notting Hill
      $27,800,000 ($27,800,000 to date)
    3. The Mummy
      $12,700,000 ($117,100,000 to date)
    4. Entrapment
      $6,250,000 ($68,600,000 to date)
    5. The Thirteenth Floor
      $4,300,000 ($4,300,000 to date)
    6. The Matrix
      $3,100,000 ($154,100,000 to date)
    7. A Midsummer Night's Dream
      $2,004,000 ($11,300,000 to date)
    8. Never Been Kissed
      $2,000,000 ($52,000,000 to date)
    9. Life
      $1,400,000 ($59,500,000 to date)
    10. Election
      $1,375,000 ($11,100,000 to date)
    11. The Love Letter
      $1,300,000 ($5,000,000 to date)
    12. Trippin'
      $1,200,000 ($6,700,000 to date)

    Quotable: "I think people should see the obvious idea that there was no TV, there were no books, there was no music to inspire Cain killing Abel, and that kind of set the tone for the rest of mankind. Man is violent by nature, and he doesn't need inspiration for what he's going to do... I think that music and books and movies contain violence because that's how people find a way to express it. For me, it's if I have aggression, I'll put it into a song. I think that's a good thing, that's what art is. Therefore, it's sad when people can't find that outlet."

    -- Shock-rocker Marilyn Manson, in an interview with
    MTV last week.

    "If he wants to come and take a shot at me, go let him try it."

    -- National Rifle Association president Charlton Heston,
    responding to a recent comment by Spike Lee that
    somebody should "shoot him with a .44-caliber Bulldog."
    (Lee has since said that the statement was intended
    as a joke.)

    "Menace" talkback: Yeah, we got trashed by a lot of people for posting DVD Journal staff writer Alexandra DuPont's less-than-flattering review of The Phantom Menace. And now that the furor has died down, we've posted the reader responses, some of which are nice, but many of which are very, very nasty. Check out the venom on our Phantom Menace review page.

    On the Board: New quick reviews this week include Romancing The Stone, Ever After, Animal House: Collector's Edition, Monty Python's Life of Brian, Enter The Dragon: 25th Anniversary Edition, and Hard Rain, and can be accessed under the New Reviews menu here on the main page.

    See ya tomorrow.

    -- Ed.

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