Thursday, 30 September 1999
"The Matrix" sinks the Big Boat: When Paramount's DVD of Titanic sold more than 1 million copies to retailers before it was even released to the public, it looked like it was on its way to becoming the biggest-selling DVD to date. The feature-free disc sold 68,000 units in its first week a record number, to be sure, but leaving nearly 95% of the pre-sold quantity for consumers to snap up over the next several months or more. Enter Warner's The Matrix, released just last week, which absolutely demolished Titanic's numbers with a colossal 200,000 units in the hands of consumers in a matter of days, despite the fact that Titanic earned three-and-a-half times as much money as The Matrix at the U.S. box office. Confused? Don't be. Feature-sets are a big deal to digital die-hards like yourselves, and the trailer-only release of Titanic failed to sell as widely as expected, whereas the super-sized Matrix disc has lots of behind-the-scenes stuff to keep you occupied when the movie's over. Furthermore, Titanic has a suggested retail price five bucks higher than The Matrix, and with so many great DVDs being released every week, price matters (like many of you, we paid $12.49 online for The Matrix). And finally, the demographic that launched Titanic into the box-office stratosphere was primarily female, and young female at that, whereas the DVD demographic is staunchly in the 25-55 male range. What would you rather see? Leo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet smooching, or Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss with enough firepower to make the NRA nervous? You can consider that a rhetorical question.
We expect that the studios will take note of these sales figures. Yes, DVD fans want great movies, but we also want supplements and a competitive price. Your dollars have now cast votes on the matter votes that will be impossible to ignore.
Surround EX on the horizon: The Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association Expo (CEDIA) was held last week in Indianapolis, showcasing a variety of new home theater technologies that are very, very cool, but also very expensive. Peter Bracke at the almighty DVDFile.com posted some informative reports on his site after attending the event, and the hot item for DVD fans this year was the introduction of the new 6.1 THX Surround EX audio system in home theater amplifiers. The format arriving for the first time in theaters this year with The Phantom Menace was originally called Dolby Surround EX (at least that was our understanding), but it has now been made clear that it is actually a THX-badged system and that it will only be available on THX-licensed home-theater gear (in other words, it will come at a premium price). For those of you joining the party late, the 6.1 EX system was developed by THX and Dolby Laboratories, and it adds an additional surround channel in a rear-center location, which improves audio imaging for directional rear effects, the most common being explosions, gunshots, and flyovers. Look for the new THX Surround EX amps to arrive in the near future as part of the "THX Ultra" line, along with compatible DVDs from at least a few of the major studios.
"Missing in Action" Flick of the Week: Watching Henry Fonda on Warner's DVD of Mister Roberts last week reminded us of why he is a Hollywood legend. Skilled at both drama and light comedy which Mister Roberts offers in equal measures Fonda enjoyed a film career that allowed him to display his marvelous range, and while he was more than capable of taking on dramatic roles (most memorably in John Ford's The Grapes of Wrath), we admit that we prefer Fonda's comic turns, and especially in Preston Sturges' 1941 The Lady Eve, which is currently MIA on DVD. Fonda stars as Charles Pike, a wealthy brewery heir who actually hates beer and only loves one thing snakes. Big ones. Returning from a year-long expedition in the Amazon rain forest, Pike grabs a luxury liner back to America, only to run into Jean Harrington (Barbara Stanwyck), a con-artist and card-shark who is on board for only one reason to swindle wealthy men out of money over the card table. The bumbling, naive Pike becomes her mark, but there's a couple of problems. Jean has a phobic fear of snakes, and Pike's traveling companion does nothing to assuage her fears. And Pike, who's almost too innocent to swindle, hits an unexpected soft spot in Jean, causing her to fall in love with him. To give away any more of the movie would be unfair to those who have not seen it, but suffice it to say that we wonder if Hitchcock had this one in mind when he crafted Vertigo, a mirror-image opposite of Sturges's dual-persona plot. Stanwyck took on a similar-but-opposite role only a few years later in Billy Wilder's 1944 noir classic Double Indemnity as the femme fatale who falls for a man she shouldn't, but with very different results. As for Fonda, he displays a gift for screwball comedy here that very few actors in his league could match. In our opinion, only Cary Grant had a similar talent, equally able to shrug off his leading-man charisma and portray hapless, short-sighted men in such films as Bringing Up Baby and Monkey Business.
The Lady Eve was a Paramount production, but Universal currently has the home-video rights, so perhaps when they finish their classic horror series on DVD they will dig back into their vault for some great black-and-white comedies. But Preston Sturges is hardly the director de jour of DVD. You name 'em, they're MIA The Lady Eve, Sullivan's Travels, Hail the Conquering Hero, The Palm Beach Story, The Miracle of Morgan's Creek none of these classic titles have yet to go digital.
Wednesday, 29 September 1999
In the Works: We have more new disc announcements for you this morning, courtesy of Image Entertainment:
Mailbag: We're sorry that we don't get the time to personally answer all of your reader mail here at The DVD Journal, but we get a lot of it, and we'd like to let you know that we read all of your letters, even if we don't always write back. Here's a couple we came across this week:
Thanks for writing, Ron, and we're gonna rant right back at ya. The "Macrovision and zone shit" is what it took for the major studios to adopt DVD in the first place, and as serious digital die-hards, we have no complaints about the fact that we can't copy our DVDs on videotape, nor are we that bothered by the handful of titles currently unavailable in Region 1. The free market is a democracy of sorts, and both the features of DVD and the pricing are a reflection of what most consumers are willing to accept. We think that most special-edition DVDs, which can be pre-ordered online for $25 or less (sometimes much less), are a pretty good bargain for a home-video titles that will last a lifetime.
But like you, we are also avid Laserdisc collectors, and we've spent a great deal of time lately scooping up discounted or used lasers as the market has gone into a nose-dive. You're also right about one thing most special-edition LDs will never arrive on DVD. Never. It's a foregone conclusion that Laserdisc will soon be as dead as Betamax, but that is no reason to toss out a valuable collection. In fact, while most of the great laser releases are already out of print, we expect Laserdisc players to be manufactured for as many years as videophiles, old and new, continue to collect them.
Good point Glenn, but it appears that MGM currently own the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies catalogs, or at least did at one time (as part of the Turner library, the rights may have returned to Warner earlier this year). Head on over to eBay and search for "Golden Age of Looney Tunes" there were five Laserdisc box sets with five lasers each released by MGM some time ago (in total about 45 hours of Warner Bros. animation), all of which are now out of print and trade for around $100 per box, and often more. Will either Warner or MGM put these comprehensive collections on DVD? We're not holding our breath, but we're hoping to get some Warner animation classics eventually. We have one of the MGM laserdisc boxes in our library, and we can assure you that the condition of most of these short titles are totally pristine.
DVDs Done Dirt Cheap: Reel.com has just posted a new round of DVDs selling for 50% off for a limited time, so don't pay retail punch this link instead and get the goods. Here's the current rock-bottom discs:
And if some of these titles look appetizing, remember that all DVDs at Reel.com ship for two bucks.
Tuesday, 28 September 1999
Where is Charles Foster Kane?: While the staff was cracking open a few beers last night and debating if we should watch The Matrix for the 17th time, we received this letter:
Thankfully, every member of the DVD Journal staff is fluent in Portuguese since we all grew in South America before being kicked out for excessive obnoxiousness. So we dropped by Ernesto's favorite Brazilian DVD retail website to check out the goods. And there it was Ciudado Kane, released last June, and the boxcover sports an unmistakable DVD Video logo. It exists, it's for sale, it has a Dolby Digital soundtrack in English, and it is listed as a Region 0 release. But that's all we're going to tell you....
Okay, quit whining you bastards. Click here but good luck navigating the site, and you'll have to figure out the exchange rates for yourself.
Blockbuster gets on board: It was just last week, in our weekly reader mail segment, that we found ourselves consoling a DVD Journal reader who had hoped to spin a few rented DVDs in his dorm room with a female companion, only to drop by his local Blockbuster Video and find out that they don't rent them. Well, that's about to change. The Viacom-owned Blockbuster America's largest video-rental chain announced yesterday that they will offer DVD rentals in more than half of their outlets by the end of this year. Up to this time, only a handful of Blockbusters have included DVD titles, but Blockbuster Chairman and CEO John Antioco has now said that "DVD is about to go mainstream (and) we want it in all our stores so that this exciting product is easily available to the public." However, just when all 6,500 Blockbuster stores will offer DVD remains unclear. It is expected that around 200 DVD titles will initially be available in the Blockbuster shops that offer DVD, with further titles added over time.
We're more than happy with the Blockbuster announcement (it's about time, really), but their nearest competitor, Hollywood Video, announced late last year that they would carry DVD rentals in all 1,300 of their stores, and in addition noted in a press release from Jan. 7 of this year that they "will continue to encourage all studios to release all new release titles on DVD day and date with VHS" words that cannot be found in the Blockbuster press release. We freely note that Hollywood Video owns our sponsor, Reel.com, but we only wish to report facts here to put the Blockbuster announcement in context. And, as we noted last week, we encourage our readers to frequent their local independent video renters as much as possible they are the ones who are most likely to get hard-to-find items like Criterion titles and even some obscure or out-of-print stuff categories that few major chains have bothered to notice.
On the Street: Street Tuesday this week includes such great stuff as The Mummy: Collector's Edition, the original 1932 The Mummy, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Sleepless in Seattle: Special Edition, and some Kurosawa films from Criterion. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of Reel.com:
See ya later.
Monday, 27 September 1999
In the Works: Let's get your Monday morning going with some new disc announcements, courtesy of Image Entertainment:
Disc of the Week: The legendary Henry Fonda didn't star in a single film from 1948 to 1954, choosing instead to pursue the theater, and in particular the play Mister Roberts, which ran on Broadway for several years (in fact, Fonda performed the role of Lt. Doug Roberts on stage more than 1,300 times). When the time came for Mister Roberts to be adapted for the big screen, Fonda was initially hesitant, and several other well-known actors were offered the lead role. But eventually Fonda was persuaded to star in the film version, in part because director John Ford was helming the project. It would mark the seventh and last time that the two Hollywood legends would collaborate on a movie, and Mister Roberts is easily one of Fonda's best and most memorable performances. Lt. Doug Roberts is the executive officer of the U.S.S. Reluctant, a cargo ship that has never seen action, which Roberts desperately wants. His requests for transfer to a destroyer are consistently denied by the boat's captain (James Cagney), a petty tyrant who only cares about his status as a naval officer, abusing his officers and crew in pursuit of a promotion. It is left to the well-meaning (if temperamental) Roberts to place himself between the captain and the men, trying to keep their morale high while his own sinks further and further with the monotony of cargo duty. In addition to Fonda and Cagney, the equally legendary William Powell and Jack Lemmon also star in Mister Roberts, marking the end of one career (Powell retired after the film) and the beginning of another (it was Lemmon's first major role, and he won an Oscar for his efforts). The four leads create a comical alchemy with Fonda and Cagney always at odds, ship's doctor Powell staying above the fray, and young ensign Lemmon constantly claiming that he's going to let the captain have it, but never having the guts to show his face on deck. The production stays very true to the original stage play, with little action occurring outside of a few settings on the ship, and Ford and Fonda's insistence that exteriors be shot on a genuine Navy vessel (on location in Hawaii and Midway) provides for a number of tropical panoramas. The transfer on this edition of Mister Roberts is absolutely pristine, with only a couple of brief snags and no flecking, grain, or color deterioration it looks like it's been kept in cold storage. A new Dolby Digital 5.1 track is on board, and in addition to the outstanding film, extras include a commentary track with Jack Lemmon (who might as well be telling old Hollywood stories over dinner, but is still vastly entertaining), priceless footage from Ed Sullivan's "Toast of the Town" television show wherein Fonda, Cagney, and Lemmon perform two scenes in front of a live audience, an excerpt from the 1992 documentary "Fonda on Fonda" hosted by daughter Jane, the original theatrical trailer, and textual supplements.
Box Office: The Paramount drama Double Jeopardy, starring Ashley Judd and Tommy Lee Jones, had a strong debut, grossing $23,700,000 in its opening weekend, while the Robin Williams drama Jakob the Liar flopped huge with only $2,200,000 in receipts. Meanwhile, The Sixth Sense refuses to quit, adding another $8,500,000 to its $200 million+ total, cracking the top-20 all-time grossers at the U.S. box office. Kevin Costner's For Love of the Game is already showing signs of lagging, dropping precipitously from a strong $15 million+ opening last weekend to only $6,600,000 this week. Here's the top-grossing films at American theaters from last weekend:
London calling: In response to last year's list of the Top 100 American films from the American Film Institute, the British Film Institute has delivered their own list of the top 100 UK flicks, and it's chock-full of great stuff, including such DVD favorites as The 39 Steps, The Red Shoes, Trainspotting, The Long Good Friday, Brazil, and plenty of others that made the AFI list seem far too incomplete. Of particular note, Carol Reed's post-war classic The Third Man with Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten snagged the number-one spot, and Criterion has already announced that they are working on a new DVD. However, unlike the AFI 100, which now has 48 of the 100 films currently in release on DVD, the BFI 100 only has a scant 25, although a few more should arrive in the next few months. To see the entire BFI 100, and which ones are currently available on DVD in Region 1, check out our Stat Sheet, where it has become a permanent fixture.
On the Board: A new full review has been posted for Halloween: Restored Limited Edition, and can be found on our Full Reviews index. New quick reviews this week include The Matrix: Special Edition, Deliverance, Mister Roberts: Premiere Collection, and The Gingerbread 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.
Friday, 24 September 1999
A titan is gone: George C. Scott, star of such classic films as Patton, The Hustler, and Dr. Strangelove, died at his California home yesterday at the age of 71, and the loss is deeply felt by film fans around the world. In addition to being one of the foremost American actors in the history of cinema with a string of credits ranging from the 1959 Anatomy of a Murder to the recent TV production of Inherit the Wind (a production he reportedly left his sickbed to appear in), Scott lived a colorful, maverick life that was as turbulent as his many screen roles. Married five times (twice to the same woman, actress Colleen Dewhurst), his famous nose was also broken five times (four of them a result of fistfights), and from his days as a young Marine to the heights of Hollywood stardom, he was almost as well known for his hard drinking as he was for his powerful performances on stage and screen. Never a Hollywood insider, Scott tried to decline his Oscar nomination for the 1962 The Hustler, but the Academy took scarce notice of his short telegram, which simply said "No thanks." In 1971 he won the Best Actor Oscar for Patton and refused to accept it (he stayed home and watched a hockey game on awards night). In an age when movie stars think in terms of special effects rather than scenes and learn how to react more than act, Scott's death reminds us that acting a fundamental element of movies that makes it all worthwhile is gradually slipping away from us. As for Scott himself, he will never be replaced.
Yahoo's full coverage of George C. Scott's life and passing can be read by clicking here.
Here we go again: We're very burned out on George Lucas and all of the rumors surrounding the Star Wars and Indiana Jones trilogies so burned out that it is only for the record that we note Lucas gave an interview to French television earlier this week wherein he remarked that the Indy series is currently being prepped for DVD release. A few months ago we might have shouted the news from the rooftops, but frankly, with all of the great DVDs hitting the street over the next several months, Lucas's somewhat coy revelation smacks of too little, too late. Of course, whenever Indy arrives, we'll be watching it along with everybody else but no feature set, suggested price, or release date has been announced, so we are suspending the celebration.
In the Works: Here's some new disc announcements, courtesy of Image Entertainment:
Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including The Matrix: Special Edition, the limited-edition release of Halloween, the Henry Fonda classic Mister Roberts, and others. Check back on Monday for all the latest stuff.
Have a great weekend.
Thursday, 23 September 1999
R.I.P.: Various news sources, including Reuters and The Associated Press, are reporting this morning that legendary actor George C. Scott has died, although, at the time of this early morning update, officials in Ventura County, Calif., where Scott lived, have yet to confirm the news. The star of such films as Patton, Dr. Strangelove, and Anatomy of a Murder was 71.
How did we miss this?: Just two weeks after we kvetched about the Missing in Action Capra classic It Happened One Night, Columbia TriStar comes up with a DVD release date of Dec. 21. We're still digging through our pile of press releases to see just when this was announced (we think it was Monday or Tuesday), but thanks must go to DVD Journal reader and digital die-hard Jason Graham for sending us the info. "Boy did they jump when you said jump," Jason adds but while we'd really like to think that the powers-that-be at Columbia TriStar Home Video browse the Journal to find out how they can keep us happy campers, it's obvious that the release date is just a coincidence.
"Missing in Action" Flick of the Week: But let's see if we can keep the streak running anyway. Legendary director Sidney Lumet is a working director, not the type to take long vacations or spend a couple of years in pre-production for his next feature. No, Lumet cranks 'em out, averaging around one film per year from the mid-1950s to 1989, and seven features in the '90s. And while the man himself doesn't enjoy the celebrity of Cameron, Spielberg, or Tarantino, his hard-boiled films have been as influential as his magazine-cover colleagues' work, and if you're not familiar with him, you probably have seen some of his classics Serpico, 12 Angry Men, Fail-Safe, The Verdict, Murder on the Orient Express, The Fugitive Kind the list goes on and on, and even a few favorites have already arrived on DVD, including Network, Dog Day Afternoon, and Deathtrap.
But our favorite of all (and it's a tough call, trust us) is probably the 1981 Prince of the City, a worthy companion piece to the legendary Serpico and damn near the best cop movie ever made. This one isn't a shoot 'em up. There are no outlandish car chases. Prince of the City is about the brotherhood of police that most inviolable of fraternities and what happens when one of their members breaks ranks. Based on a true story, Treat Williams stars as NYPD detective Danny Ciello, a cop on the narco squad whose members have been nicknamed "princes of the city" because they are untouchable, enforcing the law as they see fit without any fear of retribution from the public, their superiors, or the hated Internal Affairs Bureau. But Ciello, who enjoys his lofty status and a comfortable suburban life with his family, is approached by Federal officials who intend to launch an investigation of the NYPD but can't do it without anybody on the inside. Ciello resists at first, viewing all watchdogs and stool pigeons to be lower that the street-life he regularly busts. But after considering the Feds' offer, he realizes that it will be an exciting, dangerous assignment, and he accepts on one condition "I don't rat out my partners." The Feds agree to his terms, but Ciello's secret assignments soon create a mountain of moral dilemmas that the cop in him doesn't want to ignore but the loyalist in him cannot stand dilemmas that eventually lead him back to the partners he swore he would never betray.
Lumet was the perfect director for this gritty masterpiece, and it's a shame that the film didn't launch Williams into the A-list projects his talent deserved. Even today, after a string of lesser-known movies, he still remains one of the best male leading actors of the past 30 years (in fact, Williams doesn't just star in Milos Forman's 1979 Hair, he towers above it). But with no big-name stars, a running-time of three hours, and subject matter that is somewhat depressing and, by the end of the film, emotionally exhausting, Prince of the City suffered a choke-hold at the box-office and was virtually overlooked by the 1982 Academy Awards, only garnering a Best Screenplay nomination (although it did secure the Pasinetti Award for Best Picture at the Venice Film Festival the previous year). The movie has found new fans on home video over time, but since it requires an above-average attention-span, you probably wouldn't have any trouble finding it at your local renter this weekend.
As for any DVD, this one could go one of two ways: It's an Orion production, and either Warner or Image currently holds the rights. It's also a perfect fit for RSDL discs, now widely in production, and we're hoping to hear of a new transfer in the second or third quarter of 2000, if not sooner.
The end of an era: One of America's foremost film critics, Janet Maslin, is leaving her position at The New York Times, where she has published her oft-quoted reviews and comments since 1977. She previously wrote for Newsweek, where her lofty laurels and rotten tomatoes first appeared in 1973. Times Culture Editor John Darnton, in an internal memo made public yesterday, noted that "It is hard to think of any person working for a daily newspaper all those years from The Godfather down through last week's American Beauty whose prose has had such a profound impact on American movies." Maslin will remain with the Times through the end of this year and will have a say in choosing her successor, but where she will park her word processor in 2000 remains unknown. At 50, she's far from retirement, and we expect to continue reading her prodigious reviews elsewhere before long.
Wednesday, 22 September 1999
We feel your pain Evan, but you're going to the wrong place. Blockbuster Video, America's largest movie-rental chain, has been a notorious slow-starter with DVD rentals, and while DVDs can be found in some of their outlets, it appears they aren't inclined to jump into a new format without the "wait-and-see" attitude that plagues most large corporations. Hollywood Video, Blockbuster's nearest competitor (they also own our sponsor, Reel.com), has done better job of supporting DVD over the past year, and while they don't have a whole lot of titles (and normally only the most popular don't go looking for Criterion stuff), they can be an attractive alternative if your local Blockbuster is a DVD-free zone.
But "Mom n' Pop" video stores the local shops that have faced intense competition from the larger chains are the best bet for DVD rentals, and you should probably flip through your Yellow Pages and call a few to see if they have joined the revolution. Since most consumers tend to spend their money at the larger chains, independent renters have been forced to rely on categories that the chains have been slow to adopt (DVD), are willing to neglect (classic films, documentaries), and are unwilling to offer (Laserdisc, and ahem porn). Try this: call a few local shops and ask if they have Criterion DVDs. If they say yes, you've hit a winner. Better yet, find a shop that rents X-rated Laserdiscs, or anything on the long-dead Betamax. A shop that comprehensive would probably have the largest DVD selection in town.
Die Xue Shuang Xiong (that would be John Woo's 1989 The Killer to you and me), arrived as a Criterion Collection DVD title on March 30, 1998, but was unceremoniously yanked from the catalog some months later due to legal issues. The film is still available on DVD as an Asian release (and reportedly without region coding), but the Criterion disc with deleted scenes and a commentary track by director John Woo and producer Terence Chang is still the favored item, as the many $100+ closing prices at eBay will attest. The folks at Criterion have said that they would love to re-issue the disc, but it simply isn't up to them, so if you gotta have it, you should consider bidding and not waiting.
Top of the Pops: Here's the top-selling DVDs last week from our friends at Reel.com. Click the links to read our reviews of these discs:
Tuesday, 21 September 1999
Welcome to the 4Q: For those of you not paying attention to your calendars, this week marks the beginning of autumn, which traditionally introduces the fourth-quarter sales season (a Very Big Deal in these parts), and news sources all over the Web, including Video Business Online and Widescreen Review, are buzzing about the expected boom in DVD sales in both hardware and software categories as the holidays grow nearer. Both online and traditional brick-and-mortar retailers are prepping for record-setting sales, and it's possible that cheapo $150 DVD players will be seen here and there by December (however, we don't recommend buying one of these and note that entry-level models from major manufacturers will likely remain in the $300+ neighborhood). It seems that everybody is saying that 1999 is going to be the "Year of DVD" or that a new player is the "must-have item" for Christmas morning, but please forgive us for being a little cynical the same sort of chatter was thrown about in 1997 and 1998. We'll stick with solid facts and figures instead Divx is no longer around, it's estimated that more than 3 million DVD players could be installed in American households by the end of the year, and most retailers are expecting as much as a 300% increase in disc sales compared to last year's 4Q, particularly with so many appetizing titles on the street or on the way, including Titanic, The Matrix, The Mummy, and Saving Private Ryan. Prepare to help your aging parents (or even grandparents) hook up their new digital video whachama-thingie, and please try not to confuse them when they ask you to explain the difference between Dolby Digital and AC-3.
In the Works: Here's some new disc announcements, courtesy of Image Entertainment:
On the Street: Here's this morning's notable street discs, including The Matrix and several classic titles, courtesy of Reel.com:
See ya tomorrow.
Monday, 20 September 1999
Disc of the Week: Produced by Jeffrey Katzenberg (the 'K' in DreamWorks SKG), 1998's The Prince of Egypt was the fledgling studio's bid to compete with Disney's domination of the animated-feature market. No one can argue that Katzenberg was the right man for the job, being a force behind several recent Disney productions, and while The Prince of Egypt is not a Disney product, it's easily as good as anything The Mouse House has ever delivered. A creative re-telling of the Book of Exodus (Steven Spielberg reportedly suggested that DreamWorks should make an animated The Ten Commandments), the Biblical story of Moses is retold, from his adoption into the Royal household of Egypt to his discovery of his Jewish heritage and his eventual alliance with the Jewish slaves in Egypt a tribe he leads out of slavery (with the help of The Almighty Lord God, of course). Generally speaking, comedies tend to play stronger than dramas in animated form, and there's nothing funny about The Prince of Egypt, which comes across as an eye-popping edition of a child's Biblical coloring book. As such, some of the gravitas of the Book of Exodus is undermined by the inherent nature of the format, and when you really want to be moved by the story (among the most dramatic of the Old Testament), it's hard to get past the fact that you are watching a cartoon a problem that never occurs in, say, A Bug's Life. This one's worth watching for the animation itself, which has an impressive three-dimensional quality (thanks to a new generation of software) and energetic voice-overs from the cast, which includes Val Kilmer, Ralph Fiennes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Patrick Stewart, Helen Mirren, Sandra Bullock, Jeff Goldblum, Danny Glover, Martin Short, and Steve Martin. The DreamWorks team earns additional credit for having the guts to send this one to the theaters without any merchandising tie-ins it may have hurt the box-office, but we really didn't need any collectable "Burning Bush" cups at Taco Bell either.
Box Office: Columbia TriStar's comedy Blue Streak, starring Martin Lawrence, did strong debut business, pulling nearly $20 million in its first weekend of release, followed by Universal's For Love of the Game at $14 million. Meanwhile, the juggernaut that is Buena Vista's The Sixth Sense has easily cracked the stratospheric $200 million club, and both Artisan's The Blair Witch Project and Paramount's The Runaway Bride continue to gain late-summer viewers. In limited release, the much-discussed DreamWorks drama American Beauty managed to earn a respectable $841,000, landing it in the top 12. Here's the top-grossing films at American theaters from last weekend:
Quotable: "I'd like to bed Tom... and Nicole."
Bisexual pop-star George Michael, in one
On the Board: A new full review has been posted for Dead Man Walking, and can be found on our Full Reviews index. New quick reviews this week include The Prince of Egypt: Signature Series, Field of Dreams: Collector's Edition, A Night to Remember: The Criterion Collection, Blast from the Past, Ulee's Gold, and Forces of Nature, 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.
Friday, 17 September 1999
The Mouse adds one more: Sick of Disney? Well they aren't sick of DVD, because DVD Insider is reporting that they've just added a tenth title to their animated classics series due later this year, Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas, a new straight-to-video release and not to be confused with the 1983 Mickey's Christmas Carol. That's the news, but nothing else is the disc will street just like the others with a no-extras $39.99 retail sticker, and it's due to arrive on Dec. 7, alongside The Little Mermaid and The Jungle Book. Being a new production, it isn't actually a Disney classic, but then again, neither is Simba's Pride, another Disney DVD title that first appeared on VHS.
In other news from the Magic Kingdom, the two World Premiere screenings of Disney's upcoming animated spectacle Fantasia/2000 at Carnegie Hall sold out in just six hours. The coveted screenings will occur on Dec. 18-19, and while we're hoping for a future DVD of this one, there's no way any disc could compare to these premiere events the 120-piece Philharmonia Orchestra of London, conducted by James Levine, will perform the score as the film plays on the massive Carnegie screen. Additional live performances are scheduled for London, Paris, and Tokyo, leading up to a New Year's Eve event at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. But don't look for Fantasia/2000 at your local cineplex in January of 2000 that's when the film is due to hit the IMAX circuit for an exclusive four-month run.
Rick Dahl: ...And some people had said "What about the character of Lyle?" And we said, well that's a little bit like Frank Booth he plays in Blue Velvet, it would be kind of nice to see
John: He always plays the crazy killer
Rick: We heard "Dennis has signed on to do the movie, congratulations," and John went over to his house to meet him on a Saturday afternoon.
John: And he said, "I can't wait to play the part of Lyle." And I said, "Oh boy, sorry Mr. Hopper, there's been a big mistake. We wanted you to play the part of, you know, the Sheriff, Wayne." And he says, "Oh no, see, this is a big mistake, see, look: my script says Lyle." So I went out and called the producer and I said, "Boy, we've got a big problem here." And then Dennis kept proceeding to call me and say, you know, "I'd love to play that part! Could you think about it?" And finally, I was on a location scout in Wilcox, Ariz., where we shot the movie. Dennis tracks me down. He's in Sweden at a film festival, and says, you know, "What about that part," you know. "I'd love to do that part." That's when we said, "Gee, Mr. Hopper, you've done this killer thing a lot." I mean, originally it was scripted as... basically the same wardrobe he wore in Blue Velvet. And he said, "Well, I've played a lot of killers, but I've never played a killer with low self-esteem. You see, I can do that really well."
John Dahl (director, co-writer)
Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including The Prince of Egypt, Blast from the Past, Forces of Nature, and others, so be sure to check back on Monday morning for all the latest.
Go enjoy the weekend. We'll see ya soon.
Thursday, 16 September 1999
Costner throws a curve ball: It looks like we can rule out a commentary track from Kevin Costner on any Universal DVD of the forthcoming For Love of the Game, as the actor has now denounced the film, and in particular studio-imposed cuts made during post-production. "For Universal, this movie has always been about the length and the rating," Costner told Newsweek in a recent interview. "It's never been about the content. And you feel a studio would want to release the best version of the movie, not the one they think appeals to the biggest common denominator." Costner's frustration apparently stems from the cutting of some foul language, along with the deletion of a shower scene (featuring Costner's Louisville Slugger in full view), which allowed the movie to garner a PG-13 rating from the MPAA. (According to a recent story in New York magazine, test screenings with the shower scene intact resulted in audience laughter, forcing Universal to toss it out of the game.)
Stacey Snider, co-chairman of Universal, didn't take long to pitch a bean-ball back at Costner, accusing him of hijacking "a $50 million asset" in an interview with The Los Angeles Times. "Our feeling is that we have backed the filmmaker, and his name is Sam Raimi, not Kevin Costner," he said. Costner has canceled all publicity appearances and interviews for the film and did not attend the premiere last night, opting to leave the dugout early and head for the showers. He also claims his working relationship with Universal who also produced the 1995 Waterworld has clearly gone into extra innings. "They probably don't want to make movies with me, and I certainly don't want to make movies with them," he told Newsweek. "I'll never forgive or forget what they've done."
Man, what a great commentary track that would have been....
"Missing in Action" Flick of the Week: Pop quiz, digital hot-shots how many David Lynch films are on DVD? That's right, just one Dune, which is not one of his better efforts. There's no Blue Velvet. No Eraserhead. No Wild at Heart. And you can probably forget about a box set of every episode of the brilliant Twin Peaks for now. Most of you may bitch about George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, but at least we have a handful of DVD titles from them. However, virtually the entire Lynch oeuvre is Missing in Action, and that includes our favorite of the bunch, 1980's The Elephant Man. Starring Anthony Hopkins and John Hurt, and based on the long-running stage play, The Elephant Man takes dramatic license with the true story of 19th-century Englishman John Merrick, who was horribly disfigured by a crippling disease that left him looking so monstrous that he could only obtain a living as a sideshow freak. In the fictional version (the truth was somewhat different, but wouldn't have made as good of a movie), Merrick is happened upon by London surgeon Frederick Treves, who is visiting a carnival and is captivated by the hobbled, ailing young man. Treves immediately recruits Merrick to appear in a medical demonstration, in order to illustrate the rare disease to his colleagues, but before long Treves discovers that Merrick actually has a well-developed mind and can even read something nobody suspected. Treves lobbies his hospital to grant Merrick a permanent residence, while elements of Merrick's past conspire to return him to his captivity as a carnival attraction.
The Elephant Man is, to us, David Lynch's most fully developed, perfectly realized film. Blue Velvet may be a close second, but that project didn't have near the caliber of actors that its predecessor offered, including Anne Bancroft and John Gielgud, along with the immensely versatile Hopkins and Hurt. We also think that fans of Hopkins' performance in The Silence of the Lambs ten years later should give his work here a closer look. His Dr. Hannibal Lecter may be his most celebrated role, but his Dr. Frederick Treves is superior by far. And while Lynch and his actors deserve credit, executive producer Mel Brooks (who wouldn't put his name on the film because he was afraid people would think it was a comedy) made substantial contributions to the script, including much of the second half, wherein Merrick is abducted by his former employer and seeks to be reunited, and redeemed, by Treves, the only father figure he has ever known. Brooks' inspiration? Pinocchio a film that surprisingly will arrive on DVD before this one.
Okay, before all of you write us "gotcha" letters declaring that The Elephant Man is in fact on DVD, we are already aware of the Region 2 release from Canal Video. But that disc is also encoded in MPEG-1, not the superior MPEG-2. No thanks. As far as we're concerned, this one's still MIA.
Hang on to that tube: Although we have been skeptical about the expected transition from current analog televisions to Digital TV, we figured we'd have to give in sooner or later since the U.S. government had declared that Dec. 31, 2006, would be the DTV deadline, a point when broadcasters would be required to stop transmitting analog signals. But in a little-publicized document released last week, the Congressional Budget Office scrapped the date, acknowledging the obvious fact that "consumers must adopt new technology quickly" a scenario we don't envision over the next six years, especially if DTVs remain far more expensive than their analog counterparts. A new set of DTV requirements based on consumer acceptance and compliance from broadcasters and cable providers, and apparently open-ended will now determine when the government orders analog signals to cease. If the millions of cheap mono VCRs that American consumers currently buy every year is any indication, that could take forever.
Wednesday, 15 September 1999
"Private Ryan" comes in from the cold: In a stunning bit of news that few were able to predict, Steven Spielberg's critically acclaimed Saving Private Ryan will arrive on DVD as a "Special Limited Edition" this Nov. 2, day and date with the sell-through VHS tape. In addition to what is promised by DreamWorks to be "an all digital Telecine high definition transfer," extra content on the disc will include a message from Spielberg, a 30-minute behind-the-scenes documentary called "Into The Breach," two trailers, cast and crew bios, and production notes. The SPR disc will also be available in both Dolby Digital and DTS audio versions, so those of you with a taste for DTS won't have to wait. And it looks like our prediction that either Titanic or The Matrix would be the top-selling DVD by the end of the year may be premature. As the first major Spielberg film on disc, SPR could outclass both.
Two additional SPR items: First, credit must go to Steve Tannehill at The DVD Resource Page for being the first Web pundit (as far as we know) to predict a DVD release of Saving Private Ryan this year. And secondly, the announcement completely jives with DVD Journal reader Todd Dupler's recent exchange with Steven Spielberg, wherein The Man told him that SPR would be one of his first DVDs. We'd like to note that Spielberg mentioned another highly anticipated title in that brief confab, and now we're expecting to see it before long Men in Black.
And you heard that one here first.
We hate to be party-poopers and we're not singling you out Nathan, because we receive several letters just like yours every week but we'd like to point out to all of our readers a simple fact: Just because all of you bought DVD players does not mean that you have a right to every movie ever made, and the idea of the studios as "a few guys sitting at a table as big as my house" is a gross oversimplification of the matter. We're just as pissed as everybody about the many, many films languishing on VHS (our Missing in Action Page is a testament to that), but we at The DVD Journal tend to be glass-half-full people. We're here every day to talk about great movies that are being released on DVD right now, and there's enough of them to keep us busy. The DVD format has only been available for a scarce two years on a nationwide level, and there are easily 100,000 movies currently in print on VHS. The studios and other vendors simply don't have the time or production capacity to get everything on the street next week.
In regards to your specific examples, each one is owned by a different studio, and they all have different reasons for holding on to certain titles. Either Warner or MGM has the rights to Citizen Kane (they've been trading film rights all year, it seems), and since the film is commonly regarded as the greatest ever made (it's #1 on the American Film Institute's Top 100 list), any vendor who would dream of streeting a second-rate disc is begging for punishment and given the appetites of digital die-hards, who demand special-edition content on virtually everything, finding extras for a 56-year-old film can take some effort. We'd like to believe that either MGM or Warner has Citizen Kane on the back-burner and will present us with a glorious DVD collectable in the next year or so. Remember that Warner's recent attempt to deliver The Stanley Kubrick Collection on DVD with some second-rate prints and no supplements was an unwarranted rush to market. We even noted in our review that we would rather have waited another year or two for these titles, if such would have given us super-sized discs with better prints. As it was, The Kubrick Collection was only a minor improvement over current VHS editions of Kubrick flicks, not a substantial one.
We're actually expecting to see Braveheart from Paramount within the next year or so, but we're guessing that it has been a holdout because (like many favorites), it's such a popular film, and Paramount would rather release it with perhaps five or six million installed DVD players, instead of the estimated three million by year's end, thus increasing their revenue from the initial release period, which requires a flat investment in both DVD production and publicity expenses. In fact, we believe that this fundamental marketing philosophy is the reason why only ten of the top-30-grossing films at the U.S. box office have been released or announced on disc. That's just the way that business works, and early adopters have to accept it.
And Branagh's Hamlet? We have an entirely different theory about this one. Columbia TriStar has the rights, and it does seem like a disc is overdue, but the film is also four hours long a length that not only tests the limits of RSDL discs (DVD-10), but even flippers (DVD-9), and if the highly regarded 1996 Hamlet streets with some artifacts or too much shimmer, Columbia TriStar could wind up in the DVD doghouse. Branagh's Hamlet is a magnificent, gorgeous film, and if we didn't know for sure that the disc would look great, we wouldn't want it until the eight-hour DVD-18 discs become a more established format.
Oh, Brian, say it ain't so. What a painful letter to read. Did you really sell your Star Wars and Indy lasers? We have every one of those Laserdiscs in our collection, and they aren't leaving the screening room until we get gorgeous DVDs, and with plenty of extras at that. If you're a gambler, you really should stay away from Vegas. Selling off Lucas lasers is a very bad bet right now, given that Lucas is on record stating that Star Wars will not arrive on DVD until 2005 at the earliest.
Top of the Pops: Here's the top-selling DVDs last week from our friends at Reel.com. Click the links to read our reviews of these discs:
Dumped in a "Fox"-hole?: Some of you may remember our report from a few weeks back regarding X-Files star David Duchovny's lawsuit against Fox, wherein Duchovny claimed that Fox had deprived him of residuals by selling the syndication rights of "The X-Files" TV series to Fox's F/X cable network below fair-market value. The suit has potentially placed any future X-Files films with Duchovny in jeopardy, and Fox isn't out of the woods yet TV producer Steven Bochco filed a nearly identical lawsuit yesterday, claiming the same thing happened to his "NYPD Blue" series. Duchovny is currently seeking $25 million in damages, but Bochco (who signed a syndication agreement with Fox for his ABC cop-show) apparently feels even more in the lurch he's asking for $61.6 million.
A final note: If you're miraculously logging on today from any coastal regions in the Southeastern U.S., hang in there and don't forget to throw some plastic bags over the home theater equipment. If you're off-line for a few days, we'll be waiting for your return.
Tuesday, 14 September 1999
This Just In We are just getting word of this and hope to confirm more details later today or in tomorrow's update, but it appears that a Saving Private Ryan DVD will arrive on Nov. 2 from DreamWorks, and will even include some additional content.
Playstation2 will play: Those of you planning to get your hands on one of Sony's upcoming Playstation2 consoles can expect to get another DVD player in the process, as Sony has announced that all of their Playstation2 decks will handle DVD Video discs, along with standard Audio CDs. Sony announced some months ago that the new players would utilize DVD technology, but the DVD Video capability is an unexpected development, and since the next-generation gaming consoles from Nintendo and Sega will also use DVD transports, we're speculating that they could follow Sony's lead with DVD Video compatibility as well. The Playstation2 is expected to debut in Japan next March and should arrive on North American shores about a year from now.
Nothing looks good in Spandex: It was when "Barney: Let's Play School" arrived on DVD that we first started to worry. After all, we've always hoped that DVD would inherit the videophile demographic first created by Laserdisc back in the '80s, and with cheaper prices and greater functionality, lure even more consumers to the calling of home theater. Then "Barney's Night Before Christmas" was announced, promising to be another in what will become a continuing series of Big Purple Dinosaur Discs. That was when we started drinking around noon. But now the depression has caused us to binge on Ding-Dongs and Mountain Dew, because none other than America's self-proclaimed fitness princess Denise Austin has announced her first exercise DVD, "Tone & Tighten," which will also be the first exercise video of any sort on the format. As the press release notes, "America's best-selling female fitness expert has answered the call of high technology." We don't know who's responsible for this, but whichever one of you guys called her should get knocked around by that bald guy in the Tae-Bo videos. We're sure he's not far behind.
But wait there's more!: PPI Entertainment, who will be bringing Ms. Austin to us in all of her Spandex splendor, has also announced two more DVD titles: "Simply The Best Sports Bloopers" and "Cal Pozo's Learn To Dance In Minutes."
Who's got the Ho-hos?....
On the Street: Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of Reel.com:
Quotable: "I see everyone else working and I'm not doing dick. I'm in total limbo. I'm a man without a country.... After I made Cop Land, all of Hollywood turned their back. I'm like driftwood in here."
Rambo Sylvester Stallone, from an interview
"I just want to creep back, I have experience, and I believe in myself again, and I'm passionate about my work and what I'm doing. And if I can keep thinking like that, then I'm going to be better than I was."
"Comedian" Pauly Shore, in a interview with
Shore who apparently was robbed of an Oscar for his brilliant, harrowing performance in 1993's Son in Law also notes that he has recently auditioned for such directors as Francis Ford Coppola, Brian de Palma, and Oliver Stone. We're not kidding.
Monday, 13 September 1999
"Bug's Life: Collector's Edition" details released: Cheap? No. Loaded? Totally. Disney has released the specs on their upcoming A Bug's Life: Collector's Edition, a two-disc package with a hefty retail sticker. Along with the direct-to-digital transfer on the original disc (it's one of the best out there), we can expect a commentary track with the folks behind the film, along with isolated music and sound effects. Disc two (is The Mouse following the lead of Criterion's Armageddon set?) will feature supplements such as a "behind-the-scenes" featurette, the original story treatment and pitch boards, character designs, concept art, deleted sequences, storyboard-to-film comparisons, production tests, trailers, posters, and those legendary outtakes. Save your pennies if you gotta have it, the super-sized Bug's Life will hit the shelves on Nov. 23. Expect online pre-orders to run around $30.
Disc of the Week: Eddy is a pretty good card player a great one, in fact, and when he and his pals Bacon, Tom, and Soap manage to pool £100,000 together, they figure it's time to take on Harry The Hatchet in a game of poker. Never mind that The Horrible Hatchet is the meanest bastard in London's East End, with both Big Chris and Barry the Baptist on his payroll. But when Eddy drops £500,000 over the table and must make good on his debt, he and his pals decide to rob a gang of criminals led by one tough sonofabitch named Dog, who are planning to rob a marijuiana operation headed by the botanist Winston. Will Eddy be able to pay off The Hatchet before his dad loses his pub? Where does funk-soul brother Rory Breaker fit in to all of this? And whose side is Nick the Greek really on? In his debut feature film, Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, English writer/director Jonthan Ritchie serves up a comic masterpiece, boldly making use of at least 15 substantial characters and then concocting a whirlwind of plot twists surrounding six groups of criminals, a bag of money, a van full of ganja, and two antique shotguns, as the valuables change hands back and forth between the competing crews, all of whom are trying to claim what they believe to be rightfully theirs, or at least get the goods in order to stay alive. The cast members largely unknown to American audences (with the expection of Sting as Eddy's father) never miss a beat, and they are so well-defined in Ritchie's script that not one of them is easily forgetten. Unfortunately, Two Smoking Barrels has been widely described as an English Pulp Fiction a comparison that is both intellectually lazy and grossly unfair to both movies. While Two Smoking Barrels does share with the Tarantino uber-flick a penchant for blood-soaked black comedy, the characters and plot structures of both films are extremely different. Violence aside, Ritchie's film draws more from such classic crime capers as Raising Arizona and A Fish Called Wanda, in addition to instantly joining the ranks of the legendary British gangster flicks The Long Good Friday and Get Carter and that's some nice company to share.
Ah-nold previews terminated: The upcoming Arnold Schwarzenegger flick End of Days, which will mark the action icon's return to the big screen after a two-year hiatus, may not live up to the hype if there's much hype to be had. Credit the power of the Internet, because Universal canceled preview screenings scheduled in the Los Angeles area last week, due to leaks. According to the Associated Press, a morning program on L.A.'s KTTV-TV even asked viewers to phone in their advance reviews, following a Web trend set by Harry Knowles' popular Ain't It Cool News site. However, some pundits have also suggested that the cancellations are due to bad buzz about the flick (for the record, AICN's Knowles who has attended a test preview says that it "still has a lot of work to be done" but also contends that "it's by and far Arnold's best film since Terminator 2"). If you want a sneak preview, the only place we know of where to find one outside of theaters is the End of Days trailer on Universal's upcoming The Mummy: Collector's Edition DVD, which is due to reach the street Sept. 28.
Box Office: The reign of The Sixth Sense has ended, losing the top spot at the U.S. box office to Stigmata after a monumental five weeks at number one. But it's unlikely that Buena Vista is that bothered, since the film has now cracked the top 30 highest-grossing movies of all time. Yet beware, digital die-hards a glance at the Stat Sheet reveals that no less than 20 of the top 30 U.S. grossers are still missing in action on disc, and the unexpected success of The Sixth Sense may be putting a DVD release next year in jeopardy, as many studios are keeping their top products under wraps. Here's the top-grossing films at American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: A new full review has been posted for A Nightmare on Elm Street and can be found on our Full Reviews index. New quick reviews this week include Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, The Wages of Fear: The Criterion Collection, Night Shift, and Rain Man, 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.
Friday, 10 September 1999
"Shagged" specs unveiled: Of course, there was no doubt that New Line a stalwart supporter of inexpensive, feature-packed DVDs wouldn't hesitate to get the summer blockbuster Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me on disc as soon as possible, and they have now released the details of their upcoming Platinum Series edition. Along with a widescreen transfer, we can expect a commentary track with writer/star Mike Myers, the Comedy Central "spy-o-graphy" The Dr. Evil Story, a featurette, lots of deleted scenes, textual supplements, and a few music videos (we're betting the high-rotation Madonna/Myers clip "Beautiful Stranger" will be in there). Extra DVD-ROM content will include Austin Powers-themed Web browsers and a trivia game. It's bound to be a welcome bookend to the smashing Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery disc, and after the recent Disney-pricing bitch-fest (Me-OW! Saucer of milk?), we're also glad to note that it should hit the street somewhere around twenty bucks, and even less as an online pre-order. Get ready to get shagadelic The Spy Who Shagged Me arrives day-and-date with the VHS edition on Nov. 16.
Correction: It seems we're due for a spankin', because loyal DVD Journal reader and digital die-hard Chien Wei dropped us a note to let us know that we got something wrong yesterday in our commentary on the Missing in Action It Happened One Night in fact, three films have taken the top five Oscars, and not just two as we reported, and we stand guilty of overlooking One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest in our write-up. There was a brief debate in the office last night as to if there were either two or three films to snag the top five, but there just wasn't time to check the whole damn IMDb before posting, and Wei has thus humbled the Lords of Movie Trivia on our resident staff. Ouch.
Commentary Clip: "Here in the supermarket because this is the main location for the film other than the rave we scoured within 40 miles of Los Angeles for the perfect market, and we found it, and we paid them a fair amount of money for the location fee. And, much to our horror, a week before we started shooting, we showed up, and the owner of the supermarket had taken our location fee and had completely modernized the market, and painted it, and it looked nothing like the place we had picked and it also looked like any other market; it became very generic looking. We ended up having to paint the whole market back to the way it had been. It never even occurred to the supermarket owner that we might have picked his market because of the color of the walls and the fact that the signs were old."
Director Doug Liman,
Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including Monty Python and the Holy Grail, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, and others. Check back on Monday for all the latest stuff.
It's time to crack open some chilly Oregon microbrew. Have a great weekend.
Thursday, 9 September 1999
In the Works: Image Entertainment posted a brief update yesterday of some new DVD announcements, and there are a few interesting titles in the mix:
"Missing in Action" Flick of the Week: Digging through Columbia TriStar's recent DVD release of Frank Capra's 1937 Lost Horizon was a hot-and-cold affair. The extra features on the disc all concerning the intricate restoration of this almost-lost film are a treasure trove of insights for movie junkies everywhere, but the film itself is arguably a flawed gem: astonishing to look at most of the time, but still a slow-going affair with a slender narrative thread. Before long, we found ourselves jonesin' to watch another Capra flick that's also in the "Columbia Classics" vault, but not yet on DVD the superlative 1934 It Happened One Night. Somewhat lesser known than It's a Wonderful Life or Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, but still among Capra's best, screen legends Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert star in what has become the ultimate road movie, even after these many years. Colbert is Ellie Andrews, a famous East Coast socialite who has been driven into marriage with King Westley (Jameson Thomas), a wealthy cad whom she doesn't love. But just after the Florida ceremony, Ellie escapes from her father's yacht and finds herself on the road, trying to return to New York with little cash and no help. As (bad) luck would have it, she meets up with unemployed scandal-rag reporter Peter Warne (Gable), who recognizes the heiress and offers his assistance provided that he get the scoop on the runaway bride that all of America is talking about. What follows is a hilarious, episodic journey by foot, bus, and otherwise, as the frosty Ellie and grouchy Peter bicker and fight like an old married couple ("What she needs is a guy that'd take a sock at her once a day, whether it's coming to her or not," Gable declares in those politically incorrect times). And while the conclusion is entirely predictable, It Happened One Night launched a minor movie genre that includes such successors as the '80s comedies The Sure Thing and Midnight Run. However, neither of those titles can lay claim to history, whereas It Happened One Night can in several instances: The film was the first to snag all five major Oscars (Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Screenplay), a feat only since duplicated by One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and The Silence of the Lambs; the song "The Man on the Flying Trapeze" was introduced to Americans everywhere when the film was released, on its way to becoming a timeless classic that everybody knows at least some of the words to; and one scene where Gable munches on a carrot while talking up a storm was remembered by animators at Warner Brothers they later used it as the inspiration for Bugs Bunny.
On the Block: Back once again by popular demand! Here's the highest recent closing prices of rare DVDs from online auctions at eBay :
But is the Image release of D.W. Griffith's silent classic Intolerance really out of print? According to both the Image Entertainment website and The Internet Movie Database, it definitely is not however, if you know something we don't, drop us a line.
Wednesday, 8 September 1999
DVD Kicking ass and taking names: Strategy Analytics, Inc., an independent research firm, released their "World DVD Planning Report" yesterday, and it looks like the days of wondering if DVD would gain a foothold in the market are far behind us. Among several details in the report, Strategy Analytics has determined that 57 million discs are expected to sell this year, generating a revenue of $1.5 billion. By 2005, that figure will climb to 1.3 billion discs per annum, causing us to stick more than $36 billion in vendors' pockets. It should be noted that Strategy Analytics is including all DVD devices in their report, which covers everything from video-game consoles to DVD-ROM-equipped computers to the stand-alone videophile decks attached to our home theaters, and DVD-equipped PCs currently account for 75% of all units. They estimate that 11% of all American homes will have at least one DVD device by the end of this year, rising to 58% by the end of 2002 although stand-alone players will still be in the minority.
So will DVD be the VHS killer? As for us, we've never considered DVD to be a competitor to VHS. Even though recordable DVD is on the horizon, there are simply far too many VHS players, retail videos, and personal-camcorder tapes filling people's homes for the format to die anytime soon. Add to that the fact that DVD's chief selling point is quality of presentation and that American consumers don't have a strong track record of laying out cash for quality (inexpensive mono VCRs are still hot-selling items, even in 1999). Strategy Analytics believes that DVD eventually will become the top consumer media, but they are predicting it will be over the next ten years or so.
And one caveat: DVD Video is currently a niche product, and the several studios and vendors are working hard to make sure that many of their titles include the extra features that videophiles desire, especially commentary tracks (see yesterday's disc update for several examples). We have always wanted DVD to be a successful format, but we have never advocated that everybody own DVD, and for one simple reason once DVD becomes the dominant home-video format, videophiles will no longer form the majority of consumers, and the choice extras that vendors try to get on their releases could cost more money to purchase, if not disappear altogether. A few studios are already testing movie-only and "special edition" releases of the same titles on DVD, and when Ma and Pa Kettle eventually get on the bandwagon, this practice could become more widespread. Constituting a minority of consumers, videophiles will probably be the ones who suffer most, and there may be a day when we all look back at 1999 and 2000 and consider them the Golden Years of DVD.
Criterion update: Voyager, the producers of the inimitable Criterion Collection, issued some release news yesterday, in addition to giving DVD fans a sneak-peek at some upcoming releases. As we reported last month here at The DVD Journal, Criterion is now confirming that a special edition of Wes Anderson's brilliant Rushmore will street next year with a Criterion folio, and the disc will include interviews with Anderson, actor Jason Schwartzman, and co-writer Owen Wilson (who was a collaborator on Anderson's Bottle Rocket and Rushmore and was recently seen as the goofy Oscar Choi in the blockbuster Armageddon). A commentary track on the Criterion Rushmore disc has yet to be confirmed, but we're hoping to hear of one soon.
New Criterion discs on the way include Carl Dreyer's never-released-on-video The Passion of Joan of Arc from 1928, which will include interactive essays on the film's production and a restoration demonstration, and Monty Python's Life of Brian, which will feature two audio commentaries one by Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, and Terry Jones, the second by John Cleese and Michael Palin and five deleted scenes, also with commentaries (for those of you who have already purchased the trailer-only DVD release sorry). Finally, Criterion has dispelled one bit of chatter: They do not have a license to produce a special edition of Cruel Intentions, despite some rumors to the contrary, and a new disc is not expected.
Your comments are far from blasphemous, Bill. In fact, we encourage all digital die-hards to vote with their dollars. If you think a DVD is overpriced or doesn't have enough special features, don't buy it. And we couldn't agree with you more in the case of Titanic James Cameron is notorious for releasing movie-only home-video releases and then following them up with special editions at a later date (the expanded Terminator 2and The Abyss: The Director's Cut are two examples). Furthermore, the Cameron camp has all but confirmed that a special edition of Titanic will appear in the future, probably on VHS before any DVD arrives, and all sorts of extras including a director's cut, outtakes, behind-the-scenes footage, and a commentary track could potentially be part of the package. Like you, we haven't laid out any cash for the Titanic DVD, but in this case, our voices may go unheard by Cameron and Paramount the movie-only Titanic is currently the best-selling DVD of all time, and in our opinion, only Warner's upcoming The Matrix has any chance of claiming the top spot by the end of this year.
Well, the re-titled Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark isn't a DVD issue yet, since the remastered widescreen edition will only be available this fall on VHS as part of a new Indiana Jones Trilogy re-release. However, the re-titling will likely have an effect on any future DVD release, since the revision appears to be a permanent one. And while you regard the guy who re-titled Indy as an "overpaid moron," we're convinced that franchise owner George Lucas signed off on it, since all of the Indy films are Lucasfilm productions, not Amblin titles (we'll refrain from letting you know if we think Lucas is an overpaid moron or not). Therefore, Steven Spielberg probably was not involved in the decision. Like most Indy aficionados who have loved the film over these many years, we wince at the laborious re-titling as much as anybody, but here's a note in defense of the "moron," whoever he may be in an interview with TheForce.net, Jim Ward, director of marketing at Lucasfilm, confirmed that the re-titling will only appear on the VHS boxcover and nowhere in the film itself, so the classic will remain intact on home video. And in our opinion, tacking the Indy name on the boxcover happened for one simple reason: to ensure that all three remastered titles would appear consecutively on retailers' shelves, encouraging consumers to buy the trio if they can't find the box set. You can call it marketing brouhaha but it's still marketing.
We're glad to have you aboard, Jim. And "the DVDFile.com guy" would be Peter Bracke, who was generous enough yesterday to bestow his "Site of the Week" distinction on this modest little page. Peter oversees one of the top DVD sites on the Web, and we've had the opportunity to visit with him now and then over the past several months. Just like his site, Peter is a total class act, and we gladly doff our hats to him.
Top of the Pops: Here's the top-selling DVDs last week from our friends at Reel.com. Click the links to read our reviews of these discs:
Quotable: "I just couldn't go on speaking those bloody awful, banal lines. I'd had enough of the mumbo jumbo.... I shrivel up every time someone mentions Star Wars to me."
Alec Guinness, in an upcoming interview with Tina Brown's
It only makes us wonder what the erstwhile Obi-Wan thought of The Phantom Menace. That is, if could be bothered to see it.
Tuesday, 7 September 1999
In the Works: Welcome back from the holiday weekend! Let's get your daily DVD fix going with some new disc announcements, courtesy of Image Entertainment:
Disc of the Week: There's little to distinguish Ang Lee's 1995 film of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility from the legion of other recent Austen adaptations, but that's simply because they were all great. By default it has all the trappings of the typical Austen story: unrequited loves, womanizing cads, rustic English landscapes, subtle social subversions, grand estates, and maidens desperate to marry a man of means (and for love, if that's possible). Although the template of Sense and Sensibility is familiar, the quality is undeniable. Emma Thompson stars as Elinor, the sensible Dashwood daughter who carefully holds her emotions in reserve. Her younger sister Marianne (Kate Winslet) is the opposite: an impetuous youth enamored of poetry and romantic ideals. Both have marriage on their minds, with Elinor fancying equally reserved Edward (Hugh Grant), and Marianne swept away by dashing young soldier Willoughby (Greg Wise). From there the story takes Austen's typical twists and turns, laced with her trademark wit and subtle satire of Victorian mores. Thompson penned this lively, funny, heartbreaking adaptation and won an Oscar for it and couldn't have hoped for a better actress than herself to bring it to life. No one is as adept as Thompson is in portraying suppressed longings, and her performance is both lovely and shattering. Okay, there may be one distinguishing factor between Sense and Sensibility and its ilk: director Lee is Taiwanese, but still observes this very English story with exquisite warmth and period detail. This new Special Edition includes two commentary tracks: one with Thompson and producer Lindsay Doran, and another with Lee and co-producer James Schamus, two deleted scenes, trailers, and even Thompson's acceptance speech at the Golden Globes which she delivers as if from Austen herself.
On the Street: Here's this morning's notable street discs, including Monty Python's Holy Grail and four Hitchcock classics, courtesy of Reel.com:
One final Kubrick flick?: With the recent DVD releases from Warner and MGM of the entire Kubrick catalog (and Warner's expected DVD of Eyes Wide Shut), you'd be forgiven for thinking that the complete Kubrick will soon be on disc. However, London's Sunday Times reported over the weekend that Steven Spielberg may take on Kubrick's final project, the much-discussed A.I., which Kubrick began working on in 1982 but never got out of the pre-production stage (the joke being that he decided to film Eyes Wide Shut because he thought he could make it faster). Only some early technical experiments were conducted for A.I., but Spielberg says that he has seen Kubrick's "very long treatment" in addition to his storyboards, and he may bring the unfinished work to completion, perhaps after finishing the third Jurassic Park movie and the upcoming Memoirs of a Geisha. If it happens, Kubrick would likely get a final film credit, as a writer and perhaps as a producer. And if you're dying for a sneak preview of the film, look for Brian Aldiss' short story "Supertoys Last All Summer Long," which Kubrick used as the basis of his script.
Box Office: Coming out of nowhere in the dog days of summer, The Sixth Sense had held the top spot at the U.S. box office for five weeks now, and it is expected to break into the $200 million club before much longer a rare category that less than 30 films have ever reached. Here's the top-grossing films at American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: A new full review has been posted for Columbia TriStar's restored Frank Capra classic Lost Horizon, and can be found on our Full Reviews index. We have also posted a sneak preview of New Line's upcoming The Corruptor: Platinum Series on our New Reviews index here on the front page, and new quick reviews this week include Titanic, Sense and Sensibility: Special Edition, Red Rock West, Celebrity, and Color of Night, which can be accessed under the New Reviews menu as well.
See ya tomorrow.
Friday, 3 September 1999
Long weekend: What with Titanic, the upcoming Matrix disc, and all the brouhaha over the Disney DVDs, it seems like the news hasn't stopped for the past few weeks. Thankfully, we'll be taking a three-day weekend along with most everybody else, and we hope we'll get the time to do some much needed site maintenance as well. But never fear, because new DVD reviews are on the way, including our take on Paramount's Titanic, a look at Columbia TriStar's restored Capra classic Lost Horizon, and a sneak preview of New Line's upcoming The Corruptor: Platinum Series.
Commentary Clip: "I thought that (actor) Kevin McCarthy would provide the continuity from the (1956 version), which was 20 years earlier, in a small town, and in a sense gives the feeling that he had run for 20 years trying to warn people of this ongoing process, arrived at the big city where he gets killed, and his words 'They're here, they're here,' would, in a sense, go unheeded, even by our hero in this movie. Kevin and I were working in The Tenderloin when we shot his scene. The Tenderloin is probably the toughest area of San Francisco, particularly to work in. There are a lot of homeless. This one guy was right near where we were shooting, lying with his head against the curb, totally naked. Kevin was rehearsing the scene where he hits the windshield. And Kevin was doing such a great job his hands were almost bleeding, even in the rehearsals, because he was so into this thing. And we're standing near this street person, and he looked up and he said to Kevin, 'Wasn't you in the first one?' Kevin said, 'Yeah.' And the guy said, 'That's the better one.' So, we already got our first review. We both fell down laughing, because we knew there would always be people who would never see this movie, but would always say that the original was the best."
Director Philip Kaufman,
Quotable: "Most of the women I know haven't heard about the (1997 Esquire) article. If they have, they know not to believe what they read... Then there are a few women who think the article might be true. For them, it's a challenge: They want to be the one to turn me around. I let them."
Kevin Spacey, in an interview with Playboy,
Quotable: "Back when VCRs first became available to consumers, I was acquainted with a number of guys who, in their quest for great films, literally went over the line the state line. These guys were so insatiable that they regularly scanned the local TV listings of out-of-state stations they knew to broadcast 'obscure' films. When something they were dying to see was scheduled, they would drive to that state, VCR in car trunk, hole up at a motel, hook the VCR to the motel TV and record the coveted film. These guys were not traveling hundreds of miles to capture films that merely looked cool, had great special effects or had a well-mixed soundtrack. It was the movie that mattered."
Film journalist Glenn Kenny, in a recent
Have a great holiday weekend.
Thursday, 2 September 1999
"Blair Witch" Super-size it!: Despite previous word from Artisan that their upcoming DVD of The Blair Witch Project would be a movie-only disc with a feature-packed edition to follow in 2000, they have now announced that the release will in fact be the full-fledged item, including "newly discovered'' footage, the "Curse of the Blair Witch" documentary (which originally aired on the Sci-Fi Channel), and at least one commentary track. Additional DVD-ROM content will include a map of the Black Hills Forest inhabited by the Blair Witch, excerpts from the "Blair Witch" comic book and dossier, a chat room, and Web links and Artisan points out that these additional features will be accessible on the Internet only via the DVD-ROM interface. Count on the whole package to street for a very reasonable $25, and it's even been kicked up from Oct. 26 to Oct. 22, a rare Friday street date that should give all of you plenty of time to get this one for your Halloween parties.
Meanwhile, the "Introduction to Film" course at the University of Central Florida has had a 500% rise in admission, up from 48 students last year to 250 this fall, but the reason is not as much of a mystery as the elusive Blair Witch the creators of BWP took the course last year. And while the university isn't prepared to take credit for the $125 million blockbuster, program director Sterling Van Wagenen told Reuters that it "has, at least, created the impression that our film program is on the map."
"Missing in Action" Flick of the Week: Who is the man that would risk his neck for his brother man? Who's the cat that won't cop out when there's danger all about? We're just talkin' about Shaft, of course, a groundbreaking, genre-defining movie that is still Missing in Action on DVD. Richard Roundtree stars in this 1971 classic as the legendary P.I. John Shaft, a serious bad-ass from uptown who also has a license to carry a gun but maybe not for much longer. When the daughter of a Harlem ganglord is kidnapped by the Mafia, the mobster asks Shaft to track down her abductors. But the fuzz soon gets word of the kidnapping and starts to lean on Shaft for information, sticking our eponymous hero between the worst of both worlds a criminal cabal that will dump his body in the Hudson River if he can't find the girl on the Q.T., and a precinct full of cops who are only looking for a reason to toss him in the joint. What's a brother to do? Start a single-handed war against everybody, find the girl, make love with a few ladies, and still remain the coolest sonofabitch in New York City. The original blaxploitation flick, Shaft is one of the best in a genre that has been frequently ridiculed or cynically imitated in recent years by plenty of '70s-intoxicated indie directors, but while some of the production values in Shaft are undeniably low-budget, it offers a tighter plot and a lot more fun that its many successors. Director Gordon Parks effectively captures the gritty New York night-life, and it's impossible to get Isaac Hayes' Oscar-winning "Theme from Shaft" out of your head after a brief snippet (what with that legendary wah-chukka-chukka guitar lick). But it's still Roundtree who made Shaft a classic, with a performance unlike anything American moviegoers had ever seen before, as he outwits white cops, black hoodlums, and Italian wiseguys, hopping in and out of bed with a few babes in the process. Shaft is the African-American myth of Staggerlee, packing heat under a long leather jacket, and both Wesley Snipes and Samuel L. Jackson should tip their hats to Roundtree, for they have enjoyed film careers that Roundtree pioneered but never profited from at the same level. Even Isaac Hayes got a gig on South Park.
Box-office blowout: With all the much-talked-about and much-hyped movies to reach the theaters in the past several months, it should come as no surprise that the summer of '99 saw a record box office, with an estimated $3 billion in total ticket sales by this weekend and a record 12 films expected to pass the $100 million mark by the end of the season. Here's the summer-ending estimates for the top 12, from Exhibitor Relations:
Quotable: "It's not pornography. It's a film about sex and other things as well. I'm just glad Venice will get to see the real version."
Tom Cruise, speaking at the Venice Film Festival,
So Tom, you are going to insist that Warner release the uncut version on DVD. Right?
Wednesday, 1 September 1999
And the winner is: Chris McKimson of Bellevue, Wash., wins the free Devil's Advocate DVD from our August contest. Congrats, Chris!
Our Free DVD Contest for the month of September is up and running, and we have a copy of Columbia TriStar's Taxi Driver: Collector's Edition 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.
If you want the VHS extras, then don't buy the DVDs. But don't hold Disney to the same ruler we hold Warner because Warner has decided that their highest price is $24.99 with extras. And let's face facts nobody is going to pay $39.99 for these Disney movies. They'll get them at Wal-Mart and online for less, and what do I get for my money? I get menus, 500 lines of resolution, no deterioration, and I don't have to flip the disc. That was better than anything I got on VHS or Laser.
Well Jim, you're exactly the sort of consumer that Disney is betting on with their steep-priced, feature-free animated DVDs. We are as disappointed with the Mouse's high-handed marketing as much as everybody else, but let's face it these are going to be very collectable DVDs of some of the most cherished family films in history. Disney owns the product, folks all over the Internet have been demanding (yes, demanding) that these titles be released on DVD for two years now, and the bean-counters in the Mouse House have apparently determined that $39.99 (or slightly less on the street) is a price that the market will bear, even for movie-only editions. For those of you who want to boycott Disney and make your voices as consumers heard, we say more power to you. As for us, we'll probably weaken and buy at least two or three of these at Reel.com's $24 pre-order rate, which should take some of the sting out of it. Forty bucks is just too hard to justify.
The Spielberg DVD story never dies, it seems. However, the rumor that The Man was waiting for DTS Audio to gain wider acceptance is nearly as old as a top-loading VCR. In fact, several sources around Spielberg have indicated that he has been waiting for an installed base of three million DVD players before committing his major titles to the format (Spielberg reportedly even told one of our readers as much). So at this point, we are now convinced that the proposition of a Saving Private Ryan DVD has changed from an "if" to a "when." Furthermore, Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment has confirmed that a new wave of Spielberg flicks will arrive in 2000, but just which ones remains unknown at this time (we are expecting title announcements by Christmas). Certainly, SPR could be one of them, but we're bracing ourselves for another round of second-tier movies (Hook, anybody?).
Another SPR rumor has been circulating of late, claiming that the much-anticipated film will in fact arrive on DVD by November, but we haven't reported this because it just doesn't jive with all of the other information coming from the Spielberg camp. We're recommending that all SPR fans just enjoy the upcoming holiday season if you ask us, 2000 will be the year that Spielberg sees the light, not this one.
As we noted recently, Warner indeed does not currently release separate "movie-only" and "special edition" DVDs, as some other vendors do, but they also don't have much of a reputation for re-releasing titles, and we don't expect a feature-packed Batman to arrive anytime soon. And while you're jonesin' for The Dark Knight, we're just thinking about all of those discs from '97 and early '98 that were released as flippers (Seven, The Right Stuff, Amadeus, et. al.), along with the poorly transferred The Pelican Brief and the hideous pan-and-scan-only edition of Chariots of Fire. Frankly, until these are fixed, we're willing to overlook the lack of features on the Batman series.
DVDs Done Dirt Cheap: Reel.com has just posted a new round of DVDs selling for 50% off for a limited time, so don't pay retail punch this link instead and get the goods. Here's the current rock-bottom discs:
And if some of these titles look appetizing, bear in mind that Reel.com is also currently shipping all orders for free. Nada. Zip. Seriously.