News and Commentary: February 2000

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Tuesday, 29 February 2000

In the Works: Let's get a look at some new disc announcements, courtesy of Image Entertainment and

  • A lot of people have been waiting for a special edition of Caddyshack, and Warner will have one on the street on April 4. Supplements will include a "making-of" documentary, deleted scenes, and a trailer. Meanwhile, Warner will finally re-issue Little Shop of Horrors: Special Edition on May 23, with a commentary from director Frank Oz, deleted scenes, a "making-of" feature, and an isolated music track -- but that obscure alternate ending, which appeared on the first disc and made it a top-trader on eBay for more than a year, will not be on board (which comes as no surprise, since the alternate ending is why the disc was pulled in the first place). Warner rounds out their recent announcements with the comedies Major League 2 (April 4), Major League 3: Back To The Minors (April 4), Stay Tuned (April 4), and Big Bully (April 4), along with the dramas The Crush (May 9) and Silent Fall (May 9).
  • USA's Being John Malkovich won't be a special edition (which is a shame), but it will include interviews, a trailer, and TV spots. It's due on May 2.
  • Columbia TriStar doesn't have any classics for us this week, but we can expect the 1974 The Lords of Flatbush, starring Sylvester Stallone and Henry Winkler, and the 1972 The King of Marvin Gardens with Jack Nicholson and Bruce Dern. Meanwhile, action fans can look forward to Fortress 2: Re-Entry, and a Rutger Hauer double-feature, Omega Doom and Blind Fury. Everything's due on April 25.
  • Fans of Phillip Seymour Hoffman -- Tinseltown's current supporting actor du jour -- will doubtless look forward to MGM's upcoming release of Flawless (April 18), which also stars Robert DeNiro.
  • New Line has announced a new release of last year's The Bachelor (March 21), starring Chris O'Donnell, which will feature the screenplay as DVD-ROM content. However, we're looking forward to the World War II spy flick Mother Night, with Nick Nolte, John Goodman, Kirstin Dunst, and Alan Arkin (May 30).
  • Artisan is preparing a new DVD of the NBC miniseries 10th Kingdom (May 2), which just appeared on the network over the previous couple of nights. Along with the "complete, uncut miniseries," the disc will feature a "making-of" featurette, deleted footage, interviews with the actors and executive producer Robert Halmi, Sr., and an interactive game. Also look for Felicia's Journey: Special Edition, directed by Atom Egoyan, Breaks, and Partners In Crime, all due on May 16.
  • More Troma titles on the way include such Troma-sounding fare as Escape From Hell (March 14), Fanatic (March 14), Rowdy Girls -- in both R-rated and unrated versions -- (April 25), and our personal favorite, Maniac Nurses Find Ecstasy (March 14). Zounds!
  • The price reductions continue at Disney, with the forthcoming two-disc Tarzan: Collector's Edition dropped from $49.99 to $39.99 -- which means that the disc is pre-ordering at and other online retailers for less than $25 (in fact, Reel is currently selling the Collector's Edition of Tarzan for less than the film-only version, which was released earlier this month).

Digital TV gets cable standard: The growing Digital TV format cleared an important hurdle last week, as cable operators and television manufacturers announced a common standard for the new system that is supposed to allow all cable signals to easily communicate with DTVs. However, even though the private-sector solution is a welcome development, it still hasn't escaped the long arm of the government, and particularly the FCC -- the agency could step in if further disputes are not resolved, in particular a clear labeling standard that indicates to consumers that their expensive tubes can interface with other digital appliances, and (of course) copy-protection issues. But despite the need for further developments, it is expected that the standardized DTVs will be available in the next 18 months.

On the Street: Universal's outstanding Out of Africa: Collector's Edition is on the street this morning, and it's one of the best DVDs we've seen in a while. MGM also has some great fare in the shops, including Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate, the re-issue of Artisan's out-of-print Hoosiers, the classic cautionary tale On the Beach, and The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three, which is required viewing for Reservoir Dogs fans. Several music titles are available for the kids (and kids at heart), including new discs from Creed, Limp Bizkit, and Christina Aguilera. Meanwhile, film buffs can check out a new collection of short films from Eric Rohmer called The Moral Tales. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of and Image Entertainment:

  • AFI Directors Series: Norman Jewison
  • AFI Directors Series: Joel Schumacher
  • Aftershock: Earthquake In New York
  • Alive and Kicking
  • Any Number Can Win
  • Arthur's Quest
  • Beavers: IMAX
  • The Best Man
  • Betrayed
  • Big Lift
  • Bridge At Remagen
  • Bound for Glory
  • Buck and the Preacher
  • Cannibal! The Musical: Special Edition
  • Challenge Of Flight #3-4: Disc #2
  • Christina Aguilera: Out of the Bottle: Unauthorized
  • The Count of Monte Cristo (2 DVD Set) (delayed from Feb. 1)
  • Creed: Riding The Edge: Unauthorized
  • Dancemaker
  • Destination Moon
  • An Extremely Goofy Movie
  • Fantastic Night
  • Galaxina
  • The Girl at the Monceau Bakery/ Suzanne's Career
  • Heaven's Gate
  • Hellhounds On My Trail: The Afterlife of Robert Johnson (delayed from Feb. 15)
  • Hoosiers
  • Jack the Ripper
  • The John Belushi Collection (3-DVD Set)
  • Johns (delayed from Feb. 22)
  • Killer Condom: Special Edition
  • Killing Mr. Griffin
  • Limp Bizkit: Kiss Some @$$: Unauthorized
  • Meteor
  • The Million Dollar Kid (delayed from Feb. 22)
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion Collection
  • Night Vision
  • The Ogre
  • On the Beach
  • One Man's Hero
  • Out of Africa: Collector's Edition
  • Paul Taylor: Dancemaker
  • Random Hearts
  • Raw Nerve
  • The Eric Rohmer Collection: The Moral Tales
  • Sandra Bernhard: I'm Still Here...Damn It!
  • Saturday Night Live: The Best of Chris Rock
  • Sesame Street: CinderElmo
  • Sidney Poitier: One Bright Light
  • Slaves to the Underground
  • Stargate SG-1
  • Stigmata: Special Edition
  • Storefront Hitchcock: Robyn Hitchcock
  • The Suburbans (delayed from Jan. 18)
  • A Sunday in the Country
  • The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three
  • Tierra
  • Truman (delayed from Feb. 15)
  • That Uncertain Feeling
  • Volunteers (delayed from Feb. 8)
  • West New York
  • Witness (1999)


-- Ed.

Monday, 28 February 2000

"Men in Black" set for this fall: September is a long way off, but wanting to capitalize on the many Steven Spielberg flicks that are rumored to appear on DVD in 2000, Columbia TriStar has announced that the Spielberg-produced Men In Black will appear as a special-edition on Sept. 5. We have yet to get confirmation from CTHV regarding the features, but early rumors indicate that both one- and two-disc sets will arrive, and extra content could feature a commentary with director Barry Sonnenfeld, deleted scenes, a documentary, storyboards, stills, trailers, and plenty more. And if some people were surprised by the announcement late last week, DVD Journal readers weren't -- Journal pal and digital die-hard Todd Dupler wrote us last August after a brief confab he had with Spielberg, who told him that both Saving Private Ryan and Men in Black would be amongst his first officially sanctioned DVDs.

boxcoverDisc of the Week: For several decades Hollywood took great pride in producing historical epics of sweeping scope. The studios spent lavishly, transplanting great movie stars to exotic locales, dressing them up in period costumes and pacing them through subtle human dramas set against backdrops of monumental social change. Audiences flocked to the feast, partially for the grand physical trappings, but also to be swept away by the grand storytelling of classic literary or popular works like Dr. Zhivago, Gone with the Wind and Lawrence of Arabia. Of late, that storytelling has been lost. Aspiring epics like The English Patient and (ugh) Titanic have ably imitated the production values of yore, but lose their way amongst unstable narratives, clumsy plotting, and forced relationships. To find the last great epic romance, you have to look back to 1985's superb Oscar-winner Out of Africa. Based on the stories and memoirs of Danish author Isak Dinesen (the nome-du-plume for Karen Blixen), Sidney Pollack's wonderful film is as touching in small ways as it is awe-inspiring in its grandiosity. Meryl Streep stars as Karen, a rich socialite in turn-of-the-century Denmark who approaches her friend Bror (Klaus Maria Brandauer) with a marriage of convenience: she wants his title, and he needs her family's money. Together they shake off the stifling Danish society and start a coffee plantation in distant Kenya. It doesn't take long, however, for the newlyweds' incompatibilities to rise to the surface. Bror is aloof, careless, and disappears for weeks on end, while Karen is surprised to find herself unusually dependent and hurt by her husband's absence. As a result, she throws herself into the struggling plantation, maintaining a privileged lifestyle at odds with her surroundings. Enter Denys (Robert Redford), a free-spirited American hunter deeply in tune with the slowly changing country and struck by Karen's stubborn strength. In the wrong hands, Denys might have come off like the smarmy, super-sensitive, drippy ideal Clint Eastwood played in The Bridges of Madison County. But in the hands of screenwriter Kurt Luedtke, and an understated performer like Redford, he's a fascinating study, wise in his specific way, but also poignantly unaware of his own inner-conflicts. Streep, in another of her impeccable accent roles, effortlessly takes Karen through a remarkable transformation. Pollack's skill at crafting delicate, arcing narratives is in full stride, and David Watkins' gorgeous cinematography captures Kenya at its most picturesque. Universal's new, lovingly produced Collector's Edition DVD sports a glorious 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and 4.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, and the features include a commentary by the always-entertaining Pollack, the 50-minute documentary Song of Africa, and trailers and Web links. Look for Out of Africa on the street tomorrow.

Box Office: Warner's mob comedy The Whole Nine Yards, starring Bruce Willis and Matthew Perry, held on to the top spot at the North American box office for the second week in a row with $9.6 million, while Paramount's kiddie comedy Snow Day is shaping up to be a surprise hit, earning $8.5 million, which elevated it from third place over the past two weeks to its current second-place spot. The two films made it tough going for debuts over the weekend, in particular Miramax's Reindeer Games, which only earned $8 million amidst poor early reviews. Things for Curtis Hanson's Wonder Boys, starring Michael Douglas and Robert Downey Jr., were little better, as the film -- the first Hanson effort since 1997's L.A. Confidential -- grabbed $5.85 million to open in seventh place (however, Wonder Boys did have the highest per-screen average in the top ten). Still showing life in their second weeks are Sony's Hanging Up and USA's Pitch Black, and even American Beauty is still drawing audiences nearly six months after its premiere. However, it appears that Titanic pin-up Leo DiCaprio has run aground -- Fox's The Beach has fallen out of the top ten after only three weeks and about $34 million in revenues (barely more than Leo's current per-film paycheck).

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

  1. The Whole Nine Yards (Warner Bros.)
    $9,600,000 ($28,500,000 through 2 weeks)
  2. Snow Day (Paramount)
    $8,500,000 ($43,300,000 through 3 weeks)
  3. Reindeer Games (Miramax)
    $8,000,000 ($8,000,000 through 1 week)
  4. Hanging Up (Sony/Columbia TriStar)
    $7,500,000 ($26,100,000 through 2 weeks)
  5. Pitch Black (USA)
    $7,100,000 ($22,800,000 through 2 weeks)
  6. The Tigger Movie (Buena Vista)
    $6,300,000 ($30,600,000 through 3 weeks)
  7. Wonder Boys (Paramount)
    $5,850,000 ($5,900,000 through 1 week)
  8. Scream 3 (Miramax)
    $5,000,000 ($78,100,000 through 4 weeks)
  9. American Beauty (DreamWorks SKG)
    $4,700,000 ($87,700,000 through 24 weeks)
  10. The Cider House Rules (Miramax)
    $4,100,000 ($32,000,000 through 12 weeks)
  11. The Beach (Fox)
    $3,500,000 ($33,900,000 through 3 weeks)
  12. Boiler Room (New Line)
    $3,100,000 ($11,100,000 through 2 weeks)

On the Board: New full reviews have been posted for The Masterworks of the German Horror Cinema (featuring Nosferatu, Der Golem, and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) and Buffalo '66, and can be found on our Full Reviews index. New quick reviews this week include Double Jeopardy, The Maltese Falcon, Out of Africa: Collector's Edition, Bats: Special Edition, and Pretty Woman: 10th Anniversary Edition, and can be accessed on the Quick Reviews index. Everything has been added under the New Reviews menu here on the main page.

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

-- Ed.

Thursday, 24 February 2000
Weekend Dispatch

A note to our readers: For an indefinite period of time (but for a while, at least), the daily news updates here at The DVD Journal will be reduced by one day per week, with our weekend dispatch arriving on Thursday. After some deliberation, we have taken this decision for a few reasons. First, we want to re-double our efforts to post timely previews and reviews of new DVDs every Monday, and the extra day away from news coverage will help us accomplish this goal. Secondly, while a lot of exciting things are happening in the world of DVD, we are confident that our news coverage easily can be fit into four days. And finally, some people around here just need a breather. But even though we will start our weekend on Thursday and not Friday for the time being, we know which features are most popular with our readers, and we plan to improve those wherever possible -- the DVD reviews, the MIA page, the stats, the release announcements, the weekly street list, your reader mail, and, of course, our monthly eBay update. We'll be back next week with a pile of new DVD reviews, and if you haven't entered our monthly free DVD contest for the chance to score a copy of Rushmore: The Criterion Collection, be sure to visit our contest page over the weekend, and don't forget to take our monthly DVD poll while you're there.

boxcoverCommentary Clip: "I'm sure we've all heard the story about how I waxed my chest for this movie. But if you haven't heard it, (director) Wes (Anderson) thought that it would be a good idea if I waxed my chest! And I waxed it. It took about two hours -- it was probably the most painful thing I've ever done -- and you never really see my chest in the movie except for this scene, sort of. And I'm not a Yeti, by any means. I'm not Sasquatch. But he wanted me to sort of just be hairless. So I waxed it. And this is the only time you really see it in the movie. But, see, the whole movie my chest is waxed, and I'm the only one who knows it's waxed, so it's sort of like 'method waxing', or something."

-- Jason Schwartzman,
Rushmore: The Criterion Collection

Quotable: I've listened to Super Audio CDs in a few systems now -- always on Sony's remarkable SCD-1, but through a variety of amplifiers and speakers in the homes of New York audiophiles. Some SACDs -- dare I say most SACDs? -- sound bloody marvelous. But an SACD that was transferred from a poorly recorded '50s concert is just as bad as you'd expect. Comparing a "good" SACD to its CD cousin is instructive, however. Admittedly, the SACD version is often better. But we're not talking quantum leaps better. In fact, I keep marveling at how good some CDs sound."

-- Audio journalist Len Schneider, in a recent column
at E-Town.

Ah-nold"I am offended by anyone who makes anti-immigrant statements and it is my opinion that someone who makes statements like Haider's has no place in government.... I am so saddened that with all the progress we have made working for an open and tolerant society, one man's statements can taint world opinion of an entire country. I know that there are many tolerant people in Austria. It is my hope that their voices can and will be heard."

-- Austrian-born Arnold Schwarzenegger, sharply rebuking
Austria's controversial new coalition government, and in
particular Freedom Party leader Joerg Haider, a reported
Nazi sympathizer.

"Pokemon is not as innocent as some believe.... Behind the huge merchandising phenomenon one finds, as in many Japanese cartoons, a combination of elements that incite violence and sexual perversion among children. This is the tip of an iceberg that could have dramatic consequences."

-- The Mexico City Archdiocese, warning against pocket-monster
mania in its weekly publication Desde La Fe.

"This is the end of my first farewell tour, (but) I'm available for a smashing cameo."

-- Gregory Peck, before his final performance of "An
Evening With Mr. Gregory Peck" at the historic
Elsinore Theater in Salem, Ore., last weekend.

"Confutatis maledictis, flammis acribus addictis."

-- A refrain from Mozart's Requiem, recently heard
on a Microsoft television commercial. The question
"Where do you want to go today?" is seen as the chorus
translates to English as "The damned and accursed are
convicted to the flames of hell."

-- Ed.

Wednesday, 23 February 2000

PlayStation2PlayStation2 ready to rumble: DVD sales, in both software and hardware categories, may be humming along here in North America (with an installed base of more than five million players), but the technology hasn't made similar inroads in Japan, where consumers have yet to kick the VHS habit. However, Reuters recently posted a story about the impending launch of Sony's PlayStation2 video-gaming console in Japan, and how the deck -- which can play the DVD Video format -- is expected to foster growth in the DVD market. "We are expecting a wider range of DVD software to be released after PlayStation2," a Sony representative told Reuters, "not only games but also movie titles." However, the fact that most DVD movies cost a staggering $70 U.S. in Japan could still be a hurdle. Furthermore, what has played in America historically hasn't always played in Japan, and vice-versa -- the chief example being Sony's MiniDisc, which has been a popular format in Asia for years, virtually replacing the audiocassette in Japan even though it has never gained a foothold in the American marketplace.

Sony's PlayStation2 is expected to arrive in Japanese shops on March 4. The console should be available in North America sometime this fall.

DeCSS seeing double: As the Motion Picture Association of America has recently learned, you can chase people all across the Internet, but they're still gonna be a pain in the ass. Exhibit A: Evan Prodromou, a San Francisco-based Web developer who has written a small program called DeCSS. And no, it's not the same DeCSS that has caused the MPAA and Hollywood studios to file court cases in New York and California against several individuals alleged to have distributed the notorious hack, which defeats the Content Scrambling System encryption technology of the DVD format. Rather, Prodromou's DeCSS disables Cascading Style Sheets, an everyday Web technology that determines the appearance of text on most Web browsers (and a standard component of HTML 4).

But don't bother trying to explain to Prodromou that Cascading Style Sheets can be disabled by altering the preferences of most Web browsers -- he already knows it. "The attempt here with the (DeCSS) decoy is to put up thousands and thousands of mirror sites, to the point where the (MPAA) investigators throw up their hands in disgust," the programmer told "It's a practically risk-free way to stand up and say, 'I am Spartacus. I'm not going to put up with investigators scouring around people's Web sites.' It's a way to fight back without getting in trouble."

Epic gladiator-movie references aside, those who want to add the bogus DeCSS to their websites apparently can have fun with the small joke. However, it should be noted that the DVD-related DeCSS has been ordered removed from several websites by judges in New York and California, who have issued preliminary restraining orders until the cases are resolved. And they will be resolved in court, not on the Internet -- the Prodromou ploy is a few months too late.

Mailbag: Wednesday is the day we clean out the reader mail here at The DVD Journal, so let's get to it:

  • I have recently joined the DVD bandwagon and am amazed at the technology. However, I wonder if the quality of a DVD title has more to do with the studio/producer or with the company that produced the DVD. I have seen very good titles and really terrible ones. Is it a money issue or is it a conceptual issue? Dealing with artists, record labels, and general corporate nonsense in my profession, I understand the nature of producing these titles and the ultimate cost factor. However, I can't understand how some of these titles can be so terrible, so one-dimensional, so ugly. You have probably seen more DVDs than I will see in this lifetime and your input would be great.

    -- Art

    Thanks for your letter, Art. Fundamentally, the quality of every DVD comes down to two items -- the source material and the transfer, and they work in that order, as the studio that produces the DVD provides the source material to an authoring house, usually a service bureau that is an independent company altogether. The quality of the film's print is a fundamental component, as is the format provided to the service bureau (note that film stock is not sent to service bureaus, but instead the title is sent on industrial-grade digital videotape, the most common being D1). The studios also provide other items, such as chapter breaks, audio options, and menu designs. The authoring house is then entrusted with the MPEG-2 encoding process, reducing the analog signal of the videotape to a compressed digital code that removes redundant information as seamlessly as possible, and this is where we often wind up with bad transfers, especially on early DVDs from 1997 and 1998, many of which were plagued by artifacts, shimmer, and blocking. However, there has been a great deal of improvement with DVD authoring (and DVD authors) since then, and nowadays we only come across truly bad transfers with the "budget" home video companies, who often produce DVDs to sell on the street for less than $10. In fact, while we've been waiting patiently for Columbia TriStar to release their definitive version of the 1940 His Girl Friday, the film has been a public-domain item for several years, and we recently sat through a budget DVD release with a transfer so unstable that we didn't even bother to post a review (the source print was not much better).

    However, despite the bad transfers we've dealt with over these few years, it is always the studio, not the authoring house, that is ultimately responsible for the quality of their DVDs, as they are the ones who sign off on the product and release it to the public under their corporate flags. We suspect that bad transfers still happen now and then like they used to, but we also suspect that the studios have gotten a lot better at catching them before they hit the street. Where studios still slip up is when they release DVDs of older films from inferior source prints -- or using previous sources from Laserdiscs releases -- rather than taking the time and expense to create a brand-new D1 from the best material available. But again, this seems to be changing. While many DVD fans decry the fact that some of their favorite movies are still MIA, one of the reasons why some top titles have yet to go digital is because the studios are taking more time to evaluate the materials they have on hand before rushing a title into the market -- and headlong into the wrath of DVD lovers.

  • I must admit that I couldn't imagine DTS DVDs sounding much better than Dolby Digital 5.1 discs. That is until watched my first DTS DVD, Saving Private Ryan. While I haven't heard the DD 5.1 version, I have heard many other films from last year (The Matrix, The Haunting, The Mummy) that should have sounded equally as good if not better, and they all failed in comparison to the DTS onslaught of Ryan. The sound on this disc is amazing and far superior to any DVD I have seen to date. It's so much louder for one thing. I had to turn my receiver waaaay down from normal to watch it. I know you guys at the Journal have had a chance to compare the two formats, so you must admit that there is no comparison.

    -- Thomas

    When it comes to the DTS vs. Dolby Digital debate, we take the puritanical view -- if a film was shown in the theater with a DTS track, we prefer to hear DTS on the DVD. And, in many ways, DTS is a richer audio system, with a wide dynamic range (and a lot of bottom) that has made it the preferred choice of many directors. That said, we're not much for Dolby Digital bashing. For the most part, we think DD is an excellent theatrical audio system that delivers great sound, despite the fact that it is compressed audio (and, like DTS, no match for the uncompressed two-channel PCM audio on Compact Discs). Fortunately, as of late more and more DVDs are being released with both DTS and DD tracks, which means that DTS fans won't always have to wait to get their oft-delayed DTS discs. And with many mid- to high-end DVD players and home-theater amps selling with DTS chips on board, perhaps before much longer selecting our audio system will be as easy as flipping through subtitles.

    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. Double Jeopardy
    2. Tarzan
    3. The Maltese Falcon
    4. American Pie
    5. The Matrix
    6. The Big Sleep
    7. Blue Streak
    8. Casablanca
    9. Romance
    10. The Thomas Crown Affair


    -- Ed.

    Tuesday, 22 February 2000

    In the Works: For those of you who got to enjoy it, welcome back from the holiday weekend. Let's kick things off with some new disc announcements from Image Entertainment and

    • The wait cannot be too short -- Being John Malkovich is due from USA on May 2, and we're damn excited. We'll update you on the feature-set when we get more info.
    • Columbia TriStar has two separate special editions of their surprise hit Stuart Little on the way, one in widescreen and the other in pan-and-scan. Both discs will include identical supplements, including a commentary track with the production crew, a behind-the-scenes look at the visual effects, an HBO featurette, deleted footage and an early concept reel (both with director's commentary), screen tests, an isolated score, production stills, a trailer, and three interactive features (whew!). Look for both Stuart Little discs on April 18.
    • Warner's equally massive Three Kings DVD, due on April 11, will include two separate commentary tracks, a "making-of" documentary, deleted footage with director's commentary, a "director's video journal," an interview with the director of photography, a short feature with Ice Cube, a tour of the Iraqi village set, production stills, a trailer, additional DVD-ROM content, and three hidden features.
    • The confusion over a Criterion release of Kevin Smith's Chasing Amy is no more clear, but Image Entertainment is listing the DVD release date as "to be announced," whereas has canceled pre-orders for the title (see yesterday's update). It sounds to us like it's still on, but whether it arrives this spring or next year is anybody's guess.
    • However, four Criterion titles that we've previously noted here are still on schedule -- Cleo From 5 To 7, Le Million, The Magic Flute, and Vagabond are all due on April 18.
    • Buena Vista has a boatload of stuff on the way, including Michael Mann's Oscar contender The Insider (April 11), although the extras will be thin -- just two brief behind-the-scenes features and a trailer. However, Music of the Heart -- which features Meryl Streep in her 1,247th Oscar-nominated performance -- will street as a two-disc special edition (SRP $39.99 - April 25) with the 1996 documentary Small Wonder (the basis for the film) on board; a commentary with director Wes Craven and producer Marianne Maddalena; deleted footage with director's commentary; a "making-of" feature; a trailer; and numerous other supplements. Meanwhile, From Dusk Till Dawn: Special Edition is expected on April 25, but no feature-set has been finalized.
    • Other stuff on the way from Buena Vista includes Tim Robbins' critically acclaimed Cradle Will Rock (May 16); the Sundance darling Happy Texas: Special Edition, (April 11); the Bill Murray-Richard Dreyfuss comedy What About Bob? (July 11); Mystery, Alaska (May 9); Father of the Bride 2 (May 9); Mumford (April 18); and Next Stop, Wonderland (May 9).
    • The details on the first few waves of Disney's "Gold Classic Collection" are now available, and the good news is that they will all street for $29.99, which is a vast improvement over the $39.99 prices of last year's "Limited Issue" series. Up first is The Aristocats on April 4, followed by The Fox and the Hound, Saludos Amigos, and Three Caballeros on May 2 (of note, Saludos Amigos will include a never-before-seen Donald Duck cartoon). Two music titles arrive on June 6, Make Mine Music and Melody Time, each with additional cartoon shorts, and Pocahontas also arrives on June 6, although this one could be a movie-only disc.
    • If none of that floats your boat, Anime fans can expect the much-discussed Princess Mononoke to street from Buena Vista on June 13, while three Hong-Kong flicks are also being revamped for DVD -- Jackie Chan's Project A (May 16), Jet Li's The Enforcer (April 25), and the HK schlock classic Mighty Peking Man (May 23).
    • We thought this one was coming from DreamWorks, but according to Image Entertainment, Universal will release the DVD of Galaxy Quest (May 2), which will include a behind-the-scenes "mockumentary," a featurette, and a trailer.
    • A&E has more original "Avengers" discs in the works. Expect both Avengers '64 sets 1 and 2 to street on March 28.
    • EMI has the documentary Endless Harmony: The Beach Boys Story on the way, and it will include five bonus video clips and seven Dolby Digital 5.1 remixes of Beach Boys classics -- and these will only be released on the DVD edition. Catch it on March 14.

    On the Street: We've seen some great Capra classics arrive on DVD over the past several weeks, but one of our absolute favorites, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, is on the street this morning, the latest release from the excellent Columbia Classics series. Fans of contemporary thrillers can check out Best Laid Plans and Double Jeopardy, while Elite's Masterworks of German Horror Cinema, a box-set including Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Calgari, is at the top of our viewing list -- we'll let all of you know what we think of this important DVD release next Monday. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of and Image Entertainment:

    • The Addams Family
    • Addams Family Values
    • Bats: Special Edition
    • Best Laid Plans
    • Big Squeeze
    • Blood Feast: Special Edition
    • Charlie: The Lonesome Cougar
    • Chick Corea and Friends: Live
    • Color Me Blood Red: Special Edition
    • Conspirators of Pleasure
    • Destroy All Monsters
    • Double Jeopardy
    • Elvis '56
    • Frozen
    • Get Real
    • Kate's Addiction
    • The Killing of Sister George
    • The Legend of Lobo
    • Letters From A Killer: Special Edition
    • Man Ray: Prophet of the Avant Garde
    • Masterworks of the German Horror Cinema (delayed from 2/15)
    • Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
    • Never Cry Wolf
    • Nikki: The Wild Dog of the North
    • Peek of Pandora
    • A Raisin in the Sun
    • Red Hot Chili Peppers: Funky Monks
    • S.O.S. Coast Guard
    • Star Trek: The Original Series - Vol. 6 (delayed from 12/14)
    • Star Trek: The Original Series - Vol. 7
    • Star Trek: The Original Series - Vol. 8
    • Tail Lights Fade
    • The Tempest (1979)
    • Two If By Sea
    • Two Thousand Maniacs: Special Edition
    • Ultimate Fight: Special Edition
    • The Young Master

    Back tomorrow with more stuff.

    -- Ed.

    Monday, 21 February 2000

    "Chasing Amy" delayed: We have yet to get any confirmation from Buena Vista or Criterion, but the Criterion edition of Kevin Smith's Chasing Amy, announced on Smith's website and elsewhere, has been dumped from its original April 18 street date. We still think that a Criterion Chasing Amy could happen, but our friends at sent out notices to folks who pre-ordered the item that it will not arrive on schedule, and that no new date is available.

    (The conspiracy theorists around here can't help but remember that Kevin Smith makes a vulgar four-letter remark about DVD on the Criterion Laserdisc's commentary track. Is this in need of a remaster?)

    boxcoverDisc of the Week: Gather together a group of Hollywood legends and something great usually will happen -- in the case of the 1948 Key Largo, director John Huston re-teamed with his Maltese Falcon star Humphrey Bogart to translate Maxwell Anderson's gritty stage play to the big screen, joined by Edward G. Robinson, Lauren Bacall, and Lionel Barrymore. Bogart is Frank McCloud, a former World War II army officer who visits the Florida Keys to meet innkeeper James Temple (Barrymore), whose son died in combat under McCloud's command. But the awkward, bittersweet meeting is soon overshadowed by a conspiracy of crooks, led by Johnny Rocco (Robinson), who take over the hotel in a bid to escape to Cuba as a hurricane approaches and American agents search for them. To see Bogart share the screen with Robinson is a great delight -- Bogart turns in one of his most stoic, dispassionate roles, while Robinson's stogie-chewing, pistol-waving gangster is sheer menace. Huston's unique directorial style -- which contributed substantially to the American noir genre -- is fully evident, with deep-focus multi-character compositions (in one tableau, no less than seven characters are contained within the 1.33 frame), and when Huston isn't drawing chalk marks on the floor to get these fabulous shots, he goes for the close-ups, filling the entire frame with Bogart or Robinson and creating intimacy from a script that was originally meant to be performed on the stage (Huston wasn't hurt by having Karl Freund, director of the 1932 The Mummy and one of the great cinematographers of German and American cinema, behind the camera). The score, by the legendary Max Steiner (Casablanca), is at times overly florid and distracting, but in many sequences (particularly the hurricane), it meshes with the subject matter nicely. Warner's new DVD of Key Largo offers a solid transfer from a clean source print with no severe damage and good low-contrast details. The audio (mono) is crisp and full, with no discernible drop-outs. And while the extras may be a bit thin (just a trailer, really), we can all be happy that the colorized version of this classic may never see the light of day on DVD.

    Box Office: Two comedies, Columbia TriStar's Hanging Up and Warner's The Whole Nine Yards, debuted over the Presidents' Day weekend, and studio estimates have placed the two films neck-and-neck for first place with $15 million each in receipts. Also debuting was USA's Pitch Black with $11.1 million for fourth place and New Line's Boiler Room with $6.8 million for eighth, but neither did enough business to dislodge Paramount's kiddie comedy Snow Day, which gained $11.4 million and took third place for the second week in a row. Dropping precipitously are Miramax's Scream 3 ($9 million for fifth place) and Fox's The Beach ($7 million for seventh place). Finally, two Best Picture nominees in next month's Academy Awards round out this week's list -- American Beauty, which returned to the top ten after its eight Oscar nods, and Warner's The Green Mile, which has earned nearly $130 million to date.

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

    1. Hanging Up (Columbia TriStar)
      $15,000,000 ($15,000,000 through 1 week)
    2. The Whole Nine Yards (Warner Bros.)
      $15,000,000 ($15,000,000 through 1 week)
    3. Snow Day (Paramount)
      $11,400,000 ($25,900,000 through 2 weeks)
    4. Pitch Black (USA)
      $11,100,000 ($11,100,000 through 1 week)
    5. Scream 3 (Miramax)
      $9,000,000 ($66,000,000 through 3 weeks)
    6. The Tigger Movie (Disney/Buena Vista)
      $8,000,000 ($17,200,000 through 2 weeks)
    7. The Beach (Fox)
      $7,000,000 ($23,000,000 through 2 weeks)
    8. Boiler Room (New Line)
      $6,800,000 ($6,800,000 through 1 week)
    9. American Beauty (DreamWorks SKG)
      $5,300,000 ($80,000,000 to date)
    10. The Green Mile (Warner Bros.)
      $3,200,000 ($127,600,000 through 11 weeks)

    On the Board: A new full review has been posted for Brokedown Palace and can be found on our Full Reviews index. New quick reviews this week include Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, The Story of Us, Key Largo, Birdy, and Love and Death on Long Island. All can be accessed on the Quick Reviews index, and everything has been added under the New Reviews menu here on the main page as well.

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

    -- Ed.

    Thursday, 17 February 2000
    Weekend Dispatch

    Down time: We have a pile of movies to watch, the trash hasn't been taken out in two weeks, and somebody is going to have to summon the courage to clean out the staff refrigerator. We also have plenty of behind-the-scenes site maintenance to take care of (please feel free to let us know if you find any broken links in the next week or two). We'll see you again on Monday with the latest previews and reviews. In the meantime, here's this week's quote board. See ya Monday.

    Harrison FordQuotable: "This is no announcement. We're waiting for a script everyone is happy with, and George is busy elsewhere. Very little progress has been made, but Steven and I are ready."

    -- Harrison Ford, speaking at a recent public appearance
    about the likelihood of a fourth Indiana

    "Some movies are defined by critical acceptance. Sixth Sense had its own life."

    -- The Sixth Sense director M. Night Shyamalan,
    on his film's surprise Academy Award nomination
    for Best Picture.

    "It was a mistake not to nominate Jim Carrey. His was a wonderful performance. But he will have his day eventually. It was a singular performance.... People probably thought that Andy Kaufman was too weird."

    -- Time Magazine film critic Richard Schickel, on
    Jim Carrey's omission from the Academy Award Best
    Actor nominations for the second year in a row, despite
    winning Golden Globes both years.

    "Sometimes I have no control over all this. This image is separate from me. I try to detach myself from it as much as possible.... The love I have for acting far outweighs all that. What remains is the work you do as an actor. In 20 years, I hope people will see my work."

    -- Leonardo DiCaprio, speaking this week
    at the Berlin Film Festival.

    "There's a lot of work left to be done in the world we share. We still must acknowledge the painful absence of racial diversity within our very own industry. We need to hire studio executives of color. We need to foster young minority talent both in front of and behind the scenes.... We need to hire more minority writers, because we have to make sure that the faces of the future are shown through all the wonders of technology, not just the faces that represent mainstream Hollywood."

    -- Steven Spielberg, accepting a lifetime
    achievement award last weekend at the NAACP
    Image Awards.

    -- Ed.

    Wednesday, 16 February 2000

    This 'n' that: With all of the questions surrounding Fox's upcoming release of The Abyss and if will contain both the theatrical and director's cuts of the film (apparently it will, after all), we were prepared to see a postponement from its March 16 street date. However, it looks like The Abyss is on schedule, and instead Fox's Fight Club has been delayed from April 18 to June 6. It's disappointing, but production schedules often change (more often than not, it seems). In the meantime, our exclusive interview with Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk is still online, wherein he discusses, amongst other things, what he's planning to say on the disc's commentary track.

    In somewhat better news, PBS has now entered the DVD market with Ken Burns' documentary miniseries Baseball, which will be a 10-disc set retailing for $179.95, due on June 6. We were expecting that Burns' The Civil War would be the first DVD release from PBS, but sources have told us that this one is definitely on the way as well.

    And Warner will finally re-issue their scarce Little Shop of Horrors DVD on May 23, although it will not include the alternate ending on the prized collectable trading on eBay for hundreds of dollars. How the new disc will affect going prices on eBay remains to be seen, but we're betting that either Criterion's out-of-print This Is Spinal Tap! or The Killer will become the top trader before much longer.

    Mailbag: Wednesday is the day we get to our reader mail here at The DVD Journal, and while we aren't able to personally respond to all of your letters, we'd like to let you know that we read everything we get. Here's some reader comments from this week:

  • After watching Tarzan on DVD, I went looking in the special features section. In there you can find a Goofy trailer, a Fox and the Hound trailer and Toy Story 2 trailer. At the end of the Toy Story 2 trailer, the announcer says it will appear on both VHS and DVD. Is there any release date on the DVD, or are they just playing with our minds ? As far as I know they haven't even confirmed the first Toy Story.

    -- Niels

    There are no release dates for the DVDs of either Toy Story or Toy Story 2, but it's no secret that they will arrive, and perhaps by the end of this year. Production for both discs undoubtedly will be overseen by the folks at Pixar, who also put together the Bug's Life: Collector's Edition DVD. The only question on our minds -- besides release dates -- is if there will be separate movie-only and collectable DVDs, and if (like Tarzan) they will be released at separate times. We think that the folks at Buena Vista would like to see two releases at two price points, while Pixar clearly is interested in offering special-edition content. But, because of the current "mainstreaming" of DVD, it seems unlikely that only expensive versions of both Toy Story discs, perhaps as two-disc sets selling for $40 and up, will be the only options available. We're expecting film-only and special editions, and, based on current Disney home-video strategy, don't be surprised if they arrive several weeks apart.

  • Last May I purchased a Divx DVD player from Circuit City, along with a number of Divx films. Yes, I like many others got talked in to the Divx farce that Circuit City's salesmen sold me. But before I could set up my Divx account, the company went belly up. There was a rebate offered, but I did not hear about until it was over. I have talked to Circuit City, both the store I bought it from and the corporate headquarters, and they refuse to do anything for me. Now I am stuck with a dozen movies I can't use and a machine that I paid additional money for a service promised that is no longer available. Do you know of, or heard of, a class-action lawsuit against Divx and Circuit City? I am sure I am not the only person with this problem.

    -- Lee

    Actually, while you might be in a bit of a fix, Circuit City took some pains to sort out their Divx fiasco last year, including offering modest cash rebates for the machines (which were, and still are, capable of playing standard DVDs), and keeping the Divx system online until mid-2001 for existing customers. Fundamentally, your problem is that you didn't open an account when you got your player, which left you out in the cold when Divx stopped registering new users on June 16, 1999. As far as class-action lawsuits go, we are not aware of any, nor do we think one would prevail. No service provider of any sort will guarantee that their service will be available over a long period of time (Circuit City certainly didn't), and when consumers lined up and bought Divx players, they ostensibly did so with the understanding that the whole thing might not fly (some of us still remember Circuit City CEO Richard Sharp's notorious comments on the risks of early adopting, even though he was talking about standard DVD at the time, not Divx). Had you registered the player when you got it, you could watch Divx movies until June of 2001. But perhaps it's best to look on the bright side -- virtually all Divx movies are pan-and-scan and have no extra features, and the entire system seems like a pain in the ass. You probably paid more than you should have, but at least you and other Divx customers wound up with standard DVD players and not inoperable hunks of electronic junk.

    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. Blue Streak
    2. Tarzan
    3. American Pie
    4. The Matrix
    5. The Thomas Crown Affair
    6. The Maltese Falcon
    7. The Big Sleep
    8. Stir of Echoes
    9. Casablanca
    10. The Shawshank Redemption

    See ya tomorrow.

    -- Ed.

    Tuesday, 15 February 2000

    Academy Award nods: Here's the rundown this morning from sunny L.A.:

    • Best Picture: American Beauty, The Cider House Rules, The Green Mile, The Insider, The Sixth Sense
    • Best Actor: Russell Crowe, The Insider; Richard Farnsworth, The Straight Story; Sean Penn, Sweet and Lowdown; Kevin Spacey, American Beauty; Denzel Washington, The Hurricane
    • Best Actress: Annette Bening, American Beauty; Janet McTeer, Tumbleweeds; Julianne Moore, The End of the Affair; Meryl Streep, Music of the Heart; Hilary Swank, Boys Don't Cry
    • Best Supporting Actor: Michael Caine, The Cider House Rules; Tom Cruise, Magnolia; Michael Clarke Duncan, The Green Mile; Jude Law, The Talented Mr. Ripley; Haley Joel Osment, The Sixth Sense
    • Best Supporting Actress: Toni Collette, The Sixth Sense; Angelina Jolie, Girl, Interrupted; Catherine Keener , Being John Malkovich; Samantha Morton, Sweet and Lowdown; Chloe Sevigny, Boys Don't Cry
    • Best Director: Lasse Hallstrom, The Cider House Rules; Spike Jonze, Being John Malkovich; Michael Mann, The Insider; Sam Mendes, American Beauty; M. Night Shyamalan, The Sixth Sense

    American Beauty led the way with eight overall nominations, while both The Indsider and The Cider House Rules earned seven each.

    In the Works: It's time we got caught up on some new disc announcements, courtesy of Image Entertainment and

    • We knew more 007 was coming from MGM, and now they've confirmed it. The second wave of James Bond DVDs will arrive on May 16 and includes last year's The World Is Not Enough along with Dr. No, The Man With The Golden Gun, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Moonraker, and The Spy Who Loved Me. Get ready to see some eBay bids on out-of-print Bond discs plummet.
    • MGM is also digging into the library for some choice titles. David Lynch's Blue Velvet is still due on April 25 but doesn't appear to include any supplements, and while it will be shown in a 2.35:1 letterbox, it will not be anamorphic. Popular classics on the way include the 1966 A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (April 18), the 1958 Guys and Dolls (April 18) (Brando sings!), the 1967 musical How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying (April 18), and Robert Mitchum's 1958 bootlegger yarn Thunder Road (April 25). Also keep your eyes open for the excellent No Way Out with Kevin Costner and Gene Hackman (April 25), the 1983 remake of Breathless starring Richard Gere (April 25), Honeymoon In Vegas with Nicolas Cage, Sarah Jessica Parker, and James Caan (April 25), Mel Brooks' Spaceballs: Special Edition (April 25) (Brooks will return to the commentary chair for this one), and Mr. Mom, starring Michael Keaton and Teri Garr (April 25).
    • With all sorts of stuff on the way from MGM, is it possible to overlook Showgirls? The disc won't have much more than a featurette and a trailer on board, but it will be the NC-17 version in all of its 131 minutes of painful, awful, faux-sophisticated glory. Laugh if you will -- we think Showgirls is the worst film ever made, and worth watching again and again. It's due on April 25.
    • Warner's ramping up a high-profile release of last year's The House on Haunted Hill: Special Edition (April 18), which will include a commentary track by director William Malone, some deleted footage, trailers from the 1959 original and the remake, and extensive DVD-ROM supplements. But we're more jazzed about some classic titles coming out of the Warner vault, including 1984's The Killing Fields, with Sam Waterston, John Malkovich, and the late Haing S. Ngor (May 16), John Frankenheimer's Cold War thriller Seven Days In May, starring Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas (May 16), the 1970 Kelly's Heroes with Clint Eastwood and Telly Savalas (May 16), Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra kicking up their heels in the 1949 On The Town (May 2), and the 1962 adaptation of the popular musical Gypsy, starring Rosalind Russell, Natalie Wood, and Karl Malden (May 2).
    • Additional titles on the way from Warner include Three To Tango, starring Dylan McDermott, Matthew Perry, and Neve Campbell (April 11), and SHORT 3: Authority (April 4), a re-issue of PolyGram's discontinued Short Cinema Journal 3 at a lower price.
    • Columbia TriStar is preparing a new disc of the 1955 Picnic (April 18), starring William Holden, Kim Novak, and Rosalind Russell, with what should be a crisp widescreen transfer (if early previews on current CTHV titles are anything to go by). Also look for The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (April 4) in the longer international cut and with an isolated score, and the 1994 Little Women: Special Edition (April 18), featuring commentaries by Winona Ryder, director Gillian Armstrong, and producer Denise DiNovi, an isolated score, and several other supplements. Other upcoming releases include Godspell (April 4), Two Moon Junction (April 18), Gen X Cops (April 18), Shakes The Clown (April 4), and the French import Red Dwarf (April 18).
    • You Star Trek nutsacks don't have any Next-Gen episodes on DVD yet, but you will get Star Trek III: The Search For Spock from Paramount (natch). Unfortunately, the only extra will be a trailer (and can we ever watch these films the same way after a year of Bill Shatner doing commercials? "I didn't have a Genesis device, so I went to Priceline" yadda yadda). Other stuff in the works at Paramount includes Hollywood Confidential, Jennifer 8, and the SNL knock-off Superstar. Everything's due on April 11.
    • USA Home Entertainment has announced that a DVD of Plunkett and Macleane, starring Liv Tyler and Robert Carlyle, will hit the shelves on March 21.
    • Fox Lorber will release Telling Lies In America, starring Brad Renfro, Kevin Bacon, and Maximilian Schell on March 21.
    • If you missed the Biblical prophecy-flick The Omega Code in the theaters last year and are curious what the fuss was about, Goodtimes will have a new disc out on March 28.
    • DVD-loving Goth-rockers can dig out their favorite black clothes, eyeliner, and mood lighting -- Music Video will release the Bauhaus concert film Gotham on March 3, which includes such classic cuts as "Bela Lugosi's Dead" and the Brian Eno-produced remake of "Ziggy Stardust."
    • However, if you're running out of eyeliner, New Yorker Home Video will street the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival documentary Jazz on a Summer's Day on March 14, with classic performances by Louis Armstrong, Dinah Washington, Chuck Berry, and more. The disc will also include a "making-of" short and deleted footage.
    • In case some of you want to relive the magic, Sony Music is prepping a new disc of Woodstock '99 (March 7), but you'll have to build your own bonfire -- and please keep away from our property.
    • Saturday Night Live fans can look forward to two more highlight-reel DVDs from Trimark -- The Best of Steve Martin and The Best of Chris Farley. Expect both on April 25.
    • Rhino's got a blast from the past for us twenty- and thirty-somethings -- a DVD of Sid and Marty Kroft's Sigmund and the Sea Monsters with four episodes of the popular '70s children's show (March 21). Can the wait for a DVD of the pre-pubescently stirring Electra Woman and Dyna Girl be much longer?
    • Just a few pricing notes -- Disney has adjusted the price on their Gold Classic Collection editions of Pinocchio and Mulan from $39.99 to a far more reasonable $29.99, and all of the discs in the original "Limited Issue" series from last year have been dropped from $39.99 to $34.99. What's more, the 60-day moratorium windows apparently have been extended (did anybody besides us notice that these spendy DVDs weren't topping the best-seller lists?), so those of you who want to snap up a few before they eventually disappear should consider The Jungle Book, Lady and the Tramp, and 101 Dalmatians, which are part of Disney's Platinum Collection and will go on moratorium for several years (that is, after the first pressings finally sell off).

    On the Street: It's Bogart Tuesday, with four Bogie classics on the board from Warner -- The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon, Key Largo, and the re-issue of Casablanca. Unfortunately, that pretty much clears out our DVD budget for the week, but we'll be keeping our eyes open for Criterion's For All Mankind, Warner's Splendor in the Grass, and Artisan's Lonesome Dove. Also, Columbia TriStar's 1950 Born Yesterday is on the shelves this morning, and we can assure Judy Holliday fans everywhere that it's excellent. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of and Image Entertainment:

    • 187
    • And God Created Woman
    • Arthur's Quest
    • Big Lift
    • The Big Sleep (delayed from 1/4)
    • Born Yesterday (1950)
    • Bride of the Monster
    • Birdy
    • Brokedown Palace
    • Casablanca: Special Edition
    • Communion: Special Edition
    • Daughters of the Dust: Special Edition
    • The Disenchanted
    • Dr. Seuss: My Many Colored Days
    • Emmanuelle: First Contact
    • Fist of Legend
    • For All Mankind: The Criterion Collection
    • Georgia
    • Ghost Dad
    • The Glass House
    • Glen or Glenda
    • Gray Lady Down
    • Hellhounds On My Trail: The Afterlife of Robert Johnson (delayed from 1/25)
    • In Too Deep
    • It Happened Here
    • Jail Bait
    • Jesus of Nazareth
    • Jet Pilot
    • Joe the King
    • Key Largo (delayed from 1/4)
    • Liquid Sky
    • Lonesome Dove: Ultimate Collector's Edition
    • The Maltese Falcon: Special Edition (delayed from 1/4)
    • Masterworks of the German Horror Cinema (delayed from 1/18)
    • The Muse
    • Plan 9 from Outer Space: Special Edition
    • Saturday Night Live: The Best of Chris Rock
    • Saturday Night Live: The Best of Dana Carvey
    • Splendor in the Grass
    • The Story of Us: Special Edition
    • That Uncertain Feeling (delayed from 2/1)
    • Twilight Zone: Volume 18
    • Twilight Zone: Volume 19
    • When a Man Loves a Woman
    • The Year My Voice Broke
    • Zandalee

    Quotable: "I think we have some wonderful female comedians in our country today that are brilliant. But I, as a viewer, I have trouble with it.... I see a woman as everything she wants to be, but not that. That's only because I think of her as a producing machine that brings babies into the world."

    -- Jerry Lewis, speaking at the Aspen Comedy Festival
    last weekend (to the utter disbelief of his audience).
    Apparently, the aging comic was not joking.

    -- Ed.

    Monday, 14 February 2000

    "Exorcist" could double-dip: When Warner's feature-packed The Exorcist: Special Edition arrived on DVD in late 1998, we thought we would have the definitive home-video version of the film for years to come. But now such may not be the case. Late last week, Variety reported that Warner will theatrically distribute a new version of The Exorcist with 11 minutes of deleted footage. The new cut will only appear in a few theaters across the country next month, but a wider release could come soon after. Furthermore, according to Exorcist author William Peter Blatty, the new version is the original cut that director William Friedkin showed him before the film's initial release in 1973, and apparently it's the cut that both Blatty and Friedkin prefer. Think Warner's gonna double-dip The Exorcist on DVD before much longer? We do.

    boxcoverDisc of the Week: Originally cast with Gary Cooper in the starring role, Frank Capra's Mr. Smith Goes To Washington met with an early setback in the production when the popular leading man pulled out and Capra was forced to cast the lesser-known Jimmy Stewart. Costing $1.5 million, a large sum for the day, Mr. Smith barely made its budget back during its first theatrical run in 1939. Capra's film was also widely condemned for its portrayal of double-dealing, back-stabbing congressmen -- a sore point during a patriotic moment in American history, as the Great Depression entered its closing days and war clouds loomed over Europe. In fact, several Hollywood studios offered Columbia Pictures chief Harry Cohn a flat cash payment for the negative, which they intended to destroy. How times have changed since then. Rather than being a box-office failure or a reviled piece of propaganda, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington was one of the first films selected by Congress to be placed in the National Film Archive, and it is also one of only a handful of American films to undergo a meticulous negative restoration (which, for Mr. Smith, took three years and cost $100,000). The wait for a DVD edition may have been a long one, but it's been worth it, as Columbia TriStar's forthcoming Mr. Smith Goes To Washington disc is taken from the restored print -- the same one in the Library of Congress. Jimmy Stewart stars as Jefferson Smith, a wide-eyed, optimistic boy-scout leader in a midwestern state (according to Capra, it's Illinois) who is hand-picked by a local political cabal to replace a deceased senator, primarily because the powers-that-be believe that he will cast the right votes and not make much trouble. Arriving in Washington, he is taken under the wing of the state's senior senator, Joseph Paine (Claude Rains), but when he refuses to support legislation he regards as graft, the conspiracy drags Smith's reputation through the mud, accusing him of fraud and attempting to force him from office. While Capra relies on threadbare, stock characters in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (and what Capra film doesn't?), the young Stewart delivers one of his career-defining performances, and Capra keeps the plot moving right up to the final, climactic half-hour. Jean Arthur underplays her role as Smith's savvy secretary Clarissa Saunders, and Rains takes on the pivotal role of Sen. Paine with ease. The transfer on Columbia TriStar's new disc is very satisfying and the original audio track (mono) has been cleaned up, leaving virtually no ambient noise under the dialogue. Extras on this one include a commentary track with Frank Capra Jr., a brief retrospective featurette with Capra Jr., original posters and lobby cards, and a trailer gallery of Capra films. Look for Mr. Smith Goes To Washington on DVD Feb. 22.

    Box Office: Miramax's record-setting Scream 3 went head-to-head with Fox's Leonardo DiCaprio starrer The Beach over the weekend, and Scream earned bragging rights with $16.4 million, which was just enough to hold off Leo and Co.'s $15 million. The second-place finish certainly was a disappointment for Fox's high-profile debut, after numerous on-set problems and poor early reviews (nevertheless, Fox's distribution chief Tom Sherak has said that the studio is satisfied with the opening). Meanwhile two family films entered the cineplexes over the weekend with strong grosses -- Paramount's Snow Day with $14.8 million for third place, and Disney's The Tigger Movie with $9.2 million for fourth. The debuts pushed some long-running films into the bottom half of the top ten, including Warner's The Green Mile and Sony's Stuart Little, both which have passed the century mark. Meanwhile, Disney's Fantasia 2000 continues to hover just outside of the top ten after several weeks, despite running in just a handful of IMAX theaters across North America. Its current $27 million total, which continues to grow, will only add to the film's overall grosses when it enters mainstream theaters later this year. Don't be fooled by the slow start -- we're betting F2K will crack $250 million by the end of the summer.

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

    1. Scream 3 (Miramax)
      $16,400,000 ($57,000,000 through 2 weeks)
    2. The Beach (Fox)
      $15,000,000 ($15,000,000 through 1 week)
    3. Snow Day (Paramount)
      $14,800,000 ($14,800,000 through 1 week)
    4. The Tigger Movie (Buena Vista)
      $9,200,000 ($9,200,000 through 1 week)
    5. The Hurricane (Universal)
      $3,600,000 ($42,400,000 through 7 weeks)
    6. The Green Mile (Warner Bros.)
      $3,000,000 ($124,400,000 through 10 weeks)
    7. Next Friday (New Line)
      $2,800,000 ($49,400,000 through 5 weeks)
    8. Stuart Little (Sony/Columbia TriStar)
      $2,700,000 ($132,000,000 through 9 weeks)
    9. Galaxy Quest (DreamWorks SKG)
      $2,200,000 ($65,800,000 through 8 weeks)
    10. Eye of the Beholder (Destination)
      $2,100,000 ($15,100,000 through 3 weeks)
    11. The Talented Mr. Ripley (Paramount)
      $1,800,000 ($78,000,000 through 8 weeks)
    12. Fantasia 2000 (Disney/Buena Vista)
      $1,800,000 ($27,400,000 through 7 weeks)

    On the Board: A new full review has been posted for Best Laid Plans: Special Edition, which can be found on our Full Reviews index. New quick reviews this week include Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Born Yesterday, Notting Hill: Collector's Edition, Persuasion, The Last Broadcast, and Year of the Gun. All can be accessed on the Quick Reviews index, and everything has been added 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, and we'll try to get a second update in the early morning with a rundown on the Oscar nominations.

    -- Ed.

    Friday, 11 February 2000
    Weekend Dispatch

    Coming Attractions: We've gone back to the screening room with a stack of fresh DVDs, so look for some new reviews next week, including such classic titles from Columbia TriStar as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Born Yesterday. We'll be back on Monday with all the latest stuff. Have a great weekend, gang.

    clooneyQuotable: "I was born into a big liberal family so, for us, going to war before sanctions are tried and work seems silly.... It was like a video game war. You sit in your living room and press a button, but no one gets hurt. But in reality lots of innocent people were hurt."

    -- Three Kings star George Clooney, discussing the
    Gulf War at the Berlin Film Festival this week.

    "For four and a half months he was the first one on the set every day. When the shoot was over, he slipped. I love Robert. He is a treasure as a human being and I hope he can work this out."

    -- Curtis Hanson, director of the upcoming Wonder
    , on actor Robert Downey Jr., who violated
    his parole on drug charges and was sent to prison
    last year, not long after filming was concluded.

    "The world has changed totally since the AOL/Time Warner takeover. A lot of us used to be big fish in a small pond, now we are all minnows there.... I have to work harder than ever to have my values recognized by the market, so that we don't become a breakfast snack for these other big companies.... We are looking at every section of our company to get it into this new media or digital age -- we have to."

    -- News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch, in a recent
    interview on his own Fox News Channel.

    -- Ed.

    Thursday, 10 February 2000

    boxcover"Missing in Action" Flick of the Week: When it comes to our favorite Missing in Action flicks on DVD, some titles border on the obvious. Of course, The Godfather has been sorely missing since the format's inception. Citizen Kane is an MIA flick that has caused us a lot of head-scratching. And it seems that everybody wants to see Star Wars (duh!). But, sooner or later, these movies will all arrive on DVD. After some deliberation, we're willing to argue that the absolute granddaddy of all MIA titles is Carl Sagan's Cosmos. At 13 hours long, it's mighty big. Covering all aspects of the natural world, from evolution to extraterrestrial life, it has never been equaled. And the miniseries' creator and narrator, Carl Sagan, was one of the foremost scientific geniuses of the 20th century, a fact often belied by his desire to present the mysteries and joys of scientific exploration to the masses.

    Born in New York City in 1934, Carl Sagan was a pioneering scientist who participated in virtually every NASA interplanetary expedition during his lifetime. A professor at Cornell University, he determined that Venus was a greenhouse-hell of heat while Mars was essentially a cold, barren desert. He was instrumental in placing a "message plaque" on the explorer Pioneer 10 in 1971, which illustrated the location and appearance of its human creators (an idea that evolved into the plaques and phonographs that were included on Voyagers 1 and 2). And he predicted that Titan, a moon of Saturn, contained the building blocks of life before the two Voyager spacecraft confirmed it in the 1980s. And yet, despite all of his scientific innovations and discoveries, Sagan will always be remembered foremost as a great communicator, a man who was not content with merely delving into the mysteries of the universe, but who felt the need to reach out to the public and convey his unbounded enthusiasm for science, and also talk about his hopes and fears for our civilization. Starting with a series of books written for the average reader (the first being The Cosmic Connection in 1973), Sagan proved himself a master of parable and metaphor, illustrating complex scientific theories and arguments in everyday vernacular. More books followed, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Dragons of Eden and the fictional Contact, which chronicled one of Sagan's pet projects, the Search for Extraterrestrial Life, or SETI. Like most tenured academics, Sagan's efforts often focused upon gaining government funding for expensive scientific programs, but his desire to live outside of the Ivory Tower, to make a connection with the person on the street, was undeniable, and unmatched by any scientist in history. Public appearances, books, and television were the tools of his cause. The crowning achievement was Cosmos.

    saganFirst appearing on PBS over the course of two weeks in 1981, Cosmos was a television event only surpassed by Ken Burns' The Civil War some years later. It has been estimated that Cosmos was seen by 50 million people, and it succeeded by Sagan's storytelling instincts. Cosmos is science in bite-sized servings, with each of its 13 episodes addressing a separate element of natural history or scientific discovery. Beginning with "One Voice in the Cosmic Fugue," Sagan explores the laws of natural selection and evolution, while "Harmony of the Worlds" debunks the pseudo-science of astrology and documents the life of pioneering astronomer Johannes Kepler. "Heaven and Hell" takes in comets and meteorites, while "Blues for a Red Planet" is a sober examination of Mars in light of human legends. Further episodes, addressing topics ranging from human genetics and extraterrestrial life to the once-controversial Big Bang, bring the series towards its conclusion, but we are most fond of "Journeys in Space and Time," which deftly explains Albert Einstein's special and general theories of relativity (in one of Sagan's famous metaphors, a boy on a bicycle, riding at light speed, illustrates Einstein's twin paradox). For us, Cosmos has become a magnificent documentary to enjoy again and again, and its immense length is a tonic for anybody who's bedridden for a few days with the winter flu.

    So who has the rights to Cosmos? Follow the bouncing ball. Originally produced by PBS with corporate sponsorship, the home-video rights were obtained by Ted Turner, winding up at MGM during his brief tenure there. But the rights were later passed over to Warner, who gained control over the entire Turner library during a complicated cash-and-movies deal with MGM in early 1999. So it looks like it's up to Warner to get this one on DVD. The only problem is that Cosmos isn't even on VHS anymore -- it's been out of print for about a decade. Drop by eBay if you're in a shopping mood, where an original boxed-set of seven videotapes in good condition (with Sagan's companion book) trades for a paycheck-shattering $400 and up. What, you want the Laserdiscs? We recently saw those cross the board for around $1,000.

    -- Ed.

    Wednesday, 9 February 2000

    Kevin Smith watch: According to Kevin Smith's View Askew website, Chasing Amy will appear in a Criterion Collection release sometime in April, while Dogma will appear on May 2. The Amy disc will be a re-release of Criterion's Laserdisc edition, and both discs will include commentaries and other supplements. Get your pre-order money ready....

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

  • I am a professional mastering engineer and record producer. I have been burning CD-R's for about 5 years now. I have quite a few discs that I have made over the years on both fully professional systems like Sonic Solutions, and consumer level systems like Toast. What I have recently discovered is that my DVD player, a Sony 530, will not play any of the discs I have created. Some are on blue-green media, and others are on gold. All of my store-bought silver CD's and all of my movies play just fine on my DVD player. All of my personally created discs, gold or blue-green, play back just fine on all other CD players or CD ROM drives.

    Why is it that DVD players won't play this media? Is this something DVD manufacturers added to the machines (like region encoding), or is it a technical issue? I was looking at some CD-Rs packaged for consumer sale the other day, and noticed that on the back of the package it said that these discs would play back on CD-ROM players and CD players -- no mention of DVD. What gives?

    -- JT

    First things first: While it might appear that the playback of Compact Discs is part of the DVD standard, it actually isn't -- it's just that the feature is easy to implement and a great marketing tool, so all DVD decks from day one have offered CD Audio (or CD-DA) playback. However, CD-R is a sticky problem, since the DVD laser cannot pick up the dye (presumably the blue-green variety -- gold should be okay). When you see DVD players with "dual-pickup" as part of the feature-set, what that means is that there are independent CD and DVD lasers on board, and these dual-pickup decks are supposed to read CD-R discs just fine.

    But enough with the theory, let's get to the lab. Last night we deposited a favorite CD-R (blue-green) into one of our dual-pickup Sony DVP-S300 players and cranked it up. It played, but it also suffered from a few skips and dropouts. As far as we know, your Sony 530 should perform similarly, so we don't know why you aren't getting any playback at all, but we can say that we won't be putting CD-Rs in our DVD players anymore. For now it seems far more hassle than it's worth.

  • I'm wondering if The Abyss edition due for release is the special edition with the added scenes like the VHS released a couple of years ago. The Abyss is one of my favorite movies and I've been waiting for its release since I got a DVD player.

    -- John

    Early reports said that Fox's upcoming Abyss DVD would include both the original theatrical version and the "Director's Cut," which has been available in a popular widescreen VHS for some time. Furthermore, the disc was supposed to feature the "seamless branching" feature of DVD, which allows all of the data to be included on one disc, with the preferred cut selected by the viewer. However, seamless branching has yet to appear on many DVDs, and just yesterday The Digital Bits reported that, due to a last-minute decision by James Cameron, only the Director's Cut of The Abyss is now expected on Fox's new disc (due on March 21). If it's true, it's bad news for those of us who have been hoping that somebody would take the lead on seamless branching, which will enhance the value of future "collector's edition" DVDs by including all cuts of a particular film on a single platter. With all of the inroads that DVD has made over the past three years, seamless branching still seems to be a promise that the format has yet to deliver.

  • Would it do any good to send an e-mail to Warner asking them to adopt the keep case? The Warner snapper-case is too flimsy and it would be nice to have one standard box for all DVD movies.

    -- Mike

    Er, no. Warner doesn't just use the dreaded "snapper" case, they own it. This is why virtually all of the early MGM discs were released in snappers, as Warner had control of MGM's home-video product at the time. It was only after MGM paid out a lot of cash to Warner in March of 1999 that they started to make marketing decisions about their DVDs -- and one of the first things they did was adopt the keep-case. But we all can expect Warner to soldier on with the snapper and sell it to as many other DVD vendors as they can (Image is a notable customer, while New Line and HBO titles are distributed under the Warner umbrella).

    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. Tarzan
    2. Stir of Echoes
    3. American Pie
    4. Pretty Woman
    5. The Matrix
    6. Runaway Bride
    7. The Thomas Crown Affair
    8. Blue Streak
    9. Mulan
    10. The Shawshank Redemption

    Back with more tomorrow.

    -- Ed.

    Tuesday, 8 February 2000

    Spielberg goes under the knife: If David Letterman's emergency quintuple bypass wasn't strange enough for you, Steven Spielberg recently had a kidney removed after an "irregularity" was discovered during a routine medical examination, it was announced yesterday. "A complete recovery is promised, and no follow-up treatment is necessary," the director's spokesman, Marvin Levy, told Reuters. "He's doing fine, I talked to him this morning. He's returning to work now -- he's looking at projects and scripts already." Neither Levy nor Spielberg's doctors at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles would discuss the reason for the biopsy, but Reuters, citing medical experts, are reporting that there probably was a "small cancerous lesion" on the kidney (even which kidney has yet to be confirmed). With a full recovery anticipated, Spielberg is next expected to appear in public at the NAACP Image Awards on March 11, where he will receive a lifetime achievement award. Spielberg is also scheduled to receive a lifetime achievement award next month from the Director's Guild of America.

    In the Works: Just a few release updates for today. Criterion has three new discs in the works, including Ingmar Bergman's The Magic Flute and two films by Agnes Varda, Vagabond and Cleo from 5 to 7 All are due on April 18. Also expect two more Criterion discs, Lord of the Flies and For All Mankind to arrive sometime this spring. Meanwhile, Fox has announced that the Oscar-hopeful Boys Don't Cry will arrive on April 18.

    On the Street: Columbia TriStar has a pair on the street today with Blue Streak and The Man From Laramie. New Line has a trio of new discs on the shelves as well with The Astronaut's Wife, Trick, and In the Mouth of Madness. And classic film buffs can look for a new DVD of Charlie Chaplin's 1931 City Lights. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of

    • Absence of the Good
    • The Astronaut's Wife
    • The Big Trees (delayed from 1/18)
    • Blue Collar: Special Edition
    • Blue Streak: Special Edition
    • A Chinese Ghost Story
    • The Circus
    • City Lights
    • The Designated Mourner
    • Dixiana (delayed from 1/18) (1930)
    • D.O.A. (1950)
    • The Flamingo Kid
    • In the Mouth of Madness
    • Indiscretion of an American Wife (delayed from 1/25)
    • Introducing Dorothy Dandridge
    • Macon County Line
    • The Man from Laramie
    • Meat Loaf: Bat Out of Hell: Classic Albums
    • National Lampoon's Class Reunion
    • Phil Collins: Face Value: Classic Albums
    • Romance: Director's Cut
    • Sailor Moon "R" movie
    • Something About Sex
    • Trick
    • Withnail and I


    -- Ed.

    Monday, 7 February 2000

    boxcoverDisc of the Week: In his eighth and final film with director Anthony Mann (The Glenn Miller Story, Winchester '73), Jimmy Stewart saddled up for what would be one of the best, 1955's The Man From Laramie. Stewart stars as Will Lockhart, a Wyoming man who travels to New Mexico to discover who sold repeating rifles to the Apaches -- rifles that were used to slaughter a U.S. Cavalry patrol that included Lockhart's brother. But upon his arrival, he soon finds himself the enemy of the Waggoman family, who operate the massive Big Barb Ranch and don't like strangers poking around with nosy questions. Offered the hospitality of Kate Canady (Aline MacMahon), who runs the neighboring Half Moon Ranch, Lockhart refuses to leave town. Meanwhile, familial infighting soon takes its toll on the Waggomans, and particularly Dave Waggoman (Alex Nicol), the hotheaded scion who burned Lockhart's wagons and shot his mules, much to the displeasure of his father Alec (Donald Crisp), who must soon decide if he will hand control of the Big Barb to his only son or his top ranch-hand Vic Hansbro (Arthur Kennedy). The Man From Laramie is one of the best Westerns from the '50s, and one of the darkest. Mythic, almost Freudian, themes bubble just beneath the surface, and the brief moments of violence are unflinching (even the fistfights are realistic-looking wrestling matches). The Man From Laramie also predates Kurosawa's 1961 Yojimbo, with its enigmatic wanderer drawn between two feuding clans who both want to put him on the payroll so he doesn't make trouble. And like Yojimbo, the identity of the laconic visitor is never fully confirmed. As usual, the presentation on this Columbia TriStar DVD is outstanding. The source print is colorful and largely free of damage, making Mann's panoramic vistas of the New Mexico frontier that much more spellbinding. The audio is available in the original three-channel mix (in a Dolby Digital 3.0 configuration) or in a 2.0 Dolby Surround remix. Look for this one on the street tomorrow.

    Box Office: You can read down the entire list if you want, but there was only one movie in the theaters this weekend -- Miramax's Scream 3, which pulled a monumental $35.2 million since debuting on Friday. The Scream 3 gross was more than the remaining films in the top ten combined, and seven times greater than its closest competitors, Universal's The Hurricane, which earned $4.9 million for second, and Sony's Stuart Little, with $4.8 million for third. "This is beyond our expectations for sure," Miramax co-chair Harvey Weinstein told Reuters yesterday. In addition to being the largest opening weekend in the Scream franchise, it was also the largest opening for a Miramax film, the largest debut for any slasher flick, and the largest debut of any film from any studio in February (but a note to the nitpickers -- Scream 2's opening weekend had a higher per-screen average). Last week's winner, Destination's Eye of the Beholder, failed to gain traction, quickly falling to fifth with $4 million amidst poor reviews, while such regulars as Next Friday, The Green Mile, Galaxy Quest, and The Talented Mr. Ripley scarcely budged.

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

    1. Scream 3 (Miramax)
      $35,200,000 ($35,200,000 to date)
    2. The Hurricane (Universal)
      $4,900,000 ($37,500,000 to date)
    3. Stuart Little (Sony/Columbia TriStar)
      $4,800,000 ($128,700,000 to date)
    4. Next Friday (New Line)
      $4,300,000 ($45,500,000 to date)
    5. Eye of the Beholder (Destination)
      $4,040,000 ($11,800,000 to date)
    6. The Green Mile (Warner Bros.)
      $4,000,000 ($120,400,000 to date)
    7. Galaxy Quest (DreamWorks SKG)
      $3,300,000 ($62,900,000 to date)
    8. Down to You (Miramax)
      $2,900,000 ($16,800,000 to date)
    9. Girl, Interrupted (Sony/Columbia TriStar)
      $2,600,000 ($25,000,000 to date)
    10. The Talented Mr. Ripley (Paramount)
      $2,500,000 ($75,600,000 to date)
    11. Toy Story 2 (Pixar/Buena Vista)
      $2,200,000 ($237,000,000 to date)
    12. Fantasia 2000 (Disney/Buena Vista)
      $1,700,000 ($24,000,000 to date)

    On the Board: A new full review has been posted for A Price Above Rubies, which can be found on our Full Reviews index. New quick reviews this week include All About Eve, Dudley Do-Right, The Man From Laramie, The Loves of Carmen, the documentary The Brandon Teena Story (an inspiration for Boys Don't Cry), and the latest installment of Short Cinema Journal, SHORT 6: Insanity. All can be accessed on the Quick Reviews index, and everything has been added under the New Reviews menu here on the main page as well.

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

    -- Ed.

    Friday, 4 February 2000
    Weekend Dispatch

    Hangin' out: Another weekend has arrived, and we've retired to the screening room (cold beers in hand) for another round of DVDs. If you haven't found time, don't forget to enter our monthly free DVD contest for your chance to score a copy of Rushmore: The Criterion Collection. We'll be back Monday morning with new reviews, the box-office roundup, and all the other good stuff. See ya then.

    boxcoverCommentary Clip: "Very early on when we started to work on this, I was in a clothing store in Beverly Hills, and I bumped into this guy who was at that time the CEO of Columbia. He had just taken over -- Columbia was in bad shape. I think this picture really ended up helping them out enormously. They had been losing money, and they weren't doing well, and he said to me, only half-jokingly, "You're going to do a picture where Barbara Streisand plays a Jewish communist, and she doesn't sing a note? What are you trying to do? Destroy this movie company?"

    -- director Sydney Pollack, The Way We Were

    Quotable: "They sent me a screener of Magnolia this week. I'll never watch it again, but I will keep it. I'll keep it right on my desk, as a constant reminder that a bloated sense of self-importance is the most unattractive quality in a person or their work."

    -- Kevin Smith, in a recent interview with Entertainment
    . He also likened the Paul Thomas Anderson
    epic to "a cinematic root canal."

    "I'd enjoy doing anything that allowed me to see every new movie that came along."

    -- President Clinton, in a interview with Roger Ebert,
    discussing the possibility of becoming a Hollywood
    executive after he leaves office.

    Trust us, Bubba -- watching every movie that comes along ain't all it's cracked up to be.

    -- Ed.

    Thursday, 3 February 2000

    Torvalds unloads on MPAA: As two DeCSS lawsuits plod their way through the American court system, Linus Torvalds, the author of the Linux operating system, yesterday lashed out at the MPAA and Hollywood studios, who have brought the suits against several individuals who have distributed DeCSS over the Internet since last November. "This is a perfect case of companies that want to screw their customers over," Torvalds said in his keynote speech at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo, being held this week at New York's Jacob Javits Center. "DVD companies want to control the market, and not by offering a good technical solution, but by suing their own customers." DeCSS, which disables the Content Scrambling System encryption technology of the DVD format, has caused DVD producers to undertake aggressive legal actions against several individuals and websites, citing the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which prohibits the dismantling of encryption technologies or the distribution of copy-control hacks.

    However, legal representatives for the defendants in two court cases (in California and New York) are relying upon long-standing U.S. laws that permit the reverse-engineering of technologies and other privileged materials -- and the primary argument of the defense is that DeCSS is nothing more than a reverse-engineered DVD player designed to play on the Linux OS, which did not have any sort of DVD support in 1999. Enter Torvalds, the author of the popular open-standard Unix variant, who spoke out for the first time yesterday on the issue. "(DeCSS) was just a case of people wanting to play DVDs on their Linux systems," he insisted. "I watch DVDs on Linux myself."

    Meanwhile, Jon Johansen, the Norwegian teenager who was recently interrogated by authorities over his involvement with DeCSS (he allegedly was one of the first people to post the crack on the Internet), gave an interview this week to Ken Pierce at DVD Future. "I think free speech has been stabbed in the back by corporate lawyers," Johansen said. "Lack of encryption threatens nothing but (the studios') oligopoly. Anyone can now make a DVD player without ever getting in touch with the (DVD Copy Control Association), and without implementing region restriction. That's what they're afraid of, and they're handing the press this propaganda about piracy." Asked if he would have done things differently in light of recent events, he said "I would not back out of a free speech fight simply because things were getting hot."

    But, for all of Johansen's high-minded intents, those who created and distributed DeCSS over the past several weeks -- and naively or willingly walked into a nasty court fight -- may find that it was far more hassle than it was worth. Sigma Designs announced earlier this week that they have implemented a DVD solution for Linux, which is ostensibly what the DeCSS programmers wanted in the first place. Sigma's new REALmagic NetStream 2000 card and progressive MPEG-2/DVD decoder chip is entirely Linux compatible. "The real strength of Linux is its strong community," Marshall Goldberg, Sigma's director of marketing, said in a press release. "The key to our success with Linux lies in understanding and working with this community." Want more irony? The new system is scheduled for demonstration at (you guessed it) this week's LinuxWorld Expo.

    boxcover"Missing in Action" Flick of the Week: Criterion's This is Spinal Tap! is quickly becoming a Holy Grail of DVDphiles everywhere. Only in release for about a year before being pulled over rights issues, the disc can now be found on eBay, where it regularly trades for as high as $200, boosted by an increasing demand from new DVD consumers who are fighting over a limited supply (our guess is that the few suppliers are folks who need to make next month's rent). Well, we have Spinal Tap safely tucked away in the DVD Journal library (along with Hard Boiled and Platoon and all sorts of other eBay goodies), so it's all ho-hum to us. We love Rob Reiner, and we're looking forward to a DVD release of When Harry Met Sally, which -- unlike Reiner's Spinal Tap -- has yet to reach DVD at all. Reiner's popular 1989 comedy is a breezy swing through male-female relationships in a contemporary American culture that has sufficiently undermined the expectations of romantic relationships to such a degree that everybody is virtually paralyzed, seized with doubt over the smallest details of personal interaction, and constantly turning inward for validation (it was the '80s, after all). While the plot itself is undeniably thin, Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan create sympathetic leading characters that are fun to follow throughout their 12-year relationship, which is (mostly) platonic. Ryan's Sally is the prototypical career woman with an independent streak, best exemplified by her detail-oriented approach to ordering food in restaurants -- but, at heart, she really just wants to get swept off her feet by Mr. Right. Crystal turns in one of the performances that will eventually define his career (thanks to some smart writing), as a cynical New Yorker absorbed by bitterness and thus blessed with a refreshing frankness about men and women -- commentaries he is willing to undertake at the drop of a hat. He notes that men and women can't be friends, because "the sex part always gets in the way," and he talks openly about bad dates that result in cheap sex because, well, you might as well get some sex out of it. But Ryan smartly undercuts the innate self-confidence of men everywhere when she demonstrates (publicly) that there is no way a man can tell if a woman is faking an orgasm. And, perhaps more than anything, When Harry Met Sally is the film that made the qualifier "high-maintenance" part of our common vernacular -- and it's few films that manage that sort of distinction.

    When Harry Met Sally would make for a great special-edition release, and for a few reasons. While Reiner has previously noted that he isn't fond of commentary tracks (he said as much on track 2 of Criterion's Spinal Tap), he's sat for them before, and his insights would be valuable (just how much was he borrowing from Annie Hall anyway?). Crystal is a natural in the commentary booth, and we thought that his track on Analyze This scored bigger laughs than the film itself. And fans of Meg Ryan already have a solid special edition of You've Got Mail in their possession -- a special edition of When Harry Met Sally would make a great bookend. We think things are looking up. Although When Harry Met Sally has been delayed by the liquidation of the PolyGram library in 1998, it is currently owned by MGM, and they have started to release some of their PolyGram acquisitions in recent months. When Harry Met Sally may not be far behind.

    -- Ed.

    Wednesday, 2 February 2000

    Mailbag: Let's kick off this week's mailbag with a topic that seems to have been at the forefront of DVD news over the past couple of weeks:

  • I grow weary of the otherwise-excellent DVD web sites that are devoting (wasting) a large amount of time/space/effort to Star Wars on DVD. I've been a Star Wars fan since 1977. It changed my life. I was first in line to take the disappointment of The Phantom Menace square in the gut. And so on. My point being, if Star Wars DVDs were available, I'd pre-order them.

    Now I could understand if a Star Wars web site gave itself over to such a campaign, but why sites that have so much other great stuff to talk about? Why are otherwise sane individuals so intent on banging their heads against what we all must surely recognize as the immovable object of George Lucas? (He said no new Star Wars until the end of the century; nobody believed him, but that's what happened). Sure he's losing a small fortune, but he already has several very large fortunes with more on the way.

    And let's be honest; with so many great movies we've never seen or don't even know about yet, do we really need to see R2-D2 get zapped by the Jawas one more time? The Death Star will still blow up (twice even), Darth Vader will still be Luke's father, and Greedo will always shoot first. With the pie-in-the-face that was The Phantom Menace, maybe we should step back and re-examine why exactly these movies mean so much to us in the first place; they obviously don't come close to having that much meaning to their own creator.

    And that's what irks me about this campaign - in the guise of standing up to George Lucas, we're just groveling at his gates again, letting him know how devoted we are to this cult. I'd rather see a "Take Your Star Wars and Shove It" campaign. Perhaps we could inundate the Lucasfilm offices with a few of our old VHS versions of Star Wars.

    -- David

    Thanks for your comments, David. We should let you know that you are very much in the minority on this one -- but that's not always a bad thing.

    After some deliberation (okay, not too much), we at The DVD Journal have decided not to actively participate in the Star Wars DVD petition. That doesn't mean we don't want people to sign it -- if you'd like to get your name on the record, click here. Beyond that, however, we will not be reporting on the petition, nor advocating it. We should also note that we're fans of both and The Digital Bits, but our decision to remain a Star Wars-free zone is based on a few reasons:

    • There is no mystery as to why Star Wars has not been released on DVD, nor has George Lucas been tight-lipped about the matter. He is on record that the DVDs will not arrive until Episode III is completed because he wants to oversee the discs but he doesn't have time to do it with two more films in the series to finish. He has been very clear about this, and he's said it more than once. He said it on Entertainment Tonight; he said it on The Fox News Channel; he even said it during an interview for British television. And every time he's been asked about the DVDs , he's given the same reply. There has been no inconsistency or prevarication on his part. Whether we're happy about his schedule is another matter altogether.
    • We must remain consistent about how we regard the DVD production process. When director Roger Avary recently convinced Artisan to delay their upcoming release of Killing Zoe so he could prepare an anamorphic transfer and include some supplementary materials, the disc was kicked back to August. We had no complaints, nor did anybody else. Lucas has said essentially the same thing -- if we want to get great special editions of Star Wars on DVD, we will have to be patient and wait until he has the time to oversee the process. And when a director says he wants to take the proper time to produce a DVD, we consider that to be a fair comment. Again, many of you might want him to suspend production on Episode II for a few months and supervise some new transfers, but he clearly has other priorities.
    • As a footnote to the previous comment, we think that any Star Wars DVDs released without George Lucas being 100% involved in the process would be unacceptable. We want to know that he's personally approved the transfers, we want commentary tracks, and we'd like him to produce some behind-the-scenes or retrospective footage. Obviously, none of this can happen at this time (and fundamentally, the point is somewhat moot, since Lucas simply will not allow anybody else to produce his DVDs).
    • Although we love Star Wars, we've seen it, like, a gajillion times. Some members of our staff can recite the serial number off the trash-compactor door. We're far more interested in what's on the way in the next few months -- Eyes Wide Shut, Three Kings, Being John Malkovich, Magnolia, American Beauty, The Insider, etc. etc. All of those forthcoming discs are newsworthy -- the fact that Star Wars will not arrive on DVD until 2005 is not.
    • For all of the petition's good intentions, nobody can make George Lucas do anything he doesn't want to do. He is, quite simply, the most powerful (and most independent) man in the film industry. When he told Fox he didn't need any financing for The Phantom Menace, just distribution, they took the job and thus missed out on a lot of the overall profit. When he told theater owners to grab their ankles and put The Phantom Menace on their biggest screens for eight weeks straight, some groused but everybody complied. Therefore, does anybody really believe that George Lucas will let mere niche-market consumers tell him what to do?
    • Or, for that matter, convince him of what to do. The ceaseless appeals to Lucas' pocketbook are in vain and should be abandoned forthwith. Many have said (over and over again, as if it were a mantra), that he will "make a lot of money" by releasing Star Wars on DVD. Think again. The Phantom Menace made $430 million at the North American box office, is close to reaching $1 billion worldwide, and that revenue, when combined with all of the Phantom Menace merchandising tie-ins, is an amount so staggering it would probably make Bill Gates stutter (bear in mind that Lucas funded The Phantom Menace out of his own pocket for a mere $130 million). There is every reason to believe that Episode II will make a similar amount of revenue, whereas the profits from any DVD release (with only 5 million players installed in North America at this time) would be a mere stipend by comparison. If Lucas stopped working on Episode II right now and began producing DVDs, he wouldn't make money, he'd lose money. He is not being cute or coy -- with the final Star Wars films being produced in rapid succession, the year 2005 is the soonest point that overseeing his Star Wars DVDs will be economically sensible. Ten thousand, one million, or five million signatures on a petition won't change this stubborn fact.
    • The petition, while clearly gaining a great deal of online support, is full of demeaning personal insults to Mr. Lucas. Subtle negotiating ploys such as "Fuck you Lucas, you pompous asshole," "Stop being a moron," "You millionaire asshole," and "I shit on you !!!" will be forwarded to Lucasfilm? Bad idea.

    With that all said, we are perfectly aware that the vast majority of our readership is in full support of the petition and will disagree with our opinions (some of you quite vociferously). We also know that several DVD websites are actively discussing the petition's progress (although others, such as DVD Verdict, are joining us on the sidelines). Nevertheless, we will gladly remain in the minority. For those of you who disagree, please don't write us letters about it. You are more than free to continue visiting our site, or you can just delete your bookmarks.

    And once again, you can sign the petition by clicking here.

    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 Runaway Bride
    2. The Matrix
    3. American Pie
    4. The Thomas Crown Affair
    5. Natural Born Killers
    6. The 13th Warrior
    7. Stir of Echoes
    8. Bowfinger
    9. The Shawshank Redemption
    10. Pretty Woman

    See ya tomorrow.

    -- Ed.

    Tuesday, 1 February 2000

    Spielberg gets "_____" award: As rumors swirl across the Internet that we could see new DVDs of Jaws and Jurassic Park before year's end, Steven Spielberg was announced yesterday as the winner of this year's lifetime achievement award from the Directors' Guild of America. Known as The D.W. Griffith Award for several decades, the pioneering director's name was stripped from the accolade last December due to Griffith's racist overtones in the landmark 1915 The Birth of a Nation. For now, we think it's called "The Award Formerly Known as D.W. Griffith" -- but we're not sure.

    On the Street: Columbia TriStar has another Frank Capra classic on the street this morning with Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, and we're looking forward to giving it a spin. Disney's Tarzan disc is on the street as well, but caveat emptor, because the full-fledged "Collector's Edition" isn't due until April 18. And as things go in the Mouse House, while some DVDs are new, others are old, including Disney's Mulan: Gold Classic Collection, a rehash of the Mulan disc that was supposed to be released for just 60 days before going on moratorium (last we saw, the "Limited Issue" of Mulan was overstocked just about everywhere). As with all the other Gold Classic titles that will follow, this time it's on the retailers' shelves for good. Romantic comedy fans will want to check out Pretty Woman: 10th Anniversary Edition, while film buffs can snap up the latest installment of SHORT. We'll probably have a look at David Mamet's The Winslow Boy before anything else. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of and Image Entertainment:

    • The Big Combo
    • Bob Marley: The Sun Is Shining -- The Remixes
    • Buffalo '66
    • Conceiving Ada (delayed from 1/25)
    • Cross of Iron
    • Eaten Alive
    • Ladies and Gentlemen - The Best of George Michael (delayed from 1/25)
    • Godzilla vs. Destroyah/ Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla
    • Love and Death on Long Island
    • Love Stinks: Special Edition
    • Mariah Carey: The #1's
    • Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (delayed from 1/18)
    • Mulan: Gold Classic Collection
    • Persuasion
    • Pretty Woman: 10th Anniversary Edition
    • Raining Stones (delayed from 1/25)
    • Rebirth of Mothra/ Rebirth of Mothra II
    • Shattered Image
    • SHORT Cinema Journal: Utopia
    • Stir of Echoes: Special Edition
    • Tarzan (1999)
    • To Sir, With Love
    • The Winslow Boy: Special Edition


    -- Ed.

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