Thursday, 27 April 2000
Get ready to stock up: If you've been looking for replacement keep-cases for your DVD collection, we may have compiled a definitive resource, and in just 24 hours. After putting out the call to our readers to let us know where they get blank keep-cases, we were almost immediately flooded with e-mail. Here's the skinny from some of our early morning visitors:
Digital Video Connection
DVDown Under (Australia)
Plus, a lot of brick-and-mortar stores that specialize in DVDs are starting to carry them. I managed to get a half dozen of the black standard cases for about $1.75 each. When they sold out they were replaced with clear plastic styles in packages of three (they're not that great though).
And for all the trivia and history buffs, this site has a page about cases of all different styles from all over the world. I believe it's in German:
Hope this helps.
(Are we plugging your shop, John?)
Thanks guys -- and thanks to the rest of you who wrote in. A lot of you had the same links for us, and we wanted to keep this short, but we read (and we appreciate) all of your letters. Also, just to stick our two cents in, we have always been partial to the Amaray case over the Alpha, primarily because we like the clasp a lot more (we'd rather push down on the clasp rather than stick our finger behind the DVD and snap it out). But we have become enamored of the Super Jewel Case lately, even though it can only be found on budget DVDs and never had the chance to make any inroads with the major vendors. But, like the ubiquitous CD jewel case, the Super Jewel Case has an attractive look, with clear plastic casing over the title sleeve, and it's thinner than the keep-cases and snappers. We also like its smooth opening action and overall appearance. Of course, the good looks of the Super Jewel Case come at a price (these things certainly could not pass the standard vertical-drop tests that the Amaray and Alpha are designed for), but we still find ourselves looking at Super Jewels and wondering what the DVD market would look like today had this CD inheritor made an impression in 1996.
'Entertainment Weekly' has an 'Episode I' DVD?: If you have this week's issue of Entertainment Weekly (dated April 21, with Natalie Portman on the cover), flip on over to page 34, where the article "Phantom Secrets Revealed" touts how the recent home-video release of The Phantom Menace allows die-hard fans to examine the finer details of the film's lavish art direction. But hold on -- the article also notes that "any fans with a VCR (or DVD player) can now search for... the movie's 'Easter eggs' or nearly invisible details best savored with pause button."
Have the folks at EW somehow figured out how to shove a VHS tape into a DVD deck? If so, does it look better?
Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including Showgirls (a disc your humble editor has made of point of obtaining), the six-hour Lonesome Dove, and lots more. If you haven't entered our monthly free DVD contest, this will be the last weekend for you to visit our contest page for a chance to win a free copy of The Birds: Collector's Edition. We'll be back on Monday to announce the winner, and we'll have a new totally free DVD contest up and running, along with a new reader poll.
Have a great weekend, gang.
Wednesday, 26 April 2000
Spielberg: 'I want to say yes': For us, the saga started last August, when DVD Journal friend and digital die-hard Todd Dupler managed to corner one Steven Spielberg during a reception at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. Todd asked The Man when he'd put his movies on disc, and Spielberg reportedly replied that he was waiting for three million DVD players to sell, and he even told Todd that both Saving Private Ryan and Men in Black would be among his first DVDs (since Todd's brush with greatness, Ryan arrived on DVD last November; Columbia TriStar has confirmed that Men in Black will materialize this fall -- was our man on the money or what?). So it is with great joy, but little surprise, that we can tell you Universal is expected to formally announce that Spielberg's biggest, best films are now set to arrive on DVD, starting this summer, and with regular release dates thereafter.
Up first? Jaws: Collector's Edition (July 11), largely based on Universal's Laserdisc box, which means plenty of extras will be on board, including cut scenes and outtakes, a trivia game, and both Dolby Digital and DTS tracks. As Spielberg has always been a huge DTS guy, we probably can expect all of his DVD releases to have a DTS option, as did Saving Private Ryan (although it's unclear if Jaws will be released in two editions or simply have both DD and DTS tracks on one disc). Other titles expected to be announced by Universal for DVD release later this year are E.T., Schindler's List, Jurassic Park, and The Lost World, and it looks like the entire Spielberg oeuvre will be released over time -- no holdouts.
Well, maybe one: the Indiana Jones trilogy. But while a lot of folks tend to think of the franchise as a Spielberg item, it's actually owned by George Lucas. And that certainly is another kettle of carp, for Big George is being one coy bastard lately. As DVD lovers know, he recently indicated in an interview with an L.A. radio station that The Phantom Menace, and perhaps the entire Star Wars series to date, is now in DVD pre-production. But he also noted some time ago in an interview with French television (coincidence? cough, cough) that Indy is also in pre-production, and that was last September. Yet little news has arrived since on the Indy series. Nevertheless, as with The Phantom Menace, Mr. Lucas would like all of you to know that the Indy trilogy is currently available at your favorite retailer in a remastered widescreen box-set -- VHS, natch.
Hey George -- we'll believe what you say when you give us some release dates. These interviews are getting tiresome.
It depends on your player, Ian, so we can't offer any sort of comprehensive answer here, but our Sony DVP-S300 lets us shoot past these with a tap of the index-forward button. Yes, the whole thing is annoying, but, for us at least, we're happy we can skip the promos in just a few seconds. However, we've heard reports that some other DVD players don't allow this sort of forward-skipping (in particular, some people can't get past Universal's standard montage intro), so it's all a case-by-case basis. If these front-loaded promos are a trend, for now it appears that it's only with Buena Vista, who have tagged promos on the front of both The Insider and The Sixth Sense (Sense has no less than five promos on board), and other recent releases. The only way to get BV to knock it off would be for all of us to stop buying their discs, but as The Sixth Sense likely will soon be the best-selling DVD of all time, Disney's accountants probably will tell their higher-ups that we all love previews. We can only imagine the contorted flow-chart from the Mouse's bean-counters that will result in 27 previews on Fantasia 2000 next year.
(Also, the index-forward button allows us to skip past Buena Vista's standard copyright-warning screens, which normally run for about 30 seconds if left alone. Now if we could only figure out how to keep MGM's lion from shattering our speakers every time we load one of their discs.)
According to recent information from Warner, there are no differences between the MGM and Warner DVDs of the musicals you note above (in fact, we think all of the recent Warner/MGM swaps are identical discs, with the singular exception of The Wizard of Oz). But you still should try to find the MGM editions wherever possible, as they normally are in keep-cases, which are much more durable than Warner's cardboard snap-case. What's more, unlike the snapper, a keep-case is replaceable -- if it's damaged in any way (the disc clasp can snap off, for example), you can simply remove the disc, booklet, and sleeve from the case and slap everything in a new one. Such is not true with the snapper, and this is one of the main reasons why serious DVD collectors always prefer the keep-case when available.
And while we're on the subject: Can any of our readers tell us where we can buy blank keep-cases? Several people every month e-mail us with this simple question, but we have yet to find a keep-case vendor on the Web. Enlighten us at email@example.com and we'll make ya famous.
Top of the Pops: Here's the top-selling DVDs last week from our friends at Reel.com. Click the links to read our reviews of these discs:
Surf's up!: They've been on the Web for a long time, and now they're getting better. Our pals at DVD Channel News have let us know that a new site design is scheduled to be up and running this morning, with new functionality and a greater interactive experience. They've been working on it for the past eight months, so be sure to drop by if you get the chance.
Tuesday, 25 April 2000
On the Street: We have an unusually long street-list this morning, with a lot of second-tier and specialty discs in the mix, but there's still a lot of good stuff to sort through. MGM has an absolute slew of catalog titles now on the shelves, including David Lynch's long-awaited Blue Velvet, No Way Out with Kevin Costner and Gene Hackman, Honeymoon in Vegas with Nicolas Cage, Mel Brooks' Spaceballs, and the so-awful-it's-brilliant Showgirls in the NC-17 cut. Out now from Columbia TriStar are Little Women, The King of Marvin Gardens, and The Lords of Flatbush, while Buena Vista has an unusual double-feature with Music of the Heart and Jet Li's The Enforcer. Criterion's delayed The Last Temptation of Christ and Jean Cocteau's Orphic Trilogy have also arrived. Meanwhile, those of you who want to catch up on your television can look for the first two Mystery Science Theater 3000 discs, or the latest additions to the Saturday Night Live series. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of Reel.com and Image Entertainment:
See ya tomorrow.
Monday, 24 April 2000
Disc of the Week: Put a glass of water in front of British novelist William Golding. Then ask him if it's half-full or half-empty. If Golding's influential 1955 novel Lord of the Flies (and Peter Brook's film adaptation) are anything to go by, Golding won't just tell you the glass is half-empty, he might say whatever is there is of little value. Disturbing, dramatic, and woefully pessimistic, Golding's Lord of the Flies asks a simple question: What would happen if a group of young schoolboys were stranded on a tropical island, with only a scant understanding of civilized behavior and no adult guidance? It was a question Golding pondered only briefly when he first conceived his novel, and the result was a tale about young boys in public-school uniforms who readily cast them aside for war-paint, tribal behaviors, and a "might-makes-right" ethos that has scarred the vast chronicle of human history. A faithful re-telling of Golding's novel, Brook's 1963 Lord of the Flies is equally valuable, for where Golding may have used language to subtly convey the psychological turmoil and violent episodes of children who exist in a world without consequences, the skilled Brook brings these conflicts alive, aided by a solid production team, a capable cast of young actors, and stark black-and-white photography that effectively strips Golding's tropical paradise of anything resembling organic life.
At an unspecified point in the future (as it was written in 1955, Golding's novel conceivably could occur in our present day), a worldwide war has forced a group of English schoolboys to evacuate the country via a high-altitude jet aircraft, which inexplicably crashes over the south Pacific. Jettisoned safely to a small island, young Ralph (James Aubrey) meets the rotund, shy Piggy (Hugh Edwards), and with the call of a conch shell Ralph summons the other surviving boys. As Ralph has summoned them, he quickly is elected as the leader (or "chief"), and a few rules of civilization are established, including regular meetings and the various duties that all will perform in the hopes of getting rescued. But, almost immediately, Ralph is challenged by Jack (Tom Chapin), the leader of the school choir, who declares that his group will be "hunters." Before long, Jack's bullying, exciting hunts, and wild ways seduce most of the other boys to see him as a leader, as they prefer his offers of fun and protection over Ralph's precocious ideas of democracy and rationalism. Other boys suffer in the process, including Piggy, who enjoys looking after the youngest boys and cajoles Jack for his barbaristic ways, and Simon (Tom Gaman), an almost mystical young child who sees through Jack's warnings of a "sea-monster" and tries to discover the truth about the crash for himself.
Allegorical on almost every level, Lord of the Flies functions literarily much like Orwell's Animal Farm and 1984, using a simple story to illustrate truths the author believed to be most relevant to his 20th century readers. But while Orwell was committed, almost fanatically, to decrying the threat of totalitarianism (and thus asserting that enlightened democracy is something worth defending), Golding's story -- and Brook's film -- approaches the nature of civilization and self-government from historical, anthropological, and sociological viewpoints, where the line between savage tribalism and ordered civilization is a much finer distinction than one might suspect. To Golding, rational self-government is possible (the famous final scene of the film illustrates emphatically that this brief ordeal has merely been an aberration from the manners of conventional civilization), but it is a social structure that is arrived at through centuries of progress -- progress that easily can be dismantled when people are thrown into a desperate crisis.
Criterion's recently released DVD of Lord of the Flies is a definitive edition, with a good transfer (in the original 1.33:1) and audio in the original mono (DD 1.0). The print looks very good for a European film from the '60s, with many sequences free of damage and with strong low-contrast details. However, there are a few scenes that have substantial flecking and lines, and, while minor, it's unfortunate these elements couldn't be digitally corrected before the DVD release. Supplements include a commentary track (from the 1993 Laserdisc edition) with director Brook, producer Lewis Allen, director of photography Tom Hollyman, and cameraman/editor Gerald Fail; some home-movies and tests by D.P. Hollyman, along with outtakes and a production scrapbook; a deleted scene and a trailer, both with commentary; and an introduction and excerpts from the novel read by Golding himself on a third audio track. The final supplement, in and of itself, is priceless.
Box Office: If last month's disappointing Mission to Mars left action-film fans looking for an adrenaline boost, it looks like Universal's U-571 satisfied the craving, opening over the Easter weekend with $20.3 million and torpedoing all competition. The Jonathan Mostow-helmed submarine flick has received fairly good reviews over the past several days, and it could sustain very well over the next few weeks. In what looks like a smart bit of counter-programming, New Line's Love and Basketball, starring Omar Epps and Sanaa Lathan, and co-produced by Spike Lee, drew $8.4 million for second, and looked to be a solid draw with the date-movie demo. However, Warner's teen-thriller Gossip had weak numbers over its debut weekend, with just $2.3 million -- not enough to crack the top ten, particularly with several films still doing strong business in continuing release, including Paramount's Rules of Engagement, which dropped from its top position over the past two weeks but still earned $8 million; Sony's 28 Days, starring Sandra Bullock, with $7.4 million; Buena Vista's Keeping the Faith, directed by Edward Norton, with $7.3 million; and Universal's breakout smash Erin Brockovich, which earned $5.5 million to boost its overall gross to $107.4 million and counting. However, Lions Gate's controversial American Psycho was slaughtered over the weekend, falling out of the top ten before it even cracked a $10 million gross -- the film's detractors certainly are crowing at this point. But this morning's overachiever award goes to Final Destination -- while not a blockbuster, the low-budget creep-out has been in the top ten for six weeks running (that's as long as Erin Brockovich), and its $42 million gross is sure to have the folks at New Line grinning from ear to ear.
Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Steven Firstenburg has posted a new full review of Trey Parker and Matt Stone's Cannibal! The Musical, while Greg Dorr is on the board this morning with a look at The King of Marvin Gardens. Both can be found on our Full Reviews index. New quick reviews this week from the staff include Guys and Dolls, The Lords of Flatbush, The End of Violence, Two Moon Junction, Lord of the Flies: The Criterion Collection, and The Red Dwarf, and can be accessed on the Quick Reviews index. 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.
Thursday, 20 April 2000
Totally cool: DVD Journal movie maven Alexandra DuPont has posted a sneak preview of U-571 on Ain't it Cool News. While we try to get her out of these preview screenings and back to her DVD reviewing duties, you can check out her memo to director Jonathan Mostow by clicking here.
Coming Attractions: As the rumors fly that not just Episode I: The Phantom Menace but in fact Star Wars Episodes 4 - 6 could appear on DVD sometime next year (check out The Digital Bits for the latest unsubstantiated gossip), your editor has decided to cast a pox on the willy-nilly George Lucas and go soak his head in a large bowl of beer. In the meantime, the staff has returned to the screening room with a fresh stack of DVDs, and new reviews are on the way next week, along with the box-office report, new disc announcements, and whatever else is fit to print. In the meantime, don't forget to send us your entry in our Monthly DVD Contest for your chance to win a free copy of The Birds: Collector's Edition, and be sure to take our monthly reader poll while you're there.
Commentary Clips: "The English keep things, and one of the things they keep is legal papers, so I came upon a trial transcript of a lawsuit between one of the (Elizabethan) theater companies and a writer, and the writer was exclusive to them. He had to write only for them, and he had to write three plays a year, and they were suing him because he hadn't turned in three plays in a year. They advanced him money and they wanted their money back. And his defense was 'Well, there was a plague that year and I couldn't deliver three plays,' and they basically said, 'Come on, don't pull our leg. You can write whether there's a plague or not. We want our money back.' And it went to trial, and attached to the trial transcript was his contract. And his contract read (that) he was exclusive for a year; he had to write three plays; he had to be available for re-writes on other plays the company owned; he had to be available to do prologues and epilogues on other plays the theater owned; he had to be available to do songs and jokes and additional material for other plays the theater owned -- and I showed it to my wife and I said 'I signed this contract with Disney last year.' "
-- Screenwriter/Producer Marc Norman,
"(Director John Madden) actually was someone I was dying to work with -- I was sort of thinking maybe I'd get a crack at (playing) Shakespeare, you know. But, uh, it was not to be. He just phoned me up and said 'Well, what about (playing) Wessex?' And I said, 'Er, he's kind of the pain-in-the-ass guy, right?' And John said "No, no, no-no-no -- he's actually the most interesting character in the film. He's what it's all about. The entire thing really revolves around Wessex, and everything else will just fall away by comparison.' So, um... I went for it."
-- Colin Firth,
Quotable: "I don't want to retire on my knees. I've been retiring now every year for 15 years, so at some point you gotta make it stick or people won't believe you. I'd love to do one really memorable film to go out on.... I'm at that age when you really start thinking about what the end is going to be like and how gracefully you're gonna do that. If I would have to say I was preoccupied with anything, it would be that -- just wondering how graceful that exit is gonna be."
-- Paul Newman, in a recent appearance on The Late
"Pigs are sensitive, intelligent animals. Please do your part. Stop eating pigs"
-- Actor James Cromwell, star of Babe, in a
"It's a slow-motion shot of my head being blown off in front of Matthew McConaughey. The ratings board for PG-13 said that it had to go. It's unfortunate."
-- Jon Bon Jovi, one of the stars of the forthcoming
See ya Monday.
Wednesday, 19 April 2000
Mailbag: Let's kick off the weekly reader mail segment here at The DVD Journal with a follow-up to one of last week's topics, Disney's Song of the South, which has never been available on home video in America:
Thanks for the roundup, gang. We were a little surprised by the large response our comments on Song of the South generated last week, and it clearly is a very, very popular film with a lot of people, despite being such a home-video rarity. So for those of you who want a good quality edition that should last a lifetime, it appears that the Japanese laser is the best way to go (and eBay is the most likely source for the item). But there still is that VHS edition from the UK, which only went out of print last year, and it can be converted from the PAL video format to the North American NTSC. If the laser is trading for as high as $400.00, the UK tape currently closes much closer to the $100.00 mark. Regrettably, these look like the only two viable options for any of us getting our hands on a genuine Song of the South on home video, as Disney obviously has no plans to release a DVD or anything else, and not in any region (we suspect that the UK tape went out of print precisely because, in the wake of globalization, it simply is much easier for Americans to obtain, and Americans are the ones most likely to be offended by its "racist" content). Friends who have videotapes or lasers should be lavished with gifts and cold six-packs if it means getting a prized copy -- and don't forget to set that VHS tape to SP mode when recording.
Here's our definite answer -- it depends. Since DVD-ROM drives are also DVD Video devices, they ship from the manufacturers as region-coded hardware, just like DVD Video consoles, and the software you use to play back DVDs on your computer checks to see if the DVD you are playing complies with your drive's settings. However, this unwavering restriction only applied to early DVD-ROM drives, as a newer standard (called RPC Phase II) can allow the user to reset the region code of the device, but normally only five times and that's it. It also appears that the RCP Phase II drives are not able to be set as "code-free" (Region 0), so the feature has its limitations. That's all our paranoid lawyers will let us print here, but some time on a search engine will probably produce additional information for you.
In addition to that pesky region-coding, DVD-ROM drives have additional copy-protection technologies, such as Macrovision and the Content Scrambling System, the encryption technology that is designed to prevent DVDs from playing on unauthorized players -- which the now-famous DeCSS hackers subverted last year in order to play DVDs on the Linux operating system (Linux did not have any DVD Video software support at the time). In most regards, DVD-ROM drives behave just like standard DVD players -- and there's no doubt that the major studios intend to keep it that way.
Top of the Pops: Here's the top-selling DVDs last week from our friends at Reel.com. Click the links to read our reviews of these discs:
Tuesday, 18 April 2000
PlayStation2 -- Day Two: After the late Sunday night announcement (or early Monday, depending on where you are) that the Japanese government had imposed trade restrictions on Sony's new DVD-ready PlayStation2 gaming console (see yesterday's update), word has now come through that the export controls will not affect shipments of the popular deck to either North America or Europe. In fact, according to Sony (who would really like to downplay this, it seems), they knew all along that the high-tech gadget would have to clear Japanese government trade law -- in particular, some video-processing technology that can be used in military applications -- and that the PS2 was created with these trade realities in mind. "We need PlayStation2 to remain competitive for the next five years," a Sony official told Reuters, "and given the rapid developments in technology, we could not afford to compromise." However, while America and Europe are good to go (Sony says they have already obtained permission to export four million units to the States this fall), there likely are other countries that will not get the console in its current form.
On the Street: After last week's Academy-Award nominee The Insider hit the street, another Oscar notable is on the shelves this morning, Fox's Boys Don't Cry, starring Hilary Swank. But MGM has really caught our attention today with a trio of popular musicals -- Guys and Dolls, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying. Those of you looking for family fare may have a hard time choosing between Columbia TriStar's Stuart Little: Special Edition (in both widescreen and full-frame editions) and Disney's feature-packed Tarzan: Collector's Edition. Meanwhile, classics buffs can seek out Columbia's new disc of the 1955 Picnic, and you Twilight Zone collectors have two more DVDs to pick up this week. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of Reel.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 17 April 2000
PlayStation2 smackdown!: Been saving up for that new DVD-ready PlayStation2 console when it hits North America this fall? Hang on. Despite being the best-selling DVD player in history in just a few short weeks (with well more than one million units sold in Japan), the series of small technical problems that have plagued the PlayStation2 since its March launch have now turned into one big one -- the Japanese government has slapped export controls on the console, claiming that advanced technologies in the deck -- particularly graphics-processing capabilities -- could allow it to perform certain military applications, including launching Tomahawk missiles. If that sounds silly (and how can it not?), bear in mind that the high-level encryption technology used in Circuit City's now-defunct Divx system was only allowed to be sold in the U.S., which meant that -- whatever threat Divx may have represented to the standard DVD format -- the format, as it stood, could never have been marketed in Canada, Europe, or elsewhere. These sort of laws are not uncommon when it comes to high technology, although they may start to hamper consumer products as they become more and more sophisticated, and at increasingly cheaper prices. Indeed, a Sony spokesperson reportedly told a Japanese newspaper late last week that "Our efforts to produce a game console of the highest quality have resulted in legal restrictions, (but) we could not compromise because of the fierce competition in the industry." The "fierce competition" he speaks of are Nintendo, Sega, and Microsoft's new X-Box, all of which are nipping at the heels of the market-leading Sony. Without overseas sales, the also-rans in the home-gaming industry could wind up having Sony for lunch.
At last check, Sony was planning to ship four million PlayStation2 units to North America. As the export restrictions have not been completely clarified, it's hard to say if Sony will be able to swing a compromise with the Japanese government, if they will ship a modified PlayStation2, or if they will find some sort of unexpected work-around. We're expecting further developments in the coming days and weeks. Stay tuned.
Disc of the Week: Three Kings is not your father's war film. While generations of Americans have grown up with the conventional war flick genre (in the theater or on home-video), writer-director David O. Russell's 1999 Three Kings pays homage to his predecessors while fashioning something very, very original -- and entirely appropriate, as the 1990-91 Gulf War was vastly unlike any other military operation in U.S. history. Both World War I and World War II were fundamentally about national racism, while the Korean and Vietnam wars were an extension of the Truman Doctrine (and 'Nam effectively buried that foreign policy), but if these wars had economic implications, the Gulf War was about nothing but economics: a large, impoverished Arab state invading a small, wealthy one, and the inevitable rejoinder from the industrialized Western countries, who regarded Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, and his apparent attempt to control the international flow of oil, as a direct threat to their oil-dependent economies. Carefully media-managed by the U.S. government and cloaked by a thin veneer of human-rights issues, the "Nintendo war" was over before it started (the ground war only lasted 100 hours), and the mopping up was all but forgotten by the cable news organizations and the American public.
But the mopping up is where Three Kings happens, as four cynical U.S. Army soldiers (George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube, Spike Jonze), who all have their beefs with the Army brass, discover a map that could lead them to stolen Kuwaiti gold bullion -- gold that, under the cease-fire agreement, is the property of Kuwait and subject to seizure by U.S. forces. Taking to the road in a Humvee, the reckless foursome ponder what they could do with millions of dollars in war booty, but their rogue mission is soon sidetracked by Iraqi soldiers, rebels, and civilians, who are engaged in a low-grade power struggle in the war's devastating aftermath, forcing the group to decide what is more important: plundering a demilitarized zone, or using what little power they have to help those who have suffered the most under Hussein's jackboot.
For war-film fans, Three Kings is valuable viewing, particularly since it is the only serious movie to address the nature of the Gulf War, and Russell includes many conventional war elements in the two-hour running time (close-quarter combat, a helicopter attack, a mission to rescue a captured comrade, the mournful loss of a fellow soldier on foreign soil). But he also couches these sequences in the unique context of wartime Iraq, where Hussein's Republican Guard hoards expensive automobiles, watches, jewelry, cell phones, and other items for their imposing leader -- valuables that the Kuwaitis want back, and that this handful of U.S. soldiers is not above stealing. Meanwhile, the Iraqi citizens they meet are not zealots, nor do they love Saddam. An imprisoned Iraqi dissident rescued by the soldiers is a hotelier who complains that Saddam has completely wrecked his business interests (where have we heard this before?), while two other Iraqis are barbers who want nothing more than to make a peaceful living cutting hair. Everything comes down to money, and as he's working in such a contemporary milieu, Russell lends so much filmmaking bravado to the mix that Three Kings borders on the avant garde, with hyperkinetic editing, free-flowing cameras, overexposed film for exterior scenes (shot in Arizona), brutal violence, a pitch-black sense of humor, and a muddled mess of ethics that never completely absolves the Americans, despite a questionable conclusion that threatens to oversimplify a gloriously complicated script.
Warner's new Three Kings DVD is a great item, and it's solid value for the money, with a crisp widescreen anamorphic transfer and a blistering DD 5.1 track that keeps the speakers working overtime. Supplements include two commentary tracks (one with Russell, the other with producers Chuck Roven and Ed McDonnell); the 20-minute behind-the-scenes documentary "Under the Bunker: On The Set of Three Kings"; deleted scenes with commentary by Russell; interviews with Ice Cube and director of photography Tom Sigel; hidden features (including a tour of the Iraqi village set and some special photography by actor Jonze, director of Being John Malkovich); and DVD-ROM content. Give this one a spin if you haven't yet.
"Menace" reports: We're the hardest working DVD site on the Web. Well, maybe not. But we work pretty hard to keep Star Wars DVD stuff off the front page, since there are so many great films coming out every week on DVD that endlessly talking about nothing but Star Wars might cause your humble editor to lock himself in the men's room and, eyes glazed over, wonder just how much aspirin and beer a guy could ingest and still survive. That said, The Digital Bits reported late last week that a new DVD of The Phantom Menace could be on the way after all, despite statements to the contrary from Lucasfilm. In addition to an interview that George Lucas gave on L.A.-based radio station KROQ, where he apparently indicated that production on a Menace DVD is now underway, the Bits also notes that some of their inside sources are claiming that Menace materials are already in a DVD authoring facility. And, just to be clear, this has been posted on the Bits' well-known "Rumor Mill", with the emphasis on rumor.
Didn't somebody in the office recently have some of that prescription-strength Tylenol?
Box Office: When Sandra Bullock, Hollywood's favorite girl next door, opens a new film, more often than not it debuts in the top position. But her new rehab dramedy, 28 Days, didn't have enough muscle to get Paramount's Rules of Engagement (starring Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson) out of first place over the weekend. Rules reaped $10.9 million for first place, and for the second week in a row. At $10.4 million, Sony's 28 Days was slightly behind, but it still was the best debut over the three-day period, as Buena Vista's Keeping the Faith, with Edward Norton and Ben Stiller (and directed by Norton), earned $8.2 million for third, and USA's Where The Money Is, starring the not-yet-retired Paul Newman, earned $2.7 million and didn't crack the top ten. The much-hyped, much-discussed American Psycho, which has taken a few trips through the editing bay in order to get an R rating, only earned $4.9 million for its debut, despite opening in fairly wide release (and the critics definitely are split over this one). Still hanging on in continuing release are Paramount's Erin Brockovich ($7 million), which will certainly crack the century mark today or tomorrow, DreamWorks' The Road to El Dorado ($6.2 million), and MGM's Return to Me ($5.25 million). However, it looks like Warner's pro-wrestling comedy Ready to Rumble got hit over the head with a folding metal chair last weekend, falling out of the top ten in its second week with $2.6 million. And Buena Vista's High Fidelity, starring John Cusack, is starting to slip after three weeks in release and just $16.9 million in overall grosses, despite many positive reviews.
Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Greg Dorr has posted a new full review of Fox's Boys Don't Cry, while Joe Barlow is on the board this morning with Columbia TriStar's Stuart Little: Special Edition. Both can be found on our Full Reviews index (and both hit the street tomorrow). New quick reviews this week from the staff include The Insider, Three Kings, End of Days: Collector's Edition, For Love of the Game, and Picnic, and can be accessed on the Quick Reviews index. Everything has been added under the New Reviews menu here on the main page as well.
We'll be back tomorrow to let you know about this week's street discs.
Thursday, 13 April 2000
On the Block: Warner will be re-releasing their out-of-print Little Shop of Horrors on May 23, but that alternate ending on the original disc (which won't be on the forthcoming edition) is still a strong draw at eBay, as the DVD had the second highest closing price over the past few weeks at $227.50. Only Criterion's ultra-hard-to-find Salo kept it out of the top spot, but it doesn't look like that disc will re-appear anytime soon, as is the case with almost all top-traders. Meanwhile, Criterion's The Killer and This Is Spinal Tap are still doing $200.00-plus business, and the recently OOP Samurai I from Criterion is building momentum, breaking into the $100.00 club for the first time. Other DVDs that can cost you a crisp new Benjamin or more include Kalifornia, Platoon, and Army of Darkness: Limited Edition. With a top closing price of $78.59, Criterion's Hard Boiled is a bargain by comparison. Of note, while the Region 2 Eyes Wide Shut was trading above the $120.00 mark just a few weeks ago, it's now losing ground with a highest recent close of $66.00.
Here's the top recent closing prices of rare and out-of-print DVDs from online auctions at eBay:
Commentary Clips: "When the picture was shown at the (National) Press Club -- my mother told me this -- after the Press Club screening, which was a disaster -- they booed, people walked out, all of this stuff happened -- they told my mother and father that they had to be at the dinner afterwards anyway, because they had all planned about it, and my father said, 'Well are you sure you want me there?' and it was 'Yes, yes, yes.' So they went there, and they were sitting there, and of course there's a lot of the press club people, and a guy comes over, very drunk, holding a drink in his hand, and he starts berating my dad, saying 'Ahhh... you Hollywood people portray all of us as... we drink to much... just a terrible thing' and as he was in the middle of this diatribe he just pitches forward and falls on the table, flat, the drink goes everywhere, and everybody rushes over and pulls him away and carries him out. (laughs) The Press Club can take a little friendly jibing in the ribs with this picture, but you know the picture has gone on to have a long, long life, and have a great many fans, and I think today we look at it and we don't see it as an attack on the press or as an attack on the Senate or as an attack on government at all. We see it as an affirmation of my father's strong beliefs in all of that."
-- Frank Capra Jr.,
"This mansion, which was a set, built at Columbia, the Deeds house -- today maybe you'd shoot in a real home, but at that time equipment was much heavier, much less portable. It was far easier to actually build this whole house out on the Columbia Ranch, which is out in Burbank. There was some landscaping and everything was a little street with some houses on it, and when they needed a house for another picture they'd just build a house, and it would just stay there the whole time. (The Deeds mansion) is probably still there. It was built specifically for this film, but then it would be used by many, many other films, with small changes and little differences."
-- Frank Capra Jr.,
Quotable: "VHS is alive and well, despite reports from others to the contrary."
-- Fox spokesman Steve Feldstein, after 10 million
Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including The Insider, Three Kings, and lots more. And if you haven't entered our monthly free DVD contest for your chance to win a copy of The Birds: Collector's Edition, be sure to visit our contest page if you get the chance, and don't forget to take our monthly DVD poll while you're there.
Have a great weekend, gang.
Wednesday, 12 April 2000
The truth is in here: The DVD Fairy (that would be the Airborne Express guy) showed up at the office yesterday with a couple of check-discs from Fox's upcoming release of The X-Files first season, which will be a massive seven-DVD set. It was only a matter of moments before the staff gave 'em a spin (these babies are so fresh off the replicator that they just came in blank CD jewel-boxes and aren't even stamped), and while we'll post a write-up of the entire box closer to the May 9 release, we can tell you that the series contains short segments with X-Files creator Chris Carter, who discusses each episode individually; deleted scenes (which are also available "on the fly"); 10- and 20-second TV spots for each episode; all of those 60-second "Behind the Truth" spots that ran on F/X when the show went into syndication a while back; and some DVD-ROM stuff we haven't looked at yet. You X-Files die-hards will want to pre-order. At nearly $150.00 SRP, that 40% online discount at Reel.com and some other online retailers starts to add up.
Now if only your humble editor could get everybody out of the screening room and back to work....
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 a few reader queries from this past week:
Yes, you do Evan, but in some ways it's a zero-sum game. For example, Sony's CineMaster DVD software (which we have on a VAIO 308DS that's running Windows 98SE) allows the user to select between 4:3 or 16:9, and at 16:9 the entire anamorphic image is used. When the actual size of the viewing window is set at the "default" size (filling perhaps one-quarter to one-half of the monitor, with the desktop visible in the background), the actual shape of the window adjusts to a widescreen ratio, conforming to the size of the anamorphic image, and this makes the "default" size a little larger. It also removes the black bars. However, when the viewing window is set at "full-screen" or "cinema mode," both of which utilize the entire monitor, it appears that the anamorphic image is once again down-converted to 4:3, since the user is effectively asking the software to play on the entire 4:3 monitor. While there is a distinction in the smaller viewing window, we really don't see a great deal of benefit -- after all, why sit at your desk and watch an anamorphic DVD when the image is just a few inches across anyway? Perhaps the best use of the 16:9 feature available on most DVD software is that it can allow you to quickly confirm if a DVD is anamorphic. In fact, one of our readers recently noted to us that the DVD software on his laptop actually auto-detects the anamorphic image in a standard window, and as he often watches DVDs on airplanes, the feature eliminates a lot of guesswork.
Regrettably, Disney's 1946 Song of the South is one of the granddaddies of MIA DVDs, and home video in general. Never released on VHS in North America, if you want to own a genuine Song of the South on videotape, the best route is to get one of the out-of-print UK editions (currently available on eBay for big, big money) and then convert the tape from the British PAL format to our own NTSC. Genuine NTSC versions of Song of the South from Asia may exist, but it's just as likely that the few on eBay are in fact bootlegs. However, we have heard of an NTSC Japanese laserdisc that, while hard-to-find, probably is authentic. And with a torturous scenario like this, we can forget about an authorized DVD coming from The Mouse House. Disney officially announced way back in 1970 that the film was "retired," and even though it returned to theaters in 1986 for a "40th Anniversary" run, it has never been on home video in the States on any format.
Why no Song of the South? Er -- according to various pundits and groups, it's racist, offering a saccharine view of post-Civil War America as the tales of Uncle Remus and Brer Rabbit (both performed by James Baskett) and their young companions unfold. Based on the "Uncle Remus" stories of southerner Joel Chandler Harris, who drew from his relationships with former slaves after the Civil War, some folks have accused the film of making slavery seem pleasant and enjoyable -- despite the fact that the story takes place after abolition. And in our current hyper-sensitive era, it appears that Disney would just rather avoid any controversy and forget about what home-video profits they could make from the film. Never mind that, for many of those old enough to have seen it and remember it, Song of the South holds a special place in their childhood memories. As it stands, political and social pressures have ensured that Song of the South probably will never appear on home video in North America, and with the UK tape going out of print last year, the film effectively has been buried -- possibly forever.
Truth be told, we have no VHS copy of The Phantom Menace handy (we're not about to fork over $30 for a widescreen tape of anything), so we have yet to get a look at the packaging. However, you are correct -- there is no such thing as Dolby Digital on VHS, since DD uses up to six channels of discrete audio, and VHS was never designed to have more than two. Home cinema buffs know that we still can get surround sound from a VHS, but this is because Dolby's "Pro Logic" system (the precursor to Dolby Digital) is in fact a two-channel analog signal that contains four matrixed channels of audio information. When a VHS tape with a Pro Logic track is played through a home-theater amp that has a Pro Logic chip, the sound "unfolds" into a left, right, center, and mono surround channel that's played across the back speakers. A subwoofer can be added to interpret "passive" low-frequency information, but only digital systems like DD and DTS have active subwoofer tracks (viz., the .1 in a 5.1 configuration).
Top of the Pops: Here's the top-selling DVDs last week from our friends at Reel.com. Click the links to read our reviews of these discs:
Time to take those X-Files discs away from the staff. See ya tomorrow.
Tuesday, 11 April 2000
On the Street: Two great movies are on the street this morning, Warner's Three Kings and Buena Vista's The Insider, and it will be interesting to see how they rank on next week's sales charts. New Line's excellent Tumbleweeds, starring Janet McTeer, has also arrived, while Star Trek fans can pick up the latest in the Paramount film series, Star Trek III: The Search For Spock. All of the above are on our viewing schedule, but we'll also be looking forward to spinning Image's latest Chaplin release, the 1940 masterpiece The Great Dictator. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of Reel.com and Image Entertainment:
Monday, 10 April 2000
The "Sense" ascension: In addition to all of the accolades, box-office bucks, and Oscar nominations that M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense has garnered over the past several months, the film now has a new title -- home-video juggernaut. DVD sales have been astounding (Buena Vista shipped 2.2 million units, and it looks like Sense will replace The Matrix as the top-selling DVD of all time), and the VHS numbers have been equally strong, with $22.6 million in rentals over the first five days. And while Sense won't be available for retail prices on VHS for several months, the DVD has turned out a winner with little more than some common-sense marketing -- add extras and sell the item at a reasonable price. Everybody in the DVD industry certainly remembers last year's Matrix vs. Titanic battle, where many pundits predicted that the Cameron disaster flick would triumph on DVD, despite the fact that it had a $29.99 SRP and no extras. It was only a few weeks later that Warner's Matrix arrived, five bucks cheaper and packed with supplements. In a matter of weeks The Matrix outstripped Titanic, and everybody went back to their drawing boards. It looks like Buena Vista, with the first bonafide post-Matrix blockbuster, wasn't about to fall into the Titanic trap. For $25 or less, The Sixth Sense DVD includes a generous amount of video supplements, including a storyboard-to-film comparison and four deleted scenes. As it now stands, one out of every two Americans who own a VCR or DVD player either rented or bought Sense last week. We expect the rest of the studios to take notes.
However, don't think that a little movie called The Phantom Menace was overlooked by consumers during the past six days. While DVD fans were plunking down their hard-earned cash for a digital copy of The Sixth Sense, an estimated 10 million copies of Menace on VHS sold through to consumers, with a jaw-dropping $200 million haul for Lucasfilm and Fox. Industry estimates put the final Menace tally on VHS to be around $350 million, which can be added to the film's $920 million (and counting) worldwide theatrical gross. The Star Wars prequel is not available on DVD, nor will it be until around 2006, according to George Lucas. And if you didn't know that already, congratulations on purchasing your first DVD player!
Disc of the Week: Before Janet McTeer snared the attention of American film critics with the Sundance-winning 1999 Tumbleweeds -- and her subsequent Golden Globe statuette for best actress -- her previous claim to fame was a hard-won Tony award as Nora in a production of Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House. The English-born actress had also built a substantial reputation in several British television productions, but such was hardly training ground for her role in Tumbleweeds as Mary Jo Walker, a Southern mother of one who skips from marriage to marriage, abandoning each one when the relationship turns sour and hitting the road with her young daughter Eva (Kimberly J. Brown) in search of a new town and another man. Overlooked by the 1999 Academy Awards (who were so simple-minded that they nominated Meryl Streep, yet again), McTeer's dreamy, optimistic performance in Tumbleweeds sustains virtually every scene, bolstered by smart direction from Gavin O'Connor, who co-wrote with Angela Shelton. Starting brilliantly en medias res in North Carolina, a histrionic screaming match between Mary Jo and her fourth husband cause her to pack her things, Eva in tow, and hit the road without any thought of where they are headed or even where they will sleep that night. After a few detours, Eva convinces Mary Jo that they should live in California, and before long they reach the shores of the Pacific, which holds the promise of a new life and new possibilities. Eva loves the climate and her new school, but it isn't long before Mary Jo hooks up with yet another man, truck-driving Jack Ranson (director O'Connor). While she is enraptured by the novelty of a fresh romance with the blue-collar hunk, Eva immediately recognizes that her mother is falling yet again into the same sort of trap that has kept them on the road for years, and before long she latches on to one of Mary Jo's co-workers, Dan Miller (Jay O. Sanders), a soft-spoken, educated widower who serves as a father figure while her mother's latest live-in relationship deteriorates into yet another passive-aggressive power struggle.
McTeer garnered plaudits all around for her performance in Tumbleweeds, and if some of them went awry by marveling how a noted British actress could do such a spot-on Dixie accent (note to pundits: most of them can), her ability to elevate Mary Jo from a boozy head-case to a sympathetic, intricate character, with irrational yet common motivations, cannot be denied. Virtually every decision Mary Jo makes is the wrong one, and her impulsive, self-centered nature would be alienating in the hands of the wrong actress, or the wrong director. But McTeer effectively illustrates the dilemma of women everywhere who seek validation from men and marriage, and what limits they will endure in exchange for a tenuous perception of security. In addition, Brown as the young Eva is an actress wise beyond her years (as is her character), paradoxically playing off her free-spirited mom, reproving her choices at every turn and recognizing the cyclical, self-destructive patterns that Mary Jo can't -- or won't -- see. And yet, in a group of strong performances, O'Connor comes up with a scene-stealer here, and it's remarkable to see a writer/director willing to play the heavy. As Jack, O'Connor plays back and forth between a charming, stable provider and a guy who needs a course in anger-management -- rather than being villainous, the role is cast in several shades of gray, and he inhabits it thoughtfully, and skillfully, while still taking on director's duties.
The new DVD edition of Tumbleweeds from New Line offers a good transfer and audio in the original Dolby Surround 2.0. Features include a reflective commentary track by O'Connor (where he discusses, among other things, how the story is based on his co-writer -- and ex-wife -- Shelton's childhood), a trailer, and cast filmographies. Tumbleweeds is on the street tomorrow morning.
Box Office: After nearly a month on top of the box-office heap, Universal's mega-smash Erin Brockovich was dethroned over the weekend, replaced in the top spot by Paramount's Rules of Engagement -- starring Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson -- which raked in $15.3 million over the weekend, compared to Brockovich's $10.1 million. Surprisingly, DreamWorks' The Road to El Dorado, which failed to unseat Brockovich last weekend, still had a strong showing in its second week, pulling $8.9 million for third. Several debuts arrived over the weekend, but besides Rules of Engagement none had much impact. MGM's romantic comedy Return to Me, starring David Duchovny and Minnie Driver, grabbed an even $8 million, but that was only good enough for fourth, Warner's wrestling spoof Ready to Rumble earned $5.6 million for sixth, and Columbia TriStar's hip-hop flick Black and White barely registered on the rank-o-meter with just $2.3 million over the three-day period. In the meantime, Buena Vista's wannabe blockbuster Mission to Mars has now tumbled out of the top ten after a mere five weeks and a modest $57.1 million overall gross -- we can expect a DVD announcement before much longer, and we're betting Disney will pack this one with extras in order to boost home-video sales for what by all accounts was a disappointing film. But don't feel bad for The Mouse -- Fantasia 2000, which is still playing in IMAX theaters across America, has now passed the $40 million mark after 15 weeks in release, and that's $40 million earned from just 54 screens. Before it hits the cineplexes this summer, F2K could have a $60 million or more head start over the competition, and it's very possible that it will wind up the highest grossing film of 2000 -- we don't think $300 million is out of the question.
Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: A new full review has been posted for Buena Vista's The Color of Money, which can be found on our Full Reviews index. New quick reviews this week include Diner, Tumbleweeds, Il Postino: Collector's Series, U2: Rattle and Hum, Diplomatic Siege, Hot Boyz, and Warner's recent re-issue of The Wizard of Oz. 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.
Thursday, 6 April 2000
Want a cheap DVD player?: Eisa, a Dallas-based Internet service provider, is betting a lot of you do -- and they're willing to give consumers a new Neo iDVD player for less than a hundred bucks and a few strings attached. The Neo iDVD does double-duty, playing DVD movies and also acting as a Web interface, a la WebTV -- but while the ISP will hand it over for a cool $99, you'll also have to buy two years of 'Net access from them at $23.99 per month. In Eisa's favor, DVD currently is about as popular with Americans as Viagra, and their DVD/Web offer is sure to be an attention-getter. However, many pundits have noted soberly that most folks would rather surf on their PCs and not their Trinitrons, and the Neo iDVD could face some stiff living-room competition from the next generation of DVD-based gaming consoles over the next year or two. In particular, Sega is planning to offer consumers free Dreamcast decks this fall if they buy two years of 'Net access via SegaNet. If it's convergence, a lot of vendors are about to converge on a very small pie.
Thrust, parry, etc.: Just one day after lawyers representing more than 70 alleged DeCSS posters appealed a restraining order in a pending California court case (see yesterday's update), the Motion Picture Association of America says that a restraining order in a similar DeCSS case in New York needs a new coat of varnish. Eric Corley, a.k.a. "Emmanuel Goldstein," who operates 2600 Enterprises, was one of three defendants who were ordered last January to remove the DeCSS code from their websites (the other two defendants recently settled the case). However, the MPAA contends that Corley has since asked more than 300 other websites to post the rogue code, and he allegedly has posted links to those sites from his own. "(Corley) seems determined to evade the Court's order," MPAA President Jack Valenti said yesterday in a statement. "He is transporting individuals electronically to locations in order to facilitate the illegal copying of DVDs." The statement also notes that the motion picture industry loses approximately $2.5 billion per year to video piracy.
While the MPAA has filed a motion to expand the current restraining order, prohibiting both posting and hyperlinking, the New York case trudges on. Expected trial date? December 2000.
Quotable: "We did not send DiCaprio to interview the president. No one is that stupid... all roles of journalist must be played by journalists (duh!)."
-- ABC News chief David Westin, after members of the
"Computer codes are not protected speech when one has a legitimate interest in protecting one's product. (The DeCSS distributors) found the key to our code. It's like going into a bank and yelling out the vault code for everyone to steal rampantly."
-- Mark Litvack, a legal affairs executive for the
"The only thing I consider appalling would be to suddenly become a vegetable and a burden on other people. A soul slowly dying out, trapped in a body in which the insides gradually sabotage me, that I think would be terrifying. But there are possibilities, you can actually decide for yourself whether you want to go on living and I hope I have enough presence of mind to make that decision.... (Suicide) would be a completely natural end. I hope I will have enough sense left to have the capacity and opportunity to plan and organize it."
-- Ingmar Bergman, 81, in a rare interview earlier
"We thought it was going to be an actor-y kind of boot camp, where they teach you to salute. It wasn't quite that. It was more like the first 20 minutes of Full Metal Jacket.... I don't think I (had) scrubbed a urinal in my entire life."
-- Ben Affleck, after spending four days in a U.S.
Coming Attractions: We're off to the screening room to dig into the stack for a new round of DVD reviews, and we'll back on Monday with the latest write-ups, the box-office report, and whatever else is fit to print. We'll see ya then, gang.
Wednesday, 5 April 2000
DeCSS lawyers appeal: They've been knocked around, but don't count them out yet. The Electronic Freedom Foundation, which is defending more than 70 individuals accused of distributing DeCSS -- a European hack that disables DVD security features -- has filed an appeal after a California judge issued a preliminary injunction against the various websites and their operators. While the injunction meant that everybody had to dump DeCSS from their webspace or face contempt-of-court charges, a final ruling on the DeCSS suit -- brought by a legal wing of the Motion Picture Association of America -- is still far down the road. But even the preliminary ruling didn't sit well with the EFF, who see the California DeCSS suit (and a similar one in New York) as a free-speech case, and not one about video piracy.
"The battleground over the First Amendment is now in cyberspace," Jim Wheaton, senior counsel for The First Amendment Project, a public-interest law firm, noted in a statement earlier this week. "Old media is lumbering into the new era and wants to knock down our civil liberties in a clumsy attempt to maintain the old paradigm." (Wheaton is assisting the EFF in the case).
While the MPAA is betting that the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which prohibits the electronic hacking of copyrighted material, will sustain their case, the EFF claims that there are provisions in the DMCA that allow for reverse-engineering, and that DeCSS is nothing more than a legal dismantling of the Content Scrambling System of the DVD format, which is designed to only allow DVDs to play on authorized players. Right now, the case looks like a toss-up. In the MPAA's corner is DivX, a new and clearly illegal method of distributing ultra-compressed DVD movies over the Internet. Since variants of DeCSS are used in the piracy process, the MPAA's lawyers likely will decry the hack for all it's worth. However, just yesterday the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in an unrelated case that computer code is in fact protected by the First Amendment as expressive communication -- a ruling that could have wide-ranging implications, both in the DeCSS lawsuits and in a variety of other legal arenas. As it now appears that the EFF will shield their clients with a First Amendment defense, it means that these DVD civil suits on both coasts could become a precedent-making battleground between Constitutional provisions for free speech and long-standing U.S. copyright laws. No trial dates have been set for either case, but when they happen they certainly will capture the attention of more than just us DVD fans.
"Eyes" wide open: Er, don't blame us -- we just go where the news is. If you're really dying to get a look at the difference between the Region 1 and Region 2 DVD editions of Eyes Wide Shut, a Norwegian website has posted a handy comparison of a few shots. And yes, this link contains pictures of naked people boffing like rodents on a sugar-high. If that's gonna bother you, we'll see ya tomorrow. Otherwise... click here.
Tuesday, 4 April 2000
Oscar winners, now and later: We'd like to stop talking about the Oscars, but the DVD Entertainment Group has been nice enough to post a release on all of the winners and their current or future availability on disc. Most of the information has already been reported on this very page, so we won't rehash it, but you can click here for the details. The DEG has noted that American Beauty and The Cider House Rules are expected sometime in the third quarter of this year (we could have told you that with nothing more than a Magic 8-Ball), but the item is worth skimming if you'd like to refresh your memory on all of the other winners and nominees.
On the Street: Warner has two much-anticipated comedies in the shops this morning, Caddyshack: 20th Anniversary Edition and Barry Levinson's Diner, while Universal has released Sam Raimi's For Love of the Game. The "Gold" animated titles from Disney continue today with their release of The Aristocats, the first ever on DVD (unlike the previous Gold discs of Mulan and Pinocchio). Notables from Columbia TriStar include Luc Besson's The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc and the 1973 musical Godspell. And also on the musical front is a new DVD of the 1995 Broadway production of Victor/Victoria, starring Julie Andrews and Tony Roberts. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of Reel.com and Image Entertainment:
And, for those of you planning to grit your teeth and fork over the money, Episode 1: The Phantom Menace is on the street this morning -- on VHS. But you'll still get to pay a DVD price for the widescreen tape.
Monday, 3 April 2000
And the winner is: Martin L. Knott of Ann Arbor, Mich., wins the free DVD of The Prince of Egypt: Signature Selection from our March contest. Congrats, Martin!
Our Free DVD Contest for the month of April is up and running, and we have a copy of Universal's The Birds: Collector's Edition up for grabs. Be sure to drop by our contest page to send us your entry, and don't forget to take our monthly DVD poll while you're there.
Disc of the Week: M. Night Shyamalan's third feature film, The Sixth Sense was such a box-office sensation during the second half of 1999 that only George Lucas' The Phantom Menace (which, it appears, every American was required by law to see) kept it from being the top-grossing film of the year. As if that mattered. The Phantom Menace was the biggest-hyped film in history before its May '99 release, with blanket coverage in newspapers, on the Internet, and especially on entertainment oriented TV "news" programs. The normally reclusive George Lucas would sit for an interview with anybody -- he probably did a few late-night stretches on public-access cable in Marin County -- and the fact that Menace won the box-office crown was about as surprising as the fact that Lucas still can't write dialogue. Compared to such a juggernaut, The Sixth Sense was the year's overachiever. It was promoted as much as any other film starring Bruce Willis, but Hollywood Pictures didn't expect it to open higher than third over its first weekend. But, largely because of good word-of-mouth and a final plot twist that made everybody see the film at least twice, The Sixth Sense made more money than such recent blockbusters as Armageddon, Men in Black, Saving Private Ryan, and Toy Story 2 (at last check, it had passed the $290 million mark). And all from some young director from Philadelphia who didn't try to make box-office history, but instead just wanted to make a creepy little movie about a kid who sees dead people.
Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment), a young boy who lives with his mom (Toni Collette) in Philly, is a defensive, oddly withdrawn youth who doesn't fit in at school and makes up enigmatic stories about toy soldiers. While his mother and his teachers can't seem to reach him, Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Willis), a child psychologist, is determined to make some progress with the boy, and largely because of recent turmoil in his own life. Shot by a former patient who broke into his home several months earlier, Crowe's marriage to his wife Anna (Olivia Williams) has all but disintegrated, and he has lost interest in his practice. But little Cole -- who speaks about pain in the way an adult would rather than a small boy -- reveals his "secret" to Crowe: He sees dead people, walking around, unaware that they are dead. Even worse, these undead phantasms try to get Cole to do things for them, things that Cole never understands, but which can resolve the ghosts' unfinished business on earth. Crowe has a hard time accepting Cole's extraordinary claims, but in his single-minded determination to help the child, he pursues the case, unaware of where it will lead him.
As a film often shoved (unfairly, and unceremoniously) into the "thriller" genre, The Sixth Sense triumphs above it, and mostly by understating virtually everything that's going on. While a supernatural flick in every regard, there are no special effects in the film -- nada. Everything is shot in a conventional manner, and Shyamalan wisely eschews splattering blood all over the place. The Exorcist it's not -- in fact, The Sixth Sense bears far more resemblance to Henry James' classic ghost story The Turn of the Screw, where children claim to see ghosts, but the tale is told from the point of view of an adult, and thus the claims can't be verified. By underplaying the big moments and keeping an eye on the smaller details, Shyamalan has crafted one of the finest ghost stories in recent memory, bolstered by the laconic Willis and haunted Osment, who isn't just gifted -- he's a child prodigy.
Buena Vista's new DVD edition of The Sixth Sense is a great collector's item with a good street price (however, it seems they're selling this one at a discount because they've added five trailers on the disc before the main menu loads -- hit your index button to skip 'em). Along with a solid anamorphic transfer (1.85:1), several video supplements are included, including a storyboard-to-film comparison of the restaurant scene, a look at the music and sound design, the relationship between the film and the audience, "rules and clues" that the filmmakers followed to keep the plot consistent, and four deleted scenes, including Shyamalan's original extended ending. An interview segment with Shyamalan is also on board, along with the normal cast and crew notes, a trailer, and two TV spots. Can't find the Easter egg? It's on the second page of special features, the small red book. Click it to see a "horror" film Shyamalan made when he was barely older than Osment.
Box Office: Teen movies, animated features, adult romantic comedies -- every genre was thrown at Universal's Erin Brockovich over the weekend, and they all came up short. For the third week in a row, the Julia Roberts legal flick held the top spot at the North American box office, with $14.2 million in receipts and an enormous $76.2 million over 17 days. DreamWorks' The Road to El Dorado, featuring the voices of Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branagh, probably had the best chance of dislodging Brockovich from the top spot, but a PG rating and mixed reviews held it at $12.5 million, a figure DreamWorks acknowledged to be "disappointing." However, Universal's The Skulls pulled a respectable $11.4 million for third place, a healthy opening for a teen horror flick. Buena Vista's thirtysomething comedy High Fidelity, starring John Cusack and Catherine Zeta-Jones, earned $6.4 million for fifth, but good word-of-mouth and positive reviews could sustain it with the over-25 crowd during the next few weeks (the film also had the highest per-screen gross over the weekend). Best Picture winner American Beauty got a nice bump after the Academy Awards, moving up a spot from last week with $5.8 million, but The Cider House Rules didn't get the same sort of respect -- after winning three Oscars, it fell out of the top ten. And Price of Glory, a new boxing movie starring Jimmy Smits, was sucker-punched with a $1.5 million debut that barely registered on the rank-o-meter. Meanwhile, The Ninth Gate and The Whole Nine Yards are headed for second-run theaters, so we could be getting DVD release news for these two before much longer. And in the limited-release category, Julien Temple's much-anticipated Sex Pistols documentary The Filth and the Fury, from Fine Line, played to sold-out crowds in New York last week, earning $18,000 since Wednesday on just one screen. It will be shown in Chicago and L.A. over the next few weeks before going wide on the indie circuit.
Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: A new full-length review has been posted for The Omega Code and can be found on our Full Reviews index. New quick reviews this week include The Sixth Sense: Collector's Edition, The Quiet Man, Crazy in Alabama: Special Edition, Love Is a Many Splendored Thing, The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc, Godspell, and Aftershock: Earthquake in New York, and can be accessed on the Quick Reviews index. 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.