Thursday, 29 June 2000
'Nanook' and the book: One of our DVD Journal readers dropped us a note yesterday wondering if Criterion's Nanook of the North included a booklet, since his copy came without one. Of course, our first instinct was simply to say that everything from Criterion comes with booklets, or inserts at least, but we didn't have a copy of Nanook here, so we threw the question out to you folks for a more definitive answer:
Thanks for your letters guys, and thanks to everybody else who wrote in. In addition to letting Jade know what he's missing, this has reminded us that we really should review this title before much longer.
Commentary Clips: "I hate using the word that it was a 'feminist' script I'm not sure what that means in a 1990s context but there certainly weren't many movies that had two such strong female leads, that was really about a feminist issue, somebody discovering who they were, being liberated, finding their own identity. I mean, the whole movie is about 'Who am I?' as this identity quest."
Director Susan Seidelman
"And now we pull out through this clogged pore in Edward (Norton)'s face. I remember the first time we showed him rough tests of this. He was like, 'My face is not that dirty!' I said, 'You know, this is all based on actual photographs of your skin.' "
Director David Fincher,
Quotable: "We won best picture Oscars for Braveheart and Titanic and a best actress Oscar this year for Boys Don't Cry. We had the most successful low-budget film of all time in The Full Monty. Whatever way you want to look at it, the achievement of this group of people of which I'm only one is amazing. It would seem to be a great run for the studio. Hopefully, I can go on and achieve the same kind of results but do it with more support and less acrimony."
Former Fox Filmed Entertainment CEO Bill
"When I first read the script (of The Patriot), Kosovo happened. You saw families leaving houses, packing up everything. People came into a village, shot everybody and burned down the whole village. It's not a thing that happened 200 years ago, it's still happening."
The Patriot director Roland Emmerich,
"When I made Elizabeth, a critic in New York said this is just an extension of Hindi films. That was the best compliment I've ever received."
Director Shekhar Kapur, speaking at the
"The Perfect Storm is a physical movie. This means you only get it right if the audience feels that you go through hell here, that you fight the elements and the elements are really there and the actor goes through hell with these elements.... In a film like that, the studio always braces for at least between $10 and $15 million over budget, because that's normally what happens with a film like that, especially with water films. We all know the Waterworld case or Titanic, and so on."
Director Wolfgang Petersen, who gladly
Coming Attractions: The mid-summer holiday break is upon us, and since the folks who run this website aren't completely heartless, the staff will be getting Monday and Tuesday off. But we will return next Wednesday with some new DVD reviews, including Independence Day: Special Edition, the Fourth of July box-office wrap-up, the winner of this month's totally free DVD contest, and a new contest and reader poll for the month of July.
Have fun and stay safe. See ya next week.
Wednesday, 28 June 2000
Fox animation studios boarded up: It was just six years ago that Fox, in a bid to take on Disney and try to grab a piece of the lucrative animated-feature market, opened a spiffy new animation studio in Phoenix, but after heavy box-office losses over the past year and some very disappointing returns for the current Titan A.E., the studio announced yesterday that their animation facility will be shutting its doors. And while the departure of Fox Filmed Entertainment CEO Bill Mechanic late last week came as a surprise to many, the news from Arizona is less of a surprise, as Fox laid off two-thirds of the staff in February in an effort to cut costs. "It clearly is a tough marketplace," Fox Animation president Chris Meledandri noted, and the closure goes a long way to re-affirm Disney's dominance of the kiddie-flick market, where competitors have struggled over the past few years Warner's recent The King and I didn't make much of an impression and The Iron Giant suffered at the box office despite almost universal positive reviews, and while DreamWorks cleared more than $100 million from 1998's The Price of Egypt, this year's Road to El Dorado was an underperformer.
Only two films came out of the now-closed Fox studio, Anastasia and Titan A.E., and while the company doesn't plan to leave animation altogether, the facility was designed to handle traditional cel-based processes, whereas future ventures from Fox likely will be based on less-expensive computer-generated imagery. Moreover, as the larger studios have been struggling there really have been just two breakout companies over the past several years Pixar, who have allied with Disney, and Aardman, now teamed up with DreamWorks. Don't be surprised if more major studios get out of the production-end of things and hook up with more specialty animation houses down the road.
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 comments from this week:
We'd like to agree with your sentiments Eric, as it would be nice if the general quality of films got more recognition than it does nowadays. As it stands, the top-grossing movies every year tend to be the most discouraging, and the Academy Awards often hand out their statuettes to the most mainstream films they can find. As far as we're concerned, some of the best pictures of the past few years include L.A. Confidential, Boogie Nights, Fight Club, Out of Sight, Gattaca, The Iron Giant, Three Kings, and The Limey all of which have suffered disappointments at the box office or on Oscar night. Thankfully, the DVD format so far seems to have been marketed to serious film fans, not just casual viewers, and we think that's why all of the above films have been granted splendid DVD releases, even if on the surface they don't seem to have the awards or revenues to merit such. We'd also like to think that all of the hard-working DVD websites on the Internet are reminding us why these films are so valuable, and why they deserve special treatment.
However, even though we really love films, part of our mission here is to report the news. We don't track the weekly box-office or the top-grossing films of all time because of a slavish devotion to the almighty greenback, but because previous and current financial figures are a good indication of what is going to happen down the road. For example, as we noted in the news item above, Fox's foray into feature animation has tanked, as Titan A.E. only took in $9.5 million over its opening weekend and is fading fast. With the recent string of bombs from larger studios, one only has to look at the overall performance of Pixar lately, or Aardman's Chicken Run, which had a $17.5 million first-weekend pop, to see that many studios probably will outsource more of their high-profile animated films rather than produce them in-house. When we stack $17.5 million against $9.5 million, we're not saying that one movie is necessarily better than the other (such will have to wait for the DVD reviews). Instead, we are doing exactly the same thing that all of the studio suits do every Monday morning before going into their first round of meetings. We follow the dollar because it's the best crystal ball we have.
As for promoting "greed," the film industry is a for-profit business, and God bless America for it. People who make movies want to make money the execs so they can keep their jobs, the producers so they can earn gobs of cash, and the filmmakers and actors because they know that profitable movies mean they will get to make more of them. As far as we're concerned, the folks who take the financial and professional risks to create films deserve to make every last cent they can from their efforts. All we ask is a couple hours of entertainment when we plunk down our money.
Yep, lots of stuff. We first put the Top 25 together at the end of 1998 (when it was a Top Ten), but many of the current discs are fairly recent releases, which means that somebody (normally your humble editor) has to chuck things out now and then. As the list exists strictly at the willy-nilly whim of your editor, there's no record of when things are added or deleted, but in the past we have highlighted such DVDs as Gattaca, American Graffiti, The Exorcist, and even The Texas Chainsaw Massacre all great discs with attractive supplements, but also from the earlier days of DVD, which means they really can't compare to current heavy hitters such as Brazil: The Criterion Collection, Fight Club, and The Abyss: Special Edition. Perhaps someday there will be enough great DVDs on the street to kick our current favorite Brazil off the Top 25, but frankly, that looks to be a long way away. If it ever happens, it would be pretty damn amazing.
You got us there, Jade while Criterion's Nanook of the North is on our ever-growing list of things to see, we don't have a copy handy right now. We know Nanook wasn't exactly a top-selling disc when it was released, but here's hoping a few of our readers have a copy. If you do, and you can confirm that the DVD does or does not include either a booklet or an insert, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, we'll try to post a few reader comments here on the front page.
Top of the Pops: Here's the top-selling DVDs last week at Buy.com. Click the links to read our reviews of these discs:
Tuesday, 27 June 2000
Apex bitch-slapped off eBay!: What historically have been the biggest headaches for digital die-hards? Bad transfers, thin 2.0 audio, washed-out source prints, sure but some DVD fans also have been continually frustrated by such things as region-coding, PAL vs. NTSC video, and Macrovision. And as many of you know, a little DVD player showed up in Circuit City stores last year called the Apex AD-600A, which featured a supposedly secret (but easily accessed) service menu that allowed owners to do such nefarious things as switch region codes, turn off Macrovision, and even set the player to decode the European PAL video to our own NTSC here in North America. It was only a matter of time before such heavyweights as the Motion Picture Association of America and others started to put some pressure on both Circuit City and the distributors of the Apex, and currently only a stripped model is for sale on these shores. According to some reports, only Apex players with a manufacturing date of December 1999 or earlier (which can be found on the back) contain the service menu, and these decks have been trading on eBay for a lot more than Circuit City's asking price of about $180.00 (like a couple hundred bucks more).
But it's all fun and games until somebody gets irked. As of last week, eBay has canceled all auctions featuring the elusive Apex at the request of the Macrovision company, whose copy-protection technology has been defeating cheap RCA cables worldwide for many years now. "(The Apex players) circumvent certain copy protections that are required by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act," Macrovision spokesperson Miao Chuang said last week. "We regret that these actions had to be taken. However, we believed these actions were necessary to protect our intellectual property." And eBay spokesperson Kevin Pursglove noted that the players probably violated the site's Verified Rights Owner Program, which allows copyright holders to ask eBay to cancel auctions if they violate intellectual-property laws or other regulations. And with Circuit City out of stock of the '99 Apex players for many, many months now, folks who want to get their hands on one now have to deal with larger dilemmas than searching for last-minute auctions or deciding on maximum bids, so remember if some guy on the street flashes an Apex at you from under his trenchcoat, be sure to check that manufacturing date on the back before you furtively hand over a wad of cash.
'Ultimate Toy Box' unveiled: The whole world knew last week that both Toy Story and Toy Story 2 would be coming to DVD this year, but the details weren't official as Disney had not actually issued a press release (retailers reportedly were informed of the DVD release date before the Mouse House's PR dept. could finalize the details), but the press release has now been posted, and the features in the big box run deep. As we noted last week, there will be no individual DVD releases of either film, but instead they will be available either in a box-set of two (SRP $39.99) or an Ultimate Toy Box with a third disc packed full of supplements from Pixar (SRP $69.99).
In the "Ultimate" box, Toy Story will appear in a 1.77:1 aspect ratio (with an anamorphic transfer) and will feature Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, a commentary from some of the creative folks at Pixar, the documentary "The Making of "Toy Story," a multi-language clip reel, "on-set interviews" with Woody and Buzz Lightyear, something called "Toy Story treats," the 1988 Pixar short "Tin Toy," and the Buzz Lightyear commercial featured in the movie. Toy Story 2 will appear both in 1.77:1 and 1.33:1 aspect ratios, will also have Dolby Digital on board, and will include another audio commentary, an isolated score (2.0), an isolated sound-effects track (5.1), outtakes, the Pixar short "Luxo Jr.," and a "sneak peek" at the upcoming Pixar feature Monsters, Inc.
Finally, that third disc will have even more cool stuff (much like the second disc of A Bug's Life: Collector's Edition), with an introduction by the filmmakers, the history of both Toy Story and Toy Story 2, and supplements on character design, location design, story development, movie-making secrets, music and sound design, abandoned concepts, never-before-seen animation, early tests, original treatments, the storyboard pitch, a storyboard-to-final film comparison, an animation progression demonstration, trailers, TV spots, posters, a guide to hidden jokes, some music videos, and original song demos (whew!). Please remember that only the Ultimate Toy Box will have that third disc, and also that most of the features on the first two discs will not be available in the two-disc box (so serious fans can safely avoid it). The Ultimate Toy Box arrives on Oct. 17.
On the Street: It's a big street day for Paramount, who are releasing Anthony Minghella's The Talented Mr. Ripley and Kenneth Branagh's Dead Again, and both with illuminating commentary tracks from the directors. Paramount also has the cult favorite Harold and Maude and the oft-requested Clue on the street this morning as well. Meanwhile, Columbia TriStar has double-dipped the 1995 Bad Boys as a special edition, which also features a commentary track, this one from director Michael Bay. But many of you doubtless will be running to get Fox's latest two-disc behemoth, Independence Day: Special Edition, or even two new Criterion titles in release this morning, Roger Vadim's 1956 And God Created Woman and David Lean's 1945 Brief Encounter. And for those of you who keep an eye out for interesting TV documentaries, both Animal Planet's The Crocodile Hunter and the Discovery Channel's Raising The Mammoth have now gone digital. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of Image Entertainment:
See ya tomorrow.
Monday, 26 June 2000
Mechanic "Fuggedaboudit!": Bill Mechanic, the CEO of Fox Filmed Entertainment, resigned his position with the company late last week, a sudden move that few expected despite some recent box-office disappointments from the studio. Heading up Fox's feature-film division for the past seven years, Mechanic oversaw some of the most popular movies of the '90s, including Titanic, Independence Day, Mrs. Doubtfire, True Lies, and Speed, but the last year has seen poor ticket-sales for what were supposed to be Fox's biggest films, including Anna and the King, The Beach, and Fight Club (which, as DVD fans know, really deserved to earn more money). Mechanic's sudden decision may be tied to the lackluster receipts for the $80 million Titan A.E. last weekend, which indicate that the animated feature will lose a lot of money, but that can only be speculation. "The timing is right," Mechanic said last week in the sort of feel-good statement that always marks a major shake-up. "The company is in shape, and now it's time for me to go and see if I can do something on my own." Mechanic says he now plans to form his own production company, not unlike former Disney executive Joe Roth, who departed The Magic Kingdom last year to start his own production venture.
While a respected member of the film industry for many years (he is a member of the Video Industry Hall of Fame and holds a position at the USC film school, where he used to teach), those who have been watching the DVD industry closely over the past few years recall that Mechanic was one of the most powerful people in Tinseltown to disrespect the all-digital format. Warner, Columbia TriStar, and others entered the DVD market in its earliest days back in 1997, but Fox did not come on board until August of 1998 (along with Paramount, they were the last major vendor to release their product on DVD). Fox Home Video also supported the now-dead Divx, which didn't earn them many friends in the open DVD community. And while execs at Warner and Columbia were touting DVD as the future of movie collecting, Mechanic was well known for his support of digital videotape as the successor to VHS, even though the technology was barely out of development at the time and currently has nothing near the installed base of DVD. Mechanic had his reasons for being lukewarm about DVD, and while we have always disagreed with him, a shakeup at Fox Home Video last year transformed the company from being one of the most lackluster DVD vendors to one of the best (cf., Fight Club, The Alien Legacy, The Abyss: Special Edition), which confirms that DVD is here to stay. Mechanic or no, Fox has been tops with us for a while now.
Disc of the Week: Young Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) is a struggling musician in New York who can only dream of a better world for himself, as he has few opportunities and no financial means to pursue his goals. But when he is mistaken by a shipping tycoon as a Princeton graduate, the wealthy man offers Ripley $1,000 to travel to Italy, find his playboy son, and convince him to return to America. Eager to take in some new scenery, Tom eventually locates the wayward Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law), along with his fiancé Marge (Gwyneth Paltrow), but he is immediately intoxicated by the warmth and lushness of the Italian coast, along with the carefree lifestyles of a privileged leisure class that he can never be a part of. Well, maybe never be a part of. Latching on to Dickie, the genial Tom moves in to his villa, and the pair soon spend their days sailing and sunning, and local jazz clubs become their shared passion. But, even though Tom and Dickie become constant companions and he forms a friendship with Marge, he is never able to come across as much more than a stray houseguest, being unable to ski or sail or speak Italian, and he often suffers rude taunts by Dickie's upper-crust chum Freddie (a brilliant Philip Seymour Hoffman). It's only a matter of time before Dickie must ask Tom to return to America, but that moment causes a drastic turn of events, one that has the clever Tom running across Italy with enough papers and possessions to convince most people that he is Dickie. The only question is how long the ruse will hold up, especially as Tom becomes more and more emotionally unstable.
Directed by Anthony Minghella (The English Patient), who adapted the screenplay from the Patricia Highsmith novel, The Talented Mr. Ripley is a superb psychological thriller that sets a high mark for itself, and for the most part hits it. Minghella simply is too smart a filmmaker to rely on shock value to create tension, and instead, as the plot develops, he draws from the great suspense-masters Hitchcock and Clouzot, who fabricated tension not only from large plotting arcs, but also from the smallest of details, and Tom's desperate attempt to assume another identity is troubled by various encounters and plot twists, all which contribute to his increasingly rapid downward spiral (both mentally and in terms of the story itself). Commonplace, well-lit places are the backdrop of Tom's ruse, where the slightest misstep can betray everything. Ripley also has noir connotations, as there is no actual protagonist in the film (the young man in question is deeply disturbed, and none of the other characters are much more than vapid, self-indulgent layabouts), and such a film as few and far between as they are nowadays invokes the hypnotic, irredeemable allure of such classics as Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice.
Paramount's new DVD edition of The Talented Mr. Ripley continues their unfortunate habit of not titling "special edition" discs as such. Of course, DVD fans never appreciate it when sub-par discs adopt the SE moniker, but there's more then enough good stuff on board Ripley to qualify, and Paramount should let their consumers know it on the boxcover. Along with a solid anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) and audio in either Dolby Digital 5.1 or Dolby 2.0 Surround, features include an informative commentary track by director Minghella, the 22-minute behind-the-scenes featurette "Inside The Talented Mr. Ripley," a video supplement on the making of the soundtrack (which is full of great jazz standards), interview segments with the cast and the director, two music videos, and two trailers. The Talented Mr. Ripley is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Call it ironic (or don't) the weekend after Bill Mechanic resigns from Fox sees a Fox film debut in the top position, Me, Myself, and Irene, the latest gross-out comedy from the Farrelly Brothers, which (with Jim Carrey on the marquee) collected $24.2 million over the past three days, well more than enough to outrun Aardman/DreamWorks' Chicken Run, which wound up in second place with a respectable $17.5 million. Both debuts managed to dislodge last week's winner, Paramount's Shaft, but Samuel L. Jackson still drew in the crowds with $13.3 million, which was good enough for third place.
Still charting in continuing release are Paramount's M:I-2, with a sky-high total of $189.3 million, and DreamWorks' Gladiator, now at $165.6 million overall. And even though Buena Vista's Gone in Sixty Seconds earned some of the worst reviews we've seen this year, it still has banked nearly $70 million to date. But Fox's Titan A.E. got pummeled over its second weekend, earning only $3.7 million and dropping 61 percent of its debut-weekend audience. However, while the surprise hit comedy Road Trip is now heading for the second-run circuit, the $60 million-plus gross means nobody at DreamWorks' is leaving disappointed.
Two more super-hyped summer blockbusters go head-to-head next weekend as The Patriot and The Perfect Storm will go wide, along with yet another animated offering, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Dawn Taylor has posted a write-up of Woody Allen's latest film to arrive on DVD, Sweet and Lowdown, while D. K. Holm is on the board with Bad Boys: Special Edition both can be found on our Full Reviews index. New quick reviews from the staff this week include Snow Falling on Cedars, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Clue, Married to the Mob, and Light It Up, 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, 22 June 2000
'Toy's put in motion: Perhaps Universal's announcement last week that both Jurassic Park and The Lost World will arrive on DVD this Oct. 10 got the attention of the folks over at Disney, as reliable sources say that both Toy Story and Toy Story 2 will street just one week later, on Oct. 17. The DVD releases of both titles will be a two-disc box-set (SRP $39.99), but serious DVD fans will want to get the three-disc "Ultimate Toy Box," which will list at $69.99. We can expect the same all-digital transfer that was featured on A Bug's Life, and the discs in the Ultimate Toy Box will have a full array of extra features, including commentaries from the creative folks at Pixar, the Pixar shorts "Tin Toy" and "Luxo Jr.," and a trailer for the upcoming Pixar feature film Monsters Inc. The third disc, only available in the "Ultimate" box, will include various other supplements, some previously released on Laserdisc, and on the whole similar to the features on the second disc of the Bug's Life Collector's Edition DVD. We're still waiting for Disney's press release, so more details are to come, probably next week.
Commentary Clips: "Here is one of my favorite shots, when you see Sly climbing up this mountain face [in chapter 11], and as you see in the beginning it is Sly. There is no cut in this sequence. We keep pulling back more and more and it is him climbing that extremely high mountain face. And since some things have to remain secrets I won't tell you how it was done. But let's put it this way: Sly was not in danger of falling on the ground. But the effect was achieved."
Director Renny Harlin,
"This is a pull-back off a 14-foot painting. This starts off on a plate that we shot on the set on a back lot at Cinecitta, and it's matted into a painting with digital snow. And the painting had a lot of cut-out models, clip pieces on the right and the left. It was a 6 x 17 camera for transparencies. The idea was that you pull back and find this speck on the wall because, again, these mountains were so huge."
Special effects supervisor Neil Krepela, commenting
Quotable: "When the first HDTVs began to hit the market a year or so ago, I had high hopes. Surely the introduction of a totally new digital standard would be an ideal opportunity for manufacturers to rectify at least some of the fundamental problems that have plagued NTSC (analog) televisions for decades. I guess I'm naive. In recent years, I've reviewed a steady stream of direct-view and rear-projection HDTV-ready sets and it's become abundantly clear to me that the most important issues affecting picture quality are not being addressed. Instead, like medieval monks counting angels on pinheads, the video community wastes its time and energy agonizing over how many lines of resolution can be squeezed into a 16:9 screen.... Any TV that cannot hold a stable black level, reproduce colors accurately, or render true shapes hardly deserves to be called a 'high-definition' set no matter its resolution, aspect ratio or display technology."
Hi-tech journalist Lawrence E. Ullman, decrying the
"The one thing, which sounds like a negative, is that there wasn't a story already attached to this. We came up with it ourselves.... When we got to DreamWorks, the pitch was just, 'We want to do a prisoner-of-war escape movie with chickens.' It's simplicity was, perhaps, its strength."
Aardman co-founder Peter Lord, reflecting on the origins
"I like the idea, but it's not only me. I always go by what the people out there in the world would like to see. If I go to Russia, when I was in China or when I go anywhere in Europe or Africa, it's the most asked question: 'Will you do another Terminator?'.... My big wish is Jim Cameron and I work together again."
Arnold Schwarzenegger, revealing in a recent interview
Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including the new special edition of Bad Boys, Woody Allen's Sweet and Lowdown, and plenty more. And if you haven't entered our totally free DVD contest for your chance to win a copy of Paramount's Sleepy Hollow, be sure to visit our contest page if you have a moment, and don't forget to take our monthly DVD poll while you're there.
Have a great weekend, gang.
Wednesday, 21 June 2000
That's a lot of questions Brad, but we'll do our best here. When widescreen films first started to gain popularity in the 1950s, there were several competing formats with different aspect ratios and multi-channel sound systems (who here remembers Cinerama or Todd A/O?), but the hefty 70mm format soon became perhaps the most popular, and the oversized film stock (about twice as big as today's common 35mm and with an aspect ratio of 2.20:1) was used to capture some of the greatest musicals and historical epics in Hollywood's golden age, including Lawrence of Arabia, and even such later films as Patton and Apocalypse Now. However, the cost of producing a true 70mm film was often prohibitive, and during the 1960s it was not unusual for a studio to budget a film to be shot on the cheaper 35, which then could be blown-up for 70mm projectors. In either case, films that were presented in 70mm (whether native or adapted) used the 70mm sound system, which doesn't exist anymore but was a successful sound system in its day.
Fundamentally, the 70mm system was not much different in configuration than the later Dolby Stereo (i.e., Dolby 2.0 Surround, or Dolby Pro Logic on home theater equipment), as it used separate channels in the front of the theater and a single, monaural surround channel spread across several speakers in the theater to create the ambient "surround effect." Where 70mm outdid Dolby Stereo was with those front channels, for where Dolby Stereo derived left, right, center, and surround information from a matrixed two-channel track, 70mm had no less than five channels behind the screen, all delivering discrete information and a seamless front soundstage. There was no subwoofer (of course, one could be applied to interpret passive LFE information, and perhaps they were in some theaters). The 70mm audio format got a boost in the late '70s, when the surround channel was split into two signals to deliver left and right information, first in the 1978 Superman and soon thereafter with 1979's Apocalypse Now. In its purest form, Sony's SDDS (Sony Digital Dynamic Sound) system is a direct inheritor of the advanced 70mm audio, as it offers five signals at the front of the theater, two surround signals, and a discrete LFE signal (although SDDS 7.1 is dropped down to 5.1 in most theaters).
However, even though a lot of filmmakers swore by the 70mm format with its enormously detailed images, it was essentially killed off by two cheaper technologies 35mm and Dolby audio. As most film buffs know, 35mm wasn't used just to create low-rent 70mm prints, but the roughly 4:3 stock also can be converted to widescreen images via matting (which creates either a 1.66:1 or 1.85:1 aspect ratio), or via anamorphic lenses (which creates the 70mm-busting 2.35:1 ratio). Since the '60s, Dolby has always tended to come out a winner with cinematic sound formats, and not just because of overall quality (which the company tends to be real persnickety about), but also because they know that cost is always an issue, and they deliver attractive products in innovative packages. Dolby Stereo is a four-channel system that creates surround sound from a stereo audio track, and it's still in use in a lot of theaters to this day. When the lauded Dolby Digital was in development (known at Dolby Labs as "Audio Code 3," hence AC-3), the company knew that theater owners wouldn't want to buy a lot of expensive new gear, and they also were faced with the fact that every last sector of the 35mm stock was used by the image and analog audio information. Well, almost every last bit the audio information on Dolby Digital films is actually contained on a conventional print, but it's between the sprocket holes of the film itself, which meant easier upgrading, and also that the same prints could be sent to theaters with Dolby Stereo systems. Yes, DTS is arguably a better system, using far less audio compression, but neither the booming DTS or ultra-wide SDDS have been able to render Dolby Digital mute.
Movie and DVD fans always want to get their films in the best possible formats, but the fact is that cost, not quality, has been driving the various cinema formats for the past several decades. Were this not the case, we probably would be getting our big-budget summer blockbusters on 70mm prints, and with perhaps eight or more discrete audio channels. Instead, most films we see in theaters nowadays are sourced from 35mm stock, and Dolby Stereo and Dolby Digital are the most common sound formats by far.
Here's all the dirty secrets of Fox's Alien: 20th Anniversary Edition disc: The DVD menu opens in the Nostromo with the menu items "Language Selection," "Extra Features," "Scene Selection," and "Play Movie," and with two portals on either side. Key down to "Extra Features" and then key left to select the left portal, which contains the DVD production credits. Return to the main menu, key down to "Scene Selection," and then key right to select the right portal, which features the Nostromo crew dossiers. Finally, to get the "Alien Reproduction Cycle" supplement, go to the first page of Special Features, and index all the way down to "Main Menu." It looks like you're at the bottom, but you're not key down once more to light up a hole in the floor. Bingo.
Top of the Pops: Here's the top-selling DVDs last week at Buy.com. Click the links to read our reviews of these discs:
Tuesday, 20 June 2000
In the Works: Here's a slew of new disc announcements for you folks this morning, courtesy of Image Entertainment:
On the Street: Plenty of new stuff on the street this morning, but only a few discs that are really noteworthy. Tops for us is USA's Topsy-Turvy, a richly detailed film worth watching over and over and deserving a spot in DVD collections everywhere. Woody Allen's Sweet and Lowdown is out from Columbia TriStar, and several Woody fans are sure to snap it up this week. And not to be overlooked is Barry Levinson's Liberty Heights, the most recent of his "Baltimore" films and now on disc from Warner. Here's this morning's notable street discs, as always courtesy of Image Entertainment:
And for those of you taking notes: Mark Aug. 29 on your calendar with a big red Sharpie, because it's shaping up to be the biggest street day of the DVD year so far. Already on schedule for that morning in the not-so-distant future? Braveheart, North by Northwest, The Sound of Music, Terminator 2: Ultimate Edition, Magnolia: Platinum Collection, Boogie Nights: Double Platinum Edition, Arsenic and Old Lace, and the entire second wave of Universal classic horror (The Invisible Man, Phantom of the Opera, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein). Start putting your spare change in a jar today.
Monday, 19 June 2000
Disc of the Week: If the film critics of America had their way at the Academy Awards (they never do, it seems), Mike Leigh's Topsy-Turvy probably would have won the Best Picture Oscar for 1999, as his lavish period film won Best Picture awards from both the New York Film Critics Circle and The National Society of Film Critics, and a host of other accolades from other groups as well (Topsy-Turvy did earn well-deserved Academy Awards for make-up and costumes, but the Academy, in their strange Anglophile way, often tends to hand these awards out to British costume dramas as it is). And if it was somewhat snubbed come Oscar-time, Topsy-Turvy is nonetheless a magnificent film, bristling with entertaining scenes, and carefully researched down to the smallest details in order to re-create the world of 19th century London, and particularly the milieu of the London stage.
Jim Broadbent and Allan Corduner star as the famed musical team of William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, who dominated the London stage for several years with such successes as The Pirates of Penzance and H.M.S. Pinafore. But by the time Princess Ida arrives in 1881 to some scandalous reviews that insist the duo has lost their way, composer Sullivan suddenly decides that he has been wasting his talent on the "topsy-turvydom" of Gilbert's stories, which always seem to rely on magic charms or potions to get the plot moving. A diabetic given to ill health, Sullivan visits Europe for an extended stay, and when he returns to London he refuses to honor his theater contract, which requires a new production, and instead insists that he should spent the remainder of his life creating symphonies and other important compositions that have no need for stage performers and sing-songs. While the optimistic, ambitious Sullivan is persuaded by all parties to honor his contract, which he steadfastly refuses to do, the hardworking Gilbert continues create new projects (nothing better explains the dichotomy between the two than when Gilbert proclaims, with pride, that he has been doing exactly the same thing for 25 years, and with great consistency).
But, aware that Sullivan may be persuaded to return to the partnership if he can fashion a libretto with some sort of seriousness and human impact, Gilbert never completely abandons hope for another Gilbert and Sullivan production, and it is when he is dragged by his wife to a Japanese exhibition in London, with Japanese performers illustrating the culture and details of their once-closed society, that Sullivan buys a Samurai sword, hangs it in his study, and composes the story of what is widely regarded to be one of the duo's greatest masterpieces The Mikado.
Topsy-Turvy, upon first viewing, is overwhelmingly impressive, even with a running time of more than two and one-half hours. It seems that Leigh spared no expense to chronicle this brief, small turning point in the history of the London theater, and every actor who must play a musical instrument on camera actually knows how to play it. Leigh also formed a substantial research team a year before the film began shooting, and they were on-set throughout the production. Many of these historical snippets wind up in the course of the story, in particular the emergence of new technologies (Gilbert, when on the new-fangled telephone, shouts at the top of his lungs; Sullivan is impressed when presented by a friend with a pen that has a reservoir for its own ink, and thus doesn't require an inkwell). Each and every one of the performers, in either lead, supporting, or bit parts, are uniformly excellent and obviously drawn from the theater, and when given such talent on sets laden with period details, it's little wonder that Leigh chooses to shoot most everything with minimal coverage, often setting his camera in a single position and letting his subjects carry on for minutes at a time. Everything drives towards the opening night of The Mikado, and even if you don't have any interest in musical theater, you probably will be transfixed by the 15 minutes of excerpts, performed on stage at the film's end, as various storylines between the composer, librettist, and principal performers finally arrive at a single point in time. Subtitles have never been more appropriate on DVD, as audiences were routinely issued librettos for operas more than a century after Gilbert and Sullivan's popular productions, the English subtitle track performs the same function nicely.
USA's new DVD edition of Topsy-Turvy features a solid anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) and audio in either DD 5.1 or Dolby 2.0 Surround. Features include a 10-minute behind-the-scenes featurette, a photo gallery, a trailer, TV spots, cast-and-crew-notes, and notes on the historical Gilbert and Sullivan. Topsy-Turvy is on the street tomorrow.
Box Office: Back, black, and as serious as a heart-attack, everybody was talkin' 'bout Paramount's Shaft last weekend, which kicked booty at the North American box-office with a $21.1 million debut, shifting Buena Vista's Gone in 60 Seconds from the pole position, which it had only held for one week. Shaft also had more pull than the weekend's three other debuts combined, as Fox's animated spectacular Titan A.E. cleared a disappointing $9.5 million, Miramax's Boys and Girls took in $7 million, and Disney's Fantasia 2000 earned $2.8 million in limited release.
However, while Shaft may have settled the score for the best flick of the past few days, it still has a long way to go to compare with some of the current summer blockbusters, including Paramount's Mission: Impossible 2 ($176.1 million), DreamWorks' Gladiator ($158.6 million), and Buena Vista's Dinosaur ($120.5 million) all destined to be among this year's biggest hits. Two comedies are doing bankable business as well, with Fox's Big Momma's House clearing $70 million over the weekend, and DreamWorks' Road Rules already at a surprising $60 million and counting. But dropping from our weekly dirty dozen and on their way to the second-run circuit are New Line's Frequency, which has earned a respectable $40 million, and Universal's U-571, with a $73 million gross. Good news for Woody Allen: while his Small Time Crooks is now slipping from the chart after five weeks, it will earn more than $15 million in North America about $13 million better than most of his films do.
More comedies are in store for next weekend, as Aardman/DreamWorks' Chicken Run and the Farrelly Brothers' Me, Myself, and Irene will go wide. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: Eighties refugee Dawn Taylor has offered us a personal journey back in time with her look at MGM's Desperately Seeking Susan, while D. K. Holm has returned to terra firma after writing up Columbia TriStar's new Cliffhanger: Collector's Edition both reviews can be found on our Full Reviews index. Meanwhile, new quick reviews from the staff this week include Conan the Barbarian: Collector's Edition, Lethal Weapon 2: Director's Cut, Interview with the Vampire: Special Edition, Topsy-Turvy, Foxfire, and The Daytrippers, and can be accessed on the Quick Reviews index. And as usual, 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.
Thursday, 15 June 2000
On the Block: Criterion titles continue to rule the DVD roost at eBay, with Salo, The Killer, This Is Spinal Tap, Hard Boiled, and the first edition of Seven Samurai all making our latest round of auction rankings, and Salo easily ran away from the competition, earning a top close of $451.55 from 22 bids nearly $150.00 more than the number-two The Killer. However, a lot of folks also seem interested in rare demo DVDs, normally provided to retailers directly from studios and manufacturers, and the THX Surround EX Demo Disc is starting to become a regular on the chart (the top auction closed uncontested as one bidder matched a steep $200.00 reserve), and Sony's DVD demo broke the century with $132.50 after 18 bids. As the DVD market continues to grow and evolve, more titles are being re-released, but the first-edition discs still get high numbers, including Little Shop of Horrors, which features an ultra-rare alternate ending, and Platoon, which has a commentary track with Oliver Stone on board. And if some of you are wondering if the press kit for Fox's Fight Club is so cool that it's worth $109.50, we don't think so, but the brown paper bag with the Fight Club logo stamped on it, along with some slides and press releases, is an unusual conversation piece that's worth a few bucks at least.
Here's the highest recent closing prices of rare and out-of-print DVDs from online auctions at eBay:
Quotable: "The (studio heads) of the '30s and '40s had one key thing going for them. In their brief moment of glory, they exercised absolute control over their universe. If a David O. Selznick or Irving Thalberg didn't like the way a movie turned out, he'd simply do it over. They were unencumbered by the demands of superstars or superagents and, as such, had final clout as well as final cut. By today's standards, their companies were vastly undercapitalized. They lived like feudal lords, but their fiefdoms were puny. The Murdochs and Eisners of today have vast resources at their command, but complex constituencies to placate investors, legislators, foreign partners, etc. Their level of sophistication in dealing with these power bases, to be sure, far exceeds that of their predecessors.... It was not surprising, therefore, that the barons of yesteryear were utterly paralyzed by the threat of change especially changes in technology. Television was dismissed as a pipedream. The mind boggles how these oligarchs would have responded to the Internet."
Daily Variety Editor-in-Chief Peter Bart, looking
"We're concerned because the movie perpetuates the myth that schizophrenia is the same as split-personality disorder and that's not true. In some of their promotional material, they use terms like 'schizo' inappropriately. Part of our mission is to educate the public and put out a corrective message."
Bill Emmet, deputy executive director of the National
"We're living in an even more puritanical society than we were 30 years ago. So it's OK for Shaft to bash somebody's head in, but to show him (having sex), well, that would offend women, I guess."
Director John Singleton, noting that a lot of the booty
"What more can I say about the wonder boys in charge of ABC that I haven't already? Fucking big business. Turns my damn stomach (which takes a great deal of effort, as the stomach in question is more full of shit than the word of an ABC exec)."
Director Kevin Smith, after the animated "Clerks" TV
Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including Topsy-Turvy, the new Cliffhanger: Special Edition, and plenty more, so be sure to come back Monday morning for all the latest. Have a great weekend.
Wednesday, 14 June 2000
'Jurassic' is 'Lost' no more!: Digital die-hards know that the second half of 2000 will see several major Steven Spielberg films released on DVD for the first time, and now that we have Jaws on the way as a sweet special-edition, Universal has confirmed that both Jurassic Park and The Lost World are going digital this fall. Both will be Universal "Collector's Edition" discs, and Jurassic Park will sport a "Making of Jurassic Park" doc, additional behind-the-scenes footage, a look at the animatics by special-effects chief Phil Tippett, a dinosaur encyclopedia, stills, storyboards, and more. Meanwhile, The Lost World will feature the brand new behind-the-scenes documentary "The Making of The Lost World," deleted scenes, conceptual artwork, storyboards, and plenty of other stuff. Of course, Jurassic Park III is already in production, and there will be a special Internet event corresponding with the release of the new DVDs (and some upcoming two-tape VHS retreads) featuring live online chat with the cast and crew of the third film in the franchise.
But wait there's more! A lot of you have let Universal know that you've been dying to get these films on DVD, and they're paying us back in spades. A limited-edition two-disc set will be available when the DVDs are released, including the CD soundtracks, a certificate of authenticity, and distinct packaging (SRP $119.98). Of course, if that seems like a good chunk of your paycheck (the entire seven-disc X-Files: Season One sells in the same neighborhood), you will be able to get an unlimited two-DVD set in a slipcase for a suggested $53.98. Jurassic Park and The Lost World are due on Oct. 10.
The color bars on Criterion's DVDs do in fact serve a mysterious purpose to most folks, but they certainly are not a joke. For video professionals working with our North American NTSC television standard, those color bars are one of the best ways to make sure that professional video monitors are properly calibrated always a tricky proposition with cathode-ray tubes, since they use voltages to determine color output (whereas modern computer monitors interpret color information digitally). What you're looking at when you see Criterion's color bars is actually the most common format, the SMPTE (Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers) pattern. Most professional video monitors (which have a component color feed) have something called a "blue gun switch," which allows the red and green channels to be turned off. The blue signal is then calibrated across the SMPTE color bars to create alternating light and dark bars that should be balanced flawlessly. Of course, there are many other ways to calibrate NTSC tubes, including waveform monitors, vectorscopes, and time-base correctors, but we'll just leave it here (you can thank us later). Criterion has color bars on many of their DVDs featuring color films because some folks find them handy.
There's hardly any difference at all between the first and second editions of Warner's Devil's Advocate, but it was altered just enough to keep Warner from facing expensive litigation. Not long after the film arrived in the theaters in 1997, sculptor Frederick Hart sued the Warner Brothers studio, claiming that a sculpture featured in the film's climactic scene was a blatant rip-off of his Ex Nihilo, and Hart's sculpture isn't exactly something he slapped together in his garage it's permanently installed at the Episcopal National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Devil's Advocate arrived on DVD before the dispute was settled out of court, but in order to swing the deal Warner issued a second version of Devil's Advocate with the sculpture-in-question somewhat obscured. And yes, you can find out if you have an original Devil's Advocate DVD the first edition has a disclaimer on the back with words to effect that no artwork in the film has any relation whatsoever to anybody named Frederick Hart (so there!). When the second edition was released, this disclaimer was removed from the snap-case.
We couldn't agree more, John. By the way, did anybody else notice that Best Buy has been selling Fight Club for $19.99, or at least that they were doing so last weekend? Maybe we didn't need an extra copy of Fight Club, but dammit, we picked one up anyway. All-around great DVD.
Top of the Pops: Here's the top-selling DVDs last week from our friends at Reel.com (and, regrettably, the last list of top-sellers we'll be posting from them). Click the links to read our reviews of these discs:
Tuesday, 13 June 2000
On the Street: It's a mix of new and old this week, with Warner's The Green Mile sure to gather a great deal of attention. However, Columbia TriStar has double-dipped their previous Cliffhanger DVD as a fat special edition, and MGM has such catalog fare as F/X, Married to the Mob, and Desperately Seeking Susan now on disc. Twilight Zone collectors have two more to pick up this week, while Criterion collectors can get their hands on the new editions of And God Created Woman and Kevin Smith's Chasing Amy. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of Reel.com and Image Entertainment:
Finally: A lot of you have written us over the past two days asking how the imminent demise of Reel.com (a news item can be found here) will affect The DVD Journal, since Reel.com has been our main sponsor since way back in 1998. Well, truth be told, even though we are aware that our primary revenue source is about to dry up, we have yet to hear anything directly from them. For all we know, they are still selling and shipping DVDs at this time, and until the Reel.com website says different, which could happen at any moment, we're gonna scrape every last penny we can from it. After we take care of some housecleaning (i.e., deleting Reel.com links from virtually every page on this site), we hope to land on our feet with a new, DVD-friendly sponsor and if a few of you reading this morning happen to be potential sponsors, we will be more than happy to fax you last month's traffic report for your examination.
Monday, 12 June 2000
Disc of the Week: Cable TV and some movies were just made for each other after all, late-night cable is there to feed you something when you're not in the mood to feed yourself, and its best fare resembles a frothy Taramisu: all custard and sponge-cake with a little bit of booze mixed in, and gone before you know it, which means you probably won't give it a second thought tomorrow. Everybody has their favorite high-channel delights, and ours is the clever 1986 thriller F/X.
Directed by Robert Mandel, F/X stars Bryan Brown as Rollie Tyler, one of the best splatter artists in the movie industry, who travels from set to set with his truck full of gadgets, ready to load up a scene with radio-controlled switches and dye- filled squibs to create the perfect bullet-hole, head injury, or stab-wound for action and horror directors. But it is when Rollie is approached by Justice Department Agent Martin Lipton (Cliff De Young) that he has to make a larger decision than whether to use red dye number 3 or 5 the U.S. government wants him to stage the bogus assassination of Mob turncoat Nicholas DeFranco (Jerry Orbach), who is a prime target for getting whacked while he waits to testify in court. Initially wary of the proposal, Rollie soon takes on the job, largely out of the pride he takes in his craft and perhaps the idea of staging a splatter-stunt like no other, but he makes a crucial decision when Justice Dept. official Mason (Mason Adams) asks him to be the fake trigger-man for the job. It only a matter of moments after Rollie has staged his masterpiece that he realizes he's a patsy, but it's hard to know who set him up, or exactly why. Meanwhile, NYPD Lt. Leo McCarthy (Brian Dennehy), who first put the collar on DeFranco, soon realizes that something's afoot, and the gruff detective turns the city upside down looking for clues as Rollie runs for his life.
While it would be easy to pick apart the finer points of F/X (the plot ain't that airtight, folks), it has two or three things going for it that have made it a durable action/thriller. Scenarists Gregory Fleeman and Robert T. Megginson drew from two stock screenplay items: films about making films and conspiracy flicks, and with the sustained growth of both horror films and such TV franchises as The X-Files, F/X has been an accessible paranoia-tale for several years now. What's more, while Brown and Dennehy are strong leads here, F/X is a film that needs a good group of supporting players, which the producers got. The professorial Adams is cast perfectly against type as the sinister Mason, while De Young is almost a precursor to the X-Files' Krycheck as the weasel-faced government spook Lipton. And it seems Jerry Orbach, familiar to fans of NBC-TV's "Law and Order," was born to play surly Mafiosos. Of course, there are always exceptions, and F/X actually has a doozy for such a fine cast, Martha Gehman as Andy, Rollie's special-effects assistant, may come up with the worst performance by any actress in a major motion picture. Seriously, she can't deliver a single line of dialogue without sounding like she's auditioning for a high school play. But it's a small part, and one we're willing to overlook.
Regrettably, while a nice addition to our DVD library, MGM has not added any substantial extras to the DVD edition of F/X. A theatrical trailer is on board, and both widescreen (1.85:1) and full-frame transfers are on opposite sides of the disc, but the widescreen is not anamorphic. However, along with the widescreen composition, we'll take this one for two reasons: Unlike its many incarnations on the late-night tube, it's the R-rated cut. And there are no commercials. F/X is on the street tomorrow morning.
Box Office: Paramount's Mission: Impossible 2 is a good bet to be one of the summer's biggest smashes, but it was only on top of the heap for two weeks as Nicolas Cage and Gone in Sixty Seconds turned four- wheeled thunder into box-office gold with a $25.5 million first-weekend pop, easily enough to beat out M:I-2, which raked in $17.1 million over its third weekend, adding to an astronomical $157.9 million haul in just 19 days. And while Buena Vista/Touchstone's Gone had a high-octane debut, it may not gain M:I-2's momentum, particularly if the critics are anything to go by (Variety called it "perfectly dreadful," and many other national reviews are of a similar vein).
The rest of the weekend pack were all films in continuing release, and if it looked like M:I-2 and Fox's Big Momma's House had a tight race last weekend, it was even tighter this time around, with the Martin Lawrence comedy failing to overtake Cruise & Woo by just $300,000, according to early studio estimates. Buena Vista's Dinosaur has now passed the century with $110.5 million overall, and Shanghai Noon is shaping up nicely with around $40 million to date. Meanwhile, New Line's Frequency has been charting strongly for seven weeks, and even though films like U-571 and Gladiator have earned far more during similar spans, New Line must be happy that word-of-mouth is keeping this one in the cineplexes.
We've been averaging just one major debut every weekend for the past few weeks, but things are sure to shake up over next weekend when Gone in Sixty Seconds, M:I-2, and other current titles will go up against Samuel L. Jackson in Shaft, the animated Titan A.E., and Disney's Fantasia 2000, fresh off the IMAX circuit and with a $40 million head-start against the competition.
Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: D. K. Holm has posted a new full review of The Green Mile, while Dawn Taylor is on the board this morning with a look at Prophecy III: The Ascent both can be found on our Full Reviews index. New quick reviews from the staff this week include Man on the Moon, F/X, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, Dead Calm, Mercy, The Third Miracle, and New Blood. 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.
And if you're gonna get that 'Green Mile' disc: Those of you in the Los Angeles area might want to head over to the world-famous Dave's Video on Ventura Blvd. after work on Tuesday, where Green Mile director Frank Darabont will be signing copies of the DVD. You'll have to be there between 6:30 and 8:30 p.m., but there should be plenty of Green Mile discs to go around, and a portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.
Thursday, 8 June 2000
Diz 'Platinum' smackdown!: Y'know, when things are going along nicely in DVD land, when great special editions are coming out each week and everybody seems pretty happy, you gotta figure somebody, somewhere, is gonna toss a monkey-wrench into our fun. And if we had to guess just who it would be, we'd lay our ducats on Michael Eisner. Discussing Internet piracy before the Congressional Joint Economic Committee yesterday, the Disney CEO actually mentioned Buena Vista's announced Snow White DVD, which is supposed to be the first of their Platinum Collection discs when it arrives in late 2001. And it's gonna come out in 2001 right Mike? Yes? Right?:
What you talkin' 'bout, Willis?
After all of the ballyhoo last fall when The Magic Kingdom announced that they would unify their VHS and DVD release schedules, keep only ten titles on moratorium, and have the remainder of their animated library on disc over the next two years, Top Mouse Eisner now says they may not follow through on their DVD schedule? Couldn't we simply have been told last year that we'll get Snow White on DVD when Disney is goddam good and ready? At least that way we don't have to keep updating our MIA page every time somebody in the Mouse House reads another story about broadband or MP3 or Napster and gets the willies.
It's hard to say exactly what this brief comment from Eisner actually means, but until further notice from Buena Vista we are moving their ten Platinum titles off our "definite" list and downgrading them to "maybe." We don't think that Eisner's apparent misgivings will have any effect on the current Gold Classic Collection, which consists of second-tier Disney titles, but we're hoping that Eisner will expand on, or at least clarify, his remarks as soon as possible. One George Lucas in the world is enough for us.
'Braveheart' unsheathed: Paramount was showing off an early version of their upcoming Braveheart DVD to folks several months back, and their press materials started sporting a Braveheart boxcover not long thereafter, so most everybody has been expecting the DVD sometime this summer. And now Paramount has confirmed a release date of Aug. 29 for the highly anticipated disc, which will feature a commentary by director/star Mel Gibson and a 28-minute behind-the-scenes documentary originally produced for the special-edition Laserdisc. Pre-orders should be online at Reel.com and other e-tailers in just a matter of days.
Commentary Clips: "(Creating the illusion of) summer was the tough one because we were shooting from January to April. When we were producing the graduation flashback in the first reel of the film the way to simulate greens was just to literally have members of the arts crew tying green leaves to the branches of trees in the shots. Movie-making is crazy, and when you see members of your crew tying leaves to barren trees you realize just how crazy it can be sometimes. But there's also a kind of Quixotic beauty to that effort."
Director James Mangold,
"I love that red truck. It was actually a Dodge truck, and I had just made the first group of commercials for this particular truck. And I liked it so much, it looked so cool, I though it would be great to use for a movie. (The art director) provided us with so many good trucks to destroy."
Director Jan de Bont,
Quotable: "To have a film that purports to tell us that it was the Americans that did all of this is a little galling, I have to say. Facts should be portrayed as such, and when they are not they should be shown as entertainment. Where people tinker with historical events, that should be made absolutely clear."
UK Culture Secretary Chris Smith (Labour), joining
"My agreement with Universal has always been that the movie would not be made until I approved the script. I informed Universal the script does not work and needs more time to be fixed. The question from the beginning has always been can 'Sprockets' move from beyond a sketch into being a full-length feature film, and despite my greatest efforts I have yet to achieve that. I cannot, in good conscience, accept $20 million and cheat moviegoers who pay their hard-earned money to see my work by making a movie with an unacceptable script."
Mike Myers, in a statement released this week after
"(The Insider) is a kind of historical novel. And in that sense it is philosophically and emotionally dead-on accurate. My hope was that the story that is told in the film would get these issues out on the table once and for all, and maybe (Don) Hewitt's virulent reaction will help do that."
Former "60 Minutes" producer Lowell Bergman, after
Coming Attractions: We have lots of new DVDs to look at over the weekend, including Warner's The Green Mile, Columbia's The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, and plenty more, so be sure to come back on Monday for all the latest news, the reviews, and the box-office report. Enjoy the weekend.
Wednesday, 7 June 2000
But what is strangest of all is that the box-art I've seen on the 'Net doesn't show any distinguishing title alteration at all compared to the original issues. They don't say "Special Edition" or anything else, just Twister and Interview with the Vampire. The new Lethal Weapon discs at least are "Director's Cut" editions. When I buy these titles, I want to know how to enter them in my homemade DVD database so I can distinguish them from the other editions in my collection. People who don't have the other editions, or get rid of them, still would want to list the proper title (I would think).
I'm toying with just making up my own names and calling them something like Twister 2000 DVD Release. Can you come up with something better?
There's a simple way around this, if we hold with the traditions of the print-publishing industry, where books (in particular non-fiction and reference titles) are often updated and re-released over several years. The most accurate way to describe the recent releases of Twister, Interview with the Vampire, et. al., is to call them "second editions," which strictly speaking is what they are (we have been referring to the original Little Shop of Horrors as the "First Edition" on this site ever since the re-release was announced). But if that solves the problem for your database, it still tends to make things a bit of a mess for us DVD journalists. The box-covers for the recent Twister and Interview with the Vampire don't appear to differ at all from their previous incarnations, and even the press releases we got from Warner made no distinction. After some deliberation, we decided to call them "special editions" here on the site, mostly because the online DVD community picked up the monikers from day one and savvy digital die-hards know exactly what we are talking about.
Normally, when it comes to referencing DVD titles on this site, we like to keep it simple we just look at the packaging. Does the folio on a particular DVD say it's the "Expanded International Edition"? Then that's what we call it. What if it's the "Director's Final Cut with Approval from The Screenwriters Guild"? Then we'll call it that. But here's where this tactic goes awry all of Fox's press materials for Fight Club call the release Fight Club: Special Edition. And yet when we got the screener a few weeks ago, we found that it just said Fight Club on the cover and nothing more. So what were we to call it? It was a tossup, but we decided to stick with the packaging on this one, primarily because, after all, there really is only one Fight Club DVD. In just a matter of weeks, digital die-hards will utter those two words to each other and nod knowingly, aware that they have experienced a DVD like no other, and a home-video item that everyday people just won't understand. It's a phenomenal movie, and Fight Club will become a legendary disc "Special Edition" or not.
We couldn't get any definitive information from the IMDb, but we had another look at Criterion's Seven Samurai last night, and we are convinced that the transfer is indeed representative of the original theatrical production. Seven Samurai was shot in Super 35 (unlike many other Kurosawa films, which were shot in Tohoscope with aspect ratios ranging from 2.35:1 to 2.55:1), and film buffs know that Super 35 has a native aspect ratio of 1.33:1, or 4:3, which is the same ratio of conventional NTSC televisions (therefore, the transfer cannot be pan-and-scan). Super 35 is often then converted to a widescreen image via "matting," which eliminates the top and bottom areas of the frame to arrive at a 1:85:1 aspect ratio. However, one only has to look at Seven Samurai to see that this is not an "open-matte" transfer. The credit sequence itself uses a great deal of the frame, and many close-ups in the film proper would result in cropping off people's chins and foreheads in an aesthetically unsound manner (see the screen capture above). Buy with confidence Seven Samurai is a native 1.33:1 film.
Are we on a bitch-fest today? Let it be known while Easter eggs can be fun sometimes, we never like to see them when they conceal substantial extra content, particularly when said content is advertised prominently on the DVD packaging. On the Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery disc, were the throwaway menu selection "Swedish Penis Enlarger Pump" which is nothing more than music and some goofy stills concealed by an Easter egg, we could live with that. But the Comedy Central "Spyography: The Dr. Evil Story" is about the funniest damn thing on Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (funnier than the movie, even), and it's a shame that several DVD fans have written us over the past few months asking just how in the hell are they are supposed to queue it up.
So here's the deal load the "Special Features" menu on The Spy Who Shagged Me, go grab a beer, and then come back when Mike Myers has finished his little dance while the menu loads. Before long he will be lifted from the page via an animated rocket, which will leave behind a single "E" surrounded by swirling protons. Go to the third level of the menu selections and key towards the center. Punch the "E" and you will get the Comedy Central spoof, two brief musical segments featuring Dr. Evil and Mini-Me, and some textual supplements. It's amusing if you know how to do it, but irritating if you've wasted a lot of time searching high and low for the disc's best extra feature.
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:
See ya tomorrow.
Tuesday, 6 June 2000
In the Works: Ever get a little deja vu? When it comes to the DVD market, 2000 has marked the birth of the re-release, and if the rumors out there count for anything, we think we'll be talking about re-releases on a regular basis from here on out. Not that we're complaining some DVDs are definitely worth revisiting, and for many newcomers to the DVD experience, it's all new stuff anyway. Here's some recent disc announcements, courtesy of Image Entertainment and Reel.com:
On the Street: Warner has several titles out this morning, including the re-issues of Twister and the first three Lethal Weapon films, as well as the three original Shaft pictures, starring Richard Roundtree. Meanwhile, Columbia TriStar's fare ranges from drama (Girl, Interrupted) to adventure (The Golden Voyage of Sinbad), and we're enormously fond of Universal's Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr., another brilliant documentary from Errol Morris. If it seems like there's a lot of stuff out this morning, there is, but we can make your purchasing decisions a little easier if you don't buy Fight Club, and we mean today, you're just putting another day between yourself and one of the greatest, most head-spinningly packed DVDs ever.
(Oh yeah, and did you know urine is sterile? That's right you can drink it.)
'Bitch School': VH-1's popular chat show "The List" will have a special show on June 22 with the founding members of Spinal Tap: Nigel Tufnel, David St. Hubbins, and Derek Smalls (or Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer). As the band never has a consistent drummer, Mick Fleetwood will round out the group (who reportedly will perform live). And in the host's chair will be none other than Fran Drescher.
Monday, 5 June 2000
And the winner is: Gordon Witter of Cupertino, Calif., wins the free Field of Dreams: Collector's Edition DVD from our May contest. Congrats, Gordon!
Our Free DVD Contest for the month of June is up and running, and we have a copy of Paramount's Sleepy Hollow 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.
And we have more to give away: We offered to bet one of our Los Angeles readers an Abyss: Special Edition DVD over this year's NBA Western Conference Finals, where our Portland Trailblazers went toe-to-toe with the L.A. Lakers, and the Lakers prevailed last night 89-84 in the final game of a seven-game series. DVD Journal reader Ed Purcell took our challenge and we've all been watching the series over the past two weeks, but the Blazers came up short. Since the Blazers split the regular-season series with the Lakers 2-2, drove the Conference Finals to a seventh game, and only lost by five points, we're a little tempted to send Ed just one of the two DVDs in the Abyss two-disc set but a deal's a deal. Our Abyss check-discs, along with the original press kit, are on their way to sunny So Cal.
Disc of the Week: Fox's new Fight Club comes with enough extras to instantly render it one of the great DVD releases of all time. Packed into two discs are audio commentaries by David Fincher; with actors Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, and Helena Bonham-Carter; with cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, production designer Alex McDowell, costumer Michael Kaplan, and special effects whiz Kevin Haug; and novelist Chuck Palahniuk and screenwriter Jim Uhls (our exclusive interview with Palahniuk can be found here). In addition to that, a second disc comes with trailers, cast and crew credits, alternative or deleted scenes with commentary, a short unnarrated documentary (which is more like a home movie, showing things like Meat Loaf running in place), TV spots, goofy theater PSAs, Internet spots, the (not particularly good) music video, six still galleries, a digital press-kit, lobby cards, the transcript of an interview with Norton at Yale, and more.
OK, so the extras are really cool. But who needs to see Fight Club over and over again, or know so much about it? Well, guys do, because it taps into the stifled male rage many feel at the moral corruption of contemporary consumerist society. Showing linkages with other recent rebellion films such as Office Space and American Beauty, with which it shares a similar blackmail-quiting scene, Fight Club is a gob of spit in the eye of American self-satisfaction, a Bretonian act of defiance, an energized lament over betrayal and lost power. And girls need to see it too, because though this thread isn't apparent at first, the film is really a savvy tale about a smart woman who makes foolish choices. Bonham-Carter's Marla Singer, upon repeated viewing, emerges as the most interesting character in the film, bringing weight to a part that is essential and only visible once you know what's really going on in the plot. But Norton and Pitt are equally good. Norton, an heir to Harry Langdon, is excellent at physical comedy in this film (tromping around in a basement filled with water; flinching from Marla's flung cigarette), while Brad Pitt is the quintessence of James Deanian cool (when spontaneously dancing with Marla in her hallway; the way he smashes his cigarette butts to the ground as if he were slamming shut a car trunk).
Fincher's endless visual inventiveness, his attention to detail, and his innate sympathy with his characters all his characters makes for a transcendent film. It's a director's movie, not just an adaptation of a novel, and it also is another Finchian exercise in uneasily allied duos fighting inplacable enemies. But unlike in his previous films, the enemy here is not an alien, a psychopath, or an entertainment institution, but society itself. The subject of Columbine comes up a lot in the commentaries, but given the nature of the Project Mayhem rebellion, Oklahoma City seems to be the more logical analog. Everyone in the commentaries emphasizes that Tyler is not the "answer" to the problems facing the Jacks of the world, attractive as Tylers may be. Latent within the movie is the notion that what Norton should do is just let it all go, not care; Tyler, he says, has a remarkable ability to let that which is not truly important simply slide (which echoes what the penguin says when Norton enters his secret cave: "Slide!"). But Fincher does not let this quasi-Zen attitude of detachment come across as the simple-minded and rather unhelpful notion that it is. Letting it slide is part of the movie, but it is not all that the movie is. Rather, Fight Club is a comic masterpiece that shows us exactly how we live now. You can find the remarkable DVD edition on the street Tuesday morning.
Box Office: There was only one new film over the weekend to compete with Paramount's megahit Mission: Impossible 2, but Fox's Big Momma's House, starring Martin Lawrence, gave Tom Cruise a run for the money, earning $25.6 million and just coming up short of M:I-2's $27 million. The weekend receipts sent M:I-2 past the $130 million mark overall, and it is now the third film this year to crack the century mark, joining Gladiator and Erin Brockovich. Little changed for the rest of the pack, all in continuing release, with Dinosaur, Shanghai Noon, and Gladiator all dropping one place, but Dinosaur will join the century club sometime this week. Meanwhile, two sleeper films, DreamWorks' Road Rules and New Line's Frequency, are shaping up as bonafide hits. Hang on for next week, when the high-speed remake of Gone in 60 Seconds, starring Nicolas Cage and Angelina Jolie, goes head-to-head with M:I-2 for the box-office crown.
Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:
On the Board: We locked DVD Journal staffer D. K. Holm in the screening room with nothing but the new special editions of Fight Club and Twister, along with a case of Mountain Dew, and we wouldn't let him out until we got two fat reviews out of him, which now can be found on our Full Reviews index. New quick reviews from the staff this week include Girl, Interrupted, Lethal Weapon: Director's Cut, Judgment Day, Errol Morris' latest documentary Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter Jr., Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 Romeo and Juliet, and the four-disc box-set An Evening with Sherlock Holmes. All can be accessed on the Quick Reviews index, and as usual everything has been added under the New Reviews menu here on the main page.
We'll be back tomorrow with the rundown on this week's street discs.
Thursday, 1 June 2000
'Gone' is going digital: The big-budget remake of Gone in 60 Seconds starring Nicolas Cage and Angelina Jolie and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer is due to reach the cineplexes this month, but the 1974 original, directed by the late H.B. Halicki, has been out of print on home video for several years, and rare VHS copies can only be found on eBay or at specialty rental shops. However, that's about to change, as we've been informed by producer Michael Leone that a new DVD is definitely in prep:
Also, please let everyone know about www.gonein60seconds.com. We are adding new info and photos every week. And don't forget to go see the new remake of Gone in 60 Seconds on June 9th. It has taken Executive Producer Denice Halicki over ten years to bring the remake to the movie screen, and it's great.
Sound like great news to us. We did get a chance to see the original VHS tape of Gone in 60 Seconds last year and wrote about it on this site. For those of you who missed it, our comments can be found here.
Commentary Clip: "Now, in the novel, which was a wonderful novel, the story begins in the Pentagon parking lot on a Sunday. And Kirk Douglas, the Jiggs Casey character, was the duty officer, and it was a very quiet, sleepy Sunday. And this kind of off-the-wall Navy lieutenant talks about these bets that military officers were making for the Preakness, which was to be run the following Saturday hence the seven days in May, from Sunday through Saturday. Now, when we were doing the film I decided that I wanted to open the movie in a very exciting way, which was the riot. And we figured that was a really good way to start the movie it plunges right into the story. And here in this (second) scene with (the president, played by Frederic March) discussing his standing in the polls you get the whole situation. But to do that, of course, it had to be a Monday. And I was about five or six days away from shooting, and kind of feeling very happy about the whole situation. And I read the script and suddenly I realized, My God, I've lost a day in May! I had a picture suddenly called Six Days in May.
"I didn't know what to do. So I went to this friend of mine who was the best re-write guy in town, a guy named Charlie Lederer, who was also a fair tennis player. Now, the problem was I was a good tennis player, and Charlie lost a lot of bets to me. He would bet things like an hour of his time against an hour of my time. And I had 12 hours of Charlie's time that I had won in tennis bets. So I called him up and I said, 'Charlie, I have a big problem,' and I explained to him what it was, that I had lost a day in May, because there was no Sunday horse racing. And he said, 'OK, come over and we'll settle our score.' So I went over there, he read the script, and he said, 'I agree that I owe you 12 hours. Now, if I were to solve your problem in less than 12 hours, would that eradicate the debt?' And I said, 'Absolutely.' And he said, 'OK, here's what you do. In the scene in the airport (between Kirk Douglas and Edmond O'Brian), make sure you stage part of it next to a wall. And on the wall, you put down 'First Sunday Running of the Preakness' on a poster. And that will solve it.' And I thought about this, and I said, OK, because the film's supposed to take place in the future. And that's what I did. And no one ever picked up on it. In all the critical analyses written on the picture, that never has come up. So I just thought I'd drop that in to those of you that got this DVD. And I hope that you have as much of a laugh over it as I do now, looking back on it."
Director John Frankenheimer,
Quotable: "Other than the gifts of God and Nature, that which is free is free only because someone else has paid for it."
Edgar Bronfman, CEO of Seagram (which owns Universal),
"It's a very narrow line between being funny and being an idiot. You can walk over that line very easily without even knowing it. But if you take yourself seriously at any time, you're in trouble."
William Shatner, discussing his career-restoring turn as
"I do smoke (marijuana), but I don't go through all this trouble just because I want to make my drug of choice legal. It's about personal freedom. We should have the right in this country to do what we want, if we don't hurt anybody."
Woody Harrelson, in an interview with the Associated Press,
Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including Fox's mind-bendingly great Fight Club, Warner's new special edition of Twister, and plenty more. And this will be the last weekend to enter this month's totally free DVD contest, so be sure to visit our contest page if you have the time for your shot at a copy of Field of Dreams: Collector's Edition. We'll be back Monday morning to announce the winner, and we'll have a new DVD contest and reader poll up and running as well.
Have a great weekend.