News and Commentary: March 2001

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Thursday, 29 March 2001
Weekend Dispatch

boxcoverComing Attractions: We're already putting the finishing touches on some big fat DVD reviews (like Lawrence of Arabia and Cleopatra), so be sure to drop by Monday morning for all the latest. This also will be the last weekend to enter this month's totally free DVD contest for a copy of the Oliver Stone Collection 10-pack, so drop by our contest page if you haven't yet and don't forget to take our monthly DVD poll while you're there. We'll announce the winner Monday (will it be you?) and have a new contest up and running. Have a great weekend.

Quotable – Oscar edition: "I have to admit that Academy Awards night is a good show and quite funny in spots, although I'll admire you if you can laugh at all of it. If you can go past those awful idiot faces on the bleachers outside the theater without a sense of the collapse of the human intelligence; if you can stand the hailstorm of flash bulbs popping at the poor patient actors who, like kings and queens, have never the right to look bored; if you can glance out over this gathered assemblage of what is supposed to be the elite of Hollywood and say to yourself without a sinking feeling, 'In these hands lie the destinies of the only original art the modern world has conceived'; if you can laugh, and you probably will, at the cast-off jokes from the comedians on the stage, stuff that wasn't good enough to use on their radio shows; if you can stand the fake sentimentality and the platitudes of the officials and the mincing elocution of the glamour queens (you ought to hear them with four martinis down the hatch); if you can do all these things with grace and pleasure, and not have a wild and forsaken horror at the thought that most of these people actually take this shoddy performance seriously; and if you can then go out into the night to see half the police force of Los Angeles gathered to protect the golden ones from the mob in the free seats but not from that awful moaning sound they give out, like destiny whistling through a hollow shell; if you can do all these things and still feel next morning that the picture business is worth the attention of one single intelligent, artistic mind, then in the picture business you certainly belong."

— Mystery writer Raymond Chandler in his 1946 essay "Oscar
Night in Hollywood," reprinted for the first time since its
original publication in the forthcoming collection The
Raymond Chandler Papers

Julia"It may sound mad, or cold, or downright blasphemous to claim that Julia Roberts is not sexy. Any well-briefed attorney could proffer evidence to the contrary.... (But) the essence of Roberts' appeal — notably old-fashioned, if you think about it — is that she is more lovable than desirable, and that, even when love is off the menu, she cannot not be liked. There is no more flattering illusion in movies, none that we prefer to hear over and over again: here is a goddess, and she wants to be your friend."

— Film critic Anthony Lane, predicting an Oscar for
Julia Roberts in the March 26 New Yorker.

"Steve Martin wanted his initial outing as Oscar's ringmaster to be 'classical.' Maybe next year he'll do some wild and crazy things. But this time, he told me he wanted to do it this way — his way. The writers suggested he use several different props, but he nixed 'em. He was even asked to play banjo — in a trio with Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman. No! But he did OK."

Daily Variety columnist Army Archerd.

"I appeal to all film critics and feature writers to remember that a film begins with a screenplay."

— Screenwriter Ernest Lehman, while accepting a special
Oscar during the 73rd Academy Awards.

"You know, I watch a movie like Cast Away and I want to, like, commit hara-kiri."

— Filmmaker Julian Schnabel during a Q&A session in
Albany, New York, last month after a screening of his
Oscar-nominated film Before Night Falls.

boxcover"I welcome the free publicity. The more the critics hit Battlefield Earth, the more DVDs it sells."

Battlefield Earth producer Elie Samaha, after his
film won a record-tying seven Golden Raspberry
(i.e. "Razzie") awards last weekend.

"Scientology rocks!"

— Kelly Preston, speaking to Barbara Walters (with hubbie
John Travolta) in ABC-TV's annual post-Oscar special.

"The (Oscar) producers don't realize that we love to complain about the show, but we don't want it to change. We want long and wacky acceptance speeches! Weird tributes to obscure talents! ('The Foley Artist: Our Ears to the Cinema!') Hymns to Tibet! Honorary Oscars to directors who named names!"

— arts & entertainment editor Bill Wyman.

— Ed.

Wednesday, 28 March 2001

Mailbag: The time has come once again for the mail dump — letters sent from DVD Journal readers around the world to our high-tech HQ, and presented with minimal comments from your humble editor. Let's go:

  • People should be careful when they bid on OOP DVDs on eBay. I recently purchased the Criterion This Is Spinal Tap and it turned out to be very defective — skipping, sticking, and stopping playback. And that was in the first five minutes alone. I gave up trying to watch after that. The seller has been refusing a full refund, claiming that I should be happy that the side with the bonus materials works well, and that the scratches aren't that bad (actually, they really are). He also claimed that it worked perfectly on a newer player of his, which seems odd seeing as I tried it on five different players, and it did not work on any of them. Grrrr. Sorry, I am just ticked off.

    — Christopher

  • I understand people being upset about the "double-dipping" and so am I. However, if consumers would simply not purchase sub-par DVDs and wait until a grand one was released then perhaps studios would think twice about double-dipping. Besides, there are plenty of great discs out there to keep me happy and occupied while waiting for better versions.

    — Jason

  • You say that Steven Soderbergh is arguably the best American director today. Give me a break. This guy couldn't even break the top ten. Tarantino, P.T. Anderson, Spielberg, Stone, Scorsese, Joel Coen, Tim Burton, Wes Anderson, Aronofsky, Woody Allen, etc., all blow this guy away, as do quite a few other directors. On top of that, Erin Brockovich and Traffic are his two worst movies. Traffic has no climax at all and the stories don't ever connect to each other. Granted The Limey, Out of Sight, and Sex, Lies and Videotape are great movies, but they don't knock this guy into the Best Directors Alive category. However, even if they did, his two most recent films would have dropped him from that rank because they were nothing but disappointments.

    — M.K.

  • What's going on with DVD releases and May 22nd? I'm going to have to take out a loan to get all the good stuff being released on this date.

    — Seth

    Actually, May 22, May 29, and June 5 all look packed: Big Trouble in Little China: SE, Shadow of the Vampire, The Bridges of Toko-Ri, The Seven Year Itch, Traffic, Some Like It Hot: SE, L'avventura: Criterion, All the King's Men, Catch-22, Bus Stop, In Harm's Way, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, The Fugitive: SE, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Salvador: SE, Big Deal on Madonna Street: Criterion, Hope and Glory, Requiem for a Dream, Close Encounters: SE, The Sons of Katie Elder, The Madness of King George — all of those platters will hit the street in the space of just 15 days. Whew!

  • I think with regards to Kubrick's new(er) boxed set, the book industry is a good model. With books, if the original is a success, publishers will go through all sorts of shenanigans to get you to purchase it again. New translations, illustrated versions, uncut versions, limited signed editions, and chapbooks are all used to get readers to buy multiple copies of the same (or marginally superior) work. DVD manufacturers are in business to maximize profits. Not make a bunch, or just some money, but to make every penny they can. Expect frequent re-releases with new features every few years for the rest of this media's existence.

    — Ian

  • I have grown convinced that cats (and probably all mammals) are sentient. Perhaps I spend too much time with my cat. Also, Ms. DuPont, you probably already have many groupies, but would you like to meet for vanilla lattes or other caffeinated beverages? Whenever you visit Los Angeles, feel free to give me a call if you want to hang out with a cat-loving magazine writer who suffers from mild agoraphobia but is otherwise fairly cool. Operators are standing by.

    — Dan

    Sorry Dan — last we heard the lovely Alexandra DuPont was making out in the back of some dingy L.A. bar with your best friend.

  • I wish studios would uniformly package their two-disc films into double Alpha cases or double-slimline cases (Gladiator). Magnolia and Boogie Nights are aesthetically cool, but once the case is damaged, they're history.

    — Ken

  • I miss Criterion Laserdiscs. Paying up to and over a hundred bucks for each really made them seem special....

    — J.Y.

  • I think that Criterion does make good DVDs, but that they are hyped way too much on your website. Let's be real, New Line makes better DVDs. If they numbered their DVDs like Criterion, then they would be hyped just as much. The fact is, my perception of DVDs changed when I bought a 16:9 TV. And Criterion was slow getting to the "Enhanced for Widescreen" party. That is a point of resentment for me, especially at their prices. But I know you'll defend them to the end, so I'm wasting my breath.

    — Chance

  • It's a shame so many movies are still only available on vinyl.

    — Richard

    We'll second that.

    A recent discussion on feature-filled vs. bare-bones DVDs generated quite a bit of reader feedback:

  • Thank you for your very sensible response to the issue of "supplement collecting" that seems to have robbed many a DVD fan of their ability to look at DVDs for what they are: a chance to see great films at home in the best format possible, not a guarantee they will be exposed to every bit of minutiae and trivia about said film. Forget the production costs and time involved in creating these supplements; are there really that many people who have the time to devote to all of these supplements? For instance, it was a nice bonus to find all the extras on the Fight Club disc, but I bought that last June and haven't come close to looking at all the supplements or listening to all the commentaries, nor do I have immediate plans to do so. But I've seen the film several times, and its image and sound quality are more than enough to please me. And don't get me started on sub-par films given the same special edition treatment — who cares about the "craft" that went into inexplicable bestsellers like Battlefield Earth or Coyote Ugly? But these discs have "extras" so they must have "extra value," right?

    — Aaron

  • I've been coming to your site on a regular basis for a couple of months now. Most of the time I find it informative and enjoyable. What's amusing is how you seem to have started to side with the studios against the consumer. At least that's been the case during the last months. Your last mailbag column was really funny. In it you claim that you choose quantity over quality, and for example that "nobody here will sniff at MGM's bare-bones The Apartment" and "Would we rather that Universal held back their Day of the Jackal disc until they could get Frederick Forsythe out of retirement to record a track (and good luck there)? No way."

    A couple of months ago you were singing a different tune when you said: "For us, if we know a studio is prepping a big DVD of a popular title, the last thing we want to hear from them is 'We're going to rush it on the street as fast as possible.' As the legendary Orson Welles insisted (albeit when his film career was in the tank), 'We will sell no wine before it's time,' and we always hope the discs we buy are completely definitive. (Note to the folks at Columbia who are prepping Lawrence of Arabia: Take a couple more months if you think you need it. Really.)"

    Personally, I tend to almost exclusively buy releases with special features. Not only am I a huge sucker for commentary tracks, but a feature-packed release is also an indication that the studio has invested care in the release, suggesting that it won't get any better than that. The point of only purchasing feature-filled DVDs is that it's the closest we'll get to a guarantee that the release will indeed be completely definitive. Obviously, the only real power I have over these matters as a consumer is to primarily purchase really good releases of the films I like. If everybody did the same I'm pretty sure we'd see a significant increase in DVD standard. For you see, even though producing a solid transfer and a nice set of special features may be expensive for the studio, they are getting their money back. It may cut slightly into their profits, but I'm all for cutting profits in order to benefit the consumer. I am however willing to bet that in many cases the studios are making more money from their special editions than their bare-bones releases. When I own all the special feature editions of the films I like, then, and only then, will I start purchasing bare-bones releases. I'm hoping that'll never happen.

    — Jens

    We want studios to take the necessary time to prepare a special edition when it's obvious that one will be undertaken. But for many catalog titles, particularly in MGM's massive holdings, quality special features may not be readily available, and therefore we're willing to take a disc as long as the source materials are clean and the presentation is historically accurate. We don't see that as a contradiction necessarily, although we admit it's a tad pragmatic and vague. What should be emphasized is that MGM is releasing their back titles faster than any other studio, and that makes us pretty damn giddy.

    As for "siding" with the studios against the consumer, we hear this sort of rhetoric from time to time, and we don't accept it. DVD producers are selling us products — we want to buy a lot of them. That makes them our business partners, not our enemies. Quality products will continue to arrive every week as long as we, the consumers, let our vendors know what we're willing to buy — and more importantly, what we're willing to overlook. And for us, we're willing to buy a lot of what MGM currently is selling.

  • I've just read your front page reply to Joseph's demand that every DVD be loaded with everything. While I certainly understand him, I think it bears a further level of examination.

    I don't think everyone agrees with Joseph, except maybe from one specific angle. If documentaries and commentaries exist prior to the creation of the DVD, why wouldn't they be included? Why not release The Frighteners with all of its Laserdisc supplements? Why edit an hour out of the documentary on Jaws? For example, I can't imagine being as satisfied with 12 Monkeys if it didn't include the entertaining documentary The Hamster Factor.

    But let's also not forget that these existing materials are sometimes owned by someone other than the studio producing the DVD, so that can prevent them from appearing. Take the exclusion of the documentary from the second release of Boogie Nights as an example — would have been a great addition, but they couldn't work it out.

    But the problems with creating new material for everything involve more than just than the gigantic additional costs. Let's be honest — most commentaries are very mediocre. There are several that are very entertaining, like Kevin Smith's, Steven Soderbergh's, and the truly wacky interplay between Paul Verhoeven and Ed Neumeier on the Starship Troopers DVD — but most aren't worth listening to more than once, if that much.

    So we should really demand quality instead of quantity for supplements. Will I replace my copy of The Frighteners with a Collector's Edition should it one day appear? Yeah, I probably would. Universal put out three movies I would love to own, and released them as Collector's Editions. But I don't own the fully-loaded (and loaded with some great stuff!) discs of Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, Tremors, and Field of Dreams. I just don't want to lay out my money for movies that deserve and perhaps will one day get much better transfers and sound mixes. If those movies are re-released looking and sounding like Universal's 12 Monkeys or the spectacular Apollo 13 discs, then I'll buy them. That's because it's the movie that I'm going to watch over and over again. I'm not knocking people who value the supplements over the movie, but for me, it's always going to come back to the quality and care taken in presenting the feature presentation on DVD.

    — Drew

  • I agree wholeheartedly with your editorial about extra features. People forget that even Criterion, the acknowledged quality leader, puts out many discs as "bare bones" without supplements. You save $10 off the list price on these discs, which indicates that these supplements cost money and time, a fact sometimes hidden on big sellers, where the costs are spread over many discs. For me, with my minority tastes, I'm just delighted when a Fellini or Bergman or Eisenstein film comes out in a good transfer. I'll never get to see most of these films any other way than on DVD. Extras are icing on the cake.

    From my point of view, many of the extras coming out right now are a waste of time. My compulsive personality compels me to go through most of them but I must say I rarely enjoy it. I have discs with up to four different commentary tracks. By the time you've seen a movie five times, well, you're getting sick of it. One of the extras on the first "The Prisoner" DVD shows a file cabinet being opened and shut repeatedly. Well, that's a pretty lousy extra, but it just shows how much pressure there is to a pack a disc.

    As a collector of classic jazz, I've faced a similar problem with alternate takes. Many CDs will include up to six repeats of the same song, and usually the differences are minimal, but you've got to listen to them all to make sure. I'll admit, it's an indication that thought and care went into the product, and the compulsive collector in me does like "having it all." At least I know I won't be tempted to buy the next reissue with "new previously unreleased tracks."

    A really well done extra feature is exhilarating. I by no means want to discourage them where they make sense. For example, watching the extras on Criterion's Brazil is like going to film school. I finally understand why most Hollywood movies are so bad. The very things I value in film are the exact things the studios generally strip out, or prevent from being made in the first place, to give their product the broadest possible appeal. Its very expensive to make a movie, and I understand that from the business perspective one wants the greatest possible return on investment.

    In the end, as you point out, there's a balance to be struck. Right now, unfortunately, many excellent films are languishing in the vaults. I can only hope that this isn't because most of the time and energy is going into producing extra features of dubious value for more commercial films.

    — Bert

  • Had to weigh in on the letter you posted from Joseph this week. Kudos to you on your response. I am in total agreement with you about your comment that many hard-core DVD enthusiasts are supplements collectors. I remember reading something on another site that posted its top discs list and stated that the quality of the film had nothing to do with the ratings — they were based on menus, supplements, etc. Well, that's totally ludicrous! I mean c'mon, who cares if you get a bunch of great featurettes and commentaries with a film that is total crap? Not me, that's for sure. I agree that what MGM is up to is wonderful. And let's not forget, their prices are very reasonable. Just give me a clean transfer, preferably anamorphic, and I'm happy. Looking forward to The Apartment. How about getting Paramount on the bandwagon? Sabrina is on the way, but where are all those other Billy Wilder titles they're sitting on? Or Roman Holiday? Good clean bare-bones discs would suit me just fine.

    — Ross

  • I think you might have been a little rough on Joseph's letter last week, decrying the lack of features on some discs. I think specifically you were a bit off on the whole "we want it now" aspect of DVD buying. Most fans I know are more than willing to wait months, indeed years, to get a great special edition version of a catalog title. I'm sure you can understand the frustration of a buyer when a film like Escape from New York is released with no significant features, yet evil bombs like Battlefield Earth or Whipped get the "heavy feature" treatment. It simply makes us wonder why they are wasting the effort on movies that are bad, while a lot of great films sit unreleased. And for the record, I will take a sharp, clear, great sounding bare-bones edition of a classic catalog title also, especially given the fact that many never received such treatment for VHS.

    And you pointed out that commentaries and "making of" features are indeed expensive and time consuming. No doubt they are, which makes me wonder: DVD is quickly becoming known as the "movie lovers" format, due to its excellent presentation, sound, and extras. Doesn't it make more sense to put the money into a well-loved catalog title rather than a piece of garbage straight out of the theaters? I mean, honestly, does anyone really believe that a commentary track, making of features, and special effects tests are going to help recoup the losses on Battlefield Earth? Save the money and put it towards a title that will make devotees salivate, and I guarantee we'll all be happier in the end.

    — Ryan

  • I agree with you on the MGM issue. I was a little skeptical of their release plans for this year as well, but when I got my Abominable Dr. Phibes disc (for a whopping $9) I was very impressed. Granted, some films deserve the Special Edition treatment (am I the only one who thinks it's insane that there are no DVDs with Billy Wilder commentary despite the fact that he is still alive and more than willing to talk about his films?), but I'd be as happy as a clam if more studios (are you reading this Paramount?) released high quality bare-bones discs at super-low prices like MGM.

    — Matt

    We indicated recently that we suspected Mr. Wilder, who is 95, may never record a commentary, but several readers spanked us on the topic, insisting that he may be elderly, but he's still sharp as a tack. If we were wrong, we'll gladly be so.

  • Insofar as collector's editions and their audio commentaries go, I would sincerely like to see more emphasis on the actual aspects of the moviemaking process rather than a two hour dialog about how Joe Blow and Jane Blaine were "super neato people to work with". Down with Mel Brooks, down with the Farrelly Bros. Gimme meat, dammit.

    — D.W.

  • While I do prefer special editions (for example I've put off buying Almost Famous because the studio is planning a special edition), the fact of the matter is that I have never listened to a commentary track all the way through. And there are lots of titles that have yet to be released, and as you point out, making everything a special edition means that many of them will never make it. Thanks for being the voice of reason.

    — Mike

  • Regarding your take on DVD supplements, bravo! While as a DVD enthusiast I empathize with the sentiments expressed by Joseph in the Wednesday mailbag, I was greatly heartened by your response. The world of Home Entertainment has become a wealth of riches and it's easy to become accustomed to the surplus of goodies offered up by the studios on the many incredible Special and Collector's Editions. So your point about the focus having shifted from movie to supplement collecting is spot on. The primary art form being delivered here is cinema, first and foremost.

    DVDs are both a great pleasure and an invaluable learning tool for students of film. It's a joy to hear filmmakers discussing their work, to see behind-the-scenes footage and gain insight into the creative process. In the end, though, it is the film itself that enlightens and informs and is really the only thing I'm "owed" for my money. I love hearing commentaries by great artists, but I don't hold it against Woody Allen one bit because he won't include anything other than his work on a disc. He's an artist whose work I thoroughly enjoy and it's his choice to let his work stand on its own. Would I love to see outtakes from Bananas? Hell, yes. Do I own the film and will I repeatedly watch it anyway? Hell, yes, and I'm tickled to do so.

    Now, my take on things may be partially a function of my own time frame. I was a movie fanatic before VCRs made their debut in the marketplace, so my initial exposure to films was television and subsequently theaters. Finding a favorite old movie playing in an obscure theater was a great thrill, and the search became akin to a treasure hunt. There were no video stores yet and we simply did not have the option of picking up a sought after movie and bringing it home that night to watch. One of my favorite memories from college is when a group of us discovered that The Godfather was playing in a theater way out on the tip of Long Island — about three hours by car. The next show started in a little over two hours and we made the instant decision to attempt to see it, with the understanding that we would not watch the movie if we missed the opening scene. I drove, and an agreement was reached that we would split any speeding tickets incurred. We reached our seats in the middle of Bonasera's opening monologue (and my driving record remained miraculously clean). The experience was sweeter than words can adequately convey, and there wasn't a "making-of" documentary anywhere in sight that night.

    Understand, I'm not advocating a return to the "good old days", nor lamenting how "you kids just don't understand how I had to climb 10 flights of stairs in the freezing cold for the privilege of watching scratchy prints of silent two-reelers." Far from it; believe me, no one enjoys this boom better than I do. The only real material dream my best friend and I ever indulged in was the thought of one day owning a film library. And that is exactly what has now come to pass, though in a way that we were never visionary enough to foresee.

    What I am saying is that it's good to regain some lost perspective. In the end, given limited disposable income I welcome the dissemination of the studios' catalogue films in inexpensive, bare-bones editions. The affordability of these titles enables me to include far more in my collection. Any extras I get are icing on the cake. I've said this elsewhere and it's worth repeating here: I would never trade my Criterion film-only edition of Diabolique for the feature-laden edition of the modern abomination of The Haunting. I would, of course, have welcomed with open arms any extras relating to Clouzot's classic, but I'm so utterly thrilled to have the film in my home and available for viewing at my leisure that I find it simply impossible to complain about. In the end, though it might not be as exhilarating without the high-speed antics on the Southern State Parkway, the treasure is there at my disposal.

    And it's worth remembering what a privilege that is.

    — Philip

    Thanks Philip — your letter says more than we could ever say on this topic.

    Once we started talking about U.S. vs. Canadian DVD releases earlier this month, informative letters from informed readers followed for several days:

  • I was just reading about the differences between the R1 releases in Canada and the U.S. Just be thankful you don't live in Australia / Region 4. We are now getting censored titles. Not because our censors did some cutting, but because the British (R2) censors got to it. Most distributors are now mastering one disc for PAL and giving them R2 and R4 codings. Those in R4 end up with R2 butchered titles like Predator and Commando. Among other things, Arnie's classic one-liner, "Stick around" does not appear on our version of the DVD. This obviously leaves those in R4 with a sub-standard product, to say the least, and no other option than to pick the title up from R1. I wont even begin to mention Criterion titles, which will never hit our shores (except via Amazon, et. al.).

    — R.S.

  • In your discussion of U.S. vs. Canadian DVDs you did not mention Run Lola Run, available here in Canada only as a bare-bones pan-and-scan DVD. I ended up buying the U.S. version through Ken Cranes — definitely the better buy, but you would never know it existed here without the Internet. Also, there are a few movies only available here, at least in Region 1. One is the Gerard Depardieu version of Cyrano de Bergerac — again in full-frame and with some ghastly glitches — the soundtrack is completely out of sync with the picture for some critical minutes in the final scene.

    — Ronald

  • I thought I would give the "heads-up" to non-Canadian fans of Atom Egoyan. Alliance has released a DVD version of Egoyan's 1992 film The Adjuster with some special features. The special features are:

    • Feature commentary by Egoyan
    • "En Passant" featurette
    • Scene access
    • Interview with Egoyan
    • Egoyan biography & filmography
    • Trailer

    The disc also has both English and French languages in 2.0 Dolby stereo, as well as a widescreen transfer (1.85:1). This disc streeted on Feb. 13, 2001. MGM, under their "Avant-Garde Cinema" logo, is streeting The Adjuster in the USA on April 10, 2001, but this version features only a trailer as supplementary material. I have also noticed the two releases have different box cover art.

    — Paul

  • Alliance's version of the Trainspotting DVD is quite different from the Miramax version. It is the director's cut with the few seconds of sex and drug use cut by the U.S. censors, and it has the original strong Scottish accents that were over dubbed in certain parts for U.S. release. Basically the cut that was re-released in the UK a few years ago (AKA the green version). Also included in the Canadian version of the DVD are: 9 deleted scenes with director's commentary, interviews, digital 5.1 and widescreen.

    — Brian

    Quick point of clarification Brian — unlike in some other countries, there are no government censors here in the U.S., just the studio-funded MPAA and the studios' own guidelines. Two seconds of Trainspotting were cut to earn an R-rating (according to, and there was some overdubbing during the first 20 minutes. In any event, these decisions were taken by Disney/Miramax — who could have released the film unaltered — and not a body of censors.

  • After reading about the differences between Canadian and U.S. DVDs, it made me think of another (albeit seemingly rare?) situation — DVDs that are in print in Canada, but nowhere to be found in the U.S. Case in point — Warner's DVD for Giant. They've since pulled it from release, but it was available in Canada for a while with no U.S. release anywhere in sight. I wonder how many more films like this are in print across the border with no U.S. counterpart.

    — Rando

    A good question — and probably worth a few more reader responses at least.

    boxcoverTop of the Pops: Here's the top-selling DVDs last week from our friends at Click the links to read our reviews of these discs:

    1. Charlie's Angels
    2. Remember the Titans
    3. Meet the Parents: Collector's Edition
    4. The 6th Day
    5. Almost Famous
    6. Ben-Hur
    7. Red Planet
    8. Frank Herbert's Dune
    9. Gladiator: Signature Selection
    10. The Contender

    See ya.

    — Ed.

    Tuesday, 27 March 2001

    In the Works: It was a slow week as far as new disc announcements go, so here's a handful of items this morning courtesy of Image Entertainment and, and additional staff reports:

    • Universal will street the much-discussed Shadow of the Vampire on May 29, which will feature a commentary by director E. Elias Merhige, interview segments with Merhige, star Willem Dafoe, and producer Nicolas Cage, production stills, notes, and a trailer. Also on the way is Sundance Festival standout Two Family House (May 29), directed by Raymond De Felitta and starring Michael Rispoli, Kelly Mcdonald, and Katherine Narducci.
    • Four titles known to be in production at Criterion now have June 5 street dates — Douglas Sirk's 1956 Written on the Wind, starring Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall, and Robert Stack will include a still gallery and advertising materials, while Sirk's 1955 All That Heaven Allows — starring Hudson, Jane Wyman and Agnes Moorehead — will include the BBC documentary "Behind the Mirror: A Profile of Douglas Sirk" and the illustrated essay "Imitation of Life." Michelangelo Antonioni's 1960 L'avventura will include a commentary from film historian Gene Youngblood, an hour-long documentary, excerpts from Antonioni's writings read by Jack Nicholson, and more. Also on the way will be Mario Monicelli's 1958 Big Deal on Madonna Street, although this one will be bare-bones.
    • Columbia TriStar is digging into the classics as well with Robert Rossen's 1949 Oscar-winner All the King's Men starring Broderick Crawford, although the disc will be relatively feature-free. Dusty old political dramas too much for you? Also due are The Muppet Movie, with "Jim Frawley's Camera Test" and more Muppet goodies, and The Muppets Take Manhattan, featuring a Jim Henson interview. It's all on the street June 5.
    • Crikey! Here's a big'un! Artisan is prepping The Crocodile Hunter: Croc Files, four episodes of the popular Animal Planet series starring the whacked-out Steve Irwin and his long-suffering wife Terri. Episodes include "Charlie," "How to Catch a Crocodile," "Aussie Legends," and "Pacific Northwest." Get it on May 22.

    On the Street: Think DVD is just for boys? Not today — Columbia TriStar has a pair of discs loaded with girl power on the street, the ass-kickin' Charlie's Angels and indie drama Girlfight. Meanwhile, Fox has a trio of sci-fi flicks from the vaults out today — Enemy Mine, Alien Nation, and Zardoz — although we're not sure if we want to call these "classics." Sci-fi is also on the street from Warner, who have released Red Planet, while parents will want to hunt down Paramount's The Rugrats in Paris for the kids. And anybody who's a fan of Brit-coms (like us) will want to find the first two seasons of Jeeves and Wooster, now digital from A&E. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of and Image Entertainment:

    • The 6th Day
    • Alien Nation
    • Candy: Limited Edition
    • Candy (unlimited edition)
    • Charlie's Angels
    • Children of the Corn
    • Dementia 13
    • Die! Die! Die!
    • Enemy Mine
    • The Firesign Theatre: Back from the Shadows
    • Girlfight
    • Hendrix
    • Hercules
    • Hercules Unchained
    • The Intruder
    • Jeeves and Wooster: The Complete First Season
    • Jeeves and Wooster: The Complete Second Season
    • Jewel in the Crown (4-DVD Set)
    • Last Resort
    • Lockdown
    • Lust in the Dust
    • Maximum Overdrive
    • Pokemon: The Johto Journeys - A Brand New World
    • Pokemon: The Johto Journeys - Midnight Guardian
    • Red Planet
    • Reindeer Games: Director's Cut
    • Rugrats in Paris: The Movie
    • Strangers and Brothers (4-disc set)
    • Time Regained
    • Yanni: Tribute
    • Neil Young: In Berlin
    • Zombie Lake
    • Zardoz

    Back tomorrow with all that reader mail.

    — Ed.

    Monday, 26 March 2001

    boxcoverAnd the small gold bald guy goes to: Here's the rundown from last night's 73rd Academy Awards:

    • Best Picture: Gladiator
    • Best Director: Stephen Soderbergh, Traffic
    • Best Actor: Russell Crowe, Gladiator
    • Best Actress: Julia Roberts, Erin Brockovich
    • Best Supporting Actor: Benicio Del Toro, Traffic
    • Best Supporting Actress: Marcia Gay Harden, Pollock

    • Best Screenplay (original): Cameron Crowe, Almost Famous
    • Best Screenplay (adapted): Stephen Gaghan, Traffic

    • Best Original Score: Tan Dun, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
    • Best Original Song: Bob Dylan, "Things Have Changed," Wonder Boys,

    • Best Foreign Film: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
    • Best Documentary Feature: Into the Arms of Strangers
    • Best Documentary Short: Big Mama
    • Best Animated Short Film: Father and Daughter
    • Best Live Action Short Film: Quiero Ser (I want to be)

    • Best Cinematography: Peter Pau, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
    • Best Film Editing: Stephen Mirrione, Traffic
    • Best Visual Effects: John Nelson, Neil Corbould, Tim Burke, Rob Harvey, Gladiator
    • Best Sound: Scott Millan, Bob Beemer, Ken Weston, Gladiator
    • Best Sound Editing: Jon Johnson, U-571

    • Best Costume Design: Janty Yates, Gladiator
    • Best Art/Set Direction: Tim Yip, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
    • Best Make-Up: Rick Baker, Gail Ryan, Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas

    • Irving Thalberg Award: Dino De Laurentiis
    • Honorary Academy Award: Jack Cardiff
    • Honorary Academy Award: Ernest Lehman

    It was a balanced ceremony, with the awards spread among several films — Gladiator led the way with five, while Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Traffic garnered four apiece. The Best Picture award for Gladiator was expected, being the sort of big-budget epic that Academy voters favor, and Julia Roberts' win as Best Actress was the surest bet of the entire evening. However, Russell Crowe's victory as Best Actor for Gladiator seemed to take him by surprise (beating out Tom Hanks' demanding performance in Cast Away surprised us), but it can be seen as an acknowledgment by the Academy that he was previously overlooked for excellent turns in L. A. Confidential and The Insider. And finally, nobody was more pleased than your own DVD Journal news team when Stephen Soderbergh won Best Director for Traffic — oddsmakers had the filmmaker out of the running, being nominated for two films in one year (Traffic, Erin Brockovich), but Soderbergh arguably is the best American filmmaker working today, and the statuette was more than warranted.

    Kudos to Steve Martin for his dry wit, which kept the proceedings fresh (best Martin line: "Be sure to stay until the end of the program because we're going to vote somebody out of show business.") As for Bob Dylan's performance of "Things Have Changed," was it us or was he channeling the spirit of Vincent Price? The only thing missing was a flashlight stuck under his chin. Spooky.

    boxcoverDisc of the Week: Making a film about sports can be a tricky proposition. Too many sports movies rely on the overwrought "against all odds" approach to filmmaking — evident in films like the Rocky series, or a movie as recent as The Replacements. Most sports films also tend to skim over the issues of mental fortitude and emotional character — neccesitites of the skilled athlete — favoring instead a dominant physicality and an upbeat "win one for the Gipper" attitude that builds to the inevitable big-game ending. The more subtle approach to the genre, however — one that uses sports as a metaphor to create a backdrop for human drama — places greater emphasis on the complexities and interior make-up of the individual viewed within a sports environment. Inspired by films like John Huston's Fat City and Robert Wise's The Set-Up, writer/director Karyn Kusama wanted to explore the nature of human emotions and their subtext in her sports film Girlfight, one of the best-kept secrets of 2000 and a film festival favorite. Kusama's goal was to make a coming-of-age film using the environment of boxing from a real-life perspective, taking pains, as she states, "to avoid creating a narrative in which there was a clear-cut ending or any triumph that was larger than life." To give the film a fresh approach, Kusama uses a gender-reversal slant on the traditionally male sports-film genre by creating a female protagonist who strives to compete in the very masculine world of inner-city boxing.

    Girlfight stars newcomer Michelle Rodriguez as Diana Guzman, a Brooklyn high school girl with an attitude, a hot temper, and flashes of violent behavior. Diana lives with her abusive father Sandro (Paul Calderon) and her soft-spoken brother Tiny (Ray Santiago) in a traditional macho Latino household. The tension in their claustrophobic projects' apartment is palpable, with a lack of the feminine influence that disappeared with Diana's mother's death. Sandro pays for Tiny to take boxing lessons at the local gym, expecting his son to display the masculine traits Sandro so highly values. From Diana, Sandro expects little beyond obedience and obsequiousness. That these children are a disappointment to their father is obvious — in their own version of role reversal, Tiny is a gentle, passive, art-loving boy while Diana seethes with resentment and pent-up aggression. Diana also is a budding modern young woman, completely beyond the understanding of her narrow-minded father, who quips "Would it kill you to wear a skirt once in a while?" But when Diana visits the gym where her brother trains, something inside her shifts — here is a world where physical aggression is encouraged and can be controlled. She persuades Tiny's trainer Hector (Jaime Tirelli) to train her as well, and before long she transforms herself into a powerful, self-confident boxer. The gym becomes her home and Hector a surrogate father, someone who gives her the support and encouragement Sandro is unable to offer. A fellow boxer, Adrian (Santiago Douglas), becomes her boyfriend, and the two offer each other solace from the stark reality of their poverty-stricken surroundings. When Diana and Adrian face their final opponents for an amateur competition, they must put their inner resolve as well as their relationship to the test.

    The plot outline of Girlfight could make a potential viewer think it is no different than other "underdog makes good" sports films. But Girlfight is a knockout on several levels, starting with a remarkable performance by Rodriguez, whose powerful screen presence is breathtaking. Rodriguez gives Diana a silent and tangible depth — making her someone from whom a direct look or a sideways glance speaks more forcefully than pages of dialogue. In fact, much of the film was pared down from the script when it became evident that Rodriquez could say so much in very little screen time. The simplicity and completely natural cadence and tone of the film's sparse dialogue also adds to the movie's believability, as well as the authentic sets and locations that lend the film a documentary feel. The fight scenes are gritty and beautiful as well as realistic. Most notably, the superb camera work by cinematographer Patrick Cady, with its rich color saturation and exquisite attention to detail, makes the film a visual feast. Girlfight is beautifully rendered, satisfying cinema that never takes the easy way out. Anger, love, yearning, desire — Kusama articulately and self-confidently presents these emotions with respect for both her characters and her audience. She also permeates her film with genuine emotional muscle, elevating it beyond sports-film clichés. It's not very often that films this small are this outstanding.

    Columbia TriStar's new DVD release of Girlfight offers an anamorphic widescreen transfer (1.85:1) with crystal-clear images of the film's intense color schemes and rich atmospheric detail — both essential to the remarkable quality of the film — while the digitally mastered Dolby Digital 5.1 audio conveys Theodore Shapiro's very precise and moving soundtrack. In her intelligent and informative audio commentary, Kusama recounts the challenges of the indie filmmaking process, the constant need to clarify and simplify scenes and images, and the pain of letting go while keeping true to her vision of "finding a new way of looking at women in film." Fans will also want to spin the included "making-of" featurette. Girlfight is on the street tomorrow.

    Box Office: Steven Seagal and DMX were atop the box-office heap just a week ago, but this week they've been booted — and by a couple of girls, no less. MGM's Heartbreakers, starring Jennifer Love Hewitt and Sigourney Weaver as a conniving pair of mother-and-daughter swindlers, opened in first place at North American theaters over the weekend, earning $12.3 million and mixed reviews. But arriving more impressively, and on just half as many screens as Heartbreakers, was Sony's The Brothers, which snagged second place with $10.7 million, more mixed reviews, but a quartet of leading men (Bill Bellamy, Morris Chestnut, D.L. Hughley, Shemar Moore) that attracted women filmgoers. Also going wide was the Farrelly Brothers' Say It Isn't So, starring Heather Graham and Chris Klein, which stumbled out of the gate with just $3.1 million — the critics were overwhelmingly negative as well.

    The Oscar contenders were still drawing crowds in anticipation of last night's awards — USA's Traffic stands at $107.6 million, Sony's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has $106.2 million, and Miramax's Chocolat now has $60.6 million. Paramount's Enemy at the Gates showed a respectable second week, and now is at $26.2 million, while DreamWorks' The Mexican has scored $57.7 million after its first month. And get ready for Hannibal, because it's off the charts and we're expecting a special-edition DVD — that roughly $160 million finish ain't fava beans, after all.

    There's something new for everybody this Friday, as the espionage flick The Tailor of Panama (starring Pierce Brosnan, Geoffrey Rush, and Jamie Lee Curtis) the romantic comedy Someone Like You (Hugh Jackman shirtless! Ashley Judd in her skivvies!), and Robert Rodriguez's Spy Kids all go wide. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:

    1. Heartbreakers (MGM/UA)
      $12,300,000 ($12,300,000 through 1 week)
    2. The Brothers (Sony/Columbia TriStar)
      $10,700,000 ($10,700,000 through 1 week)
    3. Exit Wounds (Warner Bros.)
      $9,225,000 ($32,646,000 through 2 weeks)
    4. Enemy at the Gates (Paramount)
      $8,400,000 ($26,196,000 through 2 weeks)
    5. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Sony Pictures Classics)
      $4,652,357 ($106,292,723 through 16 weeks)
    6. The Mexican (DreamWorks SKG)
      $4,300,000 ($57,700,000 through 4 weeks)
    7. Traffic (USA Films)
      $3,907,000 ($107,640,000 through 13 weeks)
    8. See Spot Run (Warner Bros.)
      $3,340,000 ($29,223,000 through 4 weeks)
    9. Chocolat (Miramax)
      $3,300,000 ($60,600,000 through 15 weeks)
    10. Say It Isn't So (Fox)
      $3,100,000 ($3,100,000 through 1 week)
    11. Down to Earth (Paramount)
      $2,500,000 ($60,239,000 through 6 weeks)
    12. 15 Minutes (New Line)
      $2,400,000 ($21,846,000 through 3 weeks)

    On the Board: Greg Dorr has posted a new review of Lars Von Trier's Dancer in the Dark, out now from New Line, while Alexandra DuPont spun Alien Nation and Betsy Bozdech looked at The Ice Storm. Meanwhile, new staff reviews include Charlie's Angels, Red Planet, Enemy Mine, The Bishop's Wife, Grand Canyon, The Tao of Steve, Girlfight, Criterion's Mona Lisa and Coup de Torchon, and — yes! — the legendary Zardoz. It's all under the New Reviews menu here on the front page, along with everything else we've seen in the past month. Or use the Search Engine (right above it) to dig through our entire DVD reviews database.

    Back tomorrow with the street discs.

    — Ed.

    Thursday, 22 March 2001
    Weekend Dispatch

    On the Block: It's time once again for the weird and the wacky — the top-trading DVDs on eBay, rare and out-of-print stuff that some folks with deep pockets will pay a lot of money for, and regaining the top spot this time around is the time-tested Salo: The Criterion Collection, which crossed the board for $350.00 after one bid (a "buy it now" auction where the first bidder matched the asking price, closing the sale immediately). The previous top-trader, the ultra-rare 1997 THX Theatrical Trailers demo DVD, dropped to third place with a high close of $221.49, while another popular demo, 1999's THX Surround EX disc, cleared $114.01 for one lucky bidder (or make that lucky seller if you like). Rare Criterion titles continue to strong business, including The Killer, This Is Spinal Tap, and The 400 Blows, while the first edition of Criterion's Seven Samurai surged, earning $152.50 — the highest hammer-price we've seen for it in recent memory. Surprisingly there were not as many Academy screeners among the top traders as we expected (then again, they'll all be on DVD in three months), but Universal's "For Your Consideration" screener of Billy Elliot fetched $177.50. And a few folks have asked us to be sure not to describe the Region 2 Japanese release of David Lynch's Dune as a "director's cut," since Lynch had no participation in this longer version. We have no control over how eBay sellers describe their items, but for now on we'll call it an "extended version" — this time around the hammer-price went as high as $127.50.

    Here's the highest recent closing prices of rare and out-of-print DVDs from online auctions at eBay:

    1. Salo: The Criterion Collection
      $350.00 (1 bid)
    2. The Killer: The Criterion Collection
      $340.00 (19 bids)
    3. THX Theatrical Trailers Demo DVD
      $221.49 (14 bids)
    4. This Is Spinal Tap: The Criterion Collection
      $200.00 (1 bid)
    5. The 400 Blows: The Criterion Collection
      $178.00 (1 bid)
    6. Billy Elliot (Academy screener)
      $177.50 (11 bids)
    7. The Matrix: Limited Edition Box Set
      $153.50 (33 bids)
    8. Seven Samurai: The Criterion Collection (first edition)
      $152.50 (18 bids)
    9. Army of Darkness: Limited Edition
      $149.19 (10 bids)
    10. Dune: Extended Version (Region 2)
      $127.50 (9 bids)
    11. THX Surround EX Demo DVD
      $114.01 (20 bids)
    12. Live at Knebworth
      $113.50 (10 bids)
    13. Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
      $113.50 (15 bids)
    14. The Arabian Nights
      $109.02 (14 bids)
    15. The Alien Legacy: Bonus DVD
      $106.00 (26 bids)

    Quotable: "The climactic scene in Hannibal is a dream — don't listen to all those prissy critics who dissed it.... There are many memorable effects in Ridley Scott's Hannibal; the miasmal mist over Verger's Muskrat Farm, the grain of wood inside Lecter's grandfather clock set against the ribbed pattern of the metal pendulum, the velvety sky enriching the lustrous blues of cop-car cherries crossing a bridge in funereal procession, the final image of the film, an iris shot of Lecter's red eye. But out of all the virtuoso moments, it's that dinner scene that sticks with you. Why? It's the one that plays for keeps."

    — Film critic Tim Appelo, writing in The Nation.

    " 'Republican' comes in the dictionary just after 'reptile' and just above 'repugnant'.... I looked up 'Democrat'. It's of the people, by the people, for the people."

    — Recent political observations from Julia Roberts, who also
    noted that George W. Bush is "not my president. He will
    never be my president."

    "In general, a rule to apply to the Academy's acting awards is that the members like to see the acting. Subtle doesn't win. Hers (in Erin Brockovich) is a big brassy performance, a hugely attractive performance."

    Time magazine film critic Richard Shickel, explaining
    why nobody will beat Julia on Oscar night.

    "A more interesting aspect of what I do is when I get turned down, which is like 90 percent of the time. I don't care about what I don't get. I care about what I get. And sometimes when I get turned down for a part, I go, 'God bless. I don't have to deal with it.' Because my process means a lot of excavating. It's work."

    — Oscar contender Benicio del Toro, in the April issue of
    Talk magazine.

    " 'I am inspired by dangerous art,' (Tim) Robbins wrote in his introduction to the published screenplay for Cradle Will Rock. He probably sees his conspiracy-mongering as a politically combustible probing of the hidden depths of our political headlines and history. But doesn't conspiracy-mindedness, as a style of political thought, represent very nearly the opposite? What are political conspiracy theories, after all, if not rationalizations for defeat and failure? When a self-evidently just cause ends in defeat, how can such failure be explained, except in terms of secret plots? Conspiracy-mongering is a style that belongs to the politically marginalized and impotent, not the politically dangerous."

    — Daniel Wattenberg, contemplating the inconsistencies of
    Tim Robbins in the March 19 National Review.

    "I believe there are so many tales to be told from our side, around our region, up in China and locations that we know better and stories that we can tell better. I would not think that I would pack up my bags and go over (to America)."

    Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon star Michelle Yeoh,
    telling Reuters that she has no plans to join the
    exodus of Hong Kong film talent to Hollywood.

    Coming Attractions: A fresh group of DVD reviews are on the way from the team, including some new Criterion titles and much, much more. See ya Monday.

    — Ed.

    Wednesday, 21 March 2001

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

  • I think every (well, almost every) DVD should include the following:

    • At least one commentary track, if not by the director than by a "scholar" of his work or of the particular film (talk is cheap and so is the recording, the studios have no excuse on this one);
    • A "making of" film that consists of behind the scenes footage and interviews that is not a thirty minute commercial for the film previously aired on HBO. It should be something along the lines of "What is Brazil?", included on Criterion's fantastic Brazil box, or even the catching up featurette included on the Taxi Driver DVD where almost every principal involved with making that film was interviewed and not just to fawn over it;
    • Deleted footage where it exists! Nothing pissed me off worse than the Escape From New York DVD that didn't bother to include footage of the opening robbery of Fort Knox that lands Snake on the island and that was previously included along with a director's commentary on an earlier laser edition.

    Thanks for letting me vent. I know everyone must have the same bitch as me but it felt good to get it off my chest.

    — Joseph

    Well, maybe everyone doesn't agree with you Joseph, but a lot of DVD fans so, and probably the majority of them. Back in the early days (and it's odd to think of DVD as having an "early days"), the extra features were just about the most impressive thing on DVD, the sort of thing to queue up for friends (after showing off the crisp video and 5.1 audio) to emphatically prove just how cool DVD is, how much more it offers over videotapes. Laserdisc collectors who were becoming DVD converts already knew about the "value-add" proposition of the shiny little discs, but consumers who used to buy overpriced widescreen movies on VHS were the easiest to impress. The picture, the gorgeous surround sound, the commentary track — there was no going back.

    The problem, as we see it, is that four years later we all have some conditioned expectations regarding new DVD releases, which are based on the three improvements of video, audio, and supplements. These were the three items that caused us (and just about everybody else) to start investing in the format, and it's easy to get a bit knee-jerk about the whole thing. After all, DVD fans demand clean widescreen (preferably anamorphic) transfers of films in their original aspect ratios, as well as audio in the original format or sensibly, accurately rendered in a Dolby Digital variant. And that's not such a hard thing to do on the studios' side of things — when they have source materials that are ready to transfer to a new DVD, skilled DVD authors ensure that we get awesome transfers on most all new releases. In fact, the technical qualities of new DVDs nowadays are far better than they were three or four years ago, and significant MPEG-2 errors seem to be a thing of the past with the major vendors.

    But if it's reasonable for us to expect that every DVD should come with an artifact-free widescreen (usually anamorphic) transfer and perfectly rendered audio, is it then reasonable for us to expect that every DVD come with a commentary, a new documentary made explicitly for the disc, and various other goodies? Is it reasonable to ask that everything in a keep-case be a full-fledged special edition?

    Actually, no. That's mildly insane.

    These features, while welcome additions to any DVD, simply are far more costly and time-consuming than a quality bare-bones release — in fact, any studio's production budget for a proper special edition will be exponentially higher than a movie-only disc. Many more people have to be hired (starting with a producer), who need to assemble extra materials, contact the film's principals to see if they are willing (or available) to participate in creating the supplements, and then coordinate the whole thing into a final package. That final package will require much more authoring and testing than a bare-bones disc, and in order to capitalize on the investment the marketing department has to develop a promotional campaign, which is just one more outlay of time and money. For the sake of argument, figure "Acme Studios" releases an average of 15 DVDs per month, three of which are special editions of some sort. Acme has substantial film holdings, much of it dating from the 1930s onwards, and also produces new theatrical films every year. The easiest films to release as special-edition discs will be the most recent, as most people associated with the project will still be living, and some might be contractually obligated to participate on the DVD as part of the overall movie contract. Easy enough, right?

    Unfortunately, that's the tip of the iceberg — the vast majority of Acme Studios' holdings are catalog titles, where it can be more difficult to get folks to record commentaries (fer Chrissakes, Charlton Heston only did his for Ben-Hur because Warner paid him to do it), and other extra materials, such as deleted scenes, can be hard to come by. Commentaries by themselves are much more than one or two people watching a video monitor and talking for a couple of hours. They can be time-consuming, requiring several "takes" (yes, it isn't always totally spontaneous), and they are edited together into a relatively seamless narrative — talk is not always cheap. A professional video editor who must dig through hours and hours of material for a new documentary doesn't create a minor masterpiece in a day either (just ask our pal DVD Savant over at DVD Talk, who's one of the best in the business). So should any studio who wants to make some money off their holdings decide to sit on the whole thing? Would we rather that Universal held back their Day of the Jackal disc until they could get Frederick Forsythe out of retirement to record a track (and good luck there)? No way. It's a film your humble editor watches at least once a year, and DVD is the only way to go. That 1998 release is still a damn good disc.

    boxcoverWhich brings up a distressing point — any new DVD release that isn't as packed to the rafters as Fight Club will be deemed by many DVD fans as a total, abject failure. MGM has come under the most scrutiny for this recently as they will street hundreds of new discs this year, with massive waves of catalog titles arriving every other week. We admit that we were a little nervous when we first heard of MGM's 2001 marketing plan, as were a lot of other industry watchers. But our concern wasn't about bare-bones discs per se, but rather collateral issues attached to so many new DVDs: 1) Will the quality suffer? And 2) Will MGM develop fewer special editions, or even stop releasing them altogether? If we painted MGM in a bad light late last year (and we might have), we officially apologize, because we've grown to love their discs these past few months. Yes, those bare-bones discs.

    Bear with us. There are two sides to the irrational demands of DVD consumers, and they are oft-repeated: We want big fat bloated DVDs with every last thing on them so that when we're done we feel like we just ate an entire chocolate cake and couldn't eat another bite, and we want everything now. Unfortunately, those two things will happen the same time we somehow figure out how to provide California with unlimited, environmentally clean power. Either you can have the quality, or you can have the quantity, but you can't get both. And while we enjoy a fat SE as much as the next digital die-hard, there actually is a part of us that's about five years old and wants everything now. Enter MGM, who it seems could single-handedly keep us busy all year. In recent weeks we've seen Birdman of Alcatraz, 12 Angry Men, The Bishop's Wife, Elmer Gantry, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, and The Fortune Cookie, and the MGM lineup in the next few months will be a knockout for film fans — The Magnificent Seven, Some Like It Hot, The Apartment, The Misfits, The Fall of the House of Usher, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, King of Hearts, The Pit and the Pendulum, Fellini Satyricon, Fellini's Roma, The Barefoot Contessa, Kiss Me Deadly, and another round of Woody Allen films. Some of these will arrive as special editions (we're especially looking forward to Some Like It Hot) but we'll take the rest as they are — all we ask are the cleanest possible source-prints and historically accurate, technically solid transfers.

    Somehow we have gotten away from movie collecting here in DVD land — browse any DVD-based message-board on the Internet and it's not hard to realize that this has become supplement collecting, as if the film itself is of no more value than the boxcover art and the real attraction is a commentary track, or a documentary, or a gallery of storyboards. Those are all well and good, but nobody here will sniff at MGM's bare-bones The Apartment when it arrives, as it's one of Billy Wilder's best films and something worth seeing again and again. If we get a special edition of The Apartment in November, believe us, we'll bitch — we believe that all studios should agree that putting a new DVD on the market is an implied contract that a newer version will not arrive for at least two or three years. If we get an Apartment: Special Edition in 2004, we'll consider buying it again, but only if it's worth it. But when it comes to MGM's film holdings, we are talking about 4,000 films — it's the largest proprietary collection in the world, and it appears that the powers-that-be at MGM would like to see every last reel on disc. At their current, mostly bare-bones rate, it would take 100 years. If they released everything as a special edition with a commentary and a new documentary, it could be more like a thousand.

    And at any rate, there won't be a lot of room for double-dipping.

    boxcoverTop of the Pops: Here's the top-selling DVDs last week from our friends at Click the links to read our reviews of these discs:

    1. Meet the Parents: Collector's Edition
    2. Almost Famous
    3. Ben-Hur
    4. Rear Window
    5. Remember the Titans
    6. The Contender
    7. Wonder Boys
    8. Lady and the Tramp II
    9. Bring It On: Collector's Edition
    10. Lost Souls

    See ya.

    — Ed.

    Tuesday, 20 March 2001

    In the Works: Let's get your Tuesday morning going with some new disc announcements, courtesy of Image Entertainment and, and additional staff reports:

    • It's the real deal — Columbia TriStar will street a two-disc special edition of Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind on May 29, and on board will be the 101-minute documentary "The Making of Close Encounters," the 1977 featurette "Watching the Skies," 11 deleted scenes, trailers, and cast notes. Also on the way is Sydney Pollack's Tootsie (May 29) with Dustin Hoffman, Jessica Lange, and Bill Murray; Vertical Limit: Special Edition (May 22), which will include a commentary from director Martin Campbell and producer Lloyd Phillips, a featurette, and a National Geographic "Quest for K2" short; and 1995's The Celluloid Closet (May 29), a history of gay men and women in the film industry, narrated by Lily Tomlin and featuring two commentary tracks, 55 minutes of outtakes, and much more.
    • The Oscar-nominated Quills (it's up for Best Actor — Geoffrey Rush — Best Art Direction, and Best Costume Design) will arrive as an SE from Fox on May 8, with a commentary from scenarist Doug Wright, three "making-of" shorts, and a still gallery.
    • Now that Warner has slapped together a big box of Oliver Stone discs (with a little help from other studios), MGM will release special editions of their two Stone titles — Platoon: SE will restore the features on the first DVD release from Artisan (then Live), including commentary tracks from Stone and military supervisor Dale Dye, and the "Tour of the Inferno" documentary. But never before on DVD is the 1985 Salvador: SE, which will have a new commentary from Stone, 25 minutes of deleted scenes, a "making-of" doc, and a still gallery. Both arrive on June 5. Also arriving as a special edition from MGM is last year's Antitrust (May 15) starring Ryan Phillippe and Tim Robbins, which will sport a commentary from director Peter Howitt and editor Zach Staenberg, a behind-the-scenes doc, deleted scenes, alternate opening and closing sequences (with commentary), and the Everclear video of "When It All Goes Wrong Again."
    • But as is the case with MGM, a lot of catalog titles are on the way — bare-bones, but worth it for fans. Expect such titles as Billy Wilder's 1960 The Apartment starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine (June 19) ; Joseph L. Mankiewicz's 1954 The Barefoot Contessa with Humphrey Bogart and Ava Gardener (June 19); the frothy 1965 Beach Blanket Bingo (June 5); Tony Richardson's 1960 The Entertainer, featuring one of Laurence Olivier's most famous non-Shakespearean film roles (June 19); John Boorman's serio-comic 1987 Hope and Glory (June 5); Robert Aldrich's 1955 noir classic Kiss Me Deadly (June 19); 1994's brilliant The Madness of King George with Nigel Hawthorne, Helen Mirren, Ian Holm, Rupert Graves, Amanda Donohoe, and Rupert Everett (June 5); Ernest Borgnine's Oscar-winning turn in the 1954 Marty, directed by Delbert Mann from a screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky (June 19); John Huston's 1961 The Misfits, written by Arthur Miller, and the final film for both Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable (June 19); Huston's 1956 Moby Dick, adapted by Ray Bradbury and starring Gregory Peck (June 19); the 1936 Rembrandt, directed by Alexander Korda and starring Charles Laughton and Elsa Lanchester (June 19); Jonathan Demme's 1986 screwball comedy Something Wild with Jeff Daniels and Melanie Griffith (June 5); 1957's noir drama The Sweet Smell of Success, featuring Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis (June 19); and the 1963 Oscar-winner Tom Jones, starring Albert Finney (June 19) — which replaces the out-of-print disc from HBO.
    • MGM has plenty of genre titles in prep as well, including special editions of Roger Corman's The Fall of the House of Usher and The Pit and the Pendulum, both starring Vincent Prince, as well The Man With The X-Ray Eyes with Ray Milland — expect commentaries from Corman to be on board all three. Other schlock stuff on the way includes Donovan's Brain, Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine, The Thing With Two Heads, and The Village of the Giants. It's all due on June 5.
    • Paramount has a swell line-up of catalog titles this morning, not least of which being John Ford's 1962 The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (June 5), starring Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne, while other films with The Duke include Ford's 1963 Donovan's Reef (June 5) and Henry Hathaway's 1965 The Sons of Katie Elder (June 5). Also not to be missed is 1954's Korean War drama The Bridges of Toko-Ri with William Holden and Grace Kelly (May 22).
    • Those of you who have breathlessly been anticipating a DVD of 1978's Jaws 2 can expect a new release from Universal, which will include a "making-of" doc, deleted scenes, stills and storyboards, interviews, and a look at the musical score with John Williams. Get it on May 22. However, folks who don't like short-term double-dipping will be distressed by Nutty Professor II: The Klumps Uncensored: The Director's Cut, also arriving on May 22, and just a few short months after last year's holiday promo blitz for the first Nutty Professor II disc. Expect this new version to have a few more minutes of footage.
    • Warner has a double-dipped DVD on the way as well, but this one's been a long time coming — The Fugitive: Special Edition will feature a commentary from director Andrew Davis and producer Peter MacGregor-Scott, the behind-the-scenes features "Derailed: Anatomy of a Train Wreck" and "On the Run," deleted scenes, and an introduction by Harrison Ford. Catch it on June 5.
    • Street date changes include Triumph of the Will and Oasis of the Zombies, both to April 3.
    • And finally, because we know you little scamps like a juicy rumor to chew on now and then, our good friends at Ain't It Cool News are reporting that Fox will street a two-disc SE of Episode I: The Phantom Menace sometime in the fourth quarter of this year, perhaps as early as October. We have no idea if it's true, nor do we care very much as George Lucas's most recent movie is stupendously awful. But of course, any Phantom Menace release would become the de facto standard-bearer of the DVD format — Lord help us all.

    On the Street: The last couple of weeks have seen some heavy street Tuesdays, so we're a bit relieved this one is so, well... ordinary. Actually, it's a bit thin, but sci-fi fans can snag Artisan's two-disc Dune miniseries, while Buena Vista has new releases of Remember the Titans, The Crow: Special Edition, two Toy Story discs (movie-only this time), and two more additions to the "Gold Classic Collection," Bedknobs and Broomsticks and The Sword and the Stone. New Line's Dancer in the Dark will be snapped up right away by fans of Lars von Trier and/or Björk; however, some of us are more inclined to spin Support Your Local Sheriff and Support Your Local Gunfighter, out now from MGM. And while DVD fans everywhere patiently await the arrival of Lawrence of Arabia (due on April 3), Columbia TriStar whets the appetite with David Lean's A Passage to India. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of and Image Entertainment:

    • Apostate
    • Barnum
    • Bedknobs and Broomsticks: Gold Classic Collection
    • Big Country
    • A Bucket of Blood/Giant Gila Monster
    • Ray Charles In Concert
    • Cherry Falls/Terror Tract (2-DVD Set)
    • The Crow
    • The Crow: City of Angels
    • The Crow: Salvation
    • The Crow Collection (The Crow/ The Crow: City Of Angels/ The Crow: Salvation)
    • Dune (2-DVD Set) (2000)
    • Eastside
    • Dancer in the Dark
    • Farscape: Exodus From Genesis/Throne for a Loss (Vol: 2)
    • From a Whisper to a Scream
    • Gummo
    • Hallelujah Trail
    • I Spy: So Coldly Sweet
    • I Spy: Sparrowhawk
    • Jesus Christ Superstar (2000)
    • Jude
    • Julien Donkey-Boy
    • The Long Riders
    • Lucky Numbers
    • A Passage to India
    • Phantom of the Opera (1990 musical)
    • Remember the Titans
    • Second Skin
    • The Specials
    • Support Your Local Gunfighter
    • Support Your Local Sheriff
    • The Sword in the Stone: Gold Classic Collection
    • Toy Story (movie-only edition)
    • Toy Story 2 (movie-only edition)
    • Turn It Up
    • Vera Cruz
    • Wild Bill

    Back tomorrow with more stuff.

    — Ed.

    Monday, 19 March 2001

    boxcoverDisc of the Week: It took a series of events to transform Cambodia in the space of a few years from a sleepy French colony in southeast Asia to a land of wholesale genocide, but none of it would have happened without Soloth Sar. A Cambodian graduate student who studied in Paris in the 1950s and came under the spell of Marxist-Leninism, Soloth failed to get his Ph.D., but it didn't matter. He returned to his homeland with a few like-minded comrades, and then fled into the jungle in 1963. Changing his name to Pol Pot, the communist revolutionary might have been little more than a footnote in Cambodian history — that is, were there not American troops waging a brutal, largely unsuccessful "police action" in neighboring Vietnam. It was inevitable that the Vietnam conflict would spill over into Cambodia, as the Vietcong rebels used camps just over the border as safe havens. That led to the secret bombing of Cambodia by the U.S. military, starting in 1969. It also led to the displacement of Cambodia's head of state, Prince Sihanouk, with American sympathizer Lon Nol. And after innumerable civilian casualties in Cambodia (including the bombing of Neak Luong and the death of 137 residents), many Cambodians looked to Pol Pot's growing "Khmer Rouge" movement for salvation. But they were unaware of where the Khmer Rouge would lead them, or their country.

    Roland Joffé's 1984 The Killing Fields is a remarkable cinematic account of the Khmer Rouge and their Cambodian revolution of 1975, and it's one of the most harrowing films ever made about the horrors of war. But it's not an abstract account of events, a history lesson to be absorbed by the viewer for moral edification. Rather, The Killing Fields is the story of two men from two different cultures and the friendship that binds them. Based on New York Times reporter Sydney Schanberg's account "The Death and Life of Dith Pran," the story picks up with the inadvertent bombing of Neak Luong in 1973 and the American military's attempt to cover it up. Denied information or access by the military, Schanberg (played by Sam Waterston) and his Cambodian interpreter/guide Pran (Dr. Haing S. Ngor) secretly make their way to the bombsite, where the casualties are made plain. It is two years later that American troops complete their withdrawal from Vietnam, but the Cambodian government has been weakened by internal corruption and wavering support from the Americans, leading to the capture of the nation's capital, Phnom Penh, by the Khmer Rouge. What follows is one of the most stunning, unreal, insane events of the 20th century — guided by Pol Pot's mission to create a pure agrarian communist state, Phnom Penh and all other cites are completely evacuated and every Cambodian is sent into labor camps, where they grow rice and are indoctrinated with communist theory. Anybody suspected to be a traitor is executed (and it is estimated that three million of Cambodia's seven million citizens were murdered between 1975 and 1979 — nearly half). Schanberg and Pran initially take refuge in the French embassy, but when an attempt to create a fake passport for Pran fails, he is taken by the Khmer Rouge and forced into a camp. Schanberg returns safely to New York, but he refuses to stop looking for Pran, who he hopes will someday escape his captors.

    After director Joffé was first given the script for The Killing Fields by producer David Puttnam, he wrote Puttnam a letter explaining that, no matter who would direct the film, it must first be recognized as a "love story." This bit of advice reportedly impressed Puttnam so much that he gave Joffé the job, even though he had never directed a feature film before. It's also why The Killing Fields is one of the best films from the 1980s, for had it merely been about politics, mass genocide, or a daring bid for freedom, it would have been lesser for it — the brutal subject matter (sometimes conveyed graphically, at other times psychologically) might have been too much for audiences to bear without the core relationship between Schanberg and Pran and its optimistic theme. The film itself, although utilizing many small locations, takes on an epic scope, and the two sequences at the film's center — the abandonment of the American embassy and the evacuation of Phnom Penh soon after — fly at a rapid pace. Joffé says he wasn't merely interested in the realities of war, but the confusion of war as well, and he often minimizes cross-cutting in tense sequences, offering a verité approach to the events. Additional accuracy comes from three sources: Schanberg, who was one of the few westerners to witness the evacuation of Phnom Penh; Pran, who lived under the Khmer Rouge, all the time concealing his true identity as an English-speaking journalist; and Ngor, who plays Pran in the film, but also lived in a Khmer Rouge camp for three years before escaping to Thailand and practicing medicine again, this time at refugee camps on the border. Ngor famously won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance. He survived the Khmer Rouge and Cambodia's "killing fields"; ironically, he was murdered in 1996 in Los Angeles by gang members, who attacked him not for political reasons, but merely to steal a locket. Ngor had worn the locket for many years — it contained a photo of his late wife, and he swore he would never lose it.

    Warner's DVD of The Killing Fields has had a handful of tentative release dates dating back to 1999, but if this new release is anything to go by, it was worth the wait. The source print is remarkably clean, with strong colors that capture cinematographer Chris Menges' southeast Asian landscapes (shot in Thailand), while the anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) is rock-solid. Also on board is a lively commentary track from director Joffé, who fills the entire two hours and 20 minutes with insights not only into drama, films, and filmmaking, but also the history of Cambodia and its unique culture. The Killing Fields is on the street now.

    Box Office: And we all thought Steven Seagal had become the David Cassidy of action stars. Not so — Mr. Seagal was number one with a bullet at American theaters over the weekend, as Warner's Exit Wounds debuted with $19 million. It is Seagal's first major film in almost four years (since 1997's Fire Down Below), and his first box-office breakthrough since Under Siege back in 1992. Having rapper DMX on board, along with producer Joel Silver (Lethal Weapon) helped the effort, which handily beat out Paramount's Enemy at the Gates, the only other debut over the weekend, which opened with $13.6 million, although on 1,300 less screens than Exit Wounds — Paramount will boost Enemy at the Gates by 500 screens next weekend, which could earn it the top spot. Reviews for Enemy at the Gates (starring Jude Law and Joseph Fiennes, and directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud) have been positive, while critics have been far less kind to Exit Wounds.

    It was one year ago last week that Erin Brockovich arrived in theaters, and this past weekend saw director Steven Soderbergh rack up his second $100 million-plus film in a year's time — USA's Traffic now stands at $102.4 million, and Soderbergh has been nominated as Best Director for both films as well (which, er, is probably why he won't win). Fellow Oscar-nominee Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has also crossed the century with $100.3 million for Sony, while Miramax's Chocolat has put away $55.8 million to date. Still doing good business is MGM's Hannibal with a $157 million cume, while DreamWorks' The Mexican is shaping up as a modest success, clearing $50 million in its third week. But dropping sharply is New Line's 15 Minutes, which lost 59% of its opening weekend gross, bagging just $4.4 million in its second week.

    The Farrelly brothers dish out more lowbrow hijinks this Friday with the new comedy Say It Isn't So starring Heather Graham and Chris Klein, while Jennifer Love-Hewitt, Sigourney Weaver, and Gene Hackman go for laughs in Heartbreakers. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:

    1. Exit Wounds (Warner Bros.)
      $19,025,000 ($19,025,000 through 1 week)
    2. Enemy at the Gates (Paramount)
      $13,600,000 ($13,600,000 through 1 week)
    3. The Mexican (DreamWorks SKG)
      $8,100,000 ($50,900,000 through 3 weeks)
    4. See Spot Run (Warner Bros.)
      $5,210,000 ($25,018,000 through 3 weeks)
    5. 15 Minutes (New Line)
      $4,350,000 ($17,948,000 through 2 weeks)
    6. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Sony Pictures Classics)
      $4,117,567 ($100,349,641 through 15 weeks)
    7. Down to Earth (Paramount)
      $4,000,000 ($56,802,000 through 5 weeks)
    8. Hannibal (MGM)
      $3,700,000 ($157,000,000 through 6 weeks)
    9. Traffic (USA Films)
      $3,409,153 ($102,469,296 through 12 weeks)
    10. Chocolat (Miramax)
      $3,400,000 ($55,800,000 through 14 weeks)
    11. Get Over It (Miramax)
      $3,000,000 ($8,200,000 through 2 weeks)
    12. Recess: School's Out (Buena Vista)
      $1,700,000 ($33,400,000 through 5 weeks)

    On the Board: Our own Mark Bourne has posted an exhaustive look at Image's new three-disc The Origins of Film, while Greg Dorr spun one of his personal favorites, Barry Levinson's Avalon. Other new reviews from the team this week include Almost Famous, Reversal of Fortune, A Passage to India, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, Elmer Gantry, Bedazzled, Cruel Intentions 2, The Fortune Cookie, and Dr. Phibes Rises Again!. It's all under the New Reviews menu here on the front page, while our entire catalog of reviews can be browsed with our handy search engine.

    We'll be back tomorrow to let you know about this week's street discs.

    — Ed.

    Thursday, 15 March 2001
    Weekend Dispatch

    Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including looks at Image's three-disc The Origins of Film, DreamWorks' Almost Famous, and many, many more. And if you haven't entered our totally free DVD contest for the Oliver Stone Collection 10-pack, 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. See ya Monday.

    boxcoverCommentary Clip: Steve Kempf: "You had three nervous cats here during this series (against the Indiana Pacers) — the (Chicago) Bulls came pretty close to elimination. The drama that builds up during this series and the movie is not fictional drama. Everybody in Chicago was pretty nervous, and with this film being shot at the moment, you can imagine how nervous we were."

    Jim Stern: "Well not only that, but we had been shooting this film before we had any deals in place with Michael (Jordan) or the NBA. So we were under the fear that if the Bulls lost — and in Game 7 they were down by several points with about five minutes left — that we would not have a movie, and we had all that footage, which was not inexpensive."

    Steve Kempf: "Some of the most expensive home videos ever to be made, potentially."

    Jim Stern: "Exactly, exactly. On the other hand we would have watched it I guess — but not really, because they lost and who would have wanted to see them lose?"

    Don Kempf: "IMAX film costs about $1,000 a second, just for the film itself, and the cameras shoot about six feet per second, so you're talking about a fairly expensive endeavor here."

    Jim Stern: "Right, and that brings up a really great point, which is that the difficulty in shooting this movie is because you have to change film mags so often — you're always under the threat that you're not going to get a great moment, like the one you're seeing right now, because one of the cameramen can always run out of film at the wrong time. So we had three cameras running per game, we had to try and stagger the shooting so that we always had somebody capturing the important moments, and fortunately for us we did not miss anything in the entire playoff run."

    — Filmmakers Steve Kempf, Don Kempf, and Jim Stern,
    Michael Jordan to the Max

    Quotable: "I meet a lot of kids coming to me who are smart, a lot smarter than I was at their age. Now they're out of college, they know movies and they would like to get into screenwriting. And there have been enough people who have succeeded, so you know the goal is there. But what they don't have is — they don't have any stories, in a sense, because they haven't done anything. They haven't lived, in a way... most of them have not been the subjects of terrible deprivation. They have good teeth, they don't have peptic ulcers that no one's taken care of, they're not going blind with glaucoma, their mothers aren't drug addicts where they're beaten up by boyfriends. There's a whole series of wonderful material that they've happily not had to endure. So my suggestion to a lot of them is, if you've got the time, go and (get a job) and keep notes. It doesn't matter what you do... if you could get a job as a reporter somewhere in the Midwest, it doesn't matter where it is, you don't have to work for the Times, you're not going to be a journalist. What you are going to be is someone in the street finding out what happens."

    Goodfellas scenarist Nicholas Pileggi in the March Creative
    on what's missing from contemporary

    boxcover"It's work I'm supposed to do, and I try to do it as well as I can. But it gets pretty tired after awhile."

    — Charlton Heston, revealing in a press conference earlier this
    week that he doesn't enjoy recording commentaries for
    DVDs, as he did on the recent Ben-Hur.

    "They talked about opening the film in October, then Thanksgiving, then Christmas, then Martin Luther King's birthday, then spring break, then Presidents' weekend, then the weekend after.... A week and a half before the movie was supposed to come out, the ads were disappearing.... If you do your best (to market a movie) and it bombs, go ahead, blame the film. But this is crazy. I mean, is this (film) worse than Get Carter or See Spot Run?"

    — An anonymous filmmaker attached to Henry Selick's
    Monkeybone, explaining to Entertainment Weekly
    why the film earned only $2.7 million during its opening

    "And if by some chance the one genuinely great movie to have been nominated this year runs away with the big prizes, it may just be the wake-up call that Hollywood needs. When the world's finest filmmakers are coming after your audience, it may not be such a smart idea to shut your industry down."

    — Salman Rushdie, advocating Crouching Tiger, Hidden
    for Best Picture on the New York Times
    op-ed page.

    — Ed.

    Wednesday, 14 March 2001

    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 couple of reader comments from this week:

  • Is it just me, or does it seem strange that studios are lowering their prices significantly months after the movies are released? While I applaud the companies for doing this, again it seems to bring up the case that companies don't want us to pre-order. Why bother getting 40% off a $30 disc when it might be lowered to $20 a few months later?

    — Steve

    No way Steve — studios definitely want you to pre-order. Or at least some e-tailers do, because it's all the same to the distributing studio of any DVD — they get their wholesale price and the e-tailer has to eat the discount as a "loss-leader" to attract consumers. Those pre-order discounts don't come from studios any more than the many online coupons of days gone by, and how long pre-order discounts will remain — or how steep they'll be — remains to be seen. got out of DVD retail last year (having fulfill all of their DVD orders) because, as one of the most aggressive pre-order/coupon/discount sites on the Internet, they (or rather, parent company Hollywood Video) reportedly could not achieve profitability with the pricing models. Discount e-tailer filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy on March 7, another casualty of Internet retail. Some staff members at The DVD Journal (including your humble editor) have relied on for discount DVDs, but the company is at risk of being delisted from the NASDAQ, according to Reuters. Of course, a lot of this simply has to do with the current economic climate, which is scouring out dot-coms right and left, and discount DVDs often can be found at Best Buy and other brick-and-mortar retailers in the few first days after they street.

    But as far as studio pricing goes, they all set a Suggested Retail Price when a DVD is initially announced based on their own pricing guidelines, and (with rare exceptions when circumstances change) the corresponding wholesale price is fixed right through the initial release. It is only a few months later that individual discs will be evaluated for a re-price, and it all makes perfect sense if we look at different DVD consumer profiles. For the many who regularly visit DVD websites such as this one or inhabit DVD message boards like DVD Talk and The Home Theater Forum, a substantial part of being a DVD fan is getting new discs on the first day they are released. It's one of the small hallmarks that have transformed the DVD culture over these past few years from videophile pursuit to something more akin to collecting comic books, but facts are facts. A lot of DVD fans apparently have deep pockets (or hefty credit cards) and buy several DVDs every street Tuesday, and God Bless America for it, because that only encourages the studios to release more, and better, discs. But there still are more careful consumers out there, or those who simply don't spend all their money on new DVDs, and these folks often will pass up most discs when they first street, waiting for the right time or opportunity to add a select few on their wish list to the collection. What better to motivate the stingy DVD consumer than a tasty price-drop?

    Price drops can happen at any time for any DVD, but we've noticed it can happen as soon as four months after street, and most commonly for catalog titles. Recent drops for notable discs include Columbia TriStar's Legends of the Fall: Special Edition and the single-disc Men in Black, from $29.95 to $19.95, Fox's X-Men, The Full Monty, Raising Arizona, and Young Frankenstein from $29.98 to $22.98, Universal's Psycho and Vertigo from $34.98 to $29.98 (to bring them in line with all the recent Hitchcock discs), while in May USA will drop Being John Malkovich, Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, and Topsy Turvy from $24.95 to $19.95. To get an idea of street prices at a decent brick-and-mortar retailer, just subtract five bucks (always a reasonable expectation for a street price), and many of these fall to $15.

    boxcoverWhich (if you'll indulge us and our calculator) begs comparison to online pre-order discounts. Let's take the 30% pre-order discount offered at and many other e-tailers as a baseline — pre-ordering X-Men last November would have cost you about $20.96, compared to the $17.24 it's currently fetching on Amazon, or $15 (and no shipping charges) at our local Best Buy last weekend. Universal's excellent Vertigo pre-ordered for about $24.49 when it first came out. It's now $23.99 at Amazon — not much difference as the SRP is less, but so is the discount. But essentially, that only means the original pre-order price is now a firm price, and it probably will stay put unless Universal decides to do another round of price drops down the road. Additionally, in the past we've seen some e-tailers restore the 30% pre-order discount to a re-priced DVD (at least did), so subtract that from Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels this May and it could be as low as $13.97 for the serious bargain-hunter.

    As with just about everything in the marketplace, DVD pricing is little more than a reflection of what the market will bear. If you absolutely had to have Ben-Hur and knew what you were doing, you probably pre-ordered it somewhere to get the best deal, and to be the first person on your block to have it. If Ben-Hur sounds like a nice DVD for your collection but not a "must-have," there probably will be a price-drop later this year to renew your attention. But of course, we're only talking about folks who are savvy enough to pre-order online, or patient enough to wait for a re-price. There is a third group of consumers out there who — amazing but true — pay the full SRP at specialty retailers like Suncoast, Sam Goody, or others. We know they buy them because, in our experience, these shopping-mall retailers offer most of their DVDs at full retail, with only the occasional loss-leader, and they are still in business. That means people actually walked in and paid thirty bucks for X-Men last Christmas, and apparently a lot of them. If we could somehow reach these folks, it's likely we'd do our best to enlighten then.

    Then again, as the proverb says, a fool and his money....

  • Just wanted to let you know that the easy way to tell between the official Crouching Tiger DVD and the bootleg on eBay is by the region code. The official release is Region code 3, the bootleg is not region coded. The Region 3 DVD has all of the same features as the upcoming U.S. release, and supposedly so does the bootleg (it was mastered from the DVD as far as I know).

    — Marcus

    Thanks Marcus — we suspected as much, but sometimes it's hard to know just who's behind any particular auction on eBay, and especially those from Hong Kong, an international hotbed of video piracy. We also should point out that the massive amount of Crouching Tiger DVDs on eBay (more than 550 at last count) are almost entirely for a "code-free" version of some sort or another, which obviously would be a bootleg. And even while some claim to be the "official" release, there's really no way to know what will arrive at your door (if anything), and little chance of getting a refund. As is almost always the case with sketchy DVDs, we'll be waiting until June 5 for the Region 1 Crouching Tiger, arriving from the very reliable Columbia TriStar. Plenty of new discs will street between now and then to hold our attention.

    boxcoverTop of the Pops: Here's the top-selling DVDs last week from our friends at Click the links to read our reviews of these discs:

    1. Meet the Parents: Collector's Edition
    2. Almost Famous
    3. Ben-Hur
    4. Rear Window
    5. Remember the Titans
    6. The Contender
    7. Wonder Boys
    8. Lady and the Tramp II
    9. Bring It On: Collector's Edition
    10. Lost Souls

    See ya tomorrow.

    — Ed.

    Tuesday, 13 March 2001

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

    • A date has finally arrived for Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which will street as a special edition from Columbia TriStar. The film has already been released on disc in Region 3, but just exactly what's an official release and what's a bootleg on eBay is hard to know. Hopefully the Region 1 edition will save folks the hassle, as it will include a commentary by Lee, an interview with Michelle Yeoh, stills, and a music video. Get it on June 5.
    • Woody Allen buffs have another round of discs to look forward to from MGM, who have five titles ready to go individually or in a box set (SRP $83.96)— September, Another Woman, Crimes And Misdemeanors, Alice, and Shadows and Fog, which span Allen's career from 1987 to 1992. Arriving on June 5, they all will be fairly bare-bones, and it appears with scant input from Allen himself, who has previously indicated little interest in home video and zero interest in recording audio commentaries. In the meantime, Image's previous DVD release of Crimes and Misdemeanors will go out of print.
    • The good stuff from Criterion just keeps coming, in particular Josef von Sternberg's 1934 The Scarlet Empress, starring Marlene Dietrich, which will include the 1966 BBC documentary "The World of Josef von Sternberg," a tribute from filmmaker Jack Smith, a still gallery, and notes from film historian Robin Wood. Also look for Jules Dassin's 1955 thriller Rififi, with an interview with Dassin and a still gallery, Jacques Tati's 1958 comedy Mon Oncle, featuring an additional short film by Tati, and Tati's 1953 M. Hulot's Holiday, with yet another short film. Both Mon Oncle and M. Hulot's Holiday will include introductions by Monty Python's Terry Jones as well. All arrive on April 24.
    • A special edition disc of 1997's Soul Food will street from Fox on April 3 with a commentary from director George Tillman, Jr., a "making-of" featurette, and two music videos. Also, we have the final details of the seven-disc X-Files: The Complete Third Season box (May 8 – SRP $149.98), which will sport a commentary from series creator Chris Carter and director Kim Manners on the episode "Apocrypha," another commentary from director Rob Bowman and writer Darrin Morgan on "Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space'," deleted scenes with commentary, all the usual promo spots, and much more.
    • Three special editions of Alex Cox films are in prep at Anchor Bay — 1987's Straight to Hell with a commentary from Cox and actor Dick Rude, a "making-of" doc, and a music video from The Pogues; the 1996 Death and the Compass, with a commentary from Cox and composer Dan Wool, and the additional short film "Spiderwebs"; and 1999's Three Businessmen, this one with a track from Cox and writer/producer Tod Davies. All arrive on April 17. Other AB stuff on the way includes Flowers in the Attic (April 10), Mio in the Land of Far Away (April 10), Pelle the Conqueror (April 10), The Sword and the Sorcerer (April 17), and the prostitution documentary Working Girls (April 17).
    • Last Year's The Million Dollar Hotel, directed by Wim Wenders from a story by U2's Bono (neé Paul Hewson) will arrive from Studio on April 3, and on board with be a commentary with Wenders and Bono, the U2 music video "Ground Beneath Her Feet" (directed by Wenders), and interviews.
    • Those of you who collect silent classics on disc can look forward to a new collection from Kino, Arbuckle and Keaton: The Original Comique/Paramount Shorts 1917-1920 (April 10), with various short reels from Hollywood comedy pioneers Fatty Arbuckle and Buster Keaton.
    • And what serious movie fan can resist United American's upcoming DVD release of the 1963 horror flick Dementia 13, produced by Roger Corman and written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola? Looks like The Godfather will have to wait — this one, however, streets on March 27. Also count on two gladiator epics from a different era, 1959's Hercules and its immediate sequel, Hercules Unchained (March 27), both starring Steve Reeves and plenty of bad looping.
    • Due from EMI on March 27 is Tribute, two live concerts from Yanni. 'Nuff said.
    • MGM originally announced that the upcoming Rocky special edition (April 24) would not displace the current bare-bones version, which would remain available at a lower price. Well strike that — reverse it. The Rocky SE in fact will be the only option (and, of course, the four Rocky sequels will only be available in MGM's "gift set").

    On the Street: If your wallet didn't take a pounding from Universal's new Hitchcock discs, it may this week. It seems there's just way too much for one DVD budget to swallow, but it's pretty hard to miss Warner's huge special edition of Ben-Hur, which we found to be a superb disc, and Warner has two other long-awaited dramas out today, The Killing Fields and Reversal of Fortune. Paramount's got our attention as well with the new Wonder Boys disc, while DreamWorks has released Almost Famous (although beware of a second disc to follow), and catalog dramas from Fox include The Ice Storm and Grand Canyon. Criterion has a trio this morning with Coup de Torchon, Mona Lisa, and The Rock. Fans of Barry Levinson need look no further than Avalon. Fans of Jackie Chan, The Legend of Drunken Master. Fans of Peter Greenaway, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover . But we're always up for a good documentary, and there's a couple out this week, The Discovery Channel's Land of the Mammoth and Image's three-disc The Origins of Film.

    Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of and Image Entertainment:

    • Absolutely Fabulous: Complete Series 1
    • Absolutely Fabulous: Complete Series 2
    • Absolutely Fabulous: Complete Series 3
    • Absolutely Fabulous: The Complete DVD Collection
    • Almost Famous
    • Avalon
    • Bedazzled
    • Ben-Hur
    • Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2
    • The Bridge
    • The Cat Women of the Moon
    • The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (delayed from 2/27)
    • Coup de Torchon: The Criterion Collection
    • The Crew
    • Cruel Intentions 2
    • Cruel Intentions/Cruel Intentions 2 (2 DVD Set)
    • Dead Heart
    • Grand Canyon
    • Gray's Anatomy
    • The Ice Storm
    • Immortality (aka Wisdom of the Crocodiles)
    • The Imposters
    • Inventing the Abbotts
    • Jake Speed
    • Jane and the Lost City
    • The Killing Fields
    • Land of the Mammoth
    • The Legend of Drunken Master
    • The Lifestyle: Swinging in America
    • Lost Universe: Vol. 5
    • Mach 2: Special Edition
    • Madadayo
    • Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie/ Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie
    • Mona Lisa: The Criterion Collection
    • Of Mice and Men
    • On Cukor
    • The Origins of Film (3-disc set)
    • The Old Man and the Sea
    • Paradise Road
    • Place Without Limits
    • Pixote
    • Reform School Girls
    • Reversal of Fortune
    • The Rock: The Criterion Collection (2-DVD set)
    • Roughnecks: The Starship Troopers Chronicles
    • The Rutles
    • Shadow of Doubt
    • Smilla's Sense of Snow
    • Sooner or Later
    • Stars' Caravan
    • The Story of Jacob & Joseph
    • Tapeheads (delayed from 2/27)
    • The Tao of Steve
    • Timothy Leary's Last Trip
    • Tuff Turf
    • The Unbelievable Truth
    • Urbania
    • Witness Protection
    • Women
    • Wonder Boys


    — Ed.

    Monday, 12 March 2001

    boxcoverDisc of the Week: All eyes were on director Curtis Hanson after his superb crime noir hit, 1997's L.A. Confidential. Would he be able to follow that huge success with another one, or would he become yet another Hollywood one-hit wonder? Fortunately, 2000's Wonder Boys was wonderful enough to answer the question, as it's every bit as well crafted and acted as L.A. Confidential — and it's a film that's as charming and funny as its predecessor was dark and grim, which says a lot about the range of Hanson's gifts. What's more, Wonder Boys shows us similar truths about Michael Douglas, whose deft, understated performance here may be the best in his long career. And it's good to see Robert Downey Jr. prove yet again (remember Chaplin?) that he really is one of our finest actors and much more than troubled headline fodder. Tobey Maguire delivers a performance so memorable that you may not think about the long list of historical Hollywood suicides without smiling. Add Francis McDormand, Rip Torn (who could be the same character he played in Men in Black), Katie Holmes as Douglas' willing student, Marilyn Monroe's jacket, one unfinished 2,000-page novel, a dead dog in the trunk, a transvestite who plays tuba, and a stolen car that really belongs to a guy not named Vernon Hardapple, and you have that rare and precious thing — an intelligent, heartfelt comedy ... with a dead-on accurate academic setting ... about writers and writing ... that works every bit as well as L.A. Confidential worked as a crime noir masterpiece.

    There are at least two "wonder boys" in this film. The chief one is our narrator, Grady Tripp (Douglas). Grady is a university writing professor having a hard weekend. We meet him just after his third wife has left him. His girlfriend, Sara (McDormand), informs him that she's pregnant. Sara's husband is Grady's boss. Her blind dog hates Grady. Seven years ago Grady wrote a novel that made him famous but he's been unable to finish its follow-up. His editor, Terry Crabtree (Downey Jr.), has come to town expecting to read Grady's next success. It's the university's annual Wordfest literary event and the smug, pretentious, and very successful writer, "Q" (Torn), is the guest speaker. To top that off, Grady smokes too much pot, has black-out spells, and finds his life intertwining with that of his most promising student, James Leer (Maguire). James is the other "wonder boy" who captures our attention here. Just as Grady is a once-was, James is a soon-to-be genius author. Trouble is, he's also darkly morose, evasive, and a compulsive liar. Other than Grady, the only person who gives James the time of day is fellow brilliant student Hannah Green (Holmes), who's Grady's boarder and, apparently, would like to be more. At a party at the home of Sara and her husband (Richard Thomas), Grady and James begin to connect beyond the teacher-student level. Grady sneaks James to their hosts' upstairs room, where a secret closet holds Sara's husband's most prized possession — the jacket Marilyn Monroe wore on her wedding day to Joe DiMaggio. Now, things would be fine if the dog didn't attack Grady, prompting James to pull a gun and shoot the dog right there on the carpet. And that's within the first half-hour. These components start the snowball rolling, and by the end of the weekend Grady has to deal with the avalanche they trigger. Either everything in his life must change as a result, or else Grady is going to end up like Kevin Spacey in American Beauty — a less wise, less observant, and less true "slice of life."

    Because Wonder Boys is skillfully driven by its characters and their realism rather than by a cookie-cutter plot or action sequences, Hanson and screenwriter Steve Kloves (The Fabulous Baker Boys) avoid the easy comedy clichés that would have destroyed everything after the set-up. There are a dozen places in Wonder Boys where any lesser movie would have turned right because "that's what's expected." Instead it turns left, shifts gears, and takes side streets we don't know are there until we're on our way through them. Somehow Hanson packs it all in without succumbing to the easy road of "wackiness," yet he also manages to maintain a brisk forward momentum as wildly disparate events somehow lock together like Lego blocks toward a (bravely upbeat) conclusion that resolves and works without feeling contrived or forced. This is a film about more than superficial events or witty dialogue. It's about finding the right inspiration and making the right choices. Hanson and Kloves, it's abundantly clear, made a lot of right choices. Funny, touching, and refreshingly beyond the ordinary, this is one of the best movies of 2000, and one of the best smart comedies of the past 10 years. (It's also based on a novel of the same name by one of the best new writers to hit the scene in a decade, Michael Chabon.) Wonder Boys currently is nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Writing (Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published), Best Editing, and Best Song (Bob Dylan's original-for-the-movie "Things Have Changed"). The screenplay nomination was an easy call to make. But the fact that Douglas is not up for Best Actor is just plain wrong.

    Paramount's new Wonder Boys DVD offers a splendid anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) transfer with audio in Dolby Digital 5.0. Unfortunately, there's no commentary track from Hanson (nor was there on Warner's L.A. Confidential disc), but as on L.A. Confidential, there's an interactive "location map" of Pittsburgh with Hanson's commentary vignettes. Also on board is an interview featurette with Hanson, Douglas, McDormand, and Maguire, a feature called "The Songs of Wonder Boys" with commentaries by Hanson, and the "Things Have Changed" music video by Bob Dylan. Wonder Boys is on the street tomorrow.

    (Editor's Note: Everybody will be talking about this for the next several days, so let's put it to rest — the first thing you see when playing Paramount's Wonder Boys DVD is a note that this edition has been "edited for content." notes "In the theatrical version Tobey Maguire mistakenly refers to Alan Ladd's death as a suicide. After complaints from Ladd's family, Paramount has announced that the offending line will be modified in all future releases of the film, including home video." Paramount has told us that this is the only change in the home-video version of Wonder Boys — an unnoticeable edit that does not materially affect the film itself.)

    Box Office: Robert De Niro returned to cineplex marquees across America over the weekend, but New Line's cop flick 15 Minutes failed to displace DreamWorks The Mexican, which held on to the pole position for the second week in a row. Critics have not been kind to the Julia Roberts/Brad Pitt romantic comedy, but it earned $12.1 million over the past three days, pushing its overall total to $38.3 million. The pundits weren't kind to 15 Minutes either, which debuted with a disappointing $10.4 million. The only other new arrival was Miramax's teen comedy Get Over It, starring Kirsten Dunst, which had a modest opening with just $4.4 million.

    Those Oscar contenders still remain firmly in the top ten, which is where we think they'll stay until April. Traffic stands at $97 million, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon at $94 million, and Chocolat has now crossed the $50 million mark. But out the door is Fox's Sweet November with a $22 million finish, while Warner's 3000 Miles to Graceland has gotten the bump with a mere $13 million in the bank. But it's nothing but smiles at Sony — The Wedding Planner will finish above $55 million.

    Jean-Jacques Annaud's Battle of Stalingrad drama Enemy at the Gates, starring Jude Law, Ed Harris, and Joseph Fiennes, hits the theaters this Friday, along with the latest Steven Segal action flick, Exit Wounds. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:

    1. The Mexican (DreamWorks SKG)
      $12,133,000 ($38,300,000 through 2 weeks)
    2. 15 Minutes (New Line)
      $10,475,000 ($10,475,000 through 1 week)
    3. See Spot Run (Warner Bros.)
      $6,605,000 ($17,971,000 through 2 weeks)
    4. Hannibal (MGM)
      $5,700,000 ($151,000,000 through 5 weeks)
    5. Down to Earth (Paramount)
      $5,500,000 ($51,003,000 through 4 weeks)
    6. Get Over It (Miramax)
      $4,400,000 ($4,400,000 through 1 week)
    7. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Sony Pictures Classics)
      $4,303,010 ($94,559,038 through 14 weeks)
    8. Traffic (USA Films)
      $3,866,093 ($97,471,233 through 11 weeks)
    9. Chocolat (Miramax)
      $3,800,000 ($51,000,000 through 13 weeks)
    10. Recess: School's Out (Buena Vista)
      $2,200,000 ($30,500,000 through 4 weeks)
    11. O Brother, Where Art Thou? (Buena Vista)
      $1,700,000 ($33,100,000 through 12 weeks)
    12. Cast Away (Fox)
      $1,563,000 ($225,900,000 through 12 weeks)

    On the Board: Greg Dorr has posted a new review of DreamWorks' The Contender, but besides that it's all Hitchcock today — D.K. Holm spun the restored Rear Window, Mark Bourne has a look at the experimental Rope, and Dawn Taylor examines one of The Master's later works, Torn Curtain. Also new from the staff are reviews of The Trouble With Harry, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Shadow of a Doubt, Family Plot, Saboteur, Frenzy, and Topaz. It's all under the New Reviews menu here on the front page, or use the handy search engine right above it to scan through all the reviews on the site.

    Back tomorrow with the big rundown of this week's street discs.

    — Ed.

    Thursday, 8 March 2001
    Weekend Dispatch

    News from the north: After our discussion yesterday on the many DVDs released under license in Canada via Alliance/Atlantis Home Entertainment, some Canadian readers decided to get in touch to add a few more details. Here's a second dip in the mailbag:

  • Hi there. I am from Canada and it does feels like a faraway foreign land at times. The Straight Story is just the tip of the iceberg as far as Alliance-Atlantis is concerned. Perhaps most shameless is their bare-bones full-screen disc of Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures, which was released along with David Lynch's Lost Highway and Highlander 3 as "bargain editions." This coupled with the fact that Pulp Fiction got a first-class treatment (better than in the U.S.) is in keeping with their treatment of the films at the moment of their release back in 1994: Pulp Fiction got all the push while Heavenly Creatures' release date kept getting postponed. The official explanation I got when I phoned Alliance was that they wanted a "bargain edition" for now with the possibility of upgrading it later. When I asked if that meant they would upgrade it once Miramax had authored their version, they replied "Most likely." In the meantime, I am boycotting their current disc.

    But the problems of getting DVDs in Canada pale in comparison with the problems of getting certain DVDs in the Province of Quebec. The province has been slow in embracing the format. This seems odd, as the constant headache of having to stock both French and English versions was to be relieved by DVD's multi-language capacity. However, language-specific distribution rights (where a local company has the rights to the French dubbed version while the original distributor retains rights to the English version) have made certain films practically impossible to release on DVD: How do you split the sales?

    Then we have the "sticker law" by which every video in Quebec is issued a label ensuring it's not a pirated copy and has the appropriate age-rating for the territory. In order to be distributed, a film must apply for one of these. There is a fee for registering the title as well as for every sticker issued. The cost and hassle of getting that vignette is insignificant for a major release (which can absorb the fee and spread it over thousands of copies) but a genuine pain for more obscure titles (which have to spread these costs over a lesser amount of copies — sometimes making the video too overpriced to bother). In addition, the provincial government wants to extend the "dubbing law" — which requires movies to be available with a French language track in order to be screened in Quebec — to be extended to DVDs as well. While this would not affect any Hollywood blockbusters, it would make a lot of independent, cult, and classic films virtually unavailable on "Planet Quebec."

    — Jean

    Thanks for your letter Jean — clearly DVD consumers in the U.S. have it a lot better than folks in Quebec. But, as is the case with all DVD releases in North America, any U.S. release can be ordered and shipped to Canada from a U.S. retailer, and everything is Region 1. Unfortunately for Canadians, this option always comes with a higher price.

  • In your mailbag response Wednesday you said that "Alliance has released SEs of Good Will Hunting and Shakespeare in Love that are identical to Miramax's 'Collector's Series' discs, so it was mighty decent for BV to send those extra materials along." I just wanted to point out that Good Will Hunting isn't exactly identical. The Alliance version is anamorphic, whereas the BV version is not. Also the Alliance version has one additional deleted scene of Robin Williams doing a hilarious Jack Nicholson impression which was not on the BV version. These additions were enough for me to purchase the Alliance disc and dump the BV disc on eBay.

    — Todd

  • Just wanted to let you know about a couple more Alliance DVDs that are better than the Buena Vista releases. The Alliance DVD of Good Will Hunting has all of the same extras as the BV release, plus it's got an anamorphic transfer and one more deleted scene to boot. Alliance also released a special edition DVD of David Cronenberg's Existenz, which only got a bare-bones release from BV.

    — Marcus

  • Regarding Canadian DVDs, the Canadian version of eXistenZ (produced by Alliance) is far better than the U.S. version. The Canadian version includes three commentary tracks (the U.S. version has none) and an excellent documentary about Cronenberg's production designer Carol Spier. There's really no reason for anyone to buy the U.S. release.

    — Joe

    Thanks for the notes guys — an extra deleted scene on Good Will Hunting may not be a good reason for everybody to replace the Buena Vista DVD, but folks with widescreen TVs will want to snap up that anamorphic transfer. As for eXistenZ, we missed that SE altogether, but a quick visit to eBay last night reveals it's going for less than $25. If ya gotta have it, that's the place to go.

    Quotable: "Whisper campaigns, sometimes spilling over into the media, have been building against several major (Academy Award) contenders. When criticism was aimed at a documentary on the DVD release of Gladiator in Britain, with several London newspapers complaining about the inclusion of scenes of a stampede at a British sports stadium in a section on blood sports, publicists supporting its Oscar rivals made sure that the news spread through Hollywood rapidly. Similarly, a number of people began to complain and to write that Steven Soderbergh's drug film Traffic was not as powerful as Traffik, the British television mini-series that inspired it but was little seen in the United States. Rivals to Traffic made sure that word was spread, too."

    New York Times entertainment reporter Rick Lyman
    on the dark side of this year's Oscar race.

    "The studio system's going to blow wide open at some point because they've had one of the greatest scams going on forever. I'm not going to break it wide open here, but the money they pay us is almost shut-up money. They really make their money on this catalog of movies. I mean, they have so many bombs, why aren't studios going out of business?"

    — Brad Pitt, speaking cryptically about the implications of
    Hollywood's current labor dispute in Entertainment Weekly.

    "You cannot emphasize enough the amount of damage that the strike would do to the production industry in this country. I am talking about personal devastation for people who can't afford to go two months without a paycheck, as well as a flight of intellectual know-how from which I am not sure the industry will ever recover."

    — Bob Solomon, senior VP of the post-production company
    Liberty Live Wire, telling the New York Times why the
    pending strike will be a disaster.

    "Essentially, what I have found is this: hardcore DVD freaks are the most whiny, finicky, and unbearably anal-retentive bunch of crybabies that I have ever encountered. Speaking as a present or former member of a wide variety of geek subcultures (including but not limited to comic book collectors, Star Wars fanatics, Macintosh aficionados, import CD connoisseurs, and Anna Nicole Smith worshipers), I can authoritatively pass judgment that DVD freaks have got 'em all beat for sheer irrational geekness. Hell, I'll even go out on a limb and say they're crazier than people who collect Beanie Babies and Hummel figurines. Now that's saying something."

    — D. Trull, in an extensive essay on the DVD consumer
    culture, published in the online Lard Biscuit.

    "DVD owners have to whine to get what they want. You want a re-issue of a title that's now abandoned? You have to ask. You have to plead. You have to bitch and moan and be the ultimate squeaky wheel until you get what you want. Case in point: Princess Mononoke. Now, if you have the least bit of interest in DVD — and are, in fact, reading this at all — I'm positive you know full well the uproar caused by this DVD release. Why was there such an uproar? Well, put simply, Disney decided to be lazy. They wanted to put the original Japanese soundtrack in 2.0 Stereo, but mix the English dubbing in 5.1 Dolby Digital, leaving those who love original language tracks out to dry. So the DVD community at large spoke up. And boy, did we. We DVD 'freaks' (as Trull wonderfully branded us) banded together and got exactly what we wanted.... Whining, as it were, is the most important part of being a DVD aficionado, freak, geek, whatever. Without it, we are nothing."

    — Evan Erwin, in a response to Mr. Trull published on
    the Mr. Orange website.

    Coming Attractions: We've done nothing but watch Hitchcock movies all week, so count on a slew of new reviews this Monday. Have a great weekend.

    — Ed.

    Wednesday, 7 March 2001

    Mailbag: Being a bunch of complaining Americans, it's easy for us at The DVD Journal to forget that DVD is a worldwide phenonmenon. That is, until foreigners write us to complain about DVDs in their part of the world. Here's this week's mailbag, international-style:

  • I love your website and find it to be very useful. I often go to several sites, including yours, for release dates and technical info on DVDs. What I have found is that a lot of the titles that I would very much like to own just don't show up here in Canada. And often, when they do, they are a different version than the one released in the United States. For example, I really wanted to pick up a copy of David Lynch's The Straight Story. I found a release date of November 7, 2000 at and the technical specs said it was widescreen. In Calgary, it didn't show up until February 6, 2001. I had it in my hands and was about to pay for it when I noticed that it was full-screen only! Back into my pocket went my wallet and back onto the shelf went the DVD. I fail to comprehend the logic behind this change. I was so cheesed off that I was going to contact David Lynch himself and complain.

    I now have an ever-growing list of DVDs that I know for a fact are available right now in the USA, but have yet to see here. I appreciate that on a retail level it would be nearly impossible to stock every DVD that is available anywhere, but you would think that if I can obtain a DVD from the USA, then it should be possible for a DVD retailer here to order it for me (it isn't). The main reasons I don't just order them online is the high cost of shipping, the exchange rate, and the hope that they will eventually be available here (I have patience). Have any of your other readers mentioned this at all?

    — Martin

    boxcoverThanks for your letter Martin. Have any of our readers mentioned the disparities between some Canadian and U.S. DVDs? Er, lots — and our mailbag has been filled over the past couple of weeks with comments from our Canadian readers regarding the DVD release of The Straight Story, folks so angry they're about to beat somebody over the head with a hockey stick, because indeed, the common-stock Canadian disc is full-frame and not the 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer found here in the U.S.

    But as is nearly always the case when discrepancies arise between U.S. and Canadian DVDs of the same title, the source is a production license granted to Alliance/Atlantis Home Entertainment, Canada's largest video-distribution firm. Alliance has agreements with New Line and Artisan, but a handful of their many Buena Vista titles have earned the most attention, for reasons both good and bad. Digital die-hards who have been around for a while will remember the brouhaha that erupted between BV and Alliance in mid-1999 when Alliance released special-editions of Pulp Fiction and Trainspotting (both with deleted scenes) when Buena Vista's U.S. versions were about as bare-bones as it gets. The terms of the Alliance licenses (according to their own legal fine print) dictate that the majority of their discs are not to be sold outside of Canada, which is a fairly straightforward non-compete agreement that can be expected in this kind of international home-video arrangement. However it's pretty clear the licenses for Pulp Fiction and Trainspotting didn't preclude Alliance from producing superior DVDs, and from there it's just a hop, skip, and jump over the border — Yanks down south started getting the Alliance discs from vendors who would ship 'em, or from that pesky eBay (the bane of all corporations who hope to control the international flow of their products). Our information almost two years ago was that Buena Vista was none too happy with the situation, but Canadian retailers still sell Alliance's Pulp Fiction and Trainspotting (although it appears they aren't supposed to ship them to the States), and Dutch auctions on eBay offer as many as 50 copies at a time to anybody with a valid credit card — which is precisely how we got these for the DVD Journal library. So much for not selling the discs outside of Canada.

    But since 1999, we are not aware of Alliance upstaging Buena Vista with any new DVD releases, and it's fair to guess that additional language may have been added to the distribution agreements preventing any upgrades beyond the U.S. editions. Then again, Alliance has released SEs of Good Will Hunting and Shakespeare in Love that are identical to Miramax's "Collector's Series" discs, so it was mighty decent for BV to send those extra materials along. However, as for The Straight Story, clearly there is no clause preventing Alliance from downgrading a disc, which has been done here. Why? Somebody in Canada might want to contact Alliance and ask them, or even better, tell them that you won't be buying the Canadian release until it's equivalent to Buena Vista's anamorphic disc. Our best guess is that, since this minor masterpiece from David Lynch is frequently (and hastily) categorized as a "family film," complete with a G-rating and "Walt Disney" branding, somebody decided letterboxing was a bad idea. And if that's the case, they need to think again.


  • Is there any difference between the Region 1 and Region 2 New Line two-disc versions of Se7en?

    — L.W.

    It doesn't appear so — the specs on the Region 2 release, which arrived on Feb. 26 in Europe, say it includes a look at the opening sequence, deleted scenes, extended takes, alternate endings, production design info, stills, filmographies, John Doe's notebooks, all the promo stuff, and the documentary on video mastering. In fact, the only difference we're aware of is that it hasn't been released by New Line, but by Entertainment in Video (a subsidiary of New Line or simply a licensee). And the boxcover art is different — it's no "Platinum Series" as we have here in Region 1. But besides those small details, we all have the same DVD release in North America, Europe, and ostensibly most Asian countries. And that's the way we like it, so here's hoping this excellent package will soon be available in every corner of the globe.

    We have defended region-coding in the past, and we continue to do so despite some vociferous arguments from our readers. For new films, the reason is both simple and economically justifiable — a new movie arriving on DVD in North America often has yet to open theatrically in other parts of the world, and if the Region 1 DVD is readily functional overseas it will eat into theatrical profits. We do not condemn anybody for making a buck, and thus we don't condemn movie studios who are looking to get a return on their investment, even if we're talking about millions of bucks. The people who create the films we love have to be given the opportunity to send a film through its normal theatrical cycle before it arrives on home video everywhere, which is why the studios asked for region-coding when DVD was created — and without region-coding, DVD may never have happened at all.

    Another reason for region-coding is less apparent, but still justifiable, as the rights to films are not necessarily owned by the same studio in every region, and with the many expensive co-productions that are commonplace today, it's not unusual for one financing studio to have the North American home-video rights while the other has them internationally. Region-coding ensures studios will have control of their respective regions, and that they can even sell their rights to any region at a later time. We don't have to like it, but any studio putting up half of a $100 million production budget will expect it.

    That said, when a studio wholly owns the worldwide rights to a catalog title that is no longer in theaters, and when they claim that they want to limit international shipments of DVDs, the solution is very simple, and soundly based in the free market — make the DVDs identical in every region. We hope the Region 2 release of Seven and the Canadian editions of Good Will Hunting and Shakespeare in Love are the shape of things to come. We also hope Alliance will see how they've excluded many of their consumers with their release of The Straight Story — a new anamorphic transfer will do a lot to keep some Canadian dollars in Canada.

    Top of the Pops: Here's the top-selling DVDs last week from our friends at Click the links to read our reviews of these discs:

    1. Bring It On: Collector's Edition
    2. What Lies Beneath
    3. Get Carter (2000)
    4. Dr. T and the Women
    5. Lost Souls
    6. The Matrix
    7. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
    8. Dinosaur
    9. Do the Right Thing: The Criterion Collection
    10. The Watcher

    Bye for now.

    — Ed.

    Tuesday, 6 March 2001

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

    • Two Oscar hopefuls that didn't make a splash when the nominations were announced are in prep at Columbia TriStar — Gus Van Sant's Finding Forrester (April 24), which will include two featurettes and deleted scenes, and Billy Bob Thornton's All The Pretty Horses (May 8), with trailers and production notes. The 1953 Dr. Seuss live-action tale The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T is also on the way (April 24), although it will only sport a still gallery. But we're most looking forward to Kevin MacDonald's Oscar-winning documentary One Day in September (April 24), narrated by Michael Douglas, which covers the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre.
    • Last year's animated The Emperor's New Groove will do double-duty from Buena Vista as both a one-disc Special Edition and a two-disc set called "The Ultimate Groove." Expect the cheaper version to offer a commentary with director Mark Dindal, producer Randy Fullmer, and others, three featurettes, a deleted scene, a music video from Sting, and games. But if ya gotta have that mega-Groove, expect the second disc to contain a visit to the Disney Animation Studios, layouts, backgrounds, audio tricks, a look at the vocal talent, and lots more. Both versions street on May 1. Meanwhile, Winnie the Pooh (yes, Michael Eisner owns everything) is making his way to DVD in both The Book of Pooh: Stories from the Heart and Pooh's Grand Adventure: The Search For Christopher Robin (July 17), recent straight-to-video outings with extras for the kids. On the way for grown-ups will be Jet Li's Legend 2 (May 8), while Bruce Paltrow's karaoke-drama Duets (May 8) will street as an SE with a commentary from Paltrow, deleted scenes, a multi-angle music video, and every last note of daughter Gwyneth's singing.
    • Warner will street a big SE of Clint Eastwood's Space Cowboys on April 17, and features include four featurettes, trailers, notes, and a Space Shuttle video game on DVD-ROM. Those who enjoyed Walking with Dinosaurs can look for the sequel Allosaurus: A Walking with Dinosaurs Special (April 10), with an additional 30-minute behind-the-scenes documentary, stills, storyboards, and DVD-ROM extras. And the recent Masterpiece Theater miniseries Wives and Daughters is on the way as well in a three-disc set (March 20 – SRP $59.98), with a 20-minute documentary on the production and a 55-minute special on novelist Elizabeth Gaskell and her literary career.
    • Paramount is brewing up a trio of Audrey Hepburn classics, not least of which being Billy Wilder's 1954 Sabrina, co-starring Humphrey Bogart and William Holden. Also look for 1957's Funny Face, directed by Stanley Donen and featuring Hepburn and Fred Astaire, and the 1964 Paris When It Sizzles, co-staring Holden again. All three arrive on April 10. Also in the pipe are four wartime titles due on May 22, including Mike Nichols' 1970 Catch-22, Don Siegel's 1962 Hell Is for Heroes, Otto Preminger's 1965 In Harm's Way, and the 1983 Uncommon Valor.
    • Those of you who have no chance of getting to the annual Sundance Festival (and that would include pretty much everybody we know) can live vicariously via Park City: The Sundance Collection, a new disc of award-winning Sundance shorts from Vanguard. Get it on April 17.
    • How cool is BMG's upcoming The Backstreet Boys: Black and Blue: Around the World? (March 20) Not only does it feature interviews and live performances, but we're also promised "exclusive footage of the Boys on their chartered 757 jet (that) even includes shots of the guys flying the plane!" Oh, those rapscallions! What will they do next?
    • Street date changes include Tapeheads (March 13), Triumph of the Will (March 20), and Criterion's Eisenstein: The Sound Years (April 24), while MGM's How I Won the War has been delayed with no new date. Ordinary People has now returned to the schedule, due on Aug. 28, while Cannonball Run has a fresh street-date of June 5. Meanwhile the 1976 Jack the Ripper has been canceled after a long production delay.
    • On the discontinued list (on moratorium and probably due to be reissued down the road) are Fiddler on the Roof, Carrie, and both DVD editions of National Lampoon's Animal House.

    On the Street: It's easy to get dragged in two directions this morning, as Universal has their long-awaited Hitchcock releases out now — including Rear Window: Collector's Edition, The Trouble With Harry, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and seven others — while MGM's catalog titles include such classics as Birdman of Alcatraz, 12 Angry Men, The Bishop's Wife, and the two-disc The Greatest Story Ever Told. But if moldy old movies just aren't your style, Hitchcock or otherwise, don't miss Universal's new Meet the Parents: Collector's Edition for some very, er... contemporary humor. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of and Image Entertainment:

    • 12 Angry Men (1957)
    • All Dogs Go to Heaven
    • All Dogs Go to Heaven 2
    • Birdman of Alcatraz
    • The Bishop's Wife
    • The Broken Hearts Club
    • Carmen / The Cheat (1915)
    • The Contender (delayed from 2/27)
    • Destiny's Child: The Platinum's On The Wall
    • Elmer Gantry
    • Family Plot
    • Fluke
    • The Fortune Cookie
    • Frenzy
    • Getting Even with Dad
    • The Greatest Story Ever Told: Special Edition
    • Hans Christian Andersen
    • It's Raining on Santiago
    • Ivory Tower
    • The Jackie Robinson Story
    • Just for the Hell of It /Blast-Off Girls
    • Sam Kinison: Breaking the Rules
    • Lilies of the Field
    • The Little Vampire
    • The Mad Butcher: Special Edition
    • The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
    • Mantis in Lace
    • Meet the Parents
    • The Miracle Worker
    • Napoleon
    • Outlaw Star Collection (Vol. 3) (2-DVD Set)
    • Phish: Bittersweet Motel
    • The Prince of Egypt / Joseph: King of Dreams
    • Rear Window
    • Rope
    • Saboteur
    • Scooby-Doo and the Witch's Ghost
    • Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island
    • The Secret of NIMH 2: Timmy to the Rescue
    • Shadow of a Doubt
    • SHORT: International Release #3
    • Terror Firmer (unrated version)
    • Terror Firmer (R-rated version)
    • Timeless
    • Topaz
    • Torn Curtain
    • Traitor's Heart
    • The Trouble with Harry
    • Yours, Mine and Ours

    Those Hitchcock discs won't stop spinning in the screening room all week — count on some new write-ups from the team next Monday morning.

    — Ed.

    Monday, 5 March 2001

    And the winner is: Thom Verratti of Crofton, Maryland, wins the free Cosmos DVD set from our February contest. Congrats, Thom! Several thousand people this morning hate your guts, but screw 'em — enjoy that Cosmos box anyway.

    Our totally free DVD contest for the month of March is up and running, and we have a copy of Warner's 11-disc Oliver Stone Collection 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.

    boxcoverDisc of the Week: Frank Capra first arrived on the fringes of the thriving American film industry in the 1920s, well before talkies appeared. He directed his final film in 1961 (A Pocketful of Miracles), but lived in retirement for another 30 years until his death in 1991. The man who directed It's a Wonderful Life in many respects lived a long and charmed one, but it's curious that his most popular films arrived in a radically short space of time. It's a Wonderful Life debuted in 1946, after Capra had finished five years of shooting the Why We Fight documentaries for the Allied war effort, but the majority of his notable films came just before the Second World War. And as such, most use the Great Depression as a backdrop, if not an overt theme — the multi-Oscar-winning It Happened One Night (1934), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), You Can't Take It With You (1938), and Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (1939), amongst others, all came in a rush, only for Capra's career to take a sharp turn in the '40s and then go into a steady, regrettable decline. American movie attendance was never higher than during the Great Depression as audiences flocked to movie theaters to escape the dreariness of their daily lives, but perhaps what made Capra so unusual was how he worked against expectations. While most moviegoers were looking for an inexpensive bit of escapism, Capra brought the outside world into the movie theater, making it very clear that the Depression was going on right now, albeit with a relentless optimism about the American people and the future of the nation — a nation that soon would be dragged into another costly world war, but which also would enjoy unprecedented prosperity just a few years later.

    Meet John Doe, shot in 1940, was the last of Capra's depression-era films, exploring the popular frustrations of the decade more overtly than any other. Barbara Stanwyck stars as newspaper columnist Ann Mitchell, who is laid off when her paper is bought out by a new owner (it seems corporate downsizing is nothing new), but she manages to work her way back into the job when, as a stunt for her final column, she prints a bogus letter from one "John Doe," a man who plans to commit suicide by jumping off City Hall to protest the world's injustices. But when the letter creates a storm of controversy and editor Henry Connell (James Gleason) doesn't know what to make of it, Ann convinces him they should hire a real person to portray John Doe and then use him to drive circulation straight through the holidays. John Willoughby (Gary Cooper), a former bush-league baseball pitcher with a bum shoulder and no job prospects is recruited to play the part, but he comes with a flesh-and-blood conscience — his fellow hobo "The Colonel" (Walter Brennan), who is perhaps the only person in America since Huck Finn to believe abject poverty is a pretty good deal. "John Doe" quickly becomes a celebrity, but John Willoughby can't possibly know what competing political forces are at work behind the scenes — nor can he know who is plotting to expose the scheme, or why.

    Along with being the film that would close Capra's most successful decade, Meet John Doe was one of the last he would do with longtime collaborator Robert Riskin, who penned the majority of Capra's films up to that point. Some have seen Riskin's tale as a Christ allegory (which, if true, isn't all that clear), but there are direct parallels to the political climate of the age, and particularly in Europe. Capra is most frequently described as a "populist" director, but Meet John Doe illustrates that populism — the unification of common people for a common purpose — is a double-edged sword, something that can bring people together in a country that's dealing with economic hardship, or blind them with fascist loyalty to a leader or a hero, one who promises to lead them from suffering (as Hitler was doing at that very moment in Germany). In Meet John Doe, the same motivations that caused the Weimar Republic to embrace National Socialism are what drives the "average" American to John Doe, and then eventually to turn on him at the first hint of betrayal. According to Capra and Riskin, the national malaise of the time might not necessarily have to do with a lack of community (although that can feed into it), but instead a lack of self-worth among common people, which leads them to embrace the reluctant Doe — an out-of-work schlub with not much in the way of self-confidence either.

    As Meet John Doe is a film in the public domain, several versions exist on DVD from a number of "budget" vendors, all with varying degrees of quality (and some are not very good all). Fortunately Image Entertainment, working with the Hal Roach Studios Trust, has delivered a new transfer to DVD from restored materials, and the overall result is excellent. The disc comes bare-bones (so bare-bones in fact that the single menu screen offers nothing more than chapter selection), but the source print is in very good shape with strong low-contrast details and only minor collateral damage (and some extra wear and tear around reel changes), while the audio is crisp and fully intelligible in the original mono. A great many Frank Capra films are already on DVD — in particular the excellent restored packages from Columbia TriStar — and those who are collecting Capra on disc should not hesitate to add this edition to their personal libraries. Image's Meet John Doe is on the street now.

    Box Office: MGM's blockbuster Hannibal scored the trifecta in February with three weeks atop the box-office rankings, but all things must end. And this case Hannibal's defeat comes at the hands of Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt, as DreamWorks' The Mexican had a $20.3 million bow over the weekend, overcoming some mixed reviews to do twice as much business as any other film. Hannibal nearly held on to second place, but another new arrival, Warner's See Spot Run, edged out Dr. Lecter by just $100,000. Reviews for the new comedy starring David Arquette were generally poor, but it likely will make up its $15 million budget.

    Still in continuing release, Hannibal has chomped its way to a $142.8 million cume in just one month, while three Oscar contenders — USA's Traffic, Sony's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Miramax's Choclolat — are still in the pack, and both Traffic and Crouching Tiger are poised to break $100 million by Oscar week. Chris Rock is doing well with Down to Earth claiming $44.1 million after its third weekend, but Warner's 3000 Miles to Graceland is dropping like a ten-pound rhinestone with just $12 million to its credit. And finally out of the top ten after a solid 11 weeks is Fox's Cast Away, which is on its way to the second-run circuit (and DVD prep) with $223.8 million and counting.

    Robert De Niro is back on the big screen this Friday in New Line's action/comedy 15 Minutes, co-starring Edward Burns. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:

    1. The Mexican (DreamWorks SKG)
      $20,300,000 ($20,300,000 through 1 week)
    2. See Spot Run (Warner Bros.)
      $10,200,000 ($10,200,000 through 1 week)
    3. Hannibal (MGM)
      $10,100,000 ($142,800,000 through 4 weeks)
    4. Down to Earth (studio)
      $8,000,000 ($44,100,000 through 3 weeks)
    5. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Sony Pictures Classics)
      $4,900,000 ($88,700,000 through 13 weeks)
    6. Traffic (USA Films)
      $4,500,000 ($92,300,000 through 10 weeks)
    7. Chocolat (Miramax)
      $4,200,000 ($45,700,000 through 12 weeks)
    8. Recess: School's Out (Buena Vista)
      $3,900,000 ($27,600,000 through 3 weeks)
    9. 3000 Miles to Graceland (Warner Bros.)
      $3,000,000 ($12,200,000 through 2 weeks)
    10. Sweet November (Buena Vista)
      $2,500,000 ($21,600,000 through 3 weeks)
    11. The Wedding Planner (Sony/Columbia TriStar)
      $2,300,000 ($55,400,000 through 6 weeks)
    12. Cast Away (Fox)
      $2,100,000 ($223,800,000 through 11 weeks)

    On the Board: Our own Alexandra DuPont has posted a special sneak-preview of Artisan's two-disc Dune, which recently aired on the Sci-Fi Channel, while Mark Bourne recently looked at the H.G. Wells futurama Things to Come and the Vincent Price classic The Abominable Dr. Phibes. Other new write-ups from the team this week include The Greatest Story Ever Told, The Birdman of Alcatraz, Clerks: The Animated Series Uncensored, Alfie, Lilies of the Field, Meet John Doe, The Evening Star, Yours, Mine, and Ours, and The Broken Hearts Club. It's all fresh under the New Reviews menu here on the front page, or use the handy search engine to dig through our massive DVD reviews database.

    We'll be back tomorrow to let you know about this week's street discs.

    — Ed.

    Thursday, 1 March 2001
    Weekend Dispatch

    On the Block: Our most-recent round of DVD auction rankings at eBay is in, and while such collectibles as the 1997 THX Theatrical Trailers demo DVD and Criterion's Salo and The Killer continue to dominate the chart, other discs are on the rise — in particular Anchor Bay's out-of-print two-disc Army of Darkness: Limited Edition, which had a top close of $227.50 in recent weeks, far beyond its previous high mark of $150 and change. Also surging — and in fact returning to the chart after a long absence — is the Live at Knebworth DVD, released by Image Entertainment for just a short time before falling out of print, and a heated 18-bid auction resulted in a $224.72 hammer-price for the rarity. The two-disc Japanese release of David Lynch's Dune: Director's Cut continues to break $100 with ease, and Warner's OOP Willy Wonka is drawing lots of bids — at least until the upcoming special edition is announced. And yes, there are four films by Pier Paolo Pasolini on the board today: Criterion's Salo and Image's The Arabian Nights, The Canterbury Tales, and The Decameron.

    Here's the highest recent closing prices of rare and out-of-print DVDs from online auctions at eBay:

    1. THX Theatrical Trailers Demo DVD
      $370.00 (11 bids)
    2. Salo: The Criterion Collection
      $345.00 (1 bid)
    3. The Killer: The Criterion Collection
      $285.00 (23 bids)
    4. Army of Darkness: Limited Edition
      $227.50 (29 bids)
    5. Live at Knebworth
      $224.72 (18 bids)
    6. The Arabian Nights
      $203.75 (17 bids)
    7. The 400 Blows: The Criterion Collection
      $176.00 (1 bid)
    8. This Is Spinal Tap: The Criterion Collection
      $128.50 (24 bids)
    9. THX Surround EX Demo DVD
      $127.51 (40 bids)
    10. The Canterbury Tales
      $127.50 (8 bids)
    11. Seven Samurai: The Criterion Collection (first edition)
      $127.37 (7 bids)
    12. Dune: Director's Cut (Region 2)
      $122.50 (10 bids)
    13. The Boondock Saints: Expanded Cut (Region 2)
      $107.50 (12 bids)
    14. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
      $103.50 (14 bids)
    15. The Decameron
      $102.50 (8 bids)

    Quotable: "Despite defendants' efforts to pitch this case as a classic story of the gadfly press, and to cast themselves in the role of the protagonist reporter who seeks only to convey truthful information to the public, this lawsuit is really about computer hackers and the tools of digital piracy."

    — U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White, writing a U.S. Department
    of Justice opinion that sides with the major Hollywood
    studios in their ongoing litigation with DeCSS distributor
    Eric Corley.

    "New York City is the entertainment capital of the world, and yet average New Yorkers and their families can no longer afford to go to the movies."

    — New York City Council speaker Peter F. Vallone,
    responding to the news that the Loews Cineplex
    Entertainment chain is raising ticket prices to $10.

    "There's not enough action in it — it's boring."

    — Paul Lau, a 30-year-old Hong Kong moviegoer,
    telling the New York Times why Crouching Tiger,
    Hidden Dragon
    isn't a hit in Hong Kong or
    mainland China.

    "The late Stanley Kramer was our least favorite director of all the Stanleys, but we are sad to see him go before recording four-and-a-half hours of boring commentary for the DVD of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World."

    Rolling Stone columnists Jason Cohen and
    Michael Krugman.

    "I'm a moviegoer, not a moviemaker."

    — Bill Clinton, revealing to Daily Variety that he has
    no plans to take a long-rumored job at DreamWorks.

    Coming Attractions: A whole lot of new DVD reviews are on the way, so we'll see you on Monday morning with the latest. In the meantime, this will be the last weekend to enter this month's totally free DVD contest for a copy of Cosmos: Collector's Edition, so be sure to visit our contest page if you haven't yet. We'll announce the incredibly lucky winner next week (will it be you?), and we'll have another DVD contest up and running as well. And finally, Criterion's Peter Becker sat for an interview recently on National Public Radio, which can be heard here.

    Have a great weekend.

    — Ed.

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