News and Commentary: December 2001

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Tuesday, 18 December 2001
Holiday Break Dispatch

The Year in Review: We're dimming the lights at DVD Journal headquarters for our annual holiday break, but we will be back on Monday, Jan. 7 with new DVD reviews, including Buckaroo Banzai, Mad Max, Evolution, M*A*S*H, and more. Before we go, we offer our top ten DVDs of the past 12 months:

  1. The Godfather DVD Collection (Released Oct. 9, 2001) A controversial release when it arrived, and bound to remain controversial for some time to come, Paramount insisted that those who wanted The Godfather on DVD would have to accept a spendy box-set, a version of The Godfather Part II split across two discs, and source prints that show some collateral wear. But we loved it when we first saw it, and we're sticking by it — The Godfather DVD Collection is a monumental DVD release with two films that comprise a masterpiece of American cinema, and they don't look nearly as bad on DVD as some folks insist. What's more, all three films have commentary tracks from director Francis Ford Coppola, and the fifth disc in the box is packed with extra features. In our book, the most essential DVD package of 2001.

  2. boxcoverRear Window: Collector's Edition (Released March 6, 2001) The past year was a treat for Hitchcock-loving DVD fans, as Universal released the remainder of their Hitchcock catalog in March — a slew of titles that included both classics and clunkers from The Master. But the crown jewel was Rear Window: Collector's Edition, the best Hitchcock DVD to date of arguably his best film. The transfer from the restored print is colorful and gorgeous, and the feature-set includes a wonderful documentary on the film's making. The only thing that could make this disc better would be to plate it in 24k gold.

  3. Citizen Kane (Released Sept. 25, 2001) Serious cineastes with DVD players had been anticipating Orson Welles' Citizen Kane for some time, particularly after the rights to the film transferred from MGM to Warner in 1998. Well, the WB made us wait, but it was worth it — the restored version of Kane on this two-disc set is now a reference-standard for black-and-white films on DVD, and the audio has been cleaned up to such a degree that the former gold standard, Criterion's Laserdisc package, pales in comparison. However, Criterion's features were just as attractive, if not superior, to Warner's, and while Roger Ebert's DVD commentary is enjoyable, more than a few DVD fans have groused over Peter Bogdanovich's recording. But it's easy to bitch, and we won't. We wanted Kane, we got it — and now we'll shut up.

  4. Lawrence of Arabia: Limited Edition (Released April 3, 2001) One of the most-requested MIA films before its arrival on DVD this year, Columbia TriStar's two-disc Lawrence of Arabia features the meticulously restored print and a new Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, and also on board are a documentary, an interview with Steven Spielberg (who participated in the restoration), early promotional films, and a narrated slide show of advertising campaign images. Hard to beat — especially with that clever DVD case that looks and feels like a small, hard-bound novel.

  5. boxcoverDo The Right Thing: The Criterion Collection (Released Feb. 20, 2001) Picking our favorite Criterion release of the year is not easy, as the small distributor — along with Columbia TriStar and MGM — has done a lot to satisfy our cravings for the classics. But when it's all said and done, perhaps no film released under the Criterion folio this year was as important as Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing, a vibrant, complicated film about race-relations and sweltering heat. On board the two-disc package is a commentary from Lee and crew, an hour-long documentary, a revisit to the film's Bed-Stuy neighborhood, and various other items.

  6. Dr. Strangelove: Special Edition (Released Feb. 27, 2001) Warner improved their "Stanley Kubrick Collection" box-set this past June, but the best thing in the slipcase actually came from Columbia TriStar, as their re-vamped Dr. Strangelove fitted out an already excellent film with an array of extra stuff. In addition to the serviceable transfer (unchanged from the first DVD), bonus materials include a documentary, original promo interviews with stars Peter Sellers and George C. Scott, advertising materials, and trailers. It's hard to say what the best Kubrick film is, but it's easy to say that this is our favorite.

  7. Die Hard: Five Star Collection (Released July 10, 2001) It seems that action films are the DVD format's raison d'etre, with the genre dominating the best-selling lists and so many DVD fans looking to put their 5.1 systems to the test. And if most action films are derivative, then at least Fox gave the special-edition treatment to a genuine original — Die Hard: Five Star Collection improves upon the initial 1998 release with an anamorphic transfer, DTS and Dolby Digital audio, and a full mag of features such as commentaries, deleted scenes, and a marvelous slide-show with a series of digressive supplements. That's just the tip of the iceberg on this two-disc set, and it's hard not to like a DVD when it includes a short feature explaining the merits of letterboxing on home video (so spin that one for the naysayers).

  8. boxcoverSome Like It Hot: Special Edition (Released May 22, 2001) It's been a great year for Billy Wilder fans (your own editor being one of them), with such titles as Sabrina, Irma la Douce, The Apartment, and Witness for the Prosecution going digital. And while loving older movies often means living without juicy extras, MGM spoiled us with their special edition of Some Like It Hot, a fan-favorite for Wilder admirers. In addition to the gorgeous black-and-white transfer and a choice between the original mono or a new 5.1 mix, a variety of retrospective extras are on board, including a half-hour interview with star Tony Curtis and a look back at that sizzlin' all-girl jazz band.

  9. Monty Python and the Holy Grail: Special Edition (Released Oct. 23, 2001) Monty Python fans rival Trekkies, Star Wars geeks, and Harry Potter readers for sheer slavish devotion, and Columbia TriStar's Holy Grail special edition was a total knockout — no visit to the Argument Clinic necessary. What's more, the two-disc set mocks the DVD format with glee. In addition to the film, the creamy cheese-shop goodness includes two commentaries from the Pythons, a "Follow the Killer Rabbit" interactive feature, the entire screenplay, a look at the film's locations, something called "How To Use Your Coconuts," and "Subtitles For People Who Don't Like The Film."

  10. Ginger Snaps (Canadian release) (Released Oct. 23, 2001) There were plenty of horror films released on DVD this year, but Ginger Snaps — John Fawcett's unusual, surprisingly poignant exploration of puberty, teen angst and werewolves — was one of our favorites. Be sure to check out the widescreen Canadian Special Edition rather than the full-frame release Stateside, which offers such bonus features as two audio commentary tracks, 15 deleted scenes, audition footage, and a lot more.

boxcoverIt's hard to cut that list to ten, especially as we have reviewed a few hundred DVDs this year and enjoyed so many. Among our honorable mentions must be a short stack of Criterion items, including the Preston Sturges titles Sullivan's Travels (Aug. 21) and The Lady Eve (Oct. 16), Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious (Oct. 16) and Rebecca (Nov. 20), Douglas Sirk's All That Heaven Allows (June 19), Federico Fellini's 8-1/2 (Dec. 4), and Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus (Apr. 24). Specialty distributor Image Entertainment also came through with some great silent classics, in particular the restored Nosferatu (Jan. 2), Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler (Aug. 28), and 1925's The Lost World (April 3). With turbulent events around the globe, our opportunity to revisit The Killing Fields on Warner's DVD (March 13) made us think it was one of those films that everybody should see at least once. Disney launched their Platinum Edition line with the two-disc Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (Oct. 9). Fox's French Connection (Sept. 25) kicked much ass. And it seems Steven Soderbergh is everybody's cup of tea lately — it's just too bad that so few have seen The Limey (Feb. 20), as Artisan's DVD is a comprehensive package.

And we still could continue — 2001 was that deep. We're sure you have your own favorites, and we're hoping 2002 will be another year that sees even more, better DVDs of all the rest of the films we're still waiting for. We've come a long way since 1997.

On the Street: It's the final noteworthy street Tuesday of the year, as the Dec. 26 list next week is dominated by MGM catalog titles. Getting a lot of attention today is Fox's Moulin Rouge, a two-disc set that reportedly is the first DVD to be produced by the film's director, and it's loaded with extra content. Also sure to move a few units are two big titles from Buena Vista, Scary Movie 2 and The Princess Diaries. Of course, we always like it when we can get some choice items from the vaults, and Columbia TriStar's releases today include Fritz Lang's noir classic The Big Heat, the Joan Crawford vehicle Queen Bee, and Neil Simon's sleuth-spoof Murder By Death. And if you're planning to get some time off during the holiday season (as we are), now's the time to dig into something super-sized, in particular Artisan's Twin Peaks: The First Season and the recent miniseries Uprising, out now from Warner. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of and Image Entertainment:

  • Ah, Wilderness!
  • Artemisia
  • Beyond the Horizon
  • The Big Heat (1953)
  • Bravo Two Zero
  • Bullet for the General
  • Child Star: The Shirley Temple Story: Special Edition
  • Deep Water
  • Dirk Bogarde Collection (3-disc set)
  • Doctor Chance
  • Eminem: Behind the Mask
  • Four of the Apocalypse
  • God's Little Acre
  • Hamlet (2001)
  • Jackpot
  • Journey: Live 2001
  • Lear '87 Archive (3-disc set)
  • Marc Anthony: The Concert from Madison Square Garden
  • Mind Benders
  • Motorama
  • Moulin Rouge: Special Edition (2-disc set) (2001)
  • Murder By Death
  • Of Freaks and Men
  • The Pigkeeper's Daughter / Sassy Sue: Special Edition
  • Princess Diaries: Special Edition
  • Princess of Thieves: Special Edition
  • Queen Bee
  • Roger Waters: In The Flesh Live
  • Scary Movie 2
  • The Scent of Green Papaya
  • The Servant
  • Silent Trigger
  • Sleepless
  • The Snapper
  • Train: Midnight Moon
  • Twin Peaks: The First Season (delayed from Dec. 4)
  • Uprising (2-disc set)
  • Vertical Ray of the Sun
  • The War of the Roses: Special Edition
  • The Waterdance
  • Wrestling Women U.S.A./ Pin-Down Girl: Special Edition (2001)

Thanks for reading — we'll see you in January.

— Ed.

Monday, 17 December 2001

boxcoverDisc of the Week: With the arrival of inexpensive, versatile DVD technology, serious movie collectors have learned that much-coveted or obscure films that were not cost-effective for videotape release in the past are now more likely find their way onto disc. Still, it probably took the popularity of Memento to inspire Following's publication. Christopher Nolan's first film had few playdates in 1998 and only sporadic, if enthusiastic, reviews. But DVD is a perfect format for Following — it's a "small" film, intellectually clever but emotionally downbeat, technically proficient but ultimately for specialized tastes. Made for $6,000 and shot in black-and-white with a budget-mindedly small cast and clandestinely shot footage, Following is a textbook "calling card" film designed to gain its maker attention in the film industry, a process that begins after the requisite panoply of festival awards. The plan seems to have worked. Following duly won the Sundance "Black and White" award (among others), writer-director Nolan went on to deliver the indie sensation Memento, and he's now shooting an American remake of Erik Skjoldbjærg's 1997 Insomnia (which, needless to say, we're looking forward to).

The fatalistic, noir-ish story of Following, simple on the surface but theoretically complex, concerns an unnamed aspiring writer in London (co-producer Jeremy Theobald) who fills his days by trailing random people, ostensibly for research. One day he is confronted by one of his subjects, who turns out to be Cobb (Alex Haw), a handsome, confident rake who presents himself as a professional burglar. Cobb invites the otherwise unengaged author to join him on his escapades, but then — off the clock so to speak — the "author" proceeds to shadow one of their recent victims (Lucy Russell). And there is where all plot summary must cease — like Memento, Following trades on its ability to take hairpin narrative turns.

Following makes two things clear about Nolan. First, it's obvious that the young auteur favors Cornell Woolrich-style tales (or is it Nabokovian? Or DePalmian?), in which an earnest quasi-innocent is manipulated by a crueler, craftier male. Second, Nolan thus may well be the perfect director for the similarly themed Insomnia remake, which has been shot in British Columbia with Al Pacino, Robin Williams, and Hilary Swank, and is due in theaters this coming May. As in Memento, with Following Nolan "disrupts the narrative." The film begins with a suite of images that don't make sense until the conclusion, and it tells the story from three vantages simultaneously, shuffling the chronology like a deck of cards (but in a much more sophisticated manner than Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, the Godfather of narrative distortion). The "now" is the young man telling a police inspector his story. Beneath that, his relationship with Cobb and his encounters with the mysterious woman jump back and forth in time. The story is not at all difficult to follow, and on a second viewing Nolan's technique emphasizes how our futures, or our fates, are embedded in our present.

Columbia TriStar has done the sort of job on their Following DVD release that many expected for Memento, as the 71-minute movie comes on a disc loaded with extras. The grainy black-and-white photography, by Nolan himself, receives a solid full-frame transfer (1.33:1) with a Dolby 2.0 soundtrack that is more than adequate for a film recorded or dubbed on the fly (also included are English and Spanish subtitles). Supplements include a commentary track by Nolan, in which he talks in a subdued voice about the tricks of guerrilla filmmaking, heightening the intricacies of an already complicated plot filled with visual motifs while dwelling very little on the film's meaning. Also on hand is the screenplay (viewable in conjunction with the film via the multi-angle function), an alternative version of the movie presented in chronological order, trailers for Memento and Following, bios for seven cast and crew members, and DVD credits. Following is on the street now, and it's not to be missed.

Box Office: How bankable is Tom Cruise? His past seven marquee movies (going all the way back to the early '90s) have opened in first place, and now the streak is at eight — Vanilla Sky, starring Cruise, Penelope Cruz, and Cameron Diaz, grabbed the top spot at the weekend box-office with $25 million. Directed by Cameron Crowe (who teamed with Cruise in 1996's Jerry McGuire), the remake of the Spanish film Abre los Ojos received massive publicity, but critics were mixed on the mind-bending plot and audience polls were negative. Also debuting was Sony's teen-movie spoof Not Another Teen Movie, which landed in third place with $13 million and will easily cover its modest $15 million budget.

In continuing release, Warner's ultra-slick Ocean's Eleven, directed by Steven Soderbergh, wound up in second place with $23 million over the weekend and a healthy $73.2 million 10-day gross. The Harry Potter juggernaut continues to abate, with a surprisingly moderate $9.9 million weekend for a film that smashed all debut records just five weeks ago, but the $253.2 million gross is no small potatoes. Fox's Behind Enemy Lines is still earning business with $38.8 million to date. But now fading are Universal's Spy Game and Fox's Black Knight and Shallow Hal. Off the charts is Warner's Heist, the David Mamet film starring Gene Hackman and Danny DeVito, which will have a $25 million finish.

The Christmas movie releases kick off Wednesday with New Line's Lord of the Rings, which is bound to do Harry Potter-sized business, while Friday releases include The Majestic starring Jim Carrey and the romantic comedy Kate & Leopold with Meg Ryan and Hugh Jackman. And then on Christmas Day comes Michael Mann's Ali, starring Will Smith. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:

  1. Vanilla Sky (Paramount)
    $25,000,000 ($25,000,000 through 1 week)
  2. Ocean's Eleven (Warner Bros.)
    $23,050,000 ($73,280,000 through 2 weeks)
  3. Not Another Teen Movie (Sony/Columbia TriStar)
    $13,100,000 ($13,100,000 through 1 week)
  4. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Warner Bros.)
    $9,900,000 ($253,250,000 through 5 weeks)
  5. Behind Enemy Lines (Fox)
    $5,485,000 ($38,883,348 through 3 weeks)
  6. Monsters, Inc. (Buena Vista)
    $5,026,000 ($218,861,255 through 7 weeks)
  7. Spy Game (Universal)
    $2,400,000 ($57,700,000 through 4 weeks)
  8. Black Knight (Fox)
    $2,010,000 ($29,721,734 through 4 weeks)
  9. Shallow Hal (Fox)
    $1,395,000 ($66,869,615 through 6 weeks)
  10. Amelie (Miramax)
    $750,000 ($12,500,000 through 7 weeks)
  11. Out Cold (Buena Vista)
    $700,000 ($13,262,288 through 4 weeks)
  12. Domestic Disturbance (Paramount)
    $400,000 ($44,354,000 through 7 weeks)

On the Board: Dawn Taylor has posted a sneak-preview of Fox's two-disc Moulin Rouge, while Greg Dorr recently dug through Artisan's four-disc Twin Peaks: The First Season, and Joe Barlow looked at Columbia TriStar's Ghosts of Mars. New stuff from the rest of the team today includes The Big Heat, Casualties of War, The Last Wave: The Criterion Collection, The Defiant Ones, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Murder By Death, Lost Continent, Summer Catch, Sahara, Following, Queen Bee, and Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey. It's all fresh under the New Reviews menu here on the front page, or use our search engine to scan our entire DVD reviews database.

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

— Ed.

Thursday, 13 December 2001
Weekend Dispatch

Coming Attractions: We're gearing up for our final review weekend of 2001, and new stuff on the way includes Moulin Rouge, Twin Peaks: Season One, and more. In the meantime, if you haven't entered our totally free DVD contest for a copy of Uprising, 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. Also, for folks in the L.A. area, Rush Hour 2 director Brett Ratner will be signing copies of the new DVD this Saturday at Dave's Video (12144 Ventura Blvd., Studio City) between 1 and 3 p.m. You'll have to buy a disc, but a portion of the sales will go to charity.

See ya Monday gang.

Quotable: "We're thrilled to see the overwhelming response to Pearl Harbor on DVD. We are proud of Pearl Harbor and the way that audiences have brought the film into their homes."

— Disney Chairman Michael Eisner, after Buena Vista's
two-disc Pearl Harbor sold a record-setting 3.7
million units in the first week (according to the
studio's own numbers).

"It is the best screenplay I have ever read. I was so thrilled to be part of this great project, but what happened was a disaster. (Director Alfonso) Arau didn't want to discuss his vision with the actors, nor did he want any input from any of us about our characters. All he wanted to talk about was incest. It was 12 weeks of agony. We had a chance to make cinema history and, because of Arau, we botched it. It breaks my heart that we didn't do the material justice."


— Madeline Stowe, in an interview with The Calgary
, on the upcoming miniseries of The
Magnificent Ambersons
, which airs on
A&E in January.

"Ted is my man. I love Ted. He knows more, particularly about the television space, which is at least a good third of this company. Ted and I have always had a wonderful relationship, and I am going to be reaching out to him, too. I'm sure that Ted is going to re-up."

— Incoming AOL Time Warner CEO Richard Parson,
on efforts to have Ted Turner regain a place in the
media empire.

"I've tried to capture the feeling of Tolkien for those who have read the book. I didn't want to be a totally slavish Tolkien interpreter. It has been equally important to us that the films amaze, surprise and delight people who have never read the books..... I just made the kind of film I would have wanted to see as a 10-year-old."

Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson

"At a time when political correctness is valued over honesty, I would also like to say: Right on, motherfuckers, everyone is a winner!"

— Madonna, aging and desperate for controversy,
swearing on live British television whilst handing
out this year's Turner Prize for fine arts.

— Ed.

Wednesday, 12 December 2001

Mailbag: We're already planning our holiday hiatus, which starts next week, so it's as good a time as any for the mail-dump — letters sent from around the world to our high-tech HQ, and presented with minimal comments from your editor. Let's go:

  • I was pleased to see a review of Criterion's edition of 8-1/2 posted on your site, which I respect, enjoy, and check in on almost daily. But I have to take your reviewer Gregory Dorr to task over his characterization of Fellini's masterwork as "masturbatory." Now, we all know about masturbation; and "masturbatory" is a fun word to use, but its application here is all wrong. I could say the same for the use of "convoluted", "self-indulgence", and "narcissism", too — they all appear in the same sentence.

    With all this talk of self-indulgence and narcissism and masturbating, it's as if Fellini, in spite of making us sit and watch him wallow and flail around in all this gratuitous personal stuff, has fooled us into thinking he's made a pretty good movie out of it.

    I'm not buying it. Fellini made a great film — one of the greatest, in fact — and in the end it's more than "a movie about the making of a movie that is, in fact, that very movie." That's the set up, of course, and it's a very witty and purposeful set up, not some moribund exercise by a frustrated grad student. Fellini wasn't just dicking around here; with exquisite focus and the absolute command of his craft, he's exploring the same theme he did time and again. Throughout the film, Guido struggles to find his humanity, his "human-ness" — and also as he links arms with his company in the finale — l'amore per tutti: "love for all" (the title of a Nino Rota piece for Juliet of the Spirits, but applicable here, I think, since Juliet is really just the distaff version of 8-1/2 ).

    I first saw 8-1/2 around 1966 when I was 17 or 18. I took this film in like it was air. Fellini's image-making astonished me, that he could take what was obviously excruciatingly personal, fashion it into a movie, and put it out there — in effect, giving it to me. Then as now, the critics were on him about the "self-indulgence" business (I don't remember anybody using "masturbatory," however), but this kind of talk made no sense to me, feeling as I did that each film he made was a gift bestowed — and how are such gifts to be considered self-indulgent?

    Otherwise, a nicely written, well-detailed review.

    — Gordon

  • With TV shows' arrival on DVD, e.g., The Sopranos, Absolutely Fabulous, Star Trek, Friends, South Park, etc., why no rumor of what was commonly referred to in its heyday as The Best Damn Show on Television, Homicide: Life on the Street?

    I know the DVD of the recent Homicide movie is available, but I'm puzzled by the TV show's non-appearance. A superior TV show such as Homicide, which has a small but dedicated fan base that, demographically speaking, is generally between 25-40, would seem a prime property for DVD. An ideal supplement already exists in the PBS documentary Anatomy of a Homicide.

    Barry Levinson was a producer, and the show featured Ned Beatty during its first few seasons — as well as remarkable guest turns by Steve Buscemi, Robin Williams, Vincent D'Nofrio, and several other marquee names. In addition, it's my understanding that the show was shot on 16mm film — so it would be widescreen and could be anamorphically enhanced, theoretically providing a better experience on DVD than it did in original broadcast. Finally, NBC owns Homicide itself; seems to me that DVD royalties would be something the Peacock would be interested in.

    Add to that the Law & Order crossovers and the continued viability of Det. John Munch (Richard Belzer) on L&O: SVU — and I'm stumped as to why The Best Damn Show (that used to be) on Television hasn't made a bow on DVD....

    — Marty

  • I attended opening night of the Wes Craven retrospective at Hollywood's Egyptian Theatre recently. During the Q&A after Nightmare on Elm Street, Craven mentioned that he and producer Sean Cunningham just recorded a commentary track for a Last House on the Left DVD. No details on when it'll be out. If he mentioned which company is distributing it, I forget (maybe Anchor Bay, but I'm not 100% sure).

    The print of Last House that screened after Nightmare was in incredible condition, with vivid unfaded color and nary a splotch of grain to be seen. Wes mentioned that he gave a lot of the original elements to a friend who archived them and took excellent care. Hopefully this means that the DVD will be of equally high quality, with a clear and unblemished picture.

    If only Craven's friend had been entrusted to archive the Godfather elements... *sigh*

    — Dan

    Thanks for sending the link, Dan. Hopefully we'll get an official announcement soon.


  • If God is an obsessive director (or greedy film consortium), we have nothing to fear from death, for our lives will just keep getting re-released in longer and longer versions with more goodies each time. How else am I supposed to feel, seeing that Almost Famous is not only getting another layer of ornamentation but metamorphosing into something that I can't ignore? Then again, seeing all the cool new stuff, can I really complain? Well, yes I can. Because they (whoever) knew such a beast was on the way, but unashamedly released Almost Famous Mark I as-was anyway. Can you say Terminator 2 or Apocalypse Now Redux (among many)?

    But you know, the pain isn't so much in buying the latest super-special-deluxe release as in then owning two (or more) very similar copies of the same damn movie which don't complement each other in any way. There they are, sitting side by side, making a hollow mockery out of what should be an enjoyable hobby turned into what might be a diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive behavior.

    — D.F.

  • Those who do not like Shrek are not alone. I bought the DVD without having previously seen the movie. I don't know why:

    1. The whole sticker on the cover issue was profoundly insulting to me;
    2. I did not like the movie, and did not think it was that funny;
    3. It sounded like Fat Bastard from Austin Powers was doing Shrek's voice, which was very distracting;
    4. No way there is 11 hours of extras ;
    5. Many of the extras advertised were DVD-ROM extras, but were not identified as such;
    6. The message is: Don't be sad if you are ugly, you can find another ugly person to love you.

    I sold my DVD to a friend at work for $18.00, paid $23.99 (Canada). I could not stand having it in my house.

    — Rachel

  • Your site has an interesting cross-section of DVD consumers, judging from your mailbag excerpts. The vitriol expressed at your support and enthusiasm for Criterion is misdirected, but not totally unexpected. Some DVD consumers just can't be pleased. The recent letter whining about the relationship between "foreign films" and snobbishness was a fine example of the typical defensive reaction that stems from the intercultural myopia and isolationism that Hollywood and Jack Valenti encourage.

    Viva Criterion, Kino, Fox Lorber, and New Yorker Video for providing some much-needed balance in the DVD marketplace.

    — Nick

  • Will someone please manufacture an aesthetically pleasing DVD stand that separates DVDs individually? I'm tired of these cheap "DVD stands" that are actually just bookshelves. And the fact that it "Holds 30 DVDs!!!" isn't a selling point when you have close to 200.

    — Ken

  • When will they stop putting sticky notices around all sides of the DVD package stating that there is an anti-theft device inside? It only makes it difficult for honest people and probably doesn't keep thieves from stealing. It takes a long time to remove without damaging the case.

    — Paul

  • boxcoverThis isn't the first time this has occurred to me, but reading the letters in response to full frame vs. widescreen DVD transfers got me thinking — or worried — again about pre-1954 films once widescreen TV becomes the norm. I have an uncomfortable feeling that once the changeover is made we will be watching Gone With The Wind, Citizen Kane, and Casablanca cropped at the top and bottom. This reminds me of the "Goings About Town" review of Gone With The Wind that appeared in The New Yorker magazine throughout the late '60's and early '70's (probably penned by Pauline Kael — and I'm paraphrasing): "Nearly four hours of Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Olivia deHavilland and Leslie Howard — or at least part of them. With the widening of the screen image, their bodies have been reduced to torsos."

    Gee, I can hardly wait (maybe Warner will reissue the 70mm wide screen blow-up of Gone With The Wind on HDTVDVD ).

    — Biff

  • Regarding recent letters about pan-and scan vs. widescreen, I think we should also talk about matted widescreen vs. open-matte full-screen. When the picture is matted to create widescreen, it's the widescreen presentation that loses picture content. Often the matted widescreen degrades the viewing experience. For example, compare the matted and unmatted opening banquet scene in Air Force One. In the matted widescreen, much of the sumptuous details of the banquet settings are lost. The unmatted full-screen is much more effective. And I've heard that the director prefers the unmatted version. I don't care for pan-and-scan, but when the widescreen is created by matting, I would like to have the full-frame version of the film also on the disc.

    — Sam

  • As to recent letters about pan-and-scan transfers, I too am encouraged by the possibilities that widescreen televisions offer for mainstreaming acceptance of Original Aspect Ratios. I'd also like to point out that, in this age of Hype Williams, MTV (and MTV2 and MTVX and even VH1 Country, for that matter) is pretty much dominated by music videos featuring those pesky black bars. (Heck, the new Aaliyah video has white bars, and Much Music USA adds in bars of their own making, in varying colors!) I think a generation of consumers raised on this aesthetic should have no trouble accepting widescreen DVDs. Hopefully in a few years the studios will have no one left to pander to....

    — Ken


  • I can't really comment on Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes as I have only seen about the last ten minutes of it, but your reviewer (like many others) completely misses one crucial fact about the so-called "new" ending — namely, that it pretty much is the original ending. I don't mean the ending to the 1968 movie — I mean the ending to the novel on which it was based, Planet des Singes by Pierre Boulle (1963). In the Boulle novel, which is a light-hearted, ironic satire rather than an adventure story, the "planet of the apes" is, indeed, not Earth, and when the hero returns to earth he finds that it, too, has been taken over by apes (though the prominent national memorial does not feature in the book!). So, whether you like Burton's ending or not, he was actually being truer to Boulle's novel than the earlier film. I think he should at least be given credit for that.

    — Ronald

  • A big "thank you" to Scott, who wrote in complaining about the hypocritical censoring of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls on American Movie Classics. I had already fired off an irritated e-mail to AMC. It's nice to know I'm not the only one miffed.

    — George

  • Have you begun to notice that studios' claims for DVD extra content is beginning to sound a lot like the measurements given for topless dancers? The hours of extra content keeps getting bigger and bigger, and based on what — reading speed? Or how fast, or rather how slow, you step through photo layouts? If left unchecked, I am sure the 100-hour DVD is just around the corner.

    — Charles

  • So now that we know both Lucas and Spielberg like to change their movies, I wonder what this means for Raiders of the Lost Ark when it arrives on DVD. Does this mean they'll remove the scene where Indy nonchalantly shoots his sword-wielding foe because it shows he is too comfortable with killing? Or they'll remove all the fights on the streets of Cairo because it shows cruelty to Arabs? Maybe setting the snakes on fire is bad because that's cruelty to animals?

    Oh wait, what am I saying? Raiders will never be released on DVD.

    Never mind.

    — Chris

  • Why is it that I seemingly cannot buy a new DVD that doesn't include a contribution from Peter Bogdanovich? Admittedly, he's made some fine films — The Last Picture Show is one of my very favorites — and I appreciate the contribution he's made to film history, in his interviews with Welles, Ford, Hawks, and other lesser-known directors of previous generations.

    But come on — this guy is easier to find than Waldo. He's introducing Criterion's The Third Man and also their Lady Eve; he's interviewing David Chase for The Sopranos; he's contributing a pretty sorry commentary to the otherwise excellent Citizen Kane package. Is he not getting out of the house enough? Can we persuade the studios to post Bogdanovich warning labels? Or perhaps we can declare 2002 a Bogdanovich-free zone?

    He seems like a nice man, but perhaps you can do your share to get him to hang up his spurs, at least for a little bit.

    Bogdanovichly yours,

    — Jon

    Actually, we're still working on the details, but we're hoping that all of the news and reviews on The DVD Journal in the month of January will be presented with commentary from Peter Bogdanovich, whom your own editor once met in an elevator. Keep it tuned here!

    (And congrats to the final two letter-writers, Chris and Jon, as they'll be receiving our last two copies of Jurassic Park III: Collector's Edition! And yes — it's the widescreen version.)

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

    1. 8-1/2: The Criterion Collection
    2. Rebecca: The Criterion Collection
    3. Notorious: The Criterion Collection
    4. The Score
    5. Apocalypse Now Redux
    6. The Godfather DVD Collection
    7. Almost Famous Untitled: The Bootleg Cut
    8. That Obscure Object Of Desire: The Criterion Collection
    9. The Elephant Man
    10. The Last Wave: The Criterion Collection


    — Ed.

    Tuesday, 11 December 2001

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

    • Arriving in March from Criterion will be David Gordon Green's George Washington, which will include a commentary from Green, cinematographer Tim Orr, and actor Paul Schneider, a deleted scene with commentary, two additional student films from Green, the director's appearance on "The Charlie Rose Show," cast interviews, and the 1969 short film "A Day with the Boys" by Clu Gulager, which was an influence on Green's picture. The disc arrives on March 12, where it will be joined by Federico Fellini's 1965 Juliet of the Spirits, the director's first color film, in a fully restored version. And then on March 26 comes one we've all been waiting for — Akira Kurosawa's 1950 Rashomon, which will offer a restored transfer, an introduction by Robert Altman, commentary from Japanese film historian Donald Richie, excerpts from a documentary about cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa, reprints of the original source stories, and an excerpt from Kurosawa's autobiography.

    • The permanently popular Tom Hanks will get more disc-time from Columbia TriStar, who will be releasing two catalog titles, 1986's Nothing in Common with Jackie Gleason and the 1988 Punchline co-starring Sally Field (both Feb. 19). Also on the way are two Richard Pryor items, the stand-up concert Here and Now (Jan. 29) and his semi-autobiographical Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling (Feb. 19). Other catalog offerings include the Jet Li film The Legend of the Red Dragon (Feb. 12), Mrs. Winterbourne, starring Shirley MacLaine and Brendan Fraser (Feb. 12), and Funny Lady, Barbra Streisand's 1975 follow-up to Funny Girl (Feb. 5).

    • Coming up from A&E is the documentary miniseries The Crusades, hosted by Monty Python's Terry Jones, while sundry Anglophile treats include Jeeves and Wooster: The Complete Third Season and Upstairs, Downstairs: The Complete Second Season (all Jan. 2).

    • Image Entertainment's February slate features the usual assortment of rarities and oddities. Cinema buffs can look for Werner Herzog's 1995 Gesualdo: Death for Five Voices, Jane Campion's 1986 Two Friends , which was her first film, and Yasuzo Masumura's little-seen 1958 Giants and Toys (all Feb. 12), while genre fans will want to see the 1962 noir homage Satan in High Heels (Feb. 12), as well as Russell Rouse's unusual 1952 thriller The Thief, which runs 86 mins. and has no dialogue (Feb. 19). Shock-cinema fans can look forward to a double-feature from director William Allen Castleman and producer David F. Friedman, Johnny Firecloud and Bummer! (Feb. 12), and on the way are two "Roger Ramjet" animations, Hero of Our Nation and Man of Adventure, with commentary from the voice of ultra-patriot Ramjet, Gary Owens (Feb. 26).

    On the Street: Many studios are making their last big retail push before Christmas this week, and there are plenty of new discs to choose from. In the blockbuster category, Universal's Jurassic Park III: Collector's Edition is available in both widescreen and full-frame versions, and there is a four-disc Jurassic Park Trilogy Collection out today as well (and don't panic — those of you who have the first two DVDs and buy JP3 can mail in for the fourth bonus disc and the nifty slipcase). Rush Hour 2, another big summer hit, has arrived from New Line as an "infinifilm" release, while the indie flick Hedwig and the Angry Itch gets the Platinum Series treatment. The lineup from Paramount is attractive, with the long-awaited The Elephant Man, as well as Medium Cool and this year's The Score, and the last two of the Classic Trek discs are finally here (which means The Next Generation should go digital in 2002). Columbia TriStar's catalog titles are equally interesting, with Brian De Palma's Casualties of War, the 1943 war film Sahara with Humphrey Bogart, and especially 1998's Following, the first film from Memento director Christopher Nolan. But we admit that we're always partial to the classics, and it's MGM to the rescue with such great films as The Defiant Ones, Inherit the Wind, The Party, Witness for the Prosecution, and Topkapi. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of and Image Entertainment:

    • The Basket: Special Edition
    • Bram Stoker's Dracula: Superbit
    • Call Me Claus
    • Casualties of War
    • The Defiant Ones
    • Dodsworth
    • Druids
    • The Elephant Man
    • Elton John: One Night Only: The Greatest Hits Live!
    • Following
    • Four Dogs Playing Poker
    • Fritz the Cat
    • Gattaca: Superbit
    • The Go-Go's: Live in Central Park
    • The Handmaid's Tale
    • Hedwig and the Angry Inch: Platinum Series
    • Inherit the Wind
    • Jurassic Park III: Collector's Edition (widescreen)
    • Jurassic Park III: Collector's Edition (full-frame)
    • The Jurassic Park Trilogy Collection (4-disc set)
    • Look Back in Anger
    • The Lover
    • Medium Cool
    • The Mists of Avalon
    • The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat
    • The Party
    • Rush Hour 2: infinifilm
    • Sahara (1943)
    • Separate Tables
    • The Score
    • Star Trek TV #39
    • Star Trek TV #40
    • The String Cheese Incident: Evolution
    • Swingin' Bach: Bobby McFerrin and Guests
    • Toots Thielemans in New Orleans
    • Topkapi
    • A Tribute to George Gershwin
    • Witness for the Prosecution

    — Ed.

    Monday, 10 December 2001

    boxcoverDisc of the Week: When comedian Mel Brooks decided to branch out into film production, the first project for his fledgling Brooksfilms company was a surprising one — a film about John Merrick, the Victorian-age "Elephant Man" documented in a semi-obscure book titled "The Elephant Man and Other Reminiscences" by Dr. Frederick Treves. The fact that the film was ever made at all is astounding: Producer Jonathan Sanger received the screenplay from his babysitter, who told him that her boyfriend had written it. He took it to Brooks, who was interested in making "serious films," and then proposed a young director named David Lynch, who had impressed Sanger with his film Eraserhead. Then Brooks, the executive producer, kept his own name off the film entirely so as to avoid giving audiences the wrong impression about what sort of movie it was. Once the wheels started rolling, Sanger says that their primary goal was "just to make a film that would play in a theater." So it was undoubtedly a delightful surprise to everyone involved when The Elephant Man turned out to not only be an astonishing film, but also a huge commercial success: It did very well in the U.S. and even broke box office records in Japan, and it was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.

    The Elephant Man begins with classic Lynchian strokes — machine sounds, smoke, and elephants, superimposed over a woman's face. The elephants attack her as she screams over and over — this is the story of how the Elephant Man came to be, according to the barker at a Victorian circus sideshow. Moved by the extent of the freak's deformities, surgeon Dr. Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins) brings him to London Hospital to examine him. Treves soon realizes that there's more to the man, whose name is John Merrick, than he was led to believe — Merrick is sensitive, kind, and intelligent, and has suffered terribly at the hands of his "owner." Treves invents reasons to keep Merrick at the hospital, but even there his charge is mistreated when an orderly sneaks in some of his drunken friends on a late-night bender. And then Merrick is kidnapped by the sideshow boss but refuses to perform, having had a taste of self-respect during his time with Treves. He's tortured and beaten until, with the help of the other sideshow performers, he escapes and makes his way back to Treves, who makes Merrick a celebrity in London society. In many ways it's merely a more comfortable version of the freakshow, however — Merrick has nice clothes to wear, good food to eat, and he's treated well by the most of the people he encounters, but he still remains a freakish curiosity. In the meantime, Treves begins to question his own motives in caring for Merrick, wondering if, perhaps, he's also exploiting the Elephant Man for his own benefit.

    The Elephant Man is a remarkable film, beautiful and heart-wrenching, and full of Lynchian weirdness without any of the director's self-conscious goofiness (and in that respect similar to his 1999 The Straight Story). Shot on expensive black-and-white stock, it has an old-fashioned richness that serves the story brilliantly while showcasing Lynch's deft hand with smoke, shadow, and mood. The photography by veteran cinematographer Freddie Francis is exquisite, and John Morris' poignant score evokes the necessary period atmosphere without ever feeling heavy-handed. The cast is flawless, with big-ticket British actors turning in solid, understated performances — John Gielgud, Freddie Jones, and the amazing John Hurt, who manages to convey Merrick's intellect and dignity beneath a nightmare of prosthetics. But as much credit as Hurt deserves, the bravura performance here is by Hopkins. His performance as Treves is a wonder — a professional, Victorian man, buttoned-up and utterly self-contained, who is moved by his first sight of Merrick so much that he can merely stand there, mouth open, as tears well up in his eyes and slowly run down his face. If the most moving thing about The Elephant Man is Merrick's acquisition of dignity, then it's due to the way that Treves has given it to him — simply, honestly, and as a human being worthy of respect. When Merrick finally asks if he can be cured, Hopkins gives a slight pause and then honestly answers, "No, we can't cure you. We can care for you, but we can't cure you." Merrick's response — "I thought not" — is simply heartbreaking.

    Paramount's new DVD of The Elephant Man offers a virtually flawless anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) — the picture is gorgeous, presenting Lynch's stunning visuals at their best, and the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is pleasant. Extra features include interviews with Mel Brooks, Jonathan Sanger, makeup artist Christopher Tucker, and John Hurt, who discuss the film's production history and the painstaking process of creating the prosthetics for Hurt, while a separate feature has Tucker showing off the different pieces created for the makeup effects. Director Lynch is famous for not talking about his movies — he's notably absent from the interview feature and there's no commentary track. But Lynch does make his presence known by the lack of chapter-selection, which he dislikes on DVDs of his films. The Elephant Man is on the street tomorrow.

    Box Office: After nearly a month at the top of the box-office chart, Warner's Harry Potter has been knocked from its lofty perch — but it took a string of A-list stars to do it. Warner's Ocean's Eleven, directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, and Don Cheadle, debuted in the top spot with a powerhouse $39.2 million haul, which is the largest raw-dollar opening for any December film. Potter landed in second place with $14.8 million, and the one-two combo gave Warner a winning weekend.

    In continuing release, Fox's Behind Enemy Lines had a steep drop-off in its second weekend, pulling just $8.1 million for an overall gross of $31.2 million, while Universal's Spy Game is tapering, now with $51.4 million to date. However, while Buena Vista's Monsters, Inc. is fading, its $212.4 million haul has the folks at Pixar smiling. And headed for the cheap theaters this week is Sony's The One, starring Jet Li, which will finish with approx. $45 million.

    Opening Friday is Vanilla Sky, directed by Cameron Crowe and starring Tom Cruise, as well as the satirical Not Another Teen Movie. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:

    1. Ocean's Eleven (Warner Bros.)
      $39,255,000 ($39,255,000 through 1 week)
    2. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Warner Bros.)
      $14,805,000 ($239,727,000 through 4 weeks)
    3. Behind Enemy Lines (Fox)
      $8,110,000 ($31,248,667 through 2 weeks)
    4. Monsters, Inc. (Buena Vista)
      $6,673,000 ($212,467,337 through 6 weeks)
    5. Spy Game (Universal)
      $4,600,000 ($54,100,000 through 3 weeks)
    6. Black Knight (Fox)
      $3,250,000 ($27,155,657 through 3 weeks)
    7. Shallow Hal (Fox)
      $2,550,000 ($64,757,772 through 5 weeks)
    8. Out Cold (Buena Vista)
      $1,400,000 ($12,265,921 through 3 weeks)
    9. Amelie (Miramax)
      $1,100,000 ($11,400,000 through 6 weeks)
    10. Domestic Disturbance (Paramount)
      $950,000 ($43,751,000 through 6 weeks)
    11. Life as a House (New Line)
      $625,000 ($14,832,000 through 7 weeks)
    12. Heist (Warner Bros.)
      $450,000 ($22,900,000 through 5 weeks)

    On the Board: Betsy Bozdech has posted a sneak-preview of Universal's Jurassic Park III: Collector's Edition, while Greg Dorr has taken a look at an old favorite, 8-1/2, now on DVD from Criterion. New reviews from the rest of the gang this week include Rush Hour 2: infinifilm, The Score, Inherit the Wind, The Party, Medium Cool, Mixed Nuts, Don Juan (or if Don Juan Were a Woman), The Elephant Man, Witness for the Prosecution, Fritz the Cat, and the Z-grade fave The Crawling Eye. All can be found under our New Reviews menu here on the front page, while our search engine leads to many, many more DVD write-ups.

    Back tomorrow with the street discs.

    — Ed.

    Thursday, 6 December 2001
    Weekend Dispatch

    boxcover'Board of Review' leads the way: The National Board of Review has announced its 2001 film awards, which often are regarded as a bellwether for Oscar nominees — although just as often they stray wide of the mark. Leading the pack this year is Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge, which was named Best Film and earned actor Jim Broadbent the Best Supporting Actor nod. But also making a strong showing was the upcoming drama Monster's Ball, with top acting awards going to Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton, while Cate Blanchett took Best Supporting Actress for a trio of films.

    Also garnering attention was Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings, which won Best Production Design, while director Jackson earned recognition for Special Achievement in Filmmaking. Shrek was named the Best Animated Feature, and Martin Scorsese, Jon Voight, and Steven Spielberg picked up special awards. Of particular interest, the top-ten list features Christopher Nolan's Memento, the Coen Brothers' The Man Who Wasn't There, Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's Eleven, and David Lynch's Mulholland Drive — but we're sure the inclusion of A.I.: Artificial Intelligence will have its share of detractors. Here's the winners:

    Best Films:

    1. Moulin Rouge
    2. In the Bedroom
    3. Ocean's Eleven
    4. Memento
    5. Monster's Ball
    6. Black Hawk Down
    7. The Man Who Wasn't There
    8. A.I.: Artificial Intelligence
    9. The Pledge
    10. Mulholland Drive

    Best Actor: Billy Bob Thornton, Monster's Ball, The Man Who Wasn't There, Bandits
    Best Actress: Halle Berry, Monster's Ball
    Best Supporting Actor: Jim Broadbent, Iris, Moulin Rouge
    Best Supporting Actress: Cate Blanchett, The Man Who Cried, The Shipping News, The Lord of the Rings
    Best Director: Todd Field, In the Bedroom

    Best Animated Feature: Shrek
    Best Film Made for Cable TV: Wit
    Best Documentary: The Endurance
    Best Foreign Film: Amores Perros
    Best Foreign Film (runners up): Behind the Sun, Dark Blue, No Man's Land, Amélie

    Directorial Debut: John Cameron Mitchell, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
    Acting Ensemble Award: Last Orders
    Best Production Design: The Lord of the Rings
    Breakthrough Performer: Naomi Watts, Mulholland Drive
    Breakthrough Performer: Hayden Christensen, Life as a House
    Special Achievement in Filmmaking: Peter Jackson, The Lord of the Rings

    William K. Everson Award for Film History: Martin Scorsese, Il Mio Viaggio in Italia
    Billy Wilder Award for Excellence in Direction: Steven Spielberg
    Career Achievement Award: Jon Voight

    More critics' circles will be handing out their year-end awards this month and straight through Oscar night in March, and it's probably safe to say there are no clear front-runners yet.

    Quotable: "I wrote (a column for The New York Times) about a sort of flash point I had, where I was standing in line, four days (after Sept. 11), in Union Station in Chicago, lugging my bags around trying to get on this train and half-hoping there was a first-class line that I could get in to, and sort of realizing, you know, that we're back to basics, everybody was just sort of fighting for space. And I had this moment of thinking, ugh, I really don't like this, it's really inconvenient what happened. It's really sad, of course. But it's rather inconvenient today. And I didn't like that impulse, and so I gave it several pages of material. And the Times kept bumping it up the ladder, and finally they said, you know, it's probably too early for something like this."

    — Director Neil LaBute, in an interview with Salon

    "Ms. Hurley and I were not in an exclusive relationship when she became pregnant. It is her choice to be a single mother. The insinuation that I would not care about the well-being of another human being has been very hurtful to both myself and my family. If indeed I am the father, I will be an extremely involved and responsible parent."

    — Film producer Stephen Bing, in a statement this week
    regarding ex-girlfriend Elizabeth Hurley. Hurley hit
    back, claiming "I was completely loyal and faithful to
    Stephen throughout this time as, indeed, he assured
    me he was to me."

    "There is a part of me that really wanted the role. And I got pretty far down to the final cut. I got to test with Natalie Portman, who is Princess Amidala. In real life, I'm seven years older than her, which was dubbed too old. At age 29, I was an over-the-hill Anakin.... The experience of auditioning for George Lucas was cool because he showed me all around Skywalker Ranch. He told me how intent he was make Jar Jar as big a part of this one despite the criticism of the character in Episode One."

    Ryan P

    — Ryan Phillipe, who will not be playing Anakin
    Skywalker in the upcoming Episode Two: Attack
    of the Clones

    "She knows why and she is the mother of my children, and I wish her well. I don't care of it piques people's interest. Honestly, people should mind their own damn business. And get a life of their own. My personal life isn't here to sell newspapers."

    — Tom Cruise, making it clear in an interview with
    Vanity Fair that he will not discuss his recent
    divorce from Nicole Kidman.

    "The fun part about being where I am right now is that I'm in a position where I can get good scripts and get good movies made. You don't get that position for a very long time — they'll take it away from you, you know."

    — George Clooney, who stars in Steven Soderbergh's
    Ocean's Eleven, opening this weekend.

    Coming Attractions: We're already tearing the warning stickers off new DVD cases, and fresh reviews on the way include Jurassic Park III, Rush Hour 2, and lots more. Have a great weekend — we're back on Monday.

    — Ed.

    Wednesday, 5 December 2001

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

  • In response to a recent letter about the delayed Koyaanisqatsi DVD release, the film's website ( says that the question of who owns the license rights for home video/DVD is in dispute, thus the film will probably not be released on DVD any time in the near future. However, a special, digitally remastered Koyaanisqatsi DVD is available to those who contribute $180.00 to the Institute for Regional Education. The IRE is the non-profit organization that is trying to come up with funds to finish the third film in the "Qatsi" trilogy and release the first film on DVD.

    The special edition DVD has digitally re-mixed Philip Glass soundtrack, and each DVD sleeve personally signed by Director Godfrey Reggio. Or at least I'm told, as I don't exactly have $180.00 lying around that I'm willing to donate to the IRE....

    (For those who need a Godfrey Reggio/Philip Glass DVD fix, I recommend Anima Mundi, the half-hour short they created for the World Wildlife Fund.)

    — Rob

    boxcoverThanks for the tip Rob. For fans of unusual cinema, director Godfrey Reggio's 1983 Koyaanisqatsi is a sublime entertainment, although not necessarily an easy one to acquire. A film essentially without any plot, Koyaanisqatsi (the Hopi Indian word for "Life Out of Balance") simply observes our own Planet Earth, from majestic landscapes to urban centers, and if it sounds a little boring in premise, Ron Fricke's cinematography and Philip Glass's score are nonetheless hypnotic. In fact, while Koyaanisqatsi is hard to categorize in terms of cinema or documentary filmmaking, it has had its share of influence over the years, especially with some music-video directors.

    Originally produced by the Institute for Regional Education in Santa Fe, Koyaanisqatsi has had a checkered history on home video, with videotape versions (now out of print) released by PolyGram and Pacific Arts Video, while two separate Laserdisc versions have appeared, one from Image Entertainment for North America, and a second Japanese release. Both Laserdiscs are strong traders on eBay, closing as high as $80, while VHS versions can easily clear $40 or more.

    But, of course, such prices pale in comparison to the sole DVD version of Koyaanisqatsi to be had anywhere. According to the IRE, after attempts to negotiate a DVD release were exhausted, they now are planning litigation, and a special DVD is available for $180.00 (or roughly the same price as the entire Cosmos box-set). But, as you note, the IRE promises that the privately issued "Director's Premium Edition" of Koyaanisqatsi includes a remastered score, and every last disc will be signed by Godfrey Reggio.

    Certainly, eBay is the place for bargain hunters. But we're encouraging everybody who is a fan of Koyaanisqatsi to consider the privately issued DVD if they can afford it. The $180.00 is tax-deductible (minus $25.00), and the contributions will assist both a new DVD release and completing the final film in the trilogy. And above all, right now it's the only game in town for DVD lovers. Considering what some folks are paying nowadays for out-of-print Criterion titles, we figure there must be a few Koyaanisqatsi fans out there with some deep digital pockets.

  • I may be sounding ignorant here, but what movie had a kid dressed as a terrorist that now has him dressed as a hippie?

    — Andrew

    Indeed (as was alluded to in last week's letters), it's none other than Steven Spielberg's E.T., which is slated for theatrical re-release and a spankin' new DVD next year. While Spielberg and Co. insist that the original 1982 theatrical cut of E.T. will be preserved on the DVD as an alternate version, the upcoming "Special Edition" has been sanitized for everyone's protection. Among the changes will be FBI agents who carry walkie-talkies instead of guns. And the line where Elliot's mom tells her son Michael that he can't go out on Halloween looking like a "terrorist" now substitutes the word "hippie."

    "That was a post 9/11 decision," Spielberg recently told USA Today. "It's the wrong time to bestow any virtue on terrorism." Which, if you ask us, is a pretty nice way to dump a bucket of ice-water on the whole topic for now.

  • Have any of you guys heard anything about a DVD release for Tom DiCillo's hilarious Living in Oblivion? I've heard that a Laserdisc exists, but so far no DVD. If not, do you know who currently holds the rights, so I can send them e-mails requesting a release?

    — Todd

    boxcoverEasy one, Todd — Columbia TriStar holds the rights to DiCillo's 1995 Living in Oblivion, and while the VHS is easily obtained from online retailers, there is also an out-of-print Laserdisc. However, the big platter's nothing to pay a lot of money for, as the only distinct advantage it offers is a 1.85:1 letterboxed transfer. The audio is mono, as it was in the theatrical release. We'd say this one is ready to go digital.

    And, for us at least, there's an extra reason why we'd like to see Living in Oblivion on a tarted-up DVD — DeCillo directed Brad Pitt in the 1991 Johnny Suede (one of Pitt's first marquee roles), and it's a poorly kept secret that Oblivion's character "Chad Palomino" (played by James LeGros) is based on Pitt. With the Bradster's ascendancy to the top of the Hollywood A-List since '95, there's little doubt that DeCillo's indie comedy now has extra cachet. A commentary with DeCillo, LeGros, and perhaps stars Steve Buscemi and Catherine Keener, might be a catty affair that isn't all kiss-kiss nice-nice like so many yack-tracks nowadays. A DVD may also present a good opportunity to remix that monaural audio into a broader format. We're pretty optimistic — after all, if 2001 was the year that the studios gave us all the DVDs we wanted (Citizen Kane, The Godfather, Lawrence of Arabia, et. al.), then we figure 2002 will offer studios the opportunity to dig through their catalogs and find some unusual treats.

    (And we have treats today as well — Christmas comes early for all three of our letter-writers, as we're sending them totally free DVD copies of Jurassic Park III: Collector's Edition! Egads!)

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

    1. Planet of the Apes: Special Edition (2001)
    2. Apocalypse Now Redux
    3. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider
    4. The Grinch: Collector's Edition
    5. The Dirty Harry Collection
    6. Shrek
    7. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory: Special Edition
    8. Thumb Wars
    9. Ah My Goddess! The Movie
    10. The Stunt Man: Limited Edition

    See ya.

    — Ed.

    Tuesday, 4 December 2001

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

    • MGM leads off February with this year's critically acclaimed Ghost World, starring Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson, and Steve Buscemi, which will include deleted and alternate scenes, a "making-of" featurette, and a music video featuring the music of Mohammed Rafi's "Jaan Pehechaan Ho." Also on the way is the film-festival indie The Smokers with Dominique Swain, Busy Phillips, and Keri Lynn Pratt. Both are here Feb. 5.

    • MGM's March catalog features the usual eclectic mix of titles, with the "World Films" folio offering Eat Drink Man Woman, A Tale of Springtime, Mademoiselle, and Electra (all March 5), while the "Avant Garde Cinema" series will feature Angels and Insects, Bar Girls, Boxcar Bertha, De Sade, Impromptu, The Locusts, and Romeo Is Bleeding (all March 19).

    • The folks at Fox have announced a two-disc special edition of this year's thriller Don't Say a Word starring Michael Douglas, and in addition to both DTS and Dolby Digital audio, we can expect two commentaries — one with director Gary Fleder and the second with cast members — a behind-the-scenes featurette, a production workshop, storyboards, screen tests, and more (Feb. 19). Also set is the straight-to-video Venomous: Special Edition starring Treat Williams, with a yack-track from director Ed Raymond, a behind-the-scenes spot called "A Look at Rattlesnakes," a photo gallery, and a trailer (Jan. 22).

    • The folks at Buena Vista are getting ready to do some serious double-dippin' — The Sixth Sense: Vista Series will be a two-disc set, with a featurette, storyboards, deleted footage, an extended ending, an interview with director M. Night Shyamalan, a documentary on the paranormal, and other items. And getting a second chance on disc is 1993's Tombstone: Vista Series, with a commentary from director George Cosmatos, deleted scenes, featurettes, a timeline, storyboards, and a "collectible" map (both Jan. 15).

    • Thankfully, the Mouse House is also coming up with some welcome catalog additions, including 1957's The Hunchback of Notre Dame with Anthony Quinn and Gina Lollobrigida, the 1960 Purple Noon, directed by Rene Clement and starring Alain Delon (which is the first filmed version of The Talented Mr. Ripley), and 1967's The Young Girls of Rochefort, directed by Jacques Demy and starring Catherine Deneuve and Gene Kelly. All three are street-legal on Jan. 22.

    • Columbia TriStar is prepping two Blake Edwards films with 1987's Blind Date, starring Bruce Willis and Kim Basinger (Feb. 5), and 1983's The Man Who Loved Women, with Burt Reynolds and Julie Andrews (Jan. 29). Other new arrivals include Life Without Dick starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Harry Connick, Jr. (Feb. 5) and the comedy Tortilla Soup, featuring Elizabeth Pena, Hector Elizondo, and Raquel Welch (Jan. 22).

    • USA will serve up this year's summer-camp comedy Wet Hot American Summer as a Special Edition with a commentary from director David Wain and star Janeane Garofalo, a featurette, deleted scenes, and stills (Jan. 15).

    • Those of you who are fans of the popular Walking With Dinosaurs can expect a Warner DVD release of the sequel, Walking with Prehistoric Beasts, which will sport two 50-minute featurettes, a photo gallery, interviews with the series' creators, and nifty "Fact Files" (Feb. 12).

    • Finally, science geeks and other boffins can salivate over the upcoming DVD release of Michael Apted's documentary Me and Isaac Newton, which concerns seven scientists reflecting on their chosen profession. It arrives from Home Vision on Jan. 22.

    On the Street: There's plenty of new DVDs on the street today, but it will be up to you to sort out which ones are worth your money. We're fond of DreamWorks' re-issued Almost Famous Untitled: The Bootleg Cut, which features two versions of Cameron Crowe's film and a wealth of extras, while cinema buffs will want to get their hands on Criterion's long-awaited 8-1/2. MGM's round of catalog discs features such comedies as Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, while Columbia TriStar is on the board with the recent John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars and back-of-the-vault stuff like Sheena and Spacehunter. Of course, if you're a fan of Pearl Harbor, Disney has two different DVD packages for you to pick from today. As for us, we might spend the holidays with music titles like the America: A Tribute to Heroes telethon and U2's Elevation 2001: Live From Boston. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of and Image Entertainment:

    • 8-1/2: The Criterion Collection
    • AC/DC: Stiff Upper Lips Live
    • Almost Famous Untitled: The Bootleg Cut
    • America: A Tribute to Heroes
    • American Outlaws
    • Babylon 5: The Gathering / In The Beginning
    • Beethoven's 4th
    • Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure
    • Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey
    • The Crawling Eye
    • The Cure: Greatest Hits
    • Davy Crockett: Walt Disney Treasures
    • Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
    • Disneyland U.S.A.: Walt Disney Treasures
    • Iron Maiden: Number of the Beast: Classic Albums
    • John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars
    • The Land Before Time: The Big Freeze
    • The Lost Continent
    • Lou Reed: Transformer: Classic Albums
    • Mickey Mouse in Living Color: Walt Disney Treasures
    • Mixed Nuts
    • Pearl Harbor: 60th Anniversary Edition
    • Pearl Harbor: 60th Anniversary Gift Set
    • The Red Hot Chili Peppers: Off the Map
    • Sheena
    • Silent Rage
    • Silly Symphonies: Walt Disney Treasures
    • Soapdish
    • Smashing Pumpkins: Greatest Hits
    • Spacehunter
    • Summer Catch
    • Tender Is the Heart
    • 'Til There Was You
    • Time Lapse
    • U2: Elevation 2001: Live From Boston
    • U.S. Seals 2
    • Uncorked
    • Voices from Beyond
    • Water Damage
    • Weekend at Bernie's II
    • White Water Summer

    Bye for now.

    — Ed.

    Monday, 3 December 2001

    And the winner is: Gregory Jepsen of Gloversville, N.Y., wins the free Planet of the Apes and Planet of the Apes TV Series DVDs from our November contest. Congrats, Gregory!

    Our totally free DVD contest for the month of December is up and running, and we have a copy of Warner Home Video's Uprising miniseries 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: Action-adventure. Comedy. Suspenseful drama. Social satire. Romance. The mixed blessing inside Richard Rush's genre-breaking masterstroke The Stunt Man is that the movie is a rich quarry of all of those things, yet isn't solidly petrified in any of them. Add a bit of existential exploration and it's a thinking person's action film that defies casual description. Set in the world of movie-making itself, The Stunt Man examines the dangerously porous tissue between reality and illusion, both on the screen and within our own heads. A black comedy utilizing a "man on the run" premise, the film also explores the panic and paranoia over our inability to control our own destinies. Not surprisingly, the studios didn't know what to do with such heady stuff, and forces within "the system" were actively antagonistic to Rush's finished product. The Stunt Man is one of the most original movies of the '80s — bold, stylish, and brimming with intelligent writing, performances, and direction. But because it never received the attention it deserves, it has ascended to "cult" status — this being one of the rare cases in which said status is earned on the objective quality of the film's components. At the 1980 San Francisco Film Festival, François Truffaut was asked to name his favorite director. He replied, "I don't know his name, but I just saw his picture last night. It's called The Stunt Man."

    The plot is merely the topmost layer of The Stunt Man's appeal. Fugitive criminal and Vietnam vet Cameron (Steve Railsback), on the run from the police and FBI, stumbles onto the set of a World War I movie in production. Causing (perhaps) the death of the leading man's stunt double, Cameron is literally descended upon by flamboyant director Eli Cross (Oscar nominee Peter O'Toole). Imperial, manipulative, possibly insane, and beloved among his crew, Cross offers Cameron a bargain worthy of a wanton Greek god — he will give Cameron sanctuary and anonymity if Cameron agrees to take the place of the original stunt man. Cameron agrees, and soon he begins a physical transformation at the hands of a makeup artist, in addition to deeper transformations influenced by Cross and the picture's leading lady, Nina (Barbara Hershey), with whom Cameron quickly and naively falls in love. Cameron is bedeviled by combat-vet paranoia, questioning what is real and what is make-believe, and soon he wonders if Cross, Nina, and others are conspiring against him. Is Cross out to capture Cameron's death on film? Cameron has reason to believe so — and because almost the entire story is told through his eyes and perspective, so do we.

    From this axis spins a complex story about the shifting boundaries between reality and illusion, as well as the cosmic capriciousness of fate. Rush's The Stunt Man and Cross's film-within-the-film mirror each other, so even the viewers are not immune to manipulation. But perhaps more than anything, The Stunt Man is about transubstantiation and the power that wills it. Cross is deus ex machina personified. Ascending and descending on his "killer crane," he is a larger-than-life god of the filmmaking machine, dispensing reality and illusion and identity for his own purposes. If water is said to have become wine without special effects, then Cameron's utter transformation of identity is all in a day's work for Eli Cross. ("If God could do the tricks that we can do," Cross decrees, "He'd be a happy man.") And yet what makes The Stunt Man work above all its meaning is the simple fact that it's all so splendidly enjoyable. The script moves briskly, the performances (especially O'Toole's) are dead-on perfection, and Richard Rush managed a directorial feat that, perplexingly, he has not come close to matching since then. The Stunt Man rewards close attention, and when watched a second time, clever details of dialogue and camerawork reveal themselves. Another spin in the DVD player and our perceptions again are subtly shifted.

    Anchor Bay's new two-disc Limited Edition DVD release of The Stunt Man is a perfect introduction for viewers who may know the film only by reputation. Disc One sports an anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) from a good print, although it's not free of some intermittent grain and unstable colors, with audio available in Dolby Digital EX, DTS ES, and Dolby 2.0 Surround, and the new mixes are an immersive experience (although the DTS mix exhibits problems of over-enthusiastic imbalance — the surround field sometimes overwhelms the dialogue in the center channel). A commentary track features director Rush, stars O'Toole, Railsback, Hershey, and actors Alex Rocco, Sharon Farrell, and real-life onscreen actor/stuntman Chuck Bail. A composite of recordings, it's well edited and free of dead air. Rush reveals a great deal about the conception and production, and everyone has more than enough memories, affection, and viewing reactions to keep the track engaging. Disc One also delivers an assortment of theatrical trailers, two deleted scenes, original production and advertising art, a stills gallery, and (in DVD-ROM format) the complete screenplay with director's notes. Disc Two showcases a 114-minute behind-the-scenes documentary that has taken on a life of its own at film festivals and its own separate DVD release. The Sinister Saga of the Making of The Stunt Man is a new look at the production from its earliest stages through its torturous distribution history. Richard Rush is the enthusiastic host, a likable huckster who's not above some self-promotional rah-rah, but his first-hand account of the travails he and his movie endured offer an enlightening look at the "political science" and "black arts" that go into making a Hollywood picture. The Stunt Man: Limited Edition is on the street now.

    Box Office: For the third weekend running, Warner's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone cast its spell over North American moviegoers, garnering $24 million in its third frame and pushing its current cume to a stunning $220 million. However, despite a record-smashing first two weeks, it now appears Harry will not have the legs overtake Titanic on the all-time list (at least not with Lord of the Rings on the way). Opening strongly in second place over the weekend was Fox's Behind Enemy Lines starring Owen Wilson and Gene Hackman, which earned $19.2 million. However, Miramax's Texas Rangers opened in just 400 theaters nationwide where it earned $300,000, missing the top ten by a country mile.

    In continuing release, Buena Vista's Monsters, Inc. has joined the elite double-century club with $204.3 million to date. Also doing strong business is Universal's Spy Game, which stands at $46.9 million after 10 days, while Fox's Shallow Hal has cracked $60 million in one month, and Paramount's Domestic Disturbance has cleared $42.3 million to date. And heading for the exits is Universal's K-PAX, which goes to DVD prep with a cool $50 million finish for stars Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges.

    The "Pack" is back this Friday, as George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, and Julia Roberts team up for Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's Eleven. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:

    1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Warner Bros.)
      $24,050,000 ($220,078,000 through 3 weeks)
    2. Behind Enemy Lines (Fox)
      $19,200,000 ($19,200,000 through 1 week)
    3. Spy Game (Universal)
      $11,200,000 ($46,900,000 through 2 weeks)
    4. Monsters, Inc. (Buena Vista)
      $9,400,000 ($204,332,450 through 5 weeks)
    5. Black Knight (Fox)
      $5,700,000 ($22,961,000 through 2 weeks)
    6. Shallow Hal (Fox)
      $4,650,000 ($61,226,000 through 4 weeks)
    7. Out Cold (Buena Vista)
      $2,900,000 ($10,500,000 through 2 weeks)
    8. Domestic Disturbance (Paramount)
      $1,900,000 ($42,368,000 through 5 weeks)
    9. Amelie (Miramax)
      $1,400,000 ($9,800,000 through 5 weeks)
    10. Heist (Warner Bros.)
      $1,225,000 ($22,048,000 through 4 weeks)
    11. Life as a House (New Line)
      $1,125,000 ($13,863,000 through 6 weeks)
    12. The One (Sony/Columbia TriStar)
      $800,000 ($43,101,000 through 5 weeks)

    On the Board: Greg Dorr has posted a sneak-peek at DreamWorks' two-disc (and one CD) edition of Almost Famous Untitled: The Bootleg Cut, while new stuff from the rest of the team today includes Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, Spirits of the Dead, Bad Taste: Limited Edition, 'Til There Was You, Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone, The Stunt Man: Limited Edition, Sheena, White Water Summer, and Silent Rage. It's all under our New Reviews menu here on the front page — or use our search engine to rewind into some DVD reviews from weeks past.

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

    — Ed.

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