News and Commentary: January 2002

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Thursday, 31 January 2002
Weekend Dispatch

On the Block: Our latest round of DVD auction rankings at eBay is in, and it appears some people have totally abandoned all hope of a new Hard Day's Night disc from Miramax — how else can we explain the incredible $305.00 close for the long-out-of-print MPI edition? The hot item mixes company this time around with such Criterion regulars as The 400 Blows ($355.00) and The Killer ($267.50), but it seems nothing can challenge Criterion's top-trading Salo ($510.00) — at least not since bids collapsed for Thirty-Odd Foot of Grunts: Texas after a wide DVD release was rumored from Russell Crowe's Aussie bar-band. Most theatrical movies arrive first on DVD in Region 1, but it seems more and more TV boxes are debuting overseas, in particular the Region 2 Stargate: SG-1: Season Two ($160.00) and the Region 4 Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 2 ($140.50, but Buffy fans should know a Season Two box is expected to arrive from Fox in Region 1 this June). New to the list is the DTS version of Dances With Wolves ($130.00), originally released by Image Entertainment, while perennial favorite Little Shop of Horrors ($103.00) still crops up from time to time. And bargain-hunters take note — the final hammer-prices for both This is Spinal Tap: The Criterion Collection ($102.50) and Army of Darkness: Limited Edition ($99.99) at the moment are far below their previous averages.

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

  1. Salo: The Criterion Collection
    $510.00 (11 bids)
  2. The 400 Blows: The Criterion Collection
    $355.00 (17 bids)
  3. A Hard Day's Night (MPI edition)
    $305.00 (36 bids)
  4. The Killer: The Criterion Collection
    $267.50 (29 bids)
  5. Stargate SG-1: Season Two (Region 2)
    $160.00 (19 bids)
  6. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Two (Region 4)
    $140.50 (11 bids)
  7. Dances With Wolves (Image edition) (DTS)
    $130.00 (28 bids)
  8. Seven Samurai: The Criterion Collection (first edition)
    $129.90 (1 bid)
  9. Hard Boiled: The Criterion Collection
    $127.50 (16 bids)
  10. The Decalogue
    $104.52 (9 bids)
  11. Little Shop of Horrors (first edition)
    $103.00 (21 bids)
  12. The Gospel According to St. Matthew
    $102.50 (14 bids)
  13. This Is Spinal Tap: The Criterion Collection
    $102.50 (6 bids)
  14. Sid and Nancy: The Criterion Collection
    $101.00 (12 bids)
  15. Army of Darkness: Limited Edition
    $99.99 (5 bids)

Quotable: "In today's market the pieces can exist side by side because they are addressing two different customers."

— JVC spokesman Jerry Barbera, speaking to
The New York Times regarding Universal,
Fox, DreamWorks, and Artisan's decision to
release films on JVC's HDTV-videotape

"When I started out in independent films in the early '70s, we did everything for love of art. It wasn't about money and stardom. That's what we were reacting against. You'd die before you'd be bought. Do a commercial? Do a vee-hicle movie? I still think there's a real danger in just trying to stay king of the mountain. You stop taking risks, you stop being as creative, because you're trying to maintain a position. Apart from anything else, that really takes the fun out of it."

In the Bedroom star Sissy Spacek, talking
to Richard Grant in London's The Guardian.

"You get to a point where you get to the edges of a room, and you can go back where you've been, and basically recycle stuff. I've seen it in my own work. People when they read Buick Eight are going to think Christine. It's about a car that's not normal, okay? You say, 'I've said the things that I have to say that are new and fresh and interesting to people.' Then you have a choice. You can either continue to go on, or say 'I left when I was still on top of my game. I left when I was still holding the ball, instead of it holding me.' I don't want to finish up like Harold Robbins. That's my nightmare."


— Stephen King, telling The Los Angeles Times
that he will finish five more novels and then

"It's unlikely either my Rocky or my Rambo picture will get made. What I did suggest was to have Rambo go into Afghanistan and rescue five girls. It would have been too much to have Rambo go in and kill Osama bin Laden I suppose. It would be an insult to every military guy. This time I don't see Rambo going it alone."

— Sly Stallone, discussing his current creative
options with Britain's Daily Mirror tabloid.

"We are currently in the arbitration process and trying to resolve this matter under the MPAA guidelines. Until that time, we will be referring to the film as the third installment of Austin Powers."

— A statement from New Line after a dispute with
MGM (who owns the 007 franchise) has put the
movie title Austin Powers: Goldmember
on hold for the time being.

Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including Ghost World and The Curse of the Jade Scorpion. This also will be the last weekend to enter this month's totally free DVD contest for a copy of Moulin Rouge, so be sure to visit our contest page if you haven't yet, and don't forget to take our monthly DVD poll while you're there. We'll be back Monday to announce the winner, and we'll have a new contest up and running as well.

Have a great weekend.

— Ed.

Wednesday, 30 January 2002

Mailbag: It's feeding time at the zoo, otherwise known as 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 enjoyed your recent thoughts on the future of DVD extras, but thought I should clarify something. It's true that, when a DVD is released, the studio must pay the writer $5,000 for the rights to include the screenplay on the DVD. But under the terms of the studios' deal with the Writers' Guild of America, they must pay that fee whether or not they actually include the screenplay! There is therefore no financial incentive to leave out the screenplay.

    Obviously, I don't speak for the WGA, but I believe their plan is that studios will figure, "Well, we're already paying for the right to include the screenplay. We might as well include it." This will actually result in more DVDs with screenplays on them, which will increase the visibility of screenwriters in general. It's a little to soon to tell whether this will happen, but I think it's a pretty clever idea, and one that can only help DVD fans.

    And as for the anonymous studio guy quoted as saying Ah-nold's $75,000 commentary track is going to kill the DVD extra... Every time anybody on the creative side of moviemaking asks for a penny more, somebody on the business side announces that it is going to shut down the business. And yet, somehow, the business remains immensely profitable. To you or me, $75,000 is a heck of a lot of money, But on a $100 million movie, it's less than one-tenth of one percent of the production budget.

    — Jacob

  • I have not quite figured out why you seem to include the absurd comments of the Hollywood "elite" every Thursday. Either you aim to show how ludicrous the likes of Altman, Baldwin, Streisand, Redford, etc. sound or you agree with their views. Now, I'll be the first to agree that some of them are talented at what they do, but their political views amount to little more than following the rest of the "do as I say, not as I do" crowd that exists in Hollywood. (For example, according to Rosie O'Donnell, nobody should have firearms... well, except her team of bodyguards.)

    I will not get into why I think President Bush is doing a marvelous job, with some exceptions. But I would like The DVD Journal to stick to what it knows best — DVD technology and entertainment. Leave the political mumbo-jumbo to those that specialize in it.

    — Jeffrey

  • No sooner do I buy a DVD than the studio announces a new "Special Edition." Cases in point: Almost Famous, The Mummy, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, American Werewolf in London, to name a few. Is there any way to know if a particular DVD is going to be "the" release? I held off buying Titanic because I figured with such a bare-bones first release, a Special Edition had to be in the offing, but none ever materialized. Like most collectors, I love DVDs for the extras that can be included, but I'm afraid some day I'll need a separate media room just for all the different editions of Evil Dead.

    — Jay

    Simple — there will never be a definitive release of any movie on DVD. Or perhaps you'd like to buy some extra Enron stock we have.

  • DVDs are great in every respect except for copyright infringement. I will always look back on the VHS days as the more innocent ones when people copied their favorite VHS tapes for private use without feeling like a criminal.

    — Reine

  • boxcoverI am of Indian origin, living in the U.S., and a regular visitor to your site. I was pleasantly surprised to see the review of Lagaan — thanks for promoting it. Indian cinema has taken off in the U.K., and I hope it gets as mainstream in the future as Hong Kong cinema is today. Also, Lagaan is India's entry to the Oscars, so I hope the members of the Academy watch this movie. I don't think it stands a chance against Amelie, but I am hoping for a nomination in the Best Foreign Picture category at least.

    — Balaji

  • I've been a fan of your site for quite some time now, and I just wanted to drop a quick note to say keep up the good work. Thanks especially for the heads-up on the Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India DVD, a title that I had no idea was being released by Columbia TriStar. I really appreciate the attention that you guys allocate to deserving titles such as Lagaan and many other foreign and classic titles that slip under the radars of all the other websites.

    — Nick

  • My girlfriend thinks that having a home-entertainment center equivalent to a small movie theater is wrong, material, and completely unrealistic. But I think she's wrong. Having a projection screen to watch DVDs in the privacy of my own home with 20 of my best friends in stadium seating is reasonable. Now all I have to do is get 20 friends.

    — Michael

    We wish we could offer you 20 new friends Michael, but we'll be sending you a free Babylon 5 DVD and t-shirt — that should get you started on the road to instant popularity.

  • It's interesting to see Song of the South listed on the Disney website, but this was probably generated by fan interest. I long ago came to the conclusion that getting Disney to re-release Song of the South could only be accomplished by bringing public pressure to bear, not on Disney, but on a respected leader of the black community, such as Jesse Jackson or Sidney Poitier (the latter of whom happens to be on the Disney board of directors) to publicly ask Disney to release it — thus relieving them of its burden of political incorrectness.

    — David

  • Just wondering, how many DVDs do you guys actually own?

    — Casey

    A few — maybe a little more.

  • In some reviews you have beers instead of stars. Is this to imply that the reviewers were drunk when reviewing the movie in question? Is it a suggestion of the number of beers needed to properly enjoy a film? Are these powerful Oregon microbrews being suggested, or can the movies be enjoyed with a lesser beer such as Miller High Life? And finally, I have seen a review using pot leaves. Is this to suggest a certain number of kind-bud Oregon hydroponic megaweed bonghits or a certain number of Midwest gutter-shwag joints?

    — Ian

    We aren't recommending nothing to nobody, no way — you're all on your own. (However, our beer is brewed in Portland, as all beer should be.)

  • boxcoverAlexandra DuPont notes on her review of Buckaroo Banzai that the disc offers "'Hong Kong Cavaliers CD Covers,' featuring such album titles as 'Your Place or Mayan?' and 'Progress Over Protocol' (a record on which, according to the album's song list, Stephen Hawking contributes guest vocals)."

    On the 1994 Pink Floyd album The Division Bell, Dr. Hawking actually contributes a brief monologue to the intro of the song "Keep Talking" (well, to be strictly accurate his voice-computer does, but he did enter the text into it himself).

    Wherever you go, there you are.

    — Chris

  • Alexandra DuPont should convince the Editor of The DVD Journal to put up her own list of Top 25 DVD titles. Her reviews are thorough, smart, and educated.

    — Clifford

  • Many thanks to Alexandra DuPont for the intelligent review of Buckaroo Banzai, and praise the Lord that the DVD is finally available. I saw BB:AT8D during its theatrical release. It instantly became one of my favorites because (a) it was campy and (b) it didn't bother to explain anything — it just assumed you were smart enough to fill in the blanks yourself.

    Even after all these years, the film still makes me smile. No, it's not great, and it's not even perfect in what it tried to set out to do. But I'll get the DVD for the same reason I have DVDs of Tremors and Big Trouble in Little China — they're all intelligent, and funny homages to Grade-B sci-fi/fantasy movies, and they were all obviously works of passion rather than the cranked-out crap that fills the screens so often.

    — Bruce

    Bruce definitely sounds like a guy who could use a free Babylon 5 DVD and t-shirt — they're on the way.

  • boxcoverRidley Scott was interviewed on a local radio station here in Atlanta recently, as promotion for Black Hawk Down. In the interview he said that Blade Runner is due to be reissued by "the end of this year" as a three-disc set with a new digital remastering and 5.1 soundtrack.

    — Tim

  • It's now two years since I embraced DVD technology and I have 800+ movies. However, it's becoming clear that as the Big Boys (aka Blockbuster Video) see the potential to cream profits from this new format, they are prepared to ruin the format for their own gain. They have two key policies that will split the industry and will cause fragmentation like that done to videotape. First, they will stock only pan-and-scan when P&S and widescreen are available on different discs. Secondly, they want a rental window to make additional money from future purchasers of the disc.

    I now boycott Blockbuster and others who behave similarly. I will become a customer again only when they stop these practices. This may never happen.

    Technology always moves on and usually people benefit. Widescreen TVs will become the norm and, if Blockbuster gets their way, we will have to buy movies all over again. Of course, that suits them. It's another chance to skim more profits from our pockets. Companies like Blockbuster use their weight to pressure industries to adopt policies that make Blockbuster money. The only hope is to fight back and let the industry know that what Blockbuster is doing is not ultimately in the interests of progress.

    I urge all DVD lovers to forget about the petty stuff like security labels, Warner's horrid snap-cases, non-standard packaging, and the myriad of other little issues. What's really at stake is DVD format. Concentrate on keeping what we currently have.

    — Tom

  • It'd be nice to see you guys do a Friday update once in a while. Who do you think you are? The Onion?

    — Neal

  • People whose letters get published on your site are generally idiots.

    — Philip

    Be sure to tell all your friends you're on the Journal today, Phil.

  • Call me crazy, but all the security tape on new DVDs doesn't really bother me. In fact, it's become a ritual to take a new stack of discs and remove all the extra stuff, especially the little magnet thing inside. The best is in a box set — where will the tag be?

    OK, fine — they suck

    — Randy

  • I purchased a used DVD from Hollywood Video and they put one of their Hollywood stickers actually underneath the plastic cover, attached to the paper picture underneath! Removing it scarred my precious!! Oh my precious... my precious....

    — Brian

  • I didn't know that Steven Spielberg was involved in the restoration of Lawrence of Arabia. Perhaps it would have been more obvious if everyone had been fighting with walkie-talkies.

    — Earl

    And another Babylon 5 DVD and t-shirt goes out the door....

    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. American Pie 2: Collector's Edition
    2. Tron: 20th Anniversary Edition
    3. Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The Complete First Season
    4. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: Platinum Edition
    5. The Fast and the Furious
    6. Thumb Wars
    7. Citizen Kane
    8. Carl Theodor Dreyer Collection: The Criterion Collection
    9. Moulin Rouge
    10. Shrek

    Bye for now.

    — Ed.

    Tuesday, 29 January 2002

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

    • Woody Allen fans are very near to finishing a complete DVD collection of his films, as Columbia TriStar will release 1992's Husbands and Wives on April 16 — but as usual with Woody's discs there's just a trailer (and as far as we can tell, What's Up Tiger Lily? is now the only Woody movie not yet announced for DVD). Also arriving on April 16 is another Ray Harryhausen classic, 1960's The 3 Worlds of Gulliver, which will include featurettes on the film's production, the "Dynamation" process, and Harryhausen himself. Getting a double-dipping will be 1995's The Net: Special Edition starring Sandra Bullock, with a pair of commentary tracks from the production team, two featurettes, filmographies, and trailers (April 2), while catalog fare includes the 1957 western 3:10 to Yuma starring Glenn Ford and Van Heflin (April 2), the 1975 Chuck Bronson vehicle Breakout (April 2), and the recent Italian comedy Bread and Tulips (March 26). And fans of the Superbit series can look forward to two more, The Big Hit and Vertical Limit (both March 19).

    • Last year's Domestic Disturbance, starring John Travolta, will get an SE from Paramount on April 9 with a commentary from director Harold Becker, six deleted scenes with commentary, and storyboards. We're particularly looking forward to 1998's The Accused, starring Jodie Foster and Kelly McGillis, although the disc appears to be bare-bones (April 16). Also in prep are John Schlesinger's 1996 An Eye for an Eye starring Sally Field, Ed Harris, and Kiefer Sutherland (April 16), 1993's Flesh and Bone with Dennis Quaid, James Caan, Meg Ryan, and Gwyneth Paltrow (April 16), last year's Focus, starring William H. Macy and Laura Dern (March 19), the 1993 thriller The Temp with Timothy Hutton and Lara Flynn Boyle (April 16), and Barbet Schroeder's recent Our Lady of the Assassins (La virgen de los sicarios) (March 26).

    • Upcoming features from MGM include Original Sin, starring Angelina Jolie and Antonio Banderas, which will be released in both "theatrical" and "unrated" versions on March 26. And then on April 2 we will see Bandits: Special Edition, directed by Barry Levinson and starring Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, and Cate Blanchett — count on deleted scenes, an alternate ending, a filmmaker's workshop, a featurette, and the video of "Superman" by Five for Fighting.

    • Buena Vista will release last year's popular John Cusack/Kate Beckinsale romance Serendipity: Special Edition on April 9, and features will include a commentary from director Peter Chelsom, deleted scenes with commentary, a production diary, a featurette, stills, and storyboards. Also in the pipe are the crime-comedy High Heels and Low Lifes, starring Minnie Driver and Mary McCormack (April 9), and Texas Rangers, with Dylan McDermott, Ashton Kutcher, James Van Der Beek, Rachael Leigh Cook, and Robert Patrick (April 16).

    • Of note, Fox is now taking the plunge into full-frame-only DVD releases in an attempt to satisfy home-video consumers who want to fill up their TV screens (and likely breathe exclusively through their mouths). While Fox has placed some 1.33:1 options on their Family Features line, on March 5 no less than ten titles will have full-frame, bone-stock counterparts — The Abyss, Anna and the King, Big Momma's House, Cast Away, Edward Scissorhands, Entrapment, Independence Day, Lake Placid, Men of Honor, and Predator. Will it matter much? Not really, as Fox insists they are not abandoning anamorphic widescreen. But those of you who buy or rent DVDs at large outlets may discover these Fox titles harder to find with those gorgeous black bars, as many renters and retailers try not to carry widescreen DVDs when possible to cut down on product returns and complaints. Much more of this and buying online could soon become a way of life for all digital die-hards. (Note that, of the above titles, Cast Away, Independence Day and The Abyss were initially announced as anamorphic single-disc releases, but it now appears only the two-disc SEs will carry anamorphic transfers).

    • Speaking of empty shelves, Criterion's Beauty and the Beast has been temporarily withdrawn, and a remastered edition is expected to arrive this fall, while Universal's The Who: Thirty Years of Maximum R&B Live, released just one year ago, is now listed as discontinued. Also inexplicably withdrawn is MGM's release of the Marlon Brando film Sayonara. And the Platinum Edition of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is due to go on moratorium this week — in fact, The Mouse House claims it will not return to home video for 10 years (but don't take our word for it — we just report what's out there).

    On the Street: Paramount is unloading a good portion of their Eddie Murphy catalog today, with all three Beverly Hills Cop movies, Harlem Nights, and A Vampire in Brooklyn, while comedy fans may also want to look for last year's semi-amusing Rat Race. Columbia TriStar has some comedy as well with the re-released Groundhog Day: Special Edition, although those looking for a change of pace may want to give Tom Tykwer's unusual The Princess and the Warrior a spin. New family titles from Fox this morning include such favorites as Breaking Away and My Bodyguard, while Disney is on the board with Atlantis: The Lost Empire in single- and two-disc versions. If you love Woody Allen, you might want to see DreamWorks' The Curse of the Jade Scorpion. And you Orson Welles buffs may be interested in Alfonso Arau's remake of The Magnificent Ambersons, out now from A&E. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of and Image Entertainment:

    • Atlantis: The Lost Empire: Collector's Edition (2-disc set)
    • Atlantis: The Lost Empire
    • Au Pair Girls
    • Baby's Day Out
    • Beast Wars #1
    • Beverly Hills Cop
    • Beverly Hills Cop 2
    • Beverly Hills Cop 3
    • Beverly Hills Cop: The Complete Lineup (3-disc set)
    • The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars
    • Blacktop
    • Breaking Away
    • The Concert for New York City
    • The Curse of the Jade Scorpion
    • Dead Awake
    • Extreme Days: Special Edition
    • Evolution: The Animated Movie
    • Grapes of Death
    • Groundhog Day: Special Edition
    • Harlem Nights
    • Heart
    • The Magnificent Ambersons (2001)
    • The Man Who Loved Women (1983)
    • Muhammad Ali: Through The Eyes of the World
    • My Bodyguard
    • The Old Man and the Sea (1995)
    • Opponent
    • The Princess and the Warrior
    • Rat Race
    • Richard Pryor: Here and Now
    • Rookie of the Year
    • The Sandlot
    • A Vampire in Brooklyn
    • When Strangers Appear
    • Zeta One

    Back tomorrow with all that mail.

    — Ed.

    Monday, 28 January 2002

    boxcoverDisc of the Week: Writer/director Tom Tykwer's 1998 Run Lola Run was a study in frenetic and kinetic energy, with a protagonist who was in a constant state of agitated motion. Lola's clever plot moved at lightning speed and embodied a style of action and suspense that left the viewer exhausted and exhilarated. As if in counterbalance, Tykwer decelerates The Princess and the Warrior (2001) to a pace that borders on slow-motion. The film offers a similar theme to Lola, touching on human frailties while exploring the intensity of male/female relationships. But this time around the director creates a deliberate study of his characters through their careful and thoughtful reactions to their environments and the people who surround them. Rather than the blur created by the constantly running Lola, The Princess and the Warrior takes its time exploring the faces and emotions of the characters, and the tangible elements of their world. The result is a film that is both enigmatic and captivating.

    Franke Potente (who played the titular role in Lola) stars as Sissi, a nurse working and living in a mental asylum where she leads a simple life, acting as mother, lover, sister, and daughter to the various inmates in their Cuckoo's Nest atmosphere. Crossing the street one day on a walk with a young blind man from the institution, Sissi pushes the man out of the way of an oncoming truck but is run over herself and trapped. Bodo (Benno Fürmann), a pedestrian who actually caused the accident, climbs under the truck, quickly performs a tracheotomy with a knife and a soda straw, escorts Sissi to the hospital, and then quietly slips away. When she recovers, Sissi is haunted by the image of the man who saved her life — a man whom she feels is somehow now a part of her destiny. Returning to work at the asylum, Sissi takes on a different awareness of her surroundings and her life, and she feels an urgency to find Bodo, whom she thinks may be her soulmate. Eventually she tracks him down, but Bodo rejects her and she is devastated. However, when chance brings Sissi to the same bank where Bodo and his brother are pulling off a robbery, her life becomes inextricably entwined with his. Both Bodo and Sissi are simple, lonely people who seem overwhelmed by life's complications, and both are harboring secrets that fill their lives with pain. As they look to each other for solace and a sense of redemption, the viewer senses that happiness for them will always be just out of reach.

    The Princess and the Warrior is a thought-provoking meditation on how we respond to the world and what responsibilities we carry for our actions. The characters of Sissi and Bodo are initially portrayed as passive observers whose circumstances appear to be the result of the actions of others. It's as if, through no fault of their own, these two well-meaning people just can't get a break. But as the layers of their individual stories are peeled away, the characters begin to perceive their own complicity in creating their surroundings as they awaken to the possibility of taking control of their futures. Not easily depicted on film, such subtle ideas are beautifully acted out by Potente and Fürmann. As the camera lingers over their faces, we can almost hear the wheels turning in their heads. These are two characters of few words who speak with their eyes and their hearts, and Tykwer methodically allows the actors to pass through a series of emotions as they react to the rapid pace of the world around them. An outstanding supporting cast also contributes to The Princess and the Warrior, and if there is a frustration with the film, it is with its array of interesting supporting characters that are not more fully developed. One senses that the history of any of these individuals would be enough to fill another film, but they are portrayed the way we encounter so many people in our daily lives — as the sum of past experiences, of which we have no knowledge.

    Columbia TriStar's new DVD release of The Princess and the Warrior offers a clean anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 Surround audio in the original German (also on board are English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles). The image is clean and rich, presenting Twyker's always-innovative camerawork to its full advantage. The disc's many extras include two interesting, informative, and entertaining audio commentaries — one with Tykwer alone and another where he is joined by Potente and Fürmann. A "making-of" featurette includes short interviews with many of the supporting cast. Also included are deleted scenes, trailers, and a music video directed by Tykwer, who often writes his own music or collaborates with a composer to score his films. The Princess and the Warrior is on the street tomorrow.

    Box Office: Five new films arrived in North American theaters over the weekend, but none could land higher than third on the box-office chart — Sony's Black Hawk Down is holding steady in the top spot with $18.2 million over the past three days, while Disney's Snow Dogs remains in second place with $13.6 million, barely edging out Warner's romantic drama A Walk to Remember, which garnered an estimated $13.5 million in its debut frame. Also new were Sony's The Mothman Prophecies ($11.8 million), Buena Vista's The Count of Monte Cristo ($11.5 million), New Line's I Am Sam ($8.5 million), and Fox's Kung Pow!: Enter the Fist ($7.2 million). Of the new arrivals, Kevin Reynolds' The Count of Monte Cristo fared best with the critics.

    In continuing release, Universal's A Beautiful Mind is going strong with $93 million to date, helped in part by last week's Golden Globe wins. In much higher atmosphere, New Line's Lord of the Rings has garnered $258.6 million, while Warner's Ocean's Eleven is at $176.2 million, and both are still drawing audiences after several weeks in release. Meanwhile, Paramount has a pair off to DVD prep this week — Vanilla Sky will finish with approximately $95 million, while Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius wraps in the $75 million neighborhood.

    Count on this weekend to be less busy — opening Friday is the thriller Birthday Girl starring Nicole Kidman, as well as the college comedy Slackers. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:

    1. Black Hawk Down (Sony/Columbia TriStar)
      $18,200,000 ($60,100,000 through 5 weeks)
    2. Snow Dogs (Buena Vista)
      $13,600,000 ($39,300,000 through 2 weeks)
    3. A Walk to Remember (Warner Bros.)
      $13,565,000 ($13,565,000 through 1 week)
    4. The Mothman Prophecies (Sony/Screen Gems)
      $11,800,000 ($11,800,000 through 1 week)
    5. A Beautiful Mind (Universal)
      $11,700,000 ($93,000,000 through 6 weeks)
    6. The Count of Monte Cristo (Buena Vista)
      $11,500,000 ($11,500,000 through 1 week)
    7. I Am Sam (New Line)
      $8,325,000 ($8,516,000 through 5 weeks)
    8. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (New Line)
      $8,025,000 ($258,671,000 through 6 weeks)
    9. Kung Pow: Enter the Fist (Fox)
      $7,270,000 ($7,270,000 through 1 week)
    10. Orange County (Paramount)
      $4,600,000 ($34,228,000 through 3 weeks)
    11. Ocean's Eleven (Warner Bros.)
      $3,415,000 ($176,213,000 through 8 weeks)
    12. The Royal Tenenbaums (Buena Vista)
      $3,300,000 ($41,700,000 through 7 weeks)

    On the Board: Betsy Bozdech has posted a sneak-preview of Columbia TriStar's Groundhog Day: Special Edition, while Damon Houx is on the board this morning with a look at Tron: 20th Anniversary Edition. New stuff from the rest of the gang today includes Breaking Away, Kiss of the Dragon, Rock Star, Falling in Love, Rat Race, Me & Isaac Newton, The Man Who Cried, My Bodyguard, Cousins, Pavilion of Women, The Sandlot, The Princess and the Warrior, and Dr. Orloff's Monster. 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.

    Back tomorrow with the street discs.

    — Ed.

    Thursday, 24 January 2002
    Weekend Dispatch

    Coming Attractions: The new DVDs just keep coming, and we'll be posting new reviews of Groundhog Day: Special Edition, Breaking Away, and lots more. We'll see ya Monday — have a great weekend.

    Quotable: "This present government in America I just find disgusting, the idea that George Bush could run a baseball team successfully — he can't even speak! I just find him an embarrassment. I was (in England) when the election was on and I couldn't believe it — and I'm 76 years old. Then when the Supreme Court came in and turned out to be a totally political animal, the last shred of any naivety that was left in me has gone. When I see an American flag flying, it's a joke."

    Gosford Park director Robert Altman

    "There hasn't been a movie made about modern warfare and what these special forces do and, for me, it is very comforting to know that you have these men who will go into these horrific situations to protect our country and our freedoms, and I really felt it was really important first to set the record straight on Somalia and how courageous these men were, and also to show how they operate in such difficult warfare — which is urban warfare, which they say is the most difficult to do because it is building by building, block by block... This is the biggest firefight we've been in since the Vietnam war."

    Remember that cool Macintosh ad?

    Black Hawk Down director Ridley Scott

    "EMI took an executive view on whether she was past it or not and whether she would ever generate the kind of album sales she did in the past again. It's a huge gamble for music groups investing in these artists."

    — Media analyst Kingsley Wilson, talking to Reuters
    after EMI Group PLC paid Mariah Carey $28 million
    to sever her recording contract in the wake of the
    poorly received Glitter film and soundtrack

    "I'm not thinking about that. I'm thinking about going to Trader Vic's and having a drink.''

    — Russell Crowe, refusing to speculate about the
    Oscars after snagging a Golden Globe for his role
    in A Beautiful Mind.

    "A puny nine hours! We've got 10 hours! And it's coming out on DVD soon!'"

    — Tom Hanks, comparing Lord of the Rings to the
    miniseries Band of Brothers, which he
    co-directed and co-produced.

    — Ed.

    Wednesday, 23 January 2002

    Best of the 'Bag: It's time to hit the rewind — and look at some choice letters from DVD Journal readers that have crossed this way once before:

  • Something that I have found puzzling is how studios decide what makes it to DVD. Obviously, any movies that have been made after the advent of DVD will all most likely be released in this format, but I am referring to older movies. It makes sense that studios will release older movies that have been box office and home video hits to DVD, but of the movies that haven't been "blockbuster hits," how is it determined which movie makes it to DVD? Are there certain criteria that an older movie has to meet in order to make the transfer? Does the consumer have a say in recommending what gets released on DVD?

    — Tim

    While we wish that we could be a fly on the wall in some studios, talking with people in the home-video divisions and reading their occasional quotes in the press at least has given us some insight into this process. Fundamentally, releasing a catalog title to DVD is a marketing decision, which involves several factors. Probably foremost among these — and particularly so with videophile DVD consumers — is the quality of materials that are available. That means evaluating source prints or other items (like previous Laserdisc transfers) to see if they are good enough for a new DVD — a product that will be ponderously analyzed and discussed by many consumers and the various DVD sites on the Web. A good example of this is Superman: The Movie, which Warner delayed for more than a year because the original film elements needed some repairs. Of course, these film elements might have been okay for a videotape, and we all know that lots of poor-looking stock from older films can be seen on cable television all the time. But the studios know that a bad-looking disc will not be well received by the DVD press, online or elsewhere.

    Another example of source considerations is what extra content will be available. Special editions sell very well, and if the studio knows of some "value-add" that they can dig up, these elements may be evaluated on their merits. In some cases, rights issues need to be sorted out. In other cases, the decision is made to create a new commentary track or "making-of" documentary. These factors can cause a DVD release to be delayed or postponed.

    boxcoverRights issues are often the reason why some films have yet to reach DVD. As is well known, Paramount has yet to release a Grease DVD reportedly because of some legal disputes over the soundtrack. Godfrey Reggio's unusual 1983 documentary Koyaanisqatsi has been tied up in rights issues for so long that the director is only able to distribute a DVD in exchange for a non-profit donation to his educational foundation (which means he technically is not selling it). Artisan claimed they wanted to release Glengarry Glen Ross as early as 1999 — again, it appears to be a matter for the lawyers at the moment.

    If a catalog title can meet the fundamental criteria of a quality source print, some value-added content (normally at least a trailer), and no legal disputes, it may be fit into a studio's release schedule, but these films rarely are prioritized. Some big fish were put on DVD last year (Kane, The Godfather, Lawrence of Arabia), but there are more blockbusters out there (Back to the Future to name but one). Because of this, some smaller films will find their way onto the schedule while others may not.

    Is there any way to influence which films will be released? Trying to contact a studio and convince them to put your favorite film on a shiny new disc is probably an exercise in futility, especially if the title doesn't stand to make much of a profit for them. If they own it and it's ready to go, it's probably on a list somewhere, but there's very little that any of us can do about its standing. If you're curious about a particular movie, sending the studio's home-video division an e-mail may answer a few of your questions.

  • I enjoy your website, and especially your Lexicon section. However, I don't agree with your characterization of Sony's SACD audio format, where you note that "many pundits don't believe that either DVD-A or SACD will be a substantial improvement over the PCM standard of Compact Disc, and neither will likely replace PCM for some time to come."

    The "pundits" are wrong. The heavy-hitter reviewers I've read (based on 22-years experience reading some of them) expect consumer-available 24/96 (bits/sample rate in 000's) to be a big step toward the real thing. Two of them have Sony's $5,000 SACD player and say the SACDs they've heard trounce the CDs of the same program.

    Now I know the key to your statement is the word "substantial," but I'll bet you remember the first time you heard an excellent movie. Like the first time you went to a theater with a THX system, or the first laserdisc you heard with a digital soundtrack. Or your first Beta Hi-fi movie (or, of course VHS Hi-fi). Audio is key to involvement in a story, and I hope you would proselytize in favor of audio technology advances rather than the approach taken by pundits who can't hear or don't really like music/audio.

    — Jim

    Thanks for your letter, Jim. We don't read a great deal of the audiophile press (after all, audiophiles and videophiles are different breeds), but we did base our comments on a magazine article where several "experts" faced off over the hi-res audio formats. Many said SACD or DVD Audio would be better than PCM, while others disagreed, so it just seems like a healthy debate to us, and one that has yet to be settled.

    But quality isn't our primary concern about hi-res audio — we simply recognize that there's a big difference between an audiophile environment and the average listening situation, and this factor will give SACD and DVD-A one of their greatest challenges as they try to win over new consumers, since most people don't own expensive gear or speakers but instead listen to music on headphones, in their car, or with boom boxes. Audiophiles will doubtless love the new formats, but when we say "substantial improvement," we're not talking about a bunch of golden ears in a carefully baffled room — rather, it's doubtful that hi-res audio will be a substantial improvement when played on a Walkman or in the world of car audio (particularly when the latest mass-market success in that arena has been the dreaded, cranked-beyond-belief subwoofer — hardly an audiophile trait). DVD-A or SACD may eventually replace PCM if the formats gain some inertia, but so far they haven't made a dent in CD sales, and in the meantime portable MP3 players have taken off in a big way. Thus we're skeptical if the masses are all that interested in multi-channel audio, a key selling-point of the new formats, but easily abused or downright worthless in a casual background-listening environment.

    A second concern we have about SACD or DVD-A has to do with consumer acceptance, and DVD Video provides a perfect analogy. Some people use DVD-V as the source for a home-theater system, but plenty of other DVD-V consumers have nothing more than mid-sized televisions. Many more watch DVD movies with DVD-ROM drives on their PCs or Macs. Why did these consumers buy into DVD-V in the first place? It isn't quality, because (frankly) they can't appreciate all of the benefits that DVD Video has to offer without a fully equipped home theater. They bought into DVD because it's more convenient that VHS — period. Nobody bought VCRs back in the '70s and said "What a great picture!" They bought them so they could time-shift television shows. Similarly, many DVD owners have invested in the format because it's more durable, it doesn't require rewinding, it offers chapter selection and value-added content, etc. Compare these many paradigm-shifts to hi-res audio, where nobody is claiming that the formats are more convenient than Compact Disc, just better quality. And we would suggest that convenience, not quality, is what drives new consumer technologies. This is the Achilles heel of the new formats because, while superior (and they doubtless are), they may not offer enough novelty over CDs to flourish in the mass market.

  • In a recent article you mentioned something to the effect that "used" Laserdisc players are selling relatively "cheap" nowadays. Well, where can I find one? I have decided that now is a good time to buy. Thanks.

    — Paul

    Used Laserdisc players aren't exactly for sale on every street corner, but with a little effort anybody should be able to score one at a reasonable price, and especially since the introduction of DVD, which has sounded a premature death-knell for the format. A good place to start is any second-hand shop in your local area that deals in used TVs, VCRs, boom-boxes, and things like that. They will sometimes get LD players in as well, and they often sell them cheap because of the limited demand (and sometimes because they just don't know what to do with them either). But even some second-hand shops won't deal Laserdisc players because they can take a long time to sell, and moving product is the function of any business. Therefore, it's also a good idea to scan through your local classifieds, which should have several players hidden in the small print. A third option is to visit the ultimate classified section of the digital age, eBay, where the decks themselves aren't only available, but are often included in job-lots with a stack of discs for a good price. The only downside with eBay is that you will probably have to pay to ship the item, which will add to the overall cost. Wherever you buy, plan to pay between $50 - $150. If anybody wants more than that, keep looking.

    However, even if you find a good deal, don't just buy any old Laserdisc player. Like all consumer electronics, reliability is important, and especially with LD players, since you will want your new deck to last for years — their number is limited, and will only become more so down the road. You should stick with reliable brand names, and while we're not endorsing any particular manufacturer, we will say that we have a Pioneer LD player, and it's never let us down.

    boxcoverAnd if sounds strange to some folks that DVD consumers would even consider buying a Laserdisc player, it's far from unusual. The original Laserdisc market excluded mainstream consumers because of the high costs of the media and the hardware. With DVD growing every month in the digital marketplace, these factors no longer exist — and there is now a substantial DVD consumer base that is hooked on what made those analog LDs so great in the first place — quality presentations and substantial supplements. Factor in the number of lasers that have unique supplements that will never re-appear on DVD, and there simply is more collecting to do. A good place to start building a Laserdisc collection is with our old standby The Criterion Collection. Criterion released nearly 400 titles on LD before concluding production in 1998, and special editions that will not be re-issued are very collectible — Citizen Kane, Raging Bull, Blade Runner, and Help! regularly trade anywhere between $50 – $75 on eBay, while The Magnificent Ambersons can clear $150 or more. And OOP Criterion titles that may arrive on DVD at some point from another studio also go for more than pocket change, in particular the 1933 King Kong, Robinson Crusoe on Mars, The Producers, and Blowup.

    Enjoy your new hobby — it's just a shame you won't be able to bank some money on those thin DVD street Tuesdays....

    boxcoverTop of the Pops: You picked 'em — here's the most-accessed reviews on The DVD Journal over the past week. Click the links to read our reviews of these discs:

    1. American Pie 2: Collector's Edition
    2. The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension: Special Edition
    3. Children of Paradise: The Criterion Collection
    4. The Anniversary Party
    5. Glitter
    6. The Fast and the Furious: Collector's Edition
    7. Ocean's 11 (1960)
    8. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Complete First Season
    9. Hedwig and the Angry Inch: Platinum Series
    10. The Iceman Cometh: Broadway Theater Archive


    — Ed.

    Tuesday, 22 January 2002

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

    • In prep at Warner Brothers is last year's Thirteen Ghosts starring Shannon Elizabeth and Matthew Lillard, and it will be packed with features, including a commentary by production designer Sean Hargreaves and make-up effects creator Howard Berger, 12 vignettes that highlight the ghosts in the film, the documentary "Thirteen Ghosts Revealed," a video montage, a trailer, and DVD-ROM content (April 2). Last year's Hearts in Atlantis is also on the way, with a commentary by director Scott Hicks, an interview with Hicks and star Anthony Hopkins, and a stills gallery (Feb. 12). The Friends TV series is getting a big boost with a 5-disc The Complete First Season set for April 30, while the long-awaited uncut version of Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker will arrive on April 23. Also watch for catalog items such as 1982's Victor/Victoria, which will offer a commentary from Julie Andrews and Blake Edwards along with a new 5.1 mix (June 4), and 1990's Joe Versus the Volcano starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan (April 2).

    • Artisan has spilled the beans on some of their 2002 plans, if no firm release dates or disc specs — count on a Rambo special edition box set of all three films in May, the long-anticipated Reservoir Dogs: Special Edition in July, and new SEs of It's a Wonderful Life and Stargate in September. In the meantime, the current bone-stock version of Reservoir Dogs is now out of print.

    • Buena Vista is re-vamping an animated classic with Peter Pan: Special Edition, which will improve upon the original DVD with an edited commentary featuring Walt Disney, the film's animators, and film historians; a "making-of" featurette; a stills gallery; the trailer; and DVD-ROM games (Feb. 12). But definitely not for the kiddies is Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back: Special Edition, which will offer Kevin Smith fanatics a group commentary track, deleted scenes with introductions, two music videos, stills, filmographies, the complete screenplay, a gag reel, stuff from Morris Day and The Time, and a "Secret Stash" (Feb. 26). Fans of Moulin Rouge can look forward to director Baz Luhrmann's 1992 Strictly Ballroom: Special Edition, with a commentary from Luhrmann, a deleted scene, and a featurette on ballroom dancing (March 19). And Hong Kong fans will not want to miss 1993's Iron Monkey, with an intro by Quentin Tarantino (March 26).

    • Those with a taste for sci-fi classics will want to see Columbia TriStar's forthcoming release of the 1964 First Men in the Moon, based on the story by H.G. Wells and directed by Nathan Juran — and featuring plenty of Ray Harryhausen's "Dynamation" (in this case, giant ants). Extras will include a "This is Dynamation" featurette, the documentary "The Harryhausen Chronicles," a photo gallery, and bonus trailers (March 26). Also in the pipe is the 1974 western Bite the Bullet starring Gene Hackman, Candace Bergen, and James Coburn, and the movie that started it all for Jackie Chan, 1978's Drunken Master, with the original Cantonese soundtrack and digital subtitles (both April 2).

    • Fox has announced a SE release of last year's offbeat British crime movie Sexy Beast, which will offer a commentary from star Ben Kingsley and producer Jeremy Thomas, a featurette, domestic and international trailers, and an international TV spot (March 12). Also in the March lineup are John Dahl's Joy Ride starring Leelee Sobieski, Paul Walker, and Steve Zahn, with a group commentary, a featurette, deleted scenes, and four alternate endings (March 12), and the thriller Donnie Darko starring Jake Gyllenhaal, with a commentary from director Richard Kelly and others, a featurette, deleted footage, and promotional materials (March 19).

    • DreamWorks will release The Last Castle, starring Robert Redford and James Gandolfini, with a commentary from director Rod Lurie, deleted scenes, an HBO featurette, and production notes. Get it on March 5.

    On the Street: Criterion leads our street list this morning with the superb Children of Paradise in a two-disc set that once again sets high standards for presenting classic films on DVD, and the two scholarly commentary tracks on board are not to be missed. Columbia TriStar has double-dipped the Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle The 6th Day as a two-disc SE, but we found the small family film Tortilla Soup a pleasant surprise, in addition to the Bollywood offering Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India, an epic Indian movie that is as entertaining as any Hollywood blockbuster. Classics from Buena Vista this week include Belle de Jour, Purple Noon, and 1957's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, while Fox is on the board with Jet Li's Kiss of the Dragon, in addition to Otto Preminger's 1954 Carmen Jones and Robert Townsend's The Five Heartbeats. Warner's hoping to make a splash with the recent Rock Star, starring Mark Wahlberg and Jennifer Aniston. And we're already digging into Michael Apted's excellent scientific documentary Me & Isaac Newton, out now from Home Vision. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of and Image Entertainment:

    • The 6th Day: Special Edition (2-disc set)
    • An American Rhapsody
    • Belle de Jour
    • The Blair Thumb: Special Edition
    • Brian's Song (2001)
    • Bully: Special Edition
    • Carmen Jones
    • Children of Paradise: The Criterion Collection (2-disc set)
    • Dave Koz and Phil Perry: Live at the Strand
    • Dinner With Friends
    • Dragstrip Girl
    • Earth
    • The Five Heartbeats
    • Get Out Your Handkerchiefs
    • Going Places
    • Honky Tonk Freeway
    • The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1957)
    • James Dean
    • Jessica Simpson: Dream Chaser
    • Kiss of the Dragon
    • Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India
    • Lisa Picard Is Famous
    • Le Magnifique
    • Matter of Trust
    • Me & Isaac Newton
    • Purple Noon
    • Robinson Crusoe (1996)
    • Rock Star
    • Los Super Seven: No Borders: Canto
    • Tortilla Soup
    • Venomous: Special Edition
    • Vigilante: Special Edition
    • Violent City
    • Yellowstone National Park
    • Yosemite National Park
    • You Light Up My Life
    • The Young Girls of Rochefort

    See ya.

    — Ed.

    Monday, 21 January 2002
    Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday

    boxcoverDisc of the Week: The United States may dominate international film markets with an endless stream of high-profile titles that earn millions of dollars in foreign venues, but India's film industry is the world's largest. The country produces around 1,000 pictures per year; 15 million people see movies on any given day; more than 900 million will buy movie tickets in the space of two months — a number just shy of the country's total population. A nation of growing wealth, but also deeply entrenched poverty in many regions, Indians have turned to the cinema over the past several decades for escapist entertainment, creating an abundance of "Bollywood" films that often feature romantic leads, and almost always include plenty of singing and dancing. But despite their popularity, movies may be the second most vital form of Indian recreation — the sport of cricket borders on national obsession. Imported by the British during their colonial reign, Indians took up the game in earnest in the early 20th century, and its popularity can be attributed to the fact that it's an inexpensive team sport (a ball, a bat, three sticks, and flat ground are all one needs), in addition to its similarity to the old Indian game of gilli danda, another ball-and-bat contest. Professional cricket teams play in India's largest stadiums, while impoverished children can bowl and bat on a dry dirt field. It's a sport that has no cultural boundaries in a nation that often has been divided by them.

    It should come as no surprise then that Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India (2001) has become one of the most popular films in Indian history, with its epic tale of an 1893 cricket match between agrarian villagers and occupying British forces. What's startling is how accessible the film is by Western standards, making it a rare Bollywood picture to get a DVD release from a major American studio. Written and directed by Ashutosh Gowariker, Lagaan concerns the farming village of Champaner, which has suffered from two years of drought and borders on starvation. After the head of the local British cantonment, Capt. Russell (Paul Blackthorne), impulsively doubles the "lagaan" — or land tax, paid with crops — the villagers appeal to their Rajah, Puran Singh (Kulbhushan Kharbanda), who insists that he has no influence over the British. It is only after a confrontation between Capt. Russell and young, hotheaded villager Bhuvan (Aamir Khan), that the sporting officer delivers a wager — if the villagers can defeat the British in a game of cricket, he will forgive the lagaan for three years. But if they lose, they must pay triple lagaan. Against the advice of the villagers, Bhuvan accepts, and is thus forced to recruit a team to learn the strange sport. Assistance comes from Capt. Russell's sister Elizabeth (Rachel Shelley), who is offended by her brother's behavior. But her immediate attraction to Bhuvan makes villager Gauri (Gracy Singh) uneasy, as she has been hoping to marry him. Elizabeth conceals her support, but in the meantime the stakes are raised even further — Capt. Russell is told by his superiors that if he loses the match he will be shipped directly to central Africa.

    Without question, Lagaan is a Bollywood film, but it successfully emerges from the confines of its genre thanks to an overall commitment to quality storytelling. With Bollywood pictures made at a rapid pace (major stars will appear in as many as six movies per year, and often shoot them concurrently), the six-month production shoot raised eyebrows in the Indian film industry, in addition to the fact that an entire village was constructed for the project, and the actors took up residence there. Leading man Aamir Khan — one of India's A-list film stars — has a reputation for carefully choosing his roles , and after approving the script for Lagaan he signed on as the film's producer. The Indian press may have chattered over the shooting schedule and enormous budget (reportedly the largest for any Bollywood film to date), but Khan and writer/director Gowariker succeed with their emphasis on the script and solid performances. Yes, Lagaan has musical numbers (what mainstream Indian film doesn't?), but they do not appear as rapidly as in common Bollywood fare, and generally serve to flesh out the plot. They are also lively and very charming. But where Lagaan will have its greatest appeal with Western viewers is in its universal story, with a rag-tag crew of villagers (each having unique skills and character traits) who hope to achieve an unthinkable victory against ruthless oppressors. There is a cold-blooded villain, a love triangle, and a final cricket match that lasts as long as some films in its own right but never fails to engross (which means viewers will understand all sorts of things about cricket by the time the movie ends). And while Paul Blackthorne as Capt. Russell is a magnificent, mustache-twirling bastard and both Rachel Shelley and Gracy Singh are gorgeous leading ladies, Lagaan ultimately is a star project for Aamir Khan, a boyishly handsome actor with charisma that easily rivals any American leading man.

    Columbia TriStar's new DVD release of Lagaan features a clean anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) from a source print that is colorful, but nonetheless is not free from some collateral wear. However, the audio is delivered in a rich Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, and there is an array of subtitles. With a running time of nearly four hours, the disc is not bursting with extras, although an additional 18 minutes of deleted scenes illustrate an abandoned plot arc. All told, the feature probably is best enjoyed by DVD fans as a two-part miniseries with a break at the intermission. Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India is on the street tomorrow.

    Box Office: Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down went wide into more than 3,000 theaters over the weekend after three weeks in limited release, and captured first place on the box-office chart with $29 million, easily displacing New Line's Lord of the Rings, which held the top spot on the chart for the past month. Also having a strong opening weekend was Disney's Snow Dogs starring Cuba Gooding Jr., which garnered $17.5 million and second place.

    In continuing release, New Line's Lord of the Rings stands at $245.9 million overall, and it could clear the $300 million mark before it's done. Warner has taken the slick Ocean's Eleven to the bank for $170.5 million so far, while Vanilla Sky has earned $93.1 million for Paramount, only adding to Tom Cruise's long string of hits. Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums continues to do steady business with $36.3 million after six weeks, and buzz is building for Robert Altman's Gosford Park, now with $11.2 million. But on the way to DVD prep is Sony's Ali, which will have a sub-$60 million finish — far short of its $107 million budget.

    James Caviezel, Guy Pearce, and Richard Harris star in Kevin Reynolds' The Count of Monte Cristo, which opens this Friday along with The Mothman Prophecies starring Richard Gere and Laura Linney, and the martial-arts comedy Kung Pow!: Enter the Fist. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:

    1. Black Hawk Down (Sony/Columbia TriStar)
      $29,000,000 ($30,800,000 through 4 weeks)
    2. Snow Dogs (Buena Vista)
      $17,500,000 ($17,500,000 through 1 week)
    3. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (New Line)
      $13,025,000 ($245,970,000 through 5 weeks)
    4. A Beautiful Mind (Universal)
      $11,000,000 ($73,900,000 through 5 weeks)
    5. Orange County (Paramount)
      $9,000,000 ($26,930,000 through 2 weeks)
    6. Ocean's Eleven (Warner Bros.)
      $5,705,000 ($170,574,000 through 7 weeks)
    7. The Royal Tenenbaums (Buena Vista)
      $4,300,000 ($36,300,000 through 6 weeks)
    8. Kate & Leopold (Miramax)
      $3,400,000 ($42,000,000 through 5 weeks)
    9. Gosford Park (USA)
      $3,314,816 ($11,200,454 through 4 weeks)
    10. Vanilla Sky (Paramount)
      $3,100,000 ($93,157,000 through 6 weeks)
    11. Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius (Paramount)
      $3,000,000 ($72,830,000 through 5 weeks)
    12. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Warner Bros.)
      $2,505,000 ($308,712,000 through 10 weeks)

    On the Board: D.K. Holm has posted a sneak preview of Criterion's two-disc Children of Paradise this morning, while new stuff from the rest of the team includes Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Complete First Season, The 6th Day: Special Edition, The Sixth Sense: Vista Series, The Glass House, Robin and the 7 Hoods, What's the Worst That Could Happen?, Carmen Jones, The Breed, The Long Gray Line, Tortilla Soup, Brother, Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India, The Five Heartbeats, and the excellent The Iceman Cometh from the Broadway Theater Archive. Everything's been added to the New Reviews menu here on the front page — you can find even more DVD reviews with our handy search engine right above it.

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

    — Ed.

    Thursday, 17 January 2002
    Weekend Dispatch

    Coming Attractions: New DVD reviews are on the way, including Criterion's Children of Paradise and more. In the meantime, if you haven't entered our totally free DVD contest for a copy of Moulin Rouge, 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. We're back on Monday — see ya then.

    boxcoverCommentary Clips: "An extraordinary amount of this film is done with special effects and with matte drawings that make it look as if there is a lot more there than really is there. This is really a special effects picture. (It) probably has a higher percentage of its shots using some kind of special effect as one of the Star Wars movies. It's just that these special effects are invisible. What Welles and (cinematographer Gregg) Toland wanted to do was get what they described as a 'realistic' look — they wanted the movie to look realistic. Oddly enough, because it broke with all of the traditions of editing and photography up until that time, many audiences found that it looked anything but realistic — they were kind of put off by the deep-focus photography, the use of long takes, the lack of cutting in order to tell the story, reliance on movement — movement within the scene and movement of the camera — in order to tell us where to look instead of just cutting to something that we were supposed to look at, so that we could be more passive viewers. You have to be an active viewer when you look at Citizen Kane. It challenges you."

    *          *          *

    "One of the 'in-jokes' in Citizen Kane, and it might have been a joke on Welles, is that a lot of his collaborators saw a great deal of Orson Welles in Citizen Kane — maybe as much Welles as William Randolph Hearst. And many of the behavioral patterns, much of the inquisitive nature, the desire to be eating and drinking and collecting and accumulating and controlling people and operating as a puppet-master was as much or more Welles as it was Hearst, or any of the other so-called 'sources' of the character of Citizen Kane. His collaborators admired him as an artist, admired him as a craftsman, but didn't always like him very much as a person. He had enormous battles with his collaborators. The history of his relationship with John Houseman is an action-packed one that Houseman has considered in a couple of volumes of autobiography. He had love-hate relationships with people. William Alland — who plays the inquiring reporter and was the assistant director and is the voice of the 'March of Time' — was also, according to a lot of people, Welles's whipping boy, and would have to be the victim when Welles was looking for somebody to blame something on."

    *          *          *

    "My favorite moment in Citizen Kane doesn't even involve Kane or Welles at all, it's Mr. Bernstein's speech, delivered so wonderfully by Everett Sloane, about the girl who got off the ferry, wearing the white dress and carrying the parasol, and the fact that not a month has gone past in all those years when he hasn't thought about that girl. I think that speech, that wonderful speech by Herman Mankiewicz, encapsulates a feeling that all of us have, that happiness is there somewhere in the world — sometimes it passes us and we don't reach out and take it. It's interesting there the way the shiny desk creates a mirror effect, so you see Mr. Bernstein reflected as he talks about memory, about the fact that something that happened fifty years ago, you may never forget it and it may affect all of your life. And of course, in a way that's a key to Rosebud, because what Kane lost was ... his childhood, just as Bernstein here has lost the image of the woman with the parasol."

    — Roger Ebert,
    Citizen Kane

    Quotable: "No agreements regarding a transaction have been reached, and there can be no assurance that the company will decide to enter into any transactions."

    — A statement released by MGM this week after it was
    widely reported the studio — and its library of
    4,100 films — was for sale for $7 billion.

    "I'm sick of America and Britain going to war and doing air bombing for weeks on end. If they actually believe it's a war, then they should be sending in ground troops. That's what soldiers train for. It's their job, and most of them wouldn't thank you for keeping them from doing it."

    Black Hawk Down star Ewan McGregor, in an
    interview with W magazine.

    "In the space of one year, you've seen, as Dickens said, the best of times and the worst of times. A year ago, with the way the election was decided and the Supreme Court acted, we had what I believe was a travesty of the political system. You began to feel the ground beneath your feet shaking regarding elements in the American system that were put there 200 years ago. Since Sept. 11, I think it's been imperative that we all come together behind one leader. But I also think it's important to wonder if anybody is going to stand back and ask why this happened, why these people hate America."

    His friends call him Bob

    — Robert Redford, whose Sundance Film Festival
    turns 20 this year.

    "I think the smartest women know how to use sex appeal. They know how to use it and when to stop, how far to go. It's most empowering to a woman to know she's sexy and be able to use that to get what she wants. And to win — that's our secret weapon. When a character is sexy, smart, beautiful and also very strong, to me that's a very positive image of a woman."

    — Halle Berry, slated to play a Bond girl opposite
    Pierce Brosnan in the next 007 movie, due in
    cinemas later this year.

    "You know, I think everything I do cinematically for the rest of my life will probably have some direct route back to Jonathan. But I love him to death. He's like my best friend and my big brother. He's been my manager and mentor since I've gotten into entertainment, and I admire the shit out of the choices he's made and the work he's done. So no matter what I do, on any level there's always some Jonathanism that's in my blood which I'm very proud of and have no problem with."

    — Director Ted Demme (Blow), discussing his
    uncle Jonathan Demme in a 1996 interview.
    Ted Demme died this week at the age of 38.

    — Ed.

    Wednesday, 16 January 2002

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

  • It seems that every week we DVD fans are in an uproar about something. First it was the studios not releasing the best films. Then it was the transfers of said films or the extras that were left off of the discs. Then it was widescreen versions being pushed aside for cropped pictures. Now even CNN is reporting that DVD extras are soon to be extinct because Ahnuld got $75,000 for a commentary on Total Recall.

    Chill out!

    I doubt very seriously that DVDs will all be bare-bones because that muscle-headed moron wanted an extra paycheck. The only other commentary track that I am aware of that yielded a payment to the participant was Charlton Heston on Ben-Hur. I own both of these discs and never even listened to the commentaries because I give a crap what they have to say about anything. I own over 1,000 DVDs and I've listened to maybe 15 commentary tracks, pretty much all Criterion, because most of the time those are the only ones that give any insight into films.

    And I also doubt that this will affect deleted scenes or director's cuts, because filmmakers are usually more than happy to share their films and all the trimmings with whoever will grant them an audience. If we lose a few commentary tracks because those involved want cash, we'll lose the comments of actors who aren't happy enough with their $25 million from the film to even give a little something to the fans. If that's the case, I don't want to hear what they're saying.

    — Scott

    boxcoverJust when things seem to be settling down, something comes along to stir the pot. In this case, it seems to have come from a Dec. 21 article in Variety that reported Arnold Schwarzenegger received $75,000 for his commentary track on Total Recall, prompting one unnamed studio executive to note "Pretty soon we'll just stop doing (commentaries)." In addition to this recent trend of compensating folks for commentaries, Variety also noted that a new Writer's Guild of America pact requires all screenwriters to be paid $5,000 for every film of theirs that is released on DVD, and that screenwriters must be allowed involvement with DVDs that feature input from directors. And it has been long-standing practice for some time that folks be compensated for any extra video features that run longer than 30 minutes, which is why we often see behind-the-scenes documentaries on DVD chopped up into short segments without the option of continuous play.

    Of course, what was once a bit of gravy has now become a big turkey pot-pie, and while DVD may have labored in the shadow of the almighty VHS just a couple of years ago, it's now clear that the format is about to overtake the big cassette, in addition to becoming far more successful than its true predecessor, the Laserdisc. Every Christmas sees more households buy a DVD player, and with some models going for $125 or less there are virtually no barriers preventing average consumers from adopting the format (even your editor's beloved Sony now sells an entry-level model for around $180 — and it's a better deck than the one he paid $500 for in early 1998).

    boxcoverA cash-cow? Consider DVD a cash-ranch for the major studios. Titles such as The Phantom Menace, Shrek, and The Fast and the Furious are generating home-video revenues similar to their theatrical profits — windfall takings in fact, as the production and publicity costs are often covered by the theatrical run. Disney's Pearl Harbor made up its production costs theatrically but took a bath on the spendy promos, yet will probably wind up a profitable film once home-video revenues are added to the ledger. Sony's Ali cost $107 million and will finish far short of that at the North American box-office. Don't be surprised when Columbia TriStar puts out a big special edition DVD of the film to make up the difference.

    So while some folks worry about the fact that actors and screenwriters are taking another paycheck when the DVD production comes around, we're not surprised. In fact — for the sake of example — if Columbia wound up earning $30 or $40 million on the inevitable Ali DVD, we're not sure why anybody would think Will Smith shouldn't get $75,000 to record a commentary, particularly if that commentary will increase sales. It will be up to the studio bean-counters to do the math, but with some DVDs earning literally millions of dollars for the studios' home-video divisions, we think any actor in his or her right mind would want to be paid for their contributions, or at least take a piece of the profits after the fact.

    We agree with you Scott — nobody is about to put the brakes on the DVD format. Studios are not going to stop recording commentaries or including screenplays over a few thousand bucks (apparently $10,000 for an A-lister's yack-track is a common going figure at the moment). But what we can expect are some measures that reduce costs while increasing the marketing hype, particularly with the current trend to have "80 hours of entertainment!" on every DVD. Our favorite format has never been perfect, but some of its warts are becoming more prominent:

    • A great commentary can be like a five-course dinner — a feast that lasts for hours and demands attention be paid to every detail. However, the fact is that the best DVD commentaries come from film scholars, directors, and screenwriters. Unfortunately, these folks usually aren't celebrities, and the marketing folks want celebrities on the box. And like some actors, genuine film historians will want to be paid for their time in the recording booth. Thus, we probably can expect more commentary tracks from second-rate supporting-cast actors — not our favorite folks to listen to ("Um, we shot this on a Sunday... um... at some house... er... I was hungover....").

    • After enjoying a film on DVD — especially a classic — nothing is better than queuing up a hefty documentary, preferably something longer than 28 minutes and change. But for every great DVD that has a quality documentary on board, there are dozens that simply use the film's theatrical promo shorts (i.e. "electronic press kit"), which have already been paid for and thus cost nothing to produce. And in the end, they're still considered "documentaries" on the packaging.

    • boxcoverSome DVDs have great deleted scenes and alternate endings, often with director's commentary. But when it comes to extending the extra content's all-important running-time, it's becoming easier to simply dump strings of bad scenes on a menu — stuff that rightfully did not belong in the film, and is not entertaining. With most films being shot with the DVD already in mind, count on more and more silly stuff from the dailies that you will wade through, knowing it's bad, but hoping at least something will be a small gem. (High Fidelity and Boogie Nights are two DVDs with carefully selected deleted scenes, but regretfully this is becoming increasingly rare, and even the deleted footage on Buckaroo Banzai delivered few surprises.)

    • Want to boost the running time even more? Include a useless "editing workshop," which might be sort of interesting for two minutes, but which you will never watch again. Doesn't matter — that editing workshop probably will count as an hour of extra content all by itself.

    • How many folks are spending less time and money at cineplexes because of all the ads that run before the movie? Not trailers — ads. Pretty insulting, considering the cost of the movie ticket, and you could be done with your popcorn before the opening credits. Anybody want to guess how long it will be before we are offered advertisements for soft drinks and sneakers on DVDs on a special "promotions" menu? Anybody want to guess how many DVD obsessives will watch them anyway? Doesn't matter — it still counts as part of the disc's overall running-time.

    The special-edition DVD is far from dead, but quality DVDs will become harder to find. It's only a matter of months before some DVD claims to have more than 20 hours of content, and it will not resemble Criterion's Brazil in any way.

    As for us, at times it seems like a bother. We'll continue to spin stuff from Criterion, enjoy the bare-bones classics, and be happy when something like Citizen Kane or Fight Club comes along. But ultimately, we are hoping that more directors take an active interest in their DVD products, as Baz Luhrmann has on the excellent Moulin Rouge, and Robert Wise on Star Trek: The Motion Picture. We've dumped on George Lucas now and again, but the fact is that his attentions made the Phantom Menace DVD a welcome surprise. The Godfather DVD Collection is a product of Francis Ford Coppola's Zoetrope Studios, and it shows. And the fact that Criterion has always solicited input from film directors, screenwriters, and cinematographers, is why they remain among the most lauded of all DVD producers.

    As far as we're concerned, the future of the special edition now lies with directors, because only they have the clout to overrule a studio's marketing department, and their belief that DVD is the "ultimate repository" (as George Lucas one said) of their work ensures that they will be more interested in the product than another pay stub. We will be casting our lot with them from here on in.

    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. The Godfather DVD Collection
    2. 8-1/2: The Criterion Collection
    3. Notorious: The Criterion Collection
    4. The Score
    5. Apocalypse Now Redux
    6. The Center of the World
    7. Almost Famous: Bootleg Director' Cut
    8. The Russia House
    9. The Last Temptation of Christ: The Criterion Collection
    10. Dancing at the Blue Iguana

    See ya.

    — Ed.

    Tuesday, 15 January 2002

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

    • Pay attention, Trekkies — Paramount has finally nailed down the DVD details for Star Trek: The Next Generation, and a whole lot of Trek is due in short order. Season One will arrive as a seven-disc set on March 26 with all 26 episodes, Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, and four new documentaries. And for those of you who thought Paramount took way too long to release all of the Classic Trek episodes on DVD, TNG boxes will arrive every two months until all seven seasons are in release, straight through March 2003. Expect some slick packaging that looks great on the shelf, as well as slender Godfather-style digipaks in the box. There is no SRP, but Paramount expects sets to retail for less than $100.00.

    • Paramount also has two Adrian Lyne titles in prep — 1987's Fatal Attraction will include a commentary from the director, interviews, a featurette, an alternate ending, and much more, while the 1993 Indecent Proposal will offer a commentary from Lyne. Both are street-legal on April 16. Meanwhile, Ben Stiller's Zoolander arrives on March 12 with a commentary from Stiller and co-writers, five deleted scenes, outtakes, stills, and a music video.

    • Get ready for an '80s rewind from Fox — Cameron Crowe's 1989 Say Anything will feature a commentary from Crowe, who will be joined by stars John Cusack and Ione Skye, and additional features will include deleted and extended scenes, as well as a featurette. Also plan on bone-stock versions of All the Right Moves, Taps, and Less Than Zero. It's all good on March 5.

    • MGM's catalog lineup in April includes Hal Ashby's 1979 Coming Home, which will include two featurettes and a commentary from stars John Voight and Bruce Dern and cinematographer Haskell Wexler, while also on the way is the 1974 Lenny Bruce biopic Lenny starring Dustin Hoffman, 1979's Cuba with Sean Connery, and 1970's Joe with Peter Boyle and Susan Sarandon. Titles from the '80s and '90s round out the list — 1969, The Aviator, Best Men, Bio-Dome, Breaking In, Cadillac Man, The Coca-Cola Kid, Deceiver, Delirious, Desperate Hours, Extremities, Full Moon in Blue Water, Hidden Agenda, The January Man, Nomads, Triumph of the Spirit, and Wild Orchid. Everything arrives on April 16.

    • The recent K-PAX, starring Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges, will get the Collector's Edition treatment from Universal with a commentary by director Iain Softley, a behind-the-scenes feature, deleted scenes, photos from star Bridges, director Softley's preferred ending, interviews, and DVD-ROM features. It touches down on March 26.

    • Finally, just what is going on at Columbia TriStar? Will we see a Memento: Special Edition DVD arrive before summer? Don't be surprised....

    On the Street: Universal is hitting DVD fans from all directions today, as American Pie 2: Collector's Edition comes in four separate flavors — widescreen and full-frame, as well as R-rated and unrated packages. Also on the board today is Buena Vista, who have double-dipped three titles as fat special editions — The Sixth Sense, Tron, and Tombstone. Those looking for an unusual drama can check out New Line's The Anniversary Party, while catalog titles from Paramount today include Cousins, Falling in Love, and the 1995 Sabrina. However, if you choose to sample Columbia's Glitter and Mariah Carey's dramatic pipes, do so at your own risk. Finally, small-screen fare this week includes the 1977 miniseries Roots, as well as the long-awaited first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of and Image Entertainment:

    • American Pie 2: Collector's Edition
    • The Anniversary Party
    • Bubble Boy: Special Edition
    • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Complete First Season (3-disc set)
    • The Calling
    • Cousins
    • The Daria Movie: Is It Fall Yet?
    • Dr. Orloff's Monster
    • Drive By: Special Edition
    • Falling in Love
    • Fatal Error
    • Gale Force: Special Edition
    • Glitter
    • Gunman in the Streets
    • The Iceman Cometh (1960)
    • Marjorie Morningstar
    • Mr. Bill Goes Hollywood/ Mr. Bill Does Vegas
    • Newsies: Special Edition
    • The Pavilion of Women
    • Roots: 25th Anniversary Edition (3-disc set)
    • Sabrina (1995)
    • The Sixth Sense: Vista Series (2-disc set)
    • Sound and Vision Home Theater Tune-Up
    • The Time of Your Life
    • Tombstone: Vista Series (2-disc set)
    • Tron: Special Edition (2-disc set)
    • Wet Hot American Summer: Special Edition
    • Working
    • Young at Heart

    Bye for now.

    — Ed.

    Monday, 14 January 2002

    boxcoverDisc of the Week: When the great steamboats traveled the Mississippi River in the 19th century, it was customary to measure the water's depth with a rope marked with knots — a particularly important chore in a river such as the Mississippi, with its many curves, currents, and shallows. The minimum safe depth for a steamer normally was 12 feet, also known as two fathoms or the simple boatman's cry "mark twain!" Steamboat travel passed away not long after the Civil War, but it is this nautical term that stands as its most prominent historical remnant, as the pseudonym Mark Twain was adopted by one of America's most important writers — perhaps the most important. And yet the name Mark Twain can be a bit puzzling. The author originally claimed he adopted the moniker because it was being used by another writer (one of Twain's many tall tales, it turns out), and its meaning for steamboats is relative: a measurement of safe passage, but simultaneously a warning call when the waters could become dangerous. Twain's intent may remain vague, but his own life often hung in the balance, as it were — between North and South, wealth and poverty, success and failure, happiness and grief.

    Ken Burns' latest documentary, Mark Twain, concerns the life and work of this monumental American, whom the writer William Dean Howells once described as "the Lincoln of our literature." Born Samuel Clemens in Missouri, the young man grew up in the Mississippi River town of Hannibal, where he spent his boyhood listening to stories from his mother and getting into mischief with friends (Twain's characters Becky Thatcher and Huck Finn were based on real-life childhood pals). A natural writer, Clemens apprenticed for newspapers and printing shops as a young man, but his attraction to the riverboats that plied the Mississippi led him to work on one of the great vessels, and eventually become a riverboat pilot himself. With a handsome salary and hundreds of miles of river to navigate, Clemens may never have left the Mississippi, had the Civil War not stopped all river traffic in 1861. Journeying west rather than fight in the war, Clemens became a newspaper reporter in Virginia City, Nev., and then San Francisco (where he first adopted the name "Mark Twain"). His early short story "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" earned him national attention, and subsequent works — in addition to his popular lecture tours — made him a celebrity. By 1885 Clemens had written Tom Sawyer, Life on the Mississippi, and his masterpiece Huckleberry Finn, and settled in a vast house in Hartford, Conn., with his wife Olivia and three daughters. But literary success and international adulation could not prevent bad fortune from striking the household, and over the course of several years Clemens struggled with financial problems and familial tragedies.

    "I am a border-ruffian from the State of Missouri. I am a Connecticut Yankee by adoption. In me, you have Missouri morals, Connecticut culture; this, gentlemen, is the combination which makes the perfect man." Mark Twain made these remarks in a famous 1881 speech, and as usual he sums up his transition from Southerner to Yankee with tongue firmly in cheek. But several contradictions in Twain's life have caused many scholars to regard him as two men, and it's not unusual to hear academics refer to "Sam Clemens" in certain regards and "Mark Twain" in others — in a sense, Twain was the successful, celebrated facade of a more conventional man. Writing and lecturing made Mark Twain famous, but he did not always enjoy them, and Sam Clemens held entrepreneurship and technology in much higher regard — so much so that he once claimed he would stop writing and make his living as a businessman (a decision that almost caused his financial ruin). Twain will always be associated with the little river town of Hannibal, but in fact Sam Clemens was much more enamored of prosperous Hartford, where he and wife Olivia raised their children. Twain's greatest acclaim often came from his lecture tours; Clemens usually hated to travel, or be separated from his family and his spacious home. But despite these inconsistencies, Sam Clemens/Mark Twain is virtually responsible for the birth of American literature, refusing to emulate English novelists (as Hawthorne and Cooper did) and capturing the idiomatic nature of American speech in his writing. It's hard to read a Faulkner novel without recognizing Twain's gift for dialects. It's stunning to think that Huckleberry Finn, with its story about a white boy and a runaway slave, is still relevant to America today.

    As with his previous documentaries on the Civil War, baseball, jazz, and Thomas Jefferson, Ken Burns' Mark Twain addresses his topic as a fundamental part of the American tapestry — the new Warner/PBS DVD presents the 220-minute film in two parts with a crisp 1.33:1 transfer and Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. The feature itself is enough to warrant owning the DVD, but supplements are generous, including the 20-min. documentary "The Making of Mark Twain" with comments from Burns and co-writer/producer Dayton Duncan; an interview feature with Burns (10 min.); additional Twain quotes and photographs; the PBS behind-the-scenes short "Ken Burns: Making History" (7 min.); and interview outtakes from the film. Mark Twain premieres tonight and tomorrow on PBS; the DVD is on the street now.

    Box Office: New Line's The Lord of the Rings continues to dominate the box-office chart, holding the top position for the fourth weekend in a row and driving its overall gross to $228 million. And with Universal's A Beautiful Mind continuing to attract an audience (and Oscar buzz), new arrival Orange County debuted in third place with $15.1 million for Paramount. Also doing well is USA's Gosford Park, as the Robert Altman film added screens over the weekend and climbed into the top ten with $6.7 million so far.

    In continuing release, Warner's Ocean's Eleven has scored $162.4 million, making it director Steven Soderbergh's highest-grossing picture, while Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone has cleared the triple-century, and Paramount's Vanilla Sky is now at $88 million overall. In limited release, Miramax's In The Bedroom has done steady business for two months and may break the top-ten soon. But already on the way to DVD prep is Warner's The Majestic, which will have a disappointing $25 million finish for Jim Carrey.

    It's received good reviews in limited release, and Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down is scheduled to go wide this Friday, along with the live-action Disney comedy Snow Dogs. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:

    1. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (New Line)
      $16,150,000 ($228,270,000 through 4 weeks)
    2. A Beautiful Mind (Universal)
      $15,800,000 ($59,000,000 through 4 weeks)
    3. Orange County (Paramount)
      $15,100,000 ($15,100,000 through 1 week)
    4. Ocean's Eleven (Warner Bros.)
      $7,535,000 ($162,473,000 through 6 weeks)
    5. The Royal Tenenbaums (Buena Vista)
      $6,400,000 ($30,000,000 through 5 weeks)
    6. Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius (Paramount)
      $5,500,000 ($69,061,000 through 4 weeks)
    7. Vanilla Sky (Paramount)
      $5,000,000 ($88,435,000 through 5 weeks)
    8. Kate & Leopold (Miramax)
      $5,000,000 ($37,400,000 through 4 weeks)
    9. Gosford Park (USA)
      $3,785,201 ($6,741,657 through 3 weeks)
    10. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Warner Bros.)
      $3,400,000 ($305,038,000 through 9 weeks)
    11. Ali (Sony/Columbia TriStar)
      $3,200,000 ($54,411,000 through 4 weeks)
    12. In the Bedroom (Miramax)
      $3,000,000 ($8,000,000 through 8 weeks)

    On the Board: Greg Dorr has posted a sneak-preview of Universal's American Pie 2: Collector's Edition, while Mark Bourne took a look at New Line's The Anniversary Party. New stuff from the rest of the team this week includes The Object of My Affection, Ocean's 11 (1960), 4 for Texas, The Center of the World, Seconds, Truly Madly Deeply, Britannia Hospital, Soapdish, Mark Twain, Stealing Beauty, 4 Dogs Playing Poker, The Waterdance, and (heaven help us) Glitter. 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.

    Back tomorrow with the street discs.

    — Ed.

    Thursday, 10 January 2002
    Weekend Dispatch

    Talkback: The debate over what makes a worthwhile DVD may never end, and our reader mail yesterday earned quite a bit of reaction. Here's a sample:

  • Ron's letter, as published in your January 9th mailbag, was a stunningly sad commentary on the state of the audience today. Like so many others, he confuses the quality of "hypedness" with other, perhaps more desirable, properties. What else could explain his insistence on seeing the poorly-acted, poorly-written, poorly-directed Phantom Menace on a Top 10 list? The sheer quantity of supplemental materials? The amount of advertising dollars spent? The number of units shipped to stores? Likewise, what is his basis for wanting to see of Planet of the Apes on a Top 10 list? Most units included free with purchase of a Panasonic DVD player?

    If Three Amigos was issued on DVD with 20 hours of supplements, would it then necessarily qualify for inclusion on the Top 10? What if $100 million were spent hyping the DVD release? Would that, then, make it one of the most important releases of the year?

    Advertising fosters the idea that the most important events are those that are the most widely-publicized. Some people, in need of direction in the tremendous glut of information to which we're subjected daily, embrace the idea that marketers determine the most significant news. To be fair, is it sometimes difficult to separate what is actually newsworthy from what is newsworthy only because the PR and marketing people are astute enough to make it seem so.

    — Josh

  • I don't care how many extras the freaking DVD has: if it's not a good movie, then who cares? I'm glad to see there's at least one site out there that is more concerned about the movie that's on the disc then whether or not there's "reference quality" material, or if the effects scene gives your subwoofer a good workout, or if there's a ba-zillion extra features that are hidden in Easter Eggs and/or difficult to navigate menus. There seems to be a whole school of people on the Internet who seem to believe that the biggest and most well known is always the best.

    — Doug

  • I have the opposite problem that Ron has — I feel that most DVD magazines and websites are very lax in critiquing a film. Just because a recent film like the abysmal Evolution has nice F/X or looks and sounds great on DVD, that doesn't mean that I'm going to want to watch it over and over again. It's good to have discerning opinions, especially where my twenty bucks is concerned.

    — Giovanni

  • I just reread Ron's letter to you for the fourth time. He can't be serious, can he? This has to be a joke letter just to see it published. Maybe he's trying to get a free DVD out of you guys. Does he really think Final Fantasy and Planet of the Apes are better films and will stand the test of time better than Do The Right Thing? He agrees that Episode One was not a good movie, but does he honestly think it should be on your top 10 DVDs based only on its sales? For an even bigger laugh, I'd love to read his Top Ten DVD list of 2001.

    — John


  • If Ron wants to see Episode One listed as the #1 DVD of the year, there are many other websites he could go to besides The DVD Journal. If your list got Ron that mad, I wonder what he would say if he read Glenn Erickson's list at DVD Savant. Yowza.

    — Christopher

  • You know why most films are critically acclaimed? Because they're good. Yeah, imagine that. Can you really tell me with a straight face that Final Fantasy's visuals moved your soul? Sure it was the first of its kind. It was completely computer generated...oh, wait, that's been done before. It featured computer generated actors... oh, wait, that's been done before. Oh, but you'll tell me it was the first to feature computer generated humans...oh, wait, that's been done before too! It also includes a lame story, run-of-the-mill plot, and droll dialogue. Damn, guess we've just seen a breakthrough of harmonious noise that even a two-disc set can't help.

    While I don't agree with them, The DVD Journal's choices are at the very least valid.

    — Evan

  • Well, it's finally happened. One of your e-mail postings has pissed me off so much I have to respond to it. While most of us saw Episode One in the theater — I personally saw it twice, to make certain it was actually as horrible as I thought it was the first time — and untold thousands have picked up copies of the DVD, let's be honest. It's not a great film. It's not even a good film. It stinks, and no commentary or deleted scene is going to change that. That's why it's not on the list.

    boxcoverNow I don't agree with The DVD Journal's Top Ten list either. But that's the nature of Top Ten lists. I would have chosen Memento over Ginger Snaps any day, though both are fine films. Memento is simply a more innovative, interesting, and re-watchable movie.

    If you want a Top Ten Best-Selling DVD list, you can look at any number of other sites on the Web, sites that don't care a tick turd about the quality of the films they "discuss." In fact, you can see such a list on The DVD Journal every week, clearly labeled as such.

    — Bryan

  • The reason there are so few "current" movies on the top ten list is probably because so many of them suck. And when Hollywood does give us an innovative, or at least well made, movie, they rarely give us a quality loaded-to-the-balls DVD to go with it. Memento is an example (though I'm Canadian and got screwed on the disc). Pearl Harbour, Rush Hour 2, and the aforementioned Planet of the Apes are loaded discs where the producers went to the mat to load them up. All three movies are wastes of celluloid. The Phantom Menace is one of the best DVDs ever when it comes to transfer, application of technology, and extras. But that doesn't change the fact that the movie was horrible.

    It's a sorry state of affairs when technological merit — how a movie looks and how the CGI blends in with the actors — has become the benchmark for determining good from the bad. Movies have never looked better than they do today. But it doesn't make them "good."

    The moment Planet of the Apes makes your top ten list is the moment I renew my subscription to Entertainment Weekly.

    — Jon

    Thanks to everyone for taking the time to write.

    Quotable: "I think that people like the Howard Sterns, the Bill O'Reillys and to a lesser degree the Bin Ladens of the world are making a horrible contribution (to society). I'd like to trade O'Reilly for Bin Laden. This is not a man sitting on the toilet with a smile on his face. He's a grumpy, self-loathing joke. There's a long history of people who capitalize on the lowest common denominator of people's impulses, Adolf Hitler being one of them.... These guys — Joe McCarthy, Bill O'Reilly — die like everyone else. And when they do, their legacy is one of damaging the spirit of good things, and they become rather broken, pathetic figures. And that is going to happen to him."

    — Sean Penn, in an interview with Talk magazine,
    becoming the latest celebrity to unload on The
    Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly.

    "There's a component to all our lives that we can say is strange, and everyday we see things that, if there is a norm, would be outside the norm. Twin Peaks and Mulholland Drive — they have a norm, but then there are strange events within their worlds. Things do add up, if you pay attention to the clues."

    — David Lynch, who's new Mulholland Drive is earning
    plenty of Oscar buzz.

    "Well, they say comedy's hard, but I think drama's the real killer. When you're doing a comedy you kind of have a sense as you're going along if it's working, if it seems funny, if the crew is laughing, how it's playing. With a drama, you don't have any ideas if it's going to work. With (Behind Enemy Lines), it was really tough, because most of my scenes are just me running. You show up every day and you have to come up with a bunch of ways to make running dramatic, you know — now you're running though a field, now you're running down a hill, now you're crawling through mud."

    The Nose Knows

    — Owen Wilson, in an interview with London's
    The Guardian

    "All I care about right now is finding something that I like that I haven't done before — a different role, a different look. I'm going to do the roles that no one expects me to do."

    American Pie starlet Shannon Elizabeth, who
    apparently will no longer do nude scenes.

    "We love Star Wars and I want to create sort of a life art project out of this that can be displayed once this is over with. Over the course of the next four months we plan on capturing our adventures and experiences on the streets of Seattle with our cameras and journals. What we do with it after it's all done with... ask us then."

    — Seattle resident Jeff Tweiten, who (with geek pal
    John Guth) is already waiting in line for Episode II:
    Attack of the Clones

    Coming Attractions: We have plenty of new DVD reviews on the way, including American Pie 2 and more. We'll be back on Monday — see ya then.

    — Ed.

    Wednesday, 9 January 2002

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

  • I'm just not thrilled with your selections for the year in review top 10. It seems to me you paid a little too much homage to the old classics. Don't get me wrong, I own many of the films listed. But truthfully, it comes out looking like the Journal is a bunch of old farts who do nothing but watch critically acclaimed films all day, and diss anything else as "less."

    What happened to realism boys?! Are you telling me that like the movie or not, like the genre or not, Episode One is not on the top 10 movies of the year? Do you know how many DVD players Casablanca will sell this year? Not all that many. Do you know how many DVD players Episode One will sell this year? If that is not a factor in choosing top 10 movies then clearly you guys are in a galaxy far, far away.

    This is The DVD Journal, right? Is this about eating fois gras, wearing knickers and polishing our toenails, or is this about choosing good movies? With all the movies that came out of the studios and were quickly pressed for DVD a few short weeks later, the one 2001 film chosen was Ginger Snaps? Not any other movie in 2001 warranted in your eyes a top ten ranking in the same year? What about Planet of the Apes? Shrek? One could go on and on....

    boxcoverClearly your whole shtick about "this is all about movies" is very endearing and all, but it goes too far if one disregards in entirety anything that actually makes a lot of money, or meets commercial success, or wide-ranging appeal for the sole reason of trying to be some sort of movie buff. What a load of crap. There are all sorts of genres in movies, and just because you may like a particular one doesn't mean that the others don't deserve respect.

    Maybe you should write an editorial on what makes a good movie so you can refresh yourselves that it doesn't have to be a critical success to be a great movie — any movie that breaks new ground for whatever reason is great in my book. A movie can have the worst acting and still be great, or the worst script on earth, yet have visuals that move your soul. Final Fantasy has no glory mentions on your website, despite the fact that 25 years from now people will probably look upon it and say it was one of the first of its kind when Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing is long forgotten. But I guess if it isn't old and has success it isn't good.

    — Ron

    For the record, there is no way we would eat fois gras without a bottle of late-harvest Sauvignon Blanc. The very idea....

  • I have searched for both a DVD and VHS of The Monster Squad for nine years. No one has it, everything on eBay is recorded off TV, and people want to sell it for an arm and a leg. Who has the rights? I know the company will probably just blow me off, but I want to contact them.

    — Lowell

    boxcoverIt appears more folks than just you want to own The Monster Squad Lowell — we've seen perfectly legit VHS copies of the 1987 movie on eBay, although they are not cheap, closing anywhere between $20 - $40, and the ultra-rare Laserdisc (released by Image Entertainment) can earn twice those figures.

    But if buying a used copy of The Monster Squad is as easy as logging a few eBay bids, finding out who actually owns the film is another matter altogether. The original home-video release was a product of Vestron Video, which spawned a complicated home-video conundrum when it went bankrupt about ten years back. Many Vestron properties eventually came under the control of Live (which is now Artisan), while MGM picked up several during the 1998 acquisition of the Credit Lyonnaise film holdings. Others reverted back to their original owners, including HBO.

    Where does that leave The Monster Squad? Two of the film's original producers were HBO and TriStar, which means the film could be either a Warner or a Sony property. But it's also possible that The Monster Squad followed a route similar to Buckaroo Banzai (another former Vestron property) and is now in the MGM library. And yet another possibility is that the rights simply are in dispute, leaving the film in limbo.

    That's all we know for the moment. But if we were taking bets, we'd wager this one's under HBO's roof.

  • Disney has a web page for Song of the South, with a link to e-mail requests for the film to be released on home video (VHS or DVD). Click here.

    — David

    Thanks for the link David. We're actually surprised that Disney even has information on Song of the South in their "Movie Finder," considering how much they have distanced themselves from the popular musical over the past couple of decades (perhaps we should be less surprised that there's no accompanying boxcover art). In any event, for those of you who have wanted to tell the Mouse House to cast political correctness to the wind and re-release Song of the South on home video, there indeed is a form available where you can "vote" and leave comments. Just remember to be polite — explaining that you will pay money for a new DVD will make more of a difference than getting angry. In the meantime, rare VHS versions of Song of the South can be had on eBay for around $50, while the Japanese Laserdisc (a prized collectible) easily hurdles $200 every month.

    Of course, Disney will catch some heat if The Song of the South ever re-appears in the U.S., and it wasn't that long ago that they even pulled all of their copies in Europe. Perhaps a code-free Disney DVD is in order, distributed in say... Turkmenistan?

    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. Moulin Rouge
    2. Twin Peaks: The First Season
    3. Lady and the Tramp: Limited Issue
    4. Mad Max: Special Edition
    5. The Fast and the Furious: Collector's Edition
    6. The Jungle Book: Limited Issue
    7. Rush Hour 2
    8. Jurassic Park 3: Collector's Edition
    9. The Godfather DVD Collection
    10. Scary Movie 2


    — Ed.

    Tuesday, 8 January 2002

    In the Works: It's time to dig through some new disc announcements, courtesy of Image Entertainment and, and additional staff reports:

    • DreamWorks is kicking off our new year with a chock-a-block announcement for Steven Spielberg's A.I. Artificial Intelligence, a two-disc set that will sport a "making-of" documentary, a look at the production design, interviews with Spielberg, Haley Joel Osment, and Jude Law, several featurettes, visits to Stan Winston Studios and Skywalker Sound, an interview with composer John Williams, and a whole lot more. Two separate versions — widescreen and full-frame — arrive on March 5.

    • Get ready for some choice double-dipping from MGM — Bryan Singer's The Usual Suspects will get upgraded from its current incarnation with a new commentary from editor/composer John Ottman, deleted scenes, four featurettes, and a goof reel, while the original commentary from Singer and scenarist Christopher McQuarrie will remain. Also in the pipe is a revised Bull Durham, which will feature a commentary with stars Kevin Costner and Tim Robbins, a new documentary, and two featurettes. Both discs will arrive in "limited edition" packaging on April 2.

    • The folks at Criterion have more world cinema in store for DVD fans, not least of which being Ingmar Bergman's 1957 Wild Strawberries, which will feature a commentary by film scholar Peter Cowie, the 90-minute documentary "Ingmar Bergman on Life and Work," and a gallery of stills (Feb. 12). Also set to go is Wong Kar Wai's critically adored In the Mood for Love, a two-disc set with a commentary from Wong, deleted scenes and an alternate ending, promo materials, stills, a look at the music in the film, and much more (Feb. 26). And watch for two Milos Forman films from the Czech New Wave, 1965's The Loves of a Blonde and 1967's The Fireman's Ball (both Feb. 12).

    • Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke will get fitted out by Warner this March 19 in Training Day with a commentary by director Antoine Fuqua, a documentary, deleted scenes, an alternate ending, and two music videos. And on March 12 fans of Gene Hackman and Danny DeVito can look forward to a fresh DVD of David Mamet's Heist, which unfortunately will be a bone-stock release — unless we can count all of that Mamet dialogue as an extra unto itself ("Of course everybody needs money — that's why they call it money!"). Also expect two animation classics from Warner, the 1942 Tom and Jerry: The Movie (March 19) and 1978's Watership Down (March 26).

    • Today's mega-mix from Columbia TriStar includes last year's Riding in Cars with Boys, which will include a commentary with star Drew Barrymore and four featurettes (March 19), while the Jet Li vehicle The One will offer a commentary with director James Wong, two featurettes, and an animatic comparison (March 5). And getting a double-dipping will be The Replacement Killers, as the new special edition will include a yack-track with director Antoine Fuqua, an HBO featurette on star Chow Yun Fat, deleted scenes, and an alternate ending (March 5).

    • Columbia has more treats in store as well, although these are definitely from the back of the vault — the William Castle films Mr. Sardonicus, Homicidal, and Strait-Jacket will arrive on March 12. Also watch for Haiku Tunnel (Feb. 26), Va Savior (Feb. 26), and Advertising Rules! (Feb. 19), and not to be missed are all 13 episodes of The Larry Sanders Show: Season One (Feb. 26).

    • Universal has no less than eight Bob Hope catalog titles in the works, including several with movie pal Bing Crosby. Expect new discs of Road to Morocco, Road to Singapore, Road to Utopia, and Road to Zanzibar, as well as The Ghost Breakers, Paleface, and the double-features Big Broadcast of 1938/ College Swing and My Favorite Blonde/ Star Spangled Rhythm. It's all good on March 5.

    • We're looking forward to a pair of documentaries from specialty producer Home VisionConfessions of Robert Crumb tells the story of the underground comic-book pioneer, while Jackson Pollock: Love and Death on Long Island features comments from Ed Harris and Pollock's widow Lee Krasner. Both arrive on Feb. 19.

    On the Street: There's just a handful of notable street-discs this week, but as usual there's always something worth picking up. Warner's cut loose with three Rat Pack titles, 4 For Texas, Robin and the 7 Hoods, and the original Ocean's 11, while Fox is on the board with Robert Altman's M*A*S*H and the first season of the television show. Fans of John Frankenheimer will want to look for two new discs from Paramount, Seconds and Prophecy, while those with taste for horror can spin MGM's Jeepers Creepers. And from the small screen comes the complete first season of Queer as Folk, as well as the Ken Burns documentary Mark Twain, which debuts this month on PBS. Here's this morning's notable street discs, courtesy of and Image Entertainment:

    • 4 for Texas (delayed from Nov. 20)
    • Battle of the Planets #3
    • Battle of the Planets #4
    • Blankman
    • Clockmaker
    • Cremains
    • Cut and Run
    • Demon Lust
    • The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser
    • Gangland
    • Godsmack: Live
    • Jeepers Creepers
    • Heart of Glass
    • Lessons of Darkness / Fata Morgana
    • Life on a String
    • Light Keeps Me Company
    • Little Dieter Needs to Fly
    • Love Affair
    • Love in the Afternoon
    • M*A*S*H: Special Edition (2-disc set)
    • M*A*S*H: The Complete First Season
    • Mark Twain
    • Mountain Of The Cannibal God
    • Mrs. Soffel
    • Mummy Raider
    • Night Divides the Day
    • Nureyev: Rudolf Nureyev
    • The Object of My Affection
    • Ocean's Eleven (delayed from Nov. 20)
    • The Prince and the Showgirl
    • Prophecy
    • Queer as Folk: The Complete First Season
    • The Red and the White
    • Robin and the 7 Hoods (delayed from Nov. 20)
    • Seconds
    • Scare Their Pants Off / Satan's Bed: Special Edition
    • A Scream in the Streets: Special Edition
    • Shaolin Wheel of Life
    • Stealing Beauty
    • Stroszek
    • Three Stooges Cartoon Classics #1
    • World War I Films of the Silent Era (1916-1975)
    • Zebra Lounge

    Bye for now.

    — Ed.

    Monday, 7 January 2002

    And the winner is: Jane Kriebel of Tampa, Fla., wins the free Uprising DVD from our December contest. Congrats, Jane!

    Our totally free DVD contest for the month of January is up and running, and we have a copy of Fox's Moulin Rouge 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: Today, more than 30 years after its release, it's hard for anyone under, say, 45 to watch 1970's hit war comedy M*A*S*H and appreciate deep-down how shocking the movie was in its time. Brilliantly if eccentrically directed, written, and acted, it still hits all the right notes as a smart-ass, irreverent, anti-authoritarian comedy. But in 1970 M*A*S*H was so fresh, fearless, and inventive that the Pentagon attempted to ban it and the Hollywood review board tried to slap it with an "X" rating — a kiss of death that, fortunately for that war-weary generation and those that followed, was protested and changed. Make no mistake: M*A*S*H remains funny, occasionally disquieting, and a superb example of American filmmaking that helped open the gates to one of the most innovative and productive periods of cinema history. But if its bite and sass have diminished over three decades, consider that a testimony to the fact that so much of the attitude, style, and technique it pioneered has become so commonplace since it showed the way.

    Less a traditional narrative than it is a youth-oriented middle-finger-flip to conformist, pre-Vietnam American "values," M*A*S*H is virtually plotless. How much time passes from beginning to end — weeks? years? — is unclear. Instead, maverick director Robert Altman drops us into almost random scenes of work and mayhem at a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the international "police action" in Korea, 1950-53. What structure Altman allowed is loosely tied together by our merry prankster protagonists, surgeons "Hawkeye" Pierce (Donald Sutherland) and Trapper John McIntyre (Elliott Gould). When they encounter a pillar of cultural conservatism — such as pious hypocrite Major Frank Burns (Robert Duvall) or starchy "regular Army" Major "Hot Lips" Houlihan (Sally Kellerman) — Hawkeye and Trapper merely push back and the representatives of the old world's conformity come toppling down. And because they are not soldiers but drafted working surgeons, we can only wince and grimace at Hawkeye's nonchalance over the sound of his bonesaw cutting through a combat casualty's arm, or at the spurting blood and dropping viscera that color the crude operating room. M*A*S*H's bold mix of irreverent, risqué humor with stark, blood-drenched realism appealed to enthusiastic audiences, but Altman had to fight to keep the surgery scenes in — the studio wanted them removed, which would have reduced M*A*S*H to a toothless, irrelevant chucklefest.

    What surprised everyone involved in M*A*S*H, and what helped launch a "new wave" in American cinema, was the immediate critical and commercial success of this low-budget, low-profile, guerrilla production that sported no major stars. Pauline Kael and other revered critics championed it. The comedy was quite plainly "about" Vietnam, perhaps the most divisive subject in the U.S. at that time. Nonetheless, it received a raft of Academy Award nominations (including Best Picture), and most importantly it became 1970's third highest box-office money-maker, beating out the more conventional war dramas Tora Tora Tora and Patton. Taking sharp jabs at authority figures, religious piety, sexuality, and conventional movie-making techniques and content, M*A*S*H managed to project a spirit of its time, although no one could have predicted the film's triumph. Time and again the troubled production came close to being aborted — by studio interference, a screenwriter ("Hollywood Ten" blacklist vet Ring Lardner Jr.) furious and hurt by Altman's techniques and changes, and even Altman's two lead actors who, considering him unfit and possibly downright nuts, tried to get their director fired. Today, M*A*S*H is beloved as the first full-bore "Altman film." It announced him as an "auteur" and immediately placed him among the New Hollywood elite, despite the fact that he was a good ten or twenty years older than young turks such as Scorsese, Coppola, and Lucas. Whether he has crafted anything quite as good since remains a point of debate.

    Fox's new two-disc M*A*S*H: Five Star Collection presents the film in a new high-definition anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) that restores Altman's original technical intentions. Source prints of adequate quality were impossible to find, so a new composite negative was created and the film has been color-corrected. Because Altman and his cinematographer deliberately chose muted colors and soft camerawork for almost every scene, large portions of this release may appear softer and darker to fans who have seen previous home editions. Likewise, the dense, rich audio track — one of Altman's most famous innovations — was recrafted from multiple prints and original source elements, available here in Dolby 2.0 stereo or monaural options. A Film Restoration featurette spotlights the work that yielded this edition. Other supporting supplements include the original theatrical trailer, a stills gallery, and four documentaries: American Movie Classics' Backstory (25 mins.), "Enlisted: The Story of M*A*S*H" (40 mins.), "M*A*S*H: Comedy Under Fire" (44 mins.), and a "30th Anniversary Cast Reunion (30 mins.). Also included is a commentary with Altman, and while the supplements taken as a whole can border on redundancy, what matters is the movie — fans of M*A*S*H couldn't ask for a better DVD incarnation of this beloved milestone. M*A*S*H: Five Star Collection is on the street tomorrow.

    Box Office: The first weekend of 2002 found no new films standing in the way of New Line's The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, which has now cleared more than $200 million after just three weekends and is bound to take in a lot more before it's all over. Recently named the best film of the year by the American Film Institute, Rings is starting to earn Oscar buzz, and it's all smiles at New Line — the picture will soon become the top earner in the small studio's history, and the success of the two sequels seems assured.

    Also in continuing release, Universal's A Beautiful Mind, starring Russell Crowe and directed by Ron Howard, expanded into additional theaters and cleared $17 million, adding to its $38.2 million cume — a lot of folks are betting we'll hear more about this one come Oscar time. Warner's Ocean's Eleven continues to gain fans after five weeks, and its $152.6 million gross is no small winnings. Sony's Ali has now broken $50 million, while Buena Vista's The Royal Tenenbaums is slowly building an audience with $21 million so far. But taking a bad hit is Warner's The Majestic, slipping fast with just $23.6 million for leading man Jim Carrey.

    Another Oscar front-runner arrives this Friday with The Shipping News, starring Kevin Spacey and directed by Lasse Hallstrom, while Jack Black fans can look forward to Orange County. Here's the top-grossing films at North American theaters from last weekend:

    1. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (New Line)
      $23,000,000 ($205,503,000 through 3 weeks)
    2. A Beautiful Mind (Universal)
      $17,029,000 ($38,242,000 through 3 weeks)
    3. Ocean's Eleven (Warner Bros.)
      $11,765,000 ($152,680,000 through 5 weeks)
    4. Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius (Paramount)
      $9,200,000 ($62,523,000 through 3 weeks)
    5. The Royal Tenenbaums (Buena Vista)
      $8,776,000 ($21,000,000 through 4 weeks)
    6. Ali (Sony/Columbia TriStar)
      $7,600,000 ($50,061,000 through 3 weeks)
    7. Vanilla Sky (Paramount)
      $7,400,000 ($81,355,000 through 4 weeks)
    8. Kate & Leopold (Miramax)
      $6,700,000 ($31,100,000 through 3 weeks)
    9. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Warner Bros.)
      $6,100,000 ($300,574,000 through 8 weeks)
    10. Monsters, Inc. (Buena Vista)
      $4,024,000 ($244,785,000 through 10 weeks)
    11. How High (Universal)
      $3,463,000 ($24,327,000 through 3 weeks)
    12. The Majestic (Warner Bros.)
      $3,385,000 ($23,656,000 through 3 weeks)

    On the Board: Alexandra DuPont has posted her new review of MGM's The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, while Dawn Taylor recently looked at New Line's Hedwig and the Angry Inch: Platinum Series. New stuff from the rest of the team this week includes The Fast and the Furious: Collector's Edition, Evolution, Jeepers Creepers, Mad Max: Special Edition, Carrington, Uprising, The Mists of Avalon, The Vertical Ray of the Sun, Scent of Green Papaya, M*A*S*H: Five-Star Collection, The War of the Roses, J.D.'s Revenge, and the 1970 Wuthering Heights. All can be found under the New Reviews menu here on the front page, while our DVD reviews database features more than 1,300 additional write-ups.

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

    — Ed.

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