UPDATE - 5/17/05 - 5:45 PM PDT)
We're back this afternoon with NINE new disc reviews. First up, Adam
new edition of The Bottom Shelf, in which he looks at
eight interesting foreign films on DVD, including Sony's
Flower of My Secret, Criterion's
Without a Face and
Commare Secca, Home Vision's
for the Underdog and
About Lily Chou-Chou, and 20th Century Fox's
Also, over at our MusicTAP
site, Marco Passarelli has a review of
Duran: Astronaut on DualDisc format for you to check out.
And in one last bit of gaming news from E3, Nintendo has finally
weighed in with a look at their next-generation video game system, the
Revolution, which will street in early 2006 (read more at
Note that the system will run on disc-based media this time, and will be
capable of playing current DVD movie discs (but, like Microsoft's Xbox
360, neither HD-DVD or Blu-ray Disc).
Enjoy the reviews and we'll see you tomorrow! Stay tuned...
(EARLY UPDATE - 5/17/05 - 1 PM PDT)
Okay, we'll be back with more in a couple of hours, but I wanted to
jump in early today with some news and a bit of commentary.
In a press event last night at E3, Sony officially unveiled their
PlayStation 3 video game system, which is tentatively set to arrive on
store shelves about a year from now in the Spring of 2006 (you can read
at CNN/Money and
at Gamespot.com). There are four very important things to
note about the PS3. The first is that it will be backwards compatible
(in terms of software) all the way back to the original PlayStation.
Second, according to
just-released specs, it will support the CD-ROM, CD-RW, SACD, DVD,
DVD-ROM, DVD-R, DVD+R and DualDisc formats, with 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i
and 1080p video and Dolby Digital, DTS and LPCM audio (in other words,
it will play all your existing DVD movies and they'll look better than
they do now on your regular TV). Third, it will be capable of driving
TWO side-by-side HDTV displays simultaneously via twin HDMI outputs.
Finally, it will officially use Blu-ray Disc media to play both games
and high-definition movies.
I'm going to go out in a limb right now and post something that some of
you may consider a bit controversial. But I think the writing is on the
wall. I think the format war is over before it's even begun, and the
Toshiba/HD-DVD camp is toast.
Why? You know how many PlayStation 2 systems Sony's sold since that
unit's launch? 87 million. Let me repeat that. 87 million. 1.5 million
were sold in the PS2's first month of availability alone.
Now, let me follow this up by noting that Microsoft's newly announced
Xbox 360 system is going to run on existing DVD media (for games and
not support HD-DVD format discs.
All of this is about what we expected, based on rumors as to what Sony
and Microsoft were planning for their systems. But it's a very bad omen
for the HD-DVD camp. Sony, within a few months of the time they expect
to launch movies on their Blu-ray Disc format, is going to have several
million machines on the market capable of playing them. Tens of millions
by the end of the first year. And each of those machines is going to be
more than capable of driving high-end HD displays. What is the HD-DVD
camp going to have in that timeframe? Not even a fraction of that number
of dedicated players.
Sony has the two biggest PC manufacturers in the world, Dell and HP, on
their side, along with Apple, Hitachi, LG, Matsushita, Mitsubishi,
Pioneer, Royal Philips, Samsung, Sharp and Thompson. Plus they've 20th
Century Fox, Disney, Sony Pictures (Columbia TriStar) and now MGM in
their camp... AND they've got the PS3 on the way.
Toshiba has Microsoft in their camp, sort of. On the hardware front,
they have NEC, Sanyo and Memory-Tech. And in Hollywood, they've got
Warner, New Line, Paramount and Universal.
Think about that. If I'm a high-end, home theater-phile, early adopter
type, am I going to be jonesing to get my hands on a Sanyo or Toshiba
HD-DVD player, or a Sony or Pioneer Blu-ray Disc player (or a PS3)? Are
you kidding me?
This thing is over. It's done. Toshiba and Warner Bros. just haven't
figured it out yet.
There's word today (including
story at Technology News) that Toshiba is reluctant to
back down from support of its 0.6 mm data layer format (DVD/HD-DVD) for
fear of angering its supporters in the DVD camp, some of which have
already been gearing up to replicate discs based on 0.6 mm. Here's my
take: Get the hell over it, folks.
is now reporting that the presidents of both Toshiba and Sony are
going to meet to try to break the stalemate in the format unification
talks (reported yesterday). That's a very good thing, but Toshiba had
better open their eyes and realize that a unified format based on the
0.1 mm Blu-ray Disc structure is probably the BEST thing that can happen
for them. Because I'm telling you right now, if Toshiba backs away
completely and this format war DOES happen, Toshiba's going to lose big.
By working with Sony now, and making a few concessions to unite these
two formats, Toshiba is going to be in a much better position a couple
of years from now than they would be if they try to go it alone with
But that's just my two cents.
By the way, we have word that Sony's Ghostbusters:
Double Feature Gift Set will both films with newly remastered
anamorphic widescreen video. It will also include 2 episodes of The
Real Ghostbusters animated series. Other than that, all of
the extras on the set (deleted scenes, commentary, multi-angle
featurettes, etc) are recycled from the previous DVD releases.
We'll be back with more in a little while. Stay tuned...
We've got a couple things for you today, but first some bad news.
Business is reporting that the Sony/Toshiba talks aimed at
unifying Blu-ray Disc and HD-DVD into a single format have broken down.
Both camps are now saying that, while talks may resume, they're
basically going to proceed with their previous plans (read: the format
war is on again). Apparently, the sticking point is where in the disc
structure the data layer will be located. Sony's plan calls for the data
to be located 0.1 mm from the surface of the disc to allow for more
tightly packed data, while Toshiba wants the data located 0.6 mm from
the surface (like current DVDs) to allow discs to be manufactured on
existing production lines. There's also
report on the talks over at Appliance Magazine.com which
quotes Toshiba representatives as saying, "The
Sony side failed to provide enough evidence that its format has a clear
advantage over ours in terms of cost and range of applications."
In other words, everyone is back to taking a hard-line position.
I'll tell you, the Hollywood studios had better step in and apply some
SERIOUS pressure on these guys to get talking again, and pronto.
Meanwhile today, our own Barrie Maxwell has delivered
excellent Classic Coming Attractions column for you. In
this edition, Barrie runs down all the latest classic film release
announcements. He's also updated his
database of upcoming classic DVDs as well (zipped MS Word doc
file). Be sure to check it out.
Around the site today, we've kicked off FIVE new
giving each of you the chance to win copies of Warner's
NBA: 25 Years
of Champions, Shout! Factory's
the Championship Years, 20th Century Fox's
and Call Me:
The Rise and Fall of Heidi Fleiss, and Universal's
The contests will run until Noon (Pacific) on Sunday, May 22nd. Click on
the links to get started and good luck!
By the way, the winners of the just-ended batch of contests will be
Also today, you may have noticed some new advertising around The
Bits for a company called
Movie Gold Mine.
They carry a wide variety of DVD releases, but they specialize in
out-of-print, rare and hard-to-find titles. If you're looking for
something, you might want to give 'em a try. Tell 'em The
Bits sent you!
And finally, our old friend DocDVD (a.k.a. Josh Lehman) has written
excellent editorial on the future of the DVD format over at Digital
Audio Video.com. It's well worth a read, so be sure to check
We'll be back with lots more tomorrow. Stay tuned...
Afternoon, folks. The big news today is that Warner has finally
announced the DVD release of two versions of Oliver Stone's Alexander
to street on 8/2. The first will be a 2-disc Alexander:
Special Edition (SRP $29.95), featuring the 175-minute
theatrical version of the film in anamorphic widescreen video with Dolby
Digital 5.1 audio. Extras will include audio commentary with director
Oliver Stone and historian Robin Lane Fox, the Resurrecting
Alexander, Perfect is the Enemy of
God and The Death of Alexander
documentaries, and a featurette on the film's soundtrack, Vangelis
Scores Alexander. Also available on 8/2 will be a 2-disc Alexander:
Director's Cut (SRP also $29.95), featuring a 167-minute
version of the film ("newly inspired, faster-paced and more
action-packed" according to the cover), also in anamorphic
widescreen video with Dolby Digital 5.1 and, as far as we can tell, the
same extras as the theatrical cut. So yes, the director's cut is
actually SHORTER than the theatrical cut. Strange bird that Oliver
Stone. A full frame version of the director's cut will also be
Here's the cover art for both versions of Alexander,
along with the regular and deluxe versions of Constantine
(7/19) and the regular and deluxe versions of Million
Dollar Baby as well (7/12), some of which feature revised
There's not a lot of other news to report today, release-wise, and
there's little new on the HD-DVD/Blu-ray front either. But there are a
couple of interesting stories worth mentioning from around the Net.
Business has a report on how this summer is light on new movie
releases on DVD, but it's completely heavy on TV titles (and also
In other news, official details have also emerged on Microsoft's new
XBox 360 game system, following its product debut on MTV last night.
Interestingly, the platform will use existing DVD discs and not HD-DVD
(although that's not unexpected). You can read more on this at
and many, many other places around the Net (you should also know that
the official Xbox
360.com website has launched, but there's not much there yet). The
360 is tentatively due to arrive in stores in time for the holidays
later this year. You can be sure that next-generation game systems (from
Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo) will dominate the upcoming E3 electronics
gaming convention which kicks off on Monday here in Los Angeles.
Also, I suppose it's worth reminding those of you who might still care
that tonight is the final two episodes of Star
Trek: Enterprise on UPN. The first hour of the 2-hour
broadcast, Terra Prime, is the
second part of the show's final dramatic arc (centering on the issue of
xenophobia) which began last week with Demons.
It promises to be pretty good. Likely not so good, however, will be the
second hour of the broadcast - the show's final episode, These
Are the Voyages.... Unfortunately, it's actually more of a
finale for all of Star Trek (it
plays like an episode of Star Trek: The Next
Generation), so the Enterprise
characters get rather short shrift. Word is it's going to be pretty
unsatisfying for those of you who have hung with Enterprise
for the last four years. Apparently, a lot of the show's cast and crew
considers Terra Prime to be the
show's REAL finale, so take that under advisement. Anyway, tune in if
you care, and enjoy them if you can. It'll probably be the last new Trek
we get to see for a long time (which I'm starting to think is actually a
good thing), so you know... mix a few good stiff drinks of choice and
tough it out.
We've got a ton of new DVD releases ready to go for next week, so we're
going to kick that off on Monday. Plus we'll have new columns and all
the latest DVD news as well.
Have a great weekend and we'll see you then!
We've got a TON of DVD release news for you guys today, including an
update on the now combined Sony/MGM slate for the next couple of months.
So let's take a look at what's new. The first thing to note is that all
of MGM's already announced titles for July have been picked up by Sony.
So here's what's new or what you may not have heard about yet.
Starting on 7/5, look for In My Country,
Tour of Duty: The Complete Third Season,
Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles -
The Complete Campaigns, Forever
Lulu, Hexed, Twenty
Bucks, Georgy Girl and
On 7/12, watch for The Discovery Channel's
Anatomy of a Shark Bite and The
Nanny: The Complete First Season.
7/19 will see the release of Man of the
House, Up and Down,
Urban Legends: Bloody Mary and an
Urban Legends: 3-Pack (to include
Urban Legends, Urban
Legends: The Final Cut and Urban
Legends: Bloody Mary).
Rounding out July on 7/26, watch for Brothers
in Arms (2005), Steamboy:
Director's Cut, a Steamboy Giftset
(including the Director's Cut, a
collectible booklet, postcards and a mini-comic book, a Steamboy/Memories
2-Pack, Jay Jay the Jet Plane:
School Is Cool, Jay Jay the Jet
Plane: Imagination Station, Beulah
Land, Slaves of New York,
The Blue and the Gray: Recut, Not
Another Teen Movie: Unrated Director's Cut, a Metropolis/Cowboy
Bebop 2-Pack and Side by Side.
Moving on to August, slated for 8/2 are Oliver Hirschbiegel's Downfall
(starring Bruno Ganz), Guess Who,
Austin Stevens: Snakemaster - Volume #1,
The Jeff Corwin Experience: Out On a Limb -
Monkeys Orangutans and More!, a Matt
Helm Lounge box set (including Silencers,
Wrecking Crew, Ambushers
and Murderer's Row), A
Fine Mess, an Annie/Annie:Royal
Adventure - Double Feature, a Swan
Princess/Swan Princess: The Mystery of the Enchanted Treasure - Double
Feature, a Ghostbusters I & II
Giftset (with collectible scrapbook), The
Berenstain Bears: Bears Out and About, Dragon
Tales: Sing and Dance in Dragonland and The
Wubbulous World of Dr.Seuss: The Gink, The Cat and Other Furry Friends.
An MGM title slate for August has yet to be announced by Sony.
Paramount, in the meantime, has added a few new titles to its July and
August slate. Some of these you may know about, but there are a few here
you probably don't yet (note that there are a few TV and kids releases
we've mentioned previously that aren't included on this list).
On 7/12, look for Another Time, Another
Place, The Adventurers,
Elephant Walk, Breath
of Scandal, The Rainmaker
and The Bad News Bears: Triple Play
Collection (which includes The Bad
News Bears, The Bad News Bears in
Breaking Training and The Bad News
Bears Go to Japan).
Following on 7/26 is Wilder Days.
Titles announce by Paramount for 8/2 include those two John Wayne
releases... Island in the Sky: Special
Collector's Edition and The High
and the Mighty: Special Collector's Edition.
Homeland Security and Mikheil
Kalatozishvili's The Red Tent are
set for 8/23.
Breck Eisner's recent adventure flick Sahara
and the comedy Schultze Gets the Blues
round out the slate on 8/30.
We've got some new cover art to show you today as well. Here's Warner's
Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous
(6/21), Universal's Revelations
(6/28) and Paramount's The Bad News Bears:
Triple Play Collection...
Around the Net today, there aren't really any new developments to
report in the Blu-ray/HD-DVD format talks, but
website has a good story summarizing recent news.
News also has an interesting report on the talks and the
stakes involved. Both are well worth a look.
Boy... have I ever been busy in the last 24 hours! I've been sitting
here trying to get a bunch of reviews posted, but with all the recent
HD-DVD/Blu-ray hubub, my phone's been ringing off the hook. It seems
that everyone wants to talk about the latest developments, and I've
barely been able to string two coherent words together in print since.
I have, however, FINALLY managed to complete four reviews of new and
recent DVD releases for you... New Line's
Python's Graham Chapman: Looks Like a Brown Trouser Job - The U.S.
College Tours 1988 (with a title that long it's GOT to be
worth a look) and Capital Entertainment's
Story. Our own Matt Rowe has also chipped in with his thoughts
Ramones: End of the Century - The Story of The Ramones. I hope
you enjoy them. We'll have more new DVD reviews for you tomorrow,
barring any major breaking news.
Also today, we have a bit more DVD release news for you. Sony/MGM will
soon announce the release of Jiminy Glick in
La La Wood on 7/19 (SRP $25.98). Extras will include outtakes
and deleted scenes. Also soon to be announced by the studio(s) are Manna
from Heaven (due 7/12 - SRP $25.98 - featuring Q&A and
audio commentary with the filmmakers, the Traveling
the Indie Road featurette, deleted and extended scenes and
bloopers) and Michael Figgis' Hotel
(due 7/26 - SRP $25.98 - featuring a documentary, a photo gallery and
more than 30 "web shorts" by Figgis). Consider all that Rumor
Mill-worthy until the official word comes next week.
Meanwhile, Universal has officially announced the DVD release of NBC's
Revelations mini-series (due
6/28), along with Throttle (8/2),
McMillan & Wife: Season One,
Columbo: The Complete Third Season
and McCloud: Seasons One & Two
(all 8/9), and One Last Dance
And Warner has announced the DVD release of Chris Farley and Matthew
Perry in Almost Heroes, Mark
Hamill and Annie Potts in Corvette Summer,
and Danny DeVito and Joe Piscopo in Wise Guys,
all for 8/30 (SRP $14.97 each).
There's nothing new on the HD-DVD/Blu-ray front today, other than more
fallout over Toshiba's triple-layer, 45 GB HD-DVD disc announcement.
We'll let you know if anything major hits the fan.
(LATE UPDATE - 5/10/05 - 10 AM PDT)
It seems Toshiba's gotten a little cantankerous in the last few hours
or so. Conflicting reports about the status of the HD-DVD/Blu-ray Disc
negotiations have continued to be issued this morning.
Register have both picked up Toshiba's denial of a deal based
on Blu-ray's disc structure and Toshiba's software for data transfer and
Meanwhile, at the Media-Tech Expo in Las Vegas, Toshiba has defiantly
announced a triple-layer, 45 GB HD-DVD disc that's clearly designed to
compete with Blu-ray's 50 GB discs (see story
at MacWorld). How practical this would be to mass market,
given all the current dual-layered DVD discs that seem to ship these
days with bonding problems that interrupt playback, remains to be seen.
The company also announced a double-sided HD-DVD/DVD hybrid disc it
claims could be used as a "transition" format between DVD and
HD-DVD (although since the bonding would reduce the data storage
capacity of both the DVD and HD-DVD sides, the value of this to
consumers seems somewhat dubious). Once again, our guess is that this
public posturing by Toshiba is an effort to give the company a boost in
its format unification talks with Sony.
As always, keep those fingers crossed out there. If someone wants to
chant or do a little rain dance or something to invoke a measure of
humility and common sense (on BOTH sides) in these talks, that probably
couldn't hurt either at this point.
Back later. Stay tuned...
(EARLY UPDATE - 5/10/05 - 12:01 AM PDT)
Well... we're keeping a close eye on yesterday's
MAJOR breaking news about Sony and Toshiba's possibly impending
format deal. The latest this very early this morning (as of 12:01 AM
Pacific) is that
has issued an official statement on their website to the effect
that the press report (we assume they mean the story in the Nihon
Keizai Shimbun) was erroneous. On the other hand,
has issued a follow-up story citing a source "close to the
matter" that corroborates yesterday's reports. There's also
new Channel NewsAsia story that refers to both yesterday's
reports and the latest Toshiba statement.
What does all this conflicting PR buzz mean? Our guess is that it's
likely indicative of 10th or 11th hour corporate posturing as the final
details of a format agreement are hammered out. In negotiations like
this, particularly where there's a lot at stake (both in terms of pride
and financial gain), it's always the last few inches that are the
toughest to cross. In any case, we'd suggest taking a wait and see
attitude. As I said before, we're keeping a close eye on the situation.
Meanwhile, we've got a little bit more information for you this morning
on possible street dates for Fox's Kingdom of
Heaven and Star Wars: Episode III
- Revenge of the Sith. You'll find that in
Rumor Mill today, so do check it out.
We'll be back later today with some new DVD reviews, and you can be
sure that we'll jump in quickly with an update if there's any more
breaking news on the format talks front.
(BREAKING NEWS -
5/9/05 - 5 PM PDT)
Here's a bit of VERY interesting news. According to several sources,
a Japanese newspaper (the Nihon Keizai
Shimbun) is apparently reporting that Sony and Toshiba are
very close to reaching an agreement in their effort to unite Blu-ray
Disc and HD-DVD into a common format for next generation DVDs. The deal
could be finalized as early as this week and announced shortly
thereafter, ahead of meetings with manufacturers scheduled for May 16th
(where industry approval for the format would presumably be solicited).
The technology compromise would reportedly see the new format utilizing
Sony's planned disc structure (originally designed for Blu-ray Disc)
with Toshiba's software for data transfer and copyright protection
(developed for HD-DVD).
This is FANTASTIC news if it all pans out. We should know more very
soon. Thanks to all the many Bits
readers who sent in these links. Cross your fingers!
Also today, Star Wars: Episode III
director George Lucas and producer Rick McCallum
confirmed to MTV.com that Revenge
of the Sith will be on DVD in time for Christmas THIS year.
McCallum said the disc will contain as many as 5 or 6 deleted scenes
from the film. Lucas also confirmed that a box set of all six Star
Wars films will be released at some point in the future, but
wasn't specific on a timeframe. We'll keep you up to date on this, you
can be sure.
(LATE UPDATE - 5/9/05 - 1 PM PDT)
We've got a couple of things for you this afternoon.
First up, for you music lovers, our MusicTAP.net
affiliate site has posted a number of music DVD-Video and
high-resolution format reviews in the last few weeks. These include our
own Adam Jahnke's take on
Spingsteen: Devils & Dust in DualDisc format, John
Dunphy's look at
Blind Boys of Alabama: Go Tell It on the Mountain - Live in NY on DVD
and Lindsay Planer's reviews of
Spencer Davis Group: Gimme Some Lovin' - Live 1966,
Griffith: One Fair Summer Evening... Plus! and
Davis: The Cool Jazz Sound also on DVD.
Also today, there's
interesting story over at Video Business on how the
District of Columbia Circuit Court has ruled that the FCC (Federal
Communications Commission) "exceeded the scope of its delegated
authority" in 2003 when it mandated that DTV devices must contain
circuitry that recognize the "broadcast flag" designed to
prevent the copying of HDTV signals. The decision is effectively a
rejection of over-the-air HDTV copy protection. You can read additional
stories on this at FMQB,
Cape Cod Times.
Fort Wayne News-Sentinel has a story up on how Microsoft and
HP are unveiling a pair of new HD disc formats designed to play HD
signals on Microsoft's forthcoming, next-generation Xbox 360 game
system, as well as on new HP Media Center PCs, both using current DVD
discs and red lasers. Neither is likely to make a dent on the
HD-DVD/Blu-ray Disc front, but they're certainly interesting from a
consumer perspective, given that the Xbox 360 is likely to end up in a
LOT of homes, and the new HP Media Center PCs will allow you to record
off the air HD broadcasts in a format that can then be played back on
any current DVD player.
Around the site today, you may have noticed the new Master Replicas
advertising and banner graphics. If you're interested in any of the many
cool replica props that the company makes (for Star
Wars, Star Trek, Aliens
and much more), clicking
through our links when you make a purchase with them helps to
support our work here at The Digital Bits
(and we surely do appreciate it). They've got some very sweet items over
there - prop weapons and other cool sci-fi devices like lightsabers
(including "working" Force FX sabers for just $120 each),
blasters, phasers and more. Do check them out.
Finally today, we wanted to direct you over to our other sister site,
which has just undergone a MAJOR redesign. The site looks absolutely
fantastic and I think you'll all appreciate what our friends over there
have to offer. We're very proud of our association with them, so be sure
to check their new site design out.
We'll be back tomorrow with a number of new DVD reviews. Stay tuned!
(EARLY UPDATE - 5/9/05 -
12:01 AM PDT)
Here's a bit of cool DVD news that we figured some of you guys might be
interested in: Buena Vista and Dimension have let it slip that Frank
Miller and Robert Rodriguez's neo-noir Sin
City will hit our favorite format on 8/16 (SRP $29.99). It
looks like this is going to be a fairly bare-bones version (extras will
reportedly include a production featurette and storyboards), with a more
elaborate special edition DVD set to follow later in 2005 or 2006.
Other titles newly announced from Buena Vista include Dracula
III: Legacy (7/12), The Crow:
Wicked Prayer and Ice Princess
(both on 7/19), Glass Shield: Special Edition,
My Left Foot: Special Edition and
Studio Ghibli's My Neighbors the Yamadas
and Pom Poko (all on 8/16), Lilo
and Stitch: Stitch Has a Glitch (8/30) and The
Prophecy: Forsaken and Hellraiser:
Hellworld (both on 9/6).
We have a little more details on Disney and Pixar's 2-disc Toy
Story: 10th Anniversary Edition (due on 9/6). The film's
picture and sound will apparently be "enhanced" with a higher
video bit rate (think Sony's Superbit discs) and a new Dolby Digital 5.1
EX surround sound mix (done by the film's original sound designer, Gary
Rydstrom). Newly-produced extras on the disc will include 3 featurettes
(The Legacy of Toy Story, The
Making of Toy Story and Designing
Toy Story), a music video of Randy Newman and Lyle Lovett
singing You've Got a Friend in Me
and a Cars sneak preview. The
set's other extras will be recycled from the original Ultimate
Toy Box release.
In other DVD news, Warner has set Miss
Congeniality 2 for release on 6/21 (SRP $27.95). Look for the
film in separate anamorphic widescreen and full frame versions, each
with Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 audio. Each disc will feature deleted
scenes and the film's theatrical trailer.
Lions Gate will release Speed Racer: Volume
Three on 5/24.
New Line will King's Ransom on
Paramount has set The Brady Bunch: The
Complete Second Season for release on 7/26.
And in a repeat from Friday in case you missed it, 20th Century Fox
will deliver Fever Pitch to disc
on 7/12 (SRP $29.95).
Around the site this morning, we've kicked off FIVE new
giving each of you the chance to take home copies of Warner's
Muttley in Their Flying Machines: The Complete Series,
The Perils of
Penelope Pitstop: The Complete Series and
Chapman: Looks Like a Brown Trouser Job, Capital
Kitchen, and Universal's
Precinct 13. The contests will run until Noon (Pacific time)
on Sunday, May 15th. Click on the links to get started and good luck!
We'll be back with more later this morning. Stay tuned!
Well, it seems that I promised you another film review today, didn't I?
Let's get right to it then.
I have seen Episode III.
I can't tell you how strange it is to finally be able to say that. Like
many of you out there, Star Wars
was the film that first ignited my imagination back in 1977, and
awakened in me a life-long interest in the cinema. And like many of you,
I've been waiting 28 years for the Star Wars
experience to be complete. I'm just so... well, it's hard to describe
what I'm feeling right now. It's a very bittersweet thing. I've seen the
last Star Wars film ever, and it
feels somehow as if a major chapter of my life - one that in many ways
has defined it - has closed. I know a lot of you are going to feel the
same way come May 19th.
It's well after Midnight as I'm writing this. I'd planned to get this
review up early yesterday evening, but my mind has been spinning all
day, thinking about and absorbing and processing what I've seen.
Honestly, far more powerful than Episode III
itself could ever be, is simply the experience of finally seeing it.
It's frankly going to require many weeks, and many more screenings of
this film, before I really have any kind of perspective on it. But I
promised you a review, so I'm going to give it my level best. I'll tell
you one thing, silly though it may sound to some: This is probably the
hardest film review I've ever had to write.
I'm going to describe the basic plot of Episode
III in the paragraphs that follow, but because I know that
many of you want to be unspoiled when you go into the theater on the
19th, I'll refrain from posting any major plot revelations. If you're a
long-time Star Wars fan, and you
already know the basic premise of Revenge of
the Sith, you'll be fine reading this review. The rest of you
should just click away now, and we'll see you back here on Monday.
Believe me, I understand.
For those of you still with me... here goes:
It's been three years since the events of Episode
II, and the Clone Wars have ravaged the galaxy. Anakin
Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi have become legendary heroes of the
conflict, having led the Republic's clone legions in many successful
campaigns against the vast droid armies of the Separatists.
After a particularly fierce battle over Coruscant in which the cunning
commander of the enemy forces, General Grievous, narrowly escapes,
Anakin and Obi-Wan return to the capitol and learn that while the Jedi
are spread precariously thin across the galaxy, the war seems to be
turning in their favor. Despite this, however, the Senate continues to
vote Chancellor Palpatine ever greater emergency powers, raising serious
concerns among the Jedi Council.
Meanwhile, Anakin reveals to his secret wife, Padmé, that he's
struggling to remain on the Jedi path. Despite the guidance of his
friend and mentor, Obi-Wan, Anakin is having difficulty containing his
ambitions. Soon after learning that Padmé is pregnant, he's
plagued by nightmares of her death. Afraid of losing his love as he once
lost his mother, Anakin becomes desperate... and vulnerable. Little does
he know, the Dark Lord of the Sith is about to emerge from the shadows
to complete a diabolical plan a thousand years in the making - a plan
that will pit friend against friend, transform Republic into Empire...
and forge Anakin's ultimate destiny.
I'll say it right now, I think most of you are going to really dig this
film. As you've no doubt already heard, Revenge
of the Sith is far darker and more intense than either of the
two films that preceded it. It starts out with a bang, in an absolutely
amazing sequence of edge-of-your-seat action and CG effects, then slows
down for a time as the story's various levels of character and political
intrigue begin evolving to their inevitable resolution. Thankfully,
about halfway in, things start to really hit the fan and the tension
builds almost exponentially until the film's final moments. What really
makes Episode III work is its
strong emotional thru-line. This is not a happy story, but Lucas has
finally managed to make you connect with, and feel for, his characters
in a visceral way. As one tragic set of events after another unfolds,
it's very easy as a viewer to get caught up in the drama.
It also certainly helps that the second half of this film is NOTHING
but the stuff we've all been waiting years to see. Lucas has hinted in
past interviews at just how it was that Anakin came to be transformed
into the formidable Darth Vader that we're all familiar with. Now you'll
finally get to see that happen. Phantom
and Clones were mere appetizers to
this film (and they're actually diminished, I think, by comparison).
Sith gives us, at long last, the
main course of the prequel trilogy's backstory.
The acting is better in Episode III
almost across the board. Gone is Hayden Christensen's occasional
awkwardness as Anakin in the last film. Here he only has to brood and
glower, but he does it well indeed. Natalie Portman (Padmé) and
Ian McDiarmid (Palpatine) finally get to emote rather than just standing
around in Kabuki apparel delivering flat dialogue about trade sanctions
and executive orders. But the real stand-out of this film is Ewan
McGregor, who absolutely nails the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi, perfectly
capturing Alec Guinness' subtle nuances of performance in the original
films. A real treat to watch here, McGregor too finally gets to express
some genuine emotion for a change.
The CG animation, while still imparting a somewhat artificial beauty to
the imagery, has never been more intricate and gorgeous to look at. The
action, particularly the lightsaber battles, is easily the saga's best
(and by a WIDE margin). Jar Jar Binks, though he appears briefly twice,
never utters a single word (as 3P0 might say, "Thank the Maker!").
Better still, Revenge of the Sith
is absolutely rife with hallmark, connective moments that firmly tie the
prequel trilogy to A New Hope,
The Empire Strikes Back and Return
of the Jedi. And there are two new bits of particularly
interesting information that we're given in Sith
- things that I have to say came as a bit of a surprise to me. The first
is given almost in passing in the middle of the film, and not everyone I
spoke with after the screening caught it. The second comes very near the
end. Both will force you to reconsider the complete saga in something of
a new light.
All of this is not to say that Revenge of
the Sith doesn't have its flaws. Several moments of juvenile
humor early in the film seem very out of place given the dark and
unsettling intensity of the last act. Trust me, this film is rated PG-13
for a reason. There's disturbing imagery here that is definitely not
appropriate for younger children (although I applaud Lucas for having
the wherewithal to give this film the more adult edge the story
demands). The dialogue, while somewhat better than in the previous two
films, still occasionally sounds flat. The Jedi continue to seem, for
all their powers, to be a surprisingly clueless bunch (and they pay
dearly for it). After the opening sequence, and before the film really
takes off in the second half, there's a bit too much... well, padding is
the best word for it. And while most of the various plot threads between
the two trilogies are tied up nicely by the time the words 'Directed by
George Lucas' appear on screen, there are a couple of minor
inconsistencies that remain unresolved. I expect that entire books will
be written in the years to come by die-hard fans attempting to resolve
these outstanding issues.
All this aside, however, I believe it's fair to say that Lucas has
crafted the best climax we could reasonably expect given the realities
of The Phantom Menace and Attack
of the Clones. While Revenge of
the Sith is not a truly great film, it is EASILY the
strongest of the three prequels, as well as the most thrilling and
emotionally engaging. One could even call it heart-breaking (I saw grown
men moved to tears yesterday, and I had a pretty damn good lump in my
throat once or twice, I'll tell you). Much more importantly, it is
undeniably the most satisfying film of Lucas' newest trilogy. By my
thinking, Sith rightly takes its
place as the third best entry in the Star
Wars saga, behind Empire
and A New Hope.
As I mentioned at the start of this review, I'm still WAY too close to
this experience to trust my perspective on it completely. So I reserve
the right to revise my judgement slightly in the weeks ahead (call it
Editor's prerogative). That said, if I were going to assign grades to
all six Star Wars films in light
of having just seen Episode III
for the first time, here's how I'd do it this morning:
The Phantom Menace:
Attack of the Clones:
Revenge of the Sith:
A New Hope: A
The Empire Strikes
Return of the Jedi:
So there's my take. When you see Sith,
you'll have to let me know whether or not you agree. In any case, I
sincerely hope you enjoy it.
By the way, can anyone out there recommend good rehabilitative services
for a recovering Star Wars fan?
The withdrawal symptoms are a real bitch, let me tell you. You're all
welcome to join me in counselling in two weeks. I'll save you a seat.
Before I close, we've got a couple of other quick DVD notes for you
this morning. First, we have officially confirmed those Star
Trek: Enterprise - The Complete Second Season DVD specs we
posted in The
Rumor Mill yesterday.
And you Red Sox fans will be pleased to learn that Fox will deliver
Fever Pitch to disc on 7/12 (SRP
$29.95). Just so you know.
Okay, have a great weekend everyone. We'll see you Monday!
We've got a few interesting new DVD announcements for you today.
First up this morning, Buena Vista has revealed the release of Life
As We Know It: The Complete Series on 8/23 (SRP $39.99). The
3-disc set will contain all of the recently cancelled series' episodes
in full frame video with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, including two that
were never broadcast on ABC "that reveal how the series ended."
You'll also get outtakes, deleted scenes, audio commentaries and a
producer's photo gallery.
Buena Vista has also announced the DVD release of Walt
Disney's Timeless Tales: Volume 1 and Walt
Disney's Timeless Tales: Volumes 2 for 8/16 (SRP $19.99
each). Each disc will include 6 classic animated shorts "hand-picked
from the Disney vaults." Volume 1
is expected to include The Prince and the
Pauper, Three Little Pigs
and The Tortoise and the Hare
(plus two others), while Volume 2
will deliver Ugly Duckling, The
Country Cousin and The Wind in the
Willows (plus two more). You'll find cover artwork below.
Warner has announced more DVD releases today including an Astaire
& Rogers: The Signature Collection - Volume One box set
(8/16 - SRP $59.92) that will include The
Barkleys of Broadway, Follow the
Fleet, Shall We Dance,
Swing Time and Top
Hat. Each film will also be available separately on 8/16 for
SRP $19.97 each.
Warner's also announced the 8/30 release of the BBC's Chef!:
The Complete First Season, Chef!:
The Complete Second Season and Chef!:
The Complete Third Season (SRP $19.98 each). Of course, you
can save a buck or two and buy all three seasons in Chef!:
The Complete Collection that same day ($59.92). Also just
announced for 8/30 from Warner is the BBC's The
Funny Blokes of British Comedy and a pair of made-for-cable
films (SRP $19.98 each), including The
Librarian: Quest for the Spear and Pirates
of Silicon Valley.
Meanwhile, Six Feet Under fans
will be pleased to learn that HBO has set Six
Feet Under: The Complete Fourth Season for release on 8/23
(SRP $99.98). The 5-disc set will include all 12 episodes in anamorphic
widescreen video with Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 audio. Extras will
include audio commentary on 7 of the episodes by series creator Alan
Ball with various writers and directors, episodic previews and recaps, a
Season 1-3 Recap featurette and
the Cut by Cut: Editing Six Feet Under
Moving on, 20th Century Fox has set The Man
in the Gray Flannel Suit, starring Gregory Peck, for release
on 8/9 (SRP $19.98).
Also, Paramount has announced MTV's Laguna
Beach: The Complete First Season for release on 7/19. The
High and the Mighty is now set for 8/2, with Homeland
Security due to follow on 8/23.
And Criterion has revealed their July DVD release slate, which is
expected to include Preston Sturges's Unfaithfully
Yours (catalog #292), Luchino Visconti's Le
notti bianche (#296) and Seijun Suzuki's Story
of a Prostitute (#299) and Gate of
Flesh (#298). You'll find more details at the
Around the Internet today, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates is featured in
a new interview with Peter Rojas over at
here for Part 1 and
for Part 2). In the second part of the interview, Gates is asked about
the possible compromise between HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc, and how
important a single unified standard is to Microsoft. His full answer is
well worth a read, but the short of it boils down to:
"We want to see a single format, and we
think it's best for the PC industry for a single format to emerge. That
won't necessarily happen and if it doesn't then to some degree we'll
have to support both formats."
Here at The Bits this morning,
we've updated all of the DVD hardware and software stats we track,
DVD Player Sales numbers for the first week or April (78,745
units shipped to retailers for the week ending 4/8). All of
charts have been updated accordingly.
We also have a few details on some of the extras you can expect on
Paramount's Star Trek: Enterprise - The
Complete Second Season, currently slated for release on 7/26.
You'll find that in
Rumor Mill this morning, so don't miss it.
Our own Adam Jones has also checked in with a review of Sony
Classical's new Star
Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (Original Motion Picture
Soundtrack), which includes not only the film's score on CD,
but also a bonus DVD disc featuring the 70-minute Star
Wars: A Musical Journey. Trust us - if you're a fan, it's
well worth your hard-earned clams.
We've got a little more new cover art for you to check out today.
Here's HBO's Six Feet Under: The Complete
Fourth Season, Warner's Astaire &
Rogers: The Signature Collection - Volume One box set, New
Line's The Upside of Anger (street
date 7/26), Fox's Dodgeball: A True Underdog
Story - Unrated Version (8/2 - that date comes straight from
Fox, but Amazon has it set for 7/12), and Disney's Walt
Disney's Timeless Tales: Volumes 1 & 2...
For those of you who may have missed it, be sure to read
post for my thoughts on Ridley Scott's Kingdom
of Heaven, which hits theaters on Friday. And be sure to
check back late tonight or early tomorrow morning for my full review of
Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith.
I promised you some thoughts on Ridley Scott's latest period swordplay
epic, Kingdom of Heaven, didn't I?
All right... here goes. [Editor's note: There are
a few spoilers in this review, so some of you might want skip down a bit
for my conclusions until you've seen the film yourselves. I'll let you
know when it's okay to start reading again.]
The year is 1186. Balian (Orlando Bloom), is a young French blacksmith
whose wife has just committed suicide after losing their child. Since
his Christian upbringing claims that suicide is a great moral sin,
Balian is told by his morally corrupt priest that his wife has gone to
Hell, causing him a deep crisis of faith. Not long after this happens, a
band of Crusading knights passes through Balian's village. As it
happens, their leader, Godfrey of Ibelin (Liam Neeson), has come
specifically to find Balian. It seems that Godfrey is the father
Balian's never known. Godfrey offers to take the young blacksmith under
his wing, to train him as a knight and to give him a home on his estate
in the Holy Land. Balian at first refuses, and Godfrey and his men
depart. But after an incident with the village's priest - an incident
which leaves the priest dead - Balian flees and catches up with Godfrey
to accept his offer, hoping to seek forgiveness from God for his actions
in Jerusalem and, hopefully, eventual redemption for his wife's soul.
Godfrey and his men quickly accept Balian into their ranks and depart
for the Holy Land. As they're about to cross the sea for Jerusalem,
however, an unfortunate turn of leaves Godfrey mortally wounded. Godfrey
knights Balian, making him swear to protect the King of Jerusalem - and
upon the King's death, to protect the weak and innocent - and then dies,
leaving Balian the new Baron of Ibelin. Balian makes the crossing alone,
filled with doubt that he'll be able to keep his promises to a father he
barely knew. Upon arriving in Jerusalem, after another series of
unfortunate events, he soon earns the respect of Tiberias (Jeremy
Irons), the King's aide and Godfrey's friend. He also earns the trust of
the reclusive King Baldwin himself (Edward Norton), who happens to be a
leper, as well as the King's sister, Sibylla (Eva Green - you've most
recently seen her in The Dreamers).
All of these things draw scorn for Balian from Guy de Lusignan (Marton
Csokas - best known as the bad guy from xXx),
an arrogant and power hungry baron who is married to Sibylla and who
would be the next King. While Baldwin has managed to keep an uneasy
peace with the legendary leader of the Muslims, Saladin (Ghassan
Massoud), Guy wants war instead, believing what he's been told by his
advisors from the Church - that with God on their side, the Christians
are unbeatable. As still more unfortunate events unfold, Balian soon
finds himself torn between his promise to his father and loyalty to King
Baldwin... and doing what he knows to be right. Ultimately, Balian will
have to take on the responsibility for the military defense of Jerusalem
from an all-out assault led by Saladin himself.
That sounds like a great epic story, right? Well... Kingdom
of Heaven is certainly a masterpiece of direction,
cinematography, action and presentation. I expect all of those things
from director Ridley Scott, and he doesn't disappoint. The problem here,
and its a very BIG problem, is with the story... or rather the many
serious gaps within it. To begin with, Balian's rags to riches
transformation unfolds so quickly as to be completely unbelievable.
Balian goes from being a poor blacksmith to the new Baron of Ibelin in
less than thirty minutes. Thirty minutes after that, he's already become
a trusted vassal of King Baldwin who seems surprisingly comfortable with
his new responsibilities. Still another problem is that, just minutes
after he gets to Jerusalem, Balian seems already to have made peace with
the death of his wife - a woman we presume he loved enough to kill and
leave home for - and he's already well on his way to engaging in an
affair with Sibylla. Even after the affair, which I think we're supposed
to believe is deep and meaningful for both Balian and Sibylla, it's hard
to believe that the two have formed a genuine love or romantic
connection. It's harder still to believe in this relationship when
Balian all too quickly and easily turns down a pretty incredible offer
by Tiberias and King Baldwin (in yet another unlikely turn of events).
You never get the sense that Balian is even tempted by the offer, making
his character seem pretty one-dimensional.
Indeed, at no point in Kingdom of Heaven
do we ever really get the sense that there's more to Balian than what we
see on the surface - the simple honesty conveyed by actor Orlando Bloom
in virtually every role we've seen him so far. Whereas in Gladiator,
even at the very beginning of the film we sensed that Maximus was very
complex fellow - a reluctant warrior fighting battles with his inner
demons and wanting only to return peacefully to his family - there never
seems to be anything going on under the surface with Balian. There's no
complexity to the character. He's just too good to be true, and things
seem to come WAY too easily for him. None of this is explained - we're
just meant accept this part of the film's conceit.
Also troubling is the thread-bare characterization of Guy de Lusignan.
Guy's reckless desire to take on Saladin's forces under the belief that
"right" is on his side, can only be seen (whether you agree
with the sentiment or not) as a commentary on the presidency of George
W. Bush. There's a scene where newly minted King Guy is marshalling his
barons to war, where Balian says basically, "You're playing right
into Saladin's hands. He WANTS you to march out and attack him. You're
going to get slaughtered." Of course, Guy arrogantly ignores him.
Never mind the whole puzzling question of how a simple blacksmith
suddenly got to be such an expert on combat tactics and strategy - you
can probably guess how things turn out. Guy also never really seems to
find out or care that Balian's had an affair with his wife. Indeed, the
whole conflict between Balian and Guy never really pays off in the way
you think it's going to.
We haven't even addressed yet the complex and potentially controversial
political and religious issues this films concerns itself with - issues
that (other than the Guy/Bush commentary) are glossed over all too
quickly in this film. There's a vague message about tolerance, and
there's a bit of sermonizing about the corruption that often creeps into
organized religion. The moral seems to be that a person's faith and
religion are very different things - that a person's relationship with
God is a personal thing that arises out of one's deeds and actions every
single day, and not how often one goes to church or says all the right
things. In other words, you either walk the walk or you just talk the
talk, and there's an appropriate degree of scorn for the latter. But the
larger conflict in this film - the centuries long struggle between the
Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths - is barely addressed in Kingdom
of Heaven, and certainly not in any substantial way. That's
pretty strange for a film about the Crusades released in the tense
political and religious climate of 2005. Saladin is at least given a
certain sense of honor and dignity - he's a man who offers respect when
given it - but the character is still just as thread-bare as the others
in this film.
[Those wishing to remain spoiler free can resume
reading from this point.]
I happen to know that the original cut of this film was well over an
hour longer that what audiences will see in theaters starting on Friday.
I have a very strong suspicion that most of the problems with Kingdom
of Heaven - lack of character depth and motivation
(particularly for Balian), lack of subtle intrigue, events that seem to
unfold with unrealistic ease or speed - were addressed in the missing
footage. I'm betting that this is a case of a longer, substantial epic
of as much complexity and subtlety as action, that's just been cut and
cut and cut some more to leave the film but a pale skeleton of what it
was before. No doubt this was influenced by studio execs wanting to cram
the maximum number of male (drawn by the promise of action) and female
(drawn by Orlando's pretty face) butts into theater seats, and to
shoehorn in as many show times per day as possible.
The cumulative effect of all this cutting and trimming is the creation
of a film that's beautiful to look at and goes through all the
motions... but that's ultimately empty of greater intelligence or
substance. This is pure Summer cinema candy. That's not a bad thing in
and of itself, but you'll likely leave the theater feeling like this
film was meant to be a lot more than that. I KNOW it was meant to be a
lot more than that. Kingdom of Heaven
is entertaining and it's certainly worth seeing once. As I said at the
start of this review, it's an undeniable masterpiece of direction,
cinematography, action and presentation. The massive, exquisitely staged
spectacle of Saladin's siege of Jerusalem alone is worth the price of
admission. But exquisitely staged spectacle by itself does not a great
film make, nor even a particularly good one. Kingdom
of Heaven is utterly forgettable, and that's a real shame.
Here's hoping that we'll get to see the fuller, richer vision of Kingdom
of Heaven - the one that the filmmakers set out to create in
the first place - on DVD in the near future. In the meantime, I offer my
reluctant (but confident) grade for the theatrical cut: C+
Okay... I've reviewed Hitchhiker's Guide to
the Galaxy this week and now Kingdom
of Heaven. Interested in my thoughts on Star
Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith? Well... you just
might to check back tomorrow night.
See you then!
Some good DVD news today: Warner has finally announced the release of
Constantine in single-disc regular
and 2-disc deluxe editions (SRP $28.98 and $30.99 respectively) on 7/19.
The standard edition will be available in both full frame and anamorphic
widescreen versions, each with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. The deluxe
edition will include anamorphic widescreen video, Dolby Digital 5.1
audio, audio commentary (by director Francis Lawrence, producer Akiva
Goldsman and screenwriters Kevin Brodbin and Frank Capello), 18 minutes
of deleted scenes (including an alternate ending) with optional
commentary by Lawrence, the Conjuring
Constantine, The Production from
Hell and Imagining the Underworld
documentaries, the Foresight: The Power of
Pre-Visualization documentary with optional commentary by
Lawrence, an Easter egg, A Perfect Circle's Passive
music video and the film's theatrical trailer.
Also newly announced by HBO (distributed by Warner) are Blue
Ice, Body Language,
Dead Silence, Doomsday
Gun, Head Office, Heaven
Help Us, The Heist,
Second Civil War, Mistral,
Shot through the Heart, Strapped,
Weapons of Mass Distraction and
Traveling Man, all due on 8/30
20th Century Fox has announced the DVD release of dual full frame and
anamorphic widescreen versions of Hide and
Seek for 7/5 (SRP $29.98 each). Extras will include 4
seamlessly branched alternate endings with optional audio commentary by
the director and members of the crew, 14 deleted scenes with optional
commentary, 3 pre-viz sequences, a making of featurette and more. Fox
will also be releasing Dodgeball: True
Underdog Story - Unrated Version on 8/2 (SRP $26.98). The new
Dodgeball DVD will include a new "joke
commentary" with by writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber and
actors Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn, an Easter egg commentary,
documentaries, deleted scenes and much more.
Around the site this afternoon, we've posted a trio of new DVD reviews
from our own Adam Jones... Rhino's
Science Theater 3000: Volume 7 and
of the Lost: The Complete Third Season, and Warner's
The Complete First Season.
We've also got some new cover art for you to check out today. Here's
Warner's Constantine: Deluxe Edition,
Universal's Earth 2: The Complete Series
(7/19) and Fox's Hide and Seek...
By the way, Matt and I had the chance to take in a screening of Ridley
Scott's Kingdom of Heaven last
night, and I'll be posting my review of the film tomorrow.
(LATE UPDATE - 5/2/05 - 1
Before I sign off today, I wanted to let you know that we've kicked off
FIVE new Contests
today, giving each of you the chance to win copies of Warner's
of the Opera: Special Edition,
The Complete Third Season, Fox's
Science Theater 3000 Collection, Volume 7, Criterion's
(thanks to our friends at CD WOW!) and Anchor Bay's
Hammer!: Season Two,
Rogers' Neighborhood: Adventures in Friendship and
Drive: Special Edition. The contests will run until Noon
Pacific on Sunday, May 8th. Click on the links to get started and good
Speaking of CD
WOW!, I also wanted to let you all know that our friends over
there are offering readers of The Digital
Bits a $1.50 discount on all purchases. Just click on
when you head over there to get the discount.
We've also got a great new
of the Month for you to check out... Carlton
Salter III! Carlton is a very talented illustrator whose
stylish and fun work is well worth checking out. Click on the
page to see a few samples of his work and feel free to drop him a
line at email@example.com.
Glad to have you aboard, Carlton!
We'll be back tomorrow with more new DVD reviews. Stay tuned...
(LATE UPDATE - 5/2/05 -
Okay... I promised you my thoughts on Hitchhiker's
Guide to the Galaxy. As most of you should know by now, the
story (as originally written by Douglas Adams, who also wrote about 80%
of this film's screenplay before his untimely death) follows the
adventures of one Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman), a hapless Brit who is
appalled to learn one morning that his house is about to be knocked down
and that his best friend Ford Prefect (Mos Def) is really from another
planet. As shocking as both of those things are, however, Arthur is
even more stunned when a fleet of interstellar spaceships suddenly shows
up and vaporizes the Earth to make way for a hyperspace bypass. Arthur
barely has time to grab his towel when Ford, who is actually a field
researcher for the Hitchhiker's Guide to the
Galaxy, hitches a lift off the doomed planet just in the nick
of time, bringing Arthur with him. They quickly get rescued from a very
sticky situation by the starship Heart of Gold, which was stolen by one
Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell), who also happens to be Ford's
semi-cousin and the two-headed, fugitive president of the galaxy (yes,
there IS a second head). Also on board is Marvin, the perpetually
paranoid android, and Trillian (Zooey Deschanel) a cute British girl
who, coincidentally, Arthur once met at a party but failed to hit it off
with despite a rather promising start.
Now... there are a couple of complaints I've heard about this film from
reviewers. The first is that it isn't an exact adaptation of Adam's
original book. This is true. BUT... as fans who have been with Hitchhiker's
from the beginning will know, the book wasn't a faithful adaptation of
the original radio series. In fact, NONE of the versions of Hitchhiker's
(the radio show, the BBC TV series, the books and the new film) follow
exactly the same storyline. There are common elements, but then each
version explores its own territory independently. The main differences
in this film from the book [spoiler warning]
are that instead of going straight to Magrathea after picking up Ford
and Arthur, the Heart of Gold first visits Viltvodle VI (as you'll
recall, the planet from the original books where the inhabitants had
fifty arms each, so they invented the spray deodorant before the wheel).
It seems that Zaphod's rival in the galactic presidential election,
Humma Kavula (a brilliant cameo by John Malkovich), has become the
leader of a religious cult there and Zaphod's got a score to settle with
him. While there, the Vogons kidnap Trillian, so our heroes must make a
quick detour to the Vogosphere as well to rescue her. But never fear,
they DO finally get to Magrathea and, thanks to the detour, we get to
see a lot of the amusing little side-stories that Adams' book was so
famous for. The other major change in the film is an expansion of the
awkward little love story between Arthur and Trillian (not awkward as in
bad, but awkward as in the two are charming but a bit off-kilter and
The other complaint I've read is that some feel that the film is
reasonably faithful to the book... except that all of the jokes have
been left out. My response to that is... what were they expecting? The
obvious, hit-you-over-the-head humor of Men
in Black? Have they actually read the books? Listened to the
radio series? Adams' Guide has
NEVER been a side-splitting, laugh-a-minute - not in ANY of its previous
incarnations. As longtime fans know, the humor here is decidedly British
- smart, ironic and often subtle in many ways - and I'll tell you that
there's PLENTY of it in this film. There are a few good laughs, scores
of chuckles and if you go in with an open mind, you WILL leave the
theater with a smile on your face. The
dolphins alone are worth the price of admission. Director Garth
Jennings' film adaptation is completely faithful to the spirit of the
previous versions of Adam's Guide.
The only complaint I think is reasonably valid is that newcomers to the
film, who have never experienced the Guide
before, may have a bit of a hard time following the story. And they will
certainly not appreciate all of the subtle little touches here. The gags
are fast and furious, and many are so subtle that newcomers will never
pick up on them. But longtime fans will quickly get the deeper meaning
and context. An example is when Zaphod and Ford take a moment to knock
back a couple of Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters. Their reaction to the
drink is very brief, but it had the long-timers in the audience I saw
the film with laughing out loud.
I'm very pleased to say that there's an awful lot that's good in this
film - more than I expected frankly. The casting is absolutely inspired
across the board. A lot of people were worried about Mos Def as Ford
Prefect, but I'm happy to say that he's perfect in the role. Sam
Rockwell steals the show as Zaphod. Those unfamiliar with him need only
recall his turn as Guy Fleegman in Galaxy
Quest to have their minds reassured. Martin Freeman
(memorable from the BBC's The Office)
is just the right disarming everyman to fill Arthur's bathrobe. Even
Zooey Deschanel brings verve to her role, making Trillian a sympathetic
and slightly off-kilter charmer. This Trillian is a major Betty. And
Marvin! Looking like a mechanical Charlie Brown and voiced drolly by
Alan Rickman, Marvin gets perhaps the best joke in the flick, thanks to
a nifty little invention called the 'point of view' gun. Add Bill Nighy
as Slartibartfast (how perfect is that?), outstanding Guide
animations narrated by Stephen Fry (you can see actual sample animations
click on 'Guide to the Guide'), and great little cameos by Simon Jones
(I shouldn't have to tell you who he is) and the original BBC TV Marvin,
and this film is almost completely satisfying from start to finish.
There's even a pair of great little visual nods to Adams himself.
Matt and I thoroughly enjoyed Hitchhiker's
Guide to the Galaxy. Is it the most side-splitting space
adventure ever? Probably not. But it sure as hell is the smartest. As a
fan of the Guide since the
beginning, I was quite happy when I left the theater this weekend. In
fact, my only regret about the film is that Douglas didn't live to see
it. I think he'd have quite enjoyed it. My grade: a very solid B+
(EARLY UPDATE - 5/2/05 - 12:01 AM PDT)
Morning, all. I wanted to check in with an early post today to give you
a little bit of new DVD release news.
First up, Buena Vista and Pixar have announced the release of a Toy
Story: 10th Anniversary Edition due on 9/6. Of course,
there's just no way that the 2-disc set could top the previous Toy
Story: Ultimate Toy Box set, but for those of you wondering,
the new release will include audio commentary by director John Lasseter
and his creative team (joined by producers Ralph Guggenheim and Bonnie
Arnold - likely the same track on the previous DVD), the all-new The
Making of Toy Story featurette, deleted scenes, various
design and production featurettes and a preview of Pixar's forthcoming
Cars. Just how much of this
material is new and how much will be recycled from the Toy
Box remains to be seen. We'll post more details when we get
Buena Vista and Touchstone have also announced a Pretty
Woman: 15th Anniversary Special Edition DVD for 9/6 (SRP
$19.99), which will include anamorphic widescreen video, Dolby Digital
5.1 audio, all-new commentary by director Gary Marshall, a production
featurette, a blooper reel, footage of the wrap party, Natalie Cole's
What Women Do music video and the
film's theatrical trailer.
Also newly announced by New Line is The
Upside of Anger, starring Kevin Costner and Joan Allen, for
7/26. Again, we'll post all the details as they come in.
Rumor Mill today, we have a bit of information on a possible
street date (or at least a tentative time frame) for the DVD release of
Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith.
You can definitely expect it to be out in time for the holidays.
Speaking of Star Wars, there are
a few things worth noting today. First, there's a great article on
George Lucas in the latest issue of Wired
magazine, on newsstands now. It's well worth reading, as it talks about
his early film influences - particularly experimental and art films - in
detail not covered in the past. [Editor's Note:
The article is now available online
this link at Wired.com. Thanks to Bits
reader Phillip P. for the link.]
Next... starting tomorrow, you'll be able to get your hands on John
Williams official soundtrack CD for
Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith. Let me tell you, it's
a great piece of work. In terms of musical content and quality, I think
it ranks right up there with A New Hope
and The Empire Strikes Back (in
fact, you'll hear a number of original trilogy musical themes quoted in
the score, which is very cool). But more importantly, as we've reported
in the past, the disc includes a separate DVD featuring the program Star
Wars: A Musical Journey. This runs about an hour and contains
some 16 pieces of music (along with the occasional bit of sound effects
and dialogue) in Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. The music is edited to video
from all six films in full anamorphic widescreen. I've seen it myself,
and if you're a fan of the films, you're definitely going to want this
in your collection. Better still, there's a piece on the DVD (A
Hero Falls) that includes substantial footage from Episode
III - stuff you haven't seen yet. [Editor's
Note: You'll be pleased to learn that the music video for A Hero
Falls is also
available online at the official site. Thanks to Bits
reader Joel L. for the link.]
I also wanted to mention a great new website by an old friend of ours.
Script to DVD.com is run by Bill Kallay and Michael Coate.
I've known Michael for years - the two of us used to write for Widescreen
Review magazine together. His new site features quality
essays, articles and reviews of films and DVDs, including
piece on the original theatrical release of Star Wars
that'll definitely take you fondly back to May 1977. Be sure to check
the site out when you have the time, and tell Bill and Michael that The
Bits sent you!
Boy. The final Star Wars film
ever... the last episode of Star Trek
in who knows how long... AND the debut of the long awaited Hitchhiker's
Guide to the Galaxy film? May is finally here, folks, and
it's a VERY big month for film and sci-fi geeks the world over. We hope
you enjoy every last bit of it.
By the way, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy?
A very good flick. I'll talk more about it later today, but let me just
tell you that Matt and I saw it on Saturday. I can happily say that the
spirit of Douglas' wit and humor is alive and well in the big screen
version from start to finish. Don't miss it.
We'll be back with more later, so do stay tuned...