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page updated: 5/26/06



My Two Cents
(Archived Posts 5/18/06 - 5/3/06)


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(LATE UPDATE - 5/18/06 - 12:15 PM PDT)

In between getting bombarded by Star Wars e-mails this morning (we expected that, of course, and it seems you're all as peeved as we are), we're pleased as punch to bring you Adam Jahnke's latest edition of The Bottom Shelf, in which he reviews a pair of films on disc either directed by David Lynch (Universal's recent Dune: Special Edition) or presented by him (Sony's Crumb, directed by Terry Zwigoff). We've also got Adam's latest installment of Jahnke's Electric Theatre for you today... so there's more Jahnke around here today than you can shake a stick at. Enjoy!

Wanna see something cool? The folks at The Criterion Collection have officially unveiled their new website look and logo. Pretty swell. They've also announced more new titles for release in August, including Eric Rohmer's The Bakery Girl of Monceau (Cat #343), Suzanne's Career (#344), My Night at Maud's (#345), La Collectionneuse (#346), Claire's Knee (#347) and Love in the Afternoon (#348)... all of which will also be available in the Six Moral Tales box set (#342). Also coming in August from The Big C are Noah Baumbach's Kicking and Screaming (#349) and Pietro Germi's Seduced and Abandoned (#350). That's a damn nice batch of titles there if you ask us.

We've got some more street date information from our industry sources on a few major upcoming DVD releases (think M:I 3, RV, United 93 and more). You'll find that in The Rumor Mill this morning, so do check it out.

Finally, a lot of people have been asking if Paramount's Apocalypse Now: The Complete Dossier (due 8/15) will include the infamous Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse documentary. We've checked with the studio and sadly, it will not. Yes, we know... "How can they call it complete without that?!" We don't know. Do any of you industry types out there know who owns the rights to the Hearts of Darkness documentary, and what the status of its DVD release may be? It would seem like a no brainer.

We'll leave you with some new cover art. Here's Warner's Blazing Saddles and The Fugitive on HD-DVD (due this coming Tuesday) and Universal's Inside Man on DVD (TBA)...

Blazing Saddles (HD-DVD)The Fugitive (HD-DVD)Inside Man

Stay tuned...

(EARLY UPDATE - 5/18/06 - 12:01 AM PDT)

Well... it seems we've started a bit of a firestorm with this business we posted yesterday about the original versions of the Star Wars films on the forthcoming (9/12) DVD release being offered in non-anamorphic widescreen video only. So be it. Sometimes, you have to call it like you see it. The news is absolutely true by the way. We've confirmed it specifically with reps of both Lucasfilm and Fox. It is no rumor.

By the way, for those of you who don't know what anamorphic means on DVD, we refer you to our in-depth guide on the subject. [Editor's Note: Keep in mind that this guide was written some six years ago. Anamorphic enhancement has since been widely adopted as the industry standard for presenting widescreen films on DVD... and HD-DVD HAS obviously arrived. Just FYI.]

What you will, in fact, be getting on the second disc in each of these new 2-disc sets (unless something changes dramatically and soon) are transfers of the original films that were done for the 1993 "definitive collection" laserdisc box set release. (By way of confirmation, Lucasfilm's Jim Ward had this to say about the transfers in the recent USA Today story: "It is state of the art, as of 1993, and that's not as good as state of the art 2006.") Great. Thanks. Swell.

So the transfers, and the technology used to produce them, are MORE than a decade old. Of course, they're going to be digitally cleaned up a bit, and even a non-anamorphic transfer is going to look better in digital video on DVD than the same transfer would when presented on an analog laserdisc. Colors are going to bleed less, detail will be a little sharper. There's also apparently an additional bit of tweaking being done, because Episode IV will feature the original 1977 version of the opening crawl (sans the "Episode IV" text) which has NEVER been released on home video before, save for in excerpted form in the 2004 Empire of Dreams DVD documentary (which, we feel strangely compelled to point out, WAS ANAMORPHIC WIDESCREEN). In any case, the bottom line is that the transfers we're getting on DVD are old and they're non-anamorphic. The video resolution and quality is going to pale in comparison to the look of most other widescreen films on DVD.

A lot of people have been e-mailing us asking why Lucasfilm doesn't simply do new anamorphic, high-definition transfers of these versions of the films. Well... after confirming and posting the non-anamorphic information yesterday, we started making follow-up calls to various experts and industry insiders... you know, just to figure out what the hell was really going on. Were we crazy in feeling a little outraged about this? Was this really just a half-assed effort designed to milk Star Wars fans yet again? What was the real reason for the lack of new anamorphic transfers?

It's been reported previously that when Lucas went back to the original negatives of the Star Wars films in the mid 1990s, they were found to be in bad shape. Such bad shape, in fact, that had they not been restored immediately, the films could have been lost forever. So restoration is exactly what Lucas had done. Except that when he was creating the new 1997 Special Edition versions of the films... he cut the original negatives. So the original negatives of the theatrical versions no longer exist. Okay, we knew that. But what's the big deal? What about the original interpositive prints? What about high-quality release prints? Why can't Lucasfilm just use either of those elements to do a new transfer for DVD?

Well... at the same time as he was preparing the 1997 versions, Lucas apparently went on a little tear and recalled every release print of the theatrical versions that he could get his hands on, and he had them all destroyed. Which means that when Lucas said back in 1997 that the original theatrical versions of the Star Wars films no longer existed, he was serious. He apparently tried hard to make sure of it.

Nonetheless (and thankfully), we know for a FACT that beautiful dye transfer prints of the original versions of the films still exist in private hands, and that additional copies are preserved in a number of film archives around the world. What's more, Lucas would have been foolhardy if he didn't keep the original interpositives carefully stored in a climate-controlled vault for preservation's sake. Come on... of course he did. No one is THAT stupid that they'd just trash all the original elements of the films that made them rich beyond the dreams of avarice.

If good quality original elements don't exist, where did Lucasfilm get that footage of the 1977 opening crawl that was used in Empire of Dreams? And how could it have been presented in anamorphic widescreen on DVD unless a new anamorphic transfer of the footage was done or was already available? So why then can't anamorphic transfers of the films be done now for the new DVDs? It makes no sense whatsoever. In any case, neither the man himself nor senior Lucasfilm executives are willing to admit that they exist, because as Lucas has said many times in the past, "They no longer exist." So what we get are excuses and bogus claims: "We returned to the Lucasfilm Archives to search exhaustively for source material that could be presented on DVD." Right. Guess they didn't look too hard. Give us two days here at The Bits and we'll make some calls. We'll find you good quality source materials outside of the Lucasfilm Archives that could be presented in high quality on DVD... and in anamorphic widescreen too. All it takes is the money and the will to get it done right the first time.

What are we left with? Either the films truly don't exist anymore, so it simply isn't possible to give them to you in state of the art quality (unlikely in the extreme, as we've said, despite public and private statements to the contrary)... or Lucasfilm DOES have copies of the original versions in their vaults, and they're just unwilling (or too damn cheap) to spend the money to give them to you in state of the art quality... yet. If the former is true, there can be no future anamorphic release of the original versions on DVD, and there can be no high-def release on the new Blu-ray Disc or HD-DVD formats. Laserdisc is as good as it will ever get for those original theatrical cuts. If, on the other hand, the latter is true (and we believe it is)... Lucasfilm's greed is truly boundless.

Bottom line: This notion that Lucasfilm is doing the fans a favor by finally giving them the original versions on DVD in 2006... but in 1993 laserdisc quality... is baloney. In fact, it's unacceptable. Even though most of them probably don't even know what anamorphic means on DVD, or why they should care about it, the fact remains that the fans are getting bilked. We hate to say it, because we've known many of the folks at Lucasfilm for years now. But someone HAS to say it. It needs to be said. Lucasfilm can and should do better. Who knows? Maybe they're already planning to do better for the 30th Anniversary of the original Star Wars next year... and this is just one more bite at the pie in the meantime.

The strange thing is, Lucas himself doesn't seem to think the fans are even interested in the original theatrical versions of the films on DVD. Witness his comments in this recent interview at MTV.com: "It's just the original versions, as they were," Lucas said. "We didn't do anything to it at all. But we're not sure how many people want that." That's just an insane thing to say given how many Most Wanted DVD lists the original Star Wars films top around the Net, and the folks at Lucasfilm have to know it. So here's an unsettling thought... Lucas finally agrees to include the original versions on the new DVDs, but he won't pony up for new transfers. Do you suppose there's a deliberate reason for that? If people don't buy them because of the lack of quality, Lucas can simply say, "See? People didn't buy them. They don't want 'em." And if they do buy them, but in a year or two start asking for better quality, Lucas can say, "Gimme a break. I already gave them to you on DVD. Now quit bugging me about it." D'oh!

In any case, rest assured that we're as sick of talking about the Star Wars films on disc as you probably are of hearing it. But our motto here at The Bits is right up there in our logo: "Celebrating Film in the Digital Age." It's awfully damn hard to find anything worth celebrating about this. Which is a real shame... because it was pretty damn cool news there for a little while.

We'll be back with a new Bottom Shelf column from Adam Jahnke later today. Don't forget that Barrie Maxwell's latest edition of Classic Coming Attractions is up now, so be sure to check it out.

Stay tuned...

(LATE UPDATE - 5/17/06 - 4 PM PDT)

Okay... we've got a couple more things for you today.

First up, Warner has officially announced the HD-DVD release of Blazing Saddles and The Fugitive for this coming Tuesday, 5/23 (SRP $28.99 each). All of the extras that were on the previous standard DVD versions will be included. Boy... there's not much notice on these Warner HD titles, is there? Retailers must be having a tough time getting the info in their systems for orders. Anyway, we've updated the High-Def Release List accordingly, and we'll post cover art very soon.

Also today, we've just posted Barrie Maxwell's latest edition of Classic Coming Attractions, in which he reviews 13 new DVDs, collectively including 14 feature films and a TV series as well. Among them are Universal's Mae West: The Glamour Collection (including Night After Night, I'm No Angel, Goin' to Town, Go West Young Man and My Little Chickadee), Fox's The Story of Ruth and the Shirley Temple: America's Sweetheart Collection - Volume 3 (including Dimples, The Little Colonel and The Littlest Rebel), VCI's Betty Hutton Double Feature (including The Stork Club and Perils of Pauline) and the Edward G. Robinson Double Feature (including Scarlet Street and The Red House), MGM and Sony's new Guys and Dolls: Deluxe Edition, and Paramount's Sgt. Bilko: The Phil Silvers Show 50th Anniversary Edition. As always, Barrie also runs down the latest classic release announcements. Enjoy that, and thanks for your patience while we worked to get it posted.

Stay tuned...

(EARLY UPDATE - 5/17/06 - 1:15 PM PDT)

Well... things are a little interesting around here today.

We've confirmed something today (directly with both Fox and Lucasfilm) that we'd begun to suspect... and it's probably going to disappoint a lot of you. It certainly disappoints us here at The Bits. Those new DVD editions of the Star Wars films? The original theatrical versions of the films are going to be non-anamorphic (our original post on this indicated otherwise, but we have confirmed that the widescreen versions will be letterboxed only). What this likely means is that Lucasfilm has simply re-purposed the non-anamorphic transfers that were done for previous laserdisc and VHS releases of the "original" versions of the films. And with that, our enthusiasm for this DVD release has just dropped through the floor. Anamorphic-enhanced versions of the theatrical editions, we'd buy in a heartbeat. But what we're going to get instead is little better than a ported-over laserdisc. In this day and age, releasing a widescreen film without anamorphic enhancement on DVD is just unacceptable. Does Lucasfilm really think fans want those versions of the films on DVD so badly that people just won't care? Yes Virginia, they do. How many versions of these films do you suppose Lucasfilm will try to get fans to buy in high-def over the coming years? And think about it... you just know the studio has to be prepping yet another standard DVD release for next year's 30th Anniversary of the original Star Wars. Do you suppose this means that the theatrical editions won't be included in the super-über box set of all six films? Probably. Ugh.

Line up like Jersey cows and grease up yer teats, Force fans. Or better yet... run for the south forty as fast as your hooves'll carry you. Stampede!

On the subject of Apocalypse Now today, a lot of you have been asking what aspect ratio the films included in the 2-disc Complete Dossier DVD release will be in. Apparently, some are displeased with the fact that while the films were shot in 2.35:1, they've seldom been released on video at that exact ratio. Confirmation from both Paramount and director Francis Ford Coppola's American Zoetrope (see this link) indicates that the film's cinematographer, Vittorio Storaro, prefers that Apocalypse Now be exhibited on video at the slightly cropped widescreen ratio of 2.0:1 (as was the case on the previous DVD releases). Coppola agrees with this decision, so that's what you'll get on the DVD. While it wouldn't be our choice, it's hard to argue with the director and DP. Thankfully, however, both versions of the film on the new DVD will be in anamorphic widescreen (unlike some OTHER forthcoming and much-beloved films on disc).

Around the site today, we've finally updated The Winner's Circle for those of you who have been wondering who's won our recent contests.

Speaking of Contests, we've kicked off a new one today, giving each of you the chance to win copies of Universal's The Producers on disc. This contest will run until Noon (Pacific) on Sunday, May 21st. Click on the link to get started and good luck!

Okay, for those of you who have been patiently awaiting Barrie's column, we'll be back with that shortly. As you can imagine, getting this Star Wars DVD news confirmed took priority this morning.

Stay tuned...

(LATE UPDATE - 5/16/06 - 6 PM PDT)

We wanted to check in here with a quick update this evening, to give you a look at the cover artwork for the forthcoming Star Wars: Limited Edition DVDs due on 9/12, which will each contain both the original theatrical edition and more recent "2004 DVD edition" of the individual films. The art was released by Lucasfilm on their Star Wars.com site earlier this afternoon...

Star Wars: Episode IV - Limited EditionStar Wars: Episode V - Limited EditionStar Wars: Episode VI - Limited Edition

One thing that's kind of cool about this new cover artwork, as you may already be able to tell, is that while it's done in photo montage style, it's designed to look like some of the original painted poster art images from back in the day. We would still have preferred the posters themselves, but that's Lucasfilm for you. Here they are for comparison...

Star Wars: Episode IV original posterStar Wars: Episode V original posterStar Wars: Episode VI original poster

Anyway, we suspect that a lot of people will simply replace the movie DVDs in their existing Star Wars Trilogy box sets with these new 2-disc sets. Of course, purchasing these new discs means buying a second copy of the 2004 editions just to get the previously unreleased theatrical versions. As far as we know, the 2004 discs in these new sets will be identical to the copies you already own, except that perhaps they'll have new art printed on the discs themselves (the extras - basically just the commentary tracks - are the same).

By the way, for those of you who may be weary of having to purchase yet ANOTHER version of the Star Wars films (after all the previous tapes, laserdiscs and DVDs), we refer you to the May 5th installment of the online comic strip Rockwood, by Brian Lundmark (click this link and scroll down). All too true.

Stay tuned...

(EARLY UPDATE - 5/16/06 - 2:30 PM PDT)

Warner Bros has made their V for Vendetta official for release on 8/1, as we expected. You'll find three different versions available on that day - single disc versions in both full frame and anamorphic widescreen video (SRP $28.98), and also a 2-disc special edition (SRP $34.99). The extras are as we described them in The Rumor Mill the other day. There's no word yet of an HD-DVD version, but we expect one to be announced eventually.

Warner has also announced the DVD release of The ATL for 7/18 as expected. Look for two versions - full frame and anamorphic widescreen (SRP $28.98 each).

Sony has set Robert Ludlum's Covert One: The Hades Factor and a Hudson Hawk: Special Edition for release on 7/25. In addition, both the UMD and DVD release of the animated Boondocks: The Complete First Season have also been moved to 7/25 (from 6/13).

Universal has announced Severed: Forest of the Dead for 8/1, four individual volumes of Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan for 8/22, Karate Dog for 8/29 and a single-disc Backdraft: Anniversary Edition for 9/12. There's no word yet as to the new extras on Backdraft (if any).

Meanwhile, Buena Vista has set Tsotsi for release on 7/18. An Escape from Witch Mountain: 2-Movie Collection (including both Escape and Return) will follow on 9/5. Looking long term, watch for a Bad Santa: Director's Cut on 10/10. Also, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Mickey Saves Santa and Other Mouseketales will arrive in stores on 11/14.

Over on the mountain, Paramount will release Hogan's Heroes: The Complete Fourth Season on 8/15.

We also have additional details on Paramount's 8/15 release of Apocalypse Now: The Complete Dossier. The 2-disc special collector's edition will include audio commentary on both the 153-minute theatrical edition and the 202-minute Redux edition by director Francis Ford Coppola, 12 never-before-seen segments from the cutting room floor, the lost "Monkey Sampan" scene, Marlon Brando's complete reading of the T.S. Eliot poem The Hollow Men, the Apocalypse Then and Now retrospective featurette, the PBR Streetgang cast reunion featurette, additional never-before-seen featurettes, and more. We're trying to determine if the films will be presented in their correct 2.35:1 aspect ratio. We do know that the discs will be anamorphic widescreen. Audio will be Dolby Digital 5.1 with English and Spanish subs.

By the way, this would normally go in The Rumor Mill, so salt accordingly: Sources are telling us that, despite recent rumors to the contrary, Star Trek: The Complete Animated Series is still tentatively expected to be released on DVD by Paramount later this year (likely in September). However, don't look for much in the way of extras ('cause there won't be much).

Around the site today, we've also updated all of the DVD format stats we track (above) including the CEA DVD Player Sales numbers for the complete month of April. All charts should now be up to date.

Here's artwork for Warner's V for Vendetta, along with Fox's 30 Days (due 7/11)...

V for VendettaV for Vendetta: Special Edition30 Days

Due to all the announcements, we'll be back tonight with Barrie's new column (for tomorrow). We've got a new column from Adam Jahnke on the way too. Stay tuned...

5/15/06

Afternoon, folks! Hope you all had a great weekend. It was pretty busy around the old Hunt household. Some of my family is coming out for a visit in a couple of weeks, so there's preparations afoot. For those who have been wondering, Chloe (our new kitten) is finally back home and doing fantastic. In fact, she's sitting here right next to me watching birds out my office window as I type. Let's see... what else. I caught the final episode of The West Wing last night. Pretty good. It's a shame the show's going off the air - I was really starting to like the new cast. Ah well. Grey's Anatomy was pretty good too. Don't forget, the second part of the season finale is tonight.

Anyway, enough personal stuff. Let's get down to business.

Warner has just officially announced a couple of great classic film collections for release on 8/15. James Stewart: The Signature Collection (SRP $49.92) will include The FBI Story, The Naked Spur, The Spirit of St. Louis, The Stratton Story and a double feature disc containing a pair of films Stewart starred in with Henry Fonda: The Cheyenne Social Club and Firecreek. We've been really looking forward to The Spirit of St. Louis, so it's nice to finally see it announced. Also on the way is Ronald Reagan: The Signature Collection (SRP also $49.92), which will include Kings Row, Knute Rockne All-American, The Hasty Heart, Storm Warning and The Winning Team. Knute Rockne All-American is another great classic we've been eagerly awaiting. All of these films will be available separately (as well as in the sets) for $19.97 each.

Meanwhile, Fox has just announced the release of 30 Days for 7/11. For those who haven't seen it, it's the series created by Super-Size Me's Morgan Spurlock, in which different people try to live in each other's shoes for a month. I've only seen a couple episodes, but it's pretty good from what I can tell. I'm looking forward to checking them all out on disc.

Paramount has set the 3-disc South Park: The Complete Eighth Season for release on 8/29. Expect more "mini commentaries" from Trey and Matt on the set's episodes. Also due from the studio on 8/15 is the 2-disc Apocalypse Now: The Complete Dossier, which includes both the original 1979 and the 2001 Redux versions of the film, along with "audio commentaries, rare unseen footage, lost scenes, brand new featurettes, Segments from the Cutting Room Floor, Then & Now retrospectives and more."

Also, we've gotten word from our friends at Media Blasters that things are looking good for them to continue releasing additional seasons of Zatoichi: The TV Series, which pretty well makes our day (you can read my review of the first three volumes here). As we reported last week, Volume Four is due on 6/13 and Volume Five is set for release on 8/29. Volume Six is TBA and will conclude the first season on disc. These are the episodes you can expect to see in the next two sets:

Volume Four - (014) Fighting Journey with Baby in Tow, (015) Festival Song of the Raven, (016) The Winds from Mt. Akagi and (017) Burning Sunset in Bridal Pass

Volume Five - (018) Rush Trip, (019) A Rainbow Over My Homeland, (020) The Godmother and the Wolves (aka Female Yakuza Boss and Wolves) and (021) The Little Flower That Could

By the way, a few of you have asked us what's up with the one Zatoichi feature film that remains unreleased on disc here in the States: Zatoichi's Pilgrimage. As we've reported in the past, Miramax purchased the rights to the film a few years ago, because Quentin Tarantino wanted to do a remake... that is until Beat Takeshi did his Zatoichi film in 2003. The DVD release rights to Pilgrimage might have passed with the rest of the Tarantino material to The Weinstein Company, so we're going to keep digging on this one.

Here's cover art for Zatoichi: The TV Series - Volume Four, along with Paramount's South Park: The Complete Eighth Season and Apocalypse Now: The Complete Dossier...

Zatoichi: The TV Series - Volume FourSouth Park: The Complete Eighth SeasonApocalypse Now: The Complete Dossier

Finally today, you guys want to see something funny? Check out this video of Al Gore from Saturday Night Live this past weekend. "I assure you, we will not let the glaciers win." The link is a little slow today, so be patient. Wanna see something else funny? Check out these new Apple Mac commercials starring John Hodgman from The Daily Show (the guy's a riot - you can view more of his Daily Show work here) and Justin Long, who played Warren Cheswick on NBC's now defunct Ed. "No, no... do not be a hero!" One last funny thing to watch... director Wes Anderson's new American Express commercial. "Can you do a .357 with a bayonet?" These vids are all good stuff that should give you a giggle or two.

FYI, we'll have The Winner's Circle updated tomorrow. A few of you have asked about it, so rest assured we'll take care of it.

Back tomorrow with Barrie Maxwell's new Classic Coming Attractions as well. Stay tuned!

5/12/06

Well... it's the end of another long week, and we've got some new title announcements to report for you today. We've got some other ground to cover as well, so let's get to it.

Fox has set the DVD release of The Girls Next Door: Season 1 for 8/8, The Simpsons: The Complete Eighth Season on 8/15, and a 2-pack of Romancing the Stone and Jewel of the Nile on 8/29. The Simpsons will include a massive slate of extras too numerous to list here (but expect bonus material similar to what's been on recent season sets for the series). Two different packaging options will be available - Digipack and a plastic Maggie head (see pic below).

Disney has announced the DVD release of The Shaggy Dog (2006) for 8/1 (SRP $29.99).

Meanwhile, Universal will release The Sci-Fi Boys documentary on 5/16 (SRP $19.98). Hosted by Peter Jackson, the doc looks at a group of filmmakers who, inspired by Forrest J. Ackerman's Famous Monsters magazine, made their own B-movies and later went on to craft some of the biggest and most influential films of all time - folks like Spielberg, Lucas, Jackson and Corman. Along the way, you'll get a look at the evolution of science fiction films and special effects too. It's a cool piece of work.

Speaking of Universal, we've been getting reports from readers that the studio's Munich: Limited Edition is MIA in stores. Indeed, it seems no longer to be available from Amazon.com. We've got inquiries into the studio as to what's up with the release and we'll let you know when they get back to us. You can, however, still widely find the movie-only version in stores (and online) if you prefer it. [Editor's Note: We've learned that the 2-disc version hasn't been cancelled and it isn't defective. Demand was simply much higher than expected, so retailers have had to order more copies from Universal. You should find the title back in stores soon.]

Also today, Warner has The Flintstones: The Complete Sixth Season due on 9/5 (SRP $44.98). We should note that this season introduced The Great Gazoo character, and was also the show's final year, thus completing the release of the classic Hanna Barbera animated series on DVD. Extras on the 4-disc set will include The Flintstones Meets Pop Culture and The Great Gazoo: From A to Zetox featurettes.

Speaking of Warner, do check out our latest Rumor Mill update today, with details on when you can expect the studio's V for Vendetta to hit DVD, along with other TBA title news.

On the high-definition front, Warner has announced a new batch of HD-DVDs... sort of... for release NEXT year. The news came at this week's E3 conference. It seems that Warner Interactive Entertainment is working on a Dirty Harry videogame that's set to be released late in 2007, timed to coincide with the HD-DVD release of a definitive Dirty Harry Collection from Warner Home Video. The collection will include Dirty Harry, Magnum Force, The Enforcer, Sudden Impact and The Dead Pool in high-definition with "completely revamped sound and, with the help of Eastwood himself, may feature some never-before-seen behind-the-scenes footage and many other bonus materials." Interesting. We've updated the High-Def Release List accordingly. Now if Warner would just announced The Matrix and Batman Begins, they'd really be on a roll (watch for that to happen soon).

Speaking of high-def, Stan Glasgow, president and chief operating officer of Sony Electronics, has apparently let it be known that the company won't have enough components on hand to manufacture enough Blu-ray Disc players to meet the expected demand in the States this year (you can read more on this via PC Mag). Apparently, the global explosion in the popularity of electronics devices like cell phones has led to a tightening supply of chips and other components, and thus higher prices. That certainly isn't good news for the Blu-ray Disc camp.

Of course... maybe demand won't be quite as high as Sony predicts. In the wake of Sony's PS3 pricing announcement at the E3 convention this week, we're left with decidedly mixed feelings. On one hand, $599 is a pretty attractive price when you consider that you'll be getting one of the lowest-priced Blu-ray Disc players on the market at that time (most will be closer to $1000), PLUS a next-generation gaming console. On the other hand, for those only interested in the PS3 for its gaming functions, $599 might just price the console right out of the "must by" category for many gamers. If Microsoft drops their Xbox 360 price by, say $50 or more when Sony debuts the PS3 in November, a lot of people who would normally have purchased the PS3 sight-unseen might decide to wait a year until the price goes down. Those who waited to buy the Xbox 360 hoping for a price break might pick up one of those in November instead. Sony is placing a helluva high bet on the table with their PS3 price. Meanwhile, the real winner to come out of E3 seems to be Nintendo. Sure, we all gave the company a lot of crap about naming their next generation system the Wii. And sure, the Wii won't be able to render games at higher than 480p resolution. That said, Nintendo's price for the unit is expected to be well under $300. Plus, Nintendo seems to be the one company that's really trying to innovate the way people play games. We're very intrigued by their motion-sensitive wand controller, and the possibilities it opens up for playing shooters, RPGs and sports games. And the buzz from the show floor, according to numerous reports in the press and around the Net, seem to be all about the Wii.

A very real concern we have here at The Bits about these game systems, and particularly the future of high-definition on disc, is how much money is too much to ask consumers to pay? We're at a place in the consumer marketplace where people are worried about soaring gas prices and higher interest rates. DVD sales are slowing, movie-going in theaters is on the decline. People only have so much disposable income. They're often willing to pay when they know they're getting real value in return... but how much value is Blu-ray Disc and HD-DVD really going to give them? The only real, tangible improvement that HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc offer over existing DVD is in the area of picture and sound. Few people that we know of worry too much about the lack of picture and sound quality on their existing DVDs. On the contrary, they're pretty thrilled with it. Keep in mind, most people don't yet have 16x9 displays and full surround sound systems. When they do upgrade their gear, their existing DVD library is still going to give them significant additional quality that they haven't experienced yet by and large. Do we really think they're going to be eager to upgrade to high-definition? And despite all the talk about the amazing new interactivity these formats are expected to offer... eventually... most people never even interact with all the features on the standard DVDs they buy. What all of this tells us is that HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc are going to be niche formats for a long time - the laserdisc of the 21st Century. They'll remain the province of the very high-end cinephiles. And we think that real success on that level, for either format, is going to depend on how quickly this format war becomes a moot issue. Why? Well... even the early adopters we hear from these days are split as to which format they'll lay down their cash for. Some even tell us they may wait a year or more, until the landscape for high-def discs becomes more clear. Again, these are the early adopters we're talking about here.

On the HD-DVD front, two of the four major studios touted at CES as being supporters of the format, Paramount and New Line, haven't even officially announced titles yet (Paramount came close to announcing their first trio of titles last week, then delayed... we're told New Line is unlikely to release titles until the 4th Qtr at the earliest). Still, Warner's title announcements are expected to ramp up dramatically in the coming weeks, and we understand that Universal has some exciting titles being prepped for summer release on the format as well. Additional hardware is forthcoming from RCA, and of course there's Microsoft's Xbox 360 HD-DVD upgrade expected to be out before the end of the year (specific price and release date are still TBA).

On the Blu-ray Disc side, we'll have to wait and see how their launch goes. Sony, MGM and Lionsgate are expected to be fairly aggressive with titles (and have already announced many). We've heard that Fox and Disney each have a large slate of launch titles nearly ready go, and that they're just waiting to announce them once hardware delivery dates are more firmly locked down. Warner's first Blu-ray titles should start being announced in the next month or two. Pioneer, Samsung, Sony and Panasonic are all expected to have players out this year, along with Sony's PS3 in November (which, again, should be the cheapest Blu-ray Disc player available for a time).

Frankly, the real test of all these formats and systems will come in the 4th Quarter, when we've had our first chance to see how consumers as a whole react to them... or not... over the holiday season. Will either Blu-ray Disc or HD-DVD be the "must buy" item on people's shopping lists? Will people spend their money on the new game systems instead? Will they favor the 360 and Wii due to the PS3's higher price? Or will people simply tighten their belts and avoid all of the above? Once thing's for sure - there's going to be a LOT of hardware out there vying for people's hard-earned money. It will certainly be interesting to see what happens.

In the meantime, I wanted to call your attention to an article by David Pogue that was run in The New York Times yesterday, ominously entitled Why the World Doesn't Need Hi-Def DVDs. It's a pretty savvy piece of writing on these new high-def formats. David makes a great argument for most consumers just to sit this high-def war out, and we certainly can't say that we disagree with him. In fact, we've made a lot of these same points here at The Bits over the last few months. It's interesting how the media buzz for high-definition has taken a decidedly more cautionary tone compared to the buzz that was going around in the press back in early 1997 when DVD first appeared on the scene. Hollywood and the consumer electronics industry would do well to take note.

Well... got a little long winded there, didn't we? Guess we had to make it up to you for missing out on Wednesday's post.

Anyway, we'll leave you today with some new cover artwork. Here's art for Fox's The Simpsons: The Complete Eighth Season, Warner's HD-DVD versions of Full Metal Jacket and Unforgiven (both due on 5/16), as well as their just announced DVD releases of the Look, Up in the Sky!: The Amazing Story of Superman documentary (6/20) and The Flintstones: The Complete Sixth Season, and MGM's new Some Like it Hot: Collector's Edition (7/18)...

The Simpsons: The Complete Eighth SeasonFull Metal Jacket (HD-DVD)Unforgiven (HD-DVD)

Look, Up in the Sky!: The Amazing Story of SupermanThe Flintstones: The Complete Sixth SeasonSome Like it Hot: Collector's Edition

We'll be back next week with a new Barrie Maxwell column, new HD-DVD format reviews and more. Have a great weekend and we'll see you Monday!

5/11/06

Anyone up for some reviews? The standard DVD kind? We decided to take a break yesterday and today in order to concentrate on reviewing a few recent and upcoming releases on everyone's favorite optical disc format. So presented for your enjoyment this afternoon are my own thoughts on six DVDs I can happily recommend to varying degrees: 20th Century Fox's outstanding new Kingdom of Heaven: 4-Disc Director's Cut and the long-awaited Boston Legal: Season One (both due in stores on 5/23), Synapse Films' newly remastered Triumph of the Will: Special Edition (now available) and Media Blasters' much appreciated DVD releases of Zatoichi: The TV Series - Volumes One, Two and Three (also now available).

You guys know what big fans we are of the legendary Blind Swordsman, so we're pretty thrilled with these TV episode discs (for the record, Volume Four is due on 6/13 and Volume Five is set for release on 8/29). Actually, all of these titles are well worth a look, particularly the new edition of Kingdom of Heaven, which is a must-have for Ridley Scott fans and another jam-packed special edition to boot.

One quick note today... we've gotten our hands on Warner's HD-DVD version of Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket. The film IS presented in widescreen (we believe at 1.78:1 aspect ratio, but we'll look more closely and confirm that this weekend). Just FYI.

Okay... so that's it for today. We'll catch you up on any late-breaking DVD and high-def news tomorrow. We've also got more DVD and HD-DVD reviews on the way, so stay tuned.

(LATE UPDATE - 5/9/06 - 5:30 PM PDT)

We've gotten several e-mails from Bits readers this afternoon, indicating that Microsoft may have inadvertently let the cat out of the bag with regard to the price of the newly announced HD-DVD add-on drive for their Xbox 360 game system. According to a few of our ever observant readers, a $199 price for the device appeared in this story at Xbox.com for a brief time today. A short time after it appeared, however, the specific pricing information was removed. Microsoft is saying publicly that the pricing and availability details on the accessory will be announced at a later date.

If the price information IS accurate (and keep in mind again, it's not yet official), that would put the cost of HD-DVD playback capability for the Xbox 360 at around either $500 or $600 (assuming a purchase price for the system itself of either $299 or $399, plus the $199 for the HD-DVD drive). That's actually right in line with Sony's just announced $499 and $599 models of their PS3, which will be Blu-ray Disc capable right out of the box. Interesting indeed. We'll keep you up to date as new information becomes available. Thanks to all the Bits readers who contacted us on this.

We've got one other interesting piece of high-def information today, and it concerns those problems we've been having with our Toshiba HD-A1 HD-DVD player locking up on us during playback. Our industry sources are telling us that the problem is not so much with the player itself, as with its remote (so both the HD-A1 and the higher-priced HD-XA1 are affected by this issue, as they basically use the same remote - it's just back-lit on the XA1). It seems that the remote is very sensitive, so that sometimes when you press one of its buttons, it inadvertently sends more than one command to the player. This can cause the player, in effect, to become confused and stop responding. I'm told that if you have a universal remote that can learn commands, and you program it correctly with the Toshiba remote's basic navigation functions (and use it for this purpose), your player will respond normally without errors. This makes sense to us, because as reviewers we're typically pretty aggressive when it comes to skipping around discs, going in and out of the menus very quickly, etc. And nine times out of ten, that's when we have the most problems. Toshiba's engineers are apparently working on a solution (presumably a firmware upgrade to the players) to deal with this issue. We'll let you know when it's available. Meanwhile, now that you know what's causing most of the lock-ups, you should have an easier time avoiding them.

Stay tuned...

(EARLY UPDATE - 5/9/06 - 11:30 AM PDT)

Warner's announced some interesting new titles on standard DVD today. First up is ABC's Invasion: The Complete First Season. I'll tell you, it's actually a pretty interesting show. Worth checking out if you haven't done so already. You'll find that in stores on 8/22 (SRP $59.98), complete with anamorphic widescreen video and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio.

Also arriving on 8/22 is a SciFi double feature of Them! and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (SRP $14.97).

TV fans will also be pleased to learn that Warner will be releasing Supernatural: The Complete First Season on 9/5 (SRP $59.98).

Backpeddling to June, however, Warner has just announced a title that we're particularly looking forward to for 6/20... the Look, Up in the Sky!: The Amazing Story of Superman documentary, commissioned by Superman Returns director Bryan Singer and directed by Kevin Burns. The documentary, presented on DVD in anamorphic widescreen video with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (SRP $14.99), examines the history of the character, from the earliest comic book appearance to this year's new feature film. Should be cool.

Meanwhile, New Line will be reissuing its 3-movie Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Collection box set on 6/6 (SRP $37.92).

On the high-def front today, Warner has announced another pair of new HD-DVD titles for release on 5/16 (SRP $28.99). The first is a war movie and is also Stanley Kubrick's first film on high-def disc, Full Metal Jacket. The other is Clint Eastwood's Best Picture-winning western, Unforgiven. The two discs will include all of the extras that had been available on the previous DVD versions of these films. We've updated the High-Def Release List accordingly.

One other bit of high-definition news from E3 this week... Sony has officially announced that its Blu-ray Disc capable PlayStation 3 will be available here in the States in two versions on 11/17. There will be a model priced at just $499 containing a 20GB internal harddrive, and also a $599 unit containing a 60GB harddrive. I have to say, those are pretty impressive price points, given that speculation just a few months ago had the PS3 selling for $700 or more. Still, only the 60GB model will have an HDMI output, so those of you interested in the PS3 for home theater use in addition to gaming will need to shell out a little more for the higher tier model. You can read more on these two units via Sony's official press release.

Elsewhere around the site this morning, we've kicked off a new Contest giving each of you the chance to take home copies of Universal's Munich and Nanny McPhee. Like the others (which continue this week) this new contest will run until Noon (Pacific) on Monday, May 15th. Click on the link to get started and good luck!

Back with reviews tomorrow. Stay tuned!

5/8/06

Afternoon, folks!

Word from the E3 computer gaming expo, which kicked off here in L.A. today, is that Microsoft has officially announced that they're going to be releasing an add-on HD-DVD drive for its already available Xbox 360 game system. There's no word as to the price or when it will be available yet, but Microsoft promises that it will be "fully featured" for home theater enthusiasts and that the momentum is all on the side of HD-DVD in the format war because of the price advantage. You can click here for more official propaganda on this from Microsoft themselves.

Meanwhile, back in the world of... you know, actual consumer reality, industry reports have sales of HD-DVD players and hardware sluggish so far (click here for more from Video Business), with the format still as yet unavailable at most retailers.

By the way, speaking of Microsoft and HD-DVD, it seems that reports that Toshiba's HD-A1 is basically just a home theater PC are true. Erstwhile geek-with-blog Lorin Thwaits recently decided to dismantle his HD-A1 to see what makes it tick, and inside he found a 2.5 GHz Pentium 4 CPU, a bunch of PC2700 DDR RAM memory and other off-the-shelf parts - pretty much everything but a mini-Windows XP OS (the machine actually runs Red Hat Linux and boots off an internal flash drive). No wonder it takes a full minute to start up. Click the link above for all the geek you can handle. Well done, Lorin!

On the standard DVD front today, Sony (for MGM) has just announced the release of a 2-disc Some Like it Hot: Collector's Edition for release on 7/18 (SRP $24.96).

And here's a little Rumor Mill-worthy 20th Century Fox DVD release information (so salt accordingly): industry sources are telling us to expect the studio's Phat Girlz on 8/8, Thank You for Smoking and Just My Luck on 8/15, and The Sentinel on 8/29.

Back later. Stay tuned...

5/5/06

We're pleased as punch this afternoon to be able to bring you Adam's latest edition of Jahnke's Electric Theatre. In this installment, entitled Town without Pity, Adam takes his Theatre "unplugged" so to speak, and turns in something a little different: a bit of a summer movie preview. Don't miss it!

We've got SEVEN new music DVD reviews for you today, thanks to the efforts of Matt and Lindsay over at our MusicTAP affiliate site: Roadrunner Records' The Dresden Dolls: Paradise, Polar/Universal Music's ABBA: The Movie, Hip-O/Motown's Marvin Gaye: The Real Thing - In Performance 1964-1981, and four Classic Albums DVDs from Eagle Vision, including Cream: Disraeli Gears, Sex Pistols: Never Minds the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols, Pink Floyd: The Making of The Dark Side of the Moon and Queen: The Making of A Night at the Opera.

We've also got some great new cover art to show you from Universal. Here's a look at their Double Indemnity: Legacy Series (8/29), and new HD-DVD art for Happy Gilmore and The Rundown (both 6/13), and Friday Night Lights and Pitch Black (both 7/11). We've also got a look at The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada for you from Sony (due 6/6)...

Double Indemnity: Legacy SeriesHappy Gilmore (HD-DVD)The Rundown (HD-DVD)

Friday Night Lights (HD-DVD)Pitch Black (HD-DVD)The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

Watch for lots of reviews next week (both DVD and HD-DVD), including Fox's outstanding new 4-disc Kingdom of Heaven: Director's Cut.

Meanwhile, have a great weekend!

(LATE UPDATE - 5/4/06 - 12:45 PM PDT)

Well... the Star Wars news is barely 12 hours old, and the reaction is coming in fast and furious. My e-mail box was jam packed this morning by readers chiming in with their two cents. Most are happy to see the original versions finally on the way, though a few have complained about getting double-dipped again, and some are upset that the original versions "won't look as good" as the recent SE versions and will only have Dolby 2.0 Surround audio. Others are screaming to know what kind of extras will be included ("Deleted scenes?! Please tell me will there be deleted scenes?!") and the answer is that we really don't know. I strongly suspect there will be very little extras on these discs, except that you might get the same audio commentary tracks on the SE version discs as they've included on DVD in the past. Keep in mind that 2007 is the 30th anniversary of the original Star Wars, so I'd be shocked if Lucasfilm didn't have something up their sleeves to commemorate that. We know that they've been working on an über-ultimate super box set of all six films, so it makes sense that we might see that for the anniversary. Maybe it will be available in just standard DVD, or maybe both standard and high-definition - we don't know. It might very well be that Lucas is hoping that by releasing the original theatrical versions of these films now on standard DVD, he can avoid having to include them in a future high-def box set release. You know... sort of a "let's get 'em out of the way now" sort of thing. The only real new bit of information we have about the release today is that each 2-disc set will carry an SRP of around $30 (likely $29.98). This comes from our old friend Mike Snyder of USA Today, who has a story up about the release online (see link). We're still trying to confirm whether there will be a box release so you don't have to drop the full $90 for all three films, but if not, look for these sets to be heavily discounted just about everywhere you'll be able to buy them. We'll post art and official specs when they're available.

Speaking of September, our industry sources are telling us that's likely when Fox's first Blu-ray Disc format releases will debut. Word is that's when Pioneer's BDP-HD1 Elite player will finally hit store shelves. Samsung's BD-P1000 is expected to street in June (6/25 to be exact), while new Blu-ray players from Panasonic and Sony are tentatively due around August.

Meanwhile, back on the good old regular DVD front, Fox has just announced a few more August titles, including a Mr. Moto Collection: Volume 1 (featuring Moto Takes a Chance, Mysterious Mr. Moto, Thank You, Mr. Moto and Think Fast, Mr. Moto) on 8/1, and Fourteen Hours (1951), Shock (1946) and Vicki (1953) on 8/29.

Also today, Sony will release Edison Force on 7/11. They're currently planning to release Basic Instinct 2 and Benchwarmers sometime in July as well.

DreamWorks has set She's the Man for release on 7/18.

Universal's Stoned is due on 7/25. The studio also has Brick tentatively slated for release sometime in July (we'll let you know when the street date is official).

Finally today, Warner has just announced that they'll release Thinking XXX (for HBO) and All Aboard Rosie's Family Cruise on 6/13, Steal the Sky, Enemy Within, Fever and Fortress (all for HBO) on 7/25, Curb Your Enthusiasm: The Complete Fifth Season, The Comeback (both for HBO) and Richard Pryor: Live in Concert on 8/1, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: The Complete Fourth Season on 8/8, The Brak Show: Volume Two, Sealab 2021: Season 4 (both for Cartoon Network), The Madness of Henry the VIII and Napoleon's Final Battle on 8/15, Elizabeth I (for HBO) and Veronica Mars: The Complete Second Season on 8/22, and Almost Strangers and Shooting the Past (both for BBC) on 9/5.

Stay tuned!

(EARLY UPDATE - 5/4/06 - 12:01 AM PDT)

It's official, folks!

Just hours after we posted our story in The Rumor Mill, the official Star Wars website has now officially confirmed it: Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox are going to be releasing the original, undoctored and digitally-untweaked, theatrical versions of the Star Wars films on standard DVD in September. The films will be available on disc only for a very limited time, starting on September 12th (they'll go out of print on December 31st). The films will be available as individual 2-disc sets (there may also be a box as well). One of the discs in each set will include the recent "2004" special edition version of the film, while the other disc will include the original theatrical version in anamorphic widescreen video, with audio in Dolby Digital 2.0 surround. [Editor's Note: We have since learned that these versions will NOT be anamorphic - just letterboxed. Plan your purchase or non-purchase accordingly.] And yes, on the 2-disc set of A New Hope... Han will shoot first! Here's an official quote from Lucasfilm's Senior Vice President, Jim Ward:

"Over the years, a truly countless number of fans have told us that they would love to see and own the original version that they remember experiencing in theaters. We returned to the Lucasfilm Archives to search exhaustively for source material that could be presented on DVD. This is something that we're very excited to be able to give to fans in response to their continuing enthusiasm for Star Wars."

Well, all I can say is... it's about ___-damned TIME! So much for "those versions don't exist anymore." This is very good news indeed, and we're very happy to see it finally happen. Hats off to George Lucas, Jim Ward and everyone who decided to finally make this a reality on DVD.

And before you ask, it IS DVD only... there's no high-definition version expected this year. Just FYI.

Stay tuned...

(LATE UPDATE - 5/3/06 - 4 PM PDT)

We just HAD to check in with this, folks! You Star Wars fans are going to brown your boxers. We've been hearing for a while now that something cool was in the works DVD-wise up at Lucasfilm... and now our industry sources have weighed in with confirmation. If you wish to become one with the Force, do NOT miss today's Rumor Mill update. Just trust me on this. It's real. We aren't kidding. It's going to be official very soon. 'Nuff said. ;)

(LATE UPDATE - 5/3/06 - 1:15 PM PDT)

Didn't I just mention the subject of Blu-ray Disc delays in my earlier post? Well, word has just arrived from retailers that Sony (despite previous statements to the contrary) has finally decided to push its first few batches of Blu-ray Disc titles (both Sony and MGM releases) into June, to coincide more closely with the availability of the first Blu-ray Disc players from Samsung and Pioneer. The new revised dates are as follows (they're based on revised dates posted on Amazon - Sony has yet to issue a statement):

Sony Blu-ray Discs:

6/6 - Underworld: Evolution (day and date)

6/20 - 50 First Dates, The Fifth Element, Hitch, House of Flying Daggers, A Knight's Tale, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, xXx (delayed from 5/23)

6/27 - Ultraviolet (day and date), Kung Fu Hustle, Legends of the Fall, Stealth, S.W.A.T. (delayed from 6/13)

MGM Blu-ray Discs:

6/20 - The Last Waltz (delayed from 5/23)

6/27 - Robocop, Species, The Terminator (delayed from 6/13)

We're confident that these dates are accurate based on retailer confirmation, so we've updated the High-Def Release List accordingly.

On the standard DVD front today, Fox has announced some of its August slate, including Broken Saints: The Complete Series and the What the Bleep Do We Know?: Rabbit Hole Edition on 8/1, The Frat Boy Collection (includes Bachelor Party, PCU and Porky's), The Jayne Mansfield Collection (includes Girl Can't Help It, Sheriff of Fractured Jaw and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?), and The Girls Next Door: Season 1 for release on 8/8, a Clark Gable Collection: Volume 1 (includes Call of the Wild, Soldier of Fortune and The Tall Men) due 8/15, and a movie-only version of Transporter 2 and a Transporter/Transporter 2 box set on 8/22. The studio will release Man on Fire on UMD format on 8/8 as well (our UMD Release List has been updated).

Here's cover art for Sony's Blu-ray Disc version of Underworld: Evolution (due 6/6), and Paramount's Threshold: The Complete Series (8/22) and Disney's Eight Below (6/20) on DVD...

Underworld: Evolution (Blu-ray Disc)Threshold: The Complete SeriesEight Below

Stay tuned...

(EARLY UPDATE - 5/3/06 - 12:01 AM PDT)

So... I'll tell you, we're just over two weeks into the official HD-DVD launch, and we're having really mixed feelings about the format right now here at The Bits. First of all, the HD-A1 we've managed to borrow temporarily for our review work is just a total lemon. As we've reported before, it repeatedly locks up during playback - completely locks up, including non-responsive controls - forcing you to have to unplug the unit and plug it in again to reboot it. When the unit doesn't completely lock up, we get frequent instances where the video stutters and freezes for a moment, after which time the audio is no longer in sync. Both of these problems aren't getting any better and that (along with the fact that it takes about a minute and a half to get the HD-A1 back into playback mode with discs each time you reboot) has really made it difficult to review the movie software effectively. About half of the readers who own the HD-A1 that we've heard from thus far are reporting similar problems, while the fortunate other half say their units are bug-free. We envy you bug-free folks.

As we've reported, the selection of titles available has been markedly lackluster to date (though we expect that to improve dramatically by the end of this month and into June, with titles like U-571, The Chronicles of Riddick and the soon to be announced Batman Begins). The discs that have been released look and sound (by and large) fantastic, but again I don't know too many people salivating for the "DVD and HD-DVD Combo Format" version of Rumor Has It..., do you?

So then yesterday, we contacted the PR agency handling the format launch for Toshiba (as we have done about once or twice a week for a while now) to find out when we might finally get the actual review hardware we'd been expecting and waiting patiently for... only to learn that it might still be as long as two months before Toshiba can send us one. Now, let me tell you, it's awfully hard for us to do our jobs here at The Bits of reporting on a new format, when we can't even get our hands on WORKING review hardware. And it's even more unusual for a new format that the industry is so keen to promote (by comparison, I'm assured by the Blu-ray Disc camp that we'll have review hardware from them as soon as it's available). Given how hard we've worked to cover HD-DVD thus far here at The Bits, and how many of our readers we managed to turn out for Toshiba nationwide format launch tour last month (we've been told that Bits readers attended at many of the tour stops), the fact that we still can't get review hardware is telling. I know from talking to other members of the press (particularly the online press) that they're having similar problems getting HD-DVD hardware.

Before we go on, this has nothing to do with sore feelings about not getting hardware. Frankly, in talking with the PR agency, it just sounds as if there's not many review units available at the moment. What that tells us is just how seriously rushed the HD-DVD format launch has been. Toshiba, desperate to get HD-DVD onto store shelves before Blu-ray Disc, has stretched itself pretty thin. Buggy and less than fully-featured and compliant hardware, uneven PR support, lackluster software selection, VERY limited hardware and software availability at retail outlets... all of these things have resulted in a lot of frustration among early adopters and many in the early adopter press. Our own experience with HD-DVD here at The Bits has been a decidedly mixed bag thus far, and the reviews we've seen elsewhere in the press, along with the reports of our own readers who have purchased players and discs, seem to corroborate this. I'm not ready to declare the HD-DVD format launch a disaster... but it's been significantly less smooth than we (and, I suspect, the HD-DVD camp - despite enthusiastic press statements to the contrary) might have hoped, and far less smooth than the current DVD format's launch was back in March of 1997.

Somewhere out there, I suspect the Blu-ray Disc folks are smiling like the cat that ate the canary. We'll know soon enough whether Blu-ray can do better with its launch... though the lack of software announcements and firm hardware availability dates doesn't fill us with much confidence. Still, if the launch hardware is bug-free, that alone will be an improvement. Either way, I'm beginning to have the strong feeling that HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc might follow the same course as DVD-Audio and SACD did: Two competing formats offering significantly improved quality... and not all that many people willing to spend the money to take advantage of it. We shall see.

There's no real DVD news to report today yet, though we do have a cool bit of movie news to call your attention to. Actually, it's not so much news... as a trailer. Some of you will no doubt remember how, after last year's ComicCon, we raved about the preview that was shown for Bryan Singer's Superman Returns. I believe I said something to the effect that the preview (much longer and better than the preview trailer that's been officially available in recent months), made a believer out of virtually everyone who saw Singer's presentation. Well now, you finally get to see something that - if you're truth, justice and all that - should get your pulse racing but good. Yes... the official, final theatrical trailer for Superman Returns is now available online, and it's a real dandy. Kevin Spacey looks to be a badass Lex Luthor. I'll tell you... this is, by a wide margin, the summer film I'm most looking forward to. June 30th can't come fast enough.

Around the site today, we've kicked off three new Contests here at The Bits, giving each of you the chance to take home copies of Warner's The West Wing: The Complete Sixth Season, Life Goes On: The Complete First Season, Plan B and Life in the Undergrowth (from the BBC), Image Entertainment's excellent Patlabor: The Movie - Limited Collector's Edition, and First Nat'l's Baby Felix & Friends: His Magic Bag of Tricks. Definitely something there for everyone. The contests will run until Noon (Pacific) on MONDAY, May 15th. Click on the links to get started and good luck!

By the way, not to turn The Bits into The Cat Report, but we've had more than a few of you ask how our kitten Chloe is doing. We've initially expected her to be back with us Monday, but that unfortunately hasn't happened yet. Still, we're pleased to say that she's doing a lot better and we got to visit her yesterday morning for a while, so that was good. Hopefully, she'll be home soon. Thanks again for all your kind e-mails.

Back with more later. Stay tuned...


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