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Site created 12/15/97.




page updated: 7/21/99



My Two Cents
(Archived Posts 5/28/99 - 5/4/99)


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5/28/99

Today, we've got more DVD reviews for you as promised. Here's our look at Buena Vista's Muriel's Wedding and Criterion's The Long Good Friday. And Paulie and In Dreams will be posted shortly. We've also updated the CEMA DVD player sales chart to reflect this week's numbers - 54,953 players sold into retail in the week ending May 21st.

Around the Internet, Warner Home Video has issued their press release announcing their June DVD releases. I spoke with WHV yesterday, and again confirmed that Heat (starring Robert De Niro and Al Pacino) is set for July 27th. They still can't speak officially about street dates for Shawshank Redemption or Excalibur, except to say that both are in the works for later this year. As I've mentioned before, all three will feature new 16x9 transfers, and 5.1 audio (Excalibur will also have a new director's commentary track).

No, Columbia TriStar isn't switching to the Snapper case. I'm not sure why, but I've gotten a ton of e-mail about this. I suppose it's because Gloria (which streets Tuesday, and a few people have gotten their hands on early) is in a Snapper. Here's the story on this - Columbia wanted Dr. Strangelove to be included in Warner's upcoming Kubrick Collection set. The price was that Columbia agreed to release Dr. Strangelove, Gloria and the Taxi Driver: Special Edition in Snappers (I'd be surprised if they weren't repackaged later in keep cases).

I've spoken with Buena Vista Home Entertainment again on the oft-mentioned subjects of anamorphic widescreen and animation. As always, anamorphic widescreen is "under consideration" for at least those titles in 2.35:1 aspect ratio (we think ALL widescreen titles should be so treated). So what about Alice in Wonderland and Dumbo being released on Divx? As many of you know, I also write for Video Store magazine (one of the video industry trades). My editor there, Kevin Brass, published a short story in the latest issue, in which Buena Vista's Martin Blythe made these comments: "I do not believe anti-Divx advocates should read too much into the choices. They might have a point if it was Mulan." He went on to say that both Divx titles are "still under discussion for DVD," although keep in mind, several have already been released on DVD in other regions. "It's not a question of will [the animated classics] come out on DVD, the question is when," Blythe went on to say. "We are much more interested in getting as many new titles out day-and-date as possible." So there you have it. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

By the way, Buena Vista has informed me that their July 27th DVD line-up (which includes I Love Trouble, What's Love Got to Do With It, Smoke Signals, Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion and The Pallbearer, has been pushed back to early August. We'll give you a new date when one is available.

A reader e-mailed me about my comments yesterday on the "Double Digital" markings on the Episode I bootleg VCD. Here's his explanation:

"I thought I would drop you a line and let you know that this isn't the sound format but rather the name of the bootleg operation that produced the disc. You see most VCD makers in Asia will put a logo on their discs and on the screen to identify when one bootlegger makes a bootleg of their bootleg. With me so far? Some of the major ones in HK are THX, Z, and the Double Digital. These logos are usually in the upper right hand corner of the screen and scroll up and down and occasionally will cross to the left for brief period of time."

I guess even the pirates fear bootleggers! Many thanks, Brent, for your explanation.

There's a quasi-funny DVD-related joke up on the Late Night with Conan O'Brien web site. Check this link for their Actual Items page, which has an add for DVD players containing the joke (click on the ad to see it).

Finally today, I'd like to let you all know about the efforts of a Bits reader, to get episodes of Babylon 5 released on DVD. Niall Young has created a BABYLON 5 Petition web site, to get the show on DVD in anamorphic widescreen. You may already know this, but I've been told that the series (and the many feature-length TV movies based on it) have all been produced in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, in anticipation of widescreen Digital TV broadcasting. So they are perfect candidates for anamorphic enhancement on DVD. Niall has collected more than 1300 signatures already, and is still going strong. I've spoken to WHV about the subject, and rest assured, they are WELL aware of the demand for B5 on DVD. They wouldn't comment officially on expected release dates or discs features, but I'm hearing through the grapevine that all of you who are waiting patiently will be very happy later in the year...

Have a great weekend, and we'll be back on Monday. See ya then!

5/27/99

We're back! What an unpleasant experience that was. I won't go into details, but suffice it to say that I spent most of the last two days laid out in bed. Not fun. Thanks to everyone who sent kind "get well" wishes - they were very much appreciated!

One nice thing about having to stay in bed, however, is that I've watched a bunch of new DVDs. Both Todd and I have been very busy spinning discs, so the next few days will see a whole slew of new reviews. Today, we've got our exclusive early look at Alien 3, along with Clay Pigeons, Happiness, and one of my recent favorite independent flicks, a hyper-kinetic, paranoid little flick called Pi. We've also got four more reviews coming tomorrow, including a pair of previously-mentioned (and excellent) DreamWorks titles, Paulie and In Dreams. And we've got a couple more beyond that for the weekend, and for Monday. Whew! Best of all, these reviews are all done and in the can - ready to post.

We've also been hard at work gathering artwork for upcoming DVD titles to show you. Today, we've cleaned out all the art for discs that streeted this week, and added 15 new cover scans, including Mallrats, So I Married an Axe Murderer, In Dreams, Affliction, October Sky, The Last Starfighter and more!

Looks like Ebay quickly pulled the plug on that Phantom Menace bootleg VCD that we mentioned was up for auction yesterday, but here's a look at the artwork that was posted on the page for kicks. I can't believe anyone would pay money for this. It's hard to see, but the cover claims that the disc is in "Double Digital" audio. Loving craftsmanship, straight from Malaysia. And some moron was going to bay $132 for this (at the last bid I saw). Yikes!

Episode I bootleg VCD

Around the Internet, there's an interesting story on how DVD has broken into the mainstream but good - some 25% of the disc sales thus far this year, have been non-action and family titles.

Finally, a big thumbs up from the Bits to the crew of the space shuttle Discovery, which blasted into orbit this morning on a mission to continue building the International Space Station. Wish we could join you guys!

Stay tuned...

5/26/99

Urgh... your erstwhile editor has been sidelined with a horrendous bout of the flu. I'm uploading this post from my laptop in bed. Not good. Basically I just wanted to let you all know what's up. Todd and I do have some 6 reviews done and ready to roll, so as soon as I can get the energy to get them posted, the Bits will be back full force.

There are a couple of interesting items I've learned about however. First, it was only a matter of time, but The Phantom Menace is already being sold on ebay. Take a look at this auction post, for a bootleg VCD of the film, complete with cover artwork. And apparently a complete print of the film was lifted from a theater in a small town in Wisconsin (I've bene there - trust me when I say small) - see the news report here. ShowBiz Data is also reporting that Fox TV will get to broadcast the film in November of 2000, some 6 month after the video release. That would place the video release in May of next year, as we've reported previously.

Divx is releasing a bunch of in demand titles over the coming months, including Dumbo, The Abyss, and possibly Robin Hood and The Sword and the Stone. However Disney WILL be releasing animated films to DVD later this year, and The Abyss is currently slated as a September special edition DVD from Fox. So while Divx's early access may be frustrating, just ignore them. I say - who cares? The films are on the way to DVD.

Speaking of in demand titles, we've again confirmed that Warner's long-awaited Heat will street on July 27th. New Line's Blast from the Past is also scheduled for that date.

Finally, those of you who read my Video Store work, will have probably noticed that this week's issue includes a review of The Avengers DVD set, which is a little hard to read. Somewhere between my computer and printing, the review text got a little jumbled, making it nearly impossible to understand. Here's the text as it should read:

The Avengers - A&E Home Video - Available Now

I really hope that the Hollywood studios take notice of the way A&E releases TV series episodes on DVD. Avengers fans should go nuts for these discs - the entire 1967 season of the classic British show has been released on DVD in one fell swoop. Four box sets are available in all, with each set's two DVDs holding six episodes. There are no extras included, but who cares - you get twenty-four episodes in all! The menus and packaging are sexy, and the episodes themselves look better than some new films do on DVD. This is an impressive set. Now if we could just get The X-Files or Monty Python released like this…


I'll be back tonight and tomorrow with all those new reviews, and we should be back to full strength by then as well. Thanks for your patience!

5/24/99

Oh, no... not ANOTHER version of Star Wars? Well, maybe. Our friends over at fellow theden affiliate Corona's Coming Attractions e-mailed me on Saturday, to say that the Vancouver Sun published an article last week on a local digital artist named Kevin Braun, who has supposedly worked on another new version of Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (the article isn't available online, but you can read a transcript over at Corona). We at the Bits had actually been hearing several such rumors, but nothing we considered substantial. According to the article, this new version would be further modified from the Special Edition version that recently appeared in theaters - even after the SE was done, "there were still 17 shots that Lucas wasn't happy with." One of these is the scene in which Obi Wan Kenobi dies at the hands of Darth Vader. Braun claims to have worked on this scene, and says that this new, further-enhanced version will be re-released to theaters, and will appear on DVD. We say if they're STILL tinkering with the film, how about fixing the shot where you can see the metal pole on Ben's lightsaber, and "unfixing" the shot where Greedo shoots first (wo big peeves with fans of the film, post-SE)? We'll keep you up to date on this.

According to the video trades, the DVD format is gaining a lot of momentum at rental outlets. Encouraged by predictions that the the DVD player base is expected to at least triple in 1999, most major chains are making DVD rental a bigger part of their inventories. Hollywood, Hastings and West Coast Video all carry DVD in 100% of their store locations, and Video Update, Movie Gallery and Blockbuster are following their lead, albeit more slowly.

We've got some very cool information in today's Rumor Mill update, about the list of features on New Line's upcoming Blast from the Past DVD, as well as a new DreamWorks title that's in the works. We've also updated the CEMA DVD Player Sales numbers (the summary and the full chart).

All right - we'll be posting that Alien 3 review tonight, and Todd and I are working on a whole bunch of great new DVD reviews for you this week. Tomorrow will be DreamWorks day around the Bits, with a look at Paulie and In Dreams. Don't miss it!

(LATE UPDATE - 5/21/99 - 11:15 PM PDT)

The winner of our May Trivia Contest has been announced! Thanks to everyone (all 1,129 of you), who took the time out from standing in Star Wars ticket lines to participate!

And speaking of the Trilogy, there's another interesting story (look down on the page) about the possibility of the DVDs coming out soon, over at the Houston Chronicle.com. Producer Rick McCallum talks about some of the interesting things George would like to see included on the DVDs. It doesn't really resolve the issue of a street date, but it's a very interesting insight into Lucas' thoughts on the DVDs. Do not miss it.

We'll be back this weekend with that Alien 3 review. To be honest, I need to watch it a couple more times to really get a handle on my feelings about the film. Originally, I didn't like it much when I saw it in the theaters. But after seeing it once again on DVD, I'm starting to have a renewed appreciation for director David Fincher's efforts. I must reflect on it further to give the film a fair review... ;-)

See you then! Oh... and be sure to check out the newly relaunched DVD Express website - very cool!

(EARLY UPDATE - 5/21/99 - 11:30 AM PDT)

Today is your last day to get those Trivia Contest entries in. We'll be accepting entries until 6 PM PST, so do hurry! The winner will be selected and announced tonight.

We'll be making a larger post at that time as well, but given just how much positive feedback we've been getting on the Alien and Aliens reviews, we'd like to point out a couple of other articles we did a couple of months ago, to those who might have missed them. First of all, we interviewed Charles de Lauzirika, who was Ridley Scott's hand-picked creative supervisor on the Alien DVD. Our own Todd Doogan also took a look at the film's history, and all the extras featured on previous laserdisc releases (the vast majority of which are on the new DVD, including all the deleted scenes and outtakes). And we'll be back tonight with our review of the forthcoming Alien 3 DVD as well.

Around the net today, our friends at Image Entertainment have updated their DVD News page, with lots of new upcoming titles. There are a bunch of Warner Music DVDs in the works, including some featuring Old Blue Eyes. Prizzi's Honor, Silkwood, The Fighting Sullivans: Special Edition, and Grand Theft Auto are among the more interesting titles that were announced.

Also, Columbia TriStar has just officially announced a host of new DVD titles of their own, including The General, and 8MM (street date July 20th), as well as Tango (street date August 3rd).

See you back here this evening. And don't forget - get those contest entries in!

5/20/99

Today, The Digital Bits is proud to present you with your first look at Fox's terrific new DVD releases of Ridley Scott's Alien: 20th Anniversary Edition, and James Cameron's Aliens: Special Edition, both of which are part of the upcoming Alien Legacy boxed set (available June 1st). These discs are absolutely terrific, and well worth the wait, so do check out the reviews for all the details.

In some cool forthcoming release news, The Criterion Collection is going to be unveiling four great new DVDs this summer. Look for a pair of Akira Kurosawa's classic films, Yojimbo and Sanjuro, as well as The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and one of my all-time favorite documentaries, Al Reinert's For All Mankind. Columbia TriStar has also announced a few new titles to street on July 13th, including Central Station, Bye, Bye Birdie, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, and The Professionals.

So you say that you want Star Wars: Episode I on DVD? Or Disney's new Tarzan? Or maybe Wild Wild West? Well, jump on over to this link at Amazon.com, and they'll send you order information when these films eventually are announced for DVD release. How's that for an early hard sell? By the way, Amazon.com also has The Shawshank Redemption listed as a June 16th release for DVD.

Back on the subject of aliens (as in little green men, not a DVD), I wanted to point out something which I think is really very cool. Any of you who have a computer can now help out in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. I'm not kidding here. One of the big problems scientists have in SETI research, is a lack of sufficient computer power to analyze all of the data they record when they scan the skies for intelligent radio transmissions. So the SETI Institute is sponsoring a new project that allows computer users to download a free program over the Internet, called SETI@Home. When installed and running, the program will connect to the SETI computer, download a tiny chunk of recorded data and run mathematical scans on it to look for possible signals. When it's done, it uploads the results back to the SETI computer, and gets another piece of data. The program functions as a screensaver, so it will run only when you're not working on your computer, or (if your computer is powerful enough) you can have it run in the background while you work. And if your computer finds a true alien signal, you'll be listed with the project's team scientists as one of the discoverers. This is a chance for the average person to actively participate in real SETI research, and it's a lot of fun too, so do check it out.

Finally today, we've had a couple of readers notice this and ask about it, so we may as well mention it now. Yes... that is me in the Read Me column in the June issue of Wired magazine (page 194). Every issue in the column, four "digerati" types (I'm still not sure if that's good or not) are asked what books they've been reading lately. You tell them about two books, and why you liked them, and they pick one and summarize your comments about it. Naturally, the one they choose to feature for me was Rocket Boys, by Homer Hickam, Jr. (the book October Sky was based on), revealing once again just what a space nut I am. Ah well - like you hadn't figured that out by now. For the record, my other book was Visions by physicist Michio Kaku, about the scientific revolutions that are expected in the 21st century. Nothing like a little light reading there, right?

Stay tuned...

(LATE UPDATE - 5/19/99 - 4:30 PM PDT)

Our review is in! You can now read my thoughts on Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace. As I said last night, I really enjoyed myself. I've worked hard to keep the review as spoiler-free as possible, so if you haven't seen it yet, you can read without fear. And we've got those pix from the 12:01 AM Westwood Village screening as well - I think you'll get a kick out of them.

We'll be back tomorrow with a pair of very special DVD reviews, so stay tuned!

(EARLY UPDATE - 5/19/99 - 4 AM PDT)

Well... it's the wee small hours of the morning, and while I often do my updates this late (or early), I've gotta get some sleep - I'm bushed! But let me just say this to all of you - having seen Episode I firsthand, just forget all the critics completely. This movie is a blast. I don't care what Time and Newsweek have to say - I'm guessing those same critics didn't get the original Trilogy either, because they've completely missed the point. Ebert is right... this is just a damn fun flick, and was to me well worth the wait. No, the acting isn't going to win any Academy Awards, but it was just fine to serve the story, and that's far more important anyway. Go in expecting a completely entertaining Star Wars movie, and that's exactly what you'll get. And the visuals are incredible - this film simply rewrites all the rules in terms of the kinds of visions that can now be realized on film. What a treat!

To give you some context, I'll give you my rating. Keep in mind that I hold these films to a slightly less stringent standard than I do most others - they're just too much a fond part of my youth for me to be overly critical. But using our customary film letter grading scale, Star Wars would rate an A, and Empire would be an A+ in my opinion. You've gotta love a flick where the good guys get their asses kicked beginning to end, right? Not too common in Hollywood fare these days. Jedi gets a C- from me, 'cause any movie with an army of teddy bears is tough for me to swallow. On this scale, I'd give The Phantom Menace a good solid B+. It's good entertainment, and just plain good fun. Not too bad, given that the film had to lay the groundwork not just for the Trilogy, but the ENTIRE six film Saga. My advice... just go and enjoy.

We'll be back tomorrow afternoon (after some much needed sleep), with a full-length review of the film, and some photos from the Mann's Westwood Village 12:01 AM premiere (our venue of choice), which was an absolutely jam-packed fan-fest. We even met some Bits readers there - good fun all around. And they're still going strong over there - when we left at 3 AM, the line was still around the block for the 3:30 AM show!

See you later!

(LATE UPDATE - 5/18/99 - 4:30 PM PDT)

Want to see a funny DVD? Try MGM's new Kingpin, starring Woody Harrleson, Randy Quaid, and Bill Murray. Directed by the duo that brought you There's Something About Mary, the Farrelly brothers, Kingpin is one of their best yet.

Back tomorrow (after we get back from Episode I... and sleep til noon)!

(EARLY UPDATE - 5/18/99 - 11:30 AM PDT)

All right, be honest - how many of you out there are planning on attending those 12:01 AM first screenings of The Phantom Menace tonight? Come on now, fess up. You may be wondering - will the staff of the Bits be seeing it tonight? You bet your asteroids we will.

Given that LOTS of you will no doubt be watching the movie in the wee hours of the morning, and considering that the film has taken a bit of a beating by some critics, I thought I'd give you some reason to rest easy: Ebert dug it. You can read his full review of the film over at the Chicago Sun-Times Online (3 and a half stars). And if you've got sound capability on your computer, with Shockwave installed in your browser, you can listen to his review from this week's Siskel & Ebert show. There be very mild spoilers here, but nothing major. Ebert gives it a "thumbs up". You can also listen to interesting discussions with George Lucas, and some of the actors.

And, in keeping with our Star Wars theme around here, we've got more information on the films appearing on DVD, courtesy of the Cleveland Plain Dealer website. Rick McCallum was interviewed in New York as part of a recent press junket, and discussed the DVDs again. Here's the passage from the full article:

The original trilogy will be available on DVD soon. Lucas has interesting ideas on including information about the movie-making process on the DVDs, McCallum said.

So how does all this tie in with what we've heard from Lucas? Well, I'm guessing that we will be seeing the DVDs later this year or early next year after all, based on what I've been hearing behind-the-scenes for the last few months. Lucas' talk of the DVDs in 2005 means the full set of six films - nothing in his language precludes an earlier DVD release of at least the original Star Wars Trilogy. We'll have to wait an see.

We'll be back later this afternoon, with those reviews, so stay tuned...

5/17/99

Well, 2 days and counting to the big Episode 1 debut - everyone got your tickets out there? While you're waiting for that movie, how about reading another of our DVD reviews? Our own Todd Doogan brings you his look at Artisan's Belly, directed by Hype Williams.

So I hope you all had a great weekend. We, here at the Bits, spent our weekend up at the E3 computer gaming convention here in Los Angeles. All in all, I'm surprised how little DVD-related activity there was going on, although it definitely seemed to be a hot topic among convention goers. Not too many companies have fully begin to churn out DVD-based games, but with both Sony and Nintendo having just announced DVD-based console game systems, you can be sure that 2000 will be a huge year for DVD gaming. Sony seems to be the farther along of the two, but neither manufacturer had demonstration units on display at the show. Instead, Sony did have a video demo of their system's rendering capabilities - showing off character facial animation and a racing game. I was extremely impressed, with the smoothness and clarity of the animation.

The big debut at the show seemed to be Sega's sneak peak at their new Dreamcast system, which uses propietary CD-ROM technology, allowing each disc to store up to a full gig of data. They had dozens of demonstration models on the show floor for convention goers to play hands-on, and more than 30 very cool games. The actual system debuts on September 9th, but again seems poised for only a year or so of strong sales, until it's overtaken by DVD-based systems in late 2000. Go figure.

In other news, Image Entertainment has updated their DVD News page with some more new titles, including In Dreams from DreamWorks, The King & I (animated) from Warner, and others. Also, remember when we told you a few weeks ago, that Warner was expecting to release Heat, Excalibur and The Shawshank Redemption before the end of the year, in newly remastered quality? Well, those of you who have been anxiously awaiting Heat should look no further - you should see it in July, boasting anamorphic widescreen to boot.

Some of our readers have been relating that George Lucas has made further comments about the Star Wars saga appearing on DVD. Appearing in interview on the Fox News Channel, Lucas was asked again about the DVDs, and reportedly said that he expects a box set of all 6 of the films on DVD by Christmas 2005. Oh goodie. How about giving us the original Trilogy a little sooner, George?

We'll be back tomorrow, with more new DVD reviews, including DreamWorks' Paulie, and MGM's Kingpin. Stay tuned...

(LATE UPDATE - 5/14/99 - 3:30 PM PDT)

Our friends over at DVD Express just told me that they'll be relaunching their website early next week. Look for the site to be merged with their DVD.com site, and you'll find lots of new features, including movie memorabilia for sale, the ability to save your shopping cart and return to it later, and lots more. Be sure to check it out!

(EARLY UPDATE - 5/14/99 - 1:30 PM PDT)

All right, I was so wrapped up in my Disney/Divx rant yesterday, that I neglected to mention some cool Nintendo news. The video game giant just announced that their next-generation Nintendo system will, in fact, be DVD based. In a clear case of "keeping up with the Joneses" (namely Sony, who has also announced a DVD-based PlayStation game system), Nintendo revealed some basic details about their upcoming system, code-named Dolphin. Not only will the console use DVD-based game media, it will play DVD movies as well, and will also be networkable (possibly a even as a "set-top box").

Don't expect any more details to be made available for some time - Nintendo clearly wanted to diffuse all of the hype Sony's been generating, but doesn't intend to talk more about their unit until much closer to the estimated worldwide ship date, which is late-2000. But Nintendo has partnered with IBM on the chipset, so it's expected to be a fairly affordable system. And all of the DVD capabilities are courtesy of Nintendo's partnership with Matsushita (aka Panasonic). Imagine millions of kids buying game machines equipped to play DVD movies as well... and we're talking about a MAJOR boost for DVD. Click here to read the full details on the new system, over at Next Generation Online.

Today, around the Bits, we've got a new review of an interesting Image title - The Complete Uncensored Private Snafu. Also today, we've got the scoop on some new Fall DVDs in the Rumor Mill for you, including DreamWorks' Prince of Egypt.

Here's that Buena Vista contact information I told you about yesterday, so start getting those comments in about their lame-duck DVD policy:

Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Consumer Relations
PO Box 908 Lakewood, CA 90714-0908
Consumer Hotline: 800-723-4763
Web site: http://www.disney.com
E-mail (Form on Disney Site): http://www.disney.com/Mail/DisneyPictures/

Finally today, I just wanted to chime in about a very funny movie I saw this week. If you liked Bottle Rocket or Rushmore... you've got to do yourself a favor and see Election. This is twisted humor at its finest, starring Matthew Broderick as a well-intentioned, but meddling high school teacher, and Reese Witherspoon as Tracy Flick... a goodie-goodie, overachieving student who will win her student council presidential election at all costs. Think of this as a reverse Ferris Bueller's Day Off, set in Nebraska - VERY funny!

Have a great weekend!

5/13/99

Today, we've got Todd Doogan's look at Criterion's RoboCop DVD for you to peruse. I've also posted all of Buena Vista's June DVD artwork in our Upcoming Art section, including White Squall, Nixon, Mrs. Brown and Enemy of the State, so do check that out.

Speaking of Buena Vista, I had an interesting conversation with Divx's Josh Dare this morning, regarding their decision to release a couple of Disney Classic animated titles on regular Divx discs. As many of you know, Alice in Wonderland will be available next week, and Josh tells me that Dumbo will be released next month on the pay-per-use format.

According to the terms of their contract with Buena Vista, Divx has the rights to release Disney's catalog of classic animated films. Apparently this contract specifies that if Divx chooses to release the moritorium classics (Lion King, Mulan, 101 Dalmatians, etc...) they must be released on Divx Gold discs. But there are certain classic animated titles that Disney does not consider moritorium titles: Dumbo, Alice in Wonderland, Robin Hood and Sword in the Stone. These DO NOT have to be released on Divx Gold. Now the latter two titles apparently do not have good source elements at the moment for ANY digital disc release, but the former do, which is why they're now coming to Divx. Josh explained that, "We just didn't have a very good sense of what Disney was planning to do with animation on DVD, and we didn't want to release titles on Divx that would be available on DVD a few months later. That wouldn't make good business sense from our standpoint."

Hhhmmmm.... You know, I frankly don't care what Divx does anymore. And the reason I don't care, is that the vast majority of consumers don't care. The "format war" we all feared, turned out to be nothing more than a lot of posturing and a few isolated skirmishes. The war is over and done, and DVD's won. I mean sure, there was reason to worry for a while there, and I was probably the most vocal anti-Divx voice out there. But I've long gotten over the fear that Divx posed a threat to open DVD in any way. With over 2 million DVD players and 7 plus million DVD-ROM drives in the U.S. market now (and growing FAST), who cares what a format that's probably less than 200,000 players is doing? Divx wasn't the threat we all feared, and now it's no threat at all. Let me be clear: NOTHING Divx will (or could) do is going to stop DVDs growth - not even releasing a few Disney animated titles.

That doesn't mean, however, that Divx isn't still a MAJOR irritation to DVD fans like me, especially when stuff like this happens. But remember... nothing in Divx's contract with Buena Vista prevents the studio from releasing the films we all want on open DVD - they just have to have the will to do so. The studio is the key here, not Divx. We've all seen Buena Vista's lackluster approach to DVD, and they've flat out told me several times that, "we're not going to be pushing this format" in terms of features. The bottom line, is that if we want certain films on DVD from Buena Vista, with certain important features, we the fans are just going to have to drag them kicking and screaming to the table. The time is long past to waste anger on Divx - I mean who really cares anymore? Place it where it squarely belongs, and where it might do some good - the studio which has allowed Divx to release their animated films, with no immediate concern for open DVD (which is, and will always be, a MUCH larger market). I'd also like to point out that both Dumbo and Alice in Wonderland are available on DVD in Region 2, and Armageddon is being reissued on June 7th in Region 2 as an RSDL disc, in full ANAMORPHIC widescreen. Does that piss you off? Well it certainly should.

Personally, I think talks of boycotting Disney are worthless and ineffectual - the bottom line is that Disney is selling a crap-load of DVDs right now, and will continue to do so, whether those of us on the Internet stop buying them or not. I'd bet a lot of us aren't anyway. But if we boycott, we loose the ability to do what we've been most effective at, which is pushing change. Whenever an important part of a company's market demands change, it usually happens. And whenever the DVD crowd on the Internet has started vocally calling for change in a studio's DVD policy, and campaigned hard for it via phone, fax, mail and e-mail, we've gotten things done. Even if it was just to plant the seed with certain studio executives, time after time, we've gotten things done. That's what we should be doing here. Tomorrow we will post all the contact information you need to make yourselves heard on this issue, and I hope all of the other DVD sites out there do as well.

Stay tuned...

(LATE UPDATE 5/12/99 12:40 PM PDT)

Well, I've spoken to Buena Vista Home Entertainment this morning, and I've requested an official statement on both the classic animation issue (as related to Divx, and eventual open DVD releases), as well as a review of their policy against anamorphic widescreen. I'm told that a statement will be made available in the next few days. Stay tuned...

(EARLY UPDATE 5/12/99 3:30 AM PDT)

We've got another review for you today - MGM's new At First Sight, starring Val Kilmer and Mira Sorvino. I missed this film in the theaters, and was glad to have the opportunity to finally catch it on DVD. We've also got a brief update in the Rumor Mill today, with some new titles coming from Universal for the Fall.

Well campers... remember way back when, when we told you that Disney had stated that they'll be releasing their classic animated films to DVD... but not before they release them on Divx? Guess what... now we know which title they're talking about releasing first, because Divx has revealed it. Click here to jump to a page on the Divx web site, which reveals that Alice in Wonderland is now available on the pay-per-use format (and no doubt on DVD later this year).

I've got to say it - I'm having a VERY hard time not being disappointed with Buena Vista's DVD commitment thus far. They continue to release featureless titles, and charge premium prices for them. When they do add features, they charge an even higher premium price. Divx gets first dibs on the classic animated titles - who made that fu**ed-up decision?! And they are very deliberately choosing not to provide consumers with one of the DVD format's most significant quality improvement features, namely anamorphic widescreen. EVERY other major studio is now supporting this feature on at least a few of their most important titles, but Buena Vista has yet to do even a SINGLE anamorphic DVD. A Bug's Life would have been the perfect title for this feature, but the studio chose to trumpet recomposed full frame as a ground-breaking feature instead. The Criterion version of Armageddon costs $50 and STILL isn't anamorphic. And you know what the sad thing is? They're selling crap-loads of both discs, so they have absolutely no incentive to change this policy. Just crank out the product, and shovel in the cash. When you think about what they could be doing with this format... well, it's just really disappointing. Wanna know the Disney film I've enjoyed the most on DVD thus far? The Black Hole... done by Anchor Bay, with excellent quality (after the audio fix), good features, and a terrific price. It's sad, but true.

I guess we can always hope Buena Vista will surprise us. All it would take is their just listening to what their consumers want, and then giving even a little bit of it to them, rather than looking at what their bean-counters' pie-charts say consumers should get. I'm trying to give you the benefit of the doubt Buena Vista - all I ask is just the tiniest amount of vision on your part.

Stay tuned. And good luck to all of you trying to buy Phantom Menace tickets today at Noon. May the Force be... well you know.

5/11/99

Not much in the way of news today, so we've got a couple of new reviews for you. Todd takes a look at Criterion's Amarcord, a classic from Italian director Federico Fellini. And you'll find my thoughts on Paramount's brand new Star Trek: Insurrection DVD, which streets tomorrow. It's about time we got more Trek films in anamorphic widescreen on DVD.

More tomorrow...

5/10/99

Well, I finally was able to catch Leonard Maltin's interview with George Lucas last night on Entertainment Tonight. As most of you know, Leonard accepted questions via e-mail on the ET web site, and in this very column, I asked all of you loyal Bits readers to ask about the DVD. Naturally, I asked the question as well. Here's the exact text of my question:

"When can we expect to see the "Star Wars" Trilogy released on DVD?"
-Bill Hunt


So when the interview began, I was stunned to realize that it was probably my question that was asked right off the bat - they even flashed the EXACT text up on the screen (minus my last name). How do you like that? I was floored. Now, I suppose that another Bill could have phrased the question in exactly the same way I did, but I've heard before that Leonard and some of his people stop by the Bits from time to time, and I have no doubt that the reason it was the "most asked question by far," was in large measure thanks to all of you... the readers of The Digital Bits. So I don't think this was any accident. And if that's the case, I want to thank Leonard right here and now, for asking George about the DVDs with my own words. I owe you one Leonard - e-mail me and let's do lunch, as they say.

As for George's answer, well you should probably check it out for yourself. Thanks to a number of readers, I've got a small .wav file (113k) of the question and Lucas' answer, for you to listen to (click here to hear it). For those of you who can't listen to audio files, here's the exact text:

Leonard: Here is the single most asked question, George. The number one question out of the 5,000. Bill asks, "When can we expect to see the "Star Wars" Trilogy released on DVD?"

Lucas: We have been kind of waiting on the DVD, because I've been trying to make sure that the DVD is the ultimate repository of the Star Wars saga. And primarily what we're trying to do is wait until I have all six of them before we release them on DVD.


So there you have it. Very interesting. So we're all now asking some other questions of ourselves. Does this mean he only plans on ONE SINGLE DVD release of the Trilogy ever? Will we really have to wait another 6 or 7 years before ANY DVD version comes out? I seriously doubt it. Let me do some digging on this one, and we'll get to the bottom of things. In any case, let me also thank you, the readers of the Bits, for submitting your own questions. Remember - you have the power to affect change in the DVD industry, and in most anything for that matter. You vote with your dollars, and every time you send a studio feedback. So now, thanks to you, we've heard from Big George. Now it may be time to start a bit of a lobbying campaign. But let me see what I can learn first, after some digging - stay tuned on this.

In other news today, we've got a quick update to the Rumor Mill, about another title from Fox, and a Paramount title we've heard is in the works, so do check that out.

And Anchor Bay has posted the complete details of their forthcoming, limited release Halloween: Special Edition DVD on their web site.

Stay tuned...

5/9/99

All right - I gotta believe there's something goofy here. According to several readers, last night Entertainment Tonight played more of film critic Leonard Maltin's interview with Star Wars director George Lucas. Thanks to ET's online appeal for questions, Leonard asked him the question we've all wanted answered: "When will the Star Wars films be released on DVD?" George's answer? He reportedly said that he now wants to wait until ALL SIX of the films are completed before they appear on DVD. Huh??!! That would mean 2005. You've got to be kidding me. I suspect this is a bunch of nonsense, and it certainly goes against EVERYTHING that's been said before, and everything that our sources have been telling us. Still, if reports are correct (I didn't see the interview myself), and this indeed came straight from the horse's mouth, one can only sit and scratch one's head...

5/7/99

There are now officially more than 2 million DVD players in the U.S. market!

CEMA late this afternoon released its latest player sales figures for April, indicating that some 119,978 players were shipped to retailers in one week (ending April 30th). The total for the month of April alone, is 269,107 players shipped, making it the format's best month to date. And with strong sales figures like these, heading into the spring and summer months (typically poor for electronics sales), many market watchers are now predicting that the market could reach to between 3.5 and 4 million by year's end. Not to shabby, me thinks. You can see all the details for yourself by checking the CEMA numbers above, our up-to-date full chart.

We've got more reviews for you today, as promised. You can get the skinny on two new DVDs, as reviewed by Todd and myself - The Jazz Singer and Monty Python's Life of Brian. And a quick note on one of yesterday's reviews. I mistakenly said that Criterion's This is Spinal Tap has been discontinued. I've learned today that it officially has not, although good luck finding it available for rent or sale online. Searches of NetFlix and DVD Express both come up empty on the title. Sorry for the confusion!

Wondering why so many of those special edition Miramax titles have been delayed? According to the latest issue of Video Store, Buena Vista has hit a series of legal snags with regard to the supplemental materials they'd planned to include on the discs. Among those delayed are Il Postino, Switchblade Sisters and Halloween H20, although Clerks is apparently still expected in the next couple of months (although likely not in the original 6/29 street date).

Looking for cables for your home entertainment system? Our friends over at DVD City have just opened a companion site, called appropriately, Cableland. As you know, anyone that mentions The Digital Bits when purchasing from DVD City, gets 2% off of the value of the order. Well, we've got another nice reader perk for you - mention us when ordering from Cableland, and you'll get 5% off. We're working on more cool special offers for our readers, so stay tuned!

We'll be starting our May Trivia Contest in a few hours, so check back soon. In the meantime, have yourselves a great weekend!

5/6/99

OK, it's been slow going getting myself back on top of things today, but we've gotten some new stuff up for you. First of all, you'll find Todd Doogan's look at Criterion's This is Spinal Tap. The disc has been officially discontinued, but we think it's pretty sweet, so get it while you can. By the way, Criterion's The 400 Blows (which Todd also reviewed the other day), has also been discontinued, but the film is being released on DVD again soon from Fox Lorber.

We've also got lots of new upcoming DVD artwork for you to feast your eyes on today. We've removed all the art for titles that have just been released, and added new scans of A Simple Plan, Enemy of the State, Brain Damage, Ghostbusters, Storm of the Century, The Thin Red Line, new art for A Better Place, Taxi Driver: Collector's Edition, Silverado, Dr. Strangelove (repackaged in a Snapper case for Warner's Kubrick Collection), and the aforementioned The 400 Blows from Fox Lorber. Just FYI, with all the scans we removed, pages 6 and 7 of the artwork section are now empty until new art comes in.

Also, just a quick note - we've had to delay the start of the May Trivia Contest until tomorrow, but we'll still run it for two full weeks to give everyone a chance to enter. Should be a fun one.

Around the Internet, our friends over at Image Entertainment have made another update to their DVD News page. Among the new titles you'll find announced there are countless Image releases, several Paramount DVDs we told you about in the Rumor Mill a while back (specifically Gallipoli, School Ties, Varsity Blues, and Witness), several Columbia TriStar titles including the Ghostbusters DVDs and Still Crazy, and Hi-Lo Country and Hillary & Jackie from Polygram.

We'll be back tomorrow with two more new DVD reviews, and the start of our May Trivia Contest. See you then!

5/5/99

My parents have left the building...

Well, after a week-long visit, my parents' plane finally took off this morning bound for home. Boy, it sure was tough to keep things going with the Bits, and still spend enough time with them - what a juggling act! In any case, I don't thing the disruption was too apparent around here. Now that they're gone, however, I do need a day to recoup (I'm sure you can understand)! We'll be back tomorrow full force, and we'll try to get the new Trivia Contest started later tonight.

In the meantime, I've officially introduced my parents to the world DVD. We got them a DVD player for their birthdays, and armed them with a couple of movies. It was good fun to show them all the features, and watch them play with their new toy - talk about role reversal! My Dad is very excited, let me tell you. And as one of the movies features Tom Selleck, you can bet Mom's happy too. My parents live in a pretty small town in North Dakota (population 14,000), and I was stunned when they told us that their local video rental place already has a wall full of DVDs to rent. And here I was thinking they'd be the first family with a DVD player in town! If that isn't a testament to the fact that DVD has gone mainstream successfully, then nothing is...

In a quick side note, wanna read "the first review of The Phantom Menace" on the Net" (not my words)? Click here to be whisked away to our favorite discussion stop, the Home Theater Forum. Apparently, Ron was let into a theater owners preview screening - go figure (you know he likes to be first at this kind of thing). Sadly for Ron, there are dozens of reviews now available online, from others who were also sneaked into such screenings - just check our fellow Den affiliate site The Force.net. I should probably say, "Reader beware!" I, for one, am not going to read any of them, 'cause I want to make up my own mind...

Anyway, thanks for your patience during our Great Family Invasion, and we'll be back tomorrow!

5/4/99

Well, today is a bit of a slow news day, but we do have a look at the new DVD version of the cult classic Dark Star. It's a darned twisted little film (director John Carpenter's first), and makes for a surprisingly cool DVD.

Around the Internet today, there's a good article over at Infoseek (from Variety) about a market watcher film's report on the current DVD boom, and better than expected sales of players this year. There's also a mention of recordable DVD players emerging soon, and a good line: "The report said nothing about the future of floundering pay-per-view rival Divx, which lags far behind DVD in hardware and software sales." Don't get me started...

Also, jump on over to this page at the official Star Wars site, and you can download four new TV spots for Star Wars: Episode I, that will begin running this month. All four are available in QuickTime 3 and 4 quality, and feature new footage - rather cool.

Back tomorrow...


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