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page updated: 9/8/99



My Two Cents
(Archived Posts 7/22/99 - 6/24/99)


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(LATE UPDATE - 7/22/99 - 5:15 PM PDT)

We've got some great news for you, disc-fans! The Bits has been able to officially confirm some very exciting news: Buena Vista Home Entertainment has finally relented, and is allowing Miramax to release its first DVD title in anamorphic widescreen! And that first anamorphic title will be none other than the most recent Best Picture winner - Shakespeare in Love! The disc, which streets on August 10th, will be a fairly basic movie-only edition, but WILL be enhanced for widescreen TVs. Miramax has assured me that a special edition DVD version of the film is also in the works, but was delayed due to legal issues (a problem that has delayed many special edition titles, not just from Buena Vista and Miramax).

Miramax has further informed me that they plan to push vigorously for anamorphic widescreen on future titles, and that they would like to start supporting DTS on some future releases as well (particularly their Dimension horror line). Other special edition DVDs that they currently have in the works, are Life is Beautiful (which will include a half-hour special on director Roberto Benigni, as well as both the English dubbed and original Italian audio tracks), From Dusk Til Dawn (with a making-of documentary), Switchblade Sisters, Il Postino, Chasing Amy, and Scream 2. Down the line, other titles that will likely receive special edition treatment, are Scream 3, Teaching Mrs. Tingle (likely with a Kevin Williamson commentary track), and eventually The English Patient. Their Halloween H20: SE has finally been rescheduled for 9/28.

I'm told that the biggest constraints on Miramax doing special editions faster on DVD, are all of the myriad of legal rights issues that arise over special edition material (which is becoming more of a problem as the format gains popularity), and just the sheer amount of work that is involved in pulling everything together. But rest assured - they are adding staffers, and plan to start really doing lots of great special edition DVDs as soon as they can.

As for their recent She's All That DVD, which was mistakenly released with only Dolby Digital 2.0 audio, the disc is now being repressed by Buena Vista with the correct Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. Anyone who purchased it should return it to the store where they bought it. You will be able to exchange them for the corrected discs, as soon as they are ready, and are sent to retailers. We will post information on how to spot the corrected discs, and when they will be available, as soon as the details are finalized.

As if that wasn't good enough news, Image Entertainment has once again updated their DVD News page, and look what's coming to DVD in September: A Christmas Story (widescreen), Deliverance, Excalibur, Rebel Without a Cause: Special Edition, and Sommersby... ALL in anamorphic widescreen! The street dates for all are 9/21, except Christmas Story (which streets on 9/28). Muppets from Space is also coming from Columbia TriStar on 10/26. I gotta tell ya - I am a very happy camper at the moment. After the disappointing Kubrick Collection, I definitely needed a DVD shot in the arm from Warner, and it looks like they're getting ready to deliver one. Very cool!

(EARLY UPDATE - 7/22/99 - 3 AM PDT)

Ahhh yes... it's time for some housekeeping work around the Bits today. To start with, we've updated our mirror copy of Jim Taylor's Official DVD FAQ, to Jim's latest revision (July 12th). We've also modified how the page appears when you view it (by removing the sidebar, and other unnecessary graphics) to help it load much faster. Still, the FAQ has grown to over 300K in size, so it will take several minutes to load. That said, Jim has shaped it into an absolutely invaluable resource, for virtually every question you may have on DVD. In the unlikely event the answer you seek isn't in there, the FAQ should at least point you in the right direction. We've also done some much needed archiving, so you'll discover that the Rumor Mill, and our My Two Cents column archive should now load much faster as well.

In case you missed it, we posted our in-depth look at The Films of Stanley Kubrick on DVD last night, with reviews of nearly all of the films by the director that are currently available on the format (the last two reviews, Paths of Glory and Barry Lyndon, will be up soon).

Our Star Wars digital projection story should be up by mid-afternoon, and we've finally started the Trivia Contest for July (yeah!). We're giving away another Sony DVD player this month, so do be sure to get in on the fun! And if you've got a moment, please take the time to visit our sponsor for the contest, DVD City. Remember - if you mention the Bits when ordering from them, you'll get 2% off your order (and 5% off when you order from their Cableland site)! They've been very good to our readers, so if you're in the market for players and accessories, we'd appreciate it if you would consider giving them a try. Many thanks! ;-)

Have a great day, folks!

7/21/99

Well, we've gotten literally dozens of e-mails here at the Bits, asking us, "Are you going to review the Kubrick Collection? When are you gonna review the Kubrick Collection...?" Yes, we are. And we have. I have just posted our complete look at The Films of Stanley Kubrick on DVD. There you will find links to reviews of all of the director's films that are available on the DVD format. Five new reviews were posted today, as part of this effort, including Lolita, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, Spartacus, and A Clockwork Orange. We've already posted (and updated if necessary) our reviews of 2001, Dr. Strangelove, The Killing, and Killer's Kiss. And Paths of Glory and Barry Lyndon will be added in the next couple of days. You can jump to all of these reviews by clicking to our main Review page, or by going through our Kubrick films start page as I just mentioned (where you'll also find detailed comments on the Warner Stanley Kubrick Collection as a whole, from both Todd and I). Whew - that ought to keep you busy for a little while!

In the meantime, DVD Pro has announced the finalists for this year's Discus Awards, so do check them out. As one of the judges this year, I can tell you that the competition was fierce, and there were lots of good titles in the running. Well done to all of you who worked on the titles that were entered - the entries were impressive in all categories.

Wired Online has an interesting story on DVD up at the moment, which basically urges you not to throw out your VCR just yet. The Richmond Times Dispatch is reporting that the layoffs have begun over at Divx HQ (slide about halfway down the page for the story) - ouch! And those of you who are just dying to get The Final Countdown on DVD, should e-mail Tim Cook over at Pacific Family Entertainment. Seems they own the home video rights to the film, and weren't aware that there was anyone who wanted it on DVD. You remember The Final Countdown right? It's that film where the modern-day US Navy aircraft carrier Nimitz goes back in time, and has a chance to prevent the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor? Martin Sheen and Kirk Douglas star... very cool! In fact, it was just on TBS last night. Let's give good old Tim a holler and get this flick spinning in our DVD players ASAP. You can also write to Tim at the following address:

Tim Cook
c/o Pacific Family Entertainment
642 South B Street
Tustin, CA 92780

We'll see you back here tomorrow (with any luck, a little earlier in the day)!

7/20/99

Our plans today at the Bits have changed just a little bit, to accommodate a massive flood of upcoming DVD release information I received last night. In today's update of the Rumor Mill, you will find new DVD title information through the end of the year, including street dates for Columbia TriStar and Fox titles, as well as updates on MGM, Paramount and Universal. There are a TON of titles listed here, including many new ones, so you will definitely not want to miss it.

Columbia TriStar announced a DVD version of their classic Lost Horizon, which will be released on August 31st. The disc will include a restoration audio commentary, an alternate ending, three deleted scenes, and more (SRP is $27.95).

Also, Image Entertainment updated their DVD News page over the weekend, to include another big bunch of titles. Among those included are: The Nightmare on Elm Street set, South Park: Volumes 4-6, The Wizard of OZ: SE, Dark Crystal, the aspect ratio corrected Silverado, Ravenous, Strange Days, Wallace & Gromit, Halloween H20: SE, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, all those Avengers '65 and '66 DVDs, and lots more. There are just a TON of good discs in the works at the moment - very cool.

By the way, I updated the Nimbus DVD titles Released or Announced stat - we're now up to 3,756 titles.

We'll be back tomorrow with those reviews (just FYI, they're Kubrick titles), the Trivia Contest for July, and the digital projection story. See you then!

7/19/99

Well, I think I speak for everyone when I say that this has been a sad weekend. The news of the apparent death of John F. Kennedy, Jr., and his wife and sister-in-law, seems to have given most of the people I've spoken with reason for pause. How ironic that it should happen on the anniversary of Chappaquiddick. Like them or not, you have to admire a family that has given so much to their country, and sacrificed so much in the process.

In brighter news, this week also marks the 30th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing (July 20th, 1969) - an event that occurred, as it so happens, as a result of President Kennedy's challenge to the nation less than a decade before. Just think - 30 years ago, we were walking on the moon, and now, we've lost the ability to do that. Kinda makes you think. Rest easy space fans - those who follow such things know that the space shuttle Discovery is expected to launch tonight, with the first female commander in charge of the mission. Godspeed.

All right - the news I've received this weekend hasn't been all bad. On the DVD side of things, we've heard some VERY interesting information about a big change over at Fox Home Video. It's in today's Rumor Mill post, and trust me, you don't want to miss it. We've also updated the CEMA DVD Sales chart today, to include the 42,154 players that sold in the first week of July. And our own Todd Doogan has weighed in with his look at both the Universal and new Criterion DVD versions of Terry Gilliam's Brazil.

No doubt by now, you've all heard the latest mish-mash of conflicting reports on the Star Wars DVDs. Our fellow IGN affiliate The Force.net, reported last week that one of their sources had asked Lucas about the DVDs at a European press junket, and was told, "soon". No sooner do we hear that, comes word from Cinescape, that Lucas was asked about the DVDs on a British morning show called The Big Breakfast, and again said that he wants to wait until all 6 films are done. Groan...

Variety is reporting that all 19 of the Bond films will get special edition treatment on DVD before the end of next year, a la the Tomorrow Never Dies: SE. The first titles to be so treated are Goldeneye, Live and Let Die, Thunderball, For Your Eyes Only, Goldfinger, and License to Kill on October 19th.

Those of you who check out Consumer Reports magazine, will no doubt have seen the ringing endorsement the publication gave Divx in their July issue, calling the pay-per-view format a viable option for some consumers, "worth considering as a DVD add-on, especially if having movies on hand for impulse viewing appeals to you". Not days after the issue went to press, Divx went belly-up. In fact, by the time I got my copy in the mail, Divx was already 6 feet under. Naturally, this month's issue features a hurried Product Update on the Divx situation, saying that Divx's demise, "eliminates a movie-watching option that some people found to be convenient." All this gives me reason to laugh a little. At least now we know what kind of "finger-on-the-pulse" Consumer Reports had on the whole situation. I do generally like the magazine, but you gotta laugh... ;-)

We'll be back tomorrow with more reviews, and that digital projection feature. See you then!

7/16/99

At long last, the transcript of the VSDA DVD and the Filmmaker panel is online! And I'm wiped out. Gods that was tough to transcribe. Bad audiotape recordings, difficult accents, and people talking away from their microphones - not to mention that I think my ears now have permanent dents from the pair of cheap headphones I've been using. ;-)

Anyway, now that that's done, we've got lots of other stuff coming, from both Todd and I. We'll be posting some new reviews, and I should have a report on the digital projection of Star Wars: Episode I as well. I happened take in one of the final screenings of it in Burbank on Wednesday night, and it was really quite surprising. Just moments after the opening credits appeared on screen, a buddy of mine and I just quickly glanced at each other in amazement for a moment - the picture was that stunning. The kind folks from Texas Instruments invited us back into the projection booth after the show, and even let us take a few pictures, so we'll be able to show you exactly what the equipment itself looks like, as compared to a standard 35mm film projector.

By the way, the L.A. Times has a good story online now, about DVD and the extras you find on the format. You'll find that by clicking here. The article contains some very interesting comments from spokespersons for the various studios, including another dubious one from Fox, so do check it out.

Anyway, thanks for your patience over the last couple of days. Enjoy the panel discussion transcript, and have a great day!

7/14/99

Just a quick note to say that I'm working hard, even as you read this, to wrap up the panel discussion transcript. This one is really a bear - much more difficult than what we did for CES. Both of the tapes Peter and I recorded are of really lousy quality, and it's been incredibly difficult to try to compare one to the other, and attempt to discern the dialog from them, especially when people lowered their voices, or spoke away from their microphones. Still, slow but sure, it's coming along. And I think the end result will be well worth your attention - it was a fascinating discussion.

So hang in there, thanks for you patience, and I'll absolutely get it up as soon as possible today. And a suggestion to VSDA - next time you get such a terrific group of talent together to discuss DVD... MAKE AN OFFICIAL RECORDING!!

7/13/99

So is there a conspiracy in the industry to keep teasing Star Wars fans with the idea of a DVD this X-Mas? Well, if Fox had their way, I suspect we'd never see the Trilogy on DVD, or we'd get bare-bones, non-anamorphic widescreen versions of them (or even worse - I can hear it now, "No DVD version, but Digital VHS is on the way..."). Still, when DVD File reported early this morning that a Lucasfilm representative had told him Star Wars was coming on DVD this holiday season, people began going nuts. I think I've personally received a good hundred e-mails from hopeful fans.

Alas, Lucasfilm has worked quickly to squash the rumor, an official spokesperson saying to me this morning, "Unfortunately the rumor isn't true. We're not saying that it won't happen, just that there have been no plans made yet." When asked if a DVD was even under consideration, she replied, "Well, it's always been a consideration, but no decisions have been reached."

So what does all this mean for you? Well, we've known for a long time that a DVD was being planned, and that some elements have been prepared for such a release... eventually. But keep in mind, all the elements for a Men in Black DVD were completed by Columbia TriStar as much as a year and a half ago, and the disc was ready to be replicated. But the studio has been forced to sit on the title. We know the Phantom Menace will be released to home video (at least VHS) in the 1st or 2nd Qtr of next year, and it would be logical to re-release the original Trilogy in the months leading up to that. And this Christmas WOULD be the perfect time to do it... despite Lucas' claims of wanting to wait until all six films are done (click here to listen to the .wav format audio clip). Bottom line - I'd be willing to bet that we'll see at least the original Trilogy on DVD by the time Episode I reaches video. But until we have something more to go on, all we can do is speculate. You can bet everyone in the world will stay on top of this story however, so stay tuned...

We'll be back later this afternoon with the director's panel transcript - see you then!

7/12/99

Well, the transcript of the VSDA director's panel on DVD is slow going, but I should have it ready for you all to read in tomorrow's post. We'll be back with more new DVD reviews then as well. Today's post is going to be brief, so that I can wrap up the transcript. I was also recently asked to be a judge for this year's DVD Pro Discus awards, and the judging must be wrapped up today as well, so I'm definitely up to my eyeballs in DVD at the moment.

In the meantime, there are a number of post-VSDA press releases available on the Net today. There's a good newswire story on the director's panel available, with some brief comments. And there are a pair of brief news releases on how DVD took center stage at VSDA (click here and here to read them). Even Variety.com is getting onto the DVD bandwagon after the show.

On the game system front, there's a press release on the first DVD-ROM title being designed by Japanese game maker Koei, for Sony's new PlayStation 2 system. And speaking of new DVD-based game systems, Nintendo had revealed that their forthcoming $99 Dolphin game system WILL NOT play DVD movies or Audio CDs, however a version of the system from partner Panasonic (likely more expensive) WILL be able to do so (read the scoop at Next Generation Online). You can read another take on this story, over at N64.IGN.com.

Finally, we've updated the CEMA DVD player sales chart with the complete sales data for July, which includes 5 weeks. And it looks like July was another record month for player sales, in a normally very soft consumer electronics buying season.

We'd like to send out a special hello today, to all of our Minnesota and North Dakota readers, who we hear are BIG DVD fans. And with that, we'll see you back here tomorrow!

7/10/99

The VSDA '99 Picture Gallery is now up, with some 50 pictures taken on the show floor. I'm working very hard on the transcript of the DVD panel discussion, "DVD and the Filmmaker", but it's extremely slow going. Both Peter Bracke (of DVD File) and I taped the panel, but given the poor acoustics of the room (the hall was cavernous), neither one of our tapes came out very well. Still, Pete gave me his tape to use as a back-up to my copy, and between the two of them, I should be able to piece the discussion together. I will post the complete transcript here as soon as I'm able to finish it.

By the way, while I was at the show, I had the great pleasure to bump into Guido Henkel, editor of the fine DVD Review web site, in addition to Pete. I must say, it's nice to bump into my fellow webmasters at these functions - they're good people all. Anyway, the discussion transcript is coming soon. In the meantime, enjoy the Gallery, and have a great weekend!

And, by the way, congrats to the U.S. Woman's Soccer Team, who just won the Woman's World Cup finals against China. Nicely done, ladies!

7/9/99

The first of our reports from VSDA '99 is now up! You can read my in-depth look at lots of the upcoming new DVDs, that are the talk of the show thus far, in The Buzz. There are a few surprises in there, like more Avengers and Monty Python's Flying Circus DVDs. You'll also see TONS of new DVD artwork, for titles like those just mentioned, as well as Star Trek: The Original Series, The Mummy, Frankenstein, The Stand, Stargate: SE, Wallace & Gromit, Bruce Lee Collection, EDtv and many more. You do not want to miss it.

All in all, however, I have to say that VSDA this year is rather low-key. In fact, it's downright lame - very little is going on at the show, and neither Fox, MGM, Buena Vista or Columbia TriStar is present on the show floor (although Fox and Columbia have smaller meeting room exhibits off the floor). Even compared to last year, the show this time around is smaller, and there's far less happening. Heck, the Adult Video News convention room (also happening as part of VSDA) is almost as big (it's also far more interesting - sorry, no pictures!). Could the annual VSDA show eventually become extinct? Several retailers I spoke with felt that way. It certainly makes for an interesting environment to talk shop, in any case.

That aside, we will have our VSDA Picture Gallery, and a full transcript of tomorrow's DVD and the Filmmaker panel discussion, up here at the Bits by sometime tomorrow evening (or very early Saturday morning at the latest). So do keep checking back.

Around the Net today, our sponsor Netflix has some big news to share: a $30 million dollar investment from Group Arnault (see press release), a very aggressive growth plan, and two new high-level executive appointments (press release). Also, Image Entertainment's DVD News page has been updated with some good titles, including DreamWorks' Prince of Egypt.

Finally, those goofy kids at 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment are at it again. Here's another oddball DVD quote from the studio, this time from Mike Dunn (executive VP of sales and marketing), which appeared in yesterday's issue of The Hollywood Reporter, "Our philosophy is to look at the digital consumer. So for us it is not the DVD business, it is the digital business. Our company is not sure it is going to be DVD in the end game. The industry is going to have a rude awakening come August or September. For those studios that dumped their catalog and shipped numbers they shouldn't have, there's going to be a big return situation."

You've gotta just scratch your heads at the studio guys who claim that, "digital tape is the future". I'm sure they'd LOVE for digital VCRs to take over instead of DVD - digital or not, tape crinkles, gets stuck, breaks and otherwise wears out, and must be replaced. Can you say, "continuously repackaging the catalog for maximum profit" everyone? Ggrrrr...! >:-(

Stay tuned, folks...

7/7/99

Well, as we gear up, around The Digital Bits, for what looks to be a pretty lame-duck VSDA meeting this year, I can finally tell you about the little adventure I had yesterday. Last week I got a call from the DVD Video Group, asking me if I would be interested in being a guest speaker at their July meeting (which took place yesterday afternoon, in Beverly Hills). The chance to have the ears of several of the head executives from the major studios' home video departments and DVD player manufacturers? I'm no great orator, but this was an opportunity I couldn't refuse.

Among those in attendance, were chief executives from Warner, Columbia, Universal, DreamWorks, Paramount, and New Line. Sadly, Fox and Buena Vista were not in attendance (I particularly wanted them to hear my message - oh, well). After routine meeting business was conducted, and reports were given by the various committees, I used my 15 minutes to talk about the critical role that the Internet has played in the growth of DVD, and the important role it will continue to play in the format's future. And I spoke about all of you - the "avid DVD consumers" - and my views on your concerns about DVD, now that Divx is dead and gone. I use the term "avid DVD consumers," because far too often, the industry likes to dismiss you folks as "early adopters", and we all know that DVD has grown far beyond the early adopter stage. Based on two years of e-mails that I've received from many of you, I discussed the three most common concerns I've heard from you: that you want to the studios to listen to what you have to say about DVD (you want the opportunity to give them feedback), the importance of anamorphic widescreen (naturally), and the need for standardized and accurate labeling of DVD packaging (particularly audio and video technical features). The audience was surprisingly responsive, and I saw numerous heads nod as I covered these points.

On the subject of anamorphic, I was straight to the point. I reminded those gathered, that the single most used argument I hear from the studios against anamorphic enhancement is that, "few people have widescreen TVs right now, and consumers just aren't asking us for it, so why should we give it to them." My argument was simple: "Few people have Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound systems right now either - most people are lucky if they have their DVD player hooked up to a stereo TV, much less even a Pro-Logic surround sound set-up. But you would never think to release a film like Armageddon, or The Matrix, or Titanic in anything less than full 5.1 surround sound, because you know that as the prices drop, people will start buying better sound equipment, and they'll be able to enjoy that added quality. To give consumers less than 5.1 sound on DVD would be to short-change them on audio. So why would you want to short-change them on the video side? Just like with Dolby Digital, people are going to start buying widescreen TVs in the next few years. To deny them anamorphic widescreen on DVDs, is to give them less value and quality than they deserve." I think few of those gathered had ever heard the point argued quite that way before, and they seemed to get the message. At least, a few important heads were nodding. Judging by the conversations I had with many of them afterward, I think they at least considered my argument a valid one. We can only hope.

You will, at least, be very happy to know that the DVD Video Group is immediately addressing your concerns over the current, haphazard labeling of DVD technical features on the packaging. In one of their committee presentations, it was revealed that all of the studio members have tentatively agreed upon a standardized labeling scheme for denoting the audio and video features on their discs. With a little luck, they will all begin using this new labeling on their packaging before the end of the year, on ALL DVD releases. I made the point in my presentation, that the Universal and DreamWorks-style technical grid should be the model they follow. We should get a look at exactly what they've all decided upon soon. We will present the new labeling standard here for all of you to see as soon as possible.

In terms of other news from the Group meeting yesterday, each of the studios present gave a report on their upcoming DVD activities. I was able to confirm that all of the films in New Line's forthcoming Nightmare on Elm Street boxed set WILL be in full anamorphic widescreen. Their Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me DVD will street in November, as expected, and it will be packed with features (including a commentary track). New Line expects to begin releasing 1 day-and-date title, and 3 catalog titles each month. Look for more John Waters films on DVD from them next year. Paramount's non-anamorphic Titanic DVD will have full-motion menus, which is more than they've done in the past (I choose not to comment about my feelings on the disc beyond that). They do expect to release lots of Star Trek, and Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes on DVD, at a rate of a new set of each every other month or so. The studio is working closely with director Francis Ford Coppola on an Apocalypse Now DVD, and The General's Daughter should have a director's commentary track. Sony Music is hard at work on their ultra-cool DVD of Pink Floyd's The Wall, and they will be releasing MTV Celebrity Death Match and VH1 Pop-up Video DVDs later in the year. Columbia TriStar discussed their many DVD projects (most of which we've covered here), but an interesting title of note is a Cirque Du Soleil DVD for later this year. Warner discussed The Matrix briefly, Universal revealed dual collector's editions of The Mummy (one in full frame, and one in anamorphic widescreen), and DreamWorks is just starting to begin thinking about a DVD version of The Haunting, after Prince of Egypt and Forces of Nature. In manufacturer news, Sony will be introducing a new 5-DVD carousel player, and a 200-DVD changer this fall.

Looking ahead to VSDA, which starts tomorrow here in Los Angeles, we will be doing our usual coverage here at the Bits. Sarah and I will attending meetings with the studios, and covering the show floor tomorrow, so you can look for our usual gallery of pictures. We'll also try to keep you posted on the major announcements (if any) and other developments. And Friday morning, we'll be attending the DVD Video Group's "DVD and the Filmmaker" panel, moderated by Leonard Maltin, where Brett Ratner (Rush Hour), Robert Altman (Cookie's Fortune), Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters), and Eric Darnell (ANTZ) will be discussing the way DVD is changing the way we enjoy movies. You can expect to see a full transcript of that panel discussion up here on the site as soon as we can transcribe it. Updates will NOT be live - that's just too difficult to do, but we'll get them up as soon as we can, either that night or the following morning. And if you check the newswires, you'll have access to all of the press releases immediately anyway.

So stay tuned, and well see you at VSDA!

7/5/99

So are all you American readers out there enjoying your long 4th of July weekend? Here's to hoping that you all ate lots of good food, and watched plenty of fireworks this weekend.

I will not be posting an update tomorrow, but I'll be back on Wednesday, with a full report on exactly WHY I'm not posting tomorrow. Confused? Don't worry, it will all be clear soon. In the meantime, we've got a surprising new piece of information for you in today's Rumor Mill, that I think you'll all find worth a read. If true, it's absolutely fascinating. And the sources on this one are pretty good, so do check it out.

See you Wednesday!

7/2/99

We've got a bunch of new DVD reviews for you today. You'll get my take on a pair of recent Buena Vista DVDs, Enemy of the State, and one of my recent favorites, The Mighty. And Todd weighs in with a lengthy, combined look at DVD versions of a trio of films by Japanese director Shinya Tsukamoto: Tetsuo: The Iron Man, Tetsuo II: Body Hammer, and Tokyo Fist. Tsukamoto is a visionary director (a la David Lynch), whose cyberpunk celluloid visions have quickly become modern classics. Do check it out.

Also today, we've updated our Upcoming DVD Artwork section, with 13 new cover scans, including Heat, Blast from the Past, There's Something About Mary, and Shakespeare in Love.

Columbia TriStar yesterday announced its new, special edition DVD version of Sense and Sensibility, which is expected to street on August 17th ($27.95 SRP). The disc will include a new high-definition, anamorphic widescreen transfer of the film, as well as multiple audio commentary tracks, two deleted scenes, and Emma Thompson's Golden Globe acceptance speech. Among those speaking on the commentaries, are Emma Thompson, director Ang Lee, producer Lindsay Doran, and co-producer James Schamus.

Finally today, I've been doing a bit of detective work on the subject of anamorphic widescreen, and darned if I'm not finding out exactly what I've suspected all along: doing anamorphic widescreen on DVD costs little to no more than a regular, letterboxed transfer. Issues of new high-definition transfers aside, doing anamorphic simply requires asking for an anamorphic telecine (if the appropriate film element is available), and then specifying it in the authoring stage, which usually involves nothing more than the clicking of a couple of buttons in the authoring software. So what does this mean to you? The decision not to do anamorphic is often clearly a deliberate one by the studios, based on the feeling that consumers just don't care about it yet (since only a few people have anamorphic capable TVs), and the desire to repackage the title again in a few years. In other words, the desire to make you repurchase the title again, to maximize profit opportunities. Does that make you mad? It should.

Releasing most new films in anamorphic widescreen on DVD is just a matter of deciding to do so. Catalog titles are more problematic, as making an anamorphic DVD would require a new transfer of the film. But for the bigger, marquee titles, again, if you're going back to restore the film anyway, the money would be well spent on new, high-definition, anamorphic archival master. This is what Columbia TriStar is doing on all of its films, and Warner, New Line and others are close behind.

So that non-anamorphic DVD of Titanic that Paramount is serving up in August should stick in your craw. A high-definition anamorphic master DOES exist for the film... but it's being saved for a DVD-18 special edition next year. How do you like them apples, consumers?

And on that happy note, have a good weekend. ;-)

7/1/99

Wow... July's here already? Funny how time flies sometimes. We've got some interesting new release information for you today. This is all official, so read and enjoy with confidence.

First of all, we have some details on A&E's forthcoming DVD release of the premiere season of Monty Python's Flying Circus (note that there were 4 seasons altogether). The release is being made in honor of Monty Python's 30th Anniversary, and if it's half as cool as the A&E Avengers '67set, it should be a thrill. There will be 2 sets of 2 DVDs each, with each disc holding 3 episodes. The expected street date is September 28th, and each set SRPs for $44.99. Set 1 will contain the following episodes from the first half of season one (representative sketch included):

1. Whither Canada (contains the "Funniest Joke in the World")
2. Sex and Violence ("A Scottsman on a Horse")
3. How to Recognize Different Types of Trees from Quite a Long Way Away (contains "The Bicycle Repair Man" and "Nudge Nudge")
4. Owl Stretching Time ("Secret Service Dentists")
5. Man's Crisis of Identity in the Latter Half of the Twentieth Century (contains the sketch "Silly Job Interview")
6. It's the Arts (contains "Crunchy Frog")

Set 2 of the DVDs includes the second half of the first season, with the following episodes (and sketches, among others):

7. You're No Fun Anymore (contains the sketch "Camel Spotting")
8. Full Frontal Nudity ("Dead Parrot" and Hell's Grannies")
9. The Ant, an Introduction ("Lumberjack Song" and "A Man with a Tape Recorder Up His Nose")
10. Untitled ("Gorilla Librarian")
11. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Goes to the Bathroom ("Literary Football Discussion")
12. The Naked Ant ("Falling from Building" and "Upperclass Twit of the Year")
13. Intermission ("Stonehenge" and "Mr. Atilla the Hun")

Monty Python's Flying Circus - DVD Set 1Monty Python's Flying Circus - DVD Set 2

The DVDs will also include the following extras: MontyKaraoke, Useless Tidbits, Gilliam's Attic, and Pythonisms and Digital Delights. As a HUGE fan of the Python boys, you can bet I find this news very exciting. Python fans should also know, that Columbia TriStar is also releasing And Now For Something Completely Different (on 8/3). The Holy Grail is still expected sometime this year as well.

In other news, New Line has revealed more details on their A Nightmare On Elm Street Platinum Series boxed set, which streets on September 9th ($129.98 SRP). You will get all SEVEN films in the boxed set, and a specially created 8th DVD disc, called The Nightmare Series Encyclopedia. You will even get 2 pairs of 3D glasses, to use in the 3D sequence of Freddy's Dead. The set also includes a slipcase for the entire collection, and a 36-page booklet with production notes, photos and essays. The original Nightmare will also be available separately for $24.98, but the rest of the series will only be available in the set until sometime next year.

Each DVD in the series features "Jump to a Nightmare" scene selections, fully animated menu screens with music, trailers, and cast and crew bios taken from the original theatrical press kits. All are in widescreen (no word on anamorphic). The original Nightmare and Wes Craven's New Nightmare also feature full-length commentaries with Craven and others, a 3D sequence, and the two pairs of 3D glasses. DVD-ROM contents on each disc include the original screenplay (you can watch the film, while scrolling through the script text), trivia, updated bios, web links, and a Dream World Trivia Game. The Encyclopedia disc is packed with extras too numerous to list completely here, but including a documentary, games, interviews with all of the directors in the series, music videos, footage of Freddy's stint as a guest VJ on MTV, and tons more.

Finally, there's an interesting article in the LA Times today, about the Kubrick Collection DVD boxed set. Spokespersons for Warner, MGM and Universal talk about their respective Kubrick discs, and Warner reveals that the studio had plans to work more closely with the director on special editions of these films at a later date. According to Warner, Kubrick personally viewed and approved the master prints that were used in making the DVDs. Interesting. We will have a review of the complete set sometime in the next week or so.

We will also have a few more new DVD reviews up later today, and don't miss Doogan's look at the forthcoming Mallrats: CE, which we posted yesterday. Stay tuned...

(LATE UPDATE - 6/30/99 - 2 PM PDT)

What up, film-fans? Doogan has just checked in with a cool new disc review, and we think you're gonna like it in spades. Trust us - you Askew types can all just start going nuts right now over Universal's awesome new Mallrats: Collector's Edition DVD. The disc streets July 20th, and if it isn't already on your want list, it will be when you hear what Todd has to say about it. Enjoy!

(EARLY UPDATE - 6/30/99 - 11:30 AM PDT)

We've updated the Rumor Mill today, to include Buena Vista's recently revised DVD release schedule through September. You'll find some very good titles, and some ho-hum ones, all non-anamorphic. Buena Vista keeps hinting to me that anamorphic widescreen is coming down the pike from the studio, and to hang in there. Having spoken with their chief spokesperson just very recently, I am confident that they, at last, fully understand the benefits of anamorphic enhancement on DVD. I've been told that they ARE reading arguments in favor of it here at the Bits, and elsewhere on the Net, so they are at least doing their homework. I'm told, however, not to expect anything major out of VSDA in the way of announcements from the studio, which will not have a booth at the show. VSDA seems to be brewing up to be a fairly low-key affair this year. The Bits will be there regardless, and you'll get the full report of the event, with pictures.

In other news, several members of the DVD Video Group (including Buena Vista), are gearing up for a record marketing and advertising push for the holidays this year. The goal of this push is nothing short of reaching 4 million DVD players sold by the end of the year. Group members involved include Artisan, Buena Vista, Columbia TriStar, New Line, and Warner, along with Sony, Toshiba, Panasonic, Pioneer, RCA, Philips, and Samsung from the hardware side. The push will kick off on August 22nd, and will involve 5 free DVD movies with the purchase of many models of DVD player: Stargate, Six Days, Seven Nights, Stepmom, Lost in Space, and Lethal Weapon 4. You will see the advertising everywhere on television and in print.

Are VHS-like rental windows in store for DVD, now that rental-biased Divx is gone? I've been hearing rumblings that this is, in fact, what you can expect from at least one studio: 20th Century Fox. In a recent interview with Fox Home Video chief Bill Mechanic, over in The Hot Button column at TNT's Rough Cut site, Mechanic was quoted as follows:

On DVD And Why Fox Has Taken So Long To Get In: "Studios did two things which were completely detrimental to their own health. One was revenue sharing and the other was DVD, in an inappropriate basis as opposed to a sensible basis and have now jeopardized that revenue stream which is beyond my comprehension. There's a digital future out there. Is it going to happen on disc or is it going to happen on tape? Who cares? As long as your revenue is stable and not growing, you would do that. But right now, DVD has launched and caught a foothold. It's now maybe 5 percent of the revenue inside video. But now they are selling discs at $19 with the revenue coming back to the studio of about $12, as compared to $60 if you were selling the tape. You'll see in the next year, the launch of digital video tape, which will allow dual formats."

Finally today, the LA Times business section has a brief wrap-up of the various studio's DVD market share (year-to-date), along with each studio's best selling DVD title, so do check it out.

We'll be back with more tomorrow, and we'll try to get those reviews up as soon as we can. Have a great day!

6/29/99

All right... to start with, we'd like to wish a big happy birthday to the Bits' own Todd Doogan, who turns 28 this very day. Todd will, of course, be engaging in the appropriate birthday shenanigans this evening, and we'll have a full report (with pictures) tomorrow. Just kidding. The day will not come when we air out our own laundry here at the Bits (dirty or not) - it's just best way. Be sure to give Todd an e-mail and send him your best wishes or condolences - whichever you feel appropriate. Happy Birthday, Doogan! You the man, baby!

Down to business - just to let everyone know, the winners of the June Trivia Contest have been announced. Congratulations to Joseph Onorato, our Grand Prize winner, who takes home the Sony DVD player, and to our 9 Runners-up, who win the Paris Concert for Amnesty International DVD! And thanks to all 1,173 of you who sent in entries. We'll get the next contest started early in July, so check back for it then.

Just in case you missed them, we posted a couple of new DVD reviews late yesterday. Doogan gives you his two pennies' worth on Trimark's nifty new Storm of the Century disc, and I chime in with a look at one of my favorite little thrillers, HBO's The Hitcher, starring Rutger Hauer. We'll have a couple more later today as well.

You will also notice today, as you peruse our DVD reviews, that we've added a new stamp on many of our reviews. Specifically, we've created a new logo that will inform our readers, at a glance, that a particular DVD we've reviewed is in anamorphic widescreen. We also indicate, in small print underneath, that the disc is "enhanced for 16x9 TVs", which is terminology that some studios use to indicate anamorphic widescreen on their packaging. The use of this logo is similar to our current THX and DTS review stamps. Anytime you see this logo in our reviews, you'll know that the studio responsible for that particular disc has exhibited some foresight, and is providing an important feature (with future value and quality in mind), in the best interest of its consumers. If the review doesn't have this logo, check to see if the film's original aspect ratio was full frame (somewhere around 1.33:1). Full frame films do not require anamorphic enhancement for widescreen TVs. Anyway, here's the logo:

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

While its presence in a review doesn't always indicate a good-looking disc (there are lots of other issues at play concerning picture quality), any disc whose review bears this logo is probably worth a closer look.

There's one last new thing here at the Bits today, that we should point out. At the suggestion of one of our readers, and with the kind permission of Nimbus CD International, Inc., we've added a new DVD statistic to the home page (which Nimbus tracks), that we will continue to update on a regular basis: the number of DVD Titles Released/Announced. This is just what it sounds like - the total number of DVD Video titles currently in release (or officially announced by the studios) in Region 1. The number is net, meaning that as titles are discontinued, they're subtracted from the total. And neither adult DVD titles or Divx titles are included in this number. Thanks for the good idea, Robert!

Regarding those Circuit City flyers that continue to circulate, a good many readers pointed out correctly that retailers routinely have their advertising printed a month or more in advance. So the ads that have been appearing in Sunday newspapers for the last two weeks were obviously printed prior to Divx going the way of the dodo. Guess I'm just eager to erase the scurge of Divx from my memory. You know what they say... out of sight, out of mind.

Finally today, Gabe from Penny Arcade e-mailed me last night, to let me know that their loud-mouthed "Divx player" character is going to be a regular on the comic strip. I must say... that's probably the best use anyone has EVER put a Divx player to - a study model for a cartoon character! And you don't even need to hook up the modem, or establish an account. You guys crack me up over there - keep up the good work!

Penny Arcade's resident Divx player

By the way, a dodo is an extinct bird. Just making sure... ;-)

Have a great day!

6/28/99

OK, so did it bother anyone else that Circuit City is still advertising their Divx software and hardware in Sunday newspaper circulars, without a single mention that the format is kaput? For the last two weekends, despite the announcement of the format's demise, Circuit City ads are still touting Divx as the format of choice. If that doesn't quality as misleading advertising practices, I don't know what does...

We've updated our CEMA DVD player sales chart to include the newest numbers. Week 24 of 1999 (ending June 18), saw 37,576 players sold, bringing the monthly total up to 89,286 with a week of reporting to go, and the running total thus far to 2,400,947 players sold into retail in the U.S. (see listing above).

Around the Net, the wires are reporting that Buena Vista is revamping their home video unit, including both domestic and international tape and video disc sales. Richard Cook, a 28 year veteran of the studio, takes over for Michael Johnson, and is tasked with boosting sagging sales. Hey Richard... wanna sell more DVDs? Here's a hint - drop prices a hair and/or add more features like ANAMORPHIC WIDESCREEN. Let's all cross our fingers. In addition to the reorganization, there's some cost-cutting going on at Buena Vista, as well as MGM and other studios. Check this link over at the excellent Stereophile Guide to Home Theater site for more on that.

There's another videodisc retailer in town (well, on the Net anyway - see press release), and it's a new one on me. Stop on by Videoflicks.com, and have a look see. They claim to have been the world's first video movie web site, but I must say, I hadn't heard of them before. Has anyone else tried them?

Remember all those Fox stories from last week, about their lack of 16x9 support, and their claim that "Ridley Scott's people were the reason for 16x9 enhancement of the Alien Legacy set"? This sounds fishy to me. Check our interview with Scott's appointed supervisor of the project, Charles de Lauzirika - at one point we discuss the subject of anamorphic, and how important it was (and is) to Ridley, and he mentions that anamorphic was already at the top of Fox's list when they first met about the project. I'm hearing whispers that anamorphic widescreen is something of a hotly debated issue over at Fox. Let's hope smarter heads prevail. It would be a shame for the studio to backpedal on the anamorphic issue, after having just demonstrated how well they CAN do anamorphic on DVD.

Have you heard that The Matrix will not be available for purchase on VHS, but exclusively on DVD, when it hits stores on October 5th? The disc promises to be one of the snazziest special edition titles yet, but concerns over recent outbreaks of teen violence have prompted Warner Home Video to delay VHS sales indefinitely (although the title will be available for rental on VHS).

All right, we'll be posting DVD reviews throughout the day today, so do check back later. And remember, the Trivia Contest ends at 6 PM tonight, so get those last minute entries in quick!

6/25/99

OK, we've got a couple of things to mention today, before I go off on another anamorphic rant. First of all, we're having a little bit of trouble with the Trivia Contest e-mail today - people have been getting their entries bounced back at them. We are correcting the problem, and are extending the entry deadline until Monday the 28th (6 PM PDT) to accommodate those who have had problems. If your entry was bounced back, wait a few hours and try again - it should go through. Remember, we're going to have 10 winners this month, who will each receive a copy of the Paris Concert for Amnesty International DVD. And one of the 10 will also win a brand new Sony DVD player too. So get them entries in!

Second, we posted the first two of those stockpiled DVD reviews late yesterday - Doogan's looks at MGM's Disturbing Behavior, and Criterion's excellent Samurai Trilogy. More are coming tonight and over the weekend.

Finally, Image Entertainment has updated their DVD News page with a bunch of additional new DVD titles. Included are announcements for several long-awaited films, including There's Something About Mary, Monty Python's And Now For Something Completely Different, Raising Arizona, Christine and more. Also comes news that Buena Vista's forthcoming Shakespeare In Love DVD has been reduced to a bare-bones disc, from a collector's edition, due to legal issues over the supplemental content. And you can bet that neither edition will be anamorphic.

That brings me to the final issue I'd like to discuss today - the aforementioned anamorphic rant. We've gotten lots of e-mail here at The Digital Bits, about all of the reports of Fox's apparent lack of anamorphic enhancement for their forthcoming DVD releases. In fact, we've been hearing similar such reports ourselves from industry insiders. While it IS important to remind everyone not to read too much into this yet, the news is, nonetheless, disturbing. That Fox would choose such a course, either deliberately or by simple ignorance of the benefits of anamorphic DVD, particularly after releasing their impressive Alien Legacy set (in which all four discs are enhanced for widescreen displays), is hard to understand. But there are a couple of likely factors at play here, I think.

To start with, I would be willing to bet a good sum of money, that very few of those executives in charge of DVD at Fox and Buena Vista fully understand the benefits of anamorphic widescreen. I'd bet that few of them could explain anamorphic to a layman, and I'd further bet that few of them actually own widescreen anamorphic-capable displays themselves, so as to fully appreciate the difference anamorphic makes on DVD in their own homes. And since few consumers are even aware of the feature (and therefore not asking for it), they figure it isn't a big deal. I have, frankly, been stunned at the lack of understanding about anamorphic enhancement among most of the studio executives I've spoken too, not just at Fox and Buena Vista, but throughout the industry in general. And the few that do have some understanding of it, are under the misconception that anamorphic introduces detrimental artifacts into the picture on regular 4x3 TVs.

Let me make this plain - it is true that SOME early model (1st and 2nd generation) DVD players introduced slight artifacts into the picture, when down-converting anamorphic to letterbox on standard 4x3 TVs. These artifacts are most noticeable as a slight shimmering or crawling effect during scenes of vertical motion - the credit roll at the end of a movie, for example. HOWEVER, the vast majority of consumers, even highly-savvy DVD users, have a hard time spotting the effect. Most would never notice it on their own, unless it was pointed out to them. Further, this was only really a problem on earlier players - newer ones are much better at the conversion process. This is NOT a software issue - has the hardware has gotten better, this problem has largely disappeared.

Let me make this plain: transferring and encoding a film on DVD for anamorphic widescreen (16x9) DOES NOT add artifacts into the picture. However, it DOES add as much as a 33% increase in vertical picture resolution. And it adds years to the life of your DVDs. It ensures that they'll still look good on those new digital, high-definition TVs that you'll all have to buy sometime in the next 10 years or so. A majority of the leading home theater writers and reviewers have endorsed anamorphic enhancement, as the SOLE significant quality improvement DVD boasts over laserdisc. You need only read any of of the major home theater enthusiast magazines to see this. And I'm not kidding you here - if you see an actual comparison between anamorphic and non-anamorphic DVD, the difference is astounding. In the next few years, you WILL be faced with the prospect of buying a new widescreen TV. And trust me, you WILL one day regret that not all of the studios had the foresight to encode their discs for anamorphic widescreen displays.

And don't think for a moment that HD-DVD is going to make this anamorphic issue moot, either. HD-DVD is currently in the laboratory and technology demonstrator stages (think the Thomson/HD-Divx demo at the recent CES). It will be at least 3 to 5 years before consumers begin to see HD-DVD players for sale, and much longer for the technology to become affordable. And just having the capability doesn't mean it will be used - remember progressive-scan DVD players? Hollywood killed the prospect of seeing them anytime soon, over concerns about copyright and piracy. Don't wager your money that they'll be willing to release their films on disc in HD-DVD quality in the foreseeable future. And even if they could, when I spoke with Thomson about their HD-Divx demo, I was told that compressing good-looking HD-DVD video is a much more time consuming and elaborate process than is required for current MPEG-2 compression work on regular DVD. Even when the technology comes of age, the quantity of HD-DVD titles produced will be little more than a trickle. You won't see each studio releasing 20 HD-DVD discs a month, trust me. You'll be lucky to get 1 or 2. And keep in mind, most new high-definition digital TVs will have built-in line-doublers, which will ensure that anamorphic, standard-definition DVDs will still look terrific on them - certainly not as good as hi-def video, but much better than we see them on today's TVs.

Bottom line: anamorphic enhancement is extremely important to the future viability of DVD. Whether you have a widescreen TV today or not, as consumers, you should all absolutely be demanding anamorphic enhancement of widescreen DVDs from the studios, to ensure that your investment in DVD has as much value in 10 years as it does today.

Enough said for now, but we'll be back with much more on this issue soon. In the meantime, have a great weekend!

6/24/99

Yes, it's true... the rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated. After spending two full days in bed, I am officially back. And to be honest, I've got more energy than I know what to do with - I've been crawling the walls to give you all your daily DVD fix for a few days now! ;-)

So let's get things started. First of all today, I'd like to thank Brian York, from the Home Theater Online Community. Brian took our new anamorphic DVD logo, and gave it some life with animation. Here's Brian's take on the logo, along with our original version (sans button bar) for you all to steal and spread widely on the Net. We aren't kidding about this anamorphic issue... the Bits will not let it drop, I promise you.

Animated Anamorphic DVD logoAnamophic DVD support logo

All right - now then... Tycho and Gabe, the good creators of the online comic Penny Arcade, have kindly let me know that they've got a follow-up strip to their previous anti-Divx jab from earlier this year. We've re-posted it here, along with the original, so you can check them both out, in case the Penny site is too busy. We've also got a link to their page - be sure to drop on by, give 'em your praise, and tell 'em the Bits sent you. Thanks guys - very funny!

There's another good article on the demise of Divx over at Pilot Online. Columnist Billy Kelly III gives his two cents on the death of our least favorite format, and he's coined a nifty new term as the cause: digital "Darwinism" - you go, Bill! CNet's got another article as well on Divx, and they're right - consumer anger WAS the cause of Divx's downfall, not just a lack of retailer and studio support. Who does Divx think scared off all those would-be partners, anyway? Divx has become the first bad idea foisted upon unsuspecting consumers by an indifferent industry, to be taken to task by those same consumers via the power of the Internet. How do you like them apples, Mr. Sharp?

In other news, Universal has announced their DVD version of The Mummy... and it's anamorphic, baby! You can read their press release here. And it looks as if the DVD Forum has finalized the physical format of their DVD-RAM standard (see press release).

Finally, here at the Bits, we want to remind everyone that our Trivia Contest ends tomorrow, so be sure to get your entries in quick. And I'll be working throughout the day today, to post some of those stockpiled DVD reviews, starting with a pair from Doogan. Now that I don't feel like keeling over in exhaustion every five minutes, you'll be seeing a lot more review work in the coming days. So thanks again for your patience, and check back later for more!


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