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page updated: 10/1/98



My Two Cents
(Archived Posts 9/8/98 - 8/14/98)


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9/8/98

I have officially confirmed with Warner Home Video, that they will be distributing three volumes of South Park episodes on DVD in October (four episodes per disc). Since I posted the information in the Rumor Mill the other day, I've had dozens of people e-mail me with questions, wondering if the information is true. So there you go... it is.

Blockbuster Video today announced plans to rollout a national DVD rental program, in conjunction with Philips Electronics. You can read the full press release from Yahoo by clicking here.

Fox Home Video's promotional materials reveal that the VHS version of X-Files: Fight the Future (which streets October 13, for $22.98 SRP) will be THX-certified, and will contain previously unreleased footage and exclusive behind-the-scenes interviews with Chris Carter and Gillian Anderson. No word yet on a DVD version, but stay tuned...

Finally today, there is a terrific article on DVD in today's issue of the Wall Street Journal. Unfortunately, the publication's site does not have the article available on-line, so I have transcribed it here. Among the interesting pieces of information reported in the article, is this comment: "All major studios except start-up DreamWorks SKG have finally agreed to issue movies on DVD - and DreamWorks is expected to announce imminently." It also confirms, as reported previouslly in the Rumor Mill, that Disney plans to release Armageddon this year on DVD.

More tomorrow...

9/7/98

Just another quick update today. I hope all of you are having a good weekend, and for those of you in the States, a great Labor Day holiday. The Vikings stomped Tampa Bay, so I'm a happy camper today.

There's really only one important piece of news today, however, and it's a sad one to report. Legendary filmmaker Akira Kurosawa has died at age 88. You can read the story, as reported by CNN, by clicking here. Those of you familiar with his magnificent body of work, will know immediately what a loss this is to the film community. For those of you unfamiliar with Kurosawa, I almost evny you... you now have the pleasure of discovering him on DVD. His masterworks Seven Samurai and Ran are now available on the format, and one of my all time favorite Kurosawa films comes to DVD this month from Criterion... High and Low. A good place to start in acquainting yourself with Kurosawa's work, is by reading his filmography on the Internet Movie Database. I can't think of a more fitting way of honoring this man and his work, than by spinning Seven Samurai in the old DVD player. So that's just what I'm gonna do tonight. Hat's off in tribute from everyone here at The Digital Bits.


9/6/98
Hope everybody's having a great weekend. And for you sports fans... it's NFL Gameday at last! As kickoff for your particular favorite team beckons, I have only one question: are you ready for some football?! Go Vikes!

9/5/98

Just a quick update today, but I think an important one. In today's Rumor Mill, you will find some details (according to my sources) as to why Fox's pulled The Abyss from their DVD line-up, as well as information on a few more new DVD titles.

Stay tuned...


9/4/98

Greetings all! There's some more interesting DVD news today.

First of all, CEMA just faxed me their DVD player sales numbers for week 34 (ending August 28th). A whopping 54,442 DVD players were sold in one week. That makes a total of 81,170 players sold for the entire month of August - not bad after a slow start. So not bad in fact, that August is now the second biggest month for player sales this year, after July's 84,709. The August sales numbers also bring the total number of DVD players sold to dealers in the U.S. (since the format's launch in March '97) to 791,203. Not too shabby...

Next, there is yet another article, this one from the Richmond Times-Dispatch, which confirms the financial difficulties good ol' Circuit City is experiencing because of Divx. Don't it just break your heart?

In other news, here's a link to a press release on Yahoo, which reveals that Panasonic has acquired the rights to release the Twilight Zone TV episodes on DVD. Look for two Treasures of the Twilight Zone discs on September 21st, and at least five more volumes of episodes this year.

Like that? Well, there's some even better DVD release news in Rumor Mill today. The discs in question have been among the most requested titles I know of. OK, Star Wars is more requested, but these have caused a stir. In fact, I've been getting several e-mail's a week asking about them. Here's a hint: "Oh, my God... they killed Kenny!"

I've decided to create a new page in my FAQ and Features section, that will track the number of AFI Top 100 Films on DVD. It will also indicate which discs I know to be in the works for eventual DVD release. You can help me keep this accurate, so let me know when a correction or change needs to be made.

Finally, DVD File has finally posted their report on last weekend's DVD Pro Conference. As predicted, it's excellent reading. I know just how much work is involved in covering an event like this (VSDA anyone?), and Peter's done a nice job. So be sure to give it a look.

Now... get out there and have yourself a great weekend, folks!

LATE UPDATE (9/3/98 - 2:45 PM PST)

Just a last quick post today, to let you know that Todd's DVD reviews of Scarface: Collector's Edition and Carlito's Way are now up. Also, here's a link to a San Francisco Chronicle article that refers to Titanic as being "due on DVD this fall". More tomorrow...

EARLY UPDATE (9/3/98 - 12 PM PST)

I've been doing a TON of housekeeping work around the Bits for today. All of my Rumor Mill and My Two Cents posts have been re-archived, to allow faster load times. The archived posts are available by clicking on the links at the very bottom of this page and the Rumor Mill. If you've missed some days, you might want to read a week or two back. I've had a lot of people ask me when a particular title is coming to DVD - odds are, if it's coming, I've already covered it there.

The Bits' mirror copy of Jim Taylor's Official DVD FAQ has been updated to the most recent version (August 18th). It takes a long time to load, so be patient, but if you have a question about DVD, that's the best place to start looking for answers. I've also updated the Top 10 Selling Discs and AFI Top 100 stats listed above. The AFI number went up from 33 to 35 with the addition of It's a Wonderful Life and 2001. Over the next few days, I'm going to be updating and revising my links section, so if you know of any good ones not included, or any that are broken or not working, let me know.

There's a bunch of new DVD title information in today's Rumor Mill update, from the likes of Universal, Polygram, HBO and New Line - don't miss it.

Around the Net, you'll find an interesting financial report from Circuit City over at Infoseek. It backs up that story, from yesterday's Hollywood Reporter on how Divx has become a major financial drain. Speaking of which, you can now find the complete transcript of the article on the Divx page of our Studio and DVD News section. Click here for a Yahoo search of the day's other DVD news and press releases. There's some interesting stuff to be found. Also, be sure to check DVD File for that DVD Pro Conference report.

Back to that Reporter Divx story... Bits reader Stephen Cochran made some comments that I thought were particularly interesting, so (with his permission) I thought I'd share them with you:

"Although the "reevaluate" statement was potentially revealing, what I found most interesting was the statement that "Sharp expects to spend $60 million on marketing, salaries and continued development of the platform". This is a HUGE comedown from the estimated $100 million on advertising alone during the national rollout. This indicates that they have already re-evaluated the format, and have decided that it cannot sustain the near-term budget they were hoping for. I think this shows that they are very aware of just how dismal a failure DIVX already is in the test market.

BTW, I live in Williamsburg, VA (about 45 miles from Richmond), and receive a couple of the Richmond TV stations. The only ad I've seen is the "herd of buffalo" one, and it isn't playing more than 5 times a week that I can tell. The closest CC store is in Newport News (15 miles further from Richmond), and they have greatly expanded their DVD shelf space, cutting into the space used by Video Tapes."

Interesting, no? With any luck, I should have Todd's DVD reviews of Universal's Carlito's Way and Scarface: Collector's Edition up later today, so be sure to check back.

Best Wishes...

9/2/98

Lots to discuss here today. First of all, I've got some more interesting news on upcoming DVD titles in the Rumor Mill today, so stop by there for a quick read.

There's some very interesting DVD-related stuff around the web today. First of all, comes word that Circuit City is feeling a bit of a financial pinch due to the development costs of Divx. There's a article about this over at the Hollywood Reporter web site. You can only read a summary of the article unless you subscribe to the site, but the summary is revealing in itself (2nd story down from the top of the page). The key phrase to note here is, "During a conference call with analysts this week, Circuit City chairman and CEO Rick Sharp said the company will re-evaluate prospects for the platform and determine its viability after the holiday season." Could we be seeing the beginning of the end for the dubious pay-per-play format?

DVD File has posted some interesting tidbits and rumors that were apparently gleaned while covering last weekend's DVD Pro Conference. As many confirm pieces of information I've heard and posted previously, I have some perspective to offer. Among the tidbits, is that Buena Vista is developing a new series of special edition DVDs of Miramax and Dimension films (see 8/13's Rumor Mill update). The first of these will indeed be Good Will Hunting and Scream, with Jackie Brown likely to follow soon. Also comes word that Buena Vista is allowing special edition DVDs of some of its other titles through arrangement with Criterion. Armageddon is among the titles in question. This is definitely good news. I've been told that a regular edition DVD of Armageddon is likely from Buena Vista before the end of the year as well (see the same 8/13 update). As for the Disney animated titles, which DVD File reports "should" be coming in 1999... let's just say that there's a whole lot up in the air yet on this issue. However, I've long said that I would be shocked if at least a few weren't issued in the first half of next year.

Finally, let me address the Fox rumor (that Fox may not be releasing any other DVDs, after their November batch, until after Christmas). This is very much up in the air. Those of you who followed Fox's almost-announcement at VSDA, know that the sands of decision making over at Fox have a tendency to shift quite a bit when it comes to DVD. What I do know, is that this rumor seems to have started with a comment made by Fox's Steve Feldstein, in the August 22nd issue of Billboard magazine (reported in this column on 8/19). Here's the relevant passage, from page 73's Picture This column by Seth Goldstein:

"Sources said that Fox, which had dissed DVD since the format debuted in March '97, was prepared to unveil essentially this list during the Video Software Dealers Assn. Convention in Las Vegas last month but decided not to at the last minute - another indication, perhaps, of its ambivalence about the format. Anyone expecting the studio to close out 1998 with a blaze of best-sellers - the Star Wars trilogy, for instance - is waiting in vain. Given the late start, Fox spokesman Steven Feldstein says it's doubtful more titles will be shipped this year."

In a bit of news not on the Net, the August 31st issue of Video Business has a story (see page 4) which indicates that several video hardware manufacturers are firming up plans to begin selling DVD player/recorders by the 1999 holiday season. These would be able to record current analog TV signals, and function as normal DVD players. According to the article, the player/recorders would likely be based on one of the current DVD-R or DVD-RW formats, and use C-Cube's new MPEG-2 encoder/decoder chipset. Industry experts say they could cost around $1,000 late next year, and drop to much less in 2000. The article also says that while manufacturers disagree as to initial pricing and exact timing, they do privately expect product next year. And that is VERY good news for DVD.

That's about all for now. Stay tuned tomorrow for the latest, including a host of new DVD reviews from Todd. Also be sure to check DVD File tomorrow, for their in-depth report on the goings-on at the DVD Pro Conference. It's certain to be a good read. Best Wishes!

9/1/98

So, how is everyone's Titanic Day going thus far? I wonder how many millions of copies of the big boat movie will be rolling in VCRs tonight... Hhmmm. I of course, have drawn my line in the sand, and will not purchase Titanic until it reaches DVD. Stay tuned to the Rumor Mill in the coming weeks for the latest news on that front.

Speaking of the Rumor Mill, you'll find some new information on the Warner-distributed DVD titles for November, as well as new word on Spielberg and Deep Impact on DVD.

Among the more frustrating information I've learned recently, is that a number of upcoming MGM DVDs are going to be pan & scan only. I don't know about you, but enough is enough. I think it's time DVD fans let MGM know just what we think about this. I'd like to call upon everyone who feels strongly about this issue, to POLITELY write, call or e-mail MGM, and request that they release no more pan & scan only DVDs. I'd also like to ask other DVD pages join me in this campaign. Only by acting together can we make the point. You can contact MGM using the following information:

MGM / UA Home Video
2500 Broadway
Santa Monica, CA 90404-3061
(310) 449-3000

Web site: http://www.mgmua.com/
DVD Web site: http://www.mgm.com/dvd/
E-mail (Form on site): http://www.mgm.com/cgi-bin/cgi/email.html


Finally, we've just announced the winners of the August Trivia Contest. The next one will start in a week or so, and we'll be giving away one of my favorite new DVDs, The Blues Brothers.

More tomorrow...

8/31/98

Just a quick reminder - today is your last day to enter this month's Trivia Contest. So be sure to get your entries in for your chance to win one of five DVD copies of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

I'll be back tomorrow with a full update. Best wishes until then...

8/29/98

Updates here at the Bits are going to be a bit sparring over the next few days. The reason? My wife and I are celebrating our 8th anniversary this weekend. A few months ago, I had also been invited to attend the DVD Pro conference in Santa Barbara (scheduled for this weekend), but some things just gotta take priority, ya know? Worry not, however - I have several more articles in the works, with a number of L.A. area DVD authoring, compression and replication facilities. So you'll getting lots more behind-the-scenes looks at the DVD industry.

In the meantime, I've updated the CEMA sales numbers (15,871 players sold for the week of August 21st). The total is now some 736,000 DVD players sold since the format began. Look for the numbers to begin increasing over the next couple of months, as the 4th quarter shopping season approaches.

The San Jose Mercury News has posted an article on DVD one-upping Divx, now that Paramount and Fox have joined in. Also there's an interesting letter posted over at the laserdisc.com site, wherein the president of a video distribution company refutes statements made by Divx exec Dick Sowa in a recent issue of Video Business. Dick was apparently arguing that Divx is merely an enhancement of DVD. That tune is getting a bit old methinks.

Finally, a number of readers in the Divx test markets have told me that the demo discs Circuit City stores are using in their Divx player demos, are in fact, regular DVD discs! One reader actually popped the disc out of the Divx player, and played it in a nearby DVD player. Come on Divx! Can't you even demo your own product?

Anyway, I should be back Monday or Tuesday with regular updates. Have a good weekend!

8/27/98

Some interesting news reported in recent issues of Video Store magazine: Wal-Mart will have DVD in 1,400 stores within a few months, Wherehouse Entertainment is increasing its DVD commitment from 90 to 220 stores, and Hollywood Video is soon to rollout a chain-wide rental program. Even better is the news that Warner Bros has confirmed to Video Store, that its oft-delayed Shawshank Redemption DVD will finally be released in December.

From the latest issue of Stereophile Guide to Home Theater (September 1998, page 24) comes a brief article by Barry Willis, entitled Divx Sees Harder Side of Sears. The gist? Retail chain Sears, Roebuck & Co. has decided not to carry Divx, due to the negative pre-release publicity. The article goes on to indicate that Divx's launch costs are skyrocketing due to an anticipated $100 million national advertising this fall. The issue is worth a read. And be sure to check out Stereophile's web site as well.

As has been widely reported around the Internet, laserdisc and DVD distributor Image Entertainment has purchased retailer Ken Cranes. Read the press release here.

Laserviews has announced a host of new DVDs from several different studios. There's some great titles listed here (many of which were first revealed to be in the works in previous updates of the Rumor Mill, I'm pleased to say). Some unfortunate news though... Laserviews indicates that Buena Vista has increased their price for Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas to $34.99. Note to the folks at Buena Vista: Do you WANT to sell any copies of this title? A classic animated film like Lion King or The Jungle Book MIGHT justify this price point, but a straight to video release with no extras? I think not. You are shooting yourselves in the foot. Good luck selling this title... you'll need it.

Finally, check out my individual studio pages for MGM and Buena Vista, for officially confirmed information on some of their upcoming DVDs. More later...

LATE UPDATE (8/26/98 - 11 AM PST)

I've had a ton of e-mail since last, from people who are asking if The Blues Brothers is really anamorphic widescreen, and really Dolby Digital 5.1. The early DVD release announcements for this disc said neither would be the case. Well, I can honestly say that, yes Virginia... it really is anamorphic and it really is DD 5.1. Universal rose to the occasion and really delivered on this title. So enjoy.

Speaking of Virginia, don't miss this article from Virginia Business on Divx and Divx chairman Richard Sharp. It's revealing, and not a little insulting when it come to early adopters. Sharp a little hurt by our reaction to Divx? Bull - he's doing this for the $$$. Period. I for one, don't have too much sympathy. I wonder if he's concerned about the Mom and Pop video stores, that will be a little hurt by Divx? I wonder if he cares about the confusion he's caused many consumers, thinking of adopting DVD? And calling we the critics "just a tiny little fraction of the early adopters"? Yeah, right. If you believe that, I'm got some beach-front property on the Moon for you. How many hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles have come out against Divx? Hey, even Sears dumped them... and they carry everything.

EARLY UPDATE (8/26/98 - 1AM PST)

OK, it's very late (or should I say early), but here at last are my DVD reviews of Universal's upcoming Collector's Edition DVD of The Blues Brothers and Buena Vista's Titanica. Now, I've got to get some sleep! More tomorrow...

8/25/98

A pair of Bits readers e-mailed me some interesting pictures relating to Divx. You can now see a Divx display at a Bay-area Circuit City store, and a pamphlet Warner Bros is using to spread the word that only Open DVD delivers.

Also, just to let everyone know, all of my old features, articles and other interesting items (like the VSDA Coverage, and those pictures of the Worlds Largest DVD Player and the Open DVD Billboard in San Francisco) will remain accessible from the FAQ and Features section (just use the button bar at the left at anytime).

Be sure to check Laserviews for some more, recent DVD announcements from Image and Criterion. The Arizona Republic has published yet another article that casts Divx in poor light, so be sure to give it a read.

I'm doing some housekeeping things around the site today, including updating some of my links. Check back later today for those reviews of The Blues Brothers and Titanica on DVD.

8/24/98

Well, I spent the weekend working on some new DVD reviews. You can now read my word on Buena Vista's Judge Dredd and the long-awaited MGM release of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Those of you who are interested in 2001, should be sure to enter this month's Trivia Contest - we're giving away five copies of the DVD as prizes. DVD reviews of The Blues Brothers and Titanica are coming tomorrow, and more are on the way.

I've posted some hot new news on Fox's upcoming DVDs. It was sent to me over the weekend by a trio of very reliable sources. Check it out in the Rumor Mill today.

In other news around the Net, The DVD Resource Page has some interesting tidbits about the possibility of Republic bringing Steven King's The Stand to DVD.

Finally, I went to Fox's Ever After this weekend, and I'll be darned if it wasn't a completely entertaining film. It's a fresh approach to the Cinderella story, with some great performances (including Anjelica Huston), a witty and engaging script, and very good production design. Not to mention Drew Barrymore, who simply lights up the screen. Director Andy Tennant's done some nice work. Very charming.

Stay tuned...

LATE UPDATE (8/21/98 - 10:30 PM PST)

Just a quick update to let you know that my review of Man in the Iron Mask is now up. Blues Brothers and others are coming. In the meantime, have a great weekend!

EARLY UPDATE (8/21/98 - 11AM PST)

CEMA's DVD player sales numbers are in for the second week of August: 6,683 players sold to dealers, bringing the grand total for U.S. sales to 720,890.

There's some new information on DVD titles in today's Rumor Mill. I've been able to confirm Buena Vista's reported November line-up (which has been mentioned elsewhere on the Net). There's also some interesting new information on a couple of the first Fox DVDs, as well.

Stereophile Guide to Home Theater has an interesting article on DVD replication numbers on their web site. The gist is that replication numbers are expected to skyrocket in the next few years.

Artisan Entertainment (formerly Live) is preparing a new web site. It's not yet open, but will be soon, so be sure to bookmark it (I'll update the Bits links section as well).

Laserviews has just posted the official announcement of some new DVD titles, including that Warner Music Man release I told you about a few days ago in the Rumor Mill. I don't know about you, but I'm really excited about that Thunderheart DVD from Columbia/TriStar on 9/29. If you've never seen it, it's a great flick. Val Kilmer's at the top of his game, and Graham Greene really steals the show - very cool.

I should have my reviews of MGM's Man in the Iron Mask and the upcoming Universal Collector's Edition DVD release of The Blues Brothers up by tonight.

Finally, I wanted to send my regards over to Steve Tannehill at the DVD Resource Page. He was having some ISP troubles there for a while, but he's got a new dedicated server, and he's back better than ever. Keep up the good work, Steve!

More later...!

8/20/98

Not a whole lot of DVD news today, but you'll find Todd's review of The Sadist from All Day Entertainment. There should be at least one new DVD review from myself tomorrow.

Andy Patrizio over at TechWeb has written an article called World Wide Winchells, a look at the widely varied spectrum of on-line entertainment journalism. While I'm not sure what to think about being included alongside Matt Drudge, Luke Ford, Harry Knowles and BitchX (no disrespect intended - I feel like the straight man in this bunch), I do kind of like the moniker "DVD's Holy Warrior".... In any case, the brief profile on myself does give you a pretty good idea of how I got involved in DVD.

My interest in DVD started years before the format's debut. As a professional in the video industry, I had been aware of DVD's development for some time, and delayed my own personal entrance into the home theater realm to wait for it. For the record, I do have 15 years experience in industrial and commercial video production (writing, producing and directing), including work for 3M, Texaco, the Minnesota Twins, the NFL (at Superbowl XXVI) and others. I also have a good deal of experience in educational production, including work with PBS's Newton's Apple and most recently, a gang-awareness program here in L.A. called Choices. My list of Hollywood credits probably doesn't deserve the label "veteran" (OK, there was that gig on FBI: The Untold Stories which took a few years off my life). Let's just say I've been through the grinder a few times. Several years ago, I formed my own company (North Woods Entertainment), and in addition to editing The Digital Bits, I'm writing a trio of feature film screenplays, the first of which has garnered some interest.

When DVD finally debuted, I researched my player decision on alt.video.dvd, and within a few weeks, found myself answering questions on the format - particularly questions on the kinds of DVD titles that were in the works. With my studio connections, I had access to a lot of interesting information, which I began sharing via e-mail in The Digital Bits newsletter. That quickly became overwhelming, so in December of last year, the Bits became a web site, and you know the rest.

I confess that I am largely responsible for initiating the Divx firestorm on the Internet, although the reaction was inevitable. That conference call referred to in the article, was in fact, the infamous Divx conference call with Richard Sharp. A transcript of that on-line press conference appeared in a recent issue of Widescreen Review magazine (Volume 6, Number 4, Issue 26). My questions to Sharp are on page 99 (# 24, 25 and 26 to be exact). You can also listen to a recording of the full conference via Real Audio, over at Digital Theater News. My questions are found in Q&A Part 3.

Finally, a quick clarification on a statement I made yesterday, regarding region locking and code free players. It is not my intention to condemn anyone who chooses to have their players modified to play DVDs from all regions. I can certainly understand why many (particularly those outside Region 1, where only a small number of titles are available) choose to do so. But region locking was mandated by the studios, and was a necessary concession made to help garner their support of the format. Whatever my personal feelings, the official stance here at The Digital Bits is that anything that makes the studios uneasy about releasing their films to DVD, and which encourages them to support Divx as a safer alternative, is bad for DVD. Period. If the choice is between Divx or region-locked DVDs, the latter is certainly the lesser of two evils.... As for my personal feelings, I agree completely with many of those who argue that region locking is silly. Ah, heck... don't get me started!

Best wishes and more tomorrow!

PREVIOUS NEWS (8/19/98)

There's a whole lot of interesting information today. First of all, check the Rumor Mill today for more on upcoming DVD titles in the works for November and December.

The August 22nd issue of Billboard has some interesting tidbits of information on DVD. On page 73's Picture This column by Seth Goldstein, you find this comment on Fox's initial DVD releases:

"Sources said that Fox, which had dissed DVD since the format debuted in March '97, was prepared to unveil essentially this list during the Video Software Dealers Assn. Convention in Las Vegas last month but decided not to at the last minute - another indication, perhaps, of its ambivalence about the format. Anyone expecting the studio to close out 1998 with a blaze of best-sellers - the Star Wars trilogy, for instance - is waiting in vain. Given the late start, Fox spokesman Steven Feldstein says it's doubtful more titles will be shipped this year."

I'm willing to reserve judgement until we actually see what Fox does. But, more and more, I get the sinking feeling that Fox's commitment to DVD at the moment amounts to, "Hey - we're putting out a couple of DVDs. Now get off our backs..."

Also in Goldstein's column: Paramount's Dorrit Ragosine says a decision to release Deep Impact on DVD is still up in the air, awaiting discussions with DreamWorks SKG. A Titanic DVD is rumored for November, according to the column, and again Divx won't get it early.

There's another article on Divx in the Orlando Sentinel, so be sure to check that out. Also, for those of you who doubt the seriousness of the threat to DVD from digital piracy and defeating region-locking with "code-free" chips and players, I suggest reading Ken Pohlmann's excellent column Digital Reality in the September issue of Video Magazine. I've had a lot of people ask me why the studios would be so supportive of the Divx idea, and Ken explains it pretty well. For what it's worth, while I understand the desire of many film fans to obtain foreign versions of films offered on DVD in other regions, I join Video Magazine in standing against piracy and circumvention of region locking. While it involves making a sacrifice, perhaps giving up that longer version a favorite film available elsewhere, I'd rather the studios feel comfortable about releasing their films to DVD overall. In the end, that's better for the viability of the format, and thus, better for us as well. Now if we could just convince the studios to make alternate versions of films available on DVD in all regions, this wouldn't be an issue...

OK, now it's time for another rant. No, not on politics this time (more on that in a minute)... the topic of today's rant is MGM. As you all know, MGM has decided to release a THX version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang on DVD in a pan & scan only format. This is a film that was originally released in a 2.20:1 theatrical aspect ratio!

Now, I understand the problem here. This is a longer film, and there probably isn't room on a DVD to put two versions of this film on the disc, so a choice has to be made. And I'm sure someone looked at the market research over at MGM, and decided that this is a kids film, and most parents hate letterbox. But I wish some of these studio folks would exercise a little vision when making these decisions, rather than just crunching the numbers. DVD fans are paying the price for the fact that a marketing degree from Harvard clearly does not qualify someone to make decisions like this. To the folks at MGM, I ask: How many kids have DVD players, and are likely to run out and buy this title on DVD? Probably not many. Of those who do, how many do you figure are going to complain about it being letterboxed? Not that many - kids just don't care. Now, how many film buffs and collectors are there (myself included) who were waiting excitedly for this title, but will now pass on it because it's pan & scan only? Many thousands, I can assure you.

This pan & scan only DVD stuff has got to stop. Period. You want numbers? Well, look at the sales numbers of pan & scan only titles! They don't sell! It irritated me with Christmas Story, and it irritated me even more with Moonstruck. But this is just too much.

And I'm still not done - MGM is also releasing 2001: A Space Odyssey this month... and it will not be enhanced for 16x9 displays. This is a marquee film from the MGM catalog! As I've said before, anamorphic enhancement always requires a new transfer, resulting in greatly improved picture and compression for DVD, than an older transfer which may have an analog master. For 2001 not to have been so treated... well, don't get me started. If Universal can release Half-Baked in anamorphic widescreen, MGM ought to be able to do the same for a film as important as this. I suggest using the MGM contact info in my Surf the Links section, to tell them (politely) what you think of all this.

Ironically enough (after my rant), click here for a look at the upcoming MGM special edition DVD release of Tomorrow Never Dies.

Finally, I am officially declaring The Digital Bits a "politics-free" zone. After yesterday's brief rant, I received SO much e-mail from folks who assumed I was making a "typical liberal" argument in support of Clinton (I wasn't), that I've decided it's not worth the trouble. I was merely suggesting that in a world with two new nuclear powers, and with the threat of terrorism higher than ever (among countless other problems), perhaps we have more important things to worry about. And given the fact that in 1998 America, you don't get to play politics at the highest levels without playing dirty, and most Americans allow this to continue by choosing not to participate in the political process, I don't think we have much right to rage indignantly when, surprise, we discover that some of our politicians are less than honest with us. In any case, I don't care what your opinions on politics are, and you don't care what mine are, so l promise not to raise the issue again (cue sound of cheering!). Enough said...

LATE UPDATE (8/18/98 - 1:45 PM PST)

Some good stuff here: Todd's just finished his reviews of the DVD versions of Seven Samurai and The Toxic Avenger. And in today's Rumor Mill, I've finally posted all the details on Image's upcoming DVD release of Dances With Wolves. It really looks to be a fantastic disc - can't wait!

Dan Gillmor's column over at the San Jose Mercury News site has an interesting rant on Divx today, so be sure to check that out.

Finally, it seems that a number of distributors HAVE been informed that Titanic will be available on laserdisc on October 13th, in dual pan & scan and letterboxed versions (both THX with DD 5.1 audio). Look for a retail of $49.98. No word yet on the DVD, although that Hollywood Reporter article from the other day gives a few clues.

EARLY UPDATE (8/18/98 - 3 AM PST)

OK, at long last, my review of Dark City is finally up, so be sure to check that out. I'll be posting again later today, including more new reviews by both Todd and myself. I may even throw in a comment or two on yesterday's Grand Jury testimony by President Clinton. I know it isn't DVD related, but I (like many here in the States) was thoroughly fascinated with the day's events. It's tough not to get riled up about the while mess.

Stay tuned...

8/17/98

That review of Dark City will be posted later this afternoon. There's been a slight delay - actually I've got to take my kid (OK, my cat, but those of you with pets know what I mean) to the vet for a teeth cleaning of all things! In the meantime, the new CEMA numbers are in: 4,174 DVD players sold in the first week of August (ending 8/7).

Also, Warner has issued a joint press release with MGM regarding the particulars of the upcoming DVD release of Gone With the Wind. You can read that here.

More later...

8/16/98

All right! After a much needed day of relaxation (and a San Diego Padres game on Friday night), I'm back with an update. Later this evening, I'll finally be posting my review of Dark City, so be sure to check back then. In the meantime, here's an article on the Fox and Paramount DVD announcement, that appeared in this week's International Edition of The Hollywood Reporter. It's interesting, because it reveals a little insight into Paramount's plans for Titanic on DVD, and has some good news for Star Trek fans as well. It also reveals James Cameron's 2 cents on the format. Note that it mistakenly refers to the first Odd Couple movie as an Oct. 20 DVD release:

DVD menu finally has Fox, Par pics (Cover story)

Holdouts Fox and Paramount make their first moves into the DVD marketplace, pushing product for fall. A Titanic DVD may not be far behind. (See page 5)

Fox finally elects to take ride on the DVD carousel (page 5 - 8)

8 on the 'open' platform; Par picks slate

by Scott Hettrick

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has finally embraced the original "open" DVD platform, leaving DreamWorks SKG as the only studio holdout on the digital home video format.

Fox will release its first eight titles Nov. 3, with two priced on the comparatively high side of $34.98.

Meanwhile, Paramount Home Video, another studio that has been slow to adopt DVD, has announced its first slate of 10 recent and catalog DVD releases for October to be followed by 15 more titles in November and December.

The first wave of Paramount titles each priced at $29.99 on Oct. 6 are Star Trek: First Contact, Face/Off, The Saint, Kiss the Girls, and Twilight. The second batch on Oct. 20 are Top Gun, Clear and Present Danger, Primal Fear, In & Out and Neil Simon's The Odd Couple.

The acceptance of DVD by Paramount and Fox would seem to pave the way for a release of Titanic on DVD as Fox and Paramount are sharing home video distribution on Titanic which Paramount will release on VHS in the U.S. on Sept. 1. Sources said Paramount has taken orders well in excess of 20 million units on Titanic, which is expected to be a record-setter for a live-action movie.

Sources said plans for a DVD release of Titanic are not finalized and that there is just a 50/50 chance that it will be scheduled this year. The studios are discussing plans and evaluating timing with director James Cameron. Cameron has been one of the biggest proponents of the laserdisc format, creating special editions of many of his movies for the platform. He recently called DVD, which will play on any DVD or Divx machine, "the platform of the future" and said he is already planning a special edition of Titanic (HR 6/9).

One of the first titles being released on DVD by Fox is Cameron's The Abyss, priced at $29.98.

But Fox and Paramount both said Monday that the simultaneous DVD announcements by the companies is a coincidence and that there is no connection relative to Titanic.

Fox Consumer Products president Patricia Wyatt said the studio's decision to enter the DVD market comes after "watching the development of the marketplace and the various anti-piracy measures very closely."

Five other Fox titles priced at $29.98 are Young Frankenstein, Porky's, Predator, Jingle All the Way and Marked for Death.

Two newer titles, Home Alone 3 and Hope Floats, both priced for sell-through on VHS, will be priced at $34.98 for DVD. Although Universal Studios Home Video and other studios have some titles at that price point, those levels are generally reserved for special edition titles offering lots of extra material and interactivity. Most other studios price their DVD releases at $24.99 - $29.99, with some priced even lower.

Most of the first releases from Paramount and Fox will not offer extra material, though some will be available in both the standard and widescreen versions.

Fox says the studio has no set policy on its DVD pricing as yet and has not established a release schedule beyond the first slate. Fox is sitting on a number of titles that are well-suited for the DVD home theater market, including the Star Wars, Alien and Die Hard series, Independence Day and other Cameron titles like True Lies.

Paramount will stick with the $29.98 price point and will continue an aggressive release slate with a mix of genres, said Paramount executive vp sales and marketing Jack Kanne, offering as many titles as possible on DVD simultaneous with the VHS release.

A new movie in the Star Trek franchise will likely be released every quarter or six months, he said, and perhaps some TV episodes. No plans have been determined for classic titles in the Paramount library such as Grease, Saturday Night Fever or The Godfather and Indiana Jones trilogies.

This year, Fox agreed to a licensing deal with the DVD pay-per-play variation called Divx, as has Paramount. The Divx system continues to be test-marketed and is expected to be rolled out on a national basis this fall. Paramount is also participating in Divx, as is DreamWorks, the only form of DVD that DreamWorks partner Steven Spielberg has accepted.

8/14/98

Well, there's not a whole lot of DVD news around the Net so far today, but hey - after the news earlier this week, who's complaining? In the meantime, I've posted more information on upcoming DVD titles in today's Rumor Mill. And you can also read my review of Columbia TriStar's excellent 30th Anniversary DVD release of Oliver!

Laserviews has some new DVD release information up today, including that Paramount information I posted yesterday (and I'm proud to say, I first revealed nearly a month ago in the Rumor Mill).

Anyway, if you're going OUT to the movies in the next couple of days, don't miss The Avengers - should be great and it just opened today. And have a great weekend! Stay tuned...

Bill Hunt, Editor
The Digital Bits

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