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page updated: 5/2/01



My Two Cents
(Archived Posts 3/16/01 - 2/22/01)


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3/16/01

Ever wonder what it would be like to suddenly find yourself directing a movie starring Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu and Bill Murray? So did McG... until he was hired to take the driver's seat on Columbia TriStar's high-flying, babe-fu flick, Charlie's Angels. I recently had the chance to chat with the G-man, and I think you'll get a kick out of it. So without further you know what... here's Off the Cuff with McG. Enjoy!

Also today, Columbia TriStar has officially announced the DVD release of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The Celluloid Closet. Both titles will street on May 29th. Close Encounters will be a 2-disc set in "library case" packaging similar to Lawrence of Arabia. It will include anamorphic widescreen video, Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 audio (as well as Dolby Digital 2.0 audio), the 101-minute documentary The Making of Close Encounters, the 1977 Watching the Skies featurette, 11 deleted scenes, theatrical trailers, filmographies and more. The disc will be THX certified. SRP is $27.95. Celluloid Closet will include full frame video (the original aspect ratio), Dolby Digital 2.0 audio, audio commentary by filmmakers Robert Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, along with Lily Tomlin, Howard Rosenman and Arnold Glassman, a second audio track featuring a Vito Russo lecture, 55 minutes of outtakes, weblinks, trailers and filmographies. Also, the infamous "War of the Words" correspondence between Gore Vidal and Charlton Heston will be reproduced in the disc's booklet. SRP is $29.95.

Have a great weekend and watch for The 2nd Annual Bitsy Awards next week!

3/15/01

Today, we thought we'd post a comprehensive upcoming DVD list in The Rumor Mill, which includes the street dates of every major title that's been officially announced, along with word on titles that are in the works. We've got listings for virtually every major studio, so don't miss it.

Also this afternoon, we figured you might enjoy a first look at some menu screens from Fox's Big Trouble in Little China (5/22) as well as Columbia's The House of Mirth (5/29). Enjoy!

Big Trouble in Little China (main menu)

Big Trouble in Little China (special features menu)

The House of Mirth (main menu)

And we've got lots more planned for tomorrow, so stay tuned!

(LATE UPDATE - 3/14/01 - 5 PM PST)

We've just gotten word from Columbia TriStar that their long-awaited DVD version of Tootsie will street on May 29th (SRP $24.95). The DVD will include anamorphic widescreen and full frame video, Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 audio and talent files. We've also confirmed that The House of Mirth will hit stores on May 29th as well. And the Region 1 DVD release of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon will officially street on June 5th.

The House of MirthCrouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Sweeetttt...!

(EARLY UPDATE - 3/14/01 - 11 AM PST)

Well... the subject of Star Wars DVDs has come up again. Click on over to today's Rumor Mill post for our statement on the situation. We've also got word on another Amazon "estimated" street date for a major upcoming title. Stay tuned...

(LATER UPDATE - 3/13/01 - 7 PM PST)

Okay... We've just posted 3 new DVD reviews for you to check out. Todd's given Warner's Red Planet a spin, Greg's taken a look at all the versions of Columbia's In the Line of Fire and Brain's got his take on Buena Vista's Highlander: Endgame.

Also today, we're giving you to a chance to participate in our 2nd Annual Bitsy Awards (check out last year's awards here)! We've created a new category this year: Readers' Choice: Best DVD of 2000. We want you to tell us which disc was your favorite from last year in terms of overall video, audio and content quality. We'll tally the entries and feature your choice on The Bitsys, which we're planning to announce next week. You can e-mail us your choices at this address: bitsypick@thedigitalbits.com And be sure to use the word BITSY in the header. So get busy and tell us what you think!

See you tomorrow!

(LATE UPDATE - 3/13/01 - 11 AM PST)

Columbia TriStar has just announced the DVD release of their A Few Good Men: Special Edition on May 29th. The disc will SRP for $29.95 and will include anamorphic widescreen video, English Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 audio in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese, a new audio commentary by director Rob Reiner, the Code of Conduct documentary, a featurette called From Stage to Screen with Aaron Sorkin and Rob Reiner, trailers and the usual talent files. Subtitles will include English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean and Thai. This should be a great release.

Also today, we've posted word in The Rumor Mill on a few Paramount titles in the works, and more big upcoming DVDs that you can already preorder on Amazon.com - don't miss it!

Back with reviews this afternoon...

(EARLY UPDATE - 3/13/01 - 1 AM PST)

Let's get this baby off to an early start today, shall we? I'd say 1:30 AM Pacific is early enough. As I write this post, I'm watching the shuttle astronauts working on the space station on NASA TV (click here for a 24-hour, live video feed). Gotta love it. Hey - speaking of the space station, Sony's got a poll on their website where you can help select which DVDs and CDs get sent up into orbit for the astronauts and cosmonauts to watch. You can also enter to win one of Sony's DVP-FX1 portable DVD players, just like they use on Alpha. You'll notice (if you participate) that a few of the movies aren't yet on DVD officially. We're guessing that if Star Wars wins, Lucasfilm will burn 'em a disc special. Damn - those astronauts get all the perks!

All right... many of you will no doubt recall our recent review of Artisan's DVD version of Frank Herbert's Dune. I think it's no secret that we were disappointed with the DVD. What surprised us most is that Artisan has, overall, been very good in terms of the quality and features of their other DVD releases. They were quick to adopt such features as anamorphic widescreen and animated menu screens, and have been very proactive in terms of adopting other innovative aspects of DVD technology, like the DVD-18 disc configuration and seamless branching. So how, we wondered, could they have dropped the ball so badly on Dune? The disc was originally to have included anamorphic widescreen, 5.1 audio, trailers, director's commentary and numerous other special edition features that failed to make the final disc.

Well... we've been digging hard on this, and we may be able to shed a little light on the situation. What it boils down to, is that there was something of a business disagreement between the series' creators and Artisan Entertainment. Sources close to the DVD's production have informed us that, when it came time to talk about the DVD, a lot of promises were made by the series' creators in terms of the content and elements the disc's producers would have access to. But the film's director, John Harrison, then decided that he wanted a significant amount of money to produce a director's cut of the miniseries for the DVD release - a six-figure amount. Apparently, some 20 additional minutes of footage would have been added back into the series' 266 minute running time (included brief nudity and scenes that were cut to accommodate commercials during the SciFi Channel broadcast). A few effects shots would also have been finished. When Artisan balked at the amount in question, the series’ producers denied Artisan access to an anamorphic master, 5.1 audio stems and most of the promised supplementary materials. They then went overseas and made a deal with a German company instead to produce a special edition DVD release of the series for Region 2. As part of this move, they granted the German company access to the anamorphic master and the other "premium" elements denied to Artisan. Artisan was then never given a formal chance to bargain with the producers for any significant added content (beyond what made the final disc) - they couldn't even get trailers. So Artisan had little choice but to do the best they could with the materials they'd been given. What that means, is that Region 1 gets a lackluster, non-anamorphic DVD, while Region 2 will get a loaded, anamorphic special edition.

Now... granted, this is only one side of the story. We have yet to speak with Dune director John Harrison and his people (we ARE making an effort to do so). We have heard that Harrison feels he was treated rudely in his dealings with Artisan. In any case, the only people who truly suffer in a situation like this are DVD fans and, more importantly, fans of the series. I'm sure plenty of Region 2 DVD consumers will find it fitting that Region 1 is getting screwed for once when it comes to a DVD release. Here at The Digital Bits, all we can say is that it's disgusting when egos and seemingly petty business disagreements get in the way of quality. When you consider how cool this DVD release could have been, and what happened to prevent that... you really have to just throw your hands up in frustration. As a fan of this series, I'm extremely disappointed. And judging by the flood of e-mail we've been getting here at the Bits over the last few days, I'm definitely not the only one. Is there hope that someday Region 1 will get the DVD special edition that fans of the series deserve? Maybe, if cooler heads prevail. Artisan certainly wants to give us one. But in the meantime... what a shame.

Back with more later.

(EVEN LATER UPDATE! - 3/12/01 - 9 PM PST)

This just in... we've gotten word from Kevin Smith's NewsAskew.com that the Dogma: Special Edition DVD has finally been rescheduled by Columbia TriStar for release on June 26th. We have no word on any possible content changes, although we'd heard through the grapevine that Disney did require a few (thus causing the delay). We'll have to see what the new spec list looks like. In the meantime, Smith fans... REJOICE!

Be sure to check back tomorrow - we'll have new DVD reviews and more. We've also uncovered some interesting information on Artisan's new Frank Herbert's Dune DVD. You may recall that we were disappointed by the 2-disc set, particularly for its lack of anamoprhic widescreen. Well, now we know at least part of the story as to why the disc turned out the way it did... and we think you'll be a little surprised by what we learned. Don't miss it.

See you in the morning... ;-)

(LATER UPDATE - 3/12/01 - 4 PM PST)

We've got yet another The Rumor Mill update for you this afternoon, with more word on the DVD release of V, V: The Final Battle, Pay it Forward, The Sopranos: Season 2, a series of Batman: SE discs and the Dungeons & Dragons: Platinum Edition. Don't miss it!

We've also announced the winners of our first March Trivia Contest.

Stay tuned...

(LATE UPDATE - 3/12/01 - 1:30 PM PST)

Okay, we've updated The Rumor Mill with the latest on a number of upcoming DVDs from Columbia TriStar. We'd planned to post this last week, so it's slightly old news, but we figured we'd mention it in case you hadn't heard.

The rumors of Express.com's financial troubles have born more fruit today. The online retailer has filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. If you're thinking of ordering discs from them... buyer beware. The Digital Bits is among the many businesses Express owes money and hasn't bothered to pay for almost a year. Go figure.

Criterion's going to make a lot of people happy on May 22nd. They've announced the DVD release of Akira Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress for that date. Expect the disc to include a stunning new 16x9 video transfer, an exclusive interview with director George Lucas about the film, the theatrical trailer and a new English subtitle translation. VERY cool. Also on May 22nd, look for Criterion DVDs of Jacques Tati's Playtime and Luis Bunel's Diary of a Chambermaid.

An unrated DVD version of Universal's The Nutty Professor 2: The Klumps is also due May 22nd. The disc will contain some 3 minutes of footage deemed too offensive for theatrical release. Hhmm.... wouldn't it have been a smart idea to release it on the original collector's edition DVD? Universal is rapidly gaining a reputation for releasing multiple versions of their films - something that's bound to anger collectors that already own the earlier discs. How many versions of The Mummy, Jurassic Park and The Klumps do we really need?

Also today, Image Entertainment's announced a whole slate of Image-exclusive DVDs for May. Be sure to check their DVD News page for more upcoming titles as well.

We'll be back with more soon...

(EARLY UPDATE - 3/12/01 - Noon PST)

So... have you ever had one of those situations where just about everything that could go wrong did? That's been my weekend. First, I couldn't connect to the website because of a problem with my cable modem (which I thought was a server issue). Then... critical system files in my computer's Windows Millennium operating system decided to crash, resulting in a day of re-installing and re-formatting. And then, when I got my computer back to normal last night, I tried to connect to the website, and (wouldn't you know it) a real server issue prevented me from logging in!

FINALLY... I've got everything talking to everything else, and all our ducks are in a row. It's going to take most of the afternoon and well into the evening to get all caught up, so watch for several posts today. We appreciate your patience, and we'll get the ball rolling with a good head of steam ASAP.

Back soon...

3/9/01

Well... we'd intended to post that Heston story and some more reviews yesterday, but we're having server problems again. Some people can see the site and some can't (I'm one of the latter, unfortunately). We've got our host working on it, and I'm uploading this in the hopes that someone will be able to read it! We'll try to be back full force later this afternoon (Friday). Thanks for your patience...

(LATE UPDATE - 3/7/01 - 4:15 PM PST)

This afternoon, we're pleased to bring you our look at the films (DVDs) of one of the cinema's acknowledged masters, director Alfred Hitchcock. We've got 3 new reviews for you this afternoon: Rope, Saboteur and Vertigo (in addition to 3 Hitchcock titles we'd reviewed previously: The Birds, North by Northwest and Psycho). Many of these are part of Universal's Alfred Hitchcock Collection, of which a whole series of new DVDs has recently been released. We'll be adding more reviews of these titles in the coming days. So, with that, enjoy Alfred Hitchcock Presents... The American Films of Alfred Hitchcock on DVD!

Also this afternoon, word has come in that another forthcoming (and yet-to-be-announced) DVD is available for preorder on Amazon - Buena Vista's Unbreakable. Amazon's reporting a street date of June 19th and an SRP of $29.99. Once again, we'll see...

Looks like those Hong Kong pirates are at it again. Bootleg DVD versions of the Indiana Jones Trilogy have begun to appear on Ebay, we assume mastered from laserdiscs (here's a link, but don't expect it to stay alive for long). It was only a matter of time. Now if Paramount and Lucasfilm could just get their act together...

Just FYI... it looks like that DTS version of Dune we mentioned earlier (that's soon to be released in R4) MAY be David Lynch's theatrical version... not SciFi and Artisan's Frank Herbert's Dune. Sorry for the confusion.

I'm gonna try to pop back in this evening with that report on our recent encounter with actor Charlton Heston, but we're also trying to get Fox's 3-disc Cleopatra DVD reviewed as well (which we've just gotten our hands on), so it'll probably get posted tomorrow. So many great DVDs... so little time. ;-)

One last note... we wanted to let you all know that our next Trivia Contest is going to feature some great prizes, including a Charlton Heston signed copy of Ben Hur on DVD and a signed Meet the Parents disc as well! The current contest runs until Friday, so get your entries in fast (and be sure to watch for the next one).

Stay tuned...

(EARLY UPDATE - 3/7/01 - 12:30 PM PST)

Okay... this is going to be just the first post today. We've updated the Upcoming DVD Art section with the cover art for Universal's upcoming Jaws 2 DVD (street date 5/22 - thanks Scott!) and also Columbia TriStar's Ice Castles (5/1). We've also posted a complete transcript from last night's chat with MGM Home Video on the Home Theater Forum. It was billed as a "no holds barred, ask anything you want" event, and it that's exactly what it was. Lots of great questions were asked and answered. There's a TON of good upcoming MGM DVD information included in the transcript, so don't miss it. Thanks to Ron and the gang at HTF for sending it.

The big news of the moment is that Amazon has begun taking pre-orders for Columbia TriStar's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon DVD with an "estimated" street date of July 5th (and an estimated SRP of $29.99). We'll see...

Now then... to add a little frustration to the whole Dune DVD situation, we're hearing that the R4 version may include a DTS soundtrack. Ouch. We'll post more when we know it.

Back soon with more!

(LATE UPDATE - 3/6/01 - 5:30 PM PST)

We're still waiting to hear back from Artisan about their Dune DVD. In the meantime, we've just published another review of a better DVD release... Carl Sagan's Cosmos: Collector's Edition. It's currently available from directly Cosmos Studios and also a number of online retailers. At the SRP of $169.95, it's a little pricey. But you can get good deals on the 7-disc set online and it's well worth having.

We'll be back tomorrow with Heston, Hitchcock and more, so stay tuned...!

(EARLY UPDATE - 3/6/01 - Noon PST)

Okay, I've slept on this Dune DVD thing... and I'm still pissed. In fact, I'm even more angry, because I've heard from people involved in the Region 2 version of this DVD, and they tell me that it WILL be anamorphic widescreen. Here's an excerpt from Artisan's official press release:

"Frank Herbert's Dune is packed with over five hours of content and special features including a 30 minute "Behind-the-Scenes" Featurette: an exclusive look at the making of Frank Herbert's Dune, an extensive photo galleries with hundreds of original stills and sketches from the creators, "The Cinematographic ideation of Frank Herbert's Dune," - an interactive written treatise by cinematographer Vittoria Storaro, 16:9 widescreen, production notes, cast and crew information, trailers and TV spots, and interactive menus... everything a true fan would want! The suggested retail price is $24.98."

Let's see... what's wrong with that statement? Well, there are no trailers and TV spots, the discs are NOT 16:9 and the "hundreds of original stills and sketches" have been boiled down to a couple dozen at most. Not exactly everything a true fan would want. I've got calls on this in to Artisan and Artisan's PR agency and I'm gonna get to the bottom of it. I'm also going to try to get an e-mail address where people can send their thoughts on the matter.

In other news, we've gotten word that Warner's long-awaited The Iron Giant: Special Edition will finally see the light of day sometime in late summer. And the studio is reportedly planning to deliver The Fugitive: Special Edition to VHS on June 5th. Word is, an SE DVD may also be on the way for that date. Also, we've confirmed that HBO's Sex and the City: The Complete Second Season will street on May 22nd, with 18 episodes on 3 DVDs for an SRP of $49.98.

One other note - Columbia's Finding Forrester DVD has been moved up to an April 24th street date (from 6/12). Just FYI...

We'll be back with more soon. Stay tuned...

(LATER UPDATE - 3/5/01 - 9 PM PST)

All right... I intended to have a little more to post this evening. But I got wrapped up in a rather lengthy review of Artisan's forthcoming, 2-disc DVD release of Frank Herbert's Dune (street date 3/20). Many of you probably saw the lavish miniseries last year on The SciFi Channel and enjoyed it as much as I did. I'm not so sure how much you'll like this DVD however, because Artisan definitely screwed the pooch on this one. The extras leave a lot to be desired (especially compared to those included on the bonus DVD disc that comes with the book, The Secrets of Frank Herbert's Dune - if you intend to buy the Artisan DVD, you might as well just order the book right now to get the bonus material you expect). The sound is only Dolby Digital 2.0 surround, instead of the full 5.1 mix the miniseries deserves. Worse yet, the disc was supposed to be in anamorphic widescreen on DVD (even the packaging claims that it is), but the disc offers only a regular, letterboxed presentation. Check out my review - I've gone into a lot more detail there. I have to tell you though, I haven't been this disappointed by a DVD since Warner's original Kubrick Collection. Look - I'm practically writing a review of my review! Argh! All right... I'm too upset about this thing. Sleep... that's what I need.

See you tomorrow... and maybe I'll have a better attitude then.

(LATE UPDATE - 3/5/01 - 2 PM PST)

Columbia TriStar has announced the DVD release of the following titles: Circus (4/3), My Life (4/24), All the Pretty Houses (5/8), Hangman (5/15), Celluloid Closet: Special Edition (5/29) and The Muppet Movie (6/5).

And we've again updated the Upcoming DVD Artwork section to include My Life, All the Pretty Horses and The Muppet Movie. Stay tuned...

(EARLY UPDATE - 3/5/01 - 1 PM PST)

We've got a bunch of stuff for you today. First of all, we've updated The Rumor Mill with details on a whole slew of MGM's June DVDs. These include Salvador and more. The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai was slated for June release, but has been delayed to July or August - we'll have more soon. We've also got word on HBO's Sex and the City: The Complete Second Season, Warner's V: The Complete Miniseries and more. Don't miss it.

We've also updated the CEA DVD Player Sales numbers to include the numbers for the last week in February - some 165, 542 players were shipped to retailers in the week ending 2/23. That takes the format total to date over 15 million in the States. All charts have been updated accordingly.

Even better still, we've updated the Upcoming DVD Artwork section to include some 15 new covers - Best in Show, V: The Complete Miniseries, Switch, Showboat, Allosaurus, What Women Want, Vertical Limit, Unlawful Entry, The Superman Collection, Star Trek: The Original Series, Volumes 21 & 22, Point Break, Duets, Chain Reaction and Big Trouble in Little China.

One last note - a number of readers noticed a problem with our Trivia Contest - the #6 actor name to unscramble had an error. It's now been corrected. If you already entered the contest, we won't count against you for the problem.

We'll be back with more later, so stay tuned...!

(LATER UPDATE - 3/2/01 - 5 PM PST)

Okay... the Trivia Contest is now up. AND we've got some great DVD announcements to finish off the week! May 29th is definitely going to be a spendy day for DVD fans. USA's announced their Traffic disc for 5/29, and Columbia TriStar's officially delivering their 2-disc Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The House of Mirth DVDs the same day! Also, look for Warner's Pay it Forward on May 1st. We'll have more details on these and other titles on Monday. See you then!

(LATE UPDATE - 3/2/01 - 3 PM PST)

We're going to delay our posting of the Heston story until Monday. The reason, is that we've been on the phone all afternoon talking with our studio sources. And we've got a little word on MGM's forthcoming Hannibal DVD for you - that's in The Rumor Mill. We're also working to get the Trivia Contest up in the next hour or so. The prizes for this contest will include DVD copies of MGM's The Greatest Story Ever Told and The Fantasticks, as well as Warner's Oliver Stone Collection and more. So be sure to check back for that. And, as always, have a great weekend!

(EARLY UPDATE - 3/2/01 - 11 AM PST)

Well... those of you who have been having trouble with disc orders from Express.com probably had guessed that the online DVD retailer was having serious financial troubles. Certainly, there have been rumors and reports of financial trouble for months. Now there's some evidence that backs it up... the retailer's DVD.com news site is no more. A couple of weeks ago, most of the staff of DVD.com was laid off, and this week, if you visit DVD.com, the link takes you directly to the Express site. I'm not going to make editorial comments on this, but there you go.

We've got news in The Rumor Mill on more Star Trek TV series coming to DVD, Wings of Desire information, word on a forthcoming Tombstone: SE and a few other titles as well. Don't miss it.

For those of you who subscribed to Total Movie magazine, we've got a phone number you can call to arrange a refund in light of the publication's cancellation. Many of our readers have reported that they ARE getting their money back by calling this number: (888) 446-2446 (select option #6).

Warner still has no official comment on the Canadian Giant DVD, although I'm told unofficially that it IS being pulled. Part of the reason is that the disc is being remastered so that when it's re-released (both here and in Canada), the picture and sound quality will meet all our high expectations. The Canadian release was apparently a mistake. There is, however, no word as to when the disc might be re-released, and there's no word as to whether the supplemental material might be affected at all. If you can't wait, there are still plenty of retailers online that have it available.

Finally, for those of you who live in the Atlanta, GA area, our own Todd Doogan will be making a guest appearance tonight on The Lucky Yates Talk Show at Dad's Garage. He and collaborator John Babcock will be talking about a book they're working on, called Does Anyone Remember Laughter. The show starts at 12:13 AM EST in the Top Shelf at Dad's Garage (located in Inman Park near Little 5 Points). Click on the link and scroll down about halfway for information on the show, and to the bottom of the page for directions, ticket information and more. Drop on by, have some drinks and snacks, be entertained and say hi to Doogan. What more could you ask for a Friday night? I mean... early Saturday morning?

We'll be back in a few hours with more, including our Heston report. Stay tuned...

3/1/01

Hi guys! We've just updated The Rumor Mill today with word on HBO's The Sopranos: The Complete Second Season as well as MGM's June line-up, which includes new special editions of Salvador and Platoon, as well as more Woody Allen. Be sure to check it out.

Also this morning, we've got that transcript we mentioned yesterday - Home Theater Forum's chat with film preservationist Robert Harris from Tuesday night. If you know nothing about the urgent problem of film restoration and preservation, you definitely don't want to miss it.

Fans waiting for Artisan's 2-disc DVD release of Frank Herbert's Dune are going to be a little disappointed by it. Early information was that the set was going to feature anamorphic widescreen (it doesn't, even though Artisan's little "aspect ratio" grid on the back says it is) and that it would include theatrical trailers for the production (it doesn't). That's not to say that it doesn't look good, and still isn't worth having... but I was REALLY disappointed not to have that big, wide anamorphic picture I was expecting. Someone over there at Artisan needs to get on the stick. This disc, coupled with their non-anamorphic SE of The Doors? Yuck. At least get the labeling right, guys.

Finally this morning, on a personal note, Sarah and I would like to send our congratulations to our oldest and dearest friend, David Hovde and his wife Heather, who had their first child (a boy) on Wednesday night. I've known Dave since junior high school (1980 I think?) back in frozen Fargo, ND, where he's now the weatherman for KXJB TV. And we couldn't be prouder of him. Congrats, Dave and Heather!

We'll be back tomorrow with more, including a special report on our recent encounter with Judah Ben-Hur himself, actor Charlton Heston! We'll also have the Trivia Contest up then as well. Stay tuned...

2/28/01

Our friends over at the Home Theater Forum held another great chat last night, with film preservationist Robert Harris. Bob had a lot of great stories and anecdotes to tell - it was a good time. We should have the full transcript posted this evening. Also we're going to be launching a new Trivia Contest, which will give people a change to win lots of great DVDs, including an Oliver Stone Collection from Warner - be sure to check back tonight!

In the meantime, Todd's checked out a new wrinkle in our favorite format - DVD+CD, in the form of Artisan's new Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 disc. A DVD+CD is basically one side of a DVD disc, glued back to back with one side of a CD disc. The CD side can be played in any standard CD player (it contains various music tracks). And the DVD side is your standard DVD movie plus extras. Check out Todd's review to see what he thinks of it.

One last note - we've received a lot of questions from readers about Total Movie magazine. Specifically, people who subscribed want to know how they're going to get their money back in light of the publication's demise. We suggest you look in the front of the magazine - there's usually a subscription phone number you can call. We'd be surprised if Imagine Media didn't make refunds available.

Stay tuned...

(LATER UPDATE - 2/27/01 - 3 PM PST)

All right... I just received an e-mail from Thunder DVD in Canada. It looks like supplies of the Giant DVD have dried up, and they aren't able to get any more copies of the disc from their distributors. This is going to be the case with virtually every retailer that's been selling the title. Warner is apparently now pulling the Canadian disc off the market for legal reasons. We don't know what this means for any possible U.S. release. We STILL have no word from the studio on what's up with the title officially. But if you're just dying to get it, do so fast, because they're disappearing quick.

(LATE UPDATE - 2/27/01 - 11 AM PST)

Just a quick update to let you know that Total Movie magazine is closing its doors. Imagine Media is folding some 20 publications due to diminishing returns and Total Movie (the film & DVD dedicated publication that included a disc of trailers and short films in every issue) is among them. We're sad to see it go, because it was a very good effort.

Also, we've gotten word that DreamWorks' Almost Famous, which arrives on DVD on March 13th, will include the film's theatrical cut, along with dual Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks, 7 original Rolling Stone articles from the 1970s penned by director Cameron Crowe, the Fever Dog music video, a behind-the-scenes featurette and more. Unfortunately, the disc's promised director's cut didn't happen in time to meet street date. Says Crowe in a statement on the disc's press release: "I am so excited that more people will have the chance to see the definitive theatrical version of Almost Famous on DVD and VHS on March 13th. The DVD contains bonus material which greatly complement the film. Since I can't let go of Almost Famous, I can't wait to create my hand-made director's cut version of the film as soon as I finish filming Vanilla Sky. In keeping with the spirit of the film, the director's cut version will contain lots of other extras."

Now... we at the Bits think Almost Famous got screwed for a Best Picture nod. It's a great film. But when you're getting ready to purchase this disc, you should think hard as to whether or not you want to wait for the special edition director's cut. We do at least have to give DreamWorks for letting us know that they've got another disc planned. Other studios would have just tried to milk fans of the film twice. Kudos.

We mentioned the film Giant yesterday in The Rumor Mill. It's been released in Canada as a DVD-18 special edition, but is not currently scheduled for release here in the States. We're still waiting as to Warner's response, but I'm going to guess that it's because the Canadian DVD is of rather subpar video and audio quality. I've looked at the disc and it's got a very soft and muddy looking picture, that's almost entirely lacking in fine detail. I'd give it maybe a C+ for video if I was reviewing the disc. And the soundtrack is a flat Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround. My guess is that they're remastering for the eventual U.S. release. Still, if you're a fan, it might be worth picking up. The extras are tremendous.

One other note - we mistakenly neglected to mention this morning that The Crow: Collector's Series is a 2-disc set. The report below has been corrected, and we wanted to make sure you were aware of that.

Don't forget that HTF chat with Robert Harris tonight - 6 PM PST.

Stay tuned...

(EARLY UPDATE - 2/27/01 - 2 AM PST)

We've got some information on a pair of big Buena Vista DVD releases. First up is The Emperor's New Groove, which is slated for May 1st. The title will be released in 2 versions - a single-disc standard edition (SRP $29.99) and a 2-disc special edition ($39.99) called The Ultimate Groove. Both editions will present the film in anamorphic widescreen, with dual Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 soundtracks. The standard edition will include Sting's My Funny Friend and Me music video, Rascal Flatts' Walk the Llama music video (with "llama dance tutorial"), filmmaker audio commentary, a set-top game, a deleted scene, a behind-the-scenes featurette and DVD-ROM features (including playable game demos and weblinks to exclusive online content). The special edition includes the above, plus an animation process/Disney Studios Animation Department tour, which takes viewers through the entire filmmaking process. This includes Development (with story treatments and concept art), Story and Editorial (scene pitches, more deleted and unused scenes), Layouts and Backgrounds (storyboard-to-film comparisons and artwork galleries), Animation (character tests and animation progressions), Scanning and Ink & Paint (color models), Music and Sound (mixing demo and sound effects), and Publicity Trailers. The special edition promises to be another amazing Disney effort.

Also coming from Buena Vista on March 20th, is The Ultimate Crow DVD Collection - a 3-movie boxed set including The Crow: Collector's Edition (2-discs), The Crow: City of Angels: Collector's Edition and The Crow: Salvation: Collector's Edition (SRP $89.99). All 3 movies will also be available separately (SRP $29.99 each) and will feature anamorphic widescreen video and dual Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 soundtracks. The Crow 2-disc set will also include a behind-the-scenes featurette, audio commentary with the producer and writer, 3 extended scenes, a deleted scenes montage, poster artwork, storyboards for 5 scenes, the DVD-ROM screenplay and more. The Crow: City of Angels will include a behind-the-scenes featurette, a production and costume design featurette, audio commentary with several members of the production crew, poster art and production design stills, the DVD-ROM screenplay and more. And The Crow: Salvation will also include 2 featurettes (production and makeup), audio commentary, a DVD-ROM screenplay and more.

You'll find the artwork for all 3 Crow movies and both Emperor's New Groove discs on pages 2 and 5 of the Upcoming DVD Artwork section.

Also today, we've updated the CEA DVD Player Sales charts to include the latest sales figures for week 3 of February - some 117,682 players shipped to retailers during the week ending Feb. 16th.

We're not in the habit of crowing about products or services here at the Bits, but we did want to mention one thing. You long-time readers may that remember that, way back in 1998, we reviewed a product from CD Playright called Trio for DVD. It's basically a system for cleaning, protecting and repairing your DVDs. We can definitely vouch for the fact that it really works (and well). CD Playright's recently completed some product testing with video outlets that deal in heavy disc rentals and they got great results. If you're looking to protect your DVD collection, their product is really worth a look. And it works on any optical disc-based media, so laserdiscs, CDs and CD-ROM discs can be protected too. Click on over to CD Playright and check it out.

Finally this morning, we wanted to point you to one of the funniest commentaries we've seen yet on your more fanatic DVD fans (and believe me, we consider ourselves in that lot). It's written by "The Lard Biscuit", from the perspective of an insider, and if your side isn't hurting from laughing after reading it... well, you probably aren't a fanatic DVD fan. So enjoy DVD Freaks: Definitely Very Demented and the author's multi-part decent into digital dementia. We sure did. Nicely done, Lard! Or should we call you Mr. Biscuit?

Stay tuned...

2/26/01

Just a quick couple of comments and then we've got something important we want to talk about. We'd like to remind you that our friends over at The Home Theater Forum will be hosting a live chat with film preservationist Robert Harris tomorrow night (starting at 6 PM PST). Bob is a great guy - he's a longtime friend of The Digital Bits - and he's been involved with the restoration of a number of important and classic films. Film preservation is more critical than ever these days, and Bob's definitely a leader in his field. We think you'll really enjoy hearing what he has to say, so be sure to click here to participate in the chat tomorrow night. But if you miss it, don't worry - we'll have a full transcript of the chat for you to read after it's done. Just FYI, HTF also has a chat with MGM scheduled for Tuesday, March 6th. Should be interesting.

One last note - we've got word in The Rumor Mill about a whole slew of titles, including Close Encounters. Don't miss it.

Now then... I wanted to use today's column to address an issue which we feel is going to have major consequences for DVD in the months ahead. It's been featured in the trades recently, including Video Store magazine (to which Todd and I are regular contributors). The issue of concern is Blockbuster Video, and their relationship to the Hollywood studios.

Many of you may remember that, back when DVD's success was still uncertain, Blockbuster delayed moving to carry rental DVDs in the majority of their nationwide stores. When they finally did adopt DVD, it was rumored that they demanded big spiffs from the studios to do so. Blockbuster is currently the leading video rental chain in America. In fact, Blockbuster now controls more than 40% of the domestic home video rental market - a fact which has angered many smaller, independent retailers. Like WalMart and other major "super-chain" retailers, the effect of Blockbuster's success has been to force smaller "mom and pop" video rental stores out of business. Because of their size, Blockbuster is able to negotiate "sweetheart" revenue sharing deals with the studios - deals that smaller chains and stores can't get. Those deals have (the smaller retailers claim, we think rightly) helped Blockbuster to dominate the market. And now, Blockbuster has grown so large that they're using their dominance in the industry to actually arm-twist the studios to get whatever they want.

What Blockbuster wants is even better revenue-sharing deals than they already have. Currently, the studio home video arms still make most of their money from VHS rentals. Blockbuster currently pays some $25 to $30 per rental cassette to the studios (independent retailers pay much more). With DVD now on everyone's minds (including consumers), Blockbuster wants deals that require them to purchase fewer (or even no) units of VHS. They're also pushing hard for rental windows for DVD, arguing that when consumers shift from VHS to DVD, many of those who used to actively rent VHS tapes are now simply buying DVDs, which is having a detrimental impact on their overall rental business. Most of the studios don't want these rental windows, because they're making good money on day and date sales and because the lack of rental windows is part of the strategy that has made DVD so successful. Blockbuster also wants future deals with the studios to include "digital delivery" rights. Blockbuster is working hard on it's own video-on-demand service (which is currently testing in 4 cities), and wants to dominate that landscape as much as they've come to dominate the brick and mortar rental business. So they're demanding that such rights be included in new revenue-sharing agreement negotiations with the studios.

Just how is Blockbuster using their dominance to get what they want? Well, when an agreement with a particular studio comes up for negotiation, they simply refuse to purchase most of that studio's rental product. The chain recently did this with Universal when their deal came up for renewal - rental copies of Bring it On and The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle were noticeably absent from Blockbuster stores on their February 13th street date. Blockbuster managers were told by corporate headquarters to keep on-hand copies of those films in their storerooms, despite customer complaints. It's only when Blockbuster got their way from Universal that those films were stocked on shelves. Said one studio rep in a recent issue of Video Store: "Blockbuster is so big that they can basically screw with any studio's quarter. If they don't buy, you're screwed - and they can do without one studio's product for a quarter. I'm not going to say that they can bring us to our knees, but they can certainly cut a big hole into our results." Blockbuster can also go around a studio when buying rental DVD product - they can refuse the studio's product directly, and then go buy copies of the studio's titles elsewhere at low retail prices.

So what do Blockbuster's strong-arm tactics mean to consumers? Well, if things go their way, you might soon not be able to get many new films on DVD day-and-date. You'll have to wait out a 30 or 60 day rental window. It also means that, almost inevitably, the quality of service you currently enjoy as consumers will decrease. History has shown that when a service company doesn't have healthy competition, they've got little incentive to serve their customers well. I point to the cable companies for anyone who doubts this.

Now, we're not saying that you should boycott Blockbuster. The studios certainly helped to create this monster, so it's probably only fitting that they now have to deal with it. But you should think long and hard about the choices you make as consumers when renting movies on VHS and DVD. And you should think hard about the possible effects of Blockbuster's actions on the future of DVD. Besides... I bet your local "mom and pop" video rental store would REALLY appreciate your business right about now.

Stay tuned...

2/23/01

I'm gonna sneak today's post in right under the wire this evening. We've just updated our review of Columbia TriStar's Glory to include their new 2-disc special edition release. And Todd's taking a look at The Films of Spike Lee on DVD, starting with both Universal's original and the new Criterion version of Do the Right Thing and Columbia's School Daze.

Also today, this would normally go in The Rumor Mill, but for sake of posting ease, we're mentioning it here. We've got word that MGM's Antitrust is slated for March 27th, along with Buena Vista's Duets and Paramount's What Women Want. Columbia TriStar's All the Pretty Horses is due on April 3rd, and their Vertical Limit will arrive on DVD on April 24th. Universal's Jaws 2 is due on April 17th. Buena Vista's Unbreakable is also tentatively slated for April release. ADV Film's Farscape, Volume 4 is set for June 12th. And Paramount's Ordinary People has been moved to July 17th.

Have a great weekend!

(LATE UPDATE - 2/22/01 - 3 PM PST)

All right... we're going for a something a little different with today's reviews. We're taking a look at the "babes of tasteless B movies", starting with Dan's take on Paramount's Barbarella (which is not so bad), continuing with his thoughts on Anchor Bay's 3-disc Ilsa Trilogy (getting worse) and wrapping up with Todd's look at the films of Chesty Morgan on DVD (ack!) from Image. And just to clear your DVD palette after all that, we've got retro reviews of Warner's You've Got Mail and Polygram's What Dreams May Come from Brad. A little of everything... that's what we give you here at the Bits. None of that sissy, all mainstream stuff! We expose you (literally) to all kinds of films on DVD around here. We should be teaching an extension class in this somewhere. Wossamotta University, maybe? Quick - somebody get me the area code for Frostbite Falls, MN!

Tomorrow, we'll take a more frequented review path, with a look at some of Spike Lee's films on disc, including Criterion's new Do the Right Thing. We've also given Carl Sagan's Cosmos a spin on DVD, so stay tuned for that.

Also, a quick update from earlier - we've got word that Buena Vista's The Fall of the Roman Empire may have been delayed until later in 2001. We're investigating and we'll post the latest in The Rumor Mill as soon as we hear anything from our sources.

See you tomorrow!

(EARLY UPDATE - 2/22/01 - 2 AM PST)

Today we've got a bunch of great reviews on the way, many of them featuring a definite "B-movie babes" theme. We'll have those up soon, so keep your eyes open for 'em.

In the meantime, we've updated the Upcoming DVD Artwork section with some 11 new covers. Included are Dancer in the Dark, Support Your Local Sheriff and Big Country (street date 3/20), Nurse Betty (4/3), Loving Jezebel (4/10), Coneheads, Stuart Saves His Family and The Ladies Man (4/17), Farscape, Volume 3 (5/1) and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Terminator: Special Edition (TDB). The DVD covers for Crouching Tiger and Terminator are taken from Region 2 and 4 releases, but the artwork isn't expected to change significantly for Region 1 (we'll update it if it does). We just figured you'd get a kick out of seeing them if you haven't already. You should know that Crouching Tiger is tentatively set for June release here in R1 and Terminator is expected in the Q4 2001.

Also this morning, we've updated The Rumor Mill with information on some cool upcoming music DVDs, as well as word on a big epic film coming to DVD from Buena Vista.

Stay tuned...


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