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page updated: 11/8/01



My Two Cents
(Archived Posts 10/29/01 - 9/27/01)


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10/29/01

Okay, it's a little later than we expected, but we told you we'd have something cool for you today, and we're making good on that. How about your very first look at Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes: Special Edition from 20th Century Fox? Whether you like the movie or not, this 2-disc DVD release (which streets on November 20th) is absolutely worth checking out. It's got some of the coolest interactivity we've seen on DVD to date. And that spiffy metallic cover artwork is nice too! Don't miss it.

We'll be back tomorrow with some cool Halloween-themed reviews... a little earlier this time! ;-)

(LATE UPDATE - 10/26/01 - 4 PM PDT)

All right - we've just posted our in-depth review of Paramount's new Star Trek: The Motion Picture - The Director's Edition for all you Trekkies our there. The 2-disc set streets on November 6th, and it's well worth a look for fans.

We've also got word from the San Francisco Gate that the Star Wars: Episode I DVD did indeed break first week sales records, with an estimated 2.2 million copies of the disc finding their way into Region 1 living rooms.

Okay... another busy week bites the dust. Don't forget to set your clocks back on Sunday morning - Daylight Savings Time is upon us again. Have a great weekend, and we'll be back on Monday with some cool stuff we're sure you won't want to miss. See you then!

(EARLY UPDATE - 10/26/01 - 10:45 AM PDT)

We've just heard back from our sources at Lucasfilm. It's official - there will be no 3rd bonus Episode I disc. I had a feeling this was someone's wishful thinking. I have been assured by the fine folks up at Skywalker Ranch that there are some very good things coming in terms of Star Wars. I'm sure most of you are probably aware that the Episode II trailer will make its debut next Friday in theaters with Monsters, Inc.. A second version will then be available for download on 11/9 if you have the Episode I DVD (via the special DVD website). And an even longer version will appear with Harry Potter later in November. Get those lightsabers warmed up, folks. The Star Wars insanity is about to start all over again...

We've just posted Todd's List of 10 DVDs Coming Next Week in the Doogan's Views section. And we've also posted that transcript of the John Landis chat over at Home Theater Forum. It's well worth checking out if you love his movies.

MGM has just announced the DVD release of Martin Lawrence and Danny Devito's What's the Worst That Could Happen, as a special edition on January 1st. The disc will feature full frame and anamorphic widescreen video, Dolby Digital 5.1 sound, deleted scenes, an alternate ending, 2 commentary tracks (one with the director and producer and another with Devito and other cast members), a music video, outtakes and a behind-the-scenes featurette among other things. SRP will be $26.98. Also coming on February 5th are more Vintage Classics titles (SRP $14.95), including After the Fox, Cast a Giant Shadow, Girl with Green Eyes, Halleluja I'm a Bum!, Kings Go Forth, Saturday Night and Saturday Morning and Town Without Pity. Each will feature a trailer. On February 19th, MGM will release a Grizzly Adams movie on DVD - no kidding. Remember that show? Ben and Old Number 7? Escape to Grizzly Mountain will SRP for $14.95. The Greatest Story Ever Told will also be repriced to $19.98. And a trio of DVD 2-packs will be made available for $19.99 each, including The Black Stallion/The Black Stallion Returns, Fluke/Napoleon and All Dogs Go to Heaven 2/The Secret of NIMH 2.

Finally this morning, there's word about the recent stellar DVD software sales from Reuters (via Yahoo). By the end of the year, industry experts expect that some 400 million DVDs will have been shipped to retailers in 2001. That's almost double last year's total.

Back soon with a special DVD review for you Trek fans. Stay tuned...

(LATE UPDATE - 10/25/01 - 12:30 PM PDT)

We promised you a look at the cover artwork for Buena Vista's upcoming Tombstone: Director's Cut - Vista Series and The Sixth Sense: Vista Series discs, so here they are. Damn, I haven't been this excited for a disc in quite a while - can't wait for Tombstone!

Tombstone: The Director's Cut - Vista SeriesThe Sixth Sense: Vista Series

Stay tuned...

(EARLY UPDATE - 10/25/01 - 10:45 AM PDT)

We've been hearing a lot of rumors from readers that Lucasfilm is creating a 3rd disc for Episode I that would, in effect, become a 2nd supplemental materials disc. The idea is that it would include more deleted scenes, more TV spots and the like - stuff that wouldn't fit on Disc Two The rumor apparently started at Dark Horizons, and is circulating wildly. I would be very surprised is this turns out to be true. It really doesn't make much sense, and sounds like a case of wishful thinking on some fan's part. But we've got inquiries in with Lucasfilm and the disc's producer, so we'll let you know what they say.

In other site business, we've corrected a couple of errors posted in the last couple of days A&E's Thunderbirds press release listed all the Set 3 episodes incorrectly, so we've fixed that. We also mistakenly listed the street date for Tombstone as 1/8. We should have looked at our own Rumor Mill - it should be 1/15 (we've fixed that as well).

Also around the site this morning, we've updated the AFI Top 100 Films on DVD list to include several titles we now know to be in production for DVD, and a few that have finally been released. We've also updated Jim Taylor's Official DVD FAQ to the most recent version, dated October 6th.

Now then... we've just posted the first of the Home Theater Forum chat transcripts. This one is from Tuesday night, with the staff of The Criterion Collection. Landis transcript has yet to arrive, but look for it this evening or tomorrow morning at the latest.

Back with more this afternoon...

(LATE UPDATE - 10/24/01 - 2:30 PM PDT)

We've just updated the Doogan's Views section of the site with Todd's new column, in which he looks at three spooky DVDs that are just perfect for Halloween. You've got all three Coffin Joe DVDs from Fantoma - At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul, This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse and Awakening of the Beast. You may also have noticed that we've brought back our Halloween-themed logo again this year. More Halloween reviews are on the way.

We've also just updated The Rumor Mill with details on more Star Trek DVD releases from our friends at Paramount, along with word on a forthcoming School House Rock disc and even a bit on the upcoming re-release of E.T. in theaters and on DVD.

Tomorrow we'll kick off a new Trivia Contest, post transcripts of the HTF chats with Criterion and director John Landis (Landis is scheduled for tonight - don't miss it) and we might even have a new DVD review or two.

Stay tuned...

(EARLY UPDATE - 10/24/01 - 12:15 PM PDT)

Yes indeed... details have finally emerged on Buena Vista's forthcoming Tombstone: Director's Cut - Vista Series DVD - a title I've been looking forward to for a very long time! The title streets on January 15th, 2002, for an SRP of $29.99. The 2-disc set (yep - 2-discs) will include a new anamorphic widescreen transfer of the film, audio in Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1, THX-certification, 3 production featurettes (An Ensemble Cast, Making an Authentic Western and The Gunfight at the O.K. Coral), audio commentary by director George Cosmatos, a Tombstone Timeline, the Tombstone Epitaph, the director's original storyboards for the O.K. Coral sequence, a collectible Tombstone map and the Faro at the Oriental DVD-ROM game.

That same day, Buena Vista will also release The Sixth Sense: Vista Series DVD, also for $29.99. The 2-disc set will feature anamorphic widescreen video, Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 audio, THX-certification, the Reflections from the Set featurette, an On the Paranormal documentary hosted by M. Night Shyamalan, a feature called M. Night Shyamalan: Storyteller and a "special collectible". We'll have artwork on both of these titles very soon.

In other Disney news, the studio has also announced that it will discontinue 4 titles on January 31st - Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: Platinum Edition (they DID say it would be limited), Pinocchio, Mulan and Tarzan (both the collector's and Gold editions). Get 'em while you can if you want them and haven't already pulled the trigger.

Hey - we're not done with the Mouse yet. On February 12th, 2002 the studio will release their Peter Pan: Special Edition on DVD (SRP $24.99). The disc will include a new digital transfer of the fully restored film, THX-certification, The Making of Peter Pan documentary, The Peter Pan Story featurette, all new audio commentary hosted by Roy Disney (featuring Walt Disney and veteran animators Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston and Mark Davis along with Leonard Maltin), a still gallery, the Following the Leader sing-along song, a Peter's Playful Prank interactive storybook, the Pirate Treasure Hunt game and webinks.

This is a really great batch of discs, no doubt. But you know... a title I'd really love to see find its way to DVD from the Mouse is a great little documentary called Frank and Ollie (see this link at IMDB), all about the lives of the aforementioned Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, who are two of the original Disney animators. Now that would make my day... ;-)

In other news this morning, Fox is claming that their Episode I DVD had first-day sales of more than $17 million. There are no unit sales numbers yet, but Fox claims that the title is the fastest selling DVD to date. I'm sure we'll hear more soon.

And speaking of soon... we'll be back soon with more!

10/23/01

We've got word on more Thunderbirds DVDs from A&E today. Thunderbirds, Sets 3 & 4 will arrive on November 20th. Each set will contain 2 discs each, and 6 episodes each. Set 3 will contain the episodes Terror in New York City, End of the Road, Day of Disaster, Edge of Impact, Desperate Intruder and 30 Minutes After Noon. Set 4 will feature The Imposters, The Man from M.I. 5, Cry Wolf, Danger at Ocean Deep, The Duchess Assignment and Attack of the Alligators. SRP for each set will be $39.95.

Columbia TriStar's also announced the DVD release of The Long Gray Line for January 2nd, 2002. Directed by John Ford, the film on DVD will feature anamorphic widescreen and full frame video options. SRP will be $29.95.

By the way, on the widescreen TV show front, we're also told that NBC's ER and WB's Angel are broadcast in letterbox. And we've been told that the Cartoon Network's animated Justice League will be in widescreen, at least for the premiere.

You know, this whole thing about video not filling up your TV screen is just something we're all gonna have to live with. Right now, TV screens are full frame, while most feature films are shot widescreen, and require a letterbox to be presented complete and uncut as the director intended. But in 10 to 15 years, when we all have digital TVs, the format for digital TV is widescreen. So then, you can bet we'll be hearing these same people complaining that they hate the gray bars on the sides of their TV. Yep - that's right. On a widescreen digital TV, anything that was shot full frame (like older TV programming and older movies) will only fill up a square in the middle of your screen, and they will have to be gray bars on the sides of the TV to fill up the unused screen area. That's why most current TV shows are shooting in widescreen (even if you don't see them in widescreen now) - so you'll be able to see them widescreen in the future on digital TV reruns.

So will the same studios that are now caving in to demands for "pan & scan" versions of widescreen films on DVD in the future release "zoom & crop" versions of full frame programs on DVD to make them fill your widescreen TV? Of course not - that's just plain stupid. So why is this pan & scan thing even an issue now? We at The Digital Bits reject any argument that widescreen programming - even "1.85 Flat Comedies" and family fare - should be presented on DVD in full frame only. And we'll fight any efforts to do so by any of the studios. The future is widescreen, folks. And the writing's on the wall.

Don't forget tonight's live chat with Criterion over at The Home Theater Forum. Check this link for times and to participate, and watch for our transcript coming soon.

One last note this morning - Remember that story we posted a few days ago about the RIAA trying to attach invasive anti-piracy measures to the recent anti-terrorism legislation? Well, the RIAA e-mailed me this morning to let me know that they've posted an official response to the original story (which appeared on Wired.com), calling it a "false Internet rumor". I'm not so convinced of that, but in the interest of fairness, here's a link to the RIAA's spin on things.

Stay tuned...

10/22/01

Well... it's been an interesting weekend. I went and caught From Hell, which I personally think rocked, but which is gonna freak out a lot of folks (in my humble opinion). We've been working to finalize all of the issues related to having moved The Bits to a new server (e-mail should be working okay, but there are still a few banner/search engine things to work out). My Vikings beat the Packers yesterday which, if you're a Viking fan, you know is critical to any good season (if the Vikings win no other games all season, they damn well better win both Packers games). And while I was going through my e-mail this morning, some guy claimed that The Digital Bits is biased against gays because we haven't mentioned the fact that Showtime's Queer as Folk is debuting on DVD on January 8th (SRP $119.98). The nerve of some people...

A lot of readers have asked us about many of the titles we listed on Friday in The Rumor Mill as in the works for 2002 and beyond. The e-mails usually read something like: "I see you've posted that ???? is coming next year - give me all the details you have!!" All I can tell you is that we DID give you all the details we have - everything we know at the moment is in the update. When more information becomes available, we'll be sure to post it. And much of this is in the "tentative plans" category, so file it accordingly.

A few other bits of DVD news today - Journey fans will be happy to learn that Journey 2001 will arrive on DVD on December 11th. It will feature a live show by the band recorded in Las Vegas during their most recent tour. Sting also has a new DVD on the way on December 4th, called All This Time. It's a live performance that was recorded "in a moonlit courtyard in Tuscany, on the evening of September 11th, in front of some 200 fans and friends." The event was to be webcast live, but this was cancelled due to the events earlier that day. A CD version of the performance will be available on November 20th.

Word is The Phantom Menace might break first-week DVD sales records (currently held by Universal's The Mummy Returns, which recently sold 2 million copies in its first week).

We've been doing a little research, and have been hearing from employees of both Best Buy and Target stores. It seems that both Target and Best Buy are making efforts to stock both full frame and widescreen copies of films on DVD (and, according to store employees, always have). Sure enough, on follow-up visits to my local stores, I discovered lots of copies of each for several titles released in dual versions. So Blockbuster and Walmart seem to be the biggest offenders when it comes to short-stocking widescreen versions on DVD. Just FYI.

Speaking of widescreen, I want to take a moment to send a note of acknowledgment and thanks to NBC, UPN and HBO, not to mention many other cable networks. Why you ask? Well, if you watch The West Wing, Enterprise, Band of Brothers or The Sopranos, you may have noticed that all of these shows are being broadcast in letterboxed widescreen. Let that be an example to those at the Hollywood studios who would say that people don't care about widescreen on DVD. Raise the bar, guys.

And on the subject of widescreen, those of you who read HTF's Warner chat may have been struck by this comment by someone at the studio: "Is there a great demand for 1.85 Flat Comedies to be seen widescreen?" The obvious answer to that question is "YES!!" But trust me - The Bits is gonna follow up on this.

And finally, speaking of chats, out friends at the Home Theater Forum have two more slated for this week - one on Tuesday (10/23 - tomorrow) with The Criterion Collection and one on Wednesday (10/24) with director John Landis. Don't miss 'em (but if you do, we'll have transcripts)!

Stay tuned...

10/19/01

Right on! If you're able to read this post, that means you're looking at The Digital Bits on the brand new server. E-mail should be back online over the course of the weekend, certainly by Monday. In the meantime, we've just posted Todd's List of 10 DVDs Coming Next Week in the Doogan's Views section. And you definitely don't want to miss our massive upcoming DVD update, which we've just posted in The Rumor Mill. It's an up-to-the-minute, studio-by-studio list of everything that's currently scheduled for DVD from the Hollywood majors (which includes many newly announced titles), along with a look at TONS of great titles that are in the production or planning stages for 2002 and beyond. It's definitely a must read.

So enjoy that, have a great weekend and we'll see you back here on Monday!

10/17/01

Okay - a couple of things today. First of all, we've just updated the Doogan's Views section with Todd's new column for this week, in which he muses on the little losses of life and reviews 7 more new and recent discs: Universal's Rat, Warner's Angel Eyes, Fox's Toys, Columbia TriStar's The Blob (1988), Criterion's Häxan/Witchcraft Through the Ages, Synapse's Exorcism: Special Edition and Universal's Boogeymen: The Killer Compilation. Be sure to check it out.

Also today, we've just posted the complete transcript of the Warner Home Video chat from last night over at The Home Theater Forum. Thanks to Ron, Parker and the guys for sending it over. A word of advice - it's WELL worth a read, as Warner leaks all kinds of upcoming DVD info. Don't miss it.

Now then... we're going to be moving The Digital Bits to a new server over the next couple of days. So there MAY not be any more updates until we're settled in - a day or two perhaps. And there may be occasional down time. We'll try to minimize the disruption as much as possible, and post if we can. Note that our e-mail will also be down for a few days. We should be completely back to normal on Monday. So thanks for your patience as always.

Stay tuned...

(LATE UPDATE - 10/16/01 - 2 PM PDT)

So... I'm back from DreamWorks. And I can safely say that I've just seen what I think is going to be the biggest-selling DVD to date. Yep... it's Shrek (street date November 2nd). Bigger than Gladiator you say? Yes indeed, bigger than Gladiator, Episode I, Snow White and even The Godfather (terrific DVDs though they all are). I'm not the kind of guy who goes to these studio PR events and swallows the party line. But I really think this disc is gonna be the biggest DVD of the year. Let me tell you why...

DreamWorks' Shrek has been far and away the biggest film of 2001, with a box office take of over $266 million thus far (only New Line's Rush Hour 2 comes close with $223 million). Part of the reason for that success is the film's universal appeal - there's just as much in the film to entertain adults as there for kids. So in creating the DVD, DreamWorks has paid attention to that broad market, resulting in a 2-disc set that offers even more for everyone than the movie itself - more than 11 hours of entertainment (or so the studio says and, based on what I've seen, I believe them).

If you're just a casual movie fan, Disc One of the set offers a full frame version of the film, a behind-the-scenes featurette, character interviews, a preview of the studio's next animated feature Spirit: Stallion of Cimarron, and tons of features for kids. In fact, DreamWorks has created a whole Kids Zone section of the disc, which features music videos and numerous interactive games. Several of these can be played on your set-top DVD player, including one where you ask the magic mirror "yes" or "no" questions and get randomly generated answers (think the old Magic 8-Ball game), another where you can decorate the Gingerbread Man however you like and still another where you can mix and match the heads and body parts of the major characters in various combinations. Kids will love this stuff. There are also a number of great DVD-ROM games - more on that in a minute.

If you happen to be a more advanced film fan, Disc Two will be more to your liking. It includes the film in anamorphic widescreen video, with Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 audio options, filmmaker commentary and numerous featurettes (and other extras) on the making of the film and the technology that made it possible. Among these are multi-angle videos of the pitch sessions for various scenes that didn't make the film (some of which are very funny), character design progressions and a never-before-seen, extended ending to the film that was created just for the DVD. And that's just the highlights of Disc Two - there's much more that I'm not mentioning here.

Whichever version of the film you choose to watch, you're getting it in the highest possible video quality. The Shrek DVD uses the same kind of direct-digital transfer process that Pixar took advantage of for the Toy Story discs - no film was involved. PDI went straight from the digital animation files to DVD. All of the menus - every single page - feature some kind of new CGI animation, all of it created by the same people who worked on the film itself (and featuring new voice work by Mike Myers and the other original cast members). And then there's those DVD-ROM extras...

Now... if you've read The Bits for any length of time, you probably know that I'm no big fan of DVD-ROM bonus material. All too often, it's crap like screensavers and weblinks to the studio's site online. Very rarely do you get anything of real value, and most of it involves installing something on your PC, which is bound to go wrong, crash or otherwise conflict with your system's settings in some way. But Shrek offers something new. A lot of somethings in fact. I counted at least 10 interactive games on this DVD, that are designed for use in PC DVD-ROM drives. NONE of them needs to be installed on your computer - they all play right off the disc itself. Much of these are for kids, but there's games that will appeal to adults too. There are film-themed versions of Tic Tac Toe, Hangman and Pinball. There are features that let your kids print out scenes from the movie to color, print out character masks that they can cut out and wear - even a Pin the Tail on the Donkey game that they can print out and play.

But the best DVD-ROM feature is the Shrek ReVoice Studio, that lets you take 12 scenes from the film and replace the actors' dialogue with dialogue that you record yourself via the software and your computer's microphone (most PCs these days include them - if not, you can buy them for as cheap as $10). I was extremely skeptical about this feature when I first read about it in the studio's press release. But I'll be damned - not only does it work, it works so well that it's a helluva lot of fun. We were given a hands-on demonstration of this feature this morning. It's very easy to use (dare I say, almost idiot proof?), and the software ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement) engine that makes it work is so good, that even the most amateur voice talent is made to sound professional. In fact, the engine is based on a piece of actual, professional ADR software that's in use today at many major sound recording studios. It analyzes the sine waves and natural "rhythms" of the recorded speech to match it as closely as possible to the characters' lip movements. ReVoice is a proprietary DreamWorks DVD feature, and you can expect to see it on more discs in the future. Trust me on this - it's damn cool. And DreamWorks has arranged an 800 customer assistance line for those who need help getting any of the DVD-ROM features to work.

Not convinced yet that Shrek is gonna be the biggest DVD of 2001 (and perhaps of all time)? Well... here's one last piece of information to chew on. The DVD carries an SRP of only $19.95. Enough said. Look for our complete review of the disc about a week or so before street date, when the studio provides us with final product.

One other thing that I wanted to mention today, and that's a very disturbing trend by retail chains (including Target, Walmart and others) to favor stocking full frame DVD product over widescreen, on titles where two versions of a title are available. Case in point - I recently went looking around my local Target store to see how The Mummy Returns was selling. There was not a single copy of the widescreen version of the DVD to be found anywhere, while TONS of full frame copies were collecting dust on the shelves. When I inquired about the discrepancy, I was told by the head of the electronics department that only a small percentage of the DVDs they got were widescreen, and that they had sold out the first day. I found this same situation at Walmart. It seems retailers are short stocking widescreen deliberately, in an attempt to stave off complaints from their customers about "black bars" on their TVs. Blockbuster, too, seems to have many more copies of the full frame version of this film available for rent than widescreen. And The Mummy Returns is not an isolated case. Couple this with the fact that some studios (Warner anyone?) have recently tried to omit releasing widescreen versions of certain titles on DVD altogether, and this may become the next battle we DVD advocates will have to fight for the future of the format. Thankfully, Warner and most of the studios seem to have gotten the message that DVD fans demand anamorphic widescreen releases of all widescreen films. Releasing full frame versions as well is fine, either on the same disc or in a separate release. But what good does this do if stores simply stop carrying the widescreen copies?

Our suggestion - start calling your local retailers ASAP. Talk to the store managers and complain about the situation. Call corporate customer service numbers and let them know how you feel, or send them e-mail or feedback on their online sites (here are links to online e-mail forms for Target, Blockbuster and Walmart, to name a few). It's time for DVD fans to act to make sure that anamorphic widescreen on our favorite format doesn't go the way of the dodo.

Stay tuned...

(EARLY UPDATE - 10/16/01 - 7 AM PDT)

Well... today's the day many of you will finally get your hands on a Star Wars movie on DVD. I think you'll agree after spending some time with the 2-disc set that it was well worth the wait. I'll be curious to see what you all think. Just a reminder - our in-depth coverage of the title is still available, including a complete review of the DVD, a look at the menus and a Q&A with Lucas himself.

And while you're all having fun with Episode I, I'm off to DreamWorks this morning for a sneak peek at another big upcoming DVD... Shrek. So be sure to stay tuned to The Bits for more on the big green ogre, coming very soon... ;-)

(LATE UPDATE - 10/15/01 - 4:30 PM PDT)

A pair of new DVD reviews are now available - Dan's look at Disney's 2-disc The Emperor's New Groove: The Ultimate Groove and Greg's take on Anchor Bay's 3-disc Suspiria: Limited Edition. Both titles are now available in stores, so check 'em out while you're waiting in line to pick up Star Wars: Episode I tomorrow. ;-)

Meanwhile, here's a digital frontier story that you can file in the bizarre and scary category - it seems the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) tried to take advantage of the terrorism scare last week by attempting attach an amendment to the anti-terrorism legislation (just approved by Congress) that would have given them immunity from damages sought as a result of their hacking into personal computers to remove or delete pirated files. The effort failed, but just the fact that they tried should concern all of us. The idea is that the RIAA wants to be able to go exploring through private computers, delete anything they deem to be illegal pirated material (your MP3 files, for example) and then be immune from being sued for damages if they happen to delete or damage anything else in the process. Sound a little like Big Brother? It should. I was pretty shocked when I heard about this, but it's true. You can read more on this via Wired.com.

In other news, USA Today has a big article in today's issue about the release of Episode I on DVD. Be sure to check it out. We've even got a quote in there somewhere.

Also, one last note - our friends over at The Home Theater Forum are going to be hosting a live chat tomorrow night (Tuesday) with DVD staffers from Warner Home Video (9 PM Eastern, 6 PM Pacific). Click here to participate. With any luck, they'll answer all your questions about their DVD work and the titles they're working on for next year. Don't forget - we'll have a complete transcript of the event on Wednesday.

Stay tuned...

(LATE UPDATE - 10/15/01 - 11:30 AM PDT)

We've just done a bunch of housekeeping kinds of updates to the site, including the CEA DVD Player Sales numbers and the AFI Top 100 Films on DVD list. We've also announced the winners of the current Trivia Contest. And we've got some reviews coming soon.

One other note this morning. We've confirmed with 20th Century Fox that their Moulin Rouge DVD will have a DTS 5.1 audio track, in addition to the Dolby Digital. Just FYI. ;-)

Stay tuned...

(EARLY UPDATE - 10/15/01 - 1 AM PDT)

It's live, folks! In anticipation of tomorrow's release of Star Wars: Episode I on DVD, Lucasfilm has launched the DVD website. If you have the disc and a DVD-ROM drive, you can access exclusive content on the website right now. The site currently has a short video available for viewing that includes a few new still images from Episode II. AND... if you check back on November 9th, you'll be able to download the official teaser trailer for Episode II! How's that for a cool way to kick off the week?

Stay tuned...

(LATE UPDATE - 10/12/01 - 4 PM PDT)

Okay... our review of Starwoids is now online. The disc streets on October 23rd, so after you pick up your copies of Episode I and Thumb Wars, save a few bucks for this one. Think of it as the third film in this quasi-Star Wars trilogy on DVD. Staroids is well worth a spin.

We've also just updated the Doogan's Views page with Todd's List of 10 DVDs Coming Next Week. Be sure to check it out.

Don't forget that our Trivia Contest ends on Sunday - get your entries in quick! Now then... go forth, be safe, be fruitful and multiply and have a great weekend. We'll see you back here on Monday. Peace.

(EARLY UPDATE - 10/12/01 - 11 AM PDT)

So have you heard it yet? We've been getting flooded with e-mails from Bits readers telling us that our review of the Star Wars: Episode I DVD is getting quoted in radio spots for the disc, along with quotes from other DVD websites. We understand from Lucasfilm that our review quote may appear in some of the upcoming TV spots as well. Boy - we've come a long way since the Star Wars on DVD Campaign, haven't we? Thanks to everyone at Lucasfilm - we're flattered. And to all those of you who already have your copy pre-ordered... you're gonna love the disc. It might not be the movie we all would have chosen, but the disc was worth the wait. ;-)

Speaking of waiting, we're hearing that a lot of people aren't having to wait until Tuesday to get their hands on the disc. Many retailers (including some Blockbusters, it seems), have broken street date on the title. Given all the anticipation, I suppose that's to be expected.

In other Star Wars DVD news, our friends over at The Force.net posted this picture of what you see right now if you try the Episode I DVD weblink. This site launches officially on Tuesday and will eventually be filled with exclusive content. It's also rumored to be the place where we'll get our first look at the teaser trailer for Episode II. But right now, all you see is this message from Jar-Jar...

Episode I DVD weblink

And speaking of the Episode II teaser trailer, we don't have to wait long for that at least. Lucasfilm, and Lucas himself, have quietly let it be known that the trailer will be out in time for Thanksgiving, along with a teaser poster for the film. I can see the lines already forming in front of theaters now. Maybe this time the teaser will be attached to a good film. If I have to sit through Meet Joe Black again... Gggrrrrrr.

On the subject of waiting in line for a Star Wars film (dig the neverending segues here at the Bits this morning!) we'll be back later this afternoon with a review of the new DVD release of Dennis Przywara's Starwoids, which documents the experience of those who stood in line for 42 days at the Mann's Village and Chinese theaters in Hollywood for Episode I. I know someone who stood in that line... (don't worry, man - I won't blow your identity here). Anyway, the film is a lot of fun, Dennis is a great guy (I met him at Comic-Con and again recently at Studio Day) and the disc is worth a look. Back with our review soon.

And one last thing this morning - nothing to do with Star Wars, I promise. Universal's got a poll going online where you can actually help determine some of the bonus features that are going to be included on their upcoming American Pie 2 DVD. Universal's also reporting great sales of its The Mummy Returns DVD (check out that story via Yahoo). Too bad most of the copies I'm seeing on store shelves at Target, Wall Mart and Blockbuster are in full frame.

Stay tuned...

10/11/01

Okay... this isn't DVD related in any way. But given the stress and tension of recent events, I think this will help take the edge off a bit. I know I was in need of a good laugh, and I think you'll enjoy this too. It's a link to a story from Fox News that Todd sent me this morning. Check it out and let me know if you find it as funny as I did.

Meanwhile, we're working on lots more reviews and features here at The Bits, so stay tuned! And be sure to check out Doogan's Views in case you missed it last night.

(LATE UPDATE - 10/10/01 - 11 PM PDT)

All right - we're launching a new feature this evening! Or maybe it would be better to say we're relaunching an old feature. Our own Todd Doogan will now be doing a weekly column here at The Bits - Doogan's Views! The column will include news, disc reviews, previews of upcoming discs, Todd's favorite chocolate chip cookie recipes, a list of his late-fees for overdue porn tapes - pretty much whatever he feels like talking about. Uncensored. Off the cuff. Politically incorrect. It's Todd in all his bare-ass glory. Or something like that. Basically, we're not too sure what it is, but he promises to review a few discs each week, so what the hell. To kick off his first column, Todd's taking a look at some great Halloween flicks, including Criterion's The Vanishing, Columbia TriStar's 13 Ghosts and The Forsaken, and Paramount's Friday the 13th: A New Beginning and Friday the 13th, Part VI: Jason Lives. Why? Well... ask Todd. Check out his Doogan's Views for all the fun.

Stay tuned... ;-)

(EARLY UPDATE - 10/10/01 - 11 AM PDT)

Hey Rings fans! Some of you may already be aware of this, but New Line and JVC have an interesting offer online at the moment. If you purchase a JVC DVD player from the New Line Studio Store (sale price $199), they'll include a free promotional DVD for the upcoming Fellowship of the Rings (see below).

The Lord of the Rings preview DVD

The disc comes in a cardboard sleeve, and includes a 17-minute "behind-the-scenes" featurette on the production of the upcoming films. The featurette includes interviews with director Peter Jackson, many of the production artists and much of the cast. It also gives you a look at some of the sets, locations, costumes and creatures that will be featured in the films. Following the featurette is the second teaser trailer for the film in letterboxed widescreen (non-anamorphic) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Finally, there's a gallery of 16 character photos. The disc is very simple in terms of interactivity and the video and audio quality are less than stellar. But it's a cool little bonus item if you're a Rings fan and you haven't already got a DVD player.

In other news, we've been hearing from a lot of DVD fans who took advantage of that offer to get their defective Jurassic Park DVDs exchanged. It seems that they're finally starting to get their replacement discs, so if you sent in for one, watch your mailbox for it.

One other thing this morning - we've been having a LOT of people asking us about Pacific Family Entertainment's The Final Countdown DVD. We've contacted PFE in the past about a potential release date for this, and keep getting the stock answer: "We're working on it and should have more to talk about soon..." Well, many months have gone by and still no word. I'm just hoping that when they finally get around to releasing this film on DVD, it's worth the wait. Does PFE even know what anamorphic widescreen is? Any chance that the video won't be full frame only? Any chance of remixed 5.1 audio? I'll try to find out all I can, but until PFE is a little more forthcoming with information on their DVD plans for The Final Countdown, it's hard to know what to think.

We're a little behind in our news coverage, because we've been concentrating on getting reviews up. But we're working to be all caught up this week, so stay tuned...

(LATE UPDATE - 10/9/01 - 5 PM PDT)

Okay... we've got reviews for you! We've just posted Todd's two cents on Paramount's spiffy The Godfather DVD Collection, which streets today. I've also reviewed Image's Thumb Wars: The Phantom Cuticle (street date: 10/16) and Warner's recent The Incredible Adventures of Wallace & Gromit (a more elaborate version of an earlier Fox release). And we round things out this afternoon with Brian's take on Universal's recent Meet Joe Black: Ultimate Edition. Enjoy!

(EARLY UPDATE - 10/9/01 - 11:30 AM PDT)

Wow - we've just gotten our hands on the revised and final list of specs on MGM's upcoming The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Special Edition (street date 1/1/02), and you guys are gonna flip for it! These come straight from the amazing Mojo, who was an associate producer on the project. The disc was produced by Michael Arick, whose other recent work includes Forrest Gump and The Magnificent Seven. So here goes... special features on the DVD will include a brand new anamorphic widescreen transfer (presented for the first time on home video in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio), remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, 2 versions of the movie (the theatrical cut plus a special extended version with restored opening sequence starring Jamie Lee Curtis), feature audio commentary from director W.D. Richter and Reno from the Banzai Institute, a behind-the-scenes documentary and retrospective, 14 deleted scenes, the original teaser trailer, an all-new "Jet Car" special effects trailer, extensive interactive menus with new material from Buckaroo Banzai screenwriter Earl Mac Rauch, special 'watermelon' Easter eggs, Pinky Carruther's Unknown Facts subtitle track, the Banzai Institute Archives, a Banzai Radio segment, original production designs, Jet Car secrets revealed and a still gallery with never-before-seen photos. SWEEEEET! I actually ran into Mojo at the recent Studio Day event here in L.A., and from what he told me, this may be one of the coolest discs in a long time! Everything on this thing is done up as if the disc was produced by the Banzai Institute itself, and there's a ton of new and original film-themed material produced by the folks who worked on the movie. If you love Buckaroo Banzai as much as we do here at The Bits, this is a must have title if there ever was one. And if you've never seen it... what are you stupid? What are you waiting for? Kidding! It's a adventure/sci-fi/comedy in the same vein as Big Trouble in Little China, and it's just plain fun. Don't miss it. Now if we could just get that tacky DVD cover art changed. Anyone wanna come up with a cool custom cover? Fire up your copies of Photoshop and go to work, guys...

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Special Edition (final art)

We've got a couple of great reviews on the way for this afternoon, so stay tuned...!

10/8/01

Welcome back to the work week, DVD fans! And Happy Thanksgiving to all you folks in Canada! Well... looks like another strange and tense week is brewing here on Planet Earth. Even as I write this, bombs are falling on Afghanistan. So our goal here at The Digital Bits is to provide you all with a little DVD-style distraction. In that spirit, we've got a bunch of great content for you this week.

We're starting things off today with a new special feature story. Our own Adam Jahnke recently talked with Columbia TriStar DVD guru Javier Soto, about the studio's upcoming Final Fantasy DVD, which streets on October 23rd. So you should definitely check that out if you're eagerly anticipating the 2-disc set. We've also got Adam's in-depth review of the Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within - Special Edition, so don't miss that either.

Also this afternoon, we've updated the CEA DVD Player Sales numbers to include the last two weeks of September. Some 1,768,821 players were shipped from manufacturers to retailers last month, bringing our grand total for the format to date to over 21 million players! All charts have been updated accordingly.

Lots more goodies are on the way, so stay tuned!

10/5/01

We've got a couple of reviews for you this afternoon. First up, Adam Jahnke's tuned in a review of Columbia TriStar's Lawrence of Arabia. Our review of that title is long-overdue, but there it is at last! And I've given Palm Pictures' Ultraviolet a spin and have plenty to say about it, believe me!

The Bits' staff is working hard on a lot of new content for next week, including special features and lots more DVD reviews. There's a ton of big new titles we have yet to review here at the Bits, and we're going to try to remedy that ASAP.

So stay tuned and have a great weekend!

10/4/01

We're pleased today to give you a first look at the final cover artwork for MGM's upcoming Mad Max: Special Edition, which streets in January...

Mad Max: Special EditionRush Hour 2: Infinifilm Edition

You may also have noticed the cover art for New Line's Rush Hour 2: Infinifilm Edition, which streets on December 11th. You'll want to read more about that particular title in today's update of The Rumor Mill, especially if you're a Lord of the Rings fan. 'Nuff said.

In the meantime, here's a rundown of MGM's complete January DVD slate: Carrington, Truly, Madly, Deeply, Lonely Hearts, Maria's Lovers, Jack & Sarah, China Moon, Echo Park, Fires Within, Mannequin, Withering Heights (1970), Speechless, Romantic Comedy, The Russia House, The Good Wife, The Favor and, of course, the Max Max: SE and Buckaroo Banzai: SE. Not a bad slate, but I sure wish they'd get Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire on DVD. And how about that long awaited Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: SE?

Also this afternoon, we've just kicked off the new Trivia Contest - the first of two for October. You've got a chance to win great prizes from MGM and ShowOff Displays, so be sure to enter right away!

Stay tuned...

(LATE UPDATE - 10/2/01 - 4 PM PDT)

As you may have noticed, we've posted Todd's review of Universal's The Mummy Returns: Collector's Edition this afternoon. And you might want to check it out before you rush out to buy the disc today. He isn't too kind to either the film or the disc, although it's not for lack of audio and video quality. Seems there's enough marketing material on the disc to spoil anyone's DVD appetite...

Also this afternoon, we've posted a new special feature interview. Our own Greg Suarez recently had the opportunity to chat one-on-one with Simpsons writer Al Jean, about the new DVD release and the show itself. So if you're a fan of all things Springfield, don't miss it!

Stay tuned...

(EARLY UPDATE - 10/2/01 - Noon PDT)

Okay... we've got a few things to post today. But none of them are the panel transcript - that's DEFINITELY gonna take a few days to complete. I'd like to think I'm pretty good at these things, but listening to an analog recording made using the condenser mike on my cassette recorder for the comments of a guy who was non-miked on the far side of the room... that's a major chore! Still, today, we've going to start with official details on a bunch of just revealed titles from 20th Century Fox. First, the artwork...

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Complete First SeasonMoulin Rouge: Special Edition

M*A*S*H: Five Star CollectionM*A*S*H: TV Season One

Starwoids

Let's start at the top, shall we? Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Complete First Season streets on January 15th, 2002. The 3-disc set (SRP $39.98) will include all 13 first season episodes of the show in their original full frame aspect ratio with English and French Dolby Surround audio. Extras include full-length commentary on Welcome to Hellmouth by Joss Whedon, an interview with Whedon and David Boreanaz, discussions with Whedon about Welcome to Hellmouth, The Harvest, The Witch, Never Kill a Boy on the First Date, Angel and Puppet Show, the original pilot script, a Buffy trailer, biographies, a photo gallery and DVD-ROM links to Buffy websites.

Next up is Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge: Special Edition, which streets on December 18th (SRP $29.98). This 2-disc set will include the film in anamorphic widescreen video, with Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 audio. Extras will include two audio commentary tracks featuring Baz Luhrmann, Catherine Martin, Don McAlpine and Craig Pierce, extensive branching footage, an audio track for the visually impaired, an exclusive "Behind the Red Velvet Curtain" version featuring a little green fairy that leads the viewer behind-the-scenes into the making of the film, multiple featurettes on the production process from conception to release - The Writers Gallery, Creating the Intro to the Film, The Actor's Gallery (featuring Kidman, McGregor, Leguizamo, Richard Roxborough and Jim Broadbent discussing their characters), Dance Gallery (uncut choreography sequences), Editorial Gallery (extended scenes), Music Gallery (the scoring of the film and an interview with Fat Boy Slim), and Animating The Green Fairy - more than 10 Easter Eggs, the HBO First Look special, multiple extended scenes, several key choreography-laden scenes featuring multi-angle options, the Come What May and Lady Marmalade music videos, MTV Movie Awards live performance of Lady Marmalade, 2 theatrical trailers and a still gallery (featuring artwork by Ellen Von Unwerth, Mary Ellen Mark, Douglas Kirkland, Sue Adler and Merrick Morton).

Then we've got Fox's M*A*S*H: Five Star Collection, which arrives on January 8th, 2002 (SRP $26.98). This 2-disc set will include the restored original, uncut version of the film in anamorphic widescreen video, with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Supplements include audio commentary by director Robert Altman, a 15-minute AMC Backstory featurette, 2 documentaries (Enlisted: The Story of M*A*S*H and M*A*S*H: History Through the Lens), the M*A*S*H: 30th Anniversary Reunion, a film restoration segment, a still gallery, the theatrical trailer and an Easter Egg.

But if that isn't enough M*A*S*H for you, then that same day you can also pick up the M*A*S*H: TV Season One 3-disc set. All 24 episodes of the series' first season are included in their original full frame aspect ratio, with audio in English and French (you also have the option of watching each episode with or without the canned laugh track). SRP is $39.98.

And finally, this title isn't from Fox - it's filmmaker Dennis Przywara's hilarious Starwoids. Przywara spent 42 days in line with Star Wars fans of all ages, waiting for the premiere of Episode I. And he captured it all on film - the rivalry between the Mann Chinese and Westwood lines, a Boba Fett DJ, a high school production of Star Wars: The Musical, a tour of the A New Hope locations and more! The DVD even features narration and opening interview footage with director Kevin Smith. I actually met Dennis at the recent Comic-Con and saw him again on Saturday at Studio Day. He's a funny guy and this disc should be a lot of fun. It streets on October 16th (the same day as Episode I) for an SRP of $19.95. Don't miss it!

Now then... the latest CEA DVD Player Sales numbers are in. Some 175,920 players shipped to retailers in the U.S. in the week ending September 14th. That takes the monthly total up to 711,431 players shipped thus far. All the charts have been updated accordingly.

Back with more soon...

10/1/01

Well... I'd say our DVD producers panel at Studio Day was a huge success. We went for a full two hours, and there was plenty of good discussion. We also did a LOT of Q&A with the audience. The scene was much more conducive to interaction than Comic-Con - we had more panelists, a smaller audience and a much more intimate setting. So that's the good news. The bad news is that we only had 2 microphones, which we had to pass around a lot. So most of what was said was said off mic. That's making doing a good transcript of the event a real bear. But I'm giving it my best shot. At the very least, I can do highlights of the discussion. It's going to take a couple of days, however, so I ask you to be patient while I pull it all together.

One note - I'd like to ask anyone who took digital photos of the panel to e-mail them to me for use with the transcript: billhunt@thedigitalbits.com

In the meantime, I suggest you check out DVD File's roundup of the news from the event. Pete went around to speak with the studio reps while I spent the morning getting ready to moderate the panel. And I'll be back in an hour or two to post the winners of our Trivia Contest, which ended on Sunday. So stay tuned...

9/28/01

Here's a reminder this morning - don't forget that tonight is the charity DVD signing with American Werewolf in London director John Landis and FX make-up guru Rick Baker at Dave's Video (12144 Ventura Blvd. in Studio City, CA) from 7 to 9 PM. Get there early, 'cause the lines will probably be long. I won't be able to make it tonight, because I'm going to be preparing for Dave's Studio Day tomorrow. Studio Day starts at 10 AM, giving you a chance to speak with representatives involved in DVD from most of the major studios. And again, our DVD producers panel will run from 1 to 3 PM in the store. I'll be moderating, and scheduled to participate are David Prior, Charles de Lauzirika, Van Ling, Alita Holly, Jeff Lerner, Jeff Kurtti, Steve Gustafson, Perry Martin, Jeffrey Schwarz and David Naylor. We will be doing plenty of Q&A as part of the panel, so bring your DVD questions and hope to see you there.

Also, I've spoken with Columbia TriStar this morning, and we will be reviewing all of the new SuperBit DVDs next week, so watch for that. Our initial impressions from yesterday are that SuperBit is definitely aimed at the true high-end, home theater-phile. But those of you who appreciate DTS audio (and higher bit rate Dolby Digital sound) may also find interest in these discs.

And finally this morning, our Trivia Contest ends on Sunday, so be sure to get your entries in. The prizes are DEFINITELY worth it.

Stay tuned...

9/27/01

Well... I've finally gotten a look at one of Columbia TriStar's new SuperBit discs. And I've got some first impressions to share with you. First of all, though, we're pleased to announce that we've added an additional domain name address here at The Digital Bits. You can now reach this site by going to either www.thedigitalbits.com OR www.digitalbits.com. You'd be surprised how many people forget about the "the"! ;-)

Okay... on to SuperBit. To start with, let me just say that I've ONLY had a chance to look at one title - The Fifth Element. I also requested Air Force One and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but was only sent the one disc. It seems that Columbia is being stingy with them, and that's a shame. Without looking at several titles as a whole, it becomes very difficult to tell, across the board, how much improvement results from SuperBit's higher bit rate itself. That said, based on Fifth Element, I've drawn some conclusions.

To do this comparison, I used Pioneer's AX-10 DVD player and Mitsubishi's Diamond series WS-65908 rear projection display, connected using progressive scan, component video. Know that I've spent my whole professional life looking at video quality, first a video director and editor and later as editor of The Bits. And I spent several hours doing back and forth comparisons between the new disc and Columbia TriStar's original Fifth Element DVD. So does SuperBit's higher video bit rate make a difference? The answer is yes... but it's extremely subtle. So subtle, in fact, that the average user will NEVER notice it. The greatest difference seems to be in rendering fine picture detail. The very slight digital artifacting that was occasionally apparent on the original DVD (in the most finely detailed areas of the picture) is gone on the SuperBit disc, thanks to the higher bit rate. The video image on the new disc is rock-solid, virtually everywhere you look, at all times. But since most consumer display devices (particularly non-anamorphic displays) aren't capable of rendering such fine detail, most will never see this improvement. To be sure of this, I then compared the discs on a standard, 4x3 consumer television - no difference was distinguishable. I did notice that the color seemed to be very slightly more vibrant on the new SuperBit disc, but that's likely due to a difference in the color timing work done on each disc, and has nothing to do with the added video bit rate. Don't get me wrong - the disc looks amazing. But so does the original DVD. Video quality is not a reason to invest in a SuperBit disc, in my opinion.

If you're an audiophile, however, SuperBit's DTS audio option is the real justification for purchasing one of these discs. The improved clarity and smoother soundscape of The Fifth Element's higher-resolution DTS 5.1 track added tremendously to the viewing experience. And that's about what we expected. Without any extras, it's going to be very hard for most DVD consumers to justify buying a SuperBit title. But for fans of DTS, the decision will be easier.

When I was up at Skywalker Ranch recently, THX's Rick Dean reminded me that video quality is much less a factor of video bit rate, as it is the efficiency of the digital video encoder itself. Sony's HD Center has always had, in my opinion, one of the most (if not THE most) efficient video encoding processes in the business. It seems a surprise then that Columbia TriStar would see the need for a SuperBit line of discs at all (other than as an additional marketing product line). I'd rather see them keep the video bit rate where it was, add the DTS 5.1 track to as many discs as they can and continue delivering solid extras. Or, if they stick with the SuperBit line, why not make all SuperBit titles 2-disc sets and have the second disc be supplemental materials (so people actually get their additional money's worth)? But hey... if we ran the world, things would be different, wouldn't they?

So that's SuperBit. We'll try to get reviews up of all these titles, provided we actually get our hands on the others at some point.

Stay tuned...


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