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page updated: 6/18/03



My Two Cents
(Archived Posts 5/8/03 - 4/21/03)


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5/8/03

You know... consumer electronics companies just don't learn from their successes and failures. They look at the success of DVD, for example, and think... wow, if we created NEW format that was as successful as this, and WE controlled most of the patents, just think how much money we'd make!

There's a great editorial in this week's Video Business magazine by editor-in-chief Scott Hettrick that's well worth a read (May 5th issue - it's available online but you have to register to view it). It's a cautionary take on consumer electronics manufacturers wanting DVD to max out soon, so that they can get HD-DVD out faster. On the surface, that would seem like a good idea for those of you who are just dying to get HD-DVD in your hands now. But there's a BIG potential downside. One of the reasons these companies want HD-DVD here soon, is because they were unprepared for the appearance of ultra-cheap DVD players manufactured in Asia, which have taken a lot of the profit out of their hardware sales. What they're trying to do now, is make it so it won't be possible to make such cheap HD-DVD players, meaning (by logical extension) that right off the bat they'll be more expensive to consumers. There's also talk that these companies will choose an HD-DVD option that is NOT backwards compatible with current DVD. The feeling apparently is that if HD-DVD players can play existing discs, there isn't the incentive for consumers to upgrade their movie libraries to the new format the way they have with DVD.

We're gonna call this plan right now for what it is... ridiculous. Absolutely the stupidest idea we've ever heard. If the consumer electronics industry does this, HD-DVD is DOA. Period. These "forward" thinking companies will gleefully carve out a niche for HD-DVD no bigger than laserdisc, and with about the same growth curve. HD-DVD will arrive even more stillborn than DVD-Audio has (we believe DVD-A was a seriously blown format launch - a good topic for another day). And in the same way that SACD has become more attractive to audiophiles (while DVD-Audio flounders with delays and without killer app software), Sony's Blu-Ray will start looking like a pretty damn good alternative to HD-DVD for resolution-heads.

The industry needs to proceed with extreme caution... NOT greedy abandon... while moving toward HD-DVD. One of the reasons that the high-resolution audio market hasn't taken off nearly as fast as some might have liked (format confusion aside), is that most consumers don't perceive anything wrong with current CD technology. It's a 5-inch disc, it's convenient and it's digital. What could be wrong with it? Eventually, high-resolution audio will be the norm, but that day is at least a decade away, if not more. People like CDs!

By the same token, consumers who have just upgraded their libraries to DVD will certainly not see anything wrong with what they have. The move from VHS to DVD was easy. There were any number of obvious improvements to be enjoyed by doing so (durability, smaller size, significantly better picture and sound, interactive extras, more purchase/collectible value, compatible with music CDs and more). The SOLE improvement that HD-DVD will offer over existing DVD - the sole reason to upgrade to it - is high-definition video. And we can tell you, from having talked to a LOT of consumers, that the video quality difference between VHS and DVD was obvious to them. But the difference between a well-mastered anamorphic widescreen DVD and HD is not.

I personally have shown several friends and guests scenes from high-definition movies on D-VHS, and then showed them the same scenes from the same movies on DVD. And while I can see a clear difference, most people have to have it pointed out to them to really notice it. The general feeling is DVD is great... and high-definition is just a little bit more great. In other words, DVD is good enough for most people. That's going to be especially true as more and more people gradually buy bigger (and widescreen) digital-ready TVs and upgrade to multi-channel surround sound - they'll continue to reap additional quality benefits from existing DVD for years to come. We're telling you right now, the consumer demand for HD-DVD just isn't going to be there in the same degree that it was for DVD. If properly launched, HD-DVD will eventually become the standard. But, best case, the growth curve will be much slower than it was for DVD. Much slower.

DVD succeeded because it was a no-brainer. But HD-DVD will NEVER be a no-brainer. It will never be the obvious choice. So you damn well better at least make it an easy one.

Making HD-DVD backwards compatible with existing DVD (and even CD) will at least give the format a fighting chance to be accepted. Early adopters and adventurous DVD consumers would be able to buy the new players - still retaining the value of their existing movie and music collections on disc - and enjoy select new HD-DVD titles as they're released.

Our understanding, from talking with other industry insiders, is that the DVD Forum expects to announce an HD-DVD format spec in 2004, with the first hardware and software possible in 2005. So if HD-DVD is going to succeed in the second half of this decade, it needs every single scrap of advantage going for it possible. Backwards-compatibility IS its best advantage. Why would consumer electronics companies want to take that away?

Time for an off-the-wall horse analogy. Let's say you're a trainer. You've got a super-fast thoroughbred in your stable, that's won every race in the last six years by a long-shot, blowing every other horse away by a mile. But you've been saving your very best horse for last... a real winner that's as every bit as good as the other horse, but even a little bit faster. You can't wait for it to win so you can reap even more benefits. But why shoot the first horse, which is already winning, and then hobble the new one in the knees before you open the barn door? Read my lips, folks. Makes... no... sense.

Bet you didn't think we had an off-the-wall horse analogy in us, did you? It was either that or compare HD-DVD to a '48 Tucker and we didn't think most people'd get it. ;-)

Anyway, thanks to Scott Hettrick for a good editorial on an important issue. You can bet we haven't heard (or spoken) the last on this. Stay tuned...

(LATE UPDATE - 5/7/03 - 10:30 AM PDT)

Hey... what do you know? Guess who's finally decided to jump on the widescreen bandwagon? Blockbuster Video! No kidding. According to a new story at Video Store, the video rentailing giant is going to start giving to widescreen DVD preference over full frame when studios offer both versions. Here's the relevant passage:

The policy change, made at the beginning of the year, was due to demand from customers, who are becoming more accustomed to the black bars at the top and bottom of the widescreen image, said Blake Lugash, spokesman for the Dallas-based chain.

“We made a decision to purchase the majority of titles we bring in on DVD in the widescreen format,” he said. “We try to follow our customer preferences. As DVD becomes increasingly popular, they become more familiar with the features and with the benefits of letterboxing. They've learned it's a superior format to full-frame."


Geez... it's almost like they really believe it! You're late to the party, guys, but we'll still give you credit for attendance. Nice of you to join us. And our hats off to those hardy souls inside the Block that helped makes this happen... and you know who you are. Well done!

So the masses are starting to get the widescreen thing? Well, I'll be! This is one of those days with DVD that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. ;-)

(EARLY UPDATE - 5/7/03 - 12:01 AM PDT)

Nothing like following a big upcoming DVD announcement with... more upcoming DVD announcements. So how about a few upcoming DVD announcements?

Columbia TriStar will check in on 7/29 with I Love You to Death, Loving, The Whole Wide World, Better than Sex and David Cronenberg's Spider. This will follow the 7/22 debut of Big Trouble, Read My Lips and Spun (R and unrated).

Also, for you Criterion Collection hounds out there, look for Shohei Imamura's The Pornographers, Vittorio De Sica's Umberto D. and Leonard Kastle's The Honeymoon Killers, all on 7/22.

And here's some new art for you... Paramount's The Tenant (7/1), Warner's Soylent Green (8/5), Criterion's Umberto D. and The Honeymoon Killers, MGM's XX/XY (7/29) and Buena Vista's Ararat (7/22).

The TenantSoylent GreenUmberto D.

The Honeymoon KillersXX/XYArarat

Stay tuned...

(EVEN LATER UPDATE - 5/6/03 - 4 PM PDT)

Well... an interesting thing's happened this afternoon. We've just gotten off the phone with Lucasfilm. They've told us that the initial announcement made today is only the beginning in terms of details on the special features to be included on the bonus disc. There are, apparently, significant extras yet to be revealed in the weeks and months ahead. In fact, they're apparently still working to finalize everything to Spielberg and Lucas' satisfaction in terms of the extras. So there is yet hope that The Adventures of Indiana Jones: The Complete DVD Movie Collection will prove an impressive special edition release. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Stay tuned...

(LATE UPDATE - 5/6/03 - 10 AM PDT)

Here's the final cover art for the The Adventures of Indiana Jones: The Complete DVD Movie Collection (widescreen version of course), along with individual cover art for each of the three movie discs and the bonus disc as well. Keep in mind that the four discs are only available in the box set - the movies will not be available separately, at least initially. All the covers link to a "coming soon" page at DVD Planet for the set, where the titles will soon be available for pre-order. Slide on down to the earlier posts from this morning for all the details. Enjoy...

The Adventures of Indiana Jones: The Complete DVD Movie Collection (widescreen)Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost ArkIndiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Indiana Jones and the Last CrusadeIndiana Jones - Bonus Material

Stay tuned...

(ONLY SLIGHTLY LESS EARLY UPDATE - 5/6/03 - 3 AM PDT)

Okay, here's the official press release. The announcement is mostly as we expected. One set, four discs. Street date 11/4. The set will be available in anamorphic widescreen and full frame versions. Retail will be roughly $49.99. The films will be mastered to THX standards, and will boast Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks. Extras will be in the 3 hour range, all on Disc Four, including a documentary, featurettes and interviews. No audio commentary. No DTS. Indiana Jones.com has a look at the packaging and a trailer. And there's another story on this at Yahoo. Here's a quote:

"The fourth disc explores every facet of how the films were made -- from stunts to visual effects to the music and sound," said Jim Ward, vp of marketing at Lucasfilm. "We take viewers around the world to explore the history behind the 'Indiana Jones' legends."

Honestly... we can't help but feel a little underwhelmed. Lucasfilm's made us wait so damn long for these films on DVD (along with another infamous trilogy), that the discs REALLY need to deliver big time. So the whole "less is more" approach seems a little puzzling. EACH of these films should have been given 2-disc treatment in our opinion. And, to us at least, the lack of commentary and DTS is immediately disappointing. Here at The Bits, we were hoping for something a little more special... something that was worth the 6+ years of waiting. The bar is so much higher these days for DVD special editions. So tell us, again, why this box couldn't have been released a few years ago, back when we might still have been impressed with a trio of bare-bones, movie-only discs and 3 hours of featurettes?

Anyway, we'll wait to see what surprises, if any, the set has in store. But even after this long-awaited announcement, aliens and Hobbits still hold far more interest for us on DVD in 2003...

(EARLY UPDATE - 5/6/03 - 12:01 AM PDT)

As we reported in The Rumor Mill the other day, the Indy DVDs are at long last about to be revealed! We're expecting Star Wars.com to officially announce later this morning that The Indiana Jones Trilogy will street on DVD from Paramount and Lucasfilm on November 4th. Look for a box set of 4 discs (1 each for the films and a 4th disc of extras), under the grandiose moniker The Adventures of Indiana Jones: The Complete DVD Movie Collection. Specs should include the films in anamorphic widescreen with 5.1 audio in Dolby Digital and (probably) DTS formats. Look for new interviews with Harrison Ford, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg and more. Best of all, no alterations have been made to the films themselves, other than digital clean-up for the DVD release. More specific information and cover art should be available later this morning. We'll post all the details when they come in, so be sure to check back. In the meantime, you can read more on this at USA Today. Not bad for a Tuesday morning, eh?

Now then... here's a nice surprise for you horror fans. MGM is cooking up a great batch of titles for August release (street date 8/26). Look for The Howling: Special Edition (SRP $19.98), a Horror: Special Edition DVD Collection ($49.96, containing Carrie: SE, The Fog: SE and The Howling: SE), a Stephen King 4-Pack ($58.96, containing Misery, Carrie: SE, Needful Things and The Dark Half), The Brood, Burnt Offerings, The Ghoul, Clownhouse, I, Madman, Once Bitten, Squirm, Raw Meat and more double features including The Comedy of Terrors/The Raven, Countess Dracula/The Vampire Lovers, The Tomb of Ligeia/An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe, The Haunted Place/Tower of London, Ghoulies/Ghoulies II, Poltergeist II: The Other Side/Poltergeist III and Troll/Troll 2 (all $14.95 each).

Also, the studio has officially announced the DVD release of XX/XY (7/29 - $19.95 SRP) and a Nicholas Nickleby: Special Edition (7/22 - also $19.95).

Here's a look at the DVD cover art for SE releases of The Howling, The Sure Thing and Valley Girl (the last two, both 8/5)...

The Howling: Special EditionThe Sure Thing: Special EditionValley Girl: Special Edition

Gods and GeneralsA View from the TopThe Whole Wide World

Yep... that is Warner's newly announced Gods and Generals (due 7/15 - containing the theatrical version of the film), Miramax's A View from the Top (TBA September) and Columbia TriStar's The Whole Wide World (7/29).

In other news today, we've confirmed the special features on Buena Vista's 6-disc Alias: Season One (9/2 - $69.99 SRP). You'll get all 22 episodes in anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. You'll also get audio commentaries with the cast and crew (no specific details yet on who participates or which episodes will have commentary), an Alias Production Diary featurette, the Inside Stunts featurette, deleted scenes, a gag reel and a Season Two preview.

Also, we've confirmed that Warner's South Park: The Complete Second Season (6/3 - $49.98) will NOT have audio commentaries. And there will be no separate audio commentary CDs as there was with the first set. Extras WILL, however, include introductions from Matt Stone and Trey Parker on select episodes, the Goin' Down to South Park documentary, Chef's music video for Chocolate Salty Balls and a promo spot. Meager offerings to be sure, but there it is.

Also today, we've update the CEA DVD Player Sales chart to reflect the 489,764 that shipped in the week ending April 25th. That brings the monthly total to 1,272,337 and the format-to-date total to over 48 million. All charts have been updated accordingly.

Our MusicTAP sister site has a review of DTS's new issue of Queen's The Game on DVD-Audio - well worth a read.

And we're pleased to present another edition of Adam Jahnke's The Bottom Shelf this morning. This time around, Adam looks at the films of Samuel Fuller on DVD, and even tosses in a few DVD reviews for good measure: Criterion's Shock Corridor and The Naked Kiss, Warner's The Big Red One and Fantoma's Street of No Return. Enjoy!

Stay tuned...

5/5/03

We've got a new Trivia Contest due this afternoon, so be sure to watch for that. In the meantime, we figured we'd kick off the new week with a look at the latest DVD announcements. So here goes...

Anchor Bay will release Hercules: The Legendary Journeys - Season One on 6/24. Columbia TriStar has added Das Experiment to its 7/1 slate, with Don't Raise the Bridge, Lower the River, Loose Cannons and The Mouse That Roared following on 7/8.

Image Entertainment upcoming titles include Running with Scissors on 6/24, Playboy Exposed: Hip-Hop Studio Girls and Playboy TV: Naughty Amateur Home Videos - Girls Only on 7/1, Charlie Chaplin: Short Comedy Classics (7-disc set), Gin Game, Lyricist Lounge: Hip-Hop Video Classics, Roxy Music: Live at the Apollo and The Tempest (silent 1928) all on 7/8, 365 Nights in Hollywood, C-Walk: It's a Way of Living, Revenge of the Sun Demon (aka: What's Up, Hideous Sun Demon), Salome/Lot in Sodom, Slapstick Masters (includes Easy Street, One Week, Chasing Choo Choos and Big Business) and What's Up, Tiger Lily? all on 7/15, Empire of the Nude: The Victorian Nude, Hooters: Desert Showdown, Hooters: Island Paradise, Poncielli: La Giocanda, Randy Weston: Live in St. Lucia and Valery Gergiev Conducts the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra all on 7/22 and Radar Men from the Moon (12 chapter serial), Zorro's Fighting Legion (12 chapter serial), Chess Player, Damaged Goods/The Hard Road, Dig 25, Gene Autry Collection: Bells of Capistrano, Gene Autry Collection: Sioux City Sue, India Arie: Live in Brazil, Level 13.Net: The Dark Side, Living Head/Living Coffin, Samson versus the Vampire Women/Samson in the Wax Museum and Street Corner/Because of Eve all on 7/29.

Moving on, Lions Gate will release Shot (aka: Focus) on 6/10, and (via Trimark) Kingpin (3-disc set) on 7/22 and Submarines on 7/29. MGM has set Breakin', Bright Lights, Big City, The Flamingo Kid, Foxes, Hot Dog: The Movie, Johnny Be Good, The Last American Virgin, The Rachel Papers, The Sure Thing: SE, Thrashin' and Valley Girl: SE all for 8/5. And finally, Paramount has added Finally Orange: The Official 2003 NCAA Championship DVD to their 6/3 slate, with The Tenant following on 7/1, Keep the Faith, Baby due on 7/8, Fairly Oddparents: Abra-Catastrophe on 7/15 and Spongebob Squarepants: Tide and Seek and Till Human Voices Wake Us on 7/29.

Stay tuned...

5/3/03

How do you like this? A rare Saturday post! And it's good news for you Disney fans. In an online conference call with share holders regarding Q2 FY03 financial results, the studio revealed that it plans to accelerate its Platinum Edition DVD release plans. Part of the reason for this is that the company expects HD-DVD to be available by 2007, and they want to get all their catalog animated titles out on standard DVD by then (presumably so they can then do it all over again in HD). By accelerating these plans, we mean that the studio now intends to release their Platinum catalog at a rate of two films a year, one in March and one on October. Also, they now plan to leave them available for two years at a time, and then take them off the market for only five years (as opposed to the ten-year moratorium they'd previously announced). And they've added several more titles to their eventual 2-disc Platinum line-up, including Sleeping Beauty, Pinocchio, Fantasia and Peter Pan.

The specific release schedule is TBA, but here is the new list of Platinum titles on the way:

Snow White (released 2001)
Beauty and the Beast (released 2002)
The Lion King (coming 10/7)

TBA:

Aladdin
The Little Mermaid
Bambi
Cinderella
Lady and the Tramp
101 Dalmatians
The Jungle Book
Sleeping Beauty
Pinocchio
Fantasia
Peter Pan

Stay tuned...

5/2/03

Okay... just so you know, we HAVEN'T fallen off the planet. I was getting ready to assemble a post yesterday morning, when my Microsoft Outlook .pst file (containing all my e-mail) became corrupt. As it turns out, there might have been a spot of hard drive damage, because Outlook itself wasn't working either, and my Windows XP became erratic. So the last 36 hours have been a frantic marathon session of scandisking, virus-checking, reinstalling and e-mail reconstructing. But things are going well, and I should have things back to normal by the end of the day.

I'll tell you though... I feel like doin' a whole Army of Darkness chainsaw number on my PC right now. Sometimes, technology just loves to rise up and give ya the old roshambo (and I mean American style... not rock-paper-scissors).

It's funny how, when something like this happens, you realize how you simply can't do without computers and e-mail and Internet access these days. At least in our profession anyway. What the heck did we all do before the Internet, way back in the dusty old 20th Century? I'm in my mid-thirties and it's still damn tough to remember a time without the Net. One thing's for sure... I had somewhat less aggravation over my computer. I mean, let's face it - that old fake-wood-paneled Pong console could only screw up so many ways. Maybe I just got worked up about other stuff. Who knows. I'm too fried to care right now.

Anyway, my computer plight aside, you all have a great weekend! Go out and see X2 - you'll dig it. We'll see you back here on Montag. I'll compose a post on an abacus if I have to. Can you code HTML on sticks and stones? Might be easier than this. ;-)

4/30/03

Hey all! Thanks for all the kind e-mails about the book announcement. We're very excited about it, as you can probably imagine, and we're really thrilled that a lot of you seem to be too. This is definitely a labor of love, so we can't wait to share it with you.

In the meantime, just so you know we aren't complete slackers, we've got a new column for you today. Our own Barrie Maxwell's put together another awesome edition of his Classic Coming Attractions, this time featuring a detailed look at the classic films of Columbia Pictures on DVD. As part of this, Barrie reviews of pair of recent DVDs - The Talk of the Town and Once Upon a Time. And he's also updated his Classic Coming Attractions Database (in MS Word .doc format) as well. And, as always, he runs down all the latest news regarding classic films that are on their way to DVD from all the studios. So be sure to check that out. Enjoy!

Stay tuned...

4/29/03

So... you've probably been wondering a few things about The Bits recently. Where are all the great DVD reviews we used to post? Why so few special features lately? And where's Todd been for the last two months? Well, let me tell you, we've been pretty busy around here these last few months. And finally, we can tell you what we've been up to. Bill and Todd have written a book!

Click here to buy The Digital Bits: Insider's Guide to DVD! We're very pleased today to announce The Digital Bits: Insider's Guide to DVD! We've teamed up with the fine folks at McGraw Hill to create a DVD book for everyone - the ultimate guide to getting the most from the format.

One of the concerns we've always had, is that there are very few places newcomers can go to have the various aspects of DVD and home theater explained in simple talk - plain language that EVERYONE can understand. We've long tried to fill that role here at The Bits, with features like our Anamorphic Guide.

That's what our book is all about. We'll explain DVD and its features - what it is and how it works. We'll tell you everything you need to know about the format. And we'll go beyond that, to look at high-resolution DVD-Audio and SACD. We'll talk about the future of DVD, with recordable and high-definition. We'll even tell you how to put together a good home theater without breaking your bank accounts. And that's just for starters.

But lest you think this book is just for newbies, we've got great stuff for you long-time, high-end Bits readers too! We'll take a look over at 100 DVDs that everyone should have in their collections, in a variety of genres, and tell you what makes them great. Best of all, we'll show you exactly how much work is involved in putting together your favorite discs, by taking you behind-the-scenes on what promises to be the biggest DVD release of 2003 - 20th Century Fox's 9-disc Alien Quadrilogy box set! We'll give you an insider's view on the making of the set - the audio commentary sessions, the interviews, the creation of the new cut of Alien 3 and more. You definitely don't want to miss it!

Best of all, Bill and Todd's excellent DVD book will only set you back a measly $17.95... less than the cost of a single DVD! The book is currently set for September release and we'll keep you up to date on all the latest developments. So pre-order your copy today! Click here (or on the cover art above) to reserve your copy now from Amazon.com. And watch for it on the fine bookstore shelves everywhere Fall 2003!

So there you go. That's what we've been up to... and what we're still up to. Even now, we're hard at work on the book. We expect to be finished with everything by the end of May. So if we seem a little distracted in the meantime, well... now you know why. ;-)

Stay tuned...

(LATE UPDATE - 4/28/03 - 1 PM PDT)

Well... the buzz has officially begun. We've received more than two dozen e-mails today on this subject alone. Word is, Paramount's long-rumored Indiana Jones Trilogy DVD release is soon to be revealed publicly. We have what details we know in The Rumor Mill today, so don't miss it.

Stay tuned...

(EARLY UPDATE - 4/28/03 - 12:01 AM PDT)

Hope you all had a great weekend. We've got some more new upcoming DVD announcements for you today.

A&E will release Profiler: Season One and Russia: Land of the Tsars on 6/24. Acorn Media has Lady Chatterley and Lexx: Season Four, Volume 3 set for 6/24 as well. Anchor Bay has Aurora Encounter, Freeway and Star Crystal all due on 6/24. Artisan has added Cops and Robbers (aka: Good Cops, Bad Cops) to its 6/17 slate. Buena Vista will release Bringing Down the House (full frame and widescreen) on 8/5, Stitch! on 8/26, Kim Possible: The Secret Files on 9/2, The Lion King: Platinum Edition on 10/7, Angie, Bad Company, Before and After, Consenting Adults, D.O.A. (1988), Deceived, The Doctor, Fire Birds, Holy Matrimony and Jack all on 10/14, George of the Jungle 2 on 10/21, The Air Up There, Jefferson in Paris, Money for Nothing, Shadow Conspiracy and Shoot to Kill on 11/11, The Santa Clause 2 (full frame and widescreen) on 11/18, and Blame it on the Bellboy, Country, Hello Again and In the Army Now on 12/19. Columbia TriStar has added Me Without You to its 6/17 lineup, with Cowboy Bebop: The Movie and Long Ships set to follow on 6/24, and Fun with Dick and Jane and Party Girl due on 7/1.

[a pause to rest the fingers... feel free to sip your coffee for a moment...]

Continuing on, First Run Features has Fidel, Soft Skin on Black Silk and Twilight Girls slated for 7/22. Kino will deliver Early Soviet Cinema on 5/6, which includes Chess Fever (1925), Earth (1930), End of St. Petersburg (1927) and Man with a Movie Camera (1929). Lions Gate has Giving It Up (aka: Casanova Falling) due on 7/1, Midnight Mass on 7/8 and May on 7/15. As you already know, New Line has announced The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (full frame and widescreen - both 2-disc) for 8/26, with The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers - Special Extended DVD Version (widescreen 4-disc) on 11/18. Paramount will release Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - Season Five on 10/7, with Season Six following on 11/4 and Season Seven on 12/2. Red Distribution has The Cure: Trilogy Live in Berlin due on 5/20. For you die-hard politicos, Sony will release Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election on 6/24. And if that doesn't kill you, they have WWE: Backlash 2003 and WWE: From the Vault - Shawn Michaels streeting the same day for good measure. Synapse Films will release Stacy on 7/22. 20th Century Fox already has Phone Booth set for 7/8 - no kidding. And finally, Universal has a 3-disc Blind Date: Ultimate and Uncensored set due on 6/24, along with Monk: The Premiere Episode. They follow on 7/1 with The Babe, Brighton Beach Memoirs, Dream Team, Ed and Mr. Baseball. The American Pie & Beneath the Crust: The Ultimate Guide to American Pie - Volume 1 gift set will street on 7/29 (because apparently, the previous "special" and "ultimate" editions just weren't special and ultimate enough). And Backbeat, Ffolks, For Love or Money, Gotcha!, Hard to Hold, Kuffs, The Mask: Special Edition, Playing for Keeps, Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Ugly American collectively bring up the rear on 8/12.

Here's the artwork for Phone Booth and the revised/final art for Lost in La Mancha (6/24)...

Phone BoothLost in La Mancha

Back with more later this morning. Stay tuned...

4/25/03

You fans of 1980s films will be thrilled to know that MGM has officially revealed that it will debut a whole slew of them on DVD in August. Look for The Sure Thing: Special Edition, Valley Girl: Special Edition, The Last American Virgin, Breakin', Bright Lights, Big City, The Flamingo Kid, Foxes, Hot Dog... The Movie, Johnny Be Good, The Rachel Papers and Thrashin', all on August 5th (SRP $19.98 for the special editions, $14.95 for the rest).

There are a lot of other new announcements to run down today as well. A&E will release Lost in La Mancha on 6/24. Anchor Bay has The Angel Collection set for 6/10 (including Angel, Avenging Angel and Angel III: The Final Chapter). Criterion/Home Vision will release Black and White in Color, Dangerous Moves and Warm Water Under a Red Bridge on 6/24. Goodtimes has Mistaken Identity (aka: Switched at Birth) and No Higher Life (aka: God's New Plan) due on 5/6, with Gentle Ben: Terror on the Mountain, The Last Cowboy, Night of the Wolf and Straight from the Heart following on 5/27. HBO has announced Live from Baghdad for 6/24. MGM has announced Inspector Gadget's Last Case, Sabrina the Teenage: Witch Friends Forever and Time Kid all for 5/6. New Line will release Father and Scout and Theodore Rex on 7/8, with Final Destination 2 following on 7/22, Critters, Critters 2: The Main Course, Critters 3, Critters 4, Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III and Man's Best Friend, all on 8/5. 20th Century Fox has Solaris and Daredevil due on 7/29 (the later in full frame and widescreen), along with All That Jazz, The Commitments, Hello, Dolly!, The Rose, Simon and Garfunkel: The Concert in Central Park and Star! on 8/19. Ventura/Studioworks will release RFK on 6/24. And Warner has a major run of classic titles on the way. They'll debut The Crimson Pirate, Master of Ballantrae, Scaramouche and Start the Revolution Without Me on 7/1, Born to be Wild, The Boy Who Could Fly, Curly Sue, La Femme Nikita: The Complete First Season, Little Giants, Spencer's Mountain and Story of Seabiscuit on 7/8, Andersonville, Best of Friends: Season Three and Friends: The Complete Fourth Season on 7/15, Batman Animated Series: Out of the Shadows, Challenge of the Superfriends: United They Stand and Justice League: Paradise Lost on 7/22, The Weather (3-disc set) on 7/29, The Haunting, House of Wax/Mystery of the Wax Museum, Of Unknown Origin, Omega Man, Soylent Green, The Thing from Another World and Wait Until Dark on 8/5, Memoirs of an Invisible Man on 8/18, City Heat, Honkytonk Man, Pink Cadillac, The Rookie, Tightrope, Where Eagles Dare and White Hunter, Black Heart on 9/2 and X-Men: Evolution - UnXpected Changes, X-Men: Evolution - X Marks the Spot and X-Men: Evolution - Xplosive Days on 9/23. Whew!

In other DVD news, you Space: 1999 fans will be pleased to know that you can now purchase the Bonus Disc that was (up until now) exclusively available only in the Megaset of all the episode DVDs. It's available online at this link at shopaetv.com for $14.95. The disc includes the infamous Message from Moonbase Alpha short film, along with three full episodes of the series with audio commentary and more.

Around the site today, we've updated the CEA DVD Player Sales chart to include the players sold in the first week of April (ending 4/4). And we've also updated our mirror copy of Jim Taylor's Official DVD FAQ to its latest version (as of 4/16) as well.

Just FYI, the united Original Trilogy on DVD Campaign effort is closing in on 30,000 unique signatures (it's sitting at just over 28,000 right now). So if you haven't signed the petition yet, please do so. And get your friends and family to sign as well. It will make a difference.

Finally today, we've have a last update on the whole Buffy: Season Four full frame vs. widescreen issue. Now let me first just say, I'm not a Buffy fan. No offense to those who are, but it's just not the cut of my jib. That said, I'm approaching the whole aspect ratio thing from a practical position. And the fact that series creator Joss Whedon says he intended them to be full frame makes sense to me. But fans in other regions have been getting these episodes on DVD in full anamorphic widescreen. So what's up? Well, we can't speak to other regions. But our own Jeff Kleist is a major Slayer connoisseur, and he's got the proof that full frame is indeed the way these episodes ought to be seen on DVD. Here's Jeff to explain:

As a Buffy fan from the beginning, I have always loved the show's unique style, quirkiness and (most importantly in this case) cinematography. Seasons One and Two of Buffy were shot on 16mm, and while Season Three was shot in 35mm, there are no widescreen masters (though 16:9 extractions were done later on certain scenes for flashbacks in Season Four).

Starting with Season Four, as per an industry-wide move toward HDTV, the show's production company, Mutant Enemy, began to prepare widescreen versions of Buffy episodes (alongside the regular 4x3 versions) for foreign and later domestic widescreen broadcast. The typical technique for this is to center all of your shots within the 16x9 frame, and then extract your 4x3 image from the center. Now the big question that pops up here is, which format is intended, and which is being protected for? While shows like 24 are quite obviously intended for 16x9 presentation (just look at all those split-screens), Buffy is not and never has been. The one exception to this hard and fast rule is the musical episode, Once More with Feeling. Compare the cinematography there to other Whedon-directed episodes, and you'll see a gigantic difference in everything from camera placement to the blocking of actors - a trend that continued in the episodes of Firefly that Joss directed (Firefly was shot for 16x9 for every episode).

The following example comes from one of Buffy's finest episodes, The Body, which (along with the provided Whedon DVD audio commentary excerpt in white text) shows that Whedon was under no studio coercion, but has ALWAYS gone for 4x3:

"We're actually coming up on one of my favorite shots that I ever composed. And it's very simple... which is this:

Buffy - 4x3 screen shot

Very simply, it's an over, where I squeezed her into the frame as much as possible so that it's like she didn't have room to maneuver.

[...] A normal over would have been her with a tiny slice of his shoulder. Instead I let his shoulder own the frame. [...] It's an obvious thing, not great filmmaking, but when I did it on the day I saw the over and thought, "He's a little too much in the frame. Keep pushing it. Keep pushing. Giver her less room, give her less room." It excited me. It made me realize that something not particularly clever but useful could just appear on the day."

So there you've heard from the man himself. And now, here's the same shot as it appears in widescreen:

Buffy - 16x9 screen shot

And, just in case Whedon's intent (and the visual evidence of it) isn't enough, you should know that there are many instances in Buffy episodes where, when presented in 16x9 format, you can see crew members, mic booms, light stands and other production "gremlins" that inadvertently strayed into the frame. These are not normally visible in the intended 4x3 format.

On a final note, the only place where Buffy is shown in broadcast widescreen is England, where old 4x3 programming has the top and bottom chopped off so Nigel Sixpack (as opposed to Joe here in the States) can fill his widescreen television. The bottom line is that asking that Buffy be presented in 16x9 is just as compromising to the originally artistic vision as making a pan & scan version of a widescreen film. Buffy should no more be widescreen than Citizen Kane. Thanks to Christian Preischl for the screen shots and transcript excerpts used above.

Okay, Bill here again. So there you have it. The reality is that everyone is going to have their own opinion on this issue. I've already read a couple reviews around the Net from fans who viewed the U.K. Buffy: Season Four DVDs in 16x9 and much preferred them to the U.S. 4x3 versions. But the consensus from most knowledgable fans, and the final word on the subject from Whedon himself, is that full frame's the word for Buffy. So there. And with that, we are officially done with this issue here at The Bits.

That's it for today. Have a great weekend and we'll see you back here on Monday!

4/24/03

We've got another massive new Upcoming DVD Cover Art update for you today - some 60 new cover scans have been posted. There's lots of new stuff, and nearly all of it is now available for pre-order from our software sponsor, DVD Planet. By clicking on our cover art links and spending your money with them, you're not only getting great DVDs for a great price, you're also supporting The Digital Bits in a very real way. It DOES make a big difference for us and our work here at this site. And Planet is currently running a special where, when you pre-order an upcoming title with them, you get a coupon good for $5 off your next order of $30 or more. Not a bad deal at all, particularly if you're in the market for a lot of upcoming titles.

Now then... we've looked into the whole Dark Angel and Buffy anamorphic widescreen issue a little more. And we're convinced that full frame IS indeed the way the series creators wanted them to be released on DVD. But, the problem we have is, since they're available on DVD in other regions in anamorphic widescreen, some consumers are going to feel like they're getting the short end of the stick. We'll post more on this tomorrow, so be sure to check back for that.

Finally today, I happened to catch an early screening of X2: X-Men United last night in L.A.... and damn if the flick isn't pretty great. Director Bryan Singer definitely took the right approach to the sequel, by significantly raising the stakes, and making it darker and more angsty. It's also got some great set piece action scenes and nice character development. It flows perfectly from the first film and it was well worth the wait. Let me also just say... Nightcrawler is frickin' too cool. The opening scene alone is worth the price of admission. ;-)

Stay tuned...

(LATE UPDATE - 4/23/03 - NOON PDT)

We've got something very cool for you this afternoon... a complete transcript of a live chat with DVD representatives from Warner Home Video, held by our friends at The Home Theater Forum on Tuesday night. There's lots of great information on upcoming Warner DVD titles and future plans - stuff that's mot been announced before. Among the great titles revealed in the chat are a Casablanca: 60th Anniversary Edition, Dial M for Murder, Meet Me in St. Louis, Looney Tunes, a Treasure of the Sierra Madre 2-disc SE, Yankee Doodle Dandy, To Have and Have Not, High Sierra, A Christmas Story: Special Edition (anamorphic even!), The Adventures of Robin Hood 2-disc SE and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. Plus, there was talk on future Batman and Superman plans, future silent film releases, the Police Academy and Vacation series, That's Entertainment, Freaks, THX-1138, updated on Blade Runner: SE, the Scorsese films, a Hitchcock Collection for 2004, Around the World in 80 Days, a Chariots of Fire: SE, The Hunger, Greystoke, Wyatt Earp, West Wing TV box sets, Shawshank Redemption, All the President's Men, lots of Marx Bros. in 2004 (Night at the Opera, Day at the Races, etc.) and many more. Absolutely don't miss it!

Stay tuned...

(EARLY UPDATE - 4/23/03 - 12:01 AM PDT)

Okay... we seem to be back in contact with the online world again. ;-)

So let's get back on the stick, shall we? First up, we've announced the winners of our Easter Trivia Contest. Congrats to all eight winners and thanks to everyone who participated!

Next, we've been getting a lot of complains from fans about Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Complete Fourth Season being in full frame aspect ratio, and not anamorphic widescreen. We contacted Fox, and now we've got official word from series creator Joss Whedon on the issue. Here's what he has to say:

A PERSONAL MESSAGE FROM JOSS WHEDON

Gentle Viewer:

No doubt you are looking over this scrumptious BUFFY package and exclaiming "No @#$%ing letterboxing? Whutzat? GYPPED!" Possibly you are breaking things. Please calm down. The fabulous episodes of BUFFY (and that one crappy one, sorry about that, seemed really cool when we wrote it...) were not shot in a widescreen format. They were shot in the TV 4 by 3 ratio. Now I'm a letterbox fanatic, but not just because I crave th' wide. I want to see the whole screen, as framed by the director. The BUFFY's I (and others) shot were framed for traditional TVs. Adding space to the sides simply for the sake of trying to look more cinematic would betray the very exact mise-en-scene I was trying to create. I am a purist, and this is the purest way to watch BUFFY. I have resisted the effort to letterbox BUFFY from the start and always will, because that is not the show we shot. This is. So enjoy! Stop breaking things. You're getting the best presentation of -- let's face it -- the best Television Drama since MATCHGAME '79. Bye for now!

Sincerely,

Joss Whedon


For those of you also upset that Dark Angel: The Complete First Season is full frame as well, we're told that series creator James Cameron wanted it that way too. Go figure.

I'm just going to say right now, that this seems a little disingenuous to us here at The Digital Bits, given that both Dark Angel: S1 and Buffy: S4 are already available on other regions on DVD in full anamorphic widescreen. So our feeling is that there's something else going on here. And the reality is, because the sets are available in 16x9 in other regions, a LOT of fans are going to be pissed. And we think rightly so.

Moving on, we've got some new cover art for you today: Universal's The Life of David Gale (TBA), New Line's Final Destination 2: Infinifilm Edition (7/22) and Columbia TriStar's Laurel Canyon (7/15)...

The Life of David GaleFinal Destination 2: Infinifilm EditionLaurel Canyon

Also, you'll be very happy to learn that Universal will finally release Steven Spielberg's long awaited Duel on 8/12. That same day, you can also look for Backbeat, Ffolkes, Gotcha!, Hard to Hold, Kuffs, Mask, The Night of the Following Day, Playing for Keeps, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Ugly American, as well as re-issues of a number of previously released DVDs.

In other news, Buena Vista has announced the release of Bringing Down the House for 8/5.

We've gotten tentative word from Warner that the release of The Ben Stiller Show DVD has been postponed until later this year (new street date TBA).

And finally this morning, our own Matt Rowe has received word from Warner Music of a number of great new DVD-Audio releases due later this year. Among the titles on the way are The Cars' The Cars (8/12), Fleetwood Mac's Tusk (9/9) and R.E.M's Green, New Adventures in Hi-Fi, Monster, Up and Out of Time (9/23). Visit our MusicTAP site for more.

Stay tuned...

4/22/03

Just FYI, we seem to be having a lot of trouble with our cable modem connection to the Internet today. It's taking a very long time to connect to our server and make any uploads. We've got the problem being looked at, but what it means is that there probably won't be much of a post today. But if we do get Internet working again, we'll make a quick update later. Sorry for the inconvenience.

And just to let you know, we have ended the Easter Trivia Contest and selected the winners. We'll post them as soon as we can.

Thanks for your patience!

(LATE UPDATE - 4/21/03 - 10:30 AM PDT)

Morning all! We've got updated details for you on The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers DVD announcement.

As we reported last night, the 2-disc Theatrical Version will street on August 26th (SRP $29.95) in both full frame and anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) versions. The 179-minute film will feature Dolby Digital 5.1 EX surround sound, with English and Spanish subtitles and English closed captioning. The exact features list includes: 2 in-depth documentaries (On the Set - The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and Return to Middle Earth), Sean Astin's The Long and the Short of It short film, The Making of The Long and the Short of It featurette, 8 production featurettes (Forces of Darkness, Designing the Sounds of Middle-earth, Edoras: The Rohan Capital, Creatures of Middle-earth, Gandalf the White, Arms and Armor, The Battle of Helm's Deep and Bringing Gollum to Life), an exclusive 10-minute preview of The Return of the King, original theatrical trailers and TV spots, the Golllum's Song music video by Emiliana Torrini, a preview of Electronic Arts' Return of the King video game, and a preview of the Two Towers: Special Extended DVD Version. This represents some 2 hours of bonus content.

And, as we mentioned last night, the 4-disc Special Extended DVD Version of the film will follow on November 18th. It's currently in production, so specific features and specs will be announced at a later date. But you can reasonably assume it will be similar in format to the previous 4-disc version of The Fellowship of the Ring. As with that disc, no content will be repeated between the 2-disc and 4-disc versions of The Two Towers, so you'll get your money's worth if you buy both versions. The film will be 30+ minutes longer (we've heard 40+) than the theatrical cut. It will be rated PG-13, and will be presented in anamorphic widescreen video with Dolby Digital and DTS surround sound and audio commentary. It will also feature 2 full discs of all new bonus material.

Pre-orders will begin on May 9th. Here's the DVD cover art...

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Full Frame 2-disc Theatrical Version)The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Widescreen 2-disc Theatrical Version)The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers - 4-disc Special Extended DVD Version (Widescreen)

And here's a sneak peek at the main and special features menus from the 2-disc set...

Two Towers 2-disc Main Menu

Two Towers 2-disc Special Features Menu

Enjoy and stay tuned!


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