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Geared towards comic book and genre fans, Agent DVD Insider scoops DVD and Blu-Ray release announcements and news, along with commentary from industry experts and fellow comic fans.


Agent DVD Insider
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22 Jan, 2010

Continuing an Epic


Sci-fi geeks experiencing a bit of “Battlestar Galactica” withdrawal should be able to get their fix with the prequel series “Caprica,” which premieres tonight on Syfy.

Granted, most fans have probably seen the pilot, which Universal released on DVD last year, and tonight’s version is an edited-for-TV version (with limited commercial interruption, at least). So for many fans, the real premiere comes next week with the first regular episode of the series.

I can’t wait to dive in. I was a huge fan of the “Galactica” remake, developed by veteran writer Ronald D. Moore, who cut his teeth on “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” writing some of the better episodes of those shows. “Caprica” chronicles how the Colonials created the Cylons, a race of robots who would eventually turn against their masters and force them to flee their homeworlds in search of the mythical Earth.

With the arrival of the show on Blu-ray and its spin-off movie The Plan, I recently watched “Galactica” from start to finish again, and I must say it’s even better the second time around, avoiding the problem a lot of shows have once their freshness has worn off (I’m looking at you “24”).

Yes, “Galactica” took a lot of heat and criticism for a final season, and a final episode, that seemed to abandon its sci-fi ideals in exchange for a blanket spiritualism that overwhelmed the storylines, leading many viewers to conclude it overwhelmed the writers as well. Talk of angels and gods began to take on literal meanings within the plot, although it turns out the characters in question were saying exactly what they were the entire time.

This evokes the feeling of a Greek poem not unlike The Iliad or The Odyssey, when gods would interfere with the course of humanity all the time. Upon further review of the show’s plots and motifs, it seems clear that these ideas fit perfectly into the narrative structure. The Plan acts as an epilogue that reinforces the primary themes of the show.

Fundamentally, this is a show (and, with “Caprica,” a franchise) about the conflicts between parents and children. How a new generation’s desire to stake a legacy of their own often interferes with the goals of the previous generation for a better tomorrow.

We see it with the Cylons attacking humanity.

We see it in Cavil’s conflict with the Final Five.

We see it on a personal level, between Apollo and Adama. Between Starbuck and her parents. In Athena and Helo’s attempts to protect Hera.

We see it on a spiritual level, as a story of humanity’s metaphorical parent, God, attempting to set right the sins of its creation by orchestrating the destruction of one society and the creation of another. The Biblical overtones are obvious.

Further, we can extend the metaphor beyond the fourth wall, as the show attempts to surpass the original from the 1970s. “All of this has happened before, and will happen again” is more than just key mythology within the storyline, it is an acknowledgement of the show’s roots. In this sense the series seems aware of its place within the history of televised science-fiction.

Now, with “Caprica,” the franchise grows beyond its origins, maintaining its focus on the core story, but presenting it in a whole new light. I for one can’t wait to see how these new stories inform and enhance what we already know.

Sure, history has shown us that creating an effective prequel isn’t always the easiest task to accomplish. However, given the pedigree of the writers involved with “Caprica,” I have faith that they’ll pull it off.
 


21 Jan, 2010

DVD Has Spoiled Us

While not altogether surprised, I often find it amusing to see how much we as a consumer society have taken DVD for granted.

Here’s how Steve Nickerson, Summit’s president of home entertainment, summarized the studio’s reasons for loading its upcoming New Moon discs with special features:

“This is what the fans are looking for,” Nickerson said. “The true fans of the franchise have already seen New Moon in theaters — maybe two or three times. We need to give them more than just the film on DVD.”

Wow. Remember the olden days of VHS, when all we got was the movie we had already seen in theaters. And maybe a few movies came with another tape that had a making-of documentary or something, but that was the exception.

Nowadays, a disc makes news when it DOESN’T have extras. Studios that skimp are accused of being cheap. Not exactly the best image from a PR perspective.

Seems to me the distribution channel that more closely mirrors VHS is online, in that digital copies don’t have the extras either. And that’s what makes DVDs (and now Blu-ray) such a unique value proposition. Heck, some discs have so many extras it’s like a film school in a box, or at least a solid afternoon of entertainment.

Disc sales may have come down a bit recently, but I’d hate to imagine the growth curve if we had to rely on VHS for the past 13 years.
 


19 Jan, 2010

Retailers Overwhelmed by Mid-Range Releases


The selection of new releases Jan. 19 may have been vast, but the selection apparently wasn’t exciting enough to inspire retailers’ promotional efforts.

With many stores still heavily promoting catalog titles at clearance prices, some of the newer titles seemed lost in the shuffle.

Best Buy, for example, didn’t even bother including Anchor Bay’s Pandorum or Sony Pictures’ Damages: Season Two in its weekly ad circular. Instead, the chain trumpeted the new Blu-ray flipper discs for the “Bourne” movies (at $17.99 each) and an exclusive Blu-ray boxed set of the two “Smokin’ Aces” movies ($29.99). The original Smokin’ Aces hit Blu-ray Jan. 19 in time for its direct-to-video sequel.

Despite its gestures toward raising Blu-ray’s profile, Wal-Mart doesn’t seem to have made great strides in promoting the high-definition format. A store in Long Beach, Calif., had a few token catalog Blu-ray titles next to its new-release section, but otherwise the depth of title selection was lacking. The store didn’t even have a Blu-ray copy of the Jan. 19 release The Invention of Lying on display anywhere.

The store did have a “Movie Spotlight” display filled with football movies, no doubt to take advantage of the current NFL playoffs. But again none of the featured titles were offered on Blu-ray.

As far as Blu-ray players go, the Long Beach Wal-Mart had dozens of Magnavox BonusView players stacked in a rear aisle, listed at $128 each.



12 Jan, 2010

Retail Focus on ‘Hurt Locker,’ ‘Simpsons’


With Jan. 12 lacking any blockbuster new releases, no single title seemed to hog retailer attention.

Early Oscar favorite The Hurt Locker did come with a few exclusives. Best Buy offered the Blu-ray in a steelbook casing with a photo book. And Wal-Mart packaged the DVD with a DVD of the documentary Brothers at War, which like The Hurt Locker focuses on the Iraq War.

Another big title released Jan. 12 was 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment’s The Simpsons: Season 20 on DVD and Blu-ray. Best Buy had the DVD at $28.99 and the Blu-ray at $38.99, while Target had the DVD at $28.99 and the Blu-ray at $36.99.

A Wal-Mart in Long Beach, Calif., didn’t have the Blu-ray version of The Simpsons: Season 20, but did package the DVD with an exclusive “Laugh-a-Day” 2010 calendar for $34.96.

The same Wal-Mart also tried to clear excess two-movie packages for $13 each. Wal-Mart typically offers a new release packaged with an older, similarly themed film as a bonus for a few dollars more.

Best Buy is holding a huge Blu-ray Disc promotion with titles for as low as $9.99.

A Fry’s in Fountain Valley, Calif., didn’t even put up a new-release display, though the store offered several prominent Blu-ray Disc displays. The store didn’t even have every new title, and those it did have were scattered among th shelves as if they had been released weeks ago.


5 Jan, 2010

‘Cloudy’ Outlook for Retailers to Kick Off the Year


It seems retailers are kicking off the new year by encouraging DVD shoppers to read.

At Target, DVDs and Blu-rays of Sony Pictures’ CG-animated hit Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs come with copies of the original children’s book upon which the film is based.

Target also has an exclusive deluxe version of Warner Home Video’s The Final Destination 3D DVD that includes a comic book. Earlier “Final Destination” DVDs, and other horror films such as Saw and The Blair Witch Project, were offered at $5 each.

Best Buy chose to focus its exclusives energy on a TV DVD release, Chuck: The Complete Second Season. The retailer is offering an exclusive comic book with the DVD version.

Otherwise, Best Buy is focused on clearly post-holiday inventory, with specials such as fitness DVDs for $7.99 each, TV DVD seasons for $13.99, and TV on Blu-ray seasons for $26.99 each.

Another promotion at Best Buy offers consumers a $5 gift card with the purchase of two recent DVD hits (from a limited selection) at $9.99 each.

Wal-Mart had the Cloudy deluxe editon with a limited-edition umbrella that shows pictures of food when wet. The chain also had sale displays of DVDs for $4 and Blu-ray Discs for $12.


31 Dec, 2009

The 2000s in Review: Film

<i>The Dark Knight</i>
<i>The Dark Knight</i>

As the aughts come to a close and the calendar rolls into 2010, reflections on the past 10 years are running rampant.

The first decade of the 21st century (though it doesn’t really end until next year since 2000 was the last year of the 20th century) was the first decade of the DVD era, as home entertainment entered a bold new digital age. New films and classics alike were readily available to the masses at affordable prices, loaded with enough extra content to keep a fan entertained for hours on end. Some discs were so extensive they were practically a film school in a box.

The vogue trend in reflecting on the decade has been an endless supply of best-of lists, be it movies, TV shows or books, each one seemingly more pretentious than the last.

Tossing the merits of objectivity aside, I’m simply going to provide a list of my favorites over the past 10 years. The quality may vary, but they all have a place on my shelf.

For each year, I’ve picked three movies that appealed to me as representative of the year in film, regardless of general critical acclaim. Clearly, some years were better than others. From Academy Award winners to crowd pleasing spectacles, be sure to check them out on DVD, or better yet, Blu-ray Disc. (Update: I made some late additions, pushing the total in some categories to more than three.)

2009

Up in the Air (Paramount) — A fantastic character study, morality play, romance … whatever it is, it is great, and when you re-watch it you never get the same movie twice.

The Hangover (Warner) — An inspired comedy, filmed with funny characters and memorable dialogue, that remains fresh long after all the secrets are revealed.

Inglourious Basterds (Universal) — Quentin Tarantino proves his flair for dialogue is not limited to just one language with this tongue-in-cheek send-up of World War II.

Up (Disney) — Pixar’s latest triumph recalls the spirit of adventure that seems so fleeting as we grow older.

2008

The Dark Knight (Warner) — A stunning achievement in an overlooked genre, Christopher Nolan’s second Batman epic is easily not just the greatest superhero film ever made, but one of the top films of recent times, period.

Iron Man (Paramount) — In a busy year for comic book movies, Robert Downey Jr. is pitch perfect as the titlular hero in this techno-comedic romp.

Wall-E (Disney) — Pixar’s take on science-fiction and cute robots warms the heart while dazzling the eyes.  

2007

Juno (Fox) — Smart and quirky story of a pregnant teen reveals the divide between childhood and adulthood isn’t as wide as it seems.

No Country for Old Men (Miramax) — The Coen Brothers close the book on the old West in this dark tale of a man on the run from the ultimate badass.

Transformers (Paramount) — Michael Bay turns toy robots into a fun ride, absurd to the end but never lacking an infectious energy, and filled with outstanding visual effects.

2006

Borat (Fox) — One of the funniest movies of the decade turns pop culture on its ear and leaves no victim unscathed.

The Departed (Warner) — The film that finally delivered Martin Scorsese’s long-overdue Oscar thrusts audiences into a gripping story of duty and honor among gangsters and cops in Boston. 

Casino Royale (Sony Pictures) — James Bond returns in a fresh take on the legendary spy, reconstructing the formula while rebooting the franchise for a new age of action epics. 

2005

Capote (Sony Pictures) — A cruel tale of vanity driven by Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Oscar-winning performance as author Truman Capote.

Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith (Fox) — George Lucas’ prequels are easy fodder for ridicule, but the final installment offers more good than bad to satisfy audiences with epic sci-fi action.

Munich (Universal) — Steven Spielberg uses the Israeli response to the 1972 Munich Olympic massacre as a springboard for a tale of revenge escalating beyond reason.

2004

Sideways (Fox) — Funny and depressing at the same time, Alexander Payne’s character study gives us a newfound excuse to examine our potential … and drink lots of wine while doing so.

Miracle (Disney) — The feel-good story of the 1980 gold medal-winning U.S. hockey team perfectly captures the Olympic spirit thanks to a spot-on performance by Kurt Russell as the late coach Herb Brooks.

National Treasure (Disney) — A fun adventure story about the roots of American iconography that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

2003

Master and Commander (Fox) — A rousing sea-faring adventure reminiscent of the yarns of old, filled with wonderful performances and authenticity.

Finding Nemo (Disney) — Colorful escapade of a father looking for his son, and Pixar’s most endearing film to date.

X2 (Fox) — Bryan Singer ups the ante of the superhero genre by combining allegory and action with smart characters and a good story. 

2002

The Rookie (Disney) — Inspirational story of Jim Morris, a Texas high-school baseball coach who made it to Major League Baseball at the age of 35.

The Bourne Identity (Universal) — The first of a trilogy of spy-thrillers that re-defined the action genre enough to give James Bond a run for his money.

We Were Soldiers (Paramount) — Gut-wrenching depiction of the first battle of the Vietnam War provides a solemn reminder of the sacrifices of American heroes.

2001

Memento (Sony Pictures) — Christopher Nolan breaks through to the mainstream with a mind-bending story of identity and self-purpose … told in reverse.

Shrek (DreamWorks) — One of the funniest animated films ever made maintains its wit and charm despite the shtick wearing thin after multiple sequels.

The Lord of the Rings (Warner) — So, I’m listing this in 2001 since that’s when the trilogy began, but it’s basically a 10-hour fantasy epic (13 hours if you watch the extended versions). I also think it’s a tad overrated. However, the filmmaking achievement cannot be denied, even if Peter Jackson has trouble avoiding his penchant for self-indulgence.

2000

Traffic (Universal) — Steven Soderbergh dissects the war on drugs in a gritty anthology of dangerous circumstances. The film was robbed of the best-picture Oscar by Gladiator.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Sony Pictures) — Ang Lee’s martial arts masterpiece plays like a whimsical fairy tale filled with action and suspense as it pays homage to Asian cinema.

American Psycho (Lionsgate) — A chilling tale of conformity and identity in a corporate world.

The Patriot (Sony Pictures) — This retelling of the Swamp Fox folk tale is pretty much a standard action-revenge story set during the American Revolution, but Mel Gibson is at the top of his game, the set-pieces are well done, and John Williams provides a rousing musical score worthy of the title.

 


31 Dec, 2009

The 2000s in Review: TV

"Battlestar Galactica"
"Battlestar Galactica"

The 2000s proved to be a new golden age of television, not because the shows produced will be considered all-time classics. History has yet to be the judge in that regard. But the technological revolution in filmmaking has led to a general rise in quality and ambition of television productions. DVD allowed shows to free themselves from the shackles of weekly episodic formulas to tell grander stories on a larger scale. Viewers willing to keep up were treated to what basically amounted to 10- to 20-hour movies, like the epic miniseries of old.

DVD itself became the new syndication for older shows, giving audiences the convenience of watching what they wanted, when they wanted for as long as they wanted. In fact, TV DVD helped boost a stagnant home entertainment industry long enough to introduce the next-generation format, Blu-ray Disc. And though Internet viewing and other forms of electronic delivery have emerged as packaged media’s biggest challenge in attracting viewers, there’s still nothing quite like owning a show on disc.

Here are some of my favorite shows that began in the 2000s:

Battlestar Galactica (Universal) — Epic science-fiction at its best, examining human nature through the prism of the age-old conflict between parents and children, that plays like an 80-hour miniseries.

House (Universal) — This smart medical drama inspired by Sherlock Holmes led to a wave of procedurals headlined by acerbic mystery-solving loners.

The Big Bang Theory (Warner) — The geeks shall inherit the Earth in this witty upheaval of popular culture.

Lost (Disney) — In its complicated story arcs about airplane crash survivors stranded on a mysterious island, “Lost” took serialized television to a new level, answering the questions it raises with even more answers.

Firefly (Fox) — Joss Whedon’s space Western was too much for any network to handle, but endures thanks to an enthusiastic fan base willing to embrace a quirky sci-fi adventure about a rogue crew banding together against a hostile universe.

24 (Fox) — An action-thrill ride that changed the rules with a tightly plotted real-time storyline played out over a whole season that takes place in a single day, and an attitude that challenged the politically correct ethics of the time.

Deadwood (HBO) — Not just a compelling Western, "Deadwood" is a microcosm for the story of civilization, told over the course of three seasons of 12 episodes each. It’s all-too-abrupt end cries out for proper closure.

Band of Brothers (HBO) — Among the greatest mini-series ever produced, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks follow Saving Private Ryan into Europe during World War II, examining the tight-nit bond of soldiers in war.

30 Rock (Universal) — Industry satire might not appeal to everyone, but is especially hilarious to those in on the joke.

True Blood (HBO) — HBO’s adaptation of Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse novels puts a new spin on the vampire mythos, and fits in perfectly as the true spiritual successor to the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” legacy.

Family Guy (Fox) — Yes, technically the series is a product of the previous decade, having started in 1999. But in its cancellation and rebirth, the animated comedy became the poster child of the DVD era, proving there is indeed life beyond TV ratings.

 


30 Dec, 2009

2009: The Year ‘Star Trek’ Became Popular

<i>Star Trek</i>
<i>Star Trek</i>

It’s time to finally close the books on 2009, the year the world turned upside down. I know I’m not alone in thinking that at times during the past 12 months it has seemed like we’re living in some alternate reality, where down is up and up is down and people are flocking to see Star Trek.

In 2009, the venerable yet nerdy sci-fi franchise returned with a vengeance. J.J. Abrams’ “Trek” remake, itself about an alternate reality, is the perfect metaphor for our changing times. What’s old is new again, fresh off the line for a new generation of fans. I’ve encountered people I would have never in a million years suspected of liking anything to do with “Star Trek” suddenly loving this new movie, calling it awesome and beyond belief. The critics are in love with it. Audiences flocked to it more than any other film in the franchise.

And according to TorrentFreak, Star Trek is the most-pirated film of 2009. It claims this honor, much to Paramount’s chagrin, by beating Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. (Warner’s RockNRolla, with barely $25 million in worldwide box office, somehow came in third. Can we say “cult hit”). When mainstream and niche tastes collide, that says something.

People have asked me how I react to the new Star Trek movie, and I must say, as a long-time “Star Trek” viewer and fan, I’m a little dismayed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to see something called Star Trek do so well. But at the same time I look back and realize how much we’ve grown apart.

To me, Abrams’ Star Trek is a good action adventure movie, with great special effects and solid performances. But the problem I can’t get past is that it’s called Star Trek. Having seen everything that has ever been labeled as "Star Trek," I’m pretty well versed in what to expect from that universe.

When the film is trying to pull off a "Star Trek" moment, I’ve seen it before. Grandiose shot of the Enterprise being introduced as the music swells? It’s been done, and with ships I thought looked better. Time travel? Done. Ice planets? Done. Space battles? Done. Fights? Done.

The film tries to play off a nostalgia I don’t think it ever earned. Leonard Nimoy’s presence certainly contributes to this feeling, but also widens the rift. Part of the reason I endured with Star Trek before wasn’t just the characters, but an affection with the actors playing the parts. There was a certain satisfaction derived from the idea that this storyline was being played out over decades, with the same actors.

Someone tried to defend the film to me by saying it offered something we hadn’t seen before, the origin story. But I don’t think we needed that, really. I could accept that Starfleet was a military organization, and these people were assigned to this ship over time. And this isn’t really the origin story that applies to any of the characters we know. These are alternate versions of the characters. It’s a new start. So the connection to old "Trek" is lost.

I could probably accept this film easier if it were a straight reboot. Or another sci-fi experience. But it is trying to be "Star Trek." It is trying to have it both ways. It is trying to justify its reboot by connecting the plot to the previous incarnations of the franchise. While most people will undoubtedly dismiss this as just another gimmick and move past it, I am having trouble doing so. My long memory and affection for a majority of prior "Trek" experiences is forcing me to judge this film by its attempts to connect to the earlier versions of the franchise. On this level, I believe the film not only falters, but offends my sensibilities in the way it warps what came before. And I found what came before much more interesting that what it is now.

Well, to be honest, I found most of what came before to be better. My favorite of the shows was "Deep Space Nine," which ended in 1999. The subsequent series and movies after were disappointments to me, and when those came and went I moved on. But I wasn't unwelcoming of a new incarnation of "Star Trek."

However, the new film seems more influenced by Star Wars and Starship Troopers than "Star Trek." The characters are named the same and share traits with those we know from before. Ironically, “Stargate SG-1” warned us of what to expect, half joking that greedy studio bosses would try to make the story of "Stargate" sexier by casting younger versions of the team. That’s essentially what we are getting here.

Again, don't get me wrong. I love Star Wars. It's just I liked "Star Trek" in a different way. It's like a guy cheating on his blonde wife with a brunette, only to find the mistress trying to spice things up with a blonde wig.

Over time, I think, I will appreciate the new Star Trek for what it now is, and distinguish it from the franchise history I currently cannot divorce myself from. And that’s on me. I believe this process is already well underway, as I find myself re-watching scenes and admiring the craftsmanship. Other aspects, such as the over-the-top factory look of the engineering sets, are too hard to accept.

With time, and sequels to come, I will probably experience these new "Trek" films for the distinct entities they are, and not what they are attempting to replace. But I think a part of me, like a ghost in the nexus, will always look back and feel a tinge of regret that something has been lost in the translation.

Like living in an alternate reality, it’s going to take some getting used to.

 


29 Dec, 2009

A ‘Paranormal’ Boxed Set

The online-exclusive <i>Paranormal Activity</i> set
The online-exclusive <i>Paranormal Activity</i> set

The last week of 2009 offered a few new releases to round out the year, but most interesting is the release strategy for Paramount's Paranormal Activity.

Fans of the supernatural sleeper hit can get a limited-edition gift set of the film on DVD that also includes a collectible trading card with a film cel from the movie, and an individually numbered T-shirt.

The catch is that this DVD collector’s set can only be ordered online. Though it doesn’t appear to be exclusive to any particular retailer, the official Paranormal Activity Web site links to Amazon.com, which offers the set at $37.99.

Walmart.com has the set for $37.86, Target.com has it for $38.19 and BN.com (Barnes & Noble) has it for $52.19. By comparison, Target has the regular DVD at $15.99 and Best Buy has the regular DVD at $16.99, and both have the Blu-ray at $24.99.

Curiously, none of the major retailers decided to promote the online exclusive in their weekly ad circulars as a means of driving traffic to their Web sites.

Best Buy also offered a couple of TV DVD exclusives. Shoppers could save $5 off the Glee: Season 1 Vol. 1 DVD with purchase of a “Glee” soundtrack, and United States of Tara: Season 1 came with the first two episodes of “Nurse Jackie.”

The primary in-store focus of retailers seems to be clearing inventory and promoting hot recent releases at discounted prices. Several recent TV DVD releases could be had for as little as $9.99 a season, depending on where you look. Most boxed sets were offered at less than $20, with the median price coming in around $17.99.

Best Buy also had a savings of $5 with purchase of any two Disney titles “before they go into the vault.” The selection includes Sleeping Beauty, The Jungle Book and 101 Dalmatians.