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APAR's WORKING WEEKEND: Entertainment’s New Eplexion

11 May, 2001 By: Bruce Apar

I’m sitting here watching TV. It’s actually a computer monitor at which I’m peering so intently. And the “TV show” is actually a “making of” feature that’s just one of myriad goodies on 20th Century Fox’s Cast Away DVD. Which puts the question, “What is TV?,” in today’s world of video, video everywhere. Whatever it is, it’s a lot more than "Survivor" and "Sopranos."

Castaway Tom Hanks combines better than any screen actor two rare, elusive qualities: the easy earnestness of everyman and the aura of a supernova. Tom’s in the laconic mold of iconic Gary (Cooper) and Jimmy (Stewart). Take Cooper’s deep conviction plus Stewart’s wide range, add a dash of continental elan, and you have the transcendence of Tom Hanks, postmodern Hollywood star.

I’ve spent this past week navigating the Cast Away DVD -- and still haven’t seen the movie (but am glimpsing it now above this text window I’m in). Disc 2, filled with extra features, has been playing nightly, like a TV series, on my Dell DVD drive while I tinkered at tasking.

The total effect of exploring Cast Awayworld was like being at a surrealistic Hollywood theme park. There’s a fascinating, you-are-there walk-through of the island’s production complex, where one might run into a caveman-like Tom Hanks trolling the beach. There are secrets of visual effects revealed, an HBO featurette, Hanks interviewed by PBS’s probing Charlie Rose and running commentary by director Bob Zemeckis.

In the way this DVD is produced, Cast Away becomes an immersive experience you can go back to repeatedly. It exemplifies Eplex, which regular visitors to this corner might recognize as my eau de joie.

Eplex is new content coursing through new channels. Eplex is electronic escapism. Eplex is digital dominance. Eplex is entertainment everywhere. Eplex is the early 21st century iteration of mid-20th century media philosopher Marshall McLuhan’s epochal epigram, “The medium is the message.”

A spate of recent DVDs qualify as Eplex in how they host new contexts for movie-plus features. Of course, the better the movie, the more compelling the content as well as the context.

Titles that come to mind are Universal’s Shadow of the Vampire, where the trailer for director Elias Merhige’s Begotten is probably the most haunting, unsettling preview you’ve ever seen; Disney’s The Emperor’s New Groove, a prodigiously produced package that extends the studio’s hot DVD streak after Fantasia 2000 and Toy Story 2; Fox’s weighty The X-Files 3, with 7 discs chock-full of cultish extras; Warner’s Imax Blue Planet, a fascinating look at an awesome orb; and Universal’s Jaws 2, where my favorite bonus was watching movie music maestro John Williams discussing the subtleties of film scoring. Talk about historic value.

True that in some DVD cases it’s content produced previously for other channels that is repackaged, but that is where context matters. Pulled together on one DVD with the full-length feature as the main attraction, the same content seen on TV or elsewhere suddenly can be fully manipulated by the viewer as part of an “everything you wanted to know about this movie” singular experience.

New Line has a new line of DVDs it insists on calling Infinifilm (say it three times fast). Reliable reports have it that Infinifilm takes DVD to the next level of Eplexity by incorporating enhancements into the body of the movie itself, much like Nuon does with its DVD technology found in Fox’s Bedazzled and in Toshiba players, among others.

I’d love to get my pause on these Infinifilms (hint, hint), but am pleased (and Grinch-green with envy) to see my colleague T.K. Arnold was privileged to get a personal demo at New Line’s Beverly Hills offices (I believe my invite was lost in the mail.) You can read what T.K. has to say about the nifty pop-up menus on Infinifilms like Thirteen Days in his May 11 Morning Buzz column on this site’s home page. (But please don’t be rude by leaving before you finish my column. T.K. has enough groupies as it is.)

Ah, but all this DVDplex is mere prelude to what I expect will be Eplex Eden at next week’s E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) show in Los Angeles. (It could become E4 if they want to add “& Eplex” to the title; my licensing fees are reasonable.) The word is out that a videogame company will announce at E3 next Thursday (17) a groundbreaking interactive title featuring pop diva (and mom nemesis) Britney Spears. If this is what I think it is, it’s a unanimous –- and prototypical –- entry into the Eplex Hall of Fame.

We’ll wax Eplexic about Brit’s landmark DVD release in the next Working Weekend. Meantime, I’ll distract myself wishing I had 500 spare bucks to spend on Sony’s Clie N710C Palm-organizer with 2.2 square inch color screen that plays movies downloaded from a PC.

And my digital-device personal trainer Marjorie Costello, publisher of Consumer Electronics Online News (CEON), just told me about Philips’s new EXP401 MP3 mini-portable that plays 3-in. CDs in multiple formats -– store-bought, CD-R/RW or MP3 downloads.

The writing is on the screen: major consumer electronics brands are starting to eplex their digital muscles. As a descendant of last century’s seminal superstar Al Jolson might say, “You ain’t heard, seen, interacted with nothin’ yet!”

Comments? Contact Bruce directly at:bapar@advanstar.com

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