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7 Sep, 2001 By: Bruce Apar

When The DVD Awards administered by Video Store Magazine saw fit a couple weeks ago to recognize the unique accomplishments of VM Labs’ Nuon and New Line Home Entertainment’s Infinifilm with special honors, it was not without a tinge or irony.

Both of those cutting-edge companies radically rewrote the lingua franca of DVD with innovations that, in fact, fulfilled what was the original promise of the digital multimedia format in the first place. That is to say, the uber-friendly [sic], enhanced interactivities [sic sequel] available on Nuon movies like Fox’s Bedazzled and New Line Infinifilms like 15 Days, 13 Minutes and newest addition Blow are what movies on DVDs should be all about: building an organic dimension into the passive, linear experience of watching a feature-length narrative that wasn’t part of the theatrical experience.

As next week’s Video Store reports exclusively in a page 1 scoop by our new media senior editor John Gaudiosi, Star Wars creator George Lucas has completed production on an additional seven scenes strictly for the DVD release of Phantom Menace. You think George is jazzed about DVD? (Personally, we hope at least some of them there scenes [sic, seriously] feature our Phantom phavorite [obviously sic] Jar Jar Binks, arguably the most maliciously maligned figment of imagination ever to appear in a live-action film. To all those who complained about Binks’ hijinks behavior and clever patois, I urge you to rush out right now to the local mall and get a life. If you do, I will too.)

Oddly enough, but fittingly too, I appreciated New Line’s Infinifilm concept as never before while I was fully engaged in the excellent extras on Fox’s 30th anniversary edition of The French Connection. On at least one occasion while watching a documentary in the supplement, on a separate disc than the movie, I reflexively expected to be able to go back to the movie itself, an Infinifilm feature I have used extensively on all three aforementioned New Line titles. (Thanks, New Line, for spoiling me when I watch non-Infinifilms.)

(Oh, and thanks, Fox, for reminding this ex-graybeard it’s been three decades -- ouch! -- since a callow college student sat in the Syracuse Daily Orange newspaper offices interviewing Connection producer Philip D’Antoni as part of his publicity tour to tout the new release.)

Since I first saw it, TFC, as nobody I know calls it, has been one of my favorite films. The French new wave cinematic flavor infused by Friedkin (The Exorcist) is wonderfully emulated on the DVD’s menu design, the landmark car chase is still breathless and the digital image reproduction is tres magnifique. I doubt the film has ever looked this good outside a theater.

There are some juicy sound bites from the rambunctiously talented director William Friedkin (who can be obnoxious in a charming sort of way), whose recollections from the production sometimes clash with those of other participants, notably Sonny Grosso, half of the legendary New York City police detective duo whose celebrated narcotics collars inspired the book and the film adaptation.

And it’s a minor coup, in this movie lover’s book anyhow, for Fox to snare a star of Gene Hackman’s stature for one of the commentary tracks -- along with costar Roy Scheider. Hackman’s self-admitted uncomfortable fit in his lead role, coming to light for the casual viewer 30 years later, makes his Best Actor Oscar all the more impressive. (TFC’s five Oscars include Picture and Director.) Over the years, Hackman has painted an understated, intelligent and exciting palette of portrayals that puts him in the pantheon of film actors, if not the best of his generation, so it’s quite a treat to have him as a viewing companion on a classic movie.

Special mention must be made, too, of a latter-day true tale of an international narcotics ring, New Line’s Blow. Suffice it to say that the array of extra information on the DVD of this true story of a colorful Seventies’ cocaine trafficker, George Jung (played by the very talented Johnny Depp), held me in a trance. After watching the screen for well over an hour, continuously clicking on the onscreen cutaway clips that serve to amplify the narrative with real-life interviews, I was incredulous to discover that the elapsed running time displayed on the DVD player was only 35 minutes. I somehow had managed to spend more time watching the interstitial materials woven into the film, and the other supplements, than the film itself.

Becoming a devotee of Infinifilm and Nuon features makes it easy to understand what hot young filmmaker John Herzfeld (15 Minutes) meant when he told Leonard Maltin at the IRMA and Medialine DVD Entertainment Conference that “I learn more watching a DVD than going to a film school. I wish I had DVDs when I was learning to make movies. Today, you can do anything on DVD.”

Maltin’s other guest during the same session, Rush Hour 1 & 2 and Family Man director Bret Ratner, chimed in, “I went to NYU film school and the Criterion Collection film school, because I bought every movie on laserdisc in the Criterion Collection. Watching movies is how I learned to make movies.”

That’s an exciting revelation for anyone involved in the home video industry to revel in, and, thanks to DVD and the yeoman work of studios like New Line and companies like Nuon, leading filmmakers from George Lucas to Bret Ratner aren’t afraid to say, in so many words -- and images -- “I want my DVD.”

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

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