APAR'S WORKING WEEKEND: War on DVD7 Dec, 2001 By: Bruce Apar
I must be getting old and having more senior moments, or acting more cranky, especially where entertainment marketing is concerned.
I'm driving down Sunset Boulevard and at the Virgin Megastore I spot a billboard for The Kiss Box Set. First, I think, well, the proper locution really is "boxed set," but this is the music biz, so if it's literacy you want, camp out on campus, not in the recording studio.
But if you insist on leaving it at box, then why bother adding set? Box set is sort of redundant. Besides, Kiss Box Set sounds like a set of Kiss boxes you're marketing (you know, where you store either teardrop-shaped chocolates or lipstick). Just advertise the Kiss Box or Kiss Music Box.
Then I realized the record marketers behind this one really flunked out of Edgy Marketing 101 because they missed the cheeky chance to promote it as "Kiss: The Box."
Then there was my slightly incredulous reaction upon seeing an ad for the new DVD edition of Almost Famous, which carries on its package the obviously tongue-in-chic conceit, "Unofficial Bootleg Cut." Or is it so obviously a wink at the consumer? Or one of those self-referential indulgences that only those inside the industry appreciate.
I was rankled by this playful parody of the ‘70s and ‘80s rage in bootleg music albums, such as the Dylan Basement Tapes. Invoking that nostalgic feel for the same period in which Almost Famous is set is the intent, but with video piracy not much of a laughing matter, I couldn't help but wonder if this marketing gimmick was a tad too self-indulgent and actually insensitive to a major industry issue. I will stop short of questioning whether it's responsible. I don't know how many people will actually think that this is an unauthorized DVD of the movie, but if it's not going to drive additional sales, what is the point? If it does boost sales, we don't want to know the point.
It gets worse; my crankiness, that is. As with Almost Famous' "bootleg" snipe, I did another double take when seeing the new Disney Pearl Harbor package proclaim itself the "60th Anniversary Commemorative Edition." Is there any other edition available?
My mental stammer is understandable when you consider virtually each and every time this common marketing ploy is used, the anniversary refers to the movie, not to an actual event on which it might have been based. (By this marketing logic, The Greatest Story Ever Told could be cleverly promoted as the "2000th Anniversary Communion Edition.")
Of course, Pearl Harbor the movie was not released in 1941, but the aerial attack it dramatizes took place 60 years ago. Calling a film released within the last six months a 60th anniversary commemorative edition takes some gall. Welcome to the entertainment biz in the 21st Century. Anything goes. Check your probity at the door, ‘cause that don't matter no more. If what you bring is not exactly right or--forgive the extinct expression--politically correct, well, that's just tough.
I will stop short of questioning whether Disney's marketing hook for Pearl Harbor too glibly co-opts one of American history's most calamitous events to create cachet coattails for its own commercial enterprise.
Apart from my phlegmatic nitpicking over that phraseology, I am looking forward to viewing the Pearl Harbor DVD, as apparently were countless others, judging by the phenomenal opening week of sales.
In the meantime, I surveyed some previously available versions of war on DVD--namely the second World War and the Vietnam (ahem) conflict.
In Harm's Way, from none-too-deft director Otto Preminger, is long, bloated and wooden. The fulminating filmmaker is known to have a way with actors that resulted in the lifeless performances you'll find in his typical vehicle, like this one.
The Bridges at Toko-Ri, starring the dreamy team of exquisite Grace Kelly and box office buff of the 1950s William Holden, is a war film with nominal action, which at first disappoints. Soon, though, I came to appreciate its consistent narrative line focusing on the very personal toll of war. And how can you go wrong with any film featuring the great Frederic March.
The commentary on classic From Here to Eternity is especially revealing, anchored by the fascinating perspective of director Fred Zinneman's son, who is paired with Alvin Sargent, who has a cameo in the movie but went on to a successful screenwriting career. Oddly, Sargent was an ad salesman for Variety when he was cast in the film.
What this engrossing tale-telling team doesn't mention is that Eternity is indirectly and anonymously referenced in The Godfather as the movie in which Frank Sinatra manque Johnny Fontaine lands a role thanks to a certain decapitated horse.
Two other war DVD commentaries worthy of mention are Catch-22 and Platoon. Both are notable breakthroughs for their brutally graphic depictions of shell-shocked soldiers. Catch-22 is a special treat with director Mike Nichols paired with director du jour Steven Soderbergh, who demonstrates as much knowledge of film history as he does skill in forging his own film history, with Ocean's 11 his latest triumph.
Nichols points out that Catch-22, for all its landmark claims, was overshadowed by the even more outrageous M*A*S*H, the classic Robert Altman war comedy.
On Platoon, the always interesting Oliver Stone is as rambling and obtuse as his typical vehicle, while Dale Dye, the military advisor, is crisp and always on message. Note to the sound mixers: on the endless documentary, when not played on a surround speaker setup, the music often overpowers the spoken word, making it unintelligible in parts. Then again, maybe that's meant to be an homage to Stone.