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Directors Playing a Part in High-Def

28 Sep, 2007 By: Chris Tribbey

More than one filmmaker has found himself center stage during the high-def format war.

Transformers director Michael Bay at first railed against — and then accepted — the Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks Animation SKG decision to ditch Blu-ray Disc. Steven Spielberg had his DreamWorks films excluded from that decision.

Sony brought Barry Sonnenfeld on stage while introducing all its new Blu-ray products at the Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association (CEDIA) Expo in Denver Sept. 5.

Producer, writer and actor Michael Imperioli has been stumping for Toshiba's HDTVs and for HD DVD since May, appearing in HD DVD commercials.

Jerry Bruckheimer has been firmly lodged in the Blu-ray corner since day one, calling it a “theater experience.”

But for every filmmaker who's in the high-def spotlight, there's another who's shying away from it.

“HD DVD [vs.] Blu-ray seems to me more of a fight between corporate giants than a real debate,” John Landis said. “If you'll recall, Betamax was better, but lost to VHS. “And the public didn't really care.”

Mick Garris, who said high-def discs are for “a very elite, limited crowd,” railed against the studios for allowing Blu-ray vs. HD DVD to happen in the first place.

“Format wars are a foolish waste of technological progress,” he said. “In my utopia, the competing companies would all get together, put their eggs in a single basket, and give peace a chance.”

One can't assume Hollywood's directors are completely savvy to high-def at home either. Neither Garris nor Landis has a Blu-ray or HD DVD player, they said.

Same with Oliver Stone.

“I'm going to, I'm going to,” Stone said about getting high-def players at home. “I have a nice plasma screen.”

Wolfgang Petersen has an HD DVD player at home, but not Blu-ray, he said. He's facing the same issue some consumers face: too many set-tops for one TV.

“I must find a little bit of space among all the machines in there,” Petersen said of his home entertainment set-up. “Soon.”

Some filmmakers are very aware of the competing formats and what they can do in the special features department. 300 director Zack Snyder, along with 300 executive producer and wife Deborah, hinted during Comic-Con this summer that another Blu-ray release was in store, with the same features as the HD DVD.

“I think there's going to be another Blu-ray special edition later on,” Deborah Snyder said.

Stone noted that a feature-length documentary about his Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut, made by his son Sean, “is only on the [HD DVD and Blu-ray] because it doesn't fit into the two-disc [DVD].”

Paul Hemstreet, Warner Home Video VP of DVD special features, said his studio has had to educate some directors about high-def along the way.

“I know when we launched [Blu-ray and HD DVD] every [director] wanted to take part,” Hemstreet said. “Some are more knowledgeable than others.”

Most directors at least seem aware of the benefits — and pitfalls — of the clearer picture offered by HD. Sam Raimi said he was excited that Spider-Man 3 fans will be able to “appreciate it on Blu-ray Disc.” But he voiced a concern relevant to any animated or special effects-laden film on high-def: “I hope it doesn't reveal any of the mistakes we made.”

And then there are films that maybe shouldn't make it to high-def.

“My first experience was Animal House,” Landis lamented of the HD DVD. “When I saw what the technicians had done, I was horrified; they had made it bright and pretty! Animal House was deliberately dark and funky.

“They did adjust it, writing in their report ‘image degraded at director's request.’

Yet for all the benefits of high-def — better audio, 1080p video, more interactive special features — it all still comes down to the movie itself, according to director Kevin Reynolds.

“I used to be a major audiophile, but to me it's still about story and character,” Reynolds said. “You can have the worst video and audio quality, but if the story and characters work, you're on the edge of your seat.”

Clarity isn't always the directors' aim.

“To me, things look too good,” horror director Rob Zombie told Agent DVD.

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