Home Entertainment Big at Con
28 Jul, 2008
By: Stephanie Prange
ôTorchwoodö executive producer Julie Gardner (left) and star John Barrowman during a panel.
SAN DIEGO — Studios and retailers including Blockbuster Inc. and Best Buy took to the floor at Comic-Con International 2008 to promote home entertainment to the fan enthusiast — and not just entertainment on DVD and Blu-ray Disc.
Blockbuster had a strong presence at Warner's booth, displaying its previously announced prototype digital file kiosks whereby consumers can rent, download and purchase movies. The kiosks, which are being tested in select Dallas-area Blockbuster stores, let consumers download movies to portable devices in less than two minutes. Currently, downloads work only with Archos portable media devices. However, Blockbuster is aiming to have its kiosks eventually download to most portable media devices. The company hopes to roll out the kiosks to all stores within three years.
“Comic-Con is a great venue to reach a tech-savvy, entertainment-focused audience,” said Blockbuster spokesperson Karen Raskopf. “It's the perfect venue for us to spread the word that … we're the new Blockbuster, and we're reaching out to consumers in new ways.”
Separately, Blockbuster is quietly beta testing its Movielink download service, which will be incorporated into a revamped Blockbuster Web site to be launched later this summer. Subscriptions for downloads are not required. Individual movie rental files start from $1.99; $7.99 for a movie purchase and $1.99 for TV program purchase, payable by credit card.
Meanwhile, Best Buy shared space at the New Line booth, selling DVDs as Tower Records and Video used to do before it dissolved.
Blu-ray demonstrations were ubiquitous on the show floor as well.
On the program was the traditional DVD producers panel hosted by Bill Hunt of TheDigitalBits.com. This year, it focused on Blu-ray.
Panelists said Blu-ray will require a new strategy in restoring movies because of its higher resolution. Film grain and older high-definition transfers in less than 1080p resolution will require studios and DVD producers to take a new look at older films.
“The transfers that they did even a few years ago — high-definition transfers — are not good enough,” Hunt noted.
DVD producer Robert Meyer Burnett agreed: “A lot of movies were done as 1080i transfers. They are not acceptable.”
With some classic movies, film grain is more perceptible on Blu-ray.
“If directors had the same film stock they have today, there would be no grain,” Burnett said.
Some studios are removing some of the grain, but “removing some of the grain removes some of the actual detail,” Hunt said.
Also, Hunt noted, some films, such as gritty war movies, are supposed to show grain.“Recapturing the theatrical experience” should be the goal, Hunt said.
The audience expressed support for Blu-ray, with many of them raising their hands when Hunt asked how many had a player. One panel attendee said she went out and spent $3,500 to buy an HDTV home theater system when Blu-ray won the format war.A fan asked if the producers are doing more extras for Blu-ray.
“There is more discussion about shooting things specifically for Blu-ray,” said DVD producer Charles de Lauzirika.
Picture-in-picture commentaries are requiring that they shoot video instead of just recording audio, they said.
BD Live's Web-connected capabilities may not be used to the best advantage with games and social networking, some said.
“What better social experience with movies is there than going to a packed movie theater?” Lauzirika asked. “I don't want to sit on my couch and watch Bobafet35 saying, ‘Oh, I love that scene.’
Producer Cliff Stephenson noted, “The thing that BD Live can do for you is ... be able to add content,” such as live commentaries.
The home entertainment theme ran throughout the programming and parties at Comic-Con. Fox hosted an elaborate party and screening July 24 for Stargate: Continuum, which premieres exclusively on DVD and Blu-ray July 29. Major stars of the show's many incarnations, including Richard Dean Anderson, Amanda Tapping, Michael Shanks, Ben Browder, Beau Bridges and Chris Judge, showed up to see the film on the USS Midway aircraft carrier in the harbor near the convention center.
Executive producer Brad Wright announced July 25 MGM is interested in a third “Stargate” direct-to-video movie.
On the convention floor, the “Stargate” booth included a large-scale Stargate replica that played video clips and served as the jumping point for fans who signed up for a scavenger hunt.At a standing-room-only panel for the ABC Family show “The Middlemen,” creator and executive producer Javier Grillo-Marxuach, who arrived with star Matt Keeslar, told fans, “I've basically volunteered to record all the commentaries for all of the episodes.” He also said they taped the readthroughs of every episode of the show, for possible use on the DVD. “We started the show kind of prepared for [DVD],” he said. Voice talent, writers and producers for the classic Steven Spielberg-produced cartoons “Tiny Toon Adventures” and “Freakazoid” (due July 29 from Warner Home Video) reminisced and promoted the DVD. Dark Castle Entertainment held a star-studded panel featuring the likes of Gerard Butler (300), who stars in the upcoming Guy Ritchie-helmed RocknRolla. Dark Castle also previewed some of the DTV titles coming soon as part of an arrangement with CIT Group Inc. (releasing through Warner Premiere), including the incredibly gory The Hills Run Red, coming to DVD in 2009. Tommy Yune, director of Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles, confirmed details about the future of “Robotech,” including the live-action film, slated for a 2010 theatrical release (according to IMDb.com) from Warner, with Tobey Maguire signed on as a producer and star. In light of the theatrical announcement, the next title in the “Robotech” DTV series has been postponed, after being previewed at last year's Comic-Con. Additionally, a Blu-ray Disc of the 2006 animated DTV title Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles was announced, streeting Sept. 2, with more bonus features than were included on the DVD, such as additional deleted scenes and leftover material from the scrapped Robotech 3000 animated project. Anchor Bay Entertainment previewed Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer, starring Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger of “Nightmare on Elm Street”) as a professor who becomes a tentacled monster. The DVD, which includes a special feature on the original orchestral score, streets Oct. 7. Writer/director Dan Waters promoted the Anchor Bay December Blu-ray release of Heathers, which recently was re-released on DVD to celebrate the dark teen comedy's 20th anniversary. Writer/director Robert Hall previewed the horror film Laid to Rest. The film is slated for a limited theatrical run in February 2009, with a DVD release to follow from Anchor Bay. Lionsgate and Marvel screened the upcoming Hulk vs. Wolverine, a brutal, 33-minute animated film coming to DVD and Blu-ray Disc in January 2009. That same month will see the DVD and Blu-ray release of Hulk vs. Thor; future Lionsgate/Marvel animated DTV titles include Tales of Asgard, Planet Hulk and The Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow on DVD and Blu-ray Sept. 2. Triumph the Insult Comic Dog berated any and all nerds in attendance (Triumph Addresses Comic-Con 2008), while introducing a panel celebrating Comedy Central's “TV Funhouse,” which hit DVD July 22. The short-lived show was co-created by Robert Smigel, who reflected on some of the sketches with his fellow writers and showed clips. Cast members of the “Doctor Who” spinoff “Torchwood” reflected on the first two seasons of the show, and even broke into song. The second season debuts on DVD Sept. 16 from BBC Video, and the first season hits Blu-ray this fall. The second-season DVD, according to star John Barrowman, will showcase some of the pranks cast members play on each other. BBC America next year will air season three, which producer Julie Gardner said will be just five episodes, but focus on a single story arc. Cinema Libre Studios acquired distribution rights for the Indiana Jones homage Indyfans and the Quest for Fortune and Glory. The documentary will be released on DVD Oct. 7 (prebook Aug. 26) at $12.95. Stan Lee has partnered with The Walt Disney Co. to create exclusive digital content distributed online and via portable media devices such as the iPod. Through his POW Entertainment production company, Lee will develop his latest creation, Time Jumper, into content for various digital channels, including mobile phones. Warner Bros. Digital Distribution and Warner Premiere bowed a series of online short-form videos featuring renditions of DC Comics graphic novels “Watchmen: Motion Comic” and “Batman: Mad Love.” The “Mad Love” video debuted July 22 for download on Xbox Live and Verizon Wireless' V Cast. Available Aug. 2 on the iTunes Store for $1.99 per episode, the premiere of “Watchmen: Motion Comic” is streaming for free through the end of the month via Entertainment Weekly's Web site. A Watchmen theatrical release is planned for 2009. Additional reporting by Billy Gil, John Latchem, Erik Gruenwedel and Carrie Widder