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Universal Unveils Blu-ray Disc Plans

By : Thomas K. Arnold | Posted: 17 Apr 2008

Beginning this summer with Doomsday, Universal Studios Home Entertainment will release all of its new releases the same day on DVD and Blu-ray Disc, division president Craig Kornblau announced April 17.

The studio that was once Hollywood's top supporter of the failed HD DVD format threw its support behind Blu-ray the day format developer Toshiba officially threw in the towel two months ago, but without any details.

Now, Kornblau said, he's ready to go public with Universal Studio's Blu-ray strategy, which includes plans to release approximately 40 titles in the second half of this year.

Among them: the studio's five big feature films of the summer, including The Incredible Hulk, with Edward Norton, William Hurt and Liv Tyler; Wanted, the action thriller from director Timur Bekmambetov that stars Morgan Freeman and Angelina Jolie; Guillermo del Toro's Hellboy II: The Golden Army; Mamma Mia, the adaptation of the Abba musical, starring Meryl Streep; and the sequel The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, with Jet Li, Maria Bello and Michelle Yeoh joining the returning Brendan Fraser and John Hannah.

“We're thrilled that our preliminary slate of Blu-ray offerings comprises such a brilliant collection of high-def-centric fare,” Kornblau said.

Universal will officially enter the Blu-ray Disc market on July 22 with a trio of films from its “Mummy” action-adventure franchise: The Mummy and The Mummy Returns, both starring Fraser, and the spinoff The Scorpion King, with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

Also planned for domestic Blu-ray Disc before the year is up are catalog titles American Gangster, Knocked Up, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Miami Vice, End of Days, U-571 and Land of the Dead, among others.

“We are taking great care in mining our library for those properties we feel precisely hit that high-def ‘sweet spot' and best deliver on the promise of providing consumers with the state-of-the-art home-viewing experience,” Kornblau said.

The second season of the hit TV series “Heroes” will be Universal Studios' first global Blu-ray Disc release, with a worldwide release date set for Aug. 26, the same day as the DVD. Universal Studios Home Entertainment will release the title in North America, while Universal Pictures International Entertainment, NBC Universal's international home entertainment arm, will release it in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Japan.

Also coming Aug. 26 will be season one of “Heroes,” which Universal released on HD DVD exactly one year before.

Universal's international Blu-ray slate will consist of 29 titles this year, including the five big theatricals as well as such catalog titles as The Mummy, Gladiator, American Gangster, Miami Vice, Casino and The Thing.

“I am delighted that highly anticipated feature films and TV titles from one of Universal's strongest lineups ever will be available on Blu-Ray for the first time,” said Eddie Cunningham, president of Universal Pictures International Entertainment.

Universal had been HD DVD's biggest studio backer ever since the next-generation optical-disc format came to market in April 2006. But when Toshiba conceded defeat in the format war on Feb. 19 Kornblau wasted no time in switching his allegiance.

He's also firmly committed to BD Live — which allows Blu-ray Discs to be connected to the Internet for variety of Web-enabled special features, from additional content to real-time chats with fellow viewers — although the studio is not yet ready to announce any firm plans.

“Creating Web-enabled content for our Blu-ray releases is a top priority at Universal,” Kornblau said. “We are aggressively pursuing some very exciting opportunities for our tentpole titles that are nothing short of groundbreaking. Our BD Live features will create a wholly immersive, interactive environment that will connect movie fans in innovative ways.”

The HD DVD format Universal exclusively supported for so long offered Web connectivity from the start, and the studio aggressively exploited this ability through such features as a virtual store that allowed viewers to buy items they saw in the movie with a couple of clicks of the remote.


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