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Insights from home entertainment industry experts. Home Media blogs give you the inside scoop on entertainment news, DVD and Blu-ray Disc releases, and the happenings at key studios and entertainment retailers. “TK's Take” analyzes and comments on home entertainment news and trends, “Agent DVD Insider” talks fanboy entertainment, “IndieFile” delivers independent film news, “Steph Sums It Up” offers pithy opinions on the state of the industry, and “Mike’s Picks” offers bite-sized recommendations of the latest DVD and Blu-ray releases.

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31 Dec, 2009

The 2000s in Review: TV

"Battlestar Galactica"
"Battlestar Galactica"

The 2000s proved to be a new golden age of television, not because the shows produced will be considered all-time classics. History has yet to be the judge in that regard. But the technological revolution in filmmaking has led to a general rise in quality and ambition of television productions. DVD allowed shows to free themselves from the shackles of weekly episodic formulas to tell grander stories on a larger scale. Viewers willing to keep up were treated to what basically amounted to 10- to 20-hour movies, like the epic miniseries of old.

DVD itself became the new syndication for older shows, giving audiences the convenience of watching what they wanted, when they wanted for as long as they wanted. In fact, TV DVD helped boost a stagnant home entertainment industry long enough to introduce the next-generation format, Blu-ray Disc. And though Internet viewing and other forms of electronic delivery have emerged as packaged media’s biggest challenge in attracting viewers, there’s still nothing quite like owning a show on disc.

Here are some of my favorite shows that began in the 2000s:

Battlestar Galactica (Universal) — Epic science-fiction at its best, examining human nature through the prism of the age-old conflict between parents and children, that plays like an 80-hour miniseries.

House (Universal) — This smart medical drama inspired by Sherlock Holmes led to a wave of procedurals headlined by acerbic mystery-solving loners.

The Big Bang Theory (Warner) — The geeks shall inherit the Earth in this witty upheaval of popular culture.

Lost (Disney) — In its complicated story arcs about airplane crash survivors stranded on a mysterious island, “Lost” took serialized television to a new level, answering the questions it raises with even more answers.

Firefly (Fox) — Joss Whedon’s space Western was too much for any network to handle, but endures thanks to an enthusiastic fan base willing to embrace a quirky sci-fi adventure about a rogue crew banding together against a hostile universe.

24 (Fox) — An action-thrill ride that changed the rules with a tightly plotted real-time storyline played out over a whole season that takes place in a single day, and an attitude that challenged the politically correct ethics of the time.

Deadwood (HBO) — Not just a compelling Western, "Deadwood" is a microcosm for the story of civilization, told over the course of three seasons of 12 episodes each. It’s all-too-abrupt end cries out for proper closure.

Band of Brothers (HBO) — Among the greatest mini-series ever produced, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks follow Saving Private Ryan into Europe during World War II, examining the tight-nit bond of soldiers in war.

30 Rock (Universal) — Industry satire might not appeal to everyone, but is especially hilarious to those in on the joke.

True Blood (HBO) — HBO’s adaptation of Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse novels puts a new spin on the vampire mythos, and fits in perfectly as the true spiritual successor to the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” legacy.

Family Guy (Fox) — Yes, technically the series is a product of the previous decade, having started in 1999. But in its cancellation and rebirth, the animated comedy became the poster child of the DVD era, proving there is indeed life beyond TV ratings.


30 Dec, 2009

2009: The Year ‘Star Trek’ Became Popular

<i>Star Trek</i>
<i>Star Trek</i>

It’s time to finally close the books on 2009, the year the world turned upside down. I know I’m not alone in thinking that at times during the past 12 months it has seemed like we’re living in some alternate reality, where down is up and up is down and people are flocking to see Star Trek.

In 2009, the venerable yet nerdy sci-fi franchise returned with a vengeance. J.J. Abrams’ “Trek” remake, itself about an alternate reality, is the perfect metaphor for our changing times. What’s old is new again, fresh off the line for a new generation of fans. I’ve encountered people I would have never in a million years suspected of liking anything to do with “Star Trek” suddenly loving this new movie, calling it awesome and beyond belief. The critics are in love with it. Audiences flocked to it more than any other film in the franchise.

And according to TorrentFreak, Star Trek is the most-pirated film of 2009. It claims this honor, much to Paramount’s chagrin, by beating Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. (Warner’s RockNRolla, with barely $25 million in worldwide box office, somehow came in third. Can we say “cult hit”). When mainstream and niche tastes collide, that says something.

People have asked me how I react to the new Star Trek movie, and I must say, as a long-time “Star Trek” viewer and fan, I’m a little dismayed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to see something called Star Trek do so well. But at the same time I look back and realize how much we’ve grown apart.

To me, Abrams’ Star Trek is a good action adventure movie, with great special effects and solid performances. But the problem I can’t get past is that it’s called Star Trek. Having seen everything that has ever been labeled as "Star Trek," I’m pretty well versed in what to expect from that universe.

When the film is trying to pull off a "Star Trek" moment, I’ve seen it before. Grandiose shot of the Enterprise being introduced as the music swells? It’s been done, and with ships I thought looked better. Time travel? Done. Ice planets? Done. Space battles? Done. Fights? Done.

The film tries to play off a nostalgia I don’t think it ever earned. Leonard Nimoy’s presence certainly contributes to this feeling, but also widens the rift. Part of the reason I endured with Star Trek before wasn’t just the characters, but an affection with the actors playing the parts. There was a certain satisfaction derived from the idea that this storyline was being played out over decades, with the same actors.

Someone tried to defend the film to me by saying it offered something we hadn’t seen before, the origin story. But I don’t think we needed that, really. I could accept that Starfleet was a military organization, and these people were assigned to this ship over time. And this isn’t really the origin story that applies to any of the characters we know. These are alternate versions of the characters. It’s a new start. So the connection to old "Trek" is lost.

I could probably accept this film easier if it were a straight reboot. Or another sci-fi experience. But it is trying to be "Star Trek." It is trying to have it both ways. It is trying to justify its reboot by connecting the plot to the previous incarnations of the franchise. While most people will undoubtedly dismiss this as just another gimmick and move past it, I am having trouble doing so. My long memory and affection for a majority of prior "Trek" experiences is forcing me to judge this film by its attempts to connect to the earlier versions of the franchise. On this level, I believe the film not only falters, but offends my sensibilities in the way it warps what came before. And I found what came before much more interesting that what it is now.

Well, to be honest, I found most of what came before to be better. My favorite of the shows was "Deep Space Nine," which ended in 1999. The subsequent series and movies after were disappointments to me, and when those came and went I moved on. But I wasn't unwelcoming of a new incarnation of "Star Trek."

However, the new film seems more influenced by Star Wars and Starship Troopers than "Star Trek." The characters are named the same and share traits with those we know from before. Ironically, “Stargate SG-1” warned us of what to expect, half joking that greedy studio bosses would try to make the story of "Stargate" sexier by casting younger versions of the team. That’s essentially what we are getting here.

Again, don't get me wrong. I love Star Wars. It's just I liked "Star Trek" in a different way. It's like a guy cheating on his blonde wife with a brunette, only to find the mistress trying to spice things up with a blonde wig.

Over time, I think, I will appreciate the new Star Trek for what it now is, and distinguish it from the franchise history I currently cannot divorce myself from. And that’s on me. I believe this process is already well underway, as I find myself re-watching scenes and admiring the craftsmanship. Other aspects, such as the over-the-top factory look of the engineering sets, are too hard to accept.

With time, and sequels to come, I will probably experience these new "Trek" films for the distinct entities they are, and not what they are attempting to replace. But I think a part of me, like a ghost in the nexus, will always look back and feel a tinge of regret that something has been lost in the translation.

Like living in an alternate reality, it’s going to take some getting used to.


29 Dec, 2009

A ‘Paranormal’ Boxed Set

The online-exclusive <i>Paranormal Activity</i> set
The online-exclusive <i>Paranormal Activity</i> set

The last week of 2009 offered a few new releases to round out the year, but most interesting is the release strategy for Paramount's Paranormal Activity.

Fans of the supernatural sleeper hit can get a limited-edition gift set of the film on DVD that also includes a collectible trading card with a film cel from the movie, and an individually numbered T-shirt.

The catch is that this DVD collector’s set can only be ordered online. Though it doesn’t appear to be exclusive to any particular retailer, the official Paranormal Activity Web site links to Amazon.com, which offers the set at $37.99.

Walmart.com has the set for $37.86, Target.com has it for $38.19 and BN.com (Barnes & Noble) has it for $52.19. By comparison, Target has the regular DVD at $15.99 and Best Buy has the regular DVD at $16.99, and both have the Blu-ray at $24.99.

Curiously, none of the major retailers decided to promote the online exclusive in their weekly ad circulars as a means of driving traffic to their Web sites.

Best Buy also offered a couple of TV DVD exclusives. Shoppers could save $5 off the Glee: Season 1 Vol. 1 DVD with purchase of a “Glee” soundtrack, and United States of Tara: Season 1 came with the first two episodes of “Nurse Jackie.”

The primary in-store focus of retailers seems to be clearing inventory and promoting hot recent releases at discounted prices. Several recent TV DVD releases could be had for as little as $9.99 a season, depending on where you look. Most boxed sets were offered at less than $20, with the median price coming in around $17.99.

Best Buy also had a savings of $5 with purchase of any two Disney titles “before they go into the vault.” The selection includes Sleeping Beauty, The Jungle Book and 101 Dalmatians.


22 Dec, 2009

Busy Week for Holiday Sales

Best Buy's <i>District 9</i> and <i>Family Guy</i> exclusives
Best Buy's <i>District 9</i> and <i>Family Guy</i> exclusives

Retailers spent the week before Christmas more focused on sales of previously released titles rather than the new stuff. But that doesn’t mean a few new releases didn’t get some love.

Best Buy led the way with 50% off all HBO series on disc, as well as a stocking stuffer promotion. Buyers could get a $5 gift card with the purchase of two qualifying DVDs or $10 with the purchase of two Blu-rays of titles from the same list. The eligible discs include a lot of movies released in the past year, such as Up, Angels & Demons, Public Enemies, Inglourious Basterds, Watchmen, Twilight and Bolt.

Best Buy also had exclusives on two new releases. For District 9, the chain offers a limited-edition Blu-ray set with a flak jacket and production notes for $29.99, $10 more than the regular Blu-ray edition.

For Family Guy: Something, Something, Something, Dark Side, the new parody of The Empire Strikes Back, Best Buy has a $29.99 collector’s set consisting of the Blu-ray version and a T-shirt inside a retro lunchbox.

18 Dec, 2009

Shout! Factory Offers TV DVD Sets Exclusively Online

Our friends at Shout! Factory are at it again. Well known for an ability to put to market TV DVD product that other studios don’t seem willing or able to release, Shout! Factory is now preparing to offer a line of products directly to the consumer through ShoutFactoryStore.com.

Starting Jan. 19, TV DVD collectors will be able to order new seasons of their favorite shows, such as Mr. Belvedere: Season Four (three-DVD set) with commentaries by creator and cast; Room 222: Season Two (four-DVD set); My Two Dads: Season Two (three-DVD set); and Ironside: Season Three (seven-DVD set).

After that, new titles will roll out monthly, such as The Bill Cosby Show: Season Two (four-DVD set), The Goldbergs: The Complete Series (six-DVD set) and The Adventures of Sonic The Hedgehog Vol. Three (four-DVD set).

I actually had a chance to speak with Shout! Factory president Garson Foos a few months back about this release strategy, which he teased as his answer to the manufacturing-on-demand system offered by Amazon.com and Warner. He said the idea was to order limited runs of the DVD sets, which would be pressed copies, not DVD-Rs that are more prone to wear out over time.

Offering them directly to the consumer gives fans a chance to complete their collection, and ordering limited supplies cuts down on the distributor’s liability if they don’t sell as well as hoped.

Since selling direct to the consumer worked so well for Shout! Factory with its boxed sets of “Transformers” and “G.I. Joe” cartoons, this strategy just seems to make sense. And if demand turns out to be strong enough, there’s nothing stopping a wider retail release down the line.


17 Dec, 2009

Best Buy Joins the Dark Side

Best Buy will have a nifty exclusive collector’s set of Family Guy: Something, Something, Something, Dark Side, which hits stores Dec. 22 from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

The special family guy episode is an hour-long parody of the plot of The Empire Strikes Back. The Best Buy set will include the Blu-ray packed in a retro lunchbox styled after the Empire lunchbox from 1980, but with the “Family Guy” characters. There’s also a T-shirt featuring Ernie the Giant Chicken as Boba Fett (I assure you, “Family Guy” fans will not only understand that sentence, but will find it rather hilarious).

Best Buy is currently pre-selling the set on its Web site for $29.99.

15 Dec, 2009

These ‘Basterds’ Have a ‘Hangover’

Best Buy's <i>Hangover</i> Blu-ray with T-Shirt
Best Buy's <i>Hangover</i> Blu-ray with T-Shirt

Studios are loading up the weeks before Christmas with a slew of hot new releases. For Dec. 15, the line-up includes three blockbuster films: Warner Home Video’s The Hangover, Universal’s Inglourious Basterds and Disney’s G-Force.

As far as exclusives go, retailers tended to favor The Hangover and Basterds.

Target packed a copy of the Las Vegas Zagat restaurant guide to its copies of the two-DVD special edition of The Hangover and included a CD soundtrack with the Blu-ray and special-edition DVD of Inglourious Basterds.

Best Buy offered an exclusive behind-the-scenes interview with director Quentin Tarantino with its special-edition DVD and Blu-ray of Basterds.

For The Hangover, Best Buy is offering a free Blu-ray copy of the film with purchase of an eligible Blu-ray Player (check out the list at BestBuy.com/BlurayOffer). Best Buy also has a free T-shirt packed onto select copies of the Blu-ray in-store (available at $10 more than the regular BD version), and was selling the CD soundtrack of the film for just $5.99.

Best Buy also offered a savings of $6 off the purchase of any version of G-Force and the DVD for Wizards of Waverly Place: The Movie (on sale for $15.99).

Michael Jackson fans who preorder This Is It (out Jan. 26 from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) at Best Buy can get an exclusive steelbook case for the film. Best Buy also was selling the Blu-ray of Boogie Nights, which it has exclusively, for $24.99.


8 Dec, 2009

‘Potter’ Leads the Way With Retailer Exclusives

Best Buy and Target "Harry Potter" Exclusives
Best Buy and Target "Harry Potter" Exclusives

Dec. 8 saw several major releases come to DVD and Blu-ray, with retailers offering exclusives with no less than four of them.

The most visible of the new titles was easily Warner’s Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the sixth film in the franchise, and its release spearheaded a slew of new “Potter” merchandise.

Best Buy offered the Blu-ray of the new film in special Death Eater mask packaging at $33.99 (the regular Blu-ray is offered at $17.99). This follows the previous week’s Best Buy exclusive release of Terminator: Salvation in packaging resembling a Terminator endoskull, so these special mask packages are nothing new for Warner titles. It is worth noting, however, that last year’s big “mask” title, The Dark Knight, was a Target exclusive.

This year, Target offered special lenticular packaging with its version of the two-DVD special edition of Half-Blood Prince, at $26.99. Target also offered exclusive extended cuts of the first two “Potter” films on DVD at $15 each. These are basically slimmed down versions of the Ultimate Collector’s Edition sets, without the various collectibles in the widespread releases.

Target also offered earlier “Harry Potter” DVDs at $7.50 each.

Wal-Mart had DVDs packed with "The Marauder's Map" (from the "Noble Collection") for $24.96. Those looking for the Blu-ray of the movie could get it at some Wal-Marts for $15. As usual, different Wal-Marts tend to have different prices on the same title, and some offered the exclusive map while others didn't. A Wal-Mart in Long Beach, Calif., offered an extensive "Harry Potter" display that included not just DVDs, but books, T-shirts, toys and games.

Best Buy touted $20 savings off any Half-Blood Prince video game.

Sony Pictures’ Julie & Julia proved popular for exclusive treatment. Target offered a two-DVD deluxe edition with the 90-minute documentary “Julia Child’s Kitchen Wisdom,” at $22.99. Best Buy offered the DVD with the book upon which the movie is based. And Wal-Mart paired the DVD with a copy of another Meryl Streep starrer, Postcards From the Edge.

Barnes & Noble offered $6 off Julie & Julia with the purchase of the latest issue of Food & Wine Magazine. Since the magazine carries a cover price of about $4.50, the discount is pretty much a wash, especially since BN’s in-store price for the DVD is $26.09, which equals the list price minus a 10% new-release discount (Of course, BN members can get an extra 10% off, but it hardly seems worth it).

For Universal’s gangster flick Public Enemies, Target offered exclusive production notes with the two-DVD and Blu-ray versions. Best Buy did them one better, offering exclusive behind-the-scenes footage and background of John Dillinger, also with the Blu-ray and two-DVD sets. Best Buy had other Universal gangster films, such as Scarface, Casino and American Gangster, for $6.99 each.

Finally, Disney’s Lost: The Complete Fifth Season at Best Buy came in exclusive packaging with a Dharma luggage tag and a bonus disc containing additional scenes and content, including “Lost on Location: This Place Is Death” — an inside look at a landmark episode and the return of the smoke monster.

On the non-exclusive front, hardcore “Lost” fans can pick up a special Dharma Initiative Orientation Kit version of the fifth season, containing an orientation film on VHS, brochures of the Dharma camp, patches and a music CD. The set was going for $75 and more at the few retailers that actually stocked it, so online is probably the best bet for those fans who really want it. The set comes with four Dharma uniform logo patches, but a lucky few boxes contain a special fifth patch.

Best Buy also offered an array of Disney Blu-ray titles, such as Pinocchio, A Bug’s Life, Cars, Wall-E, Monsters, Inc. and the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies in exclusive steelbook packaging at $29.99 each.

7 Dec, 2009

'Ponyo,' 'Saw VI,' 'Whip It,' 'Fame' Heading to Disc

Saw 6
Saw 6

Lionsgate Jan. 26 (order date Dec. 30) releases both the theatrical and unrated cuts of Saw VI.

Both unrated and ‘R’-rated configurations will be available on DVD ($29.95) and include a “Jigsaw Revealed” featurette, “The Traps of Saw VI” featurette, “A Killer Maze: Making Saw Game Over” featurette, music videos and the original theatrical trailer. The unrated DVDs also include two audio commentaries.

For some reason the theatrical version is presented in full screen mode (4:3 ratio), so it won’t fill a HDTV screen. It seems the studio is more keen on the unrated version, as that is the only version on the Blu-ray ($39.99), which also includes all the extras from the unrated DVD, as well as BD Live-enabled extras.

All three versions of Saw VI will contain the original Saw, so viewers can “see where it all began.”

A Saw VI digital download also will be available at $19.99.

Disney will release Hayao Miyazaki’s Ponyo on DVD ($29.99) and Blu-ray ($39.99) March 2 (order date Jan. 19). Extras include the interactive “The World of Ghibli,” which lets users explore the worlds from different Miyazaki films; and “Behind the Studio,” which details the making of the film.

Fox Jan. 26 (order date Dec. 30) presents Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut, Whip It, on DVD ($29.98) and Blu-ray ($39.99). The film stars Ellen Page (Juno) as a teenager who follows the allure of Roller Derby. Extras on both the DVD and Blu-ray include an alternate opening plus deleted and extended scenes. The Blu-ray also includes “Writers Draft With Shauna Cross” and a digital copy.

MGM, through distributor 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, releases the remake of Fame Jan. 12 (order date Dec. 16). Both DVD ($29.98) and Blu-ray ($39.99) editions include both the theatrical and an extended cut of the film, deleted scenes, a music video, character profiles, the Fame National Talent Search finalist, and “The Dances of Fame.” The Blu-ray also includes a digital copy.

1 Dec, 2009

A Few ‘Terminator’ Surprises

(L-R): Target's and Best Buy's 'Terminator' exclusives
(L-R): Target's and Best Buy's 'Terminator' exclusives

With stores transitioning into full holiday shopping mode following Black Friday, Dec. 1 saw a sparse new-release slate topped by two major films, both sequels — Terminator: Salvation and Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.

With 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment offering Museum in a special Monkey Mischief DVD configuration in addition to the regular DVD and Blu-ray releases, most retailers looked to the fourth “Terminator” film as fodder for exclusives.

Target had the most notable exclusive, offering a two-DVD special edition set at $22.99, which includes the director’s cut, a few featurettes and a digital copy. Otherwise, the only way to get the director’s cut is on the wide-release Blu-ray version, which also includes the theatrical cut and several extras. The regular Terminator: Salvation DVD has the theatrical cut and no extras.

Best Buy offered a $34.99 version of the Blu-ray that comes in an exclusive Terminator endoskull case. The No. 1 consumer electronics retailer also had the Terminator: Salvation — The Machinima Series spinoff at $4.99, or free with purchase of the Terminator: Salvation video game ($19.99).

Wal-Mart didn’t have any exclusive editions, but a check of several Southern California stores revealed some pricing anomalies. A Wal-Mart in Huntington Beach had the Terminator: Salvation DVD for $14.96 and the Blu-ray for $19.96, while a store in Long Beach had the DVD for $19.96 and the Blu-ray version for $15.96.