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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.


Opinion
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19 Dec, 2014

Forever Changes


It’s been quite a year, but one without any really big, transformational changes.

Netflix and streaming are still the way most people “rent” movies. Blu-ray Disc and DVD remain home entertainment’s cash cow. Electronic sellthrough, despite its fancy new “Digital HD” name, remains a small part of the overall business. And UltraViolet, in the minds of most people, still refers to those rays from the sun you want to avoid.

What’s in store for 2015? To echo those immortal words from the Beach Boys, God only knows.

The No. 1 goal among the content providers — the studios — is the same as it’s always been: to maximize profits from movies after they finish their run on the big screen. Streaming, much like its predecessor, physical movie rental, doesn’t really accomplish that, particularly under the subscription model — which is why Netflix, the king of the streamers, has so many old and little-known movies the studios don’t really care about.

The studios, of course, would like nothing more than to give up the hassles of manufacturing and distributing physical product — and, of course, dealing with returns — but the fact remains that selling discs to consumers continues to generate the most money, by far. EST promises incredible margins, but if we take off the rose-colored glasses I think we will realize that EST sales will never approach the magnitude of Blu-ray Disc, much less DVD. When DVD first came out consumers bought and collected movies and TV shows because they had never been able to do so before, at least not in an affordable, easy-to-store way; by the time Blu-ray Disc came around we collectively realized we don’t necessarily need to own every movie ever made, no matter how good the quality or how small the package. And buying a download just doesn’t have the same appeal as buying a physical product, particularly among the impulse shopper.

Which leaves us with streaming, of the subscription kind pioneered, and dominated, by Netflix. The studios, in their quest to sell movies to consumers, would like very much to put the streaming genie back into the proverbial bottle, but we all know that’s not going to happen.
This is not to say, however, that subscription streaming, and Netflix, will remain the dominant way consumers consume entertainment indefinitely. Just as MySpace was done in by Facebook, someone, somewhere, is going to eventually come up with an even more convenient way to bring entertainment into the home — and whether that someone is the studios or a savvy third-party player like Netflix is anyone’s guess.

If Amazon does, in fact, introduced a free video service, supported by advertising, as the New York Post reported last month, Netflix could be in store for serious challenge — or not. One reason home video took off in the first place is that we wanted to enjoy our favorite movies and TV shows without those incessant commercials. We didn’t mind paying for commercial-free programming then, and I don’t see that changing.

The only really big change I see in the not-too-distant future is the emergence of 4K Ultra-HD, which at last promises to bring a true theatrical movie-watching experience to the home. But, again, we don’t know how fast or how slow it will happen — or whether it will be a boom, like DVD, or a bust, like 3D (although I personally believe we may be on to something big, really big).

Changes, forever changes. That’s just how this business rolls.


19 Dec, 2014

Controversy a Roadblock to Release

The Interview
The Interview

The damaging cyber attack against Sony Pictures, which most speculate North Korean hackers launched as punishment for production of the film The Interview, may have put the comedy in the can permanently. Originally scheduled for theatrical release Christmas day, The Interview, about reporters attempting to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, may never officially see the light of day, even on home video. Sony pulled the theatrical launch after threats to movie theaters, and the home video release is up in the air.

While the situation is unprecedented, it will not be the first big studio title to never get an official release in the U.S. home entertainment market. Home entertainment fans have long clamored to see Disney’s Song of the South, based on the Uncle Remus stories and featuring the Academy Award-winning song “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah,” but it has never been released officially on home video in its entirety in the United States. The 1946 musical’s subject matter, which has not aged well in these enlightened times and which many find racist, has kept that film off cassette and disc (at least officially). Certain other countries and pirates have released the title, but U.S. fans may only see it in snippets on other home entertainment releases, such as the Brer Rabbit animated segments, which are the basis for Disneyland’s Splash Mountain attraction.

Other content with touchy subject matter, racist or otherwise, from the early days of film and cartoons is also stuck in the vault and has not been released on home video.

While The Interview is quite different from Song of the South, controversy haunts both. A terrible controversy such as the one facing Sony seems to be a very damaging wound that could kill a film’s video release. Studios are backers of the First Amendment — to a point. Studios are corporations, with responsibilities to stockholders, business partners and their own employees, whose private emails and other information have leaked for everyone to see. The legal heat may prove too searing for a studio that could be blamed for basically any attack associated with the film, cyber or otherwise.

Still, that doesn’t mean viewers will never see The Interview. Like Song of the South, The Interview will likely be bootlegged. Already, pirated scenes are leaking out on the Web, and, likely, hackers will beat Sony’s attackers at their own game and disseminate a copy online. But, officially, a home entertainment release may have hit a permanent roadblock, meaning Sony will take another hit and so will free speech.


16 Dec, 2014

Retailers Show 'Turtle' Power

Walmart's TMNT BD gift set
Walmart's TMNT BD gift set

The big retailers celebrated the Dec. 16 disc release of Paramount’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by trying to prove which one had the most “Turtle Power.”

Target offered a wide array of exclusives. First, it offered the Blu-ray combo pack (not the 3D edition) in four different character slipcovers, one for each of the Turtles. These special editions also included 30 minutes of exclusive bonus content. In addition, Target offered a free pizza and soda at the Target Café with purchase of the movie (copies of which were on display at the Café).

Not to be outdone, Walmart offered a gift set of the 2D Blu-ray with four Turtles figurines, and also the DVD edition with a Vudu.com digital copy.

Best Buy’s BD combo pack in a steelbook case seemed rather tame by comparison.

The 2D Blu-ray combo packs at all the stores came with free ninja masks.

Walmart offered the DVD of Fox’s The Maze Runner with the DVD of Chronicle.

Target offered a $5 discount with purchase of The Maze Runner on disc and any book in the series.

Among other exclusives, Best Buy had Anchor Bay’s Black Sails: The Complete First Season on DVD and Blu-ray early, well before the Jan. 6 wide release.

Target offered a 10% discount on all movies and TV shows on disc through its Carthwheel coupon app.

Walmart had exclusive availability of the DVD of the first season of “Survivor’s Remorse.”


15 Dec, 2014

New on Disc: 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington' and more …


Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (Blu-ray)

Sony Pictures, Drama, $19.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Claude Rains, Edward Arnold.
1939.
Sony has given Mr. Smith the kind of deluxe treatment we don’t see very often from them anymore, a 75th anniversary treatment of a top-drawer Frank Capra film that looks better than it has in decades with its lustrous black-and-white visuals.
Extras: The Blu-ray boasts recycled but standout featurettes from the long-ago DVD release and digibook packaging with a Jeremy Arnold essay and the kind of glossy, high-test paper stock that gives still photos super-snap. Revered academic Jeanine Basinger from Wesleyan University talks of her works with the Capra archive, and the late Frank Jr. (on his commentary and several featurettes recorded many years ago) really knew how to communicate an anecdote.
Read the Full Review

Safe

Criterion, Drama, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, ‘R’ for a sex scene and brief language.
Stars Julianne Moore, Xander Berkeley.
1995.
Writer-director Todd Haynes’ second feature was filmed just as lead Julianne Moore was coming into her own. She plays a vapid but not unsympathetic upscale San Fernando homemaker whose unexplained allergies may be in her mind yet at least to some degree have to be real. The tone here is almost exactly the opposite of what we got in disease-of-the-week TV movies from the same era, though this is actually a 1995 release set in the late ’80s with the symbolic aura of AIDS hanging over more story threads than not, though AIDS is never specifically mentioned.
Extras: Haynes and producer Christine Vachon have it exactly right on the supplements here when they emphasize that many or even most critics didn’t know what to make of the film. Moore has a tough role, though to hear her speak in a kinetic 36-minute Haynes-Moore discussion here, she seems to have to had an automatic sense of what her character was about and even where to place herself in — or take advantage of — Haynes’ striking framing. Included on this release as well is an early and once thought-to-be-lost 1978 Haynes short called The Suicide, about a bullied male teen.
Read the Full Review


9 Dec, 2014

'Guardians' of Exclusives

Walmart and Best Buy exclusive 'Guardians of the Galaxy' covers
Walmart and Best Buy exclusive 'Guardians of the Galaxy' covers

Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy was the title with the biggest retail exclusives Dec. 9, but the promotions weren’t as high-impact as those for some other blockbuster releases earlier in the year.

For those who prefer extra content, Target offered an exclusive bonus featurette through its TargetTicket.com streaming service.

For exclusive covers, Best Buy offered the 3D Blu-ray in a steelbook case designed to resemble the Walkman prop used in the film. Walmart offered the 3D Blu-ray with a selection of embossed character sleeves, one for each of the five team members.

Among other new releases, Best Buy offered CBS’s Under the Dome: Season 2 on DVD and Blu-ray with an exclusive bonus disc.

Walmart offered a special double-feature DVD two-pack pairing Warner’s Dolphin Tale 2 with the first movie. It also paired the Sony Pictures football drama When the Game Stands Tall with Rudy in both DVD and Blu-ray two-pack configurations.


8 Dec, 2014

New on Disc: 'Flaming Star' and more …


Flaming Star (Blu-ray)

Available via ScreenArchives.com
Twilight Time, Western, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Elvis Presley, Steve Forrest, Barbara Eden, Dolores Del Rio.
1960.
Flaming Star is the picture that marked the beginning of the end of any chance Elvis had to become a serious actor, despite being one in a handful of contenders for the best narrative movie the singer ever made. Director Don Siegel and cinematographer Charles C. Clarke handle CinemaScope well for a Blu-ray presentation that significantly betters the old DVD — with bountiful interior scenes that are rarely static and an outdoor set that sticks the memory as the next thing to another character in the movie.
Extras: Twilight Time’s Nick Redman and frequent collaborator Lem Dobbs discuss The King’s film career on the commentary.
Read the Full Review

American Masters: Bing Crosby Rediscovered

PBS, Documentary, $24.99 DVD, NR.
2014.
This is a portrait so on point that the only disappointment is the 85-minute running time when Bing Crosby is a subject that easily could have gone a full two hours. The organizational skills here are exemplary, with compact sections devoted to music and movies, the relationship with Bob Hope, Crosby’s war effort and popularization of golf, his pioneering history with tape recording (both audio and visual) and relationships with both of his families (one stormy and even tragic and one not).
Read the Full Review
 


5 Dec, 2014

Top DVD and Blu-ray Gift Sets for the Holidays 2014


What makes for a great gift set? Is it an old TV favorites making its way to home video for the first time, or a hit movie packaged with an awesome collectible? Is it as simple as simple as finding new ways to bundle popular franchises? Perhaps remastering the content for high-definition can offer a fresh perspective of a classic on Blu-ray.

In any case, it’s the content that matters, and studios are finding bigger and more creative ways to bring that content to the fans who love it. To get you started on your holiday shopping, we count down our top 10 boxed sets for the holiday season.

1. Batman: The Complete Television Series
Warner/Fox; $199.70 DVD, $269.97 Blu-ray

Holy boxed sets! The campy 1960s “Batman” TV series was one of the most-anticipated home video releases of all time, and now it’s finally here. The limited-edition Blu-ray is an essential addition to any Batman collection, including not only all 120 episodes beautifully remastered for high-definition on 13 discs, but also retrospective bonus features, a Batmobile replica, trading cards and a photo book from Batman himself, Adam West. Warner will be reissuing the Blu-ray set as a slimmed-down version without any of the collectibles.

2. The Wonder Years: The Complete Series
StarVista; $249.95 DVD; Available via TimeLife.com

The only other TV show possibly as coveted on home video as “Batman” was probably “The Wonder Years,” and fans got that one too in 2014. The direct-mail Time Life collector’s edition includes all 115 episodes on 26 discs, packaged in yearbook replicas stored in a miniature school locker with decorative magnets. Plus, the cast of the 1988-93 series has reunited for 23 hours of bonus features. Hardcore fans can get “The Experience” for $299.95, a bundle of the boxed set with a Kennedy Jr. High gym bag, Wildcats gear and a newly produced CD.

3. Transformers: Age of Extinction Gift Set (Amazon exclusive)
Paramount; $119.99 Blu-ray/DVD combo

This is a must-have for “Transformers” fans. The film itself might leave a lot to be desired, but the chief selling point here is the exquisitely sculpted statue depicting the scene of Autobot leader Optimus Prime riding into battle atop the Dinobot Grimlock. The only downside is the included Blu-ray combo pack is not the 3D version.

4. Planet of the Apes: Caesar’s Warrior Collection
Fox; $129.99 Blu-ray

The two reboot films of the classic “Planet of the Apes” franchise have been an undeniable success, and collectors can pick them both up in this deluxe set packaged in a replica of ape leader Caesar’s head. The set includes 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, its sequel, the recently released Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, a 32-page booklet and four character cards. Pair it with the Legacy Collection boxed set of the original five films, or, better yet, with the Ultimate DVD Collection ape head that included all the original movies as well as TV shows based on them.

5. The Twilight Zone: The 5th Dimension
RLJ/Image; $349.98 DVD

This 41-DVD end-all-be-all release of the famed anthology franchise includes not only all 156 episodes from Rod Serling’s legendary 1959-64 series, but also the 110 installments from the 1985-89 revival version, packaged in a tidy numbered cube, paneled with lenticular photos and limited to a run of 7,500 copies. Exclusive extras include new documentaries, interviews with the original cast and crew, a collectible comic book and more.

6. The Sopranos: The Complete Series Blu-ray
HBO; $279.98 Blu-ray

HBO has released complete collections of “The Sopranos” several times before on DVD, but this is the first time the whole show is available on disc in high-definition (previously only the sixth season had been released on Blu-ray). The 86 episodes of the critically acclaimed gangster drama have never looked better.

7. Halloween: The Complete Collection
Anchor Bay/Shout! Factory; $169.99 Blu-ray

Prepare to spend a weekend with Michael Myers. Horror fans can rejoice that all 10 films of the “Halloween” franchise are finally available in a single 15-disc set. This includes the eight films of the original franchise, the two Rob Zombie remakes and the previously unreleased producer’s cut of Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers, but also tons of bonus materials, including new interviews with cast members and filmmakers, commentaries and behind-the-scenes documentaries.

8. Pee-wee's Playhouse: The Complete Series
Shout! Factory; $149.99 Blu-ray

Pull up a Chairry and get ready to bask in the zany, colorful world of a quintessential 1980s kids show, remastered for an amazing high-definition picture. All 45 episodes, including the Christmas special, have been carefully reconstructed in HD from the original film elements. Paul Reubens leads the cast as the iconic Pee-wee Herman, with guest stars including Laurence Fishburne, S. Epatha Merkerson and the late Phil Hartman, among others. The eight-disc set also includes more than four hours of new interviews and featurettes about the show.

9. ESPN 30 for 30 Fifth Anniversary Collection
ESPN; $249.95 DVD, $199.95 Blu-ray

Sports fans have plenty to be thankful for in ESPN’s “30 for 30” series of unique, eye-opening sports documentaries, and now every program is available in one handsome collector’s set. The 100-title set includes not only the “30 for 30” episodes, but also all films in the “30 for 30 Soccer Stories” and “Nine for IX” series (a tribute to women’s sports spurred by Title IX), as well as selections from “30 for 30 Shorts” and additional films The Fab Five, Catching Hell and The Announcement. A 32-DVD set exclusive to Groupon comes in a metal sports locker with a shirt, hat, limited-edition book and poster. The Blu-ray set comes in a custom ticket box.

10. Sherlock: The Complete Seasons 1-3 Limited-Edition Gift Set
BBC; $197.50 Blu-ray/DVD combo

This modern twist on “Sherlock Holmes” has generated a huge fan following and made international stars of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. This 14-disc collector’s set includes all nine TV movies in the series, plus new commentaries, never-before-seen outtakes, art cards and busts of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. Picking this one up is elementary.

Honorable mentions:

Stanley Kubrick: The Masterpiece Collection (Warner, $199.99 Blu-ray)
Spartacus: The Complete Series Limited Edition (Anchor Bay, $199.99 Blu-ray)
The Walking Dead: Season 4 Limited Edition (Anchor Bay, $129.99 Blu-ray)
How I Met Your Mother: The Complete Series (Fox, $179.98 DVD)
WKRP in Cincinnati: The Complete Series (Shout! Factory, $139.99 DVD)
Mork & Mindy: The Complete Series (Paramount/CBS, $129.99 DVD)
 


5 Dec, 2014

The Importance of a Next Step


If there are two things I’ve learned during all the years I have written about home entertainment, they are 1) no trend or cycle lasts forever and 2) having a calculated, well-thought-out next step is critical.

Back when video rental ruled, Blockbuster was the proverbial king of the hill. But there was no viable next step in Blockbuster’s strategy, just a series of misguided half steps, like the foray into satellite and Bill Fields’ confusing “One World, One Word: Blockbuster” strategy of a little bit rental, a little bit sellthrough, a little bit candy and popcorn, a little bit books and magazines. The proper next step, in hindsight, would have been to take a cue from the studios — who, with DVD and the transformation of the business from rental to sellthrough, did have a cohesive, sensible next step — and go sellthrough all the way, instead of effectively ceding it to the big discount chains.

Netflix, in contrast, shrewdly crafted a next step even when disc-rental-by-mail was still the big rage. The company jumped into streaming before most people even knew what the term meant, and through a content-centric approach (albeit one that is based more on quantity than on quality) and extensive in-your-face marketing became wildly successful in the brave new world of digital distribution.

Turning to the supply side, perhaps the most brilliant next step was the one the studios collectively took with the development of DVD. Sensing the novelty of renting movies was wearing off, the brightest minds of Hollywood were eager to rekindle that spark, and with DVD they presented to consumers not just a superior product, but also the first-ever opportunity to buy movies as soon as they were released for home consumption at an affordable price (remember, rental cassettes were priced high, in the $100 range, because the intended buyers were rental dealers, not consumers).

Emboldened by their success, and driven by fears that DVDs would not hold up in the new high-definition universe, the studios took the next step too soon, resulting in a bruising format war and the realization that slightly better quality would not prompt people to rebuy their movie libraries. In retrospect the studios should have taken a cue from the music industry, and the migration from CDs to compressed, low-quality digital music files. Given their choice, quality or convenience, consumers will always choose the latter.

Hollywood’s next step appears to be EST, even as consumers continue to stampede toward subscription streaming. The studio’s No. 1 goal is to turn the business back from subscription and make it transactional again, but there are serious doubts as to whether this can be done — although, in all fairness, it could be argued that the subscription model, too, is a trend that won’t last forever.

Meanwhile, Amazon, in my book, has come up with the smartest next step in our business: a free video service, supported by advertising. Granted, this has not been officially announced; it was reported by the New York Post, citing unnamed sources. But if true, this truly is a brilliant next step: a way to both undercut Netflix and lure customers to Prime. Netflix is cheap, but you can’t beat free; Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter told the Post an ad-supported service could be a “Netflix killer.”

The only question now is, what’s Netflix’s next step?


4 Dec, 2014

Women and Wisdom


Dec. 3 I attended a wonderful and informative holiday event sponsored by the Canon Club, held by DEG: the Digital Entertainment Group and hosted by Deloitte at The Peninsula Beverly Hills. 

The DEG created the forum, "Canon Club: Where Women in Home Entertainment Meet," for women in home entertainment to come together to learn, share and engage, and the holiday event certainly delivered on that promise.

The event’s featured speaker, Madeline Di Nonno, CEO of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, offered some compelling statistics on the state of female representation in the media, both domestically and internationally (seejane.org/symposiums-on-gender-in-media/gender-bias-without-borders/).

Di Nonno told the assembly progress has been very slow. As the study says of the United States, “Research reveals that the percentage of female speaking characters in top-grossing movies has not meaningfully changed in roughly a half of a century.”

The focus on women in media seems to be on their physical attributes.

“Female characters just can’t escape an emphasis on appearance,” she said, adding that females 13-39 are “equally sexualized.”

Still, some progress has been made. The Institute has been able to get more female characters included, if only in the background on various animated films. But it’s hard to get Hollywood to change the mindset that men won’t go to female-driven films, while women will go to male-centered films. With regard to that, I think Di Nonno made a great point, saying that if female characters are written compellingly, both men and women will flock to content. Case in point: Disney’s Frozen.

“Boys loved Frozen,” she said.

And girls loved it, too, for its strong female characters. “I want the sparkle, but I want the Jedi thing,” Di Nonno said of the Institute’s research on the attitude of today’s young girls.

Perhaps it’s not so much that consumers don’t flock to see female-oriented films as it is that they want to see well-written female characters, characters as well-written as the male ones. And that will probably require more female involvement in the writing, producing and directing of content.

I commend Di Nonno and the Geena Davis Institute for tackling this problem, and I think the Institute’s research and outreach is important to Hollywood as it looks to attract consumers with stories that are new and effectively target more than half the population. I think progress will be both rewarding for women and profitable for the industry.


2 Dec, 2014

An 'Ape' of a Good Deal

Walmart's 'Planet of the Apes' Blu-ray 2-Pack
Walmart's 'Planet of the Apes' Blu-ray 2-Pack

The Dec. 2 disc release of Fox's Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was the latest high-profile title to secure exclusive deals at the big retail chains.

Walmart probably had the most substantial exclusive, offering a special Blu-ray double feature of Dawn with its predecessor, Rise of the Planet of the Apes (in lieu of the regular Blu-ray edition at some stores, where the 3D version wasn't offered at all).

Best Buy had the 3D version of Dawn packaged in an exclusive metalpak case.

Among other titles, Walmart had an exclusive edition of the Jingle All the Way 2 DVD packed with a toy bear, and Target had the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Showdown in Dimension X DVD from Nickelodeon with a sneak peek at Paramount's upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles live-action film Blu-ray (due Dec. 16) and coupons for $2 off the movie and Pop Secret popcorn.

Speaking of Paramount, some of the studio's distributed titles appear to be delayed to some Best Buy stores. The chain's weekly circluar touted availablility of the Blu-rays for Star Trek: The Next Generation — Season Seven, Star Trek: The Next Generation — All Good Things and The Legend of Korra: Book Three — Change, but the store in Costa Mesa, Calif., didn't have any copies on shelves when the store opened the morning of Dec. 2 (the aforementioned "TMNT" Dimension X DVD also was missing). A clerk said the shipment hadn't come in but expected it within the hour. By afternoon, the titles still weren't available, nor were they stocked at a Tustin, Calif., location, and were listed online as unavailable for store pickup at many Southern California locations.