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.
Walmart's 'Surf's Up 2' with WWE figure
There wasn't much in the way of retail exclusives for Jan. 17 new releases.
Walmart offered a gift set for Sony Pictures' Surf's Up 2: Wave Mania, a direct-to-video animated sequel to the 2007 movie about surfing birds. With the new installment featuring a heavy tie-in with World Wrestling Entertainment and featuring several WWE Superstars voicing characters, Walmart's gift set paired the DVD with one of several WWE action figures.
Target offered a free year-long subscription to Entertainment Weekly with purchase of the Blu-ray of Universal's The Girl on the Train.
Bad Day at Black Rock (Blu-ray)
Available via Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $21.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Spencer Tracy, Robert Ryan, Anne Francis, Walter Brennan, Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine.
1955. As one of the first major movies to tackle the shabby-and-worse treatment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, Bad Day at Black Rock caught on to such a degree at the time with upscale audiences that even its title became part of the everyday vernacular.
Extras: Academic Dana Polan’s bonus commentary is less about actors and the production than social currents and dramatic staging
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Children of Divorce
Flicker Alley, Drama, $34.59 Blu-ray/DVD combo, NR.
Stars Clara Bow, Gary Cooper, Esther Ralston, Hedda Hopper.
1927. As a window into the feigned moral stance vintage movies embraced about as much as they did the later invention of television, Children of Divorce is a Frank Lloyd silent discovery (to me, though likely not to hard core buffs) that easily gets by on its curio casting and the sumptuous décor that almost always made the average Paramount title so much more visually scintillating than any MGM counterpart.
Extras: Includes a bonus booklet and Hugh Munro Neely’s excellent 1999 Discovering the “It” Girl Clara Bow documentary.
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By: Mike Clark
Target's 'Deepwater Horizon' Steelbook Blu-ray
Lionsgate's Deepwater Horizon had the most notable retailer exclusive among the Jan. 10 new releases.
Target offered a steelbook edition of the Blu-ray of Deepwater Horizon, which is based on the true story of the 2010 disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
Best Buy offered an exclusive Mr. Robot patch with the Blu-ray of Mr. Robot: Season Two. Best Buy didn't offer the DVD of the show in its brick-and-mortar locations.
Best Buy also had early availability of the Blu-ray of Star Trek: Enterprise — The Complete Series, through Feb. 13.
Walmart has a two-pack of DVDs for recent Sony Pictures releases Apple of My Eye and Lost & Found.
The new home video releases the first week of 2017 didn't receive much fanfare at retail.
The two biggest titles in terms of domestic box office were a pair of Lionsgate releases that each made a shade over $20 million: Blair Witch, a belated sequel to the horror cult classic The Blair Witch Project, and Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life, based on the James Patterson novel.
Not only were there no retail exclusives associated with the titles, but they were relegated to secondary status on new-release shelves. Best Buy didn't even stock the Middle School DVD in its brick-and-mortar locations. Most displays were still built around Sony Pictures' The Magnificent Seven and Warner's Storks.
Target did offer a sale of relatively recent DVD releases for $10. And Best Buy promoted a selection of TV shows on disc starting at $14.99.
The last week of 2016 didn't offer anything unusual, with most retailers focused more on year-end sales than the new releases.
The big new titles on Dec. 27, such as Universal's Snowden and Sony Pictures' When the Bough Breaks, weren't put out there with any promotions exclusive to any particular retailer.
Best Buy ran a big "Best of 2016" promotion in its weekly ad circular, touting movies starting at $14.99.
Best Buy also had a deal for 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray movies, with $10 off the purchase of two, and $20 the purchase of three.
Target also hyped UHD Blu-rays in its weekly ad.
Best Buy had a display of the "Underworld" Blu-rays with exclusive Steelbook editions. Copies included a $7.50 coupon for a ticket to see the upcoming Underworld: Blood Wars in theaters.
Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in 'Star Wars'
(Minor spoilers for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story ahead)
After seeing Rogue One Dec. 15, I began ruminating about the nature of the digital re-creation of a couple of classic “Star Wars” characters for the film. One of course was Grand Moff Tarkin, presenting a new performance from actor Peter Cushing, who died in 1994.
The other was the brief cameo by the 1977 likeness of Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia.
What struck me about the still-evolving visual effects technology at work was how it linked appearances from someone long-since dead to someone still living, but obviously too old to perform the specific version of the role. Some social media trends focused on the morbid ethics of resurrecting the dead, seemingly accepting of the idea of doing the same thing to someone alive if only to make them younger.
That got me to thinking, though, of some future date when we’d look back at the original Star Wars after all its cast had left us. Someday, I thought, even the youngest of them, Carrie Fisher, would pass on, and we as a fandom would have to deal with it.
I never expected it to happen this soon.
The news of Fisher’s death on Dec. 27 at age 60 certainly filled me with the profound sadness that any “Star Wars” fan would feel, despite being given the chance to brace for this possibility following her heart attack four days earlier.
As it seemingly has for celebrities in general, 2016 has been rough on the “Star Wars” family. Before Fisher, Kenny Baker, the man inside the R2-D2 costume, died in August, and Drewe Henley, who played Red Leader in the original Star Wars and Rogue One, died in February. These tragic losses have turned the current celebration of the rebirth of the franchise into a period of mourning as well. But at least we have Fisher’s final performance as Leia in next year’s Episode VIII to look forward to and cherish.
It’s not my intention here to harp on about the significance of her career or its personal impacts on me, as, truth be told, there really aren’t any, other than in a general way through my interest in film and television, and “Star Wars” in particular. There will be no shortage of blogs and articles about Fisher’s career, and Leia’s prominence as a strong female character in male-dominated Hollywood, and science-fiction in particular.
Leia was, of course, one of the iconic characters of film history, with two different outfits likely to go down in the cosplay hall of fame — her signature bun hairdo with white gown from the original film, and the gold slave bikini from Return of the Jedi, both of which have become comic-con staples (the gold bikini even has its own Wikipedia page).
And, she's one of the lucky few who can claim to have their own John Williams theme (one I was lucky enough to see the Maestro perform in person earlier this year at the Hollywood Bowl).
I especially enjoyed the way she shifted her accent in the original Star Wars, something many detractors have mocked but something which I think is a subtle character trait. From what I can tell, she only uses the British accent around the Imperial officers, which indicates an attempt to fit in with them on their level. As a senator and diplomat, she has to convince them that she’s one of them, and is putting on a show for their benefit. Among her allies in the Rebellion, she uses her regular voice. A key transition occurs during her emotional duress at the destruction of Alderaan, when she drops her accent to plead for mercy for her homeworld — fully dropping her cover as it is clear Leia’s pretensions no longer serve any purpose in her fight against evil.
(A bit of trivia: While Fisher's most-famous line of dialogue is likely "Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you're my only hope," the only scene in any of the films in which Leia and Obi-Wan appear together is at the end of Episode III, when Kenobi is present at her birth.)
Fisher’s association with “Star Wars” made me perk up a bit whenever she turned up in another movie, from her cameo in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back to more prominent roles in films such as Under the Rainbow, a largely forgettable 1981 Chevy Chase comedy I once saw as a 6 year old in a double bill with The Empire Strikes Back.
I should also admit that Fisher was probably the main selling point that got me into a theater in 1989 to see The ’Burbs, in which she played Tom Hanks’ wife. The ’Burbs became more notable to me as the first movie my inner critic noted as being pretty terrible as I was watching it.
It was endearing to see the outpouring of well-wishes Fisher inspired after her heart attack, blossoming into full tributes upon her death, which really hammered home to me just how much the public loves “Star Wars,” and in particular her importance in elevating its role not only in pop culture history, but also its effect on our national identity.
As the daughter of Hollywood legends Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, and through a long and varied career as an actress, author and screenwriter, Carrie Fisher’s life will invariably mean different things to different people.
But she’ll always be Princess Leia to me.
Best Buy's 'The Magnificent Seven' Steelbook UHD Blu-ray
Sony Pictures' The Magnificent Seven was the only major new release Dec. 20 with exclusives at each of the three big retail chains.
Target offered the Blu-ray with an exclusive bonus disc containing "Seven Tales of Making The Magnificent Seven." Best Buy offered the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray combo pack in exclusive Steelbook packaging. And Walmart offered a special DVD of the Western remake with a Vudu digital copy of another Western movie, Silverado.
For Warner's Sully, Walmart offered a special DVD with the bonus features stripped out.
For the animated Storks, Target offered a free six pack of Orville Redenbacher popcorn with the purchase of any version of the film on disc.
Target also had select iTunes gift cards for 20% off with the purchase of another card at full price.
The Asphalt Jungle
Criterion, Drama, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Sterling Hayden, Louis Calhern, Jean Hagen, James Whitmore, Sam Jaffe, John McIntire, Marilyn Monroe.
1950. The granddaddy of meticulously high-scale robbery pics remains as vital and robust as ever, though gender-wise, there’s nothing too daddy-ish about the way Marilyn Monroe wears a jumpsuit here in the role that jump-started her career.
Extras: Includes the 1983 documentary Pharos of Chaos about actor Sterling Hayden; it also includes featurettes with noir maven Eddie Muller and cinematographer John Bailey, plus brief archival material of John Huston discussing the film and an almost hour-long documentary of him on Canadian TV promoting the much subsequent Wise Blood. Scholar/academic Drew Casper’s commentary shared with an edited-in James Whitmore is carried over from the DVD.
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The Best of Cinerama
Flicker Alley, Documentary, $39.95 Blu-ray/DVD, NR.
1963. For an assemblage whose reason for being at the time was mostly to fill a temporary dearth of product, The Best of Cinerama (culled from five preceding travelogues dating back to 1952) plays so spectacularly well that if you need a “demonstration” disc to help show off the home system for which you forfeited your kids’ education, this could be the one.
Extras: Includes a commentary by Cinerama historian David Coles, a pair of 70mm featurettes about Shell Oil and NASA restored and saved from oblivion, heavy samplings of Dimitri Tiomkin music, a lengthy — and magnificent — photo montage of the process’s scores of pioneers, and a chronological theater-by-theater review of all the Cinerama theaters that opened worldwide up until about 1960.
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By: Mike Clark
Well, it’s been an interesting year again, hasn’t it? Last year ended with disc sales way down and everyone looking to electronic sellthrough as our industry’s great hope. This year is ending with disc sales remarkably robust and lots of excitement over the new Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc format. Meanwhile, EST sales growth has slowed to the single digits and studio heads are scratching their heads and wondering whether the novelty of early release windows has worn off.
The EST situation certainly is a pickle. It was never a huge segment of the business, primarily because of waning interest in ownership as well as the economic model. We have become a nation of streamers, first with music and now with movies and TV shows; we don’t necessarily want to own things, just borrow them for a while. Compounding matters is the inherent difficulty in getting consumers to spend even $10 on a movie when the same amount of money buys them an entire month of unlimited Netflix access.
On top of that, there’s the lack of something real — a download simply doesn’t have the appeal of a physical product you can look at, touch and display.
Now, I happen to think there are ways to invigorate EST sales and looking ahead to 2017 I think we are going to make substantial progress. I foresee a new platform to replace the fractious UltraViolet as well as more wow-factor Digital HD releases like Suicide Squad (the digital edition came with both the theatrical and new extended cut of the film, and that’s just the beginning).
Meanwhile, I also predict a renewed effort by the studios to nurture relationships with retailers, both physical and digital. The disc business needs to be carefully tended, and as studios have focused their efforts on EST they have perhaps paid a little less attention to retailers than they should. Data analytics is a wonderful thing, but so is the personal relationship, the phone call instead of the group email or text. Two decades ago, retailers were stunned when studios effectively shoved VHS out the door. Looking back, it could, and should, have been a much slower, and potentially more lucrative, death.
At the same time, distribution channels must be broadened and the search for marketable, ownable content widened. Defying conventional wisdom, Sony Pictures scored big with “House of Cards” even though it had already streamed on Netflix. How many other opportunities like this are out there?
It’s time, high time, to get down to business.
By: Thomas K. Arnold
The industry settled into its usual pattern as 2016 ended, with the Hall of Fame dinner honoring inductees. But again 2016 was by no means a “usual” year. The industry is facing more challenges and changes to its business model.
We’ve got yet another new format debuting: 4K Ultra HD with high dynamic range. It’s a format that could breathe new life into the physical disc, which is the best way to view four times the resolution of HD, with HDR, which produces brilliant highlights, vibrant colors and greater contrast on compatible displays.
We’ve got the growing dominance of subscription video-on-demand services such as Netflix eating into consumers’ entertainment time.
We’ve got new forms of entertainment, notably virtual reality, which could alter the very nature of personal entertainment.
It’s always unusual.
But what stays the same is the quality of people who work in this industry, recognized this month by the annual Press Play: Variety Home Entertainment and Digital Hall of Fame, which honored Universal Pictures Home Entertainment president Eddie Cunningham, actor and filmmaker Jon Favreau, and Epix president and CEO Mark Greenberg, as well as virtual reality evangelist Chris Milk and Google Play, which has been a big player in digital delivery.
“Home video, home entertainment and now digital have been a huge part of my career,” noted Favreau in accepting his award.
It’s remarkable that this more-than-three-decades-old business is still a vital part of the entertainment industry.
And it’s notable that we are once again facing a consolidation in the industry. Just as the video store chains gobbled up smaller stores and chains in years past, Amazon is using its technology and marketplace prowess to assemble a panoply of OTT services under Amazon Channels.
Analyst Michael Pachter sees Amazon Channels as the new pay-TV, a successor to the cable market that has lasted for decades. It’s a development that is both familiar and new, a new way of organizing the home entertainment market that seems to follow some of the usual patterns.
By: Stephanie Prange