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.
Studios are understandably always competing for box office receipts, as are theater owners. They measure much of their business success in those numbers.
But that may be an obsolete paradigm for studios. Packaged media may be the real measure of how popular an item is with the public. What people are buying at a movie theater is an experience--a big screen, jujubees and a group mind.
One thing you hardly ever see at a movie theater is me. I'm a bona fide theatrical outtake. I take myself out of theaters and choose a home experience, for several reasons:
I'll never forget the day in 1993 when I was sitting down with friends in terrific seats to see In the Line of Fire. Just as the opening credits started to roll, a cell phone rang about two rows behind me. I loudly growled, "I hope he's kidding" to my date as I turned to glare over my shoulder at the offending boor. He folded up his phone. But it dented my moviegoing experience forever and it's still a common interruption.
Kids are another reason I avoid movie theaters and malls. I don't have any, don't want any and especially don't want to listen to someone else's in a theater. If I'm going to a kids' show I try go late in the evening, but kids don't have bedtimes any more so that's often no solution.
It's a foregone conclusion that you'll pay high prices for theater concessions, but for myself and many others, popcorn is a fundamental part of going to the movies so you pay anyway. I went to the show over the Thanksgiving holiday and the $4 popcorn (with extra imitation rat poison butter 'cause I have no illusions that it's health food when I order it) was stale. If I was Orville, I wouldn't want my name on that. It's another part of the movie theater experience that's been largely spoiled.
I'm not short, but in most theaters seating isn't stepped enough to ensure I won't spend half the movie looking at the back of some tall guy's head. I don't get replays or half my ticket price back if that happens. It must be a real bummer for short people. What is less of a bummer for them is the shortage of legroom, which is always a problem for me.
People who went to drive-ins (yeah, I'm old) remember there was a little more formal etiquette in the group setting of an indoor theater; if you wanted to chat with friends during the show or had little kids, you went to the drive-in. Now people seem to chatter in theaters like they did then in their cars.
About the only thing that will get me into a theater now is a movie so improved by seeing it on that scale that a big screen is the only answer. Face it, dinosaurs just aren't that scary when they're 10 inches tall.
I'm really not as much of a curmudgeon as I sound like, but I do respect a group experience and appreciate when others do the same courteously. Which seems too seldom in movie theaters any more. I think a lot of people agree with that and it keeps them out of theaters, too.
So you can load your films with trailers, outtakes, featurettes and commentaries (most notably on rereleases)--most of the time, it still won't get my or my like-minded compatriots' cheeks into the seats. There are plenty of us who won't be among your box office head (and money) count. We'll wait for the DVD.
By: Holly J. Wagner
Vivendi Universal, in its quest to compete on Wall Street with the likes of AOL Time Warner and Disney/ABC, made some big moves last week to increase its U.S. presence.
In addition to what it calls a "strategic alliance" with satellite company Echostar, Vivendi says it will acquire the entertainment assets of USA Networks in a deal valued at approximately $10.3 billion. USA's Barry Diller will serve as chairman and c.e.o. of Vivendi Universal Entertainment, including the film and video arms.
The name of the game in these sorts of deals is "synergy"—USA's cable networks will get Universal product and Universal product will get better TV distribution.
But let's hope in the move toward synergy, the strengths of both USA Home Entertainment and Universal Studios Home Video aren't sacrificed in the shuffle.
Universal Studios Home Video, under the leadership of Craig Kornblau, has had a couple of stellar years. Hits have included The Nutty Professor, American Pie and The Mummy franchises and, most recently, Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Universal also distributes DreamWorks Home Entertainment titles, which have included Chicken Run, Shrek and Gladiator. But it's not just the titles that have afforded Universal such a strong home video presence, it's also the company's skill in marketing them. Most recently, Universal pulled out all the stops for The Grinch, bringing out director Ron Howard for a tree-lighting ceremony to kick off the title on video, mounting a Toys for Tots drive and advertising the title through tie-ins with various food items from green Heinz ketchup to oranges in the produce section.
USA Home Entertainment, for its part, has landed such hits as the Oscar-winning Traffic under the stewardship of chief Joe Amodei. Meanwhile, the company has shown its skill at marketing the specialty sports genre through distribution of titles from three of the major professional sports leagues. The company recently launched the Ultimate Jordan DVD set.
While big conglomerates will always strive to get bigger, let's hope Vivendi Universal doesn't lose sight of the contributions of both USA's and Universal's home video departments. They may be cogs in a big machine, but they've worked swimmingly.
By: Stephanie Prange
It's funny how perceptions change.
A year ago, it was home video that was getting no respect. In articles in the consumer press and in casual man-on-the-street encounters, rental stores were likened to dinosaurs while DVD was hailed as a really cool new toy, but still an interim step toward electronic delivery-which everyone agreed was the future of home entertainment.
Today, home video is getting oohs and aahs for its resilience and strength. The stock prices of the leading rental chains have risen dramatically-in Hollywood Entertainment's case, we're talking a twelvefold increase-while DVD is firmly positioned as the hottest consumer product launch in history.
As for video-on-demand, welcome to Rodney Dangerfield-land. We're seeing headlines like "VOD is DOA" and expressions like "vaporware." Enron, the huge power company that last year was partnering with Blockbuster on an ambitious branded VOD scheme, is on the ropes, and while we're still seeing studios invest in research and development, their steps are hardly making the headlines they once were.
Whatever happened to the theory of peaceful coexistence? This polarization of public thought, fueled by the media (one of the few times I'll plead mea culpa to something blamed on the press), is shortsighted and just plain wrong-as extremist views often are. And I'm pointing my finger both at those who believe video is the end-all and VOD will never fly and at those who believe home video, despite DVD, will soon be history and eventually all things entertainment will be delivered into the home electronically-either over the Internet, cable lines or phone lines.
The history of man's materialism is filled with complementary items. Replacement technologies are few and far between. Thus we have the bicycle and the automobile, radio and television, the movies and home video, and so on.
And I know what you're thinking-yeah, but what about music? At the NARM convention earlier this year, didn't we hear from futurists and woebegotten record dealers that digital downloads were killing packaged media?
That was before Napster got shut down. And while CD sales are hardly flourishing, I don't see the music industry going all-electronic anymore than I see the home video business.
Peaceful coexistence. It's a political term that really, truly, definitively applies here as well.
All right-maybe not the peaceful part.
By: Thomas K. Arnold
One of the more captivating scenes in Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's Eleven occurs shortly after the film's opening. Brad Pitt's character, Rusty Ryan, whose particular criminal talent is never fully explained (in line with the film's devil-may-care air of sangfroid), has been reduced to tutoring a raffish group of hot young actors in the nuances of casino card games. Soon, George Clooney, in the title role of heist ringleader Danny Ocean., joins this card camp.
The ensuing scene plays tentative and spontaneous at the same time, flaunting the kind of trademark naturalism synonymous with a Robert Altman film.
Recently, I asked the supervising sound editor on Ocean's Eleven, Larry Blake, whether this scene was in fact scripted or improvised. My vantage point for posing the question was as moderator of a panel of film editors this past week at a conference in New York City called Avid World East. Avid is a maker of editing systems (software and hardware) that are the standard for film and broadcast production.
Blake, who also supervised the sound mixing on Soderbergh's other recent hits – including Traffic, Erin Brockovich and Out of Sight -- replied that while the film's distinctively free-flowing, offbeat conversational tone is a testament to screenwriter Ted Griffin, the scene in question was largely improvised. He credited the work of editor Stephen Mirrione in cutting the final scene to make it coherent. "If you saw the dailies," said Blake, "you'd really be impressed by the job Steve did." (Dailies are the raw footage the director and editor review each day to make sure they have what they need of the scenes just shot.)
He's referring to editor Mirrione there, but the team effort on this film is very impressive. Based on a roundly derided film featuring Frank Sinatra at the peak of his Rat Pack rabble-rousing days, Ocean's Eleven has a flimsy, incredible premise with cardboard characters. Yet Soderbergh and Griffin ingeniously turn it into a stylized lark that looks and feels effortless. S.S. is making it abundantly clear with each new production that he could direct a telephone book and make it fun to watch.
Another panelist, Tim Squires – who recently was honored with several awards for his editing of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and cut Robert Altman's current release Gosford Park (just named best film by of 2001 by the New York Film Critics) – remarked that "dailies are something you'll never see on a DVD."
Taking full advantage of my moderator's bully pulpit position at the podium, I had to cut in to ask Squires why wouldn't dailies be included on a DVD, since almost everything else about the moviemaking process seems to be finding its way onto the disks. He responded that dailies are "too boring." Blake offered an au contraire, "There seems to be a lot of people out there with a lot of time on their hands."
Mark Goldblatt, who edited Armageddon and Pearl Harbor for producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and also cut both of James Cameron's Terminator films, chimed in that if dailies were included on a DVD, "they'd be edited," implying that such sanitized packaging for public consumption effectively would render them as something other than genuine dailies as filmmakers view them. After all, dailies by definition are unedited footage.
A member of the audience, all of whom were editors -- though not with the marquee credentials of the panelists -- asked if the rush to cram behind-the-scenes elements onto DVDs was becoming an intrusion during production or post production.
Goldblatt answered that it's not an intrusion on the set; since there are always so many people milling about anyhow, a few more don't make a difference. He added, though, a tad tartly, that now "DVD producers come to the edit room to discuss what possibly can be added to the special, special, special edition DVD. A lot of it is interesting and a lot of it is just a shill to sell more DVDs. They always want us to put more on DVDs, since we have all the time in the world to do that."
Finally, I wondered aloud if these elite film editors felt the "magic" of cinema was being demystified too much in their eyes due to the bonus material on DVDs.
Tina Hirsch, an editor on the film Woodstock, Robert Downey Sr. cult classic Putney Swope, Gremlins and TV series The West Wing, said she welcomed moviegoers and home viewers becoming more aware of the vital role played by the anonymous people behind the scenes, such as editors.
Becoming more aware myself of the art of film editing, I heartily concur. The more you learn about what film editors do, the more you appreciate how easily they can make or break a movie. Once filming is completed, the work just begins to create a compelling narrative and shape character development. The editor has critical control over the impact of individual scenes, over actors' performances, and over the entire arc of the storyline.
Ocean's Eleven sound man Blake, though, is not convinced everything needs to be shown on a DVD, he says: "I'm not sure we want the public peeking under the kimono that much."
By: Bruce Apar
During a visit with a group of studio executives this week it was remarked that this holiday season seems to have been even more frantic than usual. We all agreed it was the huge momentum of DVD, enhanced by Hollywood's strong marketing push for top theatrical titles in the fast-growing format and the continuing price drop of DVD players coming on strong for the Christmas season.
By the end of the year DVD console households are expected to reach more than 24 million, about double market penetration last year, according to Adams Media Research. DVD software unit sales will top 304 million. It was a breakout year for DVD and next year the pace is expected to be the same, as DVD console households are expected to reach 36 million penetration and retailers may sell as many as 455 million DVDs.
Now I'll sound the refrain I expect to hear throughout next year, and that is…let us tread carefully with VHS. How far will the transition from VHS to DVD go, and how fast?
These will be significant questions that will guide how studios market and how retailers buy and manage their floor space in home video for the coming year. Hollywood may shout about DVD records being broken (and we in the trade media may chime in), but VHS will quietly drive about 65 percent of sellthrough unit sales in 2001, according to Adams Media Research, with 540 million units at sellthrough versus DVD's 304 million. In 2002 that figure comes closer to parity as VHS sells an estimated 503 million units and DVD 455 million.
However, this may be a somewhat misleading indicator, since a significant portion of the VHS sellthrough may be accounted for in the dated product discount bins at mass merchants and specialty stores alike. Indeed, duplication of new VHS tapes is projected to drop off more quickly than sales (which include older cassettes). Cambridge Associates projects VHS duplication to drop more than 80 million units between 2001 and 2002.
Adams projects DVD and VHS sales will reach parity sometime in 2003.
Still, we discount a half billion VHS sales at our peril. Certainly, mass merchants have not forsaken VHS for DVD, according to Video Store Magazine's own recent study (VSM, Nov. 25-Dec. 1). And it's safe to say the blockbuster family and kidvid titles will appear on both VHS and DVD throughout 2002 and likely 2003.
The "load balancing" of VHS to DVD will be the greatest challenge to video specialty stores in 2002 and 2003 as the industry continues to manage this transition that may turn out to be not a complete transition at all.
By: Kurt Indvik
Most of us are used to the theatrical-to-video route being a one-way street.
Movies go through their release cycles on a predictable schedule, from theatrical to video to pay-per-view.
Video boosters cheered in October when DVD sales reached parity with VHS in the United States and the United Kingdom, ending any lingering speculation that the DVD market is limited to technophiles and early adopters.
Now DVD is asserting its charms in theaters as well. How can we tell? Three words:
Heartbreakers and Monsters, Inc.
Thomas K. Arnold (who presently appears to be on the losing end of a box office bet with Stephanie Prange over Harry Potter vs. Monsters, Inc.) nearly washed my mouth out with soap one day last week when I suggested that if Monsters--which with $212.391 million in box office receipts to date has had a fine run--was performing as well as Disney expected, the studio would not be throwing computer-animated outtakes into a second-round theatrical release for the movie. Maybe Disney is happy with Monsters' take, but in my opinion the studio won't be happy with anything short of No. 1, especially against Shrek, Harry Potter and Rush Hour 2.
Video Store Magazine's market research department did a survey earlier in the year and came back with confirmation that viewers love the extras on DVD (VSM, Sept. 16-24). Queried about the top extras among consumers, 48 percent of responding rentailers said their customers like outtakes. Deleted scenes were a close second at 46 percent, while "making-of" featurettes scored 45 percent. Trailers and previews were in demand with 39 percent of rentailers; language options were a popular item among 37 percent of consumers and it falls off from there.
It took just a couple of months for that trend to sink in on studio marketers. Now, theatrical release of the DVD extras is the new tipoff that a movie is underperforming against its theatrical competition. Sure, they may position the maneuver as a way to test what consumers want to see on the subsequent video release, but don't kid yourselves.
Studios can't control box office numbers as easily as they can packaged media sales figures because there's still a middleman in the theatrical food chain—the theater operator.
What they can control is what they do to make a film more appealing to viewers before its theatrical run is over.
Studios have no choice but to listen to consumers. They've long done test screenings and tweaked elements of films before wide release to suit the broadest possible consumer palate.
They're listening again, but this time consumers are speaking DVD.
By Thomas K. Arnold
Holly, Holly, Holly! You're bright, you're witty, you're passionate about this business. But in your commentary, methinks you missed the mark.
You assert that Disney added deleted scenes to give Monsters, Inc., a renewed boost in theaters because the movie was "underperforming."
Wrong on both counts.
For starters, Disney has previously added deleted scenes and bloopers to the end credits of Toy Story 2 and A Bug's Life. What the studio did with Monsters, Inc.,. is thus par for the course, an encore of a savvy marketing strategy that's worked for Disney--and for fans of the studio's animated features--in the past.
The only reason the extra stuff wasn't there when the movie opened, the way I hear it, is simple: It wasn't ready. The movie was rushed to theaters in the nick of time, and polishing the bloopers took a backseat to finishing the movie.
Some online reviewers even took Disney to task for not including bloopers when the film bowed theatrically, including a reader-reviewer on E!Online, who complained, "I was disappointed in Pixar for not including the trademark bloopers that have been at the end of there movies like the two Toy Story movies and A Bug's Life. I even noticed that people in the theater were waiting during the credits for them."
As for Monsters, Inc. being an "underperformer," come on! The film's theatrical opening exceeded anyone's wildest expectations, coming as a surprise even to the folks at Disney. Indeed, Monsters, Inc. scored a bigger box office debut than any animated film ever released and then set another record its second week in theaters.
From an Associated Press story dated Nov. 12: "Monsters, Inc., which earned $45.5 million in its second weekend, chewed up the animated film record by crossing the $100 million mark in just nine days. With a total of $122.1 million in ticket sales, the computer-animated Pixar-Disney comedy fractured the previous record, set by the companies' Toy Story 2 in 1999."
I should also point out that in the ensuing weeks, Monsters, Inc.'s week-to-week dropoff, percentage-wise, wasn't nearly as steep as Harry Potter's would be. Again, let's turn to the Associated Press, which reported Dec. 4, "The huge box office for Harry Potter is pulling a vanishing act The fantasy earned $23.6 million to top the box office for a third straight week, but its earnings fell by nearly 59 percent from its $57.5 million take during the comparable three-day period of the extended Thanksgiving weekend."
As of Dec. 9, Monsters, Inc.'s domestic gross stands at $212.4 million—which is nothing to sneeze at.
One must also take into account the fact that the Harry Potter hype-machine has been roaring at full steam for more than a year, while Monsters, Inc., by comparison, is a "little" movie.
To put things in perspective, Monsters, Inc., is a phenomenal success, scoring more bucks at the box office than anyone would have predicted. Harry Potter, meanwhile, is doing about as expected, maybe even a little worse.
As for the bloopers, consider them the proverbial icing on the cake—from a tried and true recipe.
By: Holly J. Wagner
THE MORNING BUZZ: While the Extras Are Cool, It's the Simple Things That Make a Kid-Friendly DVD
While much has been made of the cool features of many kid-friendly DVDs, from animated menus to games, there is one kid-friendly DVD feature that many studios have overlooked.
My 3-year-old falls into the category of child who likes to watch a video over and over again. (We bought her her own DVD player just for that purpose. I mean Shrek is a great movie, but I just can't watch it more than four times or so in a month.)
Sydney knows enough about the new technology to ask for the DVD and not the videocassette and she often cautions me that she'd like to watch the trailers (i.e. she doesn't want me to push the menu button too soon) or that she'd like to see the animation on the menu (i.e. she doesn't want me to push play yet). She can even load a DVD by herself (words on top).
A parent is required to start the DVD again.
This is so annoying to Sydney that she knows which DVDs start by themselves. When I move to push play on these DVDs, she says excitedly, "This one starts by itself, Mommy."
Now, videocassettes have drawbacks as well. A parent might have to scan through as much as 15 minutes of trailers to get to the feature and rewinding is a hassle. But once you've pushed play, the movie will eventually start.
It's different with DVDs. If a DVD has a series of trailers, some (but not all) children's DVDs won't let you skip to the menu and start the feature. You have to scan through the trailers (just as you do on VHS) and then when you get to the menu, you have to push play. Even when you can skip to the menu, a parent is required to navigate it. Some DVDs even require another step—choosing pan-and-scan or widescreen.
Now, I'm not an advocate of having a child watch too many hours of television. But if the studios really wanted to cater to kids, I'm sure Sydney would say they need to program the feature to start on its own—say, two minutes or so after the menu sits idle. The DVD should default to pan-and-scan or widescreen, depending on what the last choice was.
It's a simple feature that many DVDs already have and, take it from a parent, it's great.
By: Stephanie Prange
A high-ranking home video executive recently confided in me that his parent company may be rethinking its grandiose plans for video-on-demand. There's been a lot of research and a lot of development, both entailing tons of money, he said. The upshot?
"There are still questions whether it will even work, regardless of how far technology advances," he said. "You have to change consumer behavior and consumers like to rent videos."
That was the first stated sign of doubt from any studio honcho, but I have to wonder: how many others are thinking the same thing--moreover, how many have been thinking the same thing, but have been too politically correct to say so?
VOD is Hollywood's golden dream and, in a town that likes to think it can make dreams come true, VOD is the next big thing in home entertainment. And yet money and technology--the twin pillars of Tinseltown with which, common thinking goes, anything is possible--might not be enough.
Consumers like to rent videos. Satellite didn't kill video rental and DVD didn't, either--indeed, a burgeoning rental market for DVD developed despite the studios' best efforts to kill it, or at least stunt its growth.
So why does video rental get no respect? Wal-Mart this quarter is attacking the very rental concept, pitching its budget videos at the renting public with the tagline, "No Late Charges...You Own It."
Even Blockbuster, the king of rental retailing, is putting all its fourth quarter promotional eggs in the gilded DVD basket, touting its stores as "the best way to DVD." No mention of guaranteed rentals or extended rentals or anything rental, for that matter--just the implication that whatever you want to do with DVD, Blockbuster's "the place."
Maybe, just maybe, renting a video isn't such an outdated concept after all.
Sure, it can be a hassle, particularly if you have to make a return trip, but what isn't a hassle these days? Spending half an hour in line at the bank is still a preferred alternative to millions of consumers who don't want to bank online; grocery delivery services are dying because people still like to squeeze the Charmin.
Renting a video, for many, many people, has become more than a habit. It's become a way of life. And no amount of hype about the convenience of e-commerce may be able to change that.
By: Thomas K. Arnold
I must be getting old and having more senior moments, or acting more cranky, especially where entertainment marketing is concerned.
I'm driving down Sunset Boulevard and at the Virgin Megastore I spot a billboard for The Kiss Box Set. First, I think, well, the proper locution really is "boxed set," but this is the music biz, so if it's literacy you want, camp out on campus, not in the recording studio.
But if you insist on leaving it at box, then why bother adding set? Box set is sort of redundant. Besides, Kiss Box Set sounds like a set of Kiss boxes you're marketing (you know, where you store either teardrop-shaped chocolates or lipstick). Just advertise the Kiss Box or Kiss Music Box.
Then I realized the record marketers behind this one really flunked out of Edgy Marketing 101 because they missed the cheeky chance to promote it as "Kiss: The Box."
Then there was my slightly incredulous reaction upon seeing an ad for the new DVD edition of Almost Famous, which carries on its package the obviously tongue-in-chic conceit, "Unofficial Bootleg Cut." Or is it so obviously a wink at the consumer? Or one of those self-referential indulgences that only those inside the industry appreciate.
I was rankled by this playful parody of the ‘70s and ‘80s rage in bootleg music albums, such as the Dylan Basement Tapes. Invoking that nostalgic feel for the same period in which Almost Famous is set is the intent, but with video piracy not much of a laughing matter, I couldn't help but wonder if this marketing gimmick was a tad too self-indulgent and actually insensitive to a major industry issue. I will stop short of questioning whether it's responsible. I don't know how many people will actually think that this is an unauthorized DVD of the movie, but if it's not going to drive additional sales, what is the point? If it does boost sales, we don't want to know the point.
It gets worse; my crankiness, that is. As with Almost Famous' "bootleg" snipe, I did another double take when seeing the new Disney Pearl Harbor package proclaim itself the "60th Anniversary Commemorative Edition." Is there any other edition available?
My mental stammer is understandable when you consider virtually each and every time this common marketing ploy is used, the anniversary refers to the movie, not to an actual event on which it might have been based. (By this marketing logic, The Greatest Story Ever Told could be cleverly promoted as the "2000th Anniversary Communion Edition.")
Of course, Pearl Harbor the movie was not released in 1941, but the aerial attack it dramatizes took place 60 years ago. Calling a film released within the last six months a 60th anniversary commemorative edition takes some gall. Welcome to the entertainment biz in the 21st Century. Anything goes. Check your probity at the door, ‘cause that don't matter no more. If what you bring is not exactly right or--forgive the extinct expression--politically correct, well, that's just tough.
I will stop short of questioning whether Disney's marketing hook for Pearl Harbor too glibly co-opts one of American history's most calamitous events to create cachet coattails for its own commercial enterprise.
Apart from my phlegmatic nitpicking over that phraseology, I am looking forward to viewing the Pearl Harbor DVD, as apparently were countless others, judging by the phenomenal opening week of sales.
In the meantime, I surveyed some previously available versions of war on DVD--namely the second World War and the Vietnam (ahem) conflict.
In Harm's Way, from none-too-deft director Otto Preminger, is long, bloated and wooden. The fulminating filmmaker is known to have a way with actors that resulted in the lifeless performances you'll find in his typical vehicle, like this one.
The Bridges at Toko-Ri, starring the dreamy team of exquisite Grace Kelly and box office buff of the 1950s William Holden, is a war film with nominal action, which at first disappoints. Soon, though, I came to appreciate its consistent narrative line focusing on the very personal toll of war. And how can you go wrong with any film featuring the great Frederic March.
The commentary on classic From Here to Eternity is especially revealing, anchored by the fascinating perspective of director Fred Zinneman's son, who is paired with Alvin Sargent, who has a cameo in the movie but went on to a successful screenwriting career. Oddly, Sargent was an ad salesman for Variety when he was cast in the film.
What this engrossing tale-telling team doesn't mention is that Eternity is indirectly and anonymously referenced in The Godfather as the movie in which Frank Sinatra manque Johnny Fontaine lands a role thanks to a certain decapitated horse.
Two other war DVD commentaries worthy of mention are Catch-22 and Platoon. Both are notable breakthroughs for their brutally graphic depictions of shell-shocked soldiers. Catch-22 is a special treat with director Mike Nichols paired with director du jour Steven Soderbergh, who demonstrates as much knowledge of film history as he does skill in forging his own film history, with Ocean's 11 his latest triumph.
Nichols points out that Catch-22, for all its landmark claims, was overshadowed by the even more outrageous M*A*S*H, the classic Robert Altman war comedy.
On Platoon, the always interesting Oliver Stone is as rambling and obtuse as his typical vehicle, while Dale Dye, the military advisor, is crisp and always on message. Note to the sound mixers: on the endless documentary, when not played on a surround speaker setup, the music often overpowers the spoken word, making it unintelligible in parts. Then again, maybe that's meant to be an homage to Stone.
By: Bruce Apar
Today, of course, marks the 60th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Obviously, the Buena Vista Home Entertainment release this week of Pearl Harbor has been a tremendous success in its first days in retail, with some 3.1 million total videos sold. An interesting sidebar to this: according to sources, the DVD sellthrough and VHS sellthrough numbers achieved parity, with DVD selling 1.5 million and VHS selling 1.6 million. That's the first time we've seen DVD close the gap with VHS and, doubtless, it won't be the last.
At first, I had to wonder about Pearl Harbor's release date this week. Why not break with tradition once in a while (as Shrek did not too long ago) and launch the video on, say, Pearl Harbor Day? That would be today. Obviously, the folks at Buena Vista timed the release for the same week as Dec. 7. I understand that Tuesday, the traditional video release day, is timed to allow retailers to get the units stocked and promotions up and the momentum going for the upcoming weekend. It's also timed to avoid any conflicts with theatrical launches; either your own studio's or some other major competitor's. (Of course that didn't stop the launch of Shrek, much to Disney's irritation as it debuted Monsters, Inc. the same Friday.) But, still, these things can be overcome. This week's lineup of theatrical releases, led perhaps by Vanilla Sky, posed no major threat to a Friday Pearl Harbor video release. So why not take full advantage of the obvious Dec. 7 connection?
Then I took a step back and I think saw what Disney may have seen (and I'll give them credit here, whether they were thinking along these same lines or not)—that taking the obvious advantage would, in fact, denigrate the memory the movie was trying to truthfully serve (laced, in inimitable Hollywood style, with a fictional love story). And after the events of Sept. 11--perhaps to be seen in later years as this generation's Pearl Harbor--any such commercial attachment to Dec. 7 would, indeed, have been viewed as unseemly.
The attack on Pearl Harbor was a cataclysmic event that brought World War II home to the United States. In short order it became a rallying point around which the Americans bolstered themselves for the sacrifices that ensued for five years, before the eventual victorious outcome.
Over time Pearl Harbor has become a hallowed and heroic military event even in defeat, and one that, eventually, we could celebrate collectively as something uniquely American. With decades between us and the awful reality of the attack (and with most of those who had to live through the terrible tragedy gone), a new generation of Americans has obviously been able to comfortably relive the event as something like a tradition, of bearing witness to the kind of sacrifice that is required to keep a civilization together.
Would Pearl Harbor have made a bigger impact being released on Dec. 7? Hard to say, and certainly the numbers indicate it would have been hard put to be any more successful than it was. In any case, I applaud Buena Vista for its choice to stick to Tuesday and let Dec. 7 stand quietly, without commercialism, in memory of those who died that day.
By: Kurt Indvik