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.
This is the year when the home entertainment industry’s creative juices really need to get flowing.
For years, the ongoing fight to get people to buy movies, TV shows and other filmed content has become increasingly difficult.
The struggle began when the industry was born, with studios fighting retailers over the right to rent videocassettes. That battle lost, studios came up with revenue-sharing concepts, which worked fairly well until the emergence of DVD — two decades ago this year — became Hollywood’s silver bullet.
But after plateauing in 2004, the novelty of being able to buy content began to wear off. The launch of a high-definition successor was marred by a bruising format war as well as the realization that consumers aren’t going to re-buy their libraries just because a marginally better disc is now available.
At first, sales growth slowed; then, it became a rapid decline, with the rise of Netflix and streaming. Studios presented an “electronic sellthrough” alternative to the subscription-streaming model, but it was slow to take off; early windows gave EST a temporary push but double-digit gains came to an end in 2016, prompting everyone to wonder, “What now?”
Studios should be encouraged by one unheralded statistic from 2016: While EST sales growth did, in fact, slow to the single digits, electronic sales of newly released theatrical films shot up a robust 20%, underscoring my long-held contention that the buying habit among consumers isn’t dead — you simply need the right content.
The problem is, studios came up with a great idea — releasing films electronically two or three weeks before the disc — back in 2009, when the concept was first tested, but have done little tweaking since. Why isn’t there tiered windowing, with consumers able to buy movies electronically even earlier, at a premium? How important is local ownership, enabled through a mechanism such as Vidity, and are there ways to better exploit this option? What about extra content — for years we’ve hailed such tried-and-trues as deleted scenes, making-of documentaries and filmmaker interviews, but can’t we take this concept to the proverbial “next level” as well? And, as Walt Disney Studios has shown with Disney Movies Anywhere, retail partnerships and a seamless transition into the living or family room is critical.
At the same time studios aggressively seek to boost electronic ownership, let’s not forget about the disc. Yes, DVD sales are falling, fast, but Blu-ray Disc sales are holding up remarkably well — and we now have a new format, Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc, that we need to be crowing about in a loud and clear fashion. Let’s not muddy the waters and confuse the consumer with too many names, and too many logos — pick one and stick with it. And then market the hell out of Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc being far and away the best way to view movies outside of the movie theater, focusing on that single, salient point.
The new year, 2017, will only be as good as our industry makes it.
By: Thomas K. Arnold
Home entertainment has for the most part been a format to revisit what viewers have had access to in previous forms and times. Theatrical hits found new life (and revenue) in the home entertainment market on VHS, DVD, Blu-ray Disc and digital, as did classics that graced theaters long before the prospect of viewing content on-demand in the home existed.
The home entertainment experience evolved from merely watching the same content available in the theater to viewing extra content — filmmaker commentary, making-of documentaries, Easter eggs, etc. — that the theatrical audience could not access. Also, the video game business evolved into yet another way to experience home entertainment similar to movies, with storylines and realistic graphics. Many saw the game and movie businesses converging.
At CES, other types of home entertainment came to the stage: virtual reality and augmented reality, which offer new ways to connect with franchises that often originate in the theater. There were numerous devices and services that promised to make virtual and other realities a new form of home entertainment, a new way to experience a story. The devices and content delivery systems differ wildly. From the Gear VR, which attaches to the cell phone and accesses whatever viewers can stream online, to the “tethered” experiences that take advantage of the greater power of game systems such as the PlayStation 4. Some experiences require cameras or other devices in the home to orient the player in a space, allowing the viewer to move around. As one VR proponent put it, there are low-end to mid-range to high-end experiences, each offering a different version of a story or franchise. The space has become so active that it spawned its own industry consortium announced at CES, the Virtual Reality Industry Forum, comprised of a few dozen companies joining forces “to further the widespread availability of high-quality audiovisual VR experiences, for the benefit of consumers.”
This kaleidoscope of entertainment can either be viewed as a cacophony or as an opportunity. In the year ahead, “we will see more VR, AR, AI and mixed reality,” said industry veteran Mike Dunn, president of product strategy and consumer business development at 20th Century Fox. “As we continue to evolve the ways we create and distribute content, we must make it easy for the consumer to remain connected to the stories and experiences they love, and we must help them understand the formats available, including defining clear benefits of how and why to purchase.” And that may in the future encompass purchases of VR experiences. Indeed, the Fox Innovation Lab in November released its first commercial virtual reality endeavor, The Martian VR Experience, at $19.99.
We’ve long been rethinking the way we deliver home entertainment — different formats, different delivery services — but in the future we may have to rethink the type of home entertainment the industry delivers.
By: Stephanie Prange
Best Buy's 'Inferno' Steelbook and Walmart's Langdon trilogy DVD
Sony Pictures' Inferno, the third movie adaptation of the Robert Langdon novels, gave retailers a few options for promoting exclusive editions.
Best Buy had a special Steelbook case with the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray edition of the film.
Walmart had a DVD set of all three Langdon movies — The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons and Inferno — starring Tom Hanks as the professor frequently tasked with interpreting ancient clues to solve mysteries.
Another notable new release, The Light Between Oceans, a DreamWorks production distributed by Disney, seems to have some availability issues. Best Buy didn't have the DVD edition of the film stocked in its brick-and-mortar shelves, while Walmart stores didn't have the Blu-ray version. Amazon.com didn't seem to have any copies of its own on the Jan. 24 release date, with the title available there only through Marketplace sellers.
Among other deals, Best Buy had a selection of recent popular Blu-rays for $9.99 each. Target had a similar deal with $10 Blu-rays and DVDs.
Chicago Cubs 2016 World Series Collector's Edition
Shout! Factory, Sports, $59.99 DVD, $79.97 Blu-ray, NR.
2016 World Series Champions: The Chicago Cubs
Shout! Factory, Sports, $26.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Narrated by Vince Vaughn.
2016. We’re talking the historically transcendent Cubs-Indians here — seven games, two of them classics or near-classics, and one of those was game 7 stretching into extra innings after a rain delay.
Read the Full Review
Go, Johnny, Go!
Available via Sprocketvault.com
Sprocket Vault, Musical, $14.99 DVD, NR.
Stars Jimmy Clanton, Alan Freed, Chuck Berry, Sandy Stewart.
1959. Of all the rock revue pics made in the 1950s, Go, Johnny, Go! definitely carries the most star-crossed aura, considering the tragic fates that awaited so many members of its cast — a couple of them eerily soon after this quickie’s production.
Extras: The voiceover commentary is funny enough to make this surprisingly pristine DVD looker something of a rollicking affair.
Read the Full Review
By: Mike Clark
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.
Walmart also had a DVD of both "Surf's Up" movies.
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
Read the Full Review
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.
Read the Full Review
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.