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The Bits @ VSDA/CES 2001

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Well.... it's sad but true. This year's Video Software Association Show (VSDA) was probably the worst its been in years. For the first time, the show was held in conjunction with the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, and CES tended to dominate the weekend. Very few new DVD announcements were made at VSDA this year and most studios opted against having a presence on the show floor (holding meetings in private conference rooms instead). Walking the floor was an exercise in tedium. Frankly, there was more action happening at the Adult Video News Show (AVN), which was going on in the next exhibit hall at the Sands Convention Center. A LOT more action.

Still, we did talk with representatives from a number of studios, so here's a look at what they told us...

First of all, Columbia TriStar made the event's biggest announcement, by revealing that Lawrence of Arabia will debut as a 2-disc limited edition on April 3rd (SRP $39.95). The set will feature a new anamorphic, high-definition transfer of the restored print of the film, with remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. An hour-long documentary on the making of the film will also be included, along with some 8 other featurettes on the costumes, locations, publicity and even the film's premiere. There will also be a gallery of photos and production artwork, and a collectible booklet, as well as a conversation with director Steven Spielberg on the film. Tentatively set for late May (pending Spielberg's final approval) is a 2-disc special edition of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which will feature Spielberg's new 137-minute, "Collector's Edition" director's cut of the film (the cut that was recently released on VHS and laserdisc, which thankfully restores the film's original theatrical ending). The set will feature deleted footage and "making of" featurettes, as well as new material. The film will be in anamorphic widescreen, with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (it MAY also feature DTS 5.1 audio as well). We've been told that April should also see the DVD release of The Natural and The Prince of Tides, while Ice Castles, Absence of Malice and Tootsie are likely for May. The studio also confirmed that it's working on special edition re-releases of A Few Good Men and My Best Friend's Wedding (a re-release of Fly Away Home is also on the way), as well as Gandhi and Kramer vs. Kramer. Vertical Limit, Finding Forrester and Snatch are all planned for release during the first half of the year, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is already done. The disc had to be completed early for it's impending Region 3 release in Asia, and is tentatively slated for late Spring release here in the States. One word of note - the R1 disc will include anamorphic widescreen and even more bonus material that will be found on the R3 disc. Other upcoming DVDs from the studio include Agent Red, Avalon, Roughnecks: Starship Trooper Chronicles, The Story of Jacob and Joseph, The Tao of Steve (all 3/13), A Passage to India (3/20) and Charlie's Angles and Girlfight (both 3/27). Finally, look for a boxed set of all of the Muppet movies before the year is done (to include The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper and The Muppets Take Manhattan - the titles will be available separately as well).

Paramount's got a busy year planned for DVD. First of all, their DVD release of Wonder Boys has been delayed to see how the film fares during award season (it will likely be rescheduled for late February or March). You Can Count on Me and Sunshine will also be scheduled pending their respective award nominations. And Ordinary People has been delayed as well, because director Robert Redford has agreed to record a commentary for the disc. March should see a number of classic Paramount Audrey Hepburn films find their way to DVD (as well as John Travolta's Lucky Numbers), while April will see a spate of romantic classics from the studio on disc (including a Ghost: Special Edition - no kidding!). This summer, to coincide with the release of Buena Vista's Pearl Harbor, Paramount will debut several World War II films on DVD. Summer will also see more Paramount Westerns released on disc, including Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West and several classic John Wayne films (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance anyone?). Star Trek: The Next Generation is still in the works for late 2001, and the much-talked-about Star Trek: The Motion Picture: Director's Edition should debut in the 3rd Qtr of the year. Special editions of the Friday the 13th series are possibilities for Halloween. You can also expect a DVD release of What Women Want by the summer, while Rugrats in Paris is due on 3/27. Finally, look for a couple BIG catalog titles to round out the year for the holidays (my sources are telling me to watch for The Godfather Trilogy and Forrest Gump). The Indiana Jones Trilogy will likely find its way to DVD in 2002.

Universal is working on a number of big catalog titles, including Schindler's List and E.T. (E.T. is for 2002, but Schindler's should arrive in the 4th Qtr of 2001). Their Legend: Collector's Edition 2-disc set is currently being improved and should be out before spring, although no new street date has been set. Look for The Back to the Future Trilogy to be a summer release, and collector's edition DVDs of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Mummy Returns and Jurassic Park III will all be released before the year is through. The studio has set March 20th as the street date for Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber's Jesus Christ Superstar. And, as you've already heard, the studio is expected to release The Mummy: Ultimate Edition 2-disc set on April 24th. The set will include both anamorphic widescreen and full frame versions of the film, along with Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 audio, the original script (via the "script-to-screen" feature on DVD-ROM), all the extras that were on the earlier disc plus new material and a sneak peek at The Mummy Returns (which arrives in theaters on May 11th). SRP is $29.98.

Speaking of Universal, the studio distributes DreamWorks DVD product in addition to their own. From DreamWorks, you can expect The Watcher, Billy Elliot, The Contender, The Legend of Bagger Vance and Almost Famous, all by March or April.

Warner is working to release more TV product on DVD, and is also quietly remastering all of the Kubrick Collection titles (including 2001, which will be re-released as a special edition late in the year). Production is heating up on the Blade Runner: Special Edition (also for late 2001) and May should see the release of the 2-disc Superman: Special Edition, along with all the sequels as more basic editions and a boxed set of all 4 films. Citizen Kane and Dr. Zhivago are in production, as are Proof of Life, Best in Show, Waiting for Guffman and Miss Congeniality (the latter 4 should be out by summer). Look for the first Looney Toons releases in 2001 as well. From Warner distributed labels, New Line is currently working on Gummo, Dancer in the Dark (both for March 20th), Bamboozled, Little Nicky (April) and Dungeons and Dragons (May or June). They're also collecting special edition materials for The Lord of the Rings DVDs, the first of which should be released in 2002. And HBO is currently working on the complete second seasons of Sex and the City and The Sopranos for DVD (we're told to expect them in May).

Fox's DVD release plans include Enemy Mine (3/20), Zardoz (3/20), Alien Nation (3/20), Cleopatra: 5-Star Edition (3-discs - 4/3), The X-Files: The Complete Third Season (5/8), Big Trouble in Little China: Special Edition (2-discs - DD & DTS - 5/22), Point Break (DD & DTS - 5/22), Chain Reaction (5/22), Die Hard: 5-Star Edition (2-discs - DD & DTS - 6/26), Die Hard 2: Die Harder - Special Edition (DD & DTS - 6/26), Die Hard with a Vengeance: Special Edition (DD & DTS - 6/26) and The Marilyn Monroe: The Diamond Collection (5/29 - SRP $99.95), which features Bus Stop, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, How to Marry a Millionaire, The Seven Year Itch and There's No Business Like Show Business. These films will also be available separately, although the set will include a 6th disc exclusive of Marilyn Monroe: The Final Days and her last film, Something's Got to Give. The studio's Bedazzled DVD (set for 3/13) will be the first major studio release to feature Nuon enhancement, which means that if you have a Nuon-capable DVD player, you'll get access to dynamic commentaries, enhanced art galleries and lots more (note that you don't need Nuon to enjoy most of the material on the disc - you'll just get more interactivity out of it if you do). DVD versions of Castaway and Dude Where's My Car? are expected before summer, and M.A.S.H. will be released as a 5-Star edition later in the year. The studio will debut more TV product on DVD in 2001 as well, with The X-Files: The Complete Fourth Season and Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Complete First Season slated for late in the year (The Simpsons and the TV series M.A.S.H. are also planned for 2001). And while the studio will say nothing on the record, I have very reliable word that Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace will be a late 2001 release on DVD, as at least a 2-disc set (and maybe 3 discs). Episode I will be the only Star Wars film to arrive on DVD this year however.

USA Entertainment's Nurse Betty will be released April, and we're hearing that Traffic should be out by summer (pending award season performance).

Lion's Gate will debut Wim Wenders' Million Dollar Hotel: Millennium Series to DVD on April 3rd (starring Mel Gibson, Jimmy Smits, Milla Jovovich and Jeremy Davies). The DVD, which SRPs for $24.98, will feature audio commentary with Wenders and U2's Bono (who wrote the soundtrack), along with the never-before-seen U2 Ground Beneath Her Feet music video.

Artisan's Requiem for a Dream is slated for 3/20 and their Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 DVD (also 3/20) will be the "worlds first DVD+CD disc". That means that the disc will be dual-sided - one side will hold the DVD-Video content, while the other side will include songs from the film's soundtrack that will play in any CD or DVD player.

Rhino fans will be thrilled to learn that The Transformers TV series will debut on DVD in 2001, along with episodes of G.I. Joe, Inhumanoids, Robotix, My Little Pony and Battle of the Planets.

Finally, Buena Vista is expected to release The Hunchback of Notre Dame II (slated for September) and the studio's first Platinum edition DVD, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (October). Their Dimension label's Highlander: Endgame DVD (2/20) will feature an all new director's cut of the film, with tons of new footage and an all-new ending. Buena Vista was otherwise close-lipped at VSDA, but we hear that Miramax Collector's Editions are in the works for The English Patient, Kieslowski's Blue, White and Red and Pulp Fiction.

So those are the titles we heard about at the show. We were also hoping to attend the annual VDSA DVD Festival, which includes Leonard Maltin's popular director's panel discussion on DVD. This year's panel was to have featured Bryan Singer (X-Men), Paul Verhoeven (Hollow Man) and Curtis Hanson (Wonder Boys) among others. Unfortunately, the festival was cancelled at the last minute - go figure.

One portion of the DVD Festival that wasn't cancelled, however, was the 2nd Annual DVD Festival Awards. Digital Bits editor Bill Hunt (yours truly) served as a judge for the event, along with representatives from DVD File, DVD Review, Daily Variety, The Dallas Morning News, Entertainment Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, The Movie Guys, Video Store magazine, Video Business magazine and The New Movie Show. The awards were presented in a special cocktail party reception on Monday evening, and were hosted by Chris Gore (of Film Threat, Total Movie and host of The New Movie Show). As always, there was controversy. While I agree with many of the awards, I think Fight Club got smoked. And you should note that Buena Vista declined to participate. Here's a list of the top nominees and winners in each category (the winner is highlighted in Yellow):

BEST USE OF MENU FEATURES

The Abyss (Fox)
Men in Black (Columbia TriStar)
Mission: Impossible 2 (Paramount)
T2: The Ultimate Edition (Artisan)
The World is Not Enough (MGM)

BEST SUPPLEMENTARY MATERIAL PRESENTATION

Fight Club (Fox)
Men in Black (Columbia TriStar)
Gladiator (DreamWorks)
T2: The Ultimate Edition (Artisan)

BEST USE OF DVD-ROM FEATURES

Mission: Impossible 2 (Paramount)
Chicken Run (DreamWorks)
T2: The Ultimate Edition (Artisan)

BEST USE OF AUDIO/LANGUAGE TRACKS

Bridge on the River Kwai - TIE - (Columbia TriStar)
Galaxy Quest (DreamWorks)
The Rocky Horror Picture Show - TIE - (Fox)

BEST MUSIC DVD - NON-THEATRICAL

Beach Boys: Endless Harmony (EMI/Capitol)
Miles Davis: Montreal Jazz Festival (Pioneer)
Santana: The Supernatural Tour (BMG)

BEST MUSIC DVD - THEATRICAL

Annie Get Your Gun (Warner)
The Sound of Music (Fox)
This is Spinal Tap (MGM)

BEST AUDIO PRESENTATION

Fight Club (Fox)
Jurassic Park (Universal)
Gladiator (DreamWorks)
T2: The Ultimate Edition (Artisan)

BEST VIDEO PRESENTATION

X-Men (Fox)
North by Northwest (Warner)
Gladiator (DreamWorks)

BEST DVD COMMENTARY

Fight Club (Fox)
The Limey (Artisan)
This is Spinal Tap (MGM)

BEST OF SHOW - NON-THEATRICAL

Satchmo: The Louie Armstrong Story (Sony Music)
Sex and the City: The Complete First Season (HBO)
Treasures from the American Film Archives (Image)

BEST OF SHOW - ADULT

Dreamquest (Wicked Pictures)
Jekyll & Hyde (Vivid)
White Lightning (VCA)

BEST OF SHOW - CHILDREN'S

Stuart Little (Columbia TriStar)
Blue's Big Musical Movie (Paramount)
Tangerine Bear (Artisan)
Chicken Run (DreamWorks)

BEST OF SHOW - THEATRICAL

Gladiator (DreamWorks)
Fight Club (Fox)
T2: The Ultimate Edition (Artisan)

So that covers the DVD end of VSDA. Next we'll take a look at the state of the DVD format as a whole, including a visit to the DVD Entertainment Group's annual reception (which featured a look at the launch of DVD-Audio) and our experience at CES.


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