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page updated: 5/24/05



My Two Cents
(Archived Posts 5/17/05 - 5/2/05)


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(LATE UPDATE - 5/17/05 - 5:45 PM PDT)

We're back this afternoon with NINE new disc reviews. First up, Adam Jahnke's got a new edition of The Bottom Shelf, in which he looks at eight interesting foreign films on DVD, including Sony's Bad Education and The Flower of My Secret, Criterion's Eyes Without a Face and La Commare Secca, Home Vision's Rendez-vous, Sympathy for the Underdog and All About Lily Chou-Chou, and 20th Century Fox's Paris, Texas.

Also, over at our MusicTAP site, Marco Passarelli has a review of Duran Duran: Astronaut on DualDisc format for you to check out.

And in one last bit of gaming news from E3, Nintendo has finally weighed in with a look at their next-generation video game system, the Revolution, which will street in early 2006 (read more at CNN/Money and Gamespot). Note that the system will run on disc-based media this time, and will be capable of playing current DVD movie discs (but, like Microsoft's Xbox 360, neither HD-DVD or Blu-ray Disc).

Enjoy the reviews and we'll see you tomorrow! Stay tuned...

(EARLY UPDATE - 5/17/05 - 1 PM PDT)

Okay, we'll be back with more in a couple of hours, but I wanted to jump in early today with some news and a bit of commentary.

In a press event last night at E3, Sony officially unveiled their PlayStation 3 video game system, which is tentatively set to arrive on store shelves about a year from now in the Spring of 2006 (you can read more here at CNN/Money and here at Gamespot.com). There are four very important things to note about the PS3. The first is that it will be backwards compatible (in terms of software) all the way back to the original PlayStation. Second, according to the just-released specs, it will support the CD-ROM, CD-RW, SACD, DVD, DVD-ROM, DVD-R, DVD+R and DualDisc formats, with 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i and 1080p video and Dolby Digital, DTS and LPCM audio (in other words, it will play all your existing DVD movies and they'll look better than they do now on your regular TV). Third, it will be capable of driving TWO side-by-side HDTV displays simultaneously via twin HDMI outputs. Finally, it will officially use Blu-ray Disc media to play both games and high-definition movies.

I'm going to go out in a limb right now and post something that some of you may consider a bit controversial. But I think the writing is on the wall. I think the format war is over before it's even begun, and the Toshiba/HD-DVD camp is toast.

Why? You know how many PlayStation 2 systems Sony's sold since that unit's launch? 87 million. Let me repeat that. 87 million. 1.5 million were sold in the PS2's first month of availability alone.

Now, let me follow this up by noting that Microsoft's newly announced Xbox 360 system is going to run on existing DVD media (for games and movies), but will not support HD-DVD format discs.

All of this is about what we expected, based on rumors as to what Sony and Microsoft were planning for their systems. But it's a very bad omen for the HD-DVD camp. Sony, within a few months of the time they expect to launch movies on their Blu-ray Disc format, is going to have several million machines on the market capable of playing them. Tens of millions by the end of the first year. And each of those machines is going to be more than capable of driving high-end HD displays. What is the HD-DVD camp going to have in that timeframe? Not even a fraction of that number of dedicated players.

Sony has the two biggest PC manufacturers in the world, Dell and HP, on their side, along with Apple, Hitachi, LG, Matsushita, Mitsubishi, Pioneer, Royal Philips, Samsung, Sharp and Thompson. Plus they've 20th Century Fox, Disney, Sony Pictures (Columbia TriStar) and now MGM in their camp... AND they've got the PS3 on the way.

Toshiba has Microsoft in their camp, sort of. On the hardware front, they have NEC, Sanyo and Memory-Tech. And in Hollywood, they've got Warner, New Line, Paramount and Universal.

Think about that. If I'm a high-end, home theater-phile, early adopter type, am I going to be jonesing to get my hands on a Sanyo or Toshiba HD-DVD player, or a Sony or Pioneer Blu-ray Disc player (or a PS3)? Are you kidding me?

This thing is over. It's done. Toshiba and Warner Bros. just haven't figured it out yet.

There's word today (including this story at Technology News) that Toshiba is reluctant to back down from support of its 0.6 mm data layer format (DVD/HD-DVD) for fear of angering its supporters in the DVD camp, some of which have already been gearing up to replicate discs based on 0.6 mm. Here's my take: Get the hell over it, folks.

Reuters is now reporting that the presidents of both Toshiba and Sony are going to meet to try to break the stalemate in the format unification talks (reported yesterday). That's a very good thing, but Toshiba had better open their eyes and realize that a unified format based on the 0.1 mm Blu-ray Disc structure is probably the BEST thing that can happen for them. Because I'm telling you right now, if Toshiba backs away completely and this format war DOES happen, Toshiba's going to lose big. By working with Sony now, and making a few concessions to unite these two formats, Toshiba is going to be in a much better position a couple of years from now than they would be if they try to go it alone with HD-DVD.

But that's just my two cents.

By the way, we have word that Sony's Ghostbusters: Double Feature Gift Set will both films with newly remastered anamorphic widescreen video. It will also include 2 episodes of The Real Ghostbusters animated series. Other than that, all of the extras on the set (deleted scenes, commentary, multi-angle featurettes, etc) are recycled from the previous DVD releases.

We'll be back with more in a little while. Stay tuned...

5/16/05

We've got a couple things for you today, but first some bad news. Video Business is reporting that the Sony/Toshiba talks aimed at unifying Blu-ray Disc and HD-DVD into a single format have broken down. Both camps are now saying that, while talks may resume, they're basically going to proceed with their previous plans (read: the format war is on again). Apparently, the sticking point is where in the disc structure the data layer will be located. Sony's plan calls for the data to be located 0.1 mm from the surface of the disc to allow for more tightly packed data, while Toshiba wants the data located 0.6 mm from the surface (like current DVDs) to allow discs to be manufactured on existing production lines. There's also a report on the talks over at Appliance Magazine.com which quotes Toshiba representatives as saying, "The Sony side failed to provide enough evidence that its format has a clear advantage over ours in terms of cost and range of applications." In other words, everyone is back to taking a hard-line position.

I'll tell you, the Hollywood studios had better step in and apply some SERIOUS pressure on these guys to get talking again, and pronto.

Meanwhile today, our own Barrie Maxwell has delivered another excellent Classic Coming Attractions column for you. In this edition, Barrie runs down all the latest classic film release announcements. He's also updated his downloadable database of upcoming classic DVDs as well (zipped MS Word doc file). Be sure to check it out.

Around the site today, we've kicked off FIVE new Contests, giving each of you the chance to win copies of Warner's NFL: Greatest Follies and NBA: 25 Years of Champions, Shout! Factory's Dodger Blue the Championship Years, 20th Century Fox's Bart Wars, Garfield Fantasies, Kinsey and Call Me: The Rise and Fall of Heidi Fleiss, and Universal's White Noise. The contests will run until Noon (Pacific) on Sunday, May 22nd. Click on the links to get started and good luck!

By the way, the winners of the just-ended batch of contests will be announced tomorrow.

Also today, you may have noticed some new advertising around The Bits for a company called Movie Gold Mine. They carry a wide variety of DVD releases, but they specialize in out-of-print, rare and hard-to-find titles. If you're looking for something, you might want to give 'em a try. Tell 'em The Bits sent you!

And finally, our old friend DocDVD (a.k.a. Josh Lehman) has written an excellent editorial on the future of the DVD format over at Digital Audio Video.com. It's well worth a read, so be sure to check it out.

We'll be back with lots more tomorrow. Stay tuned...

5/13/05

Afternoon, folks. The big news today is that Warner has finally announced the DVD release of two versions of Oliver Stone's Alexander to street on 8/2. The first will be a 2-disc Alexander: Special Edition (SRP $29.95), featuring the 175-minute theatrical version of the film in anamorphic widescreen video with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras will include audio commentary with director Oliver Stone and historian Robin Lane Fox, the Resurrecting Alexander, Perfect is the Enemy of God and The Death of Alexander documentaries, and a featurette on the film's soundtrack, Vangelis Scores Alexander. Also available on 8/2 will be a 2-disc Alexander: Director's Cut (SRP also $29.95), featuring a 167-minute version of the film ("newly inspired, faster-paced and more action-packed" according to the cover), also in anamorphic widescreen video with Dolby Digital 5.1 and, as far as we can tell, the same extras as the theatrical cut. So yes, the director's cut is actually SHORTER than the theatrical cut. Strange bird that Oliver Stone. A full frame version of the director's cut will also be available.

Here's the cover art for both versions of Alexander, along with the regular and deluxe versions of Constantine (7/19) and the regular and deluxe versions of Million Dollar Baby as well (7/12), some of which feature revised artwork...

Alexander: Special Edition (Theatrical Cut)Alexander: Director's CutConstantine (Regular Edition)

Constantine: Deluxe EditionMillion Dollar Baby: 2-Disc Regular EditionMillion Dollar Baby: 3-Disc Deluxe Edition

There's not a lot of other news to report today, release-wise, and there's little new on the HD-DVD/Blu-ray front either. But there are a couple of interesting stories worth mentioning from around the Net.

Video Business has a report on how this summer is light on new movie releases on DVD, but it's completely heavy on TV titles (and also catalog re-issues).

In other news, official details have also emerged on Microsoft's new XBox 360 game system, following its product debut on MTV last night. Interestingly, the platform will use existing DVD discs and not HD-DVD (although that's not unexpected). You can read more on this at Video Business, CNN/Money, GameSpot and many, many other places around the Net (you should also know that the official Xbox 360.com website has launched, but there's not much there yet). The 360 is tentatively due to arrive in stores in time for the holidays later this year. You can be sure that next-generation game systems (from Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo) will dominate the upcoming E3 electronics gaming convention which kicks off on Monday here in Los Angeles.

Also, I suppose it's worth reminding those of you who might still care that tonight is the final two episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise on UPN. The first hour of the 2-hour broadcast, Terra Prime, is the second part of the show's final dramatic arc (centering on the issue of xenophobia) which began last week with Demons. It promises to be pretty good. Likely not so good, however, will be the second hour of the broadcast - the show's final episode, These Are the Voyages.... Unfortunately, it's actually more of a finale for all of Star Trek (it plays like an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation), so the Enterprise characters get rather short shrift. Word is it's going to be pretty unsatisfying for those of you who have hung with Enterprise for the last four years. Apparently, a lot of the show's cast and crew considers Terra Prime to be the show's REAL finale, so take that under advisement. Anyway, tune in if you care, and enjoy them if you can. It'll probably be the last new Trek we get to see for a long time (which I'm starting to think is actually a good thing), so you know... mix a few good stiff drinks of choice and tough it out.

We've got a ton of new DVD releases ready to go for next week, so we're going to kick that off on Monday. Plus we'll have new columns and all the latest DVD news as well.

Have a great weekend and we'll see you then!

5/12/05

We've got a TON of DVD release news for you guys today, including an update on the now combined Sony/MGM slate for the next couple of months. So let's take a look at what's new. The first thing to note is that all of MGM's already announced titles for July have been picked up by Sony. So here's what's new or what you may not have heard about yet.

Starting on 7/5, look for In My Country, Tour of Duty: The Complete Third Season, Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles - The Complete Campaigns, Forever Lulu, Hexed, Twenty Bucks, Georgy Girl and Nadine.

On 7/12, watch for The Discovery Channel's Anatomy of a Shark Bite and The Nanny: The Complete First Season.

7/19 will see the release of Man of the House, Up and Down, Urban Legends: Bloody Mary and an Urban Legends: 3-Pack (to include Urban Legends, Urban Legends: The Final Cut and Urban Legends: Bloody Mary).

Rounding out July on 7/26, watch for Brothers in Arms (2005), Steamboy: Director's Cut, a Steamboy Giftset (including the Director's Cut, a collectible booklet, postcards and a mini-comic book, a Steamboy/Memories 2-Pack, Jay Jay the Jet Plane: School Is Cool, Jay Jay the Jet Plane: Imagination Station, Beulah Land, Slaves of New York, The Blue and the Gray: Recut, Not Another Teen Movie: Unrated Director's Cut, a Metropolis/Cowboy Bebop 2-Pack and Side by Side.

Moving on to August, slated for 8/2 are Oliver Hirschbiegel's Downfall (starring Bruno Ganz), Guess Who, Austin Stevens: Snakemaster - Volume #1, The Jeff Corwin Experience: Out On a Limb - Monkeys Orangutans and More!, a Matt Helm Lounge box set (including Silencers, Wrecking Crew, Ambushers and Murderer's Row), A Fine Mess, an Annie/Annie:Royal Adventure - Double Feature, a Swan Princess/Swan Princess: The Mystery of the Enchanted Treasure - Double Feature, a Ghostbusters I & II Giftset (with collectible scrapbook), The Berenstain Bears: Bears Out and About, Dragon Tales: Sing and Dance in Dragonland and The Wubbulous World of Dr.Seuss: The Gink, The Cat and Other Furry Friends.

An MGM title slate for August has yet to be announced by Sony.

Paramount, in the meantime, has added a few new titles to its July and August slate. Some of these you may know about, but there are a few here you probably don't yet (note that there are a few TV and kids releases we've mentioned previously that aren't included on this list).

On 7/12, look for Another Time, Another Place, The Adventurers, Elephant Walk, Breath of Scandal, The Rainmaker and The Bad News Bears: Triple Play Collection (which includes The Bad News Bears, The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training and The Bad News Bears Go to Japan).

Following on 7/26 is Wilder Days.

Titles announce by Paramount for 8/2 include those two John Wayne releases... Island in the Sky: Special Collector's Edition and The High and the Mighty: Special Collector's Edition.

Homeland Security and Mikheil Kalatozishvili's The Red Tent are set for 8/23.

Breck Eisner's recent adventure flick Sahara and the comedy Schultze Gets the Blues round out the slate on 8/30.

We've got some new cover art to show you today as well. Here's Warner's Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous (6/21), Universal's Revelations (6/28) and Paramount's The Bad News Bears: Triple Play Collection...

Miss Congeniality 2RevelationsThe Bad News Bears: Triple Play Collection

Around the Net today, there aren't really any new developments to report in the Blu-ray/HD-DVD format talks, but Arstechnica website has a good story summarizing recent news. E-Commerce News also has an interesting report on the talks and the stakes involved. Both are well worth a look.

Stay tuned...

5/11/05

Boy... have I ever been busy in the last 24 hours! I've been sitting here trying to get a bunch of reviews posted, but with all the recent HD-DVD/Blu-ray hubub, my phone's been ringing off the hook. It seems that everyone wants to talk about the latest developments, and I've barely been able to string two coherent words together in print since.

I have, however, FINALLY managed to complete four reviews of new and recent DVD releases for you... New Line's Birth, Disney's National Treasure, Rykodisc Monty Python's Graham Chapman: Looks Like a Brown Trouser Job - The U.S. College Tours 1988 (with a title that long it's GOT to be worth a look) and Capital Entertainment's Sunset Story. Our own Matt Rowe has also chipped in with his thoughts on Rhino's The Ramones: End of the Century - The Story of The Ramones. I hope you enjoy them. We'll have more new DVD reviews for you tomorrow, barring any major breaking news.

Also today, we have a bit more DVD release news for you. Sony/MGM will soon announce the release of Jiminy Glick in La La Wood on 7/19 (SRP $25.98). Extras will include outtakes and deleted scenes. Also soon to be announced by the studio(s) are Manna from Heaven (due 7/12 - SRP $25.98 - featuring Q&A and audio commentary with the filmmakers, the Traveling the Indie Road featurette, deleted and extended scenes and bloopers) and Michael Figgis' Hotel (due 7/26 - SRP $25.98 - featuring a documentary, a photo gallery and more than 30 "web shorts" by Figgis). Consider all that Rumor Mill-worthy until the official word comes next week.

Meanwhile, Universal has officially announced the DVD release of NBC's Revelations mini-series (due 6/28), along with Throttle (8/2), McMillan & Wife: Season One, Columbo: The Complete Third Season and McCloud: Seasons One & Two (all 8/9), and One Last Dance (8/30).

And Warner has announced the DVD release of Chris Farley and Matthew Perry in Almost Heroes, Mark Hamill and Annie Potts in Corvette Summer, and Danny DeVito and Joe Piscopo in Wise Guys, all for 8/30 (SRP $14.97 each).

There's nothing new on the HD-DVD/Blu-ray front today, other than more fallout over Toshiba's triple-layer, 45 GB HD-DVD disc announcement. We'll let you know if anything major hits the fan.

Stay tuned...

(LATE UPDATE - 5/10/05 - 10 AM PDT)

It seems Toshiba's gotten a little cantankerous in the last few hours or so. Conflicting reports about the status of the HD-DVD/Blu-ray Disc negotiations have continued to be issued this morning. The EETimes and The Register have both picked up Toshiba's denial of a deal based on Blu-ray's disc structure and Toshiba's software for data transfer and copyright protection.

Meanwhile, at the Media-Tech Expo in Las Vegas, Toshiba has defiantly announced a triple-layer, 45 GB HD-DVD disc that's clearly designed to compete with Blu-ray's 50 GB discs (see story here at MacWorld). How practical this would be to mass market, given all the current dual-layered DVD discs that seem to ship these days with bonding problems that interrupt playback, remains to be seen. The company also announced a double-sided HD-DVD/DVD hybrid disc it claims could be used as a "transition" format between DVD and HD-DVD (although since the bonding would reduce the data storage capacity of both the DVD and HD-DVD sides, the value of this to consumers seems somewhat dubious). Once again, our guess is that this public posturing by Toshiba is an effort to give the company a boost in its format unification talks with Sony.

As always, keep those fingers crossed out there. If someone wants to chant or do a little rain dance or something to invoke a measure of humility and common sense (on BOTH sides) in these talks, that probably couldn't hurt either at this point.

Back later. Stay tuned...

(EARLY UPDATE - 5/10/05 - 12:01 AM PDT)

Well... we're keeping a close eye on yesterday's MAJOR breaking news about Sony and Toshiba's possibly impending format deal. The latest this very early this morning (as of 12:01 AM Pacific) is that Toshiba has issued an official statement on their website to the effect that the press report (we assume they mean the story in the Nihon Keizai Shimbun) was erroneous. On the other hand, Retuers has issued a follow-up story citing a source "close to the matter" that corroborates yesterday's reports. There's also a new Channel NewsAsia story that refers to both yesterday's reports and the latest Toshiba statement.

What does all this conflicting PR buzz mean? Our guess is that it's likely indicative of 10th or 11th hour corporate posturing as the final details of a format agreement are hammered out. In negotiations like this, particularly where there's a lot at stake (both in terms of pride and financial gain), it's always the last few inches that are the toughest to cross. In any case, we'd suggest taking a wait and see attitude. As I said before, we're keeping a close eye on the situation.

Meanwhile, we've got a little bit more information for you this morning on possible street dates for Fox's Kingdom of Heaven and Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith. You'll find that in The Rumor Mill today, so do check it out.

We'll be back later today with some new DVD reviews, and you can be sure that we'll jump in quickly with an update if there's any more breaking news on the format talks front.

Stay tuned...

(BREAKING NEWS - 5/9/05 - 5 PM PDT)

Here's a bit of VERY interesting news. According to several sources, including Reuters, Australian IT, Interactive Investor and Engadget, a Japanese newspaper (the Nihon Keizai Shimbun) is apparently reporting that Sony and Toshiba are very close to reaching an agreement in their effort to unite Blu-ray Disc and HD-DVD into a common format for next generation DVDs. The deal could be finalized as early as this week and announced shortly thereafter, ahead of meetings with manufacturers scheduled for May 16th (where industry approval for the format would presumably be solicited). The technology compromise would reportedly see the new format utilizing Sony's planned disc structure (originally designed for Blu-ray Disc) with Toshiba's software for data transfer and copyright protection (developed for HD-DVD).

This is FANTASTIC news if it all pans out. We should know more very soon. Thanks to all the many Bits readers who sent in these links. Cross your fingers!

Also today, Star Wars: Episode III director George Lucas and producer Rick McCallum have confirmed to MTV.com that Revenge of the Sith will be on DVD in time for Christmas THIS year. McCallum said the disc will contain as many as 5 or 6 deleted scenes from the film. Lucas also confirmed that a box set of all six Star Wars films will be released at some point in the future, but wasn't specific on a timeframe. We'll keep you up to date on this, you can be sure.

Stay tuned!

(LATE UPDATE - 5/9/05 - 1 PM PDT)

We've got a couple of things for you this afternoon.

First up, for you music lovers, our MusicTAP.net affiliate site has posted a number of music DVD-Video and high-resolution format reviews in the last few weeks. These include our own Adam Jahnke's take on Bruce Spingsteen: Devils & Dust in DualDisc format, John Dunphy's look at The Blind Boys of Alabama: Go Tell It on the Mountain - Live in NY on DVD and Lindsay Planer's reviews of The Spencer Davis Group: Gimme Some Lovin' - Live 1966, Nanci Griffith: One Fair Summer Evening... Plus! and Miles Davis: The Cool Jazz Sound also on DVD.

Also today, there's an interesting story over at Video Business on how the District of Columbia Circuit Court has ruled that the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) "exceeded the scope of its delegated authority" in 2003 when it mandated that DTV devices must contain circuitry that recognize the "broadcast flag" designed to prevent the copying of HDTV signals. The decision is effectively a rejection of over-the-air HDTV copy protection. You can read additional stories on this at FMQB, Out-Law and The Cape Cod Times.

And The Fort Wayne News-Sentinel has a story up on how Microsoft and HP are unveiling a pair of new HD disc formats designed to play HD signals on Microsoft's forthcoming, next-generation Xbox 360 game system, as well as on new HP Media Center PCs, both using current DVD discs and red lasers. Neither is likely to make a dent on the HD-DVD/Blu-ray Disc front, but they're certainly interesting from a consumer perspective, given that the Xbox 360 is likely to end up in a LOT of homes, and the new HP Media Center PCs will allow you to record off the air HD broadcasts in a format that can then be played back on any current DVD player.

Around the site today, you may have noticed the new Master Replicas advertising and banner graphics. If you're interested in any of the many cool replica props that the company makes (for Star Wars, Star Trek, Aliens and much more), clicking through our links when you make a purchase with them helps to support our work here at The Digital Bits (and we surely do appreciate it). They've got some very sweet items over there - prop weapons and other cool sci-fi devices like lightsabers (including "working" Force FX sabers for just $120 each), blasters, phasers and more. Do check them out.

Finally today, we wanted to direct you over to our other sister site, DigitalAudioVideo.com (aka DocDVD), which has just undergone a MAJOR redesign. The site looks absolutely fantastic and I think you'll all appreciate what our friends over there have to offer. We're very proud of our association with them, so be sure to check their new site design out.

We'll be back tomorrow with a number of new DVD reviews. Stay tuned!

(EARLY UPDATE - 5/9/05 - 12:01 AM PDT)

Here's a bit of cool DVD news that we figured some of you guys might be interested in: Buena Vista and Dimension have let it slip that Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez's neo-noir Sin City will hit our favorite format on 8/16 (SRP $29.99). It looks like this is going to be a fairly bare-bones version (extras will reportedly include a production featurette and storyboards), with a more elaborate special edition DVD set to follow later in 2005 or 2006.

Other titles newly announced from Buena Vista include Dracula III: Legacy (7/12), The Crow: Wicked Prayer and Ice Princess (both on 7/19), Glass Shield: Special Edition, My Left Foot: Special Edition and Studio Ghibli's My Neighbors the Yamadas and Pom Poko (all on 8/16), Lilo and Stitch: Stitch Has a Glitch (8/30) and The Prophecy: Forsaken and Hellraiser: Hellworld (both on 9/6).

We have a little more details on Disney and Pixar's 2-disc Toy Story: 10th Anniversary Edition (due on 9/6). The film's picture and sound will apparently be "enhanced" with a higher video bit rate (think Sony's Superbit discs) and a new Dolby Digital 5.1 EX surround sound mix (done by the film's original sound designer, Gary Rydstrom). Newly-produced extras on the disc will include 3 featurettes (The Legacy of Toy Story, The Making of Toy Story and Designing Toy Story), a music video of Randy Newman and Lyle Lovett singing You've Got a Friend in Me and a Cars sneak preview. The set's other extras will be recycled from the original Ultimate Toy Box release.

In other DVD news, Warner has set Miss Congeniality 2 for release on 6/21 (SRP $27.95). Look for the film in separate anamorphic widescreen and full frame versions, each with Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 audio. Each disc will feature deleted scenes and the film's theatrical trailer.

Lions Gate will release Speed Racer: Volume Three on 5/24.

New Line will King's Ransom on 7/26.

Paramount has set The Brady Bunch: The Complete Second Season for release on 7/26.

And in a repeat from Friday in case you missed it, 20th Century Fox will deliver Fever Pitch to disc on 7/12 (SRP $29.95).

Around the site this morning, we've kicked off FIVE new Contests giving each of you the chance to take home copies of Warner's Dastardy & Muttley in Their Flying Machines: The Complete Series, The Perils of Penelope Pitstop: The Complete Series and Racing Stripes, Rykodisc's Graham Chapman: Looks Like a Brown Trouser Job, Capital Entertainment's Jamie's Kitchen, and Universal's In Good Company and Assault on Precinct 13. The contests will run until Noon (Pacific time) on Sunday, May 15th. Click on the links to get started and good luck!

We'll be back with more later this morning. Stay tuned!

5/6/05

Well, it seems that I promised you another film review today, didn't I? Let's get right to it then.

I have seen Episode III.

I can't tell you how strange it is to finally be able to say that. Like many of you out there, Star Wars was the film that first ignited my imagination back in 1977, and awakened in me a life-long interest in the cinema. And like many of you, I've been waiting 28 years for the Star Wars experience to be complete. I'm just so... well, it's hard to describe what I'm feeling right now. It's a very bittersweet thing. I've seen the last Star Wars film ever, and it feels somehow as if a major chapter of my life - one that in many ways has defined it - has closed. I know a lot of you are going to feel the same way come May 19th.

It's well after Midnight as I'm writing this. I'd planned to get this review up early yesterday evening, but my mind has been spinning all day, thinking about and absorbing and processing what I've seen. Honestly, far more powerful than Episode III itself could ever be, is simply the experience of finally seeing it. It's frankly going to require many weeks, and many more screenings of this film, before I really have any kind of perspective on it. But I promised you a review, so I'm going to give it my level best. I'll tell you one thing, silly though it may sound to some: This is probably the hardest film review I've ever had to write.

I'm going to describe the basic plot of Episode III in the paragraphs that follow, but because I know that many of you want to be unspoiled when you go into the theater on the 19th, I'll refrain from posting any major plot revelations. If you're a long-time Star Wars fan, and you already know the basic premise of Revenge of the Sith, you'll be fine reading this review. The rest of you should just click away now, and we'll see you back here on Monday. Believe me, I understand.

For those of you still with me... here goes:

It's been three years since the events of Episode II, and the Clone Wars have ravaged the galaxy. Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi have become legendary heroes of the conflict, having led the Republic's clone legions in many successful campaigns against the vast droid armies of the Separatists.

After a particularly fierce battle over Coruscant in which the cunning commander of the enemy forces, General Grievous, narrowly escapes, Anakin and Obi-Wan return to the capitol and learn that while the Jedi are spread precariously thin across the galaxy, the war seems to be turning in their favor. Despite this, however, the Senate continues to vote Chancellor Palpatine ever greater emergency powers, raising serious concerns among the Jedi Council.

Meanwhile, Anakin reveals to his secret wife, Padmé, that he's struggling to remain on the Jedi path. Despite the guidance of his friend and mentor, Obi-Wan, Anakin is having difficulty containing his ambitions. Soon after learning that Padmé is pregnant, he's plagued by nightmares of her death. Afraid of losing his love as he once lost his mother, Anakin becomes desperate... and vulnerable. Little does he know, the Dark Lord of the Sith is about to emerge from the shadows to complete a diabolical plan a thousand years in the making - a plan that will pit friend against friend, transform Republic into Empire... and forge Anakin's ultimate destiny.

I'll say it right now, I think most of you are going to really dig this film. As you've no doubt already heard, Revenge of the Sith is far darker and more intense than either of the two films that preceded it. It starts out with a bang, in an absolutely amazing sequence of edge-of-your-seat action and CG effects, then slows down for a time as the story's various levels of character and political intrigue begin evolving to their inevitable resolution. Thankfully, about halfway in, things start to really hit the fan and the tension builds almost exponentially until the film's final moments. What really makes Episode III work is its strong emotional thru-line. This is not a happy story, but Lucas has finally managed to make you connect with, and feel for, his characters in a visceral way. As one tragic set of events after another unfolds, it's very easy as a viewer to get caught up in the drama.

It also certainly helps that the second half of this film is NOTHING but the stuff we've all been waiting years to see. Lucas has hinted in past interviews at just how it was that Anakin came to be transformed into the formidable Darth Vader that we're all familiar with. Now you'll finally get to see that happen. Phantom and Clones were mere appetizers to this film (and they're actually diminished, I think, by comparison). Sith gives us, at long last, the main course of the prequel trilogy's backstory.

The acting is better in Episode III almost across the board. Gone is Hayden Christensen's occasional awkwardness as Anakin in the last film. Here he only has to brood and glower, but he does it well indeed. Natalie Portman (Padmé) and Ian McDiarmid (Palpatine) finally get to emote rather than just standing around in Kabuki apparel delivering flat dialogue about trade sanctions and executive orders. But the real stand-out of this film is Ewan McGregor, who absolutely nails the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi, perfectly capturing Alec Guinness' subtle nuances of performance in the original films. A real treat to watch here, McGregor too finally gets to express some genuine emotion for a change.

The CG animation, while still imparting a somewhat artificial beauty to the imagery, has never been more intricate and gorgeous to look at. The action, particularly the lightsaber battles, is easily the saga's best (and by a WIDE margin). Jar Jar Binks, though he appears briefly twice, never utters a single word (as 3P0 might say, "Thank the Maker!"). Better still, Revenge of the Sith is absolutely rife with hallmark, connective moments that firmly tie the prequel trilogy to A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. And there are two new bits of particularly interesting information that we're given in Sith - things that I have to say came as a bit of a surprise to me. The first is given almost in passing in the middle of the film, and not everyone I spoke with after the screening caught it. The second comes very near the end. Both will force you to reconsider the complete saga in something of a new light.

All of this is not to say that Revenge of the Sith doesn't have its flaws. Several moments of juvenile humor early in the film seem very out of place given the dark and unsettling intensity of the last act. Trust me, this film is rated PG-13 for a reason. There's disturbing imagery here that is definitely not appropriate for younger children (although I applaud Lucas for having the wherewithal to give this film the more adult edge the story demands). The dialogue, while somewhat better than in the previous two films, still occasionally sounds flat. The Jedi continue to seem, for all their powers, to be a surprisingly clueless bunch (and they pay dearly for it). After the opening sequence, and before the film really takes off in the second half, there's a bit too much... well, padding is the best word for it. And while most of the various plot threads between the two trilogies are tied up nicely by the time the words 'Directed by George Lucas' appear on screen, there are a couple of minor inconsistencies that remain unresolved. I expect that entire books will be written in the years to come by die-hard fans attempting to resolve these outstanding issues.

All this aside, however, I believe it's fair to say that Lucas has crafted the best climax we could reasonably expect given the realities of The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. While Revenge of the Sith is not a truly great film, it is EASILY the strongest of the three prequels, as well as the most thrilling and emotionally engaging. One could even call it heart-breaking (I saw grown men moved to tears yesterday, and I had a pretty damn good lump in my throat once or twice, I'll tell you). Much more importantly, it is undeniably the most satisfying film of Lucas' newest trilogy. By my thinking, Sith rightly takes its place as the third best entry in the Star Wars saga, behind Empire and A New Hope.

As I mentioned at the start of this review, I'm still WAY too close to this experience to trust my perspective on it completely. So I reserve the right to revise my judgement slightly in the weeks ahead (call it Editor's prerogative). That said, if I were going to assign grades to all six Star Wars films in light of having just seen Episode III for the first time, here's how I'd do it this morning:

The Phantom Menace: C
Attack of the Clones: C+
Revenge of the Sith: B+
A New Hope: A
The Empire Strikes Back: A+
Return of the Jedi: B-

So there's my take. When you see Sith, you'll have to let me know whether or not you agree. In any case, I sincerely hope you enjoy it.

By the way, can anyone out there recommend good rehabilitative services for a recovering Star Wars fan? The withdrawal symptoms are a real bitch, let me tell you. You're all welcome to join me in counselling in two weeks. I'll save you a seat. ;-)

Before I close, we've got a couple of other quick DVD notes for you this morning. First, we have officially confirmed those Star Trek: Enterprise - The Complete Second Season DVD specs we posted in The Rumor Mill yesterday.

And you Red Sox fans will be pleased to learn that Fox will deliver Fever Pitch to disc on 7/12 (SRP $29.95). Just so you know.

Okay, have a great weekend everyone. We'll see you Monday!

5/5/05

We've got a few interesting new DVD announcements for you today.

First up this morning, Buena Vista has revealed the release of Life As We Know It: The Complete Series on 8/23 (SRP $39.99). The 3-disc set will contain all of the recently cancelled series' episodes in full frame video with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, including two that were never broadcast on ABC "that reveal how the series ended." You'll also get outtakes, deleted scenes, audio commentaries and a producer's photo gallery.

Buena Vista has also announced the DVD release of Walt Disney's Timeless Tales: Volume 1 and Walt Disney's Timeless Tales: Volumes 2 for 8/16 (SRP $19.99 each). Each disc will include 6 classic animated shorts "hand-picked from the Disney vaults." Volume 1 is expected to include The Prince and the Pauper, Three Little Pigs and The Tortoise and the Hare (plus two others), while Volume 2 will deliver Ugly Duckling, The Country Cousin and The Wind in the Willows (plus two more). You'll find cover artwork below.

Warner has announced more DVD releases today including an Astaire & Rogers: The Signature Collection - Volume One box set (8/16 - SRP $59.92) that will include The Barkleys of Broadway, Follow the Fleet, Shall We Dance, Swing Time and Top Hat. Each film will also be available separately on 8/16 for SRP $19.97 each.

Warner's also announced the 8/30 release of the BBC's Chef!: The Complete First Season, Chef!: The Complete Second Season and Chef!: The Complete Third Season (SRP $19.98 each). Of course, you can save a buck or two and buy all three seasons in Chef!: The Complete Collection that same day ($59.92). Also just announced for 8/30 from Warner is the BBC's The Funny Blokes of British Comedy and a pair of made-for-cable films (SRP $19.98 each), including The Librarian: Quest for the Spear and Pirates of Silicon Valley.

Meanwhile, Six Feet Under fans will be pleased to learn that HBO has set Six Feet Under: The Complete Fourth Season for release on 8/23 (SRP $99.98). The 5-disc set will include all 12 episodes in anamorphic widescreen video with Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 audio. Extras will include audio commentary on 7 of the episodes by series creator Alan Ball with various writers and directors, episodic previews and recaps, a Season 1-3 Recap featurette and the Cut by Cut: Editing Six Feet Under featurette.

Moving on, 20th Century Fox has set The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, starring Gregory Peck, for release on 8/9 (SRP $19.98).

Also, Paramount has announced MTV's Laguna Beach: The Complete First Season for release on 7/19. The High and the Mighty is now set for 8/2, with Homeland Security due to follow on 8/23.

And Criterion has revealed their July DVD release slate, which is expected to include Preston Sturges's Unfaithfully Yours (catalog #292), Luchino Visconti's Le notti bianche (#296) and Seijun Suzuki's Story of a Prostitute (#299) and Gate of Flesh (#298). You'll find more details at the official site.

Around the Internet today, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates is featured in a new interview with Peter Rojas over at Engadget.com (click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2). In the second part of the interview, Gates is asked about the possible compromise between HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc, and how important a single unified standard is to Microsoft. His full answer is well worth a read, but the short of it boils down to: "We want to see a single format, and we think it's best for the PC industry for a single format to emerge. That won't necessarily happen and if it doesn't then to some degree we'll have to support both formats."

Here at The Bits this morning, we've updated all of the DVD hardware and software stats we track, including the CEA DVD Player Sales numbers for the first week or April (78,745 units shipped to retailers for the week ending 4/8). All of the appropriate charts have been updated accordingly.

We also have a few details on some of the extras you can expect on Paramount's Star Trek: Enterprise - The Complete Second Season, currently slated for release on 7/26. You'll find that in The Rumor Mill this morning, so don't miss it.

Our own Adam Jones has also checked in with a review of Sony Classical's new Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack), which includes not only the film's score on CD, but also a bonus DVD disc featuring the 70-minute Star Wars: A Musical Journey. Trust us - if you're a fan, it's well worth your hard-earned clams.

We've got a little more new cover art for you to check out today. Here's HBO's Six Feet Under: The Complete Fourth Season, Warner's Astaire & Rogers: The Signature Collection - Volume One box set, New Line's The Upside of Anger (street date 7/26), Fox's Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story - Unrated Version (8/2 - that date comes straight from Fox, but Amazon has it set for 7/12), and Disney's Walt Disney's Timeless Tales: Volumes 1 & 2...

Six Feet Under: The Complete Fourth SeasonAstaire & Rogers: The Signature Collection - Volume OneThe Upside of Anger

Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story - Unrated VersionWalt Disney's Timeless Tales: Volume 1Walt Disney's Timeless Tales: Volume 2

For those of you who may have missed it, be sure to read yesterday's post for my thoughts on Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven, which hits theaters on Friday. And be sure to check back late tonight or early tomorrow morning for my full review of Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith. No kidding.

Stay tuned!

5/4/05

I promised you some thoughts on Ridley Scott's latest period swordplay epic, Kingdom of Heaven, didn't I? All right... here goes. [Editor's note: There are a few spoilers in this review, so some of you might want skip down a bit for my conclusions until you've seen the film yourselves. I'll let you know when it's okay to start reading again.]

The year is 1186. Balian (Orlando Bloom), is a young French blacksmith whose wife has just committed suicide after losing their child. Since his Christian upbringing claims that suicide is a great moral sin, Balian is told by his morally corrupt priest that his wife has gone to Hell, causing him a deep crisis of faith. Not long after this happens, a band of Crusading knights passes through Balian's village. As it happens, their leader, Godfrey of Ibelin (Liam Neeson), has come specifically to find Balian. It seems that Godfrey is the father Balian's never known. Godfrey offers to take the young blacksmith under his wing, to train him as a knight and to give him a home on his estate in the Holy Land. Balian at first refuses, and Godfrey and his men depart. But after an incident with the village's priest - an incident which leaves the priest dead - Balian flees and catches up with Godfrey to accept his offer, hoping to seek forgiveness from God for his actions in Jerusalem and, hopefully, eventual redemption for his wife's soul.

Godfrey and his men quickly accept Balian into their ranks and depart for the Holy Land. As they're about to cross the sea for Jerusalem, however, an unfortunate turn of leaves Godfrey mortally wounded. Godfrey knights Balian, making him swear to protect the King of Jerusalem - and upon the King's death, to protect the weak and innocent - and then dies, leaving Balian the new Baron of Ibelin. Balian makes the crossing alone, filled with doubt that he'll be able to keep his promises to a father he barely knew. Upon arriving in Jerusalem, after another series of unfortunate events, he soon earns the respect of Tiberias (Jeremy Irons), the King's aide and Godfrey's friend. He also earns the trust of the reclusive King Baldwin himself (Edward Norton), who happens to be a leper, as well as the King's sister, Sibylla (Eva Green - you've most recently seen her in The Dreamers). All of these things draw scorn for Balian from Guy de Lusignan (Marton Csokas - best known as the bad guy from xXx), an arrogant and power hungry baron who is married to Sibylla and who would be the next King. While Baldwin has managed to keep an uneasy peace with the legendary leader of the Muslims, Saladin (Ghassan Massoud), Guy wants war instead, believing what he's been told by his advisors from the Church - that with God on their side, the Christians are unbeatable. As still more unfortunate events unfold, Balian soon finds himself torn between his promise to his father and loyalty to King Baldwin... and doing what he knows to be right. Ultimately, Balian will have to take on the responsibility for the military defense of Jerusalem from an all-out assault led by Saladin himself.

That sounds like a great epic story, right? Well... Kingdom of Heaven is certainly a masterpiece of direction, cinematography, action and presentation. I expect all of those things from director Ridley Scott, and he doesn't disappoint. The problem here, and its a very BIG problem, is with the story... or rather the many serious gaps within it. To begin with, Balian's rags to riches transformation unfolds so quickly as to be completely unbelievable. Balian goes from being a poor blacksmith to the new Baron of Ibelin in less than thirty minutes. Thirty minutes after that, he's already become a trusted vassal of King Baldwin who seems surprisingly comfortable with his new responsibilities. Still another problem is that, just minutes after he gets to Jerusalem, Balian seems already to have made peace with the death of his wife - a woman we presume he loved enough to kill and leave home for - and he's already well on his way to engaging in an affair with Sibylla. Even after the affair, which I think we're supposed to believe is deep and meaningful for both Balian and Sibylla, it's hard to believe that the two have formed a genuine love or romantic connection. It's harder still to believe in this relationship when Balian all too quickly and easily turns down a pretty incredible offer by Tiberias and King Baldwin (in yet another unlikely turn of events). You never get the sense that Balian is even tempted by the offer, making his character seem pretty one-dimensional.

Indeed, at no point in Kingdom of Heaven do we ever really get the sense that there's more to Balian than what we see on the surface - the simple honesty conveyed by actor Orlando Bloom in virtually every role we've seen him so far. Whereas in Gladiator, even at the very beginning of the film we sensed that Maximus was very complex fellow - a reluctant warrior fighting battles with his inner demons and wanting only to return peacefully to his family - there never seems to be anything going on under the surface with Balian. There's no complexity to the character. He's just too good to be true, and things seem to come WAY too easily for him. None of this is explained - we're just meant accept this part of the film's conceit.

Also troubling is the thread-bare characterization of Guy de Lusignan. Guy's reckless desire to take on Saladin's forces under the belief that "right" is on his side, can only be seen (whether you agree with the sentiment or not) as a commentary on the presidency of George W. Bush. There's a scene where newly minted King Guy is marshalling his barons to war, where Balian says basically, "You're playing right into Saladin's hands. He WANTS you to march out and attack him. You're going to get slaughtered." Of course, Guy arrogantly ignores him. Never mind the whole puzzling question of how a simple blacksmith suddenly got to be such an expert on combat tactics and strategy - you can probably guess how things turn out. Guy also never really seems to find out or care that Balian's had an affair with his wife. Indeed, the whole conflict between Balian and Guy never really pays off in the way you think it's going to.

We haven't even addressed yet the complex and potentially controversial political and religious issues this films concerns itself with - issues that (other than the Guy/Bush commentary) are glossed over all too quickly in this film. There's a vague message about tolerance, and there's a bit of sermonizing about the corruption that often creeps into organized religion. The moral seems to be that a person's faith and religion are very different things - that a person's relationship with God is a personal thing that arises out of one's deeds and actions every single day, and not how often one goes to church or says all the right things. In other words, you either walk the walk or you just talk the talk, and there's an appropriate degree of scorn for the latter. But the larger conflict in this film - the centuries long struggle between the Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths - is barely addressed in Kingdom of Heaven, and certainly not in any substantial way. That's pretty strange for a film about the Crusades released in the tense political and religious climate of 2005. Saladin is at least given a certain sense of honor and dignity - he's a man who offers respect when given it - but the character is still just as thread-bare as the others in this film.

[Those wishing to remain spoiler free can resume reading from this point.]

I happen to know that the original cut of this film was well over an hour longer that what audiences will see in theaters starting on Friday. I have a very strong suspicion that most of the problems with Kingdom of Heaven - lack of character depth and motivation (particularly for Balian), lack of subtle intrigue, events that seem to unfold with unrealistic ease or speed - were addressed in the missing footage. I'm betting that this is a case of a longer, substantial epic of as much complexity and subtlety as action, that's just been cut and cut and cut some more to leave the film but a pale skeleton of what it was before. No doubt this was influenced by studio execs wanting to cram the maximum number of male (drawn by the promise of action) and female (drawn by Orlando's pretty face) butts into theater seats, and to shoehorn in as many show times per day as possible.

The cumulative effect of all this cutting and trimming is the creation of a film that's beautiful to look at and goes through all the motions... but that's ultimately empty of greater intelligence or substance. This is pure Summer cinema candy. That's not a bad thing in and of itself, but you'll likely leave the theater feeling like this film was meant to be a lot more than that. I KNOW it was meant to be a lot more than that. Kingdom of Heaven is entertaining and it's certainly worth seeing once. As I said at the start of this review, it's an undeniable masterpiece of direction, cinematography, action and presentation. The massive, exquisitely staged spectacle of Saladin's siege of Jerusalem alone is worth the price of admission. But exquisitely staged spectacle by itself does not a great film make, nor even a particularly good one. Kingdom of Heaven is utterly forgettable, and that's a real shame. Here's hoping that we'll get to see the fuller, richer vision of Kingdom of Heaven - the one that the filmmakers set out to create in the first place - on DVD in the near future. In the meantime, I offer my reluctant (but confident) grade for the theatrical cut: C+

Okay... I've reviewed Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy this week and now Kingdom of Heaven. Interested in my thoughts on Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith? Well... you just might to check back tomorrow night.

See you then!

5/3/05

Some good DVD news today: Warner has finally announced the release of Constantine in single-disc regular and 2-disc deluxe editions (SRP $28.98 and $30.99 respectively) on 7/19. The standard edition will be available in both full frame and anamorphic widescreen versions, each with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. The deluxe edition will include anamorphic widescreen video, Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, audio commentary (by director Francis Lawrence, producer Akiva Goldsman and screenwriters Kevin Brodbin and Frank Capello), 18 minutes of deleted scenes (including an alternate ending) with optional commentary by Lawrence, the Conjuring Constantine, The Production from Hell and Imagining the Underworld documentaries, the Foresight: The Power of Pre-Visualization documentary with optional commentary by Lawrence, an Easter egg, A Perfect Circle's Passive music video and the film's theatrical trailer.

Also newly announced by HBO (distributed by Warner) are Blue Ice, Body Language, Dead Silence, Doomsday Gun, Head Office, Heaven Help Us, The Heist, Second Civil War, Mistral, Shot through the Heart, Strapped, Weapons of Mass Distraction and Traveling Man, all due on 8/30 (SRP $9.97).

20th Century Fox has announced the DVD release of dual full frame and anamorphic widescreen versions of Hide and Seek for 7/5 (SRP $29.98 each). Extras will include 4 seamlessly branched alternate endings with optional audio commentary by the director and members of the crew, 14 deleted scenes with optional commentary, 3 pre-viz sequences, a making of featurette and more. Fox will also be releasing Dodgeball: True Underdog Story - Unrated Version on 8/2 (SRP $26.98). The new Dodgeball DVD will include a new "joke commentary" with by writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber and actors Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn, an Easter egg commentary, documentaries, deleted scenes and much more.

Around the site this afternoon, we've posted a trio of new DVD reviews from our own Adam Jones... Rhino's Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume 7 and Land of the Lost: The Complete Third Season, and Warner's Nip/Tuck: The Complete First Season.

We've also got some new cover art for you to check out today. Here's Warner's Constantine: Deluxe Edition, Universal's Earth 2: The Complete Series (7/19) and Fox's Hide and Seek...

Constantine: Deluxe EditionEarth 2: The Complete SeriesHide and Seek

By the way, Matt and I had the chance to take in a screening of Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven last night, and I'll be posting my review of the film tomorrow.

Stay tuned...

(LATE UPDATE - 5/2/05 - 1 PM PDT)

Before I sign off today, I wanted to let you know that we've kicked off FIVE new Contests today, giving each of you the chance to win copies of Warner's The Phantom of the Opera: Special Edition, Gilmore Girls: The Complete Third Season, Fox's The Sandlot 2, Rhino's The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection, Volume 7, Criterion's Kagemusha (thanks to our friends at CD WOW!) and Anchor Bay's Sledge Hammer!: Season Two, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood: Adventures in Friendship and License to Drive: Special Edition. The contests will run until Noon Pacific on Sunday, May 8th. Click on the links to get started and good luck!

Speaking of CD WOW!, I also wanted to let you all know that our friends over there are offering readers of The Digital Bits a $1.50 discount on all purchases. Just click on this link when you head over there to get the discount.

We've also got a great new Artist of the Month for you to check out... Carlton Salter III! Carlton is a very talented illustrator whose stylish and fun work is well worth checking out. Click on the artist page to see a few samples of his work and feel free to drop him a line at tugeau2@sbcglobal.net. Glad to have you aboard, Carlton!

We'll be back tomorrow with more new DVD reviews. Stay tuned...

(LATE UPDATE - 5/2/05 - NOON PDT)

Okay... I promised you my thoughts on Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. As most of you should know by now, the story (as originally written by Douglas Adams, who also wrote about 80% of this film's screenplay before his untimely death) follows the adventures of one Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman), a hapless Brit who is appalled to learn one morning that his house is about to be knocked down and that his best friend Ford Prefect (Mos Def) is really from another planet. As shocking as both of those things are, however, Arthur is even more stunned when a fleet of interstellar spaceships suddenly shows up and vaporizes the Earth to make way for a hyperspace bypass. Arthur barely has time to grab his towel when Ford, who is actually a field researcher for the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, hitches a lift off the doomed planet just in the nick of time, bringing Arthur with him. They quickly get rescued from a very sticky situation by the starship Heart of Gold, which was stolen by one Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell), who also happens to be Ford's semi-cousin and the two-headed, fugitive president of the galaxy (yes, there IS a second head). Also on board is Marvin, the perpetually paranoid android, and Trillian (Zooey Deschanel) a cute British girl who, coincidentally, Arthur once met at a party but failed to hit it off with despite a rather promising start.

Now... there are a couple of complaints I've heard about this film from reviewers. The first is that it isn't an exact adaptation of Adam's original book. This is true. BUT... as fans who have been with Hitchhiker's from the beginning will know, the book wasn't a faithful adaptation of the original radio series. In fact, NONE of the versions of Hitchhiker's (the radio show, the BBC TV series, the books and the new film) follow exactly the same storyline. There are common elements, but then each version explores its own territory independently. The main differences in this film from the book [spoiler warning] are that instead of going straight to Magrathea after picking up Ford and Arthur, the Heart of Gold first visits Viltvodle VI (as you'll recall, the planet from the original books where the inhabitants had fifty arms each, so they invented the spray deodorant before the wheel). It seems that Zaphod's rival in the galactic presidential election, Humma Kavula (a brilliant cameo by John Malkovich), has become the leader of a religious cult there and Zaphod's got a score to settle with him. While there, the Vogons kidnap Trillian, so our heroes must make a quick detour to the Vogosphere as well to rescue her. But never fear, they DO finally get to Magrathea and, thanks to the detour, we get to see a lot of the amusing little side-stories that Adams' book was so famous for. The other major change in the film is an expansion of the awkward little love story between Arthur and Trillian (not awkward as in bad, but awkward as in the two are charming but a bit off-kilter and fumbling).

The other complaint I've read is that some feel that the film is reasonably faithful to the book... except that all of the jokes have been left out. My response to that is... what were they expecting? The obvious, hit-you-over-the-head humor of Men in Black? Have they actually read the books? Listened to the radio series? Adams' Guide has NEVER been a side-splitting, laugh-a-minute - not in ANY of its previous incarnations. As longtime fans know, the humor here is decidedly British - smart, ironic and often subtle in many ways - and I'll tell you that there's PLENTY of it in this film. There are a few good laughs, scores of chuckles and if you go in with an open mind, you WILL leave the theater with a smile on your face. The singing dolphins alone are worth the price of admission. Director Garth Jennings' film adaptation is completely faithful to the spirit of the previous versions of Adam's Guide.

The only complaint I think is reasonably valid is that newcomers to the film, who have never experienced the Guide before, may have a bit of a hard time following the story. And they will certainly not appreciate all of the subtle little touches here. The gags are fast and furious, and many are so subtle that newcomers will never pick up on them. But longtime fans will quickly get the deeper meaning and context. An example is when Zaphod and Ford take a moment to knock back a couple of Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters. Their reaction to the drink is very brief, but it had the long-timers in the audience I saw the film with laughing out loud.

I'm very pleased to say that there's an awful lot that's good in this film - more than I expected frankly. The casting is absolutely inspired across the board. A lot of people were worried about Mos Def as Ford Prefect, but I'm happy to say that he's perfect in the role. Sam Rockwell steals the show as Zaphod. Those unfamiliar with him need only recall his turn as Guy Fleegman in Galaxy Quest to have their minds reassured. Martin Freeman (memorable from the BBC's The Office) is just the right disarming everyman to fill Arthur's bathrobe. Even Zooey Deschanel brings verve to her role, making Trillian a sympathetic and slightly off-kilter charmer. This Trillian is a major Betty. And Marvin! Looking like a mechanical Charlie Brown and voiced drolly by Alan Rickman, Marvin gets perhaps the best joke in the flick, thanks to a nifty little invention called the 'point of view' gun. Add Bill Nighy as Slartibartfast (how perfect is that?), outstanding Guide animations narrated by Stephen Fry (you can see actual sample animations here - click on 'Guide to the Guide'), and great little cameos by Simon Jones (I shouldn't have to tell you who he is) and the original BBC TV Marvin, and this film is almost completely satisfying from start to finish. There's even a pair of great little visual nods to Adams himself.

Matt and I thoroughly enjoyed Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Is it the most side-splitting space adventure ever? Probably not. But it sure as hell is the smartest. As a fan of the Guide since the beginning, I was quite happy when I left the theater this weekend. In fact, my only regret about the film is that Douglas didn't live to see it. I think he'd have quite enjoyed it. My grade: a very solid B+

Stay tuned...

(EARLY UPDATE - 5/2/05 - 12:01 AM PDT)

Morning, all. I wanted to check in with an early post today to give you a little bit of new DVD release news.

First up, Buena Vista and Pixar have announced the release of a Toy Story: 10th Anniversary Edition due on 9/6. Of course, there's just no way that the 2-disc set could top the previous Toy Story: Ultimate Toy Box set, but for those of you wondering, the new release will include audio commentary by director John Lasseter and his creative team (joined by producers Ralph Guggenheim and Bonnie Arnold - likely the same track on the previous DVD), the all-new The Making of Toy Story featurette, deleted scenes, various design and production featurettes and a preview of Pixar's forthcoming Cars. Just how much of this material is new and how much will be recycled from the Toy Box remains to be seen. We'll post more details when we get them.

Buena Vista and Touchstone have also announced a Pretty Woman: 15th Anniversary Special Edition DVD for 9/6 (SRP $19.99), which will include anamorphic widescreen video, Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, all-new commentary by director Gary Marshall, a production featurette, a blooper reel, footage of the wrap party, Natalie Cole's What Women Do music video and the film's theatrical trailer.

Also newly announced by New Line is The Upside of Anger, starring Kevin Costner and Joan Allen, for 7/26. Again, we'll post all the details as they come in.

In The Rumor Mill today, we have a bit of information on a possible street date (or at least a tentative time frame) for the DVD release of Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith. You can definitely expect it to be out in time for the holidays.

Speaking of Star Wars, there are a few things worth noting today. First, there's a great article on George Lucas in the latest issue of Wired magazine, on newsstands now. It's well worth reading, as it talks about his early film influences - particularly experimental and art films - in detail not covered in the past. [Editor's Note: The article is now available online at this link at Wired.com. Thanks to Bits reader Phillip P. for the link.]

Next... starting tomorrow, you'll be able to get your hands on John Williams official soundtrack CD for Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith. Let me tell you, it's a great piece of work. In terms of musical content and quality, I think it ranks right up there with A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back (in fact, you'll hear a number of original trilogy musical themes quoted in the score, which is very cool). But more importantly, as we've reported in the past, the disc includes a separate DVD featuring the program Star Wars: A Musical Journey. This runs about an hour and contains some 16 pieces of music (along with the occasional bit of sound effects and dialogue) in Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. The music is edited to video from all six films in full anamorphic widescreen. I've seen it myself, and if you're a fan of the films, you're definitely going to want this in your collection. Better still, there's a piece on the DVD (A Hero Falls) that includes substantial footage from Episode III - stuff you haven't seen yet. [Editor's Note: You'll be pleased to learn that the music video for A Hero Falls is also now available online at the official site. Thanks to Bits reader Joel L. for the link.]

I also wanted to mention a great new website by an old friend of ours. From Script to DVD.com is run by Bill Kallay and Michael Coate. I've known Michael for years - the two of us used to write for Widescreen Review magazine together. His new site features quality essays, articles and reviews of films and DVDs, including this piece on the original theatrical release of Star Wars that'll definitely take you fondly back to May 1977. Be sure to check the site out when you have the time, and tell Bill and Michael that The Bits sent you!

Boy. The final Star Wars film ever... the last episode of Star Trek in who knows how long... AND the debut of the long awaited Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy film? May is finally here, folks, and it's a VERY big month for film and sci-fi geeks the world over. We hope you enjoy every last bit of it.

By the way, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy? A very good flick. I'll talk more about it later today, but let me just tell you that Matt and I saw it on Saturday. I can happily say that the spirit of Douglas' wit and humor is alive and well in the big screen version from start to finish. Don't miss it.

We'll be back with more later, so do stay tuned...


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