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Site created 12/15/97.




page updated: 4/4/00



My Two Cents
(Archived Posts 3/7/00 - 2/16/00)


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3/7/00

The big news today, is that with the CEA DVD player sales numbers reported in the last week of February (215,732 shipped), the DVD format has officially crossed 6 million players (6,194,852 to be exact)! We've got all the details on our main CEA DVD Player Sales page (the chart above has also been updated).

Before I continue with the usual DVD news of the day, I wanted to let you all know about a very special opportunity that's open to those of you who want to break into screenwriting. A good friend of mine (by the name of Frank Bennett Gonzalez) works at ABC Television, and administers a special fellowship program there for up and coming young writers. The program is launching a new drive for interested applicants, and knowing that many of our readers may be interested in working in film and television themselves, I extended an offer to Frank to mention his program here. I've known Frank for many years, having worked with him on projects in the past, and he's got what I think could be a really good opportunity for some of you out there. So here's Frank to tell you all about it...

"Thanks, Bill. For the 11th year, the Walt Disney Studios and ABC Television is offering fellowships in the feature film and television writing areas. We are looking for up to 8 writers to work full-time developing their craft with the Walt Disney Studios/ABC Television Network. No previous experience is necessary, however writing samples are required. A $33,000 salary will be provided (to those chosen) for one year, tentatively scheduled to begin in January of 2001. For complete information, check out our website. So if you or a friend are interested in becoming a writer, please consider this prestigious program. Good luck!"

Be sure to check our the program's website if you're interested - you can download all the forms you need to apply.

Now then... I've finally recovered from the 18-hour days needed to get that anamorphic guide done. Whew! Thanks to everyone who has e-mailed us saying that it's helped them understand the subject better - that's what it's all about. We even (I think) made most of the nitpickers happy, although based on some of their recommendations, we've made minor changes to the text (an added comment here and there, and we replaced the Apollo 13 image with one from The Thin Red Line - we'd been using it to show a scope film, but it was actually shot Super 35). Other than that, we're pleased to say that the Guide is a success.

Todd, Frank and Brad are all working on more reviews (as am I), but thanks for being patient with us while I spent most of my time getting the anamorphic feature finished - it was a hectic couple of days!

Frank and I did take the time to drop on by Dave's Video this weekend for their Studio Day 2000. There was a packed house, and it was a great time. But there wasn't a whole lot of new information about upcoming titles conveyed. I mean, a lot were discussed, but most of the titles we've mentioned in recent weeks in The Rumor Mill, and there was very little truly new information. I was excited to learn a few new things however, which I'll mention here.

First of all, Toy Story and Toy Story 2 are both currently in production. No dates have been set for their release, but the more recent of the two could be out this summer, with the original possibly coming out for the holidays. Here's the good news: both will be released in dual editions - a standard edition and a hefty 2-disc collector's edition (a la A Bug's Life and Tarzan). Fox has got a nifty Planet of the Apes boxed set coming out late in 2000, featuring all of the films and a disc of extras (it's actually been done since last year). New Line's DVD Platinum Editions of Seven and Boogie Nights are floating at the moment, but should be out by the summer. Magnolia is also on the way. MGM is prepping When Harry Met Sally for next year. And Columbia TriStar's working on special editions of Glory and Legends of the Fall, as well as an anamorphic widescreen Fly Away Home. They've also got a Remains of the Day DVD coming, which will include a brand new interview with Christopher Reeve. A DVD of Girl, Interrupted is expected from them on June 6th. And here's one that got me happy - they're also working on Fail Safe for DVD. DreamWorks expects to release some 10-12 titles this year, with awesome DVD editions of Gladiator, The Road to El Dorado and Chicken Run high on the list.

The crowd (which also included the delegation from the Home Theater Forum) was treated to sneak peeks at Columbia TriStar's Stuart Little: CE (which looks great) and Fox's The Abyss: SE (we'll have OUR review of this awesome disc up tomorrow). Those are the highlights. If you'd like to read more about Studio Day, I recommend you check out Peter Bracke's good report on the event over at DVD File.

A quick update - Todd's gotten all of the reviewer submissions we need, and he's in the process of going through them all now. Thanks to everyone who sent in review samples. Hopefully, you'll be reading reviews from some new "voices" around here soon...

Image Entertainment's updated their DVD News page with lots of cool upcoming Image-exclusive DVD titles. Among those mentioned are Endless Summer, Gold Rush, Peter Frampton: Live in Detroit (in anamorphic widescreen), Popeye cartoons, more Twilight Zone episodes and Stormchasers: IMAX (DD & DTS).

Okay - see you all back here tomorrow. And to those of you who live in California (and the other Super Tuesday Primary states)... don't forget to vote!

(LATE UPDATE - 3/6/00 - 6 PM PST)

This is just a quick update to let you know that Sarah's just posted our Noses in the News Trivia Contest - the first of 2 contests we'll run this month. The goal is to guess the identity of 7 people who have recently been in the news, by looking at only their noses! The contest will run until Friday, March 10th at 5 PM PST, and the winner will be announced that evening. The winner will take home any 3 DVDs of their choice (up to $39.95 each) thanks to Access DVD. So get those entries in and good luck!

(EARLY UPDATE - 3/6/00 - 2 PM PST)

It's here at last! The Ultimate Guide to Anamorphic Widescreen DVD is now complete and ready for you to take out for a spin! It sure took long enough, but you will now be able to learn everything you ever wanted to know about DVD's most important video quality improvement feature (and then some). We'll give you the skinny on aspect ratios (and why widescreen really is better). We'll show you how to tell if your disc is anamorphic (even when the packaging doesn't say). And we'll even show you exactly how anamorphic works on DVD. Better still, all of the above will be illustrated by tons of actual screen shots taken from some of your favorite films on DVD. I think you'll find it was well worth the wait, and I'd love to hear what you think. And you'll always be able to find the Guide by clicking on the anamorphic widescreen logo at the top of any page of The Digital Bits.

And it gets even better for those of you who have access to Video Store magazine - a more concise and refined version of my explanation of anamorphic on DVD will appear in next week's print and online issues! It's will serve has a handy print reference for those of you who run video or DVD-related businesses - just tear the article out, and post it up in your store for both your employees and your customers to reference. I'll remind you when the issue is out (and available online). So be sure to look for Anamorphic DVD: What it Means and Why You Should Care, coming soon to Video Store magazine (and a video store near you)!

All right - I'm exhausted! Enjoy the Guide, and we'll be back tomorrow with lots more news and reviews.

Stay tuned...

3/3/00

We're doing some final tweaking on our anamorphic guide, so it will be posted sometime over the weekend. Specifically, the aspect ratio section's gotten a lot more substantial than planned, and has thus taken a lot more time to finish. One of the things we're doing, is to take snapshots of DVD video in both widescreen and full frame (from the same film) so that you can see what a difference widescreen presentation really makes. Getting all those snapshots prepared has taken a lot of effort, but we think the results will be worth it. So thanks for your patience, and stay tuned...

3/2/00

We've got a couple more reviews for you today, as well as a couple of announcements and a preview of a special feature article we've got coming for tomorrow.

First of all, our own Todd Doogan's taken a look at a couple of recent anime (Japanese animation) titles on DVD, and deals with a trend in anime called "hentai". Let's just say that kinky tentacles are involved in at least one of the titles reviewed, and that these reviews aren't for the kiddies. I'd best leave it at that. So you're over 18 (and not easily offended) can check out Todd's reviews of Urotsukidoji: Perfect Collection and Battle Angel.

Also, we've updated our Star Wars on DVD Campaign page to reflect the newest petition signature totals. As of this afternoon, we had 22,074 signatures. We're going to be forwarding them on to Lucas sometime soon, and we want to get as many as possible before we do (click here to sign). Keep 'em coming!

Now then - the announcements. As many of you know, Dave's Video: The Laser Place is holding their Studio Day 2000 event this Saturday at their Studio City, CA store. They're spotlighting producers of supplementary information for DVD, among them representatives from Two Dog Productions Inc, Three Legged Cat Productions Inc, Image and Sound and Acoustic Visions, as well as representatives that work full time for the various studios. DVD staff members from the following studios are expected: Paramount, Sony DVD, Buena Vista, Warner Home Video, Pioneer Entertainment, Trimark, DreamWorks, New Line, MGM, Fox, Universal and Artisan. Manufacturer reps should be on hand as well, including Panasonic, Monster Cable, Yamaha, PSB, NAD, DTS and Jamo. Door prizes will also be given away. Frank and I will be on hand, along with the folks from DVD File, and a couple dozen of the staff and members of our favorite DVD discussion group, The Home Theater Forum. The event will run from 10AM to 1PM. The store is located at 12144 Ventura Blvd. in Studio City, CA. Hope to see you there!

New Line has announced the DVD release of their film Tumbleweeds, starring Academy Award Best Actress nominee Janet McTeer, on April 11th. The film will be rental only on VHS, and will only be available for sale on DVD. SRP is $24.98.

Next, we've gotten word from our friends at Troma about some title confusion, so here's Todd to straighten it all out:

"Contrary to Internet rumors floating around, rest assured that Dario Argento's The Stendhal Syndrome is not, we repeat NOT cancelled. It will street as planned on May 30th, 2000 and is currently in production as you read this. The disc will include the standard Troma fare: lots of trailers, the TIT II, and the Tour of Troma Studios. It will also include some bios on Dario and daughter/star Asia Argento, three interviews with Dario (totaling over 30 minutes of footage), an interview with special effects supervisor Sergio Stivaletti, and an interview with Italian horror legend Ruggero Deodato. It should be a nice special edition, so keep your eyes peeled."

Speaking of DVD File, it looks like Pete and his staff have finally launched their site's new look, and it ain't too shabby. So if you get a chance, drop on by and check it out.

And there's been some big changes over at DVD Express.com too... or should I say Express.com? The name change has officially taken place - guess we'll have to change all their logos here at the Bits! ;-)

Finally today, I've been working on something for a few weeks now - a new feature article - and we're going to be posting it tomorrow. Many of you remember my editorial on anamorphic widescreen, The Big Squeeze. Well, we have so many people asking us about anamorphic to this day, that I've decided to write the Ultimate Guide to Anamorphic Widescreen on DVD. Not only will it include easy-to-understand explanations as to what anamorphic widescreen is and how it works, but we'll also explain aspect ratios and why we think that the widescreen presentation of movies is so important (as opposed to pan & scan). Not only that, but we'll use a whole slew of actual DVD screen shots to help illustrate things and make them easy to understand. Our hope is that this new article becomes an indispensable reference for ANYONE (not just you experts out there, but beginners too) who wants to understand one of DVD's most important quality features. And once it's posted, it will always be just a click away - it will be forever linked from our Anamorphic Widescreen on DVD support logo in the button bar at the top-left of every page of the Bits. So be sure to check back tomorrow for that.

Stay tuned...

(LATE UPDATE - 3/1/00 - 2:30 PM PST)

Todd and Brad have taken a look at another couple of discs. Todd gave Fox's new Picture Perfect (starring Jennifer Aniston) a look-see, while Brad's got another retro review up today with, Paramount's Varsity Blues.

It's a surprisingly slow news day, but there's word (via Yahoo) that Village Roadshow and Warner have teamed up to deliver lots of great DVD titles to you folks in Australia. And for you fans of The Princess Bride, we've got some good new information on MGM's DVD plans for June and July in today's update of The Rumor Mill (and we think you'll be happy about it). Also included is an update of Buena Vista's April and May release line-ups, which include more classic animation.

Oh, and thanks to everyone for enduring my rant about buying a computer yesterday. After reading the dozens of e-mail I received last night, it looks like lots of you have had problems with Tiger too. Buyer beware.

Stay tuned...

(EARLY UPDATE - 3/1/00 - 11:30 AM PST)

This is just a quick early update to let you all know that the Trivia Contest for February is now closed, and that the winner has been announced - Joel Mack of Omaha, NE. Congratulations Joel! We had some 1,138 entries this month, and we've got two more contests coming in March, so there will be plenty of chances for the rest of you to win. The answers to this month's puzzle have been posted, and we'll be back later with some reviews and other news.


2/29/00

Happy Leap Year Day! For all those of you who celebrate a rare once-in-every-4-years birthday today, may it be very special. I had a teacher in high school who was 14 years old when he retired. ;-)

Well... the story I'm about to tell you has nothing to do with DVD. But let me tell you, Todd and I have been through the ringer these last few weeks. We've been trying to purchase a new computer, and we've had a horrible experience, which I think might serve as a good buyer beware tale for all of you.

As many of you know, Todd and I live on opposite sides of the country. I'm at the Bits' home office in Irvine, CA, while Todd mans the East Coast office of the Bits in Atlanta, GA. And Todd's been without a computer for a couple of weeks, so we've been trying to buy a new one for him. In anticipation of all this, we went to a company called Tiger Direct to order a new PC way back in early January. I ordered straight from their just arrived mail order catalog, and the computer was supposed to take 5 to 7 days to arrive, right? So 7 days pass and no computer. I call Tiger to see what's up, and it turns out that they've cancelled the order because they've discontinued the model computer we ordered... all without calling us to inform us of this fact! Okay... I'm upset but figure it's an honest mistake. So I reorder a different model with one of their phone sales people. I check back a few days later to make sure things are going smoothly... and Tiger has no record of my 2nd order. Now I'm getting pissed - it's like 3 weeks after we initially placed the first order, and these people seem to have no clue. But the customer service manager says, "We're very sorry sir, we'll get a computer ordered for you..." And we place yet another order. Except now, that order is going to take 5 to 7 WEEKS, instead of the 5 to 7 days I was originally told. And when I call back the next day to check on that order, it's been lost too!

Finally, we're able to get things straight - I'm so pissed that I can barely even talk with Tiger (and they've stopped returning my calls), but Todd is able to get a computer ordered... and it's overnighted to him. But by overnighting it, Tiger doesn't bother to test the PC (gotta love that quality control), and it arrives with a short on the motherboard, causing it to crash repeatedly. So Todd's dealing with their tech-support people, and of course, they say that it can't be the motherboard at first. No... Todd has to spend like 12 hours on the phone with Tiger over the course of about 4 days (most of it on hold), while they have him reinstall Windows and the like. They tell him that it's probably his video card - they've "been having a lot of complaints about that particular video card" (so why the hell do they bother to ship it?!) and they'll send him a much nice replacement overnight. So the new video card arrives (after Todd is forced to pay a $100 deposit for them to ship it), and Todd installs it. Doesn't help. So Todd has to spend another 5 or 6 hours on hold with them, while Tiger finally figures out that it's the motherboard as we originally said it was. They promise him that they'll overnight a new, working PC to him (this is on Thursday). So Friday arrives... no computer. It turns out that they tried to charge him a $1000 deposit to send the new one (without bothering to ask him), and so it didn't go out. Can you believe all this?

Monday arrives, and Todd and I are both ready to shove this computer down someone's throat by now - this is almost 2 MONTHS after we originally ordered the thing. So we tell Tiger to just forget the whole thing - we're sending the damn piece of crap back and we just want a refund. Their online support person says. "I'm sorry sir, we don't accept returns - we'll be happy to send you a new computer, but we don't give refunds." At this point, had Tiger been located here in Irvine, I probably would have snapped, and you'd have been watching a hostage stand-off on CNN that night. It takes tense calls to Tiger's corporate offices (which the average customer never even reaches through their 800 customer service number) get them to agree to a refund. And here's the kicker - the next morning, I receive a call from a very pleasant customer service manager who wants to help us with our problem (and I think it's the same guy I talked to that first day). And when I tell him to forget it, and that we're just returning the damn thing, he's stunned and can't figure out how something like this could have happened.

I know none of this has anything to do with DVD, except that the computer we're trying to buy (and finally have through a local Atlanta vendor) is so that Todd can work more efficiently on stuff for all of you. We just REALLY needed to vent after all this. But the moral of the story is... NEVER EVER purchase anything from Tiger Direct. EVER. They are a customer service disaster. Todd and I have experienced it first hand. And the story I've just told you? It's the SHORTENED version, believe me.

Anyway, in order that we may regain our sanity, we're going to have a light post today. We'll be back tomorrow with lots more reviews and the like. Don't forget that today is the last day to enter the Trivia Contest for February. You have until 7 PM this evening (Pacific) tonight to get your entries in for a chance to win that new DVD player. So what are you waiting for?

We also wanted to mention some May 2000 DVDs from Paramount and Columbia TriStar that were recently announced, in case you haven't heard. Paramount's got the following DVDs set for May: Bringing Out the Dead, G.I. Blues, Blue Hawaii, King Creole and Roustabout (all 5/9) and Star Trek: The Original Series, Volumes 11 & 12 (5/16). Columbia TriStar's officially announced Dogma and Virtual Sexuality for May 2nd. New Blood and Hollywood Knights are currently set for May 9th. And Neil Jordan's The End of the Affair is due on May 16th.

Stay tuned...

2/28/00

You know how they say that it never rains in California? Well that's mostly true... it ALMOST never rains here. But when it does, things here get a little crazy. So I spent most of my weekend watching DVDs, and writing reviews and some other special stories you'll be seeing around these pages in the next week or so.

But Frankie and I did take some time on Sunday night to join Ron Epstein, Parker Clack and about 30 or 40 members of The Home Theater Forum for an evening of good food and conversation at the Hard Rock Cafe in Universal City. They've come here for a week of studio tours and Hollywood sight-seeing (organized by Ron), and the dinner last night was the kickoff for the festivities. Among those who joined us were Peter Bracke and Cliff Stephenson from DVD File.com, Jeff McNeal from The Big Picture, the legendary Robert (don't call him "Obi") George, and lots more. As you can imagine, DVD was the talk of the evening, and it was great fun meeting a number of people for the first time that we've grown to consider friends (we've been chatting by phone and e-mail for a 2 or 3 years in some cases!). The week will be capped by a special Studio Day 2000 event this Saturday at Dave's Video, and we'll be there to report on all the latest.

In the meantime, we've got a pair of new DVD reviews for you today. Frank's given Artisan's new Stir of Echoes a spin, and Brad's checked in with another classic disc review - Disney's TRON.

We've also posted that transcript of the chat I did last Wednesday evening over at Etown. And we've updated the CEA DVD player sales numbers again. By this time next month, the DVD format in the U.S. will have cracked 6 million players shipped.

One last note this morning - Image Entertainment has updated their DVD News page again with more upcoming titles, including Being John Malkovich (sweet!), The 10th Kingdom, Felicia's Journey: SE, The Lords of Flatbush, Flawless, The Bachelor, Caddyshack, Little Shop of Horrors: SE and more.

Stay tuned...

2/25/00

You know... it's no secret that we weren't very impressed by Warner's Stanley Kubrick DVD Collection around here. In fact, we thought it was a piece of trash, as did most experienced reviewers (and not just those on the Net either). So it was with a nervously held breath that we took a look at Warner's new DVD edition of Kubrick's final masterpiece, Eyes Wide Shut. That sound you can't hear right now is our collective gasp of surprise and delight (maybe we should post a .wav file of it up on the site) - the disc looks and sounds wonderful. And while it's not packed with extras, you get some really fascinating interviews with Tom Crusie, Nicole Kidman and fellow director (and Kubrick friend) Steven Spielberg. I can't tell you fully how happy we are to see Warner make good on this disc. But our own Todd Doogan's gonna try. Here's his review of Eyes Wide Shut. It streets on March 7th, and if you haven't ordered it yet, you should. Thanks Warner. Now how about doing us all a favor, and remastering that Kubrick Collection. Pretty please?

We've also got reviews up today of Universal's Bowfinger (as seen by Frank Ortiz) and a classic from the studio - Sneakers, starring Robert Redford and a great ensemble cast (given a spin by Brad Pilcher).

We'll have that Etown chat transcript up for you this weekend. Have a great one, and we'll be back with a big post on Monday, including lots more reviews.

See you then...

2/24/00

There's some mighty big DVD news going down today folks, at least from a title standpoint. Columbia TriStar has just officially informed us that they'll be releasing a full-on collector's edition DVD version of Men in Black on September 5th of this year. It's a title that we've all been waiting for, and Steven Spielberg has finally given Columbia the green light on it. Spielberg fans will be in seventh heaven in time for the holidays - 4th Qtr 2000 is also when we expect Jaws and Jurassic Park to arrive on DVD (that's not official, but both titles are definitely in the works are are expected in 2000). Now if we could just get Close Encounters...

Last night's chat with Etown at Yahoo went pretty well. I had fun with it, and several of you have e-mailed me to say you found it enjoyable too. I was only able to see myself and the moderator on my screen, but I'm told the turnout was pretty solid. And little did I know it, both Doogan and Frankie were there as well. Doogan was even answering questions from readers in the chat room while I was handling the ones that filtered through the moderator! Anyway, we'll have a full transcript up tomorrow, and we'll probably be doing it again. So thanks to everyone who participated.

Today's post got sidelined somewhat by taxes... ARGH!! What a pain! Gotta tell you, that flat tax is sounding like a better idea all the time. But we'll have several new disc reviews for you tomorrow from Brad, Frankie and Doogan, and I'll be working on more over the weekend too. Among the titles we'll be posting tomorrow will be Eyes Wide Shut, which (I'm happy to report) is much better than Warner's previous Kubrick DVD offerings.

So stay tuned...

2/23/00

Okay... as promised, we've got a quick rundown of the extras on those James Bond Wave 2 DVDs. But first a quick reminder: tonight I'll be doing a live chat on all things DVD over at Yahoo, with John Falcone of Etown.com. The times are 8 PM Eastern and 5 PM Pacific. Click on over to this link: http://chat.yahoo.com/ and you'll be able to sign up for the chat (you have to be a Yahoo member, which is free and takes just a few minutes to do). As we get close to the chat time, you'll see the links to the actual chat area. I'll be answering lots of your DVD questions, so I hope to see you there!

Chat with me at Yahoo!

Now then, here are those Bond DVD extras:

The World is Not Enough: Special Edition

Audio Commentary with the director, 2nd Audio Commentary with the production designer, 2nd unit director and the composer, Documentary The Making of The World is Not Enough, The Secrets of 007 (featuring alternate video options), Still Gallery, Music Video by Garbage, Original Theatrical Trailer, Booklet

Dr. No: Special Edition

Audio Commentary with the director, cast and crew, Documentary Inside Dr. No, Documentary Terence Young: Bond Vivant, Still Gallery, Dr. No Featurette, Original TV Ads, Radio Spots, Original Theatrical Trailers, Booklet

The Man with the Golden Gun: Special Edition

Audio Commentary with the director, cast and crew, Documentary Inside The Man with the Golden Gun, Documentary Double-O Stuntmen, Still Gallery, Original TV Ads, Radio Spots, Original Theatrical Trailer, Booklet

Moonraker: Special Edition

Audio Commentary with the director, cast and crew, Documentary Inside Moonraker, SPFX Documentary The Men Behind the Mayhem, Still Gallery, Original Theatrical Trailer, Booklet

On Her Majesty's Secret Service: Special Edition

Audio Commentary with the director, cast and crew, Documentary Inside On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Documentary Inside Q's Laboratory, Above it All Featurette, Still Gallery, Original TV Ads, Radio Spots, Original Theatrical Trailer, Booklet

The Spy Who Loved Me: Special Edition

Audio Commentary with the director, cast and crew, Documentary Inside The Spy Who Loved Me, Documentary Designing Bond, Still Gallery, Original TV Ads, Radio Spots, Original Theatrical Trailers, Booklet

Looks like Wave 2 is gonna be just as good as Wave 1 was (read our reviews here). I just wish that The World is Not Enough was included in the boxed set, or that at least there were room for it in the Wave 2 slipcase. Oh well...

Hope to see you tonight at Yahoo!

(EVEN LATER UPDATE - 2/22/00 - 4 PM PST)

One last post for today - I thought you all might like a look at MGM's upcoming James Bond Collection, Volume 2 on DVD (street date: May 16th). Here are the disc covers...

The World is Not EnoughDr. NoThe Man with the Golden Gun

MoonrakerOn Her Majesty's Secret ServiceThe Spy Who Loved Me

James Bond DVD Collection, Volume 2
Each disc is packed with features (which we'll list disc by disc tomorrow) and will SRP for $34.98 each (MAP is $26.95). And the new boxed set will include all of the above titles except The World is Not Enough, which will be available separately. The box is priced at $149.98 SRP.


(LATE UPDATE - 2/22/00 - 3 PM PST)

There seems to be a lot of confusion about that Little Shop of Horrors DVD, so we called up some well-placed folks at Warner for the skinny. Now it seems - and this is official - that the disc will NOT include the alternate ending in ANY form, color or B&W. Warner is working to get us an official reason for this, and we'll bring that to you as soon as we get the call. There is some thought that this may be because of legal issues, or possible plans to re-release the film theatrically with the alternate ending, but that's just speculation at the moment. Sorry about the confusion earlier - we were wrong, and there's so much information flying around on this, that even some of our inside sources were confused.

In other news, you might be interested to know that Fox has registered several interesting DVD-related domain names... and you can count on the titles coming sometime in 2000:

http://www.apesdvd.com/
http://www.annaandthekingdvd.com/
http://www.mashdvd.com/
http://www.cleopatradvd.com/
http://www.enemyminedvd.com/
http://www.grapesofwrathdvd.com/
http://www.hellodollydvd.com/
http://www.soundofmusicdvd.com/

Our guess is that the Cleopatra disc is the 1963 Liz Taylor version. And since "apesdvd" is generic, I'm guessing that we're talking about the whole Planet of the Apes series. Thanks to Shawn for pointing that out to us.

Stay tuned...

(EARLY UPDATE - 2/22/00 - 4 AM PST)

Well, despite the rare rainfall here in Southern California (which the local news calls "a major winter storm" - they've never experienced a good Midwestern blizzard no doubt), President's Day was uneventful here at the old Bits. There wasn't much in the way of DVD news yesterday, which is good, since your faithful editor spent the day watching and reviewing discs in lieu of making an actual post. Doogan spent his weekend fighting the good fight with his new PC... but that's another story (best told by him when he calms down a bit). ;-)

It occurred to me that I haven't written a review in a few weeks or so, and I figured I'd best get busy. So here, for your reading pleasure, is my take on a pair of Frank Capra classics, recently arrived on DVD thanks to the good folks at Columbia TriStar: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Lost Horizon. Both are not to be missed. And I have to say that I'm really digging this Columbia Classics series - it's nice to see so many good older films hitting our favorite format.

Doogan, Frankie, Brad and I are all working on more reviews, which you'll be seeing as the week progresses. In the meantime, there is one bit of DVD news today worth checking out: "market analysts" are suggesting that Sony's upcoming PlayStation 2 (which will be DVD-ready) should spur the sagging market for the format in Japan. You can check that story out at Yahoo. PlayStation 2 isn't scheduled to debut in the States until the fall (but I still can't wait...!).

Finally, we've had a lot of readers e-mailing us about Warner's upcoming re-release of their Little Shop of Horrors: Special Edition. The disc WILL include the alternate ending seen on the previously released disc in B&W. Only this time, we'll get the color footage straight from the collection of producer David Geffen. And you fans of Polygram's discontinued DVDs of Fargo and Kalifornia will be happy to know that both titles will be re-released by MGM this summer. Better still, Fargo will finally get the anamorphic widescreen transfer it deserves, as will MGM's upcoming The Terminator: Special Edition. We say it's about damn time!

Stay tuned...

2/20/00

As promised, the Trivia Contest for February is now on! This time around, the contest theme is the Oscars. You'll have a chance to take home a brand new Pioneer DV-525 DVD player and any 3 DVDs of your choice thanks to Access DVD! The contest will end at 7 PM PST on Tuesday, February 29th - Leap Year Day - and we'll announce the winner that night. So what are you waiting for?

Monday's will be a late afternoon post, but we've got a few things for you to check out now. First of all, our friends at Etown posted an article about the lack of Episode I on disc and the Star Wars on DVD Campaign. And speaking of Etown, I'll be dropping by their site on Wednesday evening (8 PM EST) for a live chat. Click on over to this page at Etown for the details, and then drop on by Yahoo on Wednesday night. Hope to see you there!

Image Entertainment has updated their DVD News page with details on a number of upcoming titles, such as Columbia TriStar's Stuart Little: SE (in dual anamorphic widescreen and P&S versions), Galaxy Quest (from DreamWorks, distributed by Universal), Three Kings: SE from Warner, and a slew of Buena Vista titles including (but not limited to) Princess Mononoke, The Aristocats, The Fox and the Hound, Happy Texas: SE, From Dusk Til Dawn: SE, The Insider, Mystery Alaska and Chasing Amy: SE from Disney and Criterion (see below). Whew! There are a TON of good titles listed, so don't miss it.

Also, Film Force has an interview with Frank Oz, where we learn a little more about the fate of the original Little Shop of Horrors DVD (a re-release is on the way in May).

And finally, The Criterion Collection is posting liner notes from their Chasing Amy laserdisc, in anticipation of their release of the DVD version. If you're a fan, it's worth a look.

See you Monday afternoon. Stay tuned...

(LATE UPDATE - 2/18/00 - 4 PM PST)

Review time - Todd's checked in again with a look at a pair of recent Fox DVDs, Great Expectations (1998) and One Fine Day. Those Columbia reviews will be posted Monday, and we've got a lot more on tap for next week.

FYI - we've updated the CEA DVD Player sales numbers to include the 54,508 sold in the second week of February. We're up to 5,902,936 here in the States - look for us to top 6 mil before the month is over.

We'll be posting the main Trivia Contest for February this weekend. You'll have a chance to win a DVD player and some more discs. Oscar will be the theme this time around, so be sure to check back for your chance to win.

Have a great weekend, and stay tuned...!

(EARLY UPDATE - 2/18/00 - 8:45 AM PST)

Those reviews are on the way this afternoon, but first we wanted to check in early with some upcoming DVD information that just came in - confirmed. DreamWorks will release Galaxy Quest on DVD on May 2nd, with an SRP of $26.99. The disc will include a behind-the-scenes featurette (On Location in Space), cast & crew bios, production notes, the trailer and language tracks in English, French and... Thermian (that's alien-speak - just FYI). Also on May 2nd, USA (formerly Polygram) will deliver Being John Malkovich day and date for $24.95.

Back soon...

(LATE UPDATE - 2/17/00 - 2 PM PST)

Okay... we've got 3 new reviews for you today. Todd's checked in with his thoughts on Columbia TriStar's DVD edition of Birdy, and (gasp!) Time Out with Britney Spears. No, I'm not kidding - we're all about diverse programming around here. And Brad's taken a look at an older title, with new relevance given that this is political primary season - Universal's Primary Colors.

We'll have at least 3 more new reviews for you tomorrow, including some more excellent new Columbia TriStar titles. Stay tuned!

(EARLY UPDATE - 2/17/00 - Noon PST)

Wow, have we ever gotten tremendous response to the Lucasfilm comments from yesterday. I must have had 800 messages this morning, with people saying everything from "Their response is completely bogus" to angry, barely-intelligible ranting. Several people have even decided to return their VHS copies of the Star Wars Trilogy to Mr. Lucas by mail, along with a directly-worded letter of disapproval. All we can say is, keep those signatures coming...

Now then - more on the Tarzan 5.0 issue from yesterday. We posted the editorial from our retired film editor reader to make a point. He's not alone in his feelings on the issue. But he's not necessarily correct either (you'll notice that we also posted links to Dolby Labs articles which contradicted him). The idea was to stimulate discussion. So today, we're posting a response to the letter from our friend Jim Taylor, editor of the Official DVD FAQ:

"Hi Bill,

I beg to differ with the anonymous comments about “.1” channels on DVD. His letter reflects unfortunately common misconceptions in the film production community.

As the anonymous retired film editor correctly pointed out, most theaters have full-range speakers. They don’t need separate subwoofers since most of the speakers have a subwoofer built in. But this does not mean that films don’t have 5.1 audio tracks. As Dolby Labs has pointed out over and over, apparently with little success, and as explicitly stated in the links you provided to Dolby production guidelines, LFE does not equal subwoofer.

The LFE channel is WAY overused today. Perhaps some readers are familiar with the case of a certain famous movie released on laserdisc with Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in which the booming bass footsteps of large dinosaurs were placed exclusively in the LFE channel. When downmixed, the bass was discarded by the decoder, leaving wimpy tiptoeing dinosaurs. Had the footsteps been left in the main 5 channels, which are all full range, the bass effects would have come through properly on all home systems.

Dolby Digital decoders deliberately ignore the LFE channel when downmixing. This is because the typical stereo or 4-channel surround system doesn’t have a subwoofer. But this does not mean that the LFE channel represent the subwoofer. Dolby Digital decoders all have bass management, which directs low frequency sound (from all 6 channels) to the subwoofer, if there is one. As this clearly implies, the LFE channel should be reserved only for added emphasis to very low frequency effects such as explosions and jets (which I don’t believe occur very often in the Tarzan movie).

Your anonymous reader’s comments that moving low-frequency audio to the LFE channel makes the soundtrack better in the home environment is incorrect (as illustrated by the tiptoeing dinosaurs). This mistaken approach is what has caused so many complaints about the LFE channel being omitted in downmixing. Nothing important in a film soundtrack, including low-frequency audio, should ever be moved out of the main 5 channels. Isolating low-frequency audio in the LFE channel does not “remove the added burden from the center and main speakers,” since the built-in bass management already does this. Roger Dressler, Technical Director for Dolby, has said that perhaps they should rename the LFE channel to the “explosions and special effects” channel to avoid confusion.

It’s absolutely possible to mix all “subwoofer sounds” in Dolby Digital 5.0. Such a mix will play the same in 5.1-channel home theaters as in cinemas. The .1 channel is there only for an extra kick that the audio engineer might decide should only appear in the subwoofer of a full 5.1 audio system. It’s quite possible that Disney decided that the film did not need any exaggerated bass effects, and therefore wisely left off the unneeded .1 channel."

Thanks, Jim. As you can tell, this is an issue that confuses even those in the film production world. And it certainly confuses our readers. We've had several ask why films like The Wizard of Oz and The Little Mermaid come out on DVD with 5.1 soundtracks, while a film like Tarzan has only 5.0. Well, now you (hopefully!) know. ;-)

We'll be back later with some reviews. Stay tuned...

(LATE UPDATE - 2/16/00 - 4 PM PST)

Lucasfilm has responded. Many of you have seen today's update of Star Wars.com - Lucasfilm's official response to our Star Wars on DVD Campaign. Lucasfilm allowed us to send a number of questions regarding the DVD issue, and this comment is their response to them. A number of our questions remain unanswered. Click here to read our comments on the whole thing, along with their statement and our original questions. We're pleased to say that we're at least getting a response.

Peter Bracke of DVD File.com, our partner in these efforts, also has a few things to say in response to the Lucasfilm statement. You may want to read them as well.

(EARLY UPDATE - 2/16/00 - 2 PM PST)

There's been a lot of talk recently about all the problems with the English Dolby Digital 5.0 soundtrack on Disney's Tarzan DVD. For the record, there IS a problem, and it appears to be a problem on all current copies. The nature of the problem, is that the front-left channel has been duplicated in the left-rear channel as well, resulting in a listening experience that is off-balance sounding at times. Some people can't hear the difference, but experienced listeners are distracted by the audio error. Both THX and Disney have acknowledged the error, and word is that the discs are being repressed (the problem should be corrected on the 2-disc Tarzan: Collector's Edition DVD, expected April 18th). You can return the disc with the receipt OR call Disney's Customer Hotline (1-800-723-4763) for a replacement.

But we feel that there's another issue that needs to be addressed here, which is Disney's claim that Dolby Digital 5.0 (and not 5.1) best represents the film's theatrical audio. The following is an excerpt from a letter one of our readers (a retired film editor) sent us on the subject:

"Disney's claim that 5.0 best represents the film's theatrical audio presentation is disingenuous. The problem is that NO theater has a 5.1 speaker system! So NONE of the DVDs we currently enjoy in Dolby Digital 5.1 at home are being presented exactly as they were in the theaters. Theaters don't have separate subwoofers - rather the speakers they use are ALL full-range. Whatever the placement of speakers in a given theater, their Dolby Digital surround processor sends a 5.0 signal out to the speaker system. Each channel contains low frequency sound because the speakers can handle it!

The 5.1 configuration is specifically designed for use in the home, to best represent the theatrical experience in the average home listening environment. Experienced audio mixers know that the average home theater speaker isn't full-range. They use specially designed (and smaller) center channel and surround speakers, which simply CAN'T handle low frequency sound. Even most main speakers in homes aren't capable of reproducing the deep bass on modern film soundtracks. So when mixing a film soundtrack for presentation in the home, sound engineers create a dedicated .1 channel in the mix that's used to drive a subwoofer. When a DVD soundtrack's low frequency sound is directed to an active subwoofer, the deep bass CAN be reproduced. It also removes the added burden from the center and main speakers, resulting in a more natural and pleasant soundfield. It in no way diminishes the integrity of the film's original soundtrack - in fact, it actually represents that soundtrack BETTER in the home environment!

Too often, when you see a 5.0 soundtrack on a DVD, it's just a result of someone's laziness. When the sound engineer (probably inexperienced) was mixing the audio for the DVD, it's likely that someone didn't bother to provide the film soundtrack's original separate sound elements or stems. Someone simply dropped off a mixed mag or - God forbid - even an exhibition print (which contains the film's ENTIRE 5.0 mix on a single track), and that was used to master the DVD's audio. Thus, you get a 5.0 mix. Heard on most home theater speaker systems, you get a lifeless-sounding soundfield, with an unsatisfying lack of low frequency sound. And all this because of someone's lack of effort or experience.

Consumers NEED TO KNOW that this is happening, and studios need to make more of an effort. The bottom line is that 5.1 (and soon 6.1) sound mixes are the ONLY way to go when presenting modern multi-channel film sound in the home. It's the best way to accurately present the film audio you heard in the theaters in your living room."

Thanks to our reader, who wished to remain anonymous, for his valuable comments. For more information on this issue (and another perspective), you might want to read Making the Most of Audio Source Tracks for DVD - Some Guidelines from Dolby Laboratories and this .pdf file on LFE channels.

In other news, NetFlix.com has launched a new element of their online rental program. Consumers can now rent an unlimited number of DVDs from the service, for only $19.95 per month - and you'll incur no late fees, per-movie fees or shipping charges. We think this is great... and it's about time too. It was the only thing missing from their "marquee" program. You can read the press release here.

Speaking of press releases, we're proud to say that DreamWorks has issued a release recognizing our Bitsy Awards. Here's the full text:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

February 10, 2000

DREAMWORKS HAILED AS "BEST DVD STUDIO" IN DIGITAL BITS' FIRST ANNUAL BITSY AWARDS

Saving Private Ryan, The Prince Of Egypt, ANTZ And The Haunting DVD Releases Awarded For Superior Content and Quality

GLENDALE, CA -- Continuing to reap accolades as a provider of quality DVD entertainment, DreamWorks was lauded as the "Best DVD Studio" by The Digital Bits (www.thedigitalbits.com) on the web site's first annual Bitsy Awards. Designed to recognize outstanding achievement in DVD video, audio, menus and bonus features, the renowned DVD-focused web site also awarded top honors to DreamWorks' Saving Private Ryan, naming the five-time Academy Award®-winning* film as "Best DVD Audio." The Saving Private Ryan DVD, which continues to garner wide acclaim, was recently ranked among Stereo Review's Sound & Vision magazine's top five DVD releases of 1999 (December 1999). The much heralded The Prince Of Egypt DVD was recommended in the "Best Overall DVD" category, in recognition of the disc's array of bonus programming which includes a full-length director's commentary, a multi-language presentation of "When You Believe" and a behind-the-scenes look at the animation process and state-of-the-art special effects.

The studio's first computer-animated feature film, ANTZ was recommended as a top release in several categories including "Best DVD- Special Edition" for the DVD's director's commentary and "Best DVD-Video" in recognition of the film transfer, which delivers an exceptional clarity and crispness. In addition, the heart-stopping thriller, The Haunting, was also recommended in the "Best DVD-Audio" category for delivering an "eerie sound experience."

---end---

Finally today, many of you have e-mailed me with this editorial from Sean M. Dugan of InfoWorld.com - R.I.P. DVD: The still-young age of digital video disks is coming to an inevitable end. And you've asked me what I think of it. Well... with all due respect to Sean, I think he's about as wrong as wrong can be. Yes, DVD's CSS encryption has been broken. But CSS-2 and other new encryption schemes are on the way. Worst comes to worst, you'll have to have your DVD player's firmware upgraded (and that's worst case). But DVD is the fastest growing segment of the home video and electronics industry. Let me make this point clear - EVERY studio and industry insider I've spoken with agrees with the following statement. With nearly 6 million DVD players currently in the U.S. market (and with another 12 million expected to ship by the end of 2000), DVD is most certainly NOT going away. Enough said. What in the WORLD were you thinking, Sean?

We'll be back tomorrow with lots of reviews. Stay tuned...


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