ReelThoughts: March 04, 2008

"Video View"

Commentary by James Berardinelli


The studios are getting worried. Profits from DVD sales are way down in 2008. The master plan two years ago was to have high-def revenue "fill in" the standard DVD lag but the format war either killed or delayed that campaign. There are two competing explanations for the precipitous decline in DVD sales. Hollywood wants to blame the economy. Others say it's the lack of desirable titles. The truth probably lies somewhere in between. Even with less discretionary income available, people will still buy movies that they love. When it comes to marginal titles, however, renting them or ignoring them are more likely options. The fare that the studios funnel into theaters is what drives the video market 4-6 months later and there aren't many "must own" titles out there. What sells? Family films, surprise hits that everyone loves, and blockbusters. The leaves a majority of films on the outside looking in.

This week's big seller will be (no surprise) a family film: the Platinum Edition of Disney's 101 Dalmatians (the animated version). Not being a big fan of animation, I don't plan to buy a copy, but millions of parents will be getting this for their kids. When it comes to marketing their animated titles, Disney does an excellent job. The illusion of only having a short time in which to buy these films creates demand, and the labeling of everything as a "classic" enriches the market. I have always considered 101 Dalmatians to be a second-tier effort but it's being given a top-flight release. (This is because all the true classics have already been released as Platinum Editions.)

Newer theatrical releases coming to DVD this week include two versions of Sean Penn's Into the Wild - a standard edition and a collector's edition. The movie is also getting an HD-DVD release, if anyone still cares. Also getting both standard and HD-DVD releases is the powerful downer Things We Lost in the Fire. The failed family feature Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium comes out in regular DVD and on Blu-Ray, and it's no more promising in homes than it was in theaters.

The biggest TV series to reach DVD this week is the eighth and least season of Magnum P.I.. Originally, the finale of Season #7 - which featured Magnum shuffling off this mortal coil - was to be the series ender, but a last-minute decision was made to bring back Selleck's show. From the opening episode, "Infinity and Jelly Donuts," to the series finale, this was an underwhelming set of episodes. In a sure sign of the Apocalypse, The Love Boat also starts its DVD run this week. Also available: The Best of Saturday Night Live 06/07 (must be a short DVD), Horton Hears a Who (in advance of the new movie's release), and a couple episodes of the classic Dr. Who, both featuring the well-loved Tom Baker: Planet of Evil and Destiny of the Daleks.

Double-dippers for the week include a "50th Anniversary" edition of 12 Angry Men and a scraping-the-bottom Mrs. Doubtfire. New Blu-Ray releases of titles that exist on standard DVD include Ice Age and The Rookie. One hopes the number of films in this category will begin to ramp up. It will be interesting to see when Disney decides to make one of their animated films available in high-def. The Rookie is their property, but it's live-action. And 101 Dalmatians is not being accorded a Blu-Ray release, nor is one scheduled in the near future.

Finally, a few words about this week's specialty boxed set. It's called TCM Archives: Forbidden Hollywood Collection Volume 2, and retails for about $35 (discounted). This is one of those sets that I can unreservedly recommend. It features five movies - The Divorcee, A Free Soul, Night Nurse, Three on a Match, Female - all from the early 1930s. They are "pre-code" releases, meaning that they came out before the Hays Code was adopted. They are more mature than what we're used to seeing from older movies and have a refreshingly "modern" sense about them. At about $7 per movie, it's a good price for anyone interested in film history.


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