ReelThoughts: March 25, 2008

"Video View"

Commentary by James Berardinelli


DVD sales are down significantly year-over-year from 2007. This has caused alarm in Hollywood and is likely one reason for the surprisingly quick end to the high-def format war (even the most optimistic prognosticators expected it to last until mid-2008). The party line appears to be that the economic downturn is a major reason why DVDs aren't selling and, while I don't doubt this is part of the reason, I think the primary solution is less mysterious: bad movies and second-rate TV shows. While the number of weekly new releases hasn't declined since this time last year, the quality has. The film titles available are more likely rental choices than ones that will encourage purchase. High-profile catalog titles are exhausted and the TV series vault has been plundered. One can understand fans wanting season sets of Star Trek or MASH, but Party of Five or Love American Style? Can anyone reading this column claim genuine excitement for more than a handful of DVDs debuting in the next few months? I didn't think so.

Last week was a good week for DVDs. This week isn't. The only Blu-Ray title is Bonnie & Clyde. This is part of a major re-release campaign for the film, which is not only getting a high def version but is coming out in a standard DVD Collector's Edition. There's enough new material in the set to make it worthwhile if (a) you own the previous DVD, love the film, and want the new special features, or (b) you don't own the earlier copy. For those with Blu-Ray capability or who plan to add a high-def player in the near future, the Blu-Ray edition is the way to go.

The Mist is also coming out in two versions, although neither is high-def. There's a standard release of the theatrical version and a special edition that includes a black-and-white rendering of the movie. Also available is one of late 2007's "just missed" titles (just missed many Top Ten lists, just missed Oscar consideration): The Kite Runner. Add to that some Lynchian weirdness with Lost Highway and non-Lynchian weirdness with Wristcutters: A Love Story, plus three mediocre Yul Brynner movies from the 1959-1963 period: Solomon and Sheba, Taras Bulba, and Kings of the Sun.

TV material available this week represents a steep fall-off from last week. The mini-series Noble House, based on the James Clavell novel and starring Pierce Brosnan, tops the list. It's respectable entertainment, but nowhere close to Shogun (which has never been given the proper, complete release it deserves). The BBC series Midsomer Murders offers "Set 10," which provides four stories from the eighth season. Season box sets include Wings Season Six, Party of Five Season Three, Sliders Season Four, and Invisible Man Season One.

There are some nice movie box sets out this week. Alain Delon fans (and I'm sure there are still a few out there) have a five film set to consider. It's a collection of some of the actor's less-known movies: The Widow Couderc, Diabolically Yours, La Piscine, Le Gitan, and Notre Histoire. For a mere $30 (discounted), it's not a bad buy. Warner Brother has released three Gangster Collection volumes, varying in price from $45 to $52. Volume One includes The Public Enemy, White Heat, Angels with Dirty Faces, Little Caesar, The Petrified Forest, and The Roaring Twenties. Volume Two includes Bullets or Ballots, City for Conquest, Each Dawn I Die, G Men, San Quentin, and A Slight Case of Murder. Volume Three includes Smart Money, Picture Snatcher, The Mayor of Hell, Lady Killer, Black Legion, and Brother Orchid.

I wish I could say next week's roster looks better than this week's, but that would be a misrepresentation of the truth.


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