Paramount's Blu Dump

June 04, 2008
A thought by James Berardinelli

I have spent more money on DVDs this week than during any week in recent memory - and all of my purchases were Blu-Ray. Although I already own several versions of Patton, any new, improved release of the film is guaranteed to end up in my library. Thankfully, 20th Century Fox put some real effort into this package; it's not just a quick money-grab. The two-disc set has isolated all the special features on a single disc (except Francis Ford Coppola's introduction and commentary), giving the feature a disc all to its own. The video and audio are among the best I have experienced for any movie made before 2000. It's hard to imagine I'll need to re-purchase Patton any time soon…

I also bought the five-movie Dirty Harry collection. Part of the reason behind getting this is nostalgia. Another part is that it's a good opportunity to own a series I don't have on standard DVD. Harry is an American icon and he's Clint Eastwood's best-known screen alter-ego. The films vary in quality, although none are truly great nor are any terrible. It has been a while since I watched them. The last time I saw Dirty Harry was on a plane ride from Singapore to New Jersey in May 2005, and it has been longer for the sequels. So I'm looking forward to re-watching the five films. The box set is available in both high-def and standard DVD versions, so those who haven't graduated to Blu-Ray but love Harry Callahan can still get the movies. The price is okay, although not nearly as nice as last week's Rambo set.

While both Dirty Harry and Patton are selling briskly ( has them listed at #9 and #7, respectively, for this week's releases), Paramount owns the week when it comes to Blu-Ray volume. This represents the studio's re-entry into the Blu-Ray playground after they spurned it last year to go HD-DVD exclusive. While Paramount has not yet reached the point of releasing Blu-Ray titles day-and-date with their standard DVD counterparts (that will come on June 24 with the release of The Spiderwick Chronicles), they are making their presence known this week.

Before the debacle that led to their abandonment of Blu-Ray in mid-2007, Paramount had been format neutral, producing both Blu-Ray and HD-DVD versions of many of their catalog titles. When they joined the HD-DVD camp, the Blu-Ray movies were pulled. This week, more than 20 of those titles are returning to store shelves, including Face/Off, Sleepy Hollow, World Trade Center, and others. For those who weren't in the Blu-Ray camp a year ago but have joined more recently, this represents an opportunity to expand a collection. Of course, none of the Paramount re-releases are big titles - no Indiana Jones or Star Trek. High-def plans for those movies series have not yet been revealed, although there are rumors that the Indy movies could be headed to Blu-Ray in the near future and it wouldn't be surprising to see the Star Trek features somehow tied into the release of the next theatrical production in May 2009 (or its subsequent DVD release, presumably in October 2009).

In addition to old Blu-Ray releases, Paramount is offering some new stuff: Cloverfield and There Will Be Blood in particular. Neither film has previously been available in any HD format (they reached home video after HD-DVD's collapse), so this represents an opportunity for those who didn't snap up standard DVD copies of either.

So, while DVD enthusiasts are glad to have Paramount not only in the fold but active, the studio has yet to do the damage control many feel is necessary. There are those who blame Paramount for prolonging the format war and causing the key 2007 holiday season to pass without a presumptive nominee (to borrow language we're hearing all the time). Perhaps they'll speak not with words but with solid releases although, to date, that hasn't happened. Their titles are mediocre and the quality of those titles is nothing special. Paramount could earn some goodwill by announcing their plans for the Indiana Jones and Star Trek movies, then following up with discs on par with Fox's Patton. But if wishes were horses…