The Wish List

January 28, 2008
A thought by James Berardinelli

"Programming" Announcement: Starting next weekend, I will periodically have a Saturday or Sunday ReelThoughts feature called "Short Cuts" that will deal with various brief subjects raised in e-mails that are worth airing in broader forum. It will also give me an opportunity to discuss "administrative" things releated to the site, such as advertising and improvements (like the greatly expanded DVD section, which will debut in the late March/early April time frame) without eating up one of my regular ReelThoughts slots. It will also give ReelViews a little more life over the weekends, a time when many sites go to sleep. Now, on to today's subject...

With the high-def DVD format war lurching to a conclusion (one assumes that Paramount, Universal, and Toshiba are all in the process of formulating face-saving exit strategies, their rhetoric notwithstanding), it's time to turn to something more pleasant in the realm of high-definition - when will the "wish list" titles reach Blu-Ray? This is a key question for many consumers who are currently fence-sitting. They're waiting for a number of the high-profile, "sexy" titles to be available. How many people would rush to buy a Blu-Ray player if Star Wars or The Lord of the Rings was suddenly announced?

Those who have read my seemingly limitless posts about HD-DVD and Blu-Ray have noticed that one thing I bemoan is the lack of worthwhile high def content. To date, I only have about a dozen high-def titles and, based on the upcoming announced roster of releases, I don't see that number increasing much in the immediate future. The problem is that studios are concentrating on releasing new titles into the high-def formats and are largely ignoring their catalog titles - and that's where a lot of the interest lies. How many movies from 2007 do I want copies of? Maybe 20, and many of those won't be released on either of the high-def formats because they're too "small."

The purpose of this column is not to delineate my personal wish list but to present a list of the generally most requested titles. In putting together this information, I have incorporated rumors and off-the-record information from a few legitimate inside sources. (Generally, people who wouldn't speak on the record.) Nothing here should be considered confirmed or even close to that. In fact, in the world of DVD releases, nothing is solid until there's an official release. So if it doesn't happen the way I speculate it's going to happen, don't send me nasty e-mails.

Please note: Although HD-DVD supporters won't like this, the underlying premise of this column is that Blu-Ray will eventually win the format war. While I don't speculate when that might occur, I treat it as a given.

The Lord of the Rings: It's tough to pin this one down because New Line doesn't know (and, in fact, New Line may no longer exist - rumor is that they're about to be swallowed up by their parent company, Time Warner). There seem to be two schools of thought within the company. One group would like to wait until 2010 and use this as part of the marketing strategy for the theatrical release of The Hobbit. Assuming strikes don't mess up the production schedule, this should start filming early next year for a release in December 2010. That would likely mean that the LOTR high-def DVDs (presumably the Special Editions) would be available about a month before that. However, three years is an awfully long time to wait and New Line is in dire need of money now. So there is a second group within the company that wants to move faster, possibly getting LOTR onto Blu-Ray and into stores by Christmas 2008. So either it's ten months away or three years away. Take your pick. New Line is already on the Blu-Ray bandwagon so there are no format war issues holding this up.

Star Wars: This one's easy. George Lucas is once again tinkering with his movies, although this time it's not just the original three - it's all six. They will be released in digital 3-D in the Spring of 2009. Once they are in digital form, it will be simple to create eye-popping Blu-Ray versions. Expect all three Star Wars movies to show up in high-def late next year, probably within two months of Christmas. Some have speculated that these will be "ultimate" editions with all sorts of additional scenes added back in. Maybe, maybe not. Lucas is unpredictable when it comes to content. Time will tell. Fox is a Blu-Ray supporter but Lucas owns the rights; however, indications are that he's fine with Blu-Ray.

Indiana Jones: Originally, there had been rumors that the Indiana Jones trilogy would be released this spring to coincide with the opening of the new film. Nothing begets interest in the new like a re-invigoration of the old. Then Paramount switched to HD-DVD. It is well known that Spielberg is a Blu-Ray supporter so if there was any truth to the rumors that Indy was on his way to high def, Parmount's re-alignment killed the project. If Paramount relents and joins the Blu-Ray fold, November would be the optimum time to see these films. That way the older movies could be packaged with the new one. Ten months is ample time to get the original trilogy in shape for release. The only real area of concern is Paramount's format allegience. As long as they remain HD-DVD only, there will be no Indiana Jones. If they go Blu-Ray only or format neutral, Indy will be riding in high def this Christmas, and you'll be able to see every wrinkle on Harrison Ford's face.

Star Trek (movie series): This is Paramount's crown jewel and cash cow. With J.J. Abrams' re-imagining of the series arriving in theaters in December, the time will soon be ripe for high def editions of these movies. Star Trek was reportedly one reason why the HD-DVD camp courted Paramount so aggressively. They figured that high-def versions of the movies would lure Trekkies/Trekkers to their camp in droves, and that fan group loves to spend money (and, based on demographics, has a lot to spend). It is known that high-def versions of the movies are planned, but the slide of the HD-DVD format has complicated matters. The original plan was probably to release HD-DVD versions of all ten films in November. Now...? Either November or May 2009 (to coincide with the DVD release of the new movie) seems most likely but on Blu-Ray, HD-DVD, or both? Given the current climate, one doubts Paramount will unleash one of their prized possessions into a dying format.

Titanic: It's the biggest grossing movie of all time, but some of the shine has dimmed. Still, this is one I'd be eager to see in high-def, and I'm not alone. Although co-funded by Paramount and Fox, Paramount has the home video rights. So there's that format war issue again. Still, once it's settled, this is one release that Paramount will want to get out as soon as possible. Expect it to show up within six months after Paramount ends its association with HD-DVD. It will likely not be released during any interim period in which Paramount is format neutral.

The Godfather: Another Paramount release, and almost everything I wrote about Titanic applies here. As soon as Paramount has committed to Blu-Ray and Blu-Ray only, The Godfather trilogy will show up in high def, but likely not before then.

The there's Patton... I'm not putting it on the list because, although it's my #1 movie, I don't think it's one of the titles that early adopters are clamoring for. Nevertheless, it has been announced for Blu-Ray in June. Fox is producing some kind of Father's Day package that includes Patton and about five other titles. I hope it's sold as a single disc, though. While I wouldn't mind owning a copy of Master and Commander in high-def, I dread the thought of having Mrs. Doubtfire rammed down my throat.