Video View

February 19, 2008
A thought by James Berardinelli

Before discussing what arrives on DVD this week, I want to write a few words about the status of the format war. Contrary to what some people are claiming, it is not over. Admittedly, Toshiba's decision to abandon HD-DVD has left the format on life support but, by definition, the format war exists as long as at least some of the studios continue to provide software (movie titles) for HD-DVD and not Blu Ray. That remains the situation. Paramount and Universal are still officially HD-DVD exclusive. Now, I don't expect that to last. In fact, I would be surprised if both studios don't make an announcement in the next week indicating that they are either (a) abandoning HD-DVD altogether and going Blu Ray exclusive, or (b) going dual format. Once both Paramount and Universal have made such an announcement, the format war will be officially over. But it hasn't happened yet and I long ago learned a lesson about counting chickens before they hatch. (I ran a homemade incubator in my basement in sixth grade, then again in eighth grade.) Hopefully, the next time I write something about high-def DVD, there will be only one format.

For releases, this week is heavily skewed toward theatrical stuff. There are only two TV shows releasing seasonal box sets and both are weak: season 3 of Coach and season 4 of Walker, Texas Ranger. We know Mike Huckabee will be purchasing a copy of the latter. I got a question this week about the likelihood of seeing The Six Million Dollar Man/The Bionic Woman on DVD. It will happen but not soon. There's a rights issue. Universal owns the worldwide rights to the TV series and some other company owns the North American rights to Cyborg, the Martin Cadin novel upon which the property is based. As yet, the two companies have not come to an agreement, although Universal would like to release these (and they are available overseas). Eventually, some kind of agreement will be reached but, judging by the stubbornness of the Hollywood studios (as evidenced by the format war), I wouldn't pencil in those box sets for delivery by Santa this year.

The biggest movie release of the week is Michael Clayton, which is arriving just in time for the Oscars on both standard DVD and Blu Ray. Another high-profile title is American Gangster, which may represent the last hurrah for HD-DVD. The film is being released in three different versions: two-disc and three-disc collector's editions, both of which feature extended cuts of the movie, and a combo DVD/HD-DVD version. In the Valley of Elah, which spotlights a good Tommy Lee Jones performance, is available on standard DVD and Blu Ray. Another Iraq-themed movie, Brian DePalma's poorly-received Redacted, is out only on standard DVD. Ditto for Margot at the Wedding. The most curious issue of the week is how Lust, Caution is being handled. Although this was easily one of the most gorgeous 2007 features, there's no high-def version. Maybe this has something to do with the distributor, Focus, being Universal's art-house arm and Universal being stuck in the HD-DVD camp, but the lack of a high-def edition is hard to fathom. There are two different standard DVD packages: the theatrical NC-17 one and a neutered R-rated cut. I assume the latter is for Blockbuster only. I can't figure out why anyone would rent or purchase anything other than the print Ang Lee wanted us to see.

There are a couple of other interesting movie releases. Jean-Luc Godard's Pierrot le Fou gets the Criterion treatment. Fans of the contrarian French director will appreciate this offering, which dates from 1965 during Godard's most fruitful period as a filmmaker. This week is also seeing the Blu Ray debut of Run Lola Run. This has, of course, been available on standard DVD for some time but it's notable because it represents a catalog title being released in the high-def format. To-date, most Blu Ray releases have been newer theatrical releases.

Finally, there are a couple of offbeat selections. Les Miserables - 10th Anniversary is a must-have for fans of the musical. It's not my cup of tea, but it's pretty high on's list of most purchased discs, so there are a lot of people out there who want a copy. Less high profile is something called Helen Mirren at the BBC, which features nine programs on five discs spanning the years 1974 through 1982. Curiously, the North American version differs from the British one (adding one title and deleting three others). The reason apparently has to do with rights issues. Fans of Mirren, especially from her younger days, will adore this set. In my opinion, it's a better rental option than one for purchase, since it carries a rather hefty $60 (discounted) price tag.