Video View

February 26, 2008
A thought by James Berardinelli

With the format war officially over, it's now time to start thinking about when some of the really desirable titles will start showing up on Blu-Ray. This is where Hollywood faces its biggest challenge - convincing movie buffs to re-buy catalog titles. For example, while it's possible people will re-purchase movies like Revenge of the Sith and The Lord of the Rings to get the best possible video/audio on their "show" titles, what about films like The French Connection or To Have or Have Not? The fact is, it's hard to justify replacing a good standard DVD transfer with a Blu-Ray high-def one for many, many movies. I'll buy Patton when it comes out in Blu-Ray later this year, but that's mainly because it's my all-time favorite. I'm not expecting it to look a lot better than my current DVD copy. The first thing studios have to do to get high-def off the ground is to bring down disc prices. People aren't going to pay $10 or $15 premiums. Day-and-date is important but day-and-date-and-price is more important. Given a choice between a popular new title in standard DVD at $18 and one in high def at $30, how many will choose the latter? Only die-hards. Get the price differential to about $5 and there will be a lot of casual movie buyers who will go for the Blu-Ray. Equalize the prices and it's a no-brainer that anyone who owns a Blu-Ray player will get the high def disc and those who don't own players will consider buying them (assuming they are reasonably priced).

For the second straight week, there are more high profile movie titles than TV series box sets. Beowulf is at the top of the pile with an unrated version that is likely to show some of what got cut to achieve the PG-13. Rumor is that the original director's cut was close to NC-17 so the decision to release an "unrated director's cut" could be more than a mere marketing ploy. The theatrical cut is also available but I'm at a loss who would buy it - maybe the same people who purchased the R-rated Lust, Caution. Sadly, the high-def version is in HD-DVD, which presents a bit of a conundrum since this is one movie where high-def is almost a must. So the question becomes: Buy it in a dead format, slum by getting the standard DVD, or wait for who knows how long for a Blu-Ray edition? For the record, I went for the middle option even though I own an HD-DVD player. I can't abide the thought of spending more than $5 on an HD-DVD disc during this time in the format's life cycle.

Other movies this week: the vampire story 30 Days of Night, which is one of the better horror movies to come along in recent years (also the only one of this week's major releases to also show up in Blu-Ray); the weird-and-not-so-wonderful The Darjeeling Limited, which epitomizes pretentiousness; and the lightweight and occasionally very funny Death at a Funeral. Stinkers include Silk, which doubles as a cure for insomnia, and Goya's Ghosts, which proves that Best Supporting Actor winners can turn in truly horrific performances.

TV shows include volume 2 of season 1 for The Fugitive, episodes 71-105 of the gothic soap opera Dark Shadows, season 4 of Punky Brewster, and the series final of Extras (it's only one episode but it's also pretty cheap - around $13 discounted). Then there's the one I'm sure everyone has been awaiting: the debut season of the immortal B.L. Stryker. Better hurry and put in an order before that one's sold out.

Finally, there's a trio of otherwise interesting releases. Criterion is giving The Last Emperor special treatment. This is one of those editions that is a can't-miss for lovers of the movie and a don't-bother for those who are indifferent. It's not cheap but it is packed. Of course, if you're thinking about dropping $50 on this set, there's the disturbing question of whether it might show up in Blu-Ray over the next couple of years. Probably not, but who knows? Still, that's the kind of uncertainty hurting the industry right now. Justice League - The New Frontier, an animated direct-to-DVD feature, is one of the bestsellers at, indicating that this kind of cartoon isn't just for kids. It's available in Blu-Ray as well as standard DVD. Finally, football fans who don't live in the Boston area will enjoy picking up the official Superbowl XLII DVD. Undoubtedly, Giants fans who make their homes in Beantown will have to mail order it.