Video View

April 22, 2008
A thought by James Berardinelli

Since the death of HD-DVD and the end of the format war, there has been an upswing in Blu-Ray revenue, which is a good thing for Hollywood. High def DVD sales are still dwarfed by those of their standard DVD cousin but it's at least a positive sign in an arena that hasn't had many of those. The real test will come in the fourth quarter when Blu-Ray makes its first unopposed pitch in the high definition DVD market. Meanwhile, retailers are opening more space for Blu-Ray discs and a few libraries are now making them available for borrowing. (I was recently asked to provide a comment for a newspaper article about my local county library, which will be the first in the area to offer Blu-Ray titles.) In tight economic times, libraries are a great choice for obtaining Blu-Ray discs since they will allow anyone with a PS3 game system to sample high definition movies without spending anything.

This week's new releases are slim on the high-def side. Only two of the major new features - One Missed Call and The Orphanage - are coming out in both standard and Blu-Ray packages. The other major movie titles are from Universal and Paramount and, while both have abandoned HD-DVD, neither has come up to speed on Blu-Ray. To Universal's credit, they have announced a slate of Blu-Ray titles but Paramount remains mum (still licking their wounds, one assumes). Universal's title is Charlie Wilson's War, a film that many mistakenly believed was about Iraq. It's not – it's about Cold War Afghanistan. It's funny and incisive and worth the price of a rental. Then there's Cloverfield, which may prove to be less nausea-inducing in a home environment. Three smaller movies - The Savages, Starting out in the Evening, and Romulus, My Father - are also arriving in standard DVD only. All are worth seeing, with Romulus being the weakest of the three titles.

It's another lifeless week for TV on DVD, but a lot of that has to do with the time of year. TV on DVD has two peak seasons (late summer and before Christmas), and we're in neither of them. This week, all that's out there are the second season box set of Friday Night Lights, the release of the just-on-Masterpiece Theater version of My Boy Jack (featuring Kim Cattrall and Daniel Radcliffe, both of whom keep their clothes on), and season four of Laverne and Shirley.

Four older titles are being released by Universal under the banner of "Universal Classic Cinema," but they are not available as a boxed set. They are: Midnight, The Major and the Minor, Easy Living, and She Done Him Wrong. None are exceptionally popular or well-known and their reasonably low prices indicate that. As far as box sets are concerned, there are three, each of which caters to a different audience. Criterion's Eclipse series is releasing three silent films by Ozu: 1931's Tokyo Chorus, 1932's I Was Born But..., and 1933's Passing Fancy. At $34 (discounted), the set is pricy, but it provides an interesting time capsule. These three films are among a very limited number of pre-World War II Japanese movies available and they provide a different view of life than those produced after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Those who like sweet trifles may be amused by Shirley Temple: America's Sweetheart Collection #6, which contains 1936's Stowaway, 1937's Wee Willie Winkie, and 1940's Young People. All three titles are also available individually but, at $23, the set is the bargain. I have never cared much for Ms. Temple, so I'll pass. The third box set is a repackaging of four early-1970s Pete Walker gore-fests called British Horror Quadruple Feature. It includes Frightmare, House of Whipcord, The Flesh & Blood Show, and Die Screaming Marianne. In the early '70s, these were controversial movies, but not so in today's environment. The set can be gotten for $20, which isn't bad considering that's the usual price of a single new movie. Whether this is a bargain depends on how much you like the genre.