Best DVD Trend: TV on DVD
This year was the time for TV to spread its wings on the lovely 5” disc format. The front-runners certainly began the trend, with the fantastic “Star Trek: The Next Generation” sets, and Warner’s smart release of “Friends” is something that should be paid attention to. Instead of just “Best Of” collections or Season Box Sets, they gave us the choice of either, and that is damn intelligent in my opinion. Of course the real TV on DVD pioneer is Fox’s “X-Files,” a solid buy no matter which season you pick.
“CSI: Season Two” rectified all of the mistakes that the first set made (non-anamorphic widescreen anyone?) and added on some very nice features as well. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” rocked on DVD, releasing three sets, Seasons 3 – 5, in 2003, and “The Shield: Season One” busted out of the gate with some awesome commentaries. “Law and Order” released its first season this year, but honestly, I don’t think those sales are going to pick up until you reach the Jerry Orbach years, which I am looking forward to.
Best Commentary: “Finding Nemo”
The “Visual Commentary” option on this DVD is worth the purchase price alone. Bit by bit and scene by scene we’re either entertained with great stories on the development and ideas that went into each scenario, or see rough shaky cam video of the creative process. This one’s guaranteed to bring a smile to your face from start to finish.
Best Restoration: “Casablanca”
Anyone who loves Hitchcock should own the “North by Northwest” DVD. (Stay with me here) Also, anyone who owns that classic is, and should be, astounded by the incredible job of restoration done by the team at Lowry Digital Images. Thankfully these talented folks were given the task of restoring this classic film and knocked another one out of the park. With an absolutely incredible picture and excellent subdued sound, I think “Casablanca” eclipses even the stellar release of “Citizen Kane.” The supplements are plentiful, with a superb Roger Ebert commentary and another by film historian Rudy Behlmer. Two excellent documentaries are included, such as the hour and a half long “Bacall on Bogart” and the recent “A Tribute to Casablanca.” If you’re a movie lover you owe it to yourself to own this excellent edition of this timeless film.
Best Re-Release: “Alien Quadrilogy”
While it certainly deserves a better title for such an awesome set, rest assured you get your money’s worth here as each film is revisited with all-new features. This is a nine-disc set, yes, nine, and it is worth every last penny. There is some incredible footage here, including screen tests, documentaries, test shots, dailies, costume and set design walkthroughs, commentaries, new director’s cuts and I think somewhere on disc nine is the kitchen sink. But that’s just a rumor.
The only thing that prevented this from being the Best DVD of The Year would be the fact that a punch was pulled with “Alien 3.” Fox simply didn’t want to show the raw, disturbing footage of studio executives taking over, sometimes overruling David Fincher’s decisions right in front of the cast and crew. Though some of the frustration is there, as it is unavoidable, like a giant zit on your date’s nose, there is absolutely no Fincher involvement with the making of the “Alien 3” set, and that is most unfortunate.
Most Disappointing DVD Release: “The Matrix Reloaded”
While its film merits may be debated, the DVD needs some retooling. Simply put, apart from the excellent sound and picture, there isn’t much here. Sure we get a nice albeit short documentary on the amazing highway scene, but where are the commentaries? The true visual effects documentaries taking us deep within the software houses that it took to bring such amazing CGI to life? Was there no other on-set footage than the fluffy “Preload” segment on the DVD? And why did I get the uncomfortable feeling of being marketed extensively throughout my viewing? I mean, sure you’ve got the Powerade commercials and product placement in the films, but was it really necessary to include the trailer for the terrible video game on the disc as well? To put it in perspective, think of it this way: Would a “Lord of the Rings” DVD include a video game trailer? I rest my case. Treat this series with some dignity already.
Most Unneeded Drama: HD-DVD Debate
There seems to be way too much lip service given to the next generation of DVD. What’s it going to look like? How’s it going to work? Which studio is going to gorge consumers again with another all-new edition of some great work? Can “Terminator” please be released just One More Time, because I just don’t think that three versions are enough?
Here’s what needs to happen: unless this new format comes on a little optical memory card, you best make it backwards compatible with existing DVDs. And I’m talking about both a blue laser for the new stuff, and a red laser for the old. Blue laser DVDs allow much more space, resulting in true high definition audio and video. Red lasers are what existing DVDs utilize. As of this writing, it looks as though NEC has this figured out. But as for the studios, you’ve had your cake. And as long as you go blue laser, and don’t stiff the consumer with overly-compressed audio and video using red lasers and try to call it high definition, you can eat it too.
Most Surprising TV-on-DVD: “NYPD Blue”
Boy did I expect this one to suck. Boy was I wrong.
The first and second seasons that were released in 2003 are textbook examples for the evolution of the TV on DVD. The first season had some great supplements, such as the hour long “Making of Season One” and a duo of featurettes, but the second season simply compounded the quality by including its own hour-long documentary, two featurettes, and commentary on four episodes. This is TV done right and is highly recommended.
Is This Debate Really Necessary: DVD Software Backup
If you buy a DVD, you have fair use rights. This is simple to comprehend and is the law of the land. That means if you want to make a backup of the film you purchased, even a software backup such as a video file, you have the full legal right to do so. This doesn’t mean that by creating that backup you’re going to give it to all of your friends, or that you’re going to horde it on Kazaa. Will someone who matters in Hollywood please understand that just because I back up my movies on hard drives doesn’t mean I’m a thief?
The Let’s Face It, That’s Just Stupid Award: Self-Destructing DVDs
It’s like DivX all over again. DivX was a pay-per-viewing DVD scheme that Circuit City cooked up and lost all kinds of money on back before DVD was huge. Buena Vista Home Entertainment thinks that self-destructing DVDs are a good thing. No, seriously. They do. I don’t know exactly why, but I’m sure that somewhere a really nice Powerpoint presentation, backed up with “right off the street” surveys and opinions was shown to a group of studio heads and they agreed that this was the future.
The grand scheme is that self-destructing DVDs will invade supermarket line shelves, gas stations and yes, perhaps even your local funeral home in the chance that when you’re waist-deep in mourning or a Big Gulp, you’ll just have to buy “Air Bud 12: When Dogs Won’t Die.”
Thankfully as the news broke in February and the industry slowly began to realize that this was a Terrible, Terrible Idea, self-destructing DVDs are looking at a slim to none chance of making their way to any store shelf. But somewhere deep in my psyche I hope to one day see “Cheaper By The Dozen” staring me down from the funeral home foyer.
Best TV on DVD: “Firefly: The Complete Series”
As any Joss Whedon (“Buffy”, “Angel”) fan can tell you, Fox screwed up big time on this one. This is an actual quote from an article written about “Firefly” before its premier episode: “The original two-hour pilot will air later in the season.” Now, I know studio makes little decisions like this all the time. They spout such catchphrases as “The material benefits from this type of scheduling.” But you must be kidding me. Wouldn’t you trust the creator of this series to deliver the best two episodes to draw people into the series? Instead, you ask the creators to come up with a new episode to serve as the first of the season. Mistake after mistake, less and less advertising and exposure, and “Firefly” died the same sad death that “James Cameron’s Dark Angel” did, except this time the series wasn’t a total bust.
While Fox screwed the pooch in regards to getting the show seen by a viewing public, this fine DVD collection takes some of the salt out of that wound. Excellent sound, presentation, commentaries and extras are all on board here, and look for the easter egg of Whedon singing the theme song.
The About Damn Time You Did A Commentary Award: James Cameron, “Terminator 2: Extreme DVD”
I don’t know how they did it, but someone at Artisan convinced James Cameron to get behind a mic and tell the world about one of his best movies. And the result is almost paranormal. It’s obvious from the word go that the man knows what he’s talking about, what he’s shooting, and where he wanted to take his story. You can hear the pride and the regret, the triumph and the frustration. But rest assured, this is an excellent commentary that no DVD fan should go without listening to at least once. A rare glimpse into his filmmaking process, however brutal it may be. This is commentary gold.
Best DVD You’ve Never Heard Of: “Aqua Teen Hunger Force: Volume 1”
If you know of this series, then you shouldn’t be surprised at this selection. “Aqua Teen Hunger Force,” having the craziest name in the cartoon world, is as hilarious as it is irrelevant. A gem in Cartoon Network’s late night Adult Swim lineup, this show chronicles the exploits of Carl, a fat porn-loving drunkard, and his pals Meatwad, Master Shake and Frylock (raw hamburger, a milkshake and fries, respectively), as they fight the evil that is Dr. Weird. I’m sure this sounds ridiculous. That’s because it is. That’s the beauty of it. Pick it up and thank me later.
Best 2-disc DVD: “Naked Lunch: The Criterion Collection”
In a world of “X2: X-Men United” and “Pirates of the Caribbean,” what in the world am I doing putting a Cronenberg movie up for this honor? Well, it’s about the DVD silly, and this DVD is handled with loving care in a way that few are. There were certainly other 2-discers that could fit easily in this spot, but I tried to weigh both the quality of the film, which is superb, and the DVD itself, which is practically flawless. From the new amazing transfer to the fascinating commentary, the real treat is the “Making Naked Lunch” documentary, along with the 32-page book of essays, and a reading from the novel by its author, William Burroughs. Worth every penny, Criterion does it again.
Best 3-disc DVD: “Black Hawk Down: Special Edition”
This three disc set has put all other 3-discers to shame. The package features an incredible amount of material, including the amazing “The Essence of Combat” documentary, which chronicles the production of the film from concept to completion. Three commentaries are on board, including views from an actual Army Task Force, and an insightful fact-filled romp with Mark Bowden, who wrote the novel, and Ken Nolan, who tackled the script. Nolan’s comments are particularly insightful as he tries to explain how difficult it was to fit dozens of firefights and a night of deadly military maneuvers in a 3-act movie script. This excellent re-release is recommended for even the most timid Black Hawk Down fan, or the most jaded DVD collector.
Best DVD of the Year: “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers Special Extended Version”
Was there even a question? New Line has been doing DVD right for a very long time now, all the way back to “The Mask,” which was the first special edition DVD ever. From paving the way into 2-disc mega sets (“Fight Club”) to their amazing and groundbreaking “Infinifilm” line, New Line is neck and neck with Fox as being the best DVD studio of 2003.
This DVD…wow, where to begin. The film is one thing, and as most of us know it will be a modern classic. This expanded version just builds on the amazing journey in “The Fellowship of the Ring” and into an expansive world of interesting creatures and characters. The journey and peril the main characters experience is only better served by the amazing soundtrack, the fantastic picture, and the out of this world supplements.
Let’s start off with four commentaries, from each facet of the production. The film includes two excellent soundtrack options, in bold Dolby Digital and teeth-shattering DTS. And the supplements…man, the supplements are simply out of this world. They are the very definition of how to present the making of your film without being cheesy, false, or just plain misleading. After watching over six hours of amazing, intriguing footage and interviews on what it took to get this film made, you experience only a fraction of the real effort that was given into making this trilogy the hallmark of New Line that it is today.
No DVD, including New Line’s own “Fellowship of the Ring” 4-disc set, gets close to this kind of greatness. It is in a class by itself, and casts a shadow of excellence over the DVDs that came before it. Easily the best DVD purchase you could ever make.