Wide Screen Movies Magazine
|DVD - The Best Thing That's Happened To Widescreen
guess most of us are aware of the phenomenon known as DVD - Digital Versatile
Disc. Since its introduction in 1998 it has taken off faster than video
ever did; beyond anyone's most optimistic expectations. These CD lookalikes
have exploded into the public's imagination from their modest little displays
of half a dozen titles on a remote shelf in the back of a Virgin or HMV
video department and blown VHS out of the water.
And well they might. Because they never really tried very hard with VHS, did they? In its early days, the pre-recorded tapes that went out into the sell-through market were hugely overpriced. I can remember paying �24.99 for MGM's Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (it's always been a favourite!) - and that turned out to be a washed out, pan-and-scan, mono print. At the time, I was just glad to have the film - to actually own a copy - to play any time that I wanted. And it was a new medium, so they could charge what they liked; and I guess they did. Of course, 16mm and 8mm film collectors had been doing this for years; but they were prepared to pay much, much more for their prints, some of which were 'scope as well. So VHS had, at least, given the general public access to their favourite films; and the prices did creep slowly downwards. Especially after the VHS victory over the superior Betamax format - mainly because of the former's access to the huge THORN-EMI film catalogue.
So, VHS coasted along, complacently, leaving the widescreen film fan high and dry. And then another medium came on the scene: The Laserdisc. Now, this was more like it: Cheaper than 16 and 8mm; in 'scope more often than not; and a lot of them came with behind-the-scenes documentaries and interviews - and the picture quality was twice as good as VHS, Strangely, it was never promoted with much enthusiasm in the UK, and never did very well here, but it took off in America, Europe and Japan.
Meanwhile, VHS trundled along, and it was not until the release of a "Widescreen Version" of Jesus Christ: Superstar in 1980, that a film was presented in its correct ratio on tape. The response was underwhelming to say the least, but that was more than likely down to the fact that it was a crap film anyway. But it was a breakthrough, and at least the tide was beginning to turn; and soon more of these "Letterbox Editions" would be released to video. Of course, it went without saying that the widescreen versions would be a couple of quid dearer than the pan-and-scan ones. Rip-off Britain in action, again - but don't get me started on that!
Another thing I can remember is a university lecturer telling me: "Take my word for it; the next Big Thing will be Cdi." And it may have been for a couple of weeks; but it came and went so quickly, nobody noticed. But it paved the way for the real "Next Big Thing":DVD.
Now, who knows what DVD will evolve into, or be replaced by; but, if you want your favourite film, (a) in the same ratio in which it was shot. (b) with decent sound. (c) not to wear out, jam, or get chewed up by the machine, then DVD is the way to go. It would also seem that the studios have embraced DVD with far more enthusiasm than they did VHS. The long awaited documentaries are there; out-takes; deleted scenes; alternate endings, and commentaries. Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS surround sound, with widescreen and fullscreen versions on the same disc, are some of the delights that await the film-fan who decides to explore the world of DVD. How can you resist?
And apart from all these bonus features, there is another, more important, fact to be considered. The restoration and digital scanning of many classic movies for DVD means that they will be preserved forever, in pristine condition; never to fade or decay. It is both horrifying and depressing to realise that over 80% of all the films that were ever made have been lost forever. Maybe the DVD revolution can help to stop this, provided that the restoration is a genuine attempt to preserve the actual film elements and not a cynical quick digital clean up of a single print for DVD release (while the original negative continues to decay in the vaults!).
Major films, such as Spartacus, Ben Hur, Lawrence Of Arabia; or Citizen Kane, Gone With The Wind and The Third Man, to include some non-widescreen classics, have never looked this good since they were first released. Even Jesus Christ: Superstar has been improved. (Only kidding - even DVD isn't that good - Norman Jewison, we know where you live!). But with the wealth of CinemaScope and Panavision movies available right now, and many, many more being prepared for release, the future for widescreen looks very bright on DVD.
not necessarily looking at new films or new DVD's here, but rather those
that I (in my humble opinion) think are well worth another look. Also, I've
put my money where my mouth is and actually bought them; so don't think
you can influence my opinion by sending me free copies to review. Unless
you really want to, of course.
For our first issue I've selected a fairly mixed bag of recommendations, but in future issues I intend to include a few that I wouldn't touch with a barge pole, so you rip-off merchants out there beware-I'm on the case!
Most of the DVD's reviewed in this magazine have been purchased on-line from either Amazon.com for region 1, and Play.com for region 1 and region 2. The former offers probably the largest selection of widescreen DVD's and videos on the planet, but there are postal charges to pay. Play.com, on the other hand, don't have quite the selection of Amazon in region 1, but do have a huge catalogue of region 2 stuff - and postage is free! There are, of course many on-line suppliers - all cheaper than the shops - best to have a surf around I suppose; I merely speak whereof I know. Please let me know if you find a reasonably priced (and legal) source of DVD's and I'll be glad to post it here.
The Fly/Return of The Fly (Region 2)
feature package from Fox represents terrific value for money; with two
classics sci-fi films for the price of one. Released in 1958, The Fly
- for the benefit of anyone out there who might actually be unaware of
the plot- concerns a scientist (David Hedison), whom, having invented
a teleportation machine, decides to test it himself without realising
that he has a fly for a fellow passenger. What emerges at the other end
is not a pretty sight. However, you will be able to enjoy this chiller
whilst eating your TV dinner, unlike the grisly David Cronenberg remake
of 1987. Vincent Price is along for the ride as the sensible older brother
who picks up the pieces - oh, and the ending has to be seen to be believed!
films, profusely illustrated with dozens of never-before-seen photographs. These wonderful scores are an essential purchase for collectors and the set is a limited edition of 3,000 copies. Price is $29.95 plus $3.50 shipping ($7.55 airmail to UK).
Percepto's website is at www.percepto.com and their postal address is: PO Box 70075, Pasadena, CA 91117, USA.
West Side Story (Region 2)
This Oscar winning musical is a must-have for any collector of widescreen movies, and is given a splendid treatment on this disc. Restored (it says on the sleeve) from the original 65mm negative (Super Panavision) the film is given a beautiful 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer, and a new Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. I'm not sure how you get a 2.35:1 ratio from a 65mm source, but the image quality is astonishing, and the colour is gorgeous - remember, this is a film that's over forty years old! West Side Story won 10 Oscars in 1961 - still a record for a musical - including the only joint award for Direction, for Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins. The Romeo and Juliet story - transposed to the tenements of New York, stars Natalie Wood (with the singing voice of Marni Nixon), Richard Beymer and Russ Tamblyn. Co-stars Rita Moreno and George Chakiris also won Best Supporting actress/actor awards. It has one or two good songs as well. 10 out of 10.
The Vikings (Region 1)
film arrives, at last, on DVD - and just as I am in the middle of preparing
these reviews, so I've stopped the presses to include it! For me, this
rip-roaring tale of 9th century England and Norway is the perfect example
of the genre - it has the lot; a good cast; a decent story; brilliant
set-pieces - the fight on the round tower, anyone? -; and absolutely stunning
photography by Jack Cardiff. The whole package is delivered by director
Richard Fleischer at break-neck pace, never letting a scene go on an instant
longer than necessary.
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� 2002 John Hayes/Wide Screen Movies Magazine
Last revised: 18 June 2002
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