Once upon a time during the peak years of DVD, studio and indie labels were packaging their DVDs with booklets bearing liner notes, mini posters, and stills, and the catalogue titles sometimes included commentary tracks, featurettes, and documentaries.
No this isn’t the beginning of another rant – I made the point tenfold in the Editor’s Blog for Part 1 of our Twilight Time label profile – but I raise the issue here a little differently. While Universal’s first DVDS – Waterworld, The Paper – were released full screen and in jewel cases, other labels like Criterion and Warner Home Video figured there was more than enough room to not only present a film widescreen (technically speaking, anamorphic transfers take up less space than full screen & non-anamorphic widescreen), but create new / port over laserdisc extras, and for a while this was the norm for many new and older films.
MGM in fact produced some wonderful special editions – The Howling, Bubba Ho-Tep, Escape from New York, The Good the Bad and the Ugly – and then, while its European division was moving to SE’s of the remaining Sergio Leone dollar spaghetti westerns, not to mention Battle of Britain and A Bridge Too Far, bare bones editions remained in print in Region 1 land.
Why? Because the bare bones editions were selling far too well as budget titles in Walmarts and the like.
Why change a good thing?
This isn’t to say MGM was evil, but the obvious hesitation, if not cessation to issue new transfers of catalogue titles with special features marked an early notch in the scaling back of well-produced extras. It is a craft, because as a producer, you’re trying to cover all bases so fans and consumers are happy with the final product, and that it remains the definitive edition in an industry that thrives on reissues and repackaging.
Lionsgate did the same thing: there were sublime special editions of The Monster Squad and Cujo, but then the company sort of stepped back and decided it was enough to release bare bones editions of titles from the Canal Plus catalogue, either as standalone or boxed set editions. Apparently the virtue of having a film, of bringing it back into print, was more than enough.
The same, quite frankly, applies to Image recently picking up a whackload of titles formerly released as special editions by Anchor Bay. Yes AB produced their own set of extras, but is it really that expensive to port over the commentary tracks on House and Bill Condon’s Sister Sister?
There’s also Criterion having produced a number of fine commentary tracks for their laserdiscs, but few being retained for the DVD editions released by films’ original owners (like the all-star track for The Great Escape MGM ignored for their multple DVD Se’s).
Is Criterion greedy and asking $1 million per track? I kinda doubt it, because Anchor Bay UK, who had the rights to Polanski’s Repulsion, ported over the Criterion commentary. It’s called licensing, that’s all, and it’s just a mono track featuring old people talking.
Julie Kirgo, Twilight Time’s resident film historian, knows the value of a good DVD and Blu-ray release because she’s been involved with several, and in our Q&A [M] (aka Part 2 of our label profile), we discuss her entry into the wacky world of home video, the shifts in the business of edifying YOU, and trying to answer a number of questions that often begin with the word “Why.”
And also uploaded are reviews of two more Twilight Time releases: Picnic [M] (1955), which has aged extremely well, and proves Josh Logan was right about the humour that lies within the interconnection and ironic contrast placement of spit bubbles; and John Huston’s film version of Romain Gary’s The Roots of Heaven [M] (1958), a surprisingly prescient drama about animal conservation. This film’s been a personal favourite since I caught on TVOntario in an orange panned & scanned grainy print. I’ve waited maybe 25-30 years to see this picture clean, in stereo, and wide, and it’s one of Huston’s best. Flawed, but in an intriguing way.
Other goodies newly announced / coming real soon from Twilight Time are:
Swamp Water (1941) BLU-RAY – Feb 14th
Pal Joey (1957) BLU-RAY – Feb 14th
Demetrious and the Gladiators (1954) BLU-RAY – March 13th
Bite the Bullet (1975) BLU-RAY – March 13th
Bell, Book & Candle (1958) BLU-RAY – April 10th
Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959) BLU-RAY – May 8th
The Big Heat (1953) BLU-RAY – May 8th
John Steinbeck’s The Wayward Bus (1957) BLU-RAY – June 12th
As Good As It Gets (1997) BLU-RAY – June 1
Lastly, I mentioned The Paper early in this blatherthon. It’s still in full frame, and Universal’s completely abandoned this gem. Before Ron Howard went schmaltzy and worked one too many times with James Horner to create treackly, gooey muck, he made this great little black comedy in 1994 that feels like a tribute to rapid 1940s newspaper thrillers. It’s wry, it has an amazing cast (LOOK AT THE CAST), and features a great Randy Newman score (yes, he croons the End Credit song).
Won’t someone care enough to release this on Blu? Anyone? We’ve got Waterworld, and that made less money and garnered less critical acclaim, and yet Waterworld exists on Blu and as an expanded sea monster / director’s cut edition.