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HomeA&EMovies
Published: Thursday, 12/28/2006

'06 memories: Downloads rise, VHS dies

BY CHRISTOPHER BORRELLI
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Director Steven Soderbergh s Bubble was released on the
same day to home video, cable, and theaters. Director Steven Soderbergh s Bubble was released on the same day to home video, cable, and theaters.
Enlarge

To be fair, the year in video was the year in viral video - the year of video clips disseminated across the Internet, or if you're feeling argumentative, the year of the short film. Granted, a local man trained his cat to use the toilet, a video of it became an online success, and I doubt Oscar will be calling. But it's what we watched. Even more astonishing: The only real good will Saturday Night Live generated all year was from a viral video of Andy Samberg's Lazy Sunday - a gangsta rap with Chris Parnell about The Chronicles of Narnia. YouTube was the multiplex.

A very-multiplex.

But because this column has been (primarily) devoted to home video in the traditional sense, here were the highs and lows of - as they say in the sports business - a year of transition.

•

•Most Ambivalent Development: One-stop, movie-downloading services, from iTunes, to Xbox Live, to in the past month, a tentative stab by Wal-Mart. It sounds convenient. It looks convenient. It can be convenient (if your Internet connection is first rate). It might even be cheaper (because studios subtract the cost of packaging). But have we forgotten the satisfaction of flipping through a pile of the actual thing? Of keeping a real library?

•Worst DVD of the Year: Any new movie released on DVD that will clearly be reissued within a year as an Ultra Special Gold Edition (though still feel paltry). X-Men: The Last Stand - The Stan Lee Edition, I'm talking to you. The Da Vinci Code - somehow, when a film concerns evidence that Christianity is a fraud, I bet the studio can do better than a featurette on the soundtrack. An absurdly thin DVD of Cars, which took five years to make? Here's hoping someone braves the frigid waters of copyright law and releases a new movie on DVD, in a completely unauthorized edition, with smart extras.

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment s Controversial Classics, Vol. 2: The Power of the Media , which includes DVDs of Network, All the President s Men, and Dog Day Afternoon, is one of the best box-set releases of the year. Warner Bros. Home Entertainment s Controversial Classics, Vol. 2: The Power of the Media , which includes DVDs of Network, All the President s Men, and Dog Day Afternoon, is one of the best box-set releases of the year.
Enlarge

•Most Innovative: Lost: The Complete Second Season. I know, you're thinking, "Wait, Most Confusing." You're right. What this package does is deepen the mystery of the island and its survivors, offering interactive family trees, oodles of theories - frankly, the show lost me and never regained me, but this set makes the argument that, in the future, an actual TV series itself will only be the beginning if you want to follow the story. So, OK, Most Frustrating is more like it.

•Most Ubiquitous: The Disney Channel's made-for-cable phenomenon High School Musical was released on DVD last winter, re-released this winter in an extended Remix Edition, the soundtrack continues to linger near the top of the Billboard album charts, and a stage version with the original cast has sold out hockey rinks around the country. For those feeling old, there was always Grease: The Rockin' Rydell Edition - do the hand-jive, plan your retirement.

•Least Celebrated Milestone: Had it lived, the VHS home entertainment format, at one time the most popular entertainer in North America, would have turned 30 this year. Its illness was ongoing, but according to a mock obituary in Variety last month, it succumbed to a combination of natural causes, including a lack of shelf space. The last VHS manufacturer stopped making tapes this year - at its death, VHS still brought in as much as $300 million annually.

•Most Obsessed: Seeing your per-verse willingness to plow through an entire season of The Sopranos in a weekend, the trend in box sets this year was to package entire series - every episode ever, from The West Wing to M*A*S*H, in one blowout. Not to be outdone, foreign film distributor Janus issued a 50-film Essential Art House box ($850), MGM went with four $90 volumes of James Bond (or $360 for almost the entire series), while Warner Bros. swamped all with a 198-film, $4,200 doorstop spanning its prodigious legacy.

•Most Inauspicious Debut For an Idea Whose Time Has Come, Maybe: Steven Soderbergh took time off from his Ocean's movies to shoot what he says will be the first in a series of low-budget, all-digital pictures - released on the same day to home video, cable, and theaters. Bubble was the first, and perhaps the most low-key release from an A-list director in years. Largely made in the Ohio town of Belpre, across from Parkersburg, W.Va., it's a weirdly engrossing mystery set in a doll factory. In lieu of a hit, Mark Cuban's HDNet, for which Soderbergh shot the film, settled for higher-profile press.

•Least Likely to Succeed: Hollywood's fight against movie piracy - truly, a war without end, and a few perverse victories. Earlier this month a Los Angeles pair were charged with stealing then posting Oscar screeners online - films no one wanted to see, like Infamous and Running With Scissors. Years after being charged, a Burbank man was sentenced to seven years for videotaping the forgettable sci-fi pic The Core. New York mayor Michael Bloomberg announced stiffer penalties for videotaping a film in progress: six months in jail. Meanwhile, the studios say they lose $18 billion in revenue.

•Smartest Trend: Recognizing that good studios make bad decisions. After nearly 30 years of whispering, Warner Bros. finally released the superior Richard Donner cut of Superman II (partly shot during Superman I), despite Donner being fired from the picture and replaced with Richard Lester. Likewise, in one of the year's most fascinating juxtapositions, the small Classic Media gave us the Raymond Burr-ized version of Godzilla alongside the far longer, much darker Japanese edition, shorn of its deadly serious anti-nuke message for American theaters.

•Biggest Wannabe: The Blu-ray and HD DVD high-definition home video formats, supposedly the next evolution of DVDs. Why do they have to evolve? Because the standard DVD market, financial analysts say, is not growing as fast it was three years ago. So now Microsoft supports HD DVD; and Sony supports Blu-ray, to the tune of placing a Blu-ray drive in every new PlayStation 3. The picture is great, but you're nuts if you don't sit out the initial skirmish.

•Most Sane: Regal Entertainment, the nation's largest theater chain, recently told Hollywood not to expect its films to play Regal screens if the time between theatrical release and DVD release shrinks to nothing. It's not unheard of for a theater chain to complain about narrowing home video windows - National Amusements has refused opening movies in Toledo because the video was just around the corner. The studios are trying to save money on marketing, but theaters are trying to save their very existence.

•DVD Box of the Year: Without question, the most enthusiastic compiler of box sets continues to be Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. Controversial Classics, Vol. 2: The Power of the Media collected fully stocked DVDs of Dog Day Afternoon, Network, and All the President's Men; The John Ford-John Wayne Collection was nothing less than a lesson in the history of movie westerns; and poking around in Astaire & Rogers Ultimate Collector's Edition is a reminder of the indelibility of Hollywood fluff. But I've got to give it to Criterion and the boutique distributor's ambitious reconstruction of a "lost" Orson Welles movie Mr. Arkadin - a solution to a legendary movie mystery, that managed to retain the mystery.

•DVD of the Year: Remember when home video was a place for discovery? Not just a reminder of what you missed a few months ago at the multiplex? The Best of Youth reminds us that great, and even epic, tales are out there, partially obscured by the marketing of the latest in-and-out release. It unfolds for six hours. It tells the story of four decades in the life of an Italian family. The Mafia makes an appearance, but so do floods, fascism, births, and deaths. Originally shot for Italian TV, it offers something even our great contemporary American TV epics like The Sopranos can not - an epic of ordinary living.

Contact Christopher Borrelli at: cborrelli@theblade.com

or 419-724-6117.



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