Warner Bros. certainly has a lot to celebrate


Last year marked two milestones for Hollywood, as Paramount and Universal reached the centennial plateau.

This year — April 4, to be precise — Warner Bros. celebrated a rather significant date of its own: 90 years of making movies.

"We feel that 90 years is a significant milestone and time frame," said Jeff Baker, executive vice president and general manager of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. "There's so much rich history in our first 90 years, we wanted to talk about it."

Warner Bros.'s legacy of movies is certainly worth crowing about: Gone with the Wind, Wizard of Oz, Citizen Kane, Casablanca, Singin' in the Rain, North By Northwest, Doctor Zhivago, Cool Hand Luke, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Wild Bunch, The Exorcist, Blazing Saddles, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, All The President's Men, National Lampoon's Vacation, Goodfellas, Unforgiven, Shawshank Redemption, The Matrix, The Departed, The Dark Knight, and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

And naturally all the above titles along with many other classics and audience favorites are included in recent DVD and Blu-ray box sets and single-film releases culled from the studio's library of 6,800 feature films.

Two years in the making, the 90th anniversary commemoration launched earlier this year in a big way with the massive 100 Film Collection on 55 DVDs, which spans from 1927's The Jazz Singer through 2010's Inception and features the studio's 22 Best Picture winners, as well as the largest-ever Blu-ray set, the 50 Film Collection, which features 16 of the studio's Best Picture winners. The sets retail for $383.48 and $366.99, respectively, on the Warner Bros. site, wbshop.com, and include two all-new documentaries, Tales from the Warner Bros. Lot and The Warner Bros. Lot Tour, along with hours of commentaries, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and more.

The studio also released a trio of smaller, more economical best-of DVD sets — 20 Best Pictures, 20 Best Musicals, and 20 Romance Movies — with 20 film sets devoted to comedy, and gangster films slated for later this year. Other upcoming releases to commemorate the 90th anniversary will include the films of Clint Eastwood as DVD and Blu-ray sets, as well as new-to-Blu-ray Best Picture winners Driving Miss Daisy, Mrs. Miniver, and Grand Hotel.

Warner Bros. provided a review copy of the romance collection, which retails for $79.95. As with the other genre sets, the films are placed into three chronological chapters: 1938-1942 (Timeless Love): Jezebel (1938), Gone with the Wind (1939), The Philadelphia Story (1940), Casablanca (1942), Mrs. Miniver (1942), Now, Voyager (1942); 1950-1965 (Unforgettable Affairs): Annie Get Your Gun (1950), A Streetcar Named Desire: The Original Director's Version (1951/1993)*, Rebel Without a Cause (1955), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), Splendor in the Grass (1961), Doctor Zhivago (1965); and 1973-2008 (Modern Romance): A Touch of Class (1973), A Star Is Born (1976), The Goodbye Girl (1977), The Bodyguard (1992), You've Got Mail (1998), Two Weeks Notice (2002), The Lake House (2006), Nights in Rodanthe (2008).

It's a dazzling collection — even on DVD — highlighted by its heavy dose of classic films in the first two chapters, while the third chapter, weighted by its share of popular but not necessarily acclaimed love stories, will be debated by film fanatics over what did and did not make the cut.

There was a "level of subjectivity" by the studio in assembling the new collections, Baker says. "And there may be a few consumers out there who are extraordinary film buffs and fans who may wonder, ‘Hey, why did you leave this particular film out of this collection?' Everyone is entitled to an opinion and we are not perfect. It was a matter of using our best judgment. We have a lot of talented people who work here and are familiar with our library and are film buffs. We did the best we could."

Just as important for film enthusiasts as the movies in these collections is whether these DVD and Blu-ray sets might be tomorrow's videotape library. New technology such as 4K ultra-high-definition — which offers four times the resolution of a high-definition TV — is already wowing audiences at consumer-technology conventions.

But studios have already spent as much as $1 million or more restoring and converting older films to correct high-definition specs. As an extreme example, Warner Bros.' labor of love project, Ben Hur to Blu-ray, cost a staggering $2 million to restore the film's 65 mm print and create a high-definition master. Starting the process anew for 4K or any other new technology doesn't make economic sense, Baker said.

"I don't see a way a studio like Warner Bros. could adapt a new format for these films for perhaps a decade or two if ever," he said. "I think Blu-ray as state of the art will last at least a decade, perhaps two, and perhaps longer than that."

Contact Kirk Baird at kbaird@theblade.com or 419-724-6734.