This is the year DVD died.
Major studios are deleting catalog DVD titles by the hundreds—just check the bargain
bin at your favorite music-and-moves retailer—and recent films are, more and more, available
only as Blu-ray/DVD “combo packs.”
So, let’s have a wake. Dive into those bargain bins; you’ll find all sorts of treasures, from
first-class editions of Japanese monster movies to stone-cold classics that barely got released.
Seriously, bargain DVDs make great stocking stuffers. A good example of this is the once-elusive
Paramount Centennial Collection 2-disc edition of Chinatown, which was pulled from shelves
when director Roman Polanski wandered into Switzerland and got himself arrested. It’s turning
up here and there for less than $10.
As for recent releases, the format has no mightier tombstone than the DVD megaset for
the longest-running drama in television history: Law & Order. For 20 seasons, we followed the
show’s detectives and prosecutors as they solved one ripped-from-the-headlines murder after
another. (Trivia time: Which series regular appeared on the most episodes? Sam Waterston?
Nope. Jerry Orbach? Nope. Jill Hennessy? Not even close.) Universal’s monster-sized Law &
Order: The Complete Series retails at $699.99, but you can find it for considerably less.
This is not, however, the year DVD-R died. Burn-on-demand discs have thrived, as
studios looked at the success of Warner Archive and ramped up their own release schedules
of obscure and/or specialty titles. Notable among these included Richard Lester’s satire How I
Won The War (MGM), starring John Lennon; Federico Fellini’s Casanova (Universal), starring
Donald Sutherland as a particularly icy great lover; and Housekeeping (Sony), Bill Forsyth’s
haunting version of the Marilynne Robinson novel.
The pioneers of MOD (manufactured on demand) DVD-R discs, Warner Archive,
recently ventured into new territory (for them) with the seven-film, seven-disc Jean Harlow
100th Anniversary Collection. It’s their first formally packaged box set with extras, which
include a set of still photos and, on the discs, newly discovered trailers, a Harlow radio drama
appearance and other goodies. All of the films are worth a look, but the best are Bombshell, a
hilarious Hollywood satire about a screen sex goddess not unlike Harlow herself; Riffraff, a gritty
waterfront drama costarring Spencer Tracy that’s marred only by the lousy political spin MGM
favored in back in the day; and Saratoga, Harlow’s last film, a racetrack comedy set you-know-
where and costarring Clark Gable, Frank Morgan and Hattie McDaniel.
For home video collectors—yes, Virginia, there are still plenty of people who don’t
prefer their movies streamed—Blu-ray is The Way.
Warner Home Video released two major collections of classic animation at the beginning
of the fall: Tom & Jerry Golden Collection Vol. 1, and Looney Tunes Platinum Collection Vol.
1. Warner never did right by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera’s iconic cat-and-mouse duo on
DVD, but this Blu-ray set makes everything right. It’s the first 37 MGM Tom & Jerry cartoons in
chronological order, restored, uncensored and in all their senselessly violent glory. (Doesn’t that
cover art just get you?) The Looney Tunes Blu-ray set, however, annoyed a lot of collectors by
recycling cartoons from earlier DVD sets. Still, it’s a fine overview of the studio’s best characters
and directors, and includes a few genius one-offs like Katnip Kollege.
The fall and winter have seen a bounty of contemporary and old-school classic titles.
The folks at Criterion Collection recently remastered one of their most popular titles for Blu-
ray, Jean Renoir’s heartbreaking, funny Rules of the Game. It’s always ranked in critic’s polls as
among the top four or five films ever made for reason—it’s a delight. And they also just released
Ernst Lubitsch’s sharp-edged, sexy reworking of Nöel Coward’s Design for Living, starring Gary
Cooper, Miriam Hopkins and Fredric March as the three corners of the eternal triangle.
For the comedy lover, Kino’s Buster Keaton Blu-ray reissues continue this month with
Seven Chances, which finds our stone-faced hero off in search of a bride. After four reels of
fruitless effort, the best he can manage is not being flattened in a rockslide. (Progress!) Know
someone who loves feature-length animation? Disney has given the deluxe remastering treatment
to Dumbo, a 1940 classic that’s rich in character and delirious imagery (“Pink Elephants”). And
for the fan of classic musicals, there’s the loaded-with-extras West Side Story 50th Anniversary
For classics of a more recent vintage, there’s Nicole Kidman, deliciously wicked, in Gus
Van Sant’s black comedy To Die For (Image); Peter Jackson’s last great film before he became
obsessed with elves and monkeys, Heavenly Creatures (Miramax Lionsgate); Todd Haynes’ love
letter to glam rock, Velvet Goldmine (Miramax Lionsgate); and George Clooney’s directorial
debut, the letter-perfect satire Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (Miramax Lionsgate), starring
Sam Rockwell as TV game-show guru Chuck Barris.
And if you prefer to wait until the last minute, two of this year’s unlikely big hits arrive
in stores Dec. 20: Woody Allen’s charming Midnight in Paris (Sony), and the heartwarming
Dolphin Tale (Warner Home Video, in both 3D and flat formats).