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DVD DEVALUED

August 2004


I just wanted to start off by saying that a personal milestone has finally been reached!

Clearly, I would never have made this site (which is now approaching ten years since its original inception) unless I supported widescreen and the men and women who spend tens or even hundreds of thousands of combined hours to give us two hours of entertainment, the 12 hours of the extended Lord of the Rings trilogy not withstanding, of course. But a common misconception since the beginning has been that I had something to do with the movie industry.

The truth is that I have never had any ties with Hollywood. I'm on the coast opposite of Hollywood, for starters. My neighbors are comprised of the Commonwealth government, chocolate, and Amish. This site has always been out of genuine respect for the movie making process and the visions of those how make movies, although I've always wanted to do something involving movie production. That's probably why I got into small-scale cinematography and DVD authoring.

I can now add movie production to my list! As a volunteer cameraman for the upcoming comedy "(What's) The Deal?" from Cowbell Films, based out of somewhat-nearby Philadelphia, I finally got to work with movie making first-hand. It was so much fun! What few days I could volunteer were packed and busy; but I had a wonderful time and I look forward to helping out as much as possible with the next production.

More than that, this experience solidified even more my desire to have movies preserved in the way that the film makers intended.

On my first day, we took about eight hours to shoot what will end up being about six minutes of footage. On my second day, ten or so minutes of footage ended up taking about ten hours of shooting. I heard stories from Jack, the director, that some shoots went from noon until three in the morning.

So, in total a movie that will last about ninety minutes on the screen took about one hundred hours of shooting, probably more. And keep in mind that that's just the actual shooting. That doesn't take into account the hundreds of hours that are currently being spent on editing, sound production, music composition, DVD authoring, and the like.

The movie was shot in 1.85:1 open matte, which worked out really well for the composition. 2.35:1 would not have worked in this case. What's infuriating is that there are people who still think that they have the right to second guess the judgments of the film crew of any production by demanding a pan-and-scan version of a widescreen movie. How dare these people think that they have some kind of right to demand that they second-guess a team of people who put in a boatload of hours to bring that movie to them just because they pull a twenty-dollar bill out of their purses or wallets.

How arrogant the anti-widescreen crowd really is. Actually working on a movie set brings that realization home even more.

As to "(What's) The Deal?" itself, I think you'll really enjoy it if you get a chance to see it. The brief rough cuts that I've seen of some of the scenes are really funny. I'm really looking forward to seeing it when it's finished.

THE DEVALUING OF DVD

Netflix rules. That's all that I have to say. Where else can you get DVDs by going to your computer and going to your mailbox? What's even better, if a movie is in dual-release, chances are that Netflix will only have the widescreen version available.

Does that seem like an unnecessary endorsement? Well, it's really not.

One of the arguments that I've always used against the whole concept of "disposable discs", such as EZ-D, is that disposable disc supporters continually tout that you never "have to run back to the video rental store." Well, you don't have to with NetFlix either. In fact with NetFlix you don't even need to make the initial trip to the video store. If you can get your butt to the mailbox, you can get NetFlix.

So, why are people still touting disposable DVDs? Think about it. Some cereals even come with complete, genuine, non-disposable DVDs! Yet, disposable DVDs are supposed to be an anti-rental-store-renter's panacea. It's mind boggling.

I recently got mail from a guest who says that most EZ-D releases are pan-and-scan only. This is certainly no surprise since EZ-D is supported by Disney. You know ... Disney? That company that illogically equates widescreen with being anti-family? I certainly can't confirm this because fortunately EZ-D has been such a failure thus far that it hasn't approached my area. (I still want to get my hands on one to see if clear polyurethane can do the trick. Any volunteers to send me one?)

This shows more than anything else that EZ-D is meant to reduce the whole concept of DVD to nothing more than a cheap commodity. Quite frankly, I find that to be insulting, but no more so than how VHS was pushed as a cheap commodity as well. But where VHS has limitations on quality and tape length, DVD can easily accommodate at the very least two discs so that both versions (the OAR and the MAR versions) can be released together. One case; one booklet; two discs. Why is this so difficult for the studios to understand?

What's worse is that the studios themselves are starting to treat DVD like cheap pieces of dirt.

For my first example, I present my love for the comedic genius of George Carlin. I've been watching his shows since I was at an age where I probably shouldn't have been watching him. But all that I've been able to get until recently are old VHS copies. So, I was thrilled when MPI released just about every George Carlin HBO special that's out there on DVD including some that were not available on video (as far as I know). Chapter skips, great video quality, great audio quality...

Whoops, let me make a correction there. It's actually atrocious audio quality.

Each of the George Carlin concerts since the advent of stereo TV audio and VCRs have been recorded in stereo. So, when I'm listening to a concert of any kind, I expect it to be in the best audio quality that was used at the time of recording.

MPI decided to give the mastering process for the George Carlin DVDs to a group of apathetic monkeys, apparently. I'll refer specifically to Completely Carlin since that is the only set that I purchased. I won't purchase any of the others now that I've seen what "quality" MPI has put into their products.

Out of the five concerts that are available in this set, only one is in stereo. The other four are monaural. What's more bizarre is that the sole stereo concert is the oldest of the set! To add even more confusion, just about all of the concerts clearly display right in the beginning that the concert was recorded in Dolby Surround! In fact, I have some of these concerts on VHS and they're in stereo! So, these "Dolby Surround" concerts are presented in monaural audio. This is the first time that I know of where VHS is actually superior to DVD.

Of course, one might argue "what's the big deal if a comedy show is in mono?" If you argue that, you're completely missing the point.

The term OAR literally means "original aspect ratio" and therefore would seem to represent the visual frame of the video presentation; but the reality is that it encompasses the whole idea of artistic preservation. One cannot truly support OAR but then also tolerate an inaccurate audio presentation. If you only support one, then you really support neither. By not providing a presentation - whether it is a movie, a concert, a documentary, or anything else - in the format in which is was intended to be seen, those who created and released the presentation have been dishonored. MPI has clearly dishonored George Carlin's work as well as the work that was put in to create these concerts in the first place.

To put this into some perspective, I could easily rip these DVDs since they're single-layer, take the stereo audio tracks from their VHS counterparts or the concert albums, and make new DVDs that are closer to how these should have been released - all on a 2.4 GHz Athlon system with a DVD-R drive and less than $1,000 in editing and authoring software - with Dolby Digital encoding, I might add. If I can do that from home with a stack of less-than-$1-per-disc DVD-Rs at no cost except the time that I would put into the project, then MPI, which tries to convince us that they're reputable because they've been around since 1991, has absolutely no excuse for doing what they did. Yet they charge upwards of $80 for the set. That's insulting. Either do it right or don't do it at all.

Maybe MPI should hire me to do their DVD authoring. Hey, I have a DLT drive at home and I'll at least make the presentation what it should be.

Another example that DVD is being dumbed down is much more disturbing.

Last month I said that I would be accusing Wal-Mart of this when a good friend sent an e-mail to me that said that it's really not Wal-Mart's fault. He's correct to a point and you'll understand what I mean in a moment. But the truth is that companies like Wal-Mart are fueling what I'm about you explain. By reducing DVD to a "Joe Six Pack", cheap commodity - a practice that was and is still pursued by Wal-Mart corporate and a majority of Wal-Mart stores - the artistic preservation media that DVD once represented is again under attack.

MGM - a studio that was at one time a huge widescreen proponent - has decided that ... well, I'll just let the e-mail say it all.

As a fellow widescreen enthusiast, I wanted to point something out that I think has gone by undetected. As you already know, Wal-Mart/Target/Blockbuster [franchised Blockbuster stores, that is, not corporate-owned stores - John] encourages more P&S releases than widescreen. MGM has disappointingly turned out older movies like Remo Williams as full frame only.

Columbia / Tri-Star typically lowers the prices on its movies at a fast pace, dropping it $5 within a few months, then $10 in a year, etc. etc. When "Sheena" first came out on DVD, it was a flip disc with P&S on one and WS on the other. Sadly, I did not purchase it right away as I correctly assumed they would drop the price on it. Little did I know that the OAR would drop with it! I thought it was a misprint that it only mentioned "full frame" (as if that makes pan&scan sound nicer) as the presentation. When I opened it up, there was a picture cover on the disc and only the pan & SCAM version was available. So I auctioned it on ebay and bought it from two different web sites (Deep Discount DVD and DVD Empire.) On their websites, they indicated it was a flipdisc with 2.35:1 on side B. However, when I received the discs they were the same crappy version I was stuck with before. I called and complained, but they couldn't do anything about it as apparently after the first printing the OAR was eliminated. Your site warns that the Disney DVDs intended to do that as well.

What irks me the most is that the UPC label is UNCHANGED! That means that the representation of the flipdisc is the same as the P&S DVD only. So most online ordering companies cannot differentiate and therefore cannot guarantee which version you are getting. One could only hope they never sold out their first batch of flipdiscs (which is unlikely at this point). I always thought when anything was altered on a media product, that the UPC number would change. Hell, when they re-issue the same DVD (e.g., Ever After), even if nothing has changed on the disc itself the UPC number usually changes. And I know that they only made these alterations thanks to ignorant people at Wal-Mart and other previously mentioned places that think the P&S is family-friendly or consumer-friendly or whatever clever B.S. they can think of at the moment.

While Sheena is not a barn-burning classic, it came from the era from fun 80s mythology / fantasy flicks. The difference between P&S and OAR of that movie is just too great to enjoy in a "standard" format. I have encountered the same problem with "Mixed Nuts," though the discrepancy is not as great since it was originally a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. However, I am scared to think of what other Columbia / TS titles have been altered to shave off the OAR version.

Thanks for listening.

P.S. Ironically, you can get the old flipdiscs if you rent them through Netflix.


It's disgusting and very, very disturbing. There's just not much more to say to that.

Those who respect movies and movie makers: "I'm not afraid."

Wal-Mart, MPI, Columbia/Tristar, and MGM: "You will be. You will be."

Until next time...!