Sunday, February 8, 2009

Spread of Activation III, The DVD Edition


Ever see a DVD and think it should cost less even though it only costs seven dollars to begin with? I thought that as I was flipping through the DVDs at Borders in downtown Silver Spring on Friday. I came across Stripes. It was seven bucks, or to be more precise, $6.99. Now to be sure that's pretty cheap for a DVD. And yet I said to myself, "If this were a buck fifty I'd get it." Now before I confuse the situation too much let me clarify. I don't think it should be a buck fifty because it's a bad movie although it's also nothing special. I saw it in the theatre when it opened, had a few laughs, saw it on cable a couple more times and laughed again. It's fine. It's unambitious, cheaply made, and a bit visually shabby. However, it does adequately serves its purpose, which is basically to provide a quick and easy comedy vehicle for Bill Murray and show P.J. Soles breasts. So I'm not saying it's bad. I'm saying for what it sets out to do and what it accomplishes, and how meager all those goals were to begin with, it should be a buck fifty. And then I might get it.

Or how about the desire to buy a DVD of a movie you don't even like? That happens to me more than I care to admit and I'm always a little confused by it when it does. A couple of weeks ago I was out perusing the DVDs again when I happened across The Greatest Show on Earth. This is a movie I truly dislike. I find it lethargically paced, poorly scripted and remarkably non-eventful. I do like the car/train crash sequence with it's miniatures colliding and careening but outside of that I'm just not a fan. But there it was priced at $8.99. "Wow," I thought, "$8.99, I should get it." And then I remembered I didn't like it. But then I thought, "But it's a classic film and I want my DVD collection to be overflowing with classic films." And then I remembered how much I didn't it and forced myself to walk away.

Or how about the multiple movie DVDs priced a little higher than a single DVD? These come in a variety of qualities. The TCM Archives discs are pretty good. Usually three movies, priced around 40 bucks, with good quality transfers. But then I think, "Forty bucks for one DVD. I could buy two or three DVDs for that price." Now the obvious logical hole here is that there are two or three movies on this one DVD but it's still one DVD and that's what throws me off. And here's why: When I buy three DVDs for forty bucks I'm getting three DVD cases, with three DVDs. When I buy TCM Archives DVDs, which I have, I'm getting one DVD case and at most, two DVDs. Here's what TCM and others should do: Treat it like a mini-boxset. For instance, I have TCM Archives Forbidden Hollywood Collection Volume One. This has Baby Face, Red Headed Woman and Waterloo Bridge on it. It is on two DVDs inside one DVD case. Instead, they should package each movie in it's own case and slip them in a cover box announcing the collection just like one would get buying the Star Wars or Lord of the Rings trilogy. You still get three separate cases so the price doesn't cause an illogical reaction in the buyer.

And speaking of box sets I own almost none. They're just too expensive for me. I've got the Woody Allen and Stanley Kubrick sets as well as The Godfather set that recently came out but that's about it. They just cost so damn much, it's prohibitive to my budget. So I look for collector's DVDs instead that have lots of great features. As I peruse my collection in wondering which is my favorite my eye falls on The Adventures of Robin Hood, Two Disc Special Edition. My God, it's glorious! It's probably my favorite Collector's Edition DVD of my whole collection. First and foremost, it has the movie, that great, brilliant wonderful movie of 1938, one of my favorite adventure films of all time. But then, there are the features. Holy cow! It has:

*Music Only Audio Track where you can listen to Erich Korngold's great score.

*The short subject Warner Night at the Movies 1938 which features the trailer for Angels With Dirty Faces, a newsreel, the musical short subject Freddie Rich and his Orchestra and the Merrie Melodies cartoon Katnip Kollege.

*Full length documentary Welcome to Sherwood: The Story of the Adventures of Robin Hood.

*Outtakes and cut scenes from the movie.

*Breakdowns of 1938, a blooper reel that Warner Brothers put together every year to show to its employees at their annual banquet (yes, you get to hear the stars of the day cursing - they say 'goddamn' a lot).

*The mini-doc, Robin Hood Through the Ages, which covers other screen adaptations.

*A Journey to Sherwood Forest which contains home movies shot on the backlot during production of the movie by Basil Rathbone.

*The classic Merrie Melodies cartoons Rabbit Hood and Robin Hood Daffy ("Yoicks and away").

*Calvacade of Archery, a short produced in 1938 showcasing the skills of Howard Hill, the archery expert who trained Flynn. Wow, is he good. His skills are amazing to behold. Seriously, he can hit something the size of a pea with his arrow, including of course splitting arrows in a bullseye again and again.

*The Cruise of the Zaca, a short film that follows Errol on his yacht, the Zaca, as he and his scientist father, wife and friends sail the world exploring sea life and different cultures. My youngest absolutely loves this short. We've watched it at least a dozen times.

*Splitting the Arrow, a slideshow of historical art, costume designs, concept drawings, cast and crew photos and publicity stills.

*The Robin Hood Radio Show from May 11, 1938 with the vocal work of Flynn, DeHavilland and Rathbone.

*An audio recording of a piano session with Erich Korngold.

*The Errol Flynn Trailer Gallery which features the original trailers from Flynn's movies. And not just one or two. No, as Baron Guest once said, this one goes to eleven, including favorites Captain Blood and The Sea Hawk.

*And finally, the full length documentary, Glorious Technicolor, on the history of the technicolor process, of which was used for Robin Hood.

That's one hell of a set of bonus features, including of course the expected commentary by Rudy Behlmer who does probably 70 percent of all classic DVD commentaries. I've never listened to it to be honest. But everything else I have checked out, several of them many times over. It's a motherlode of features and didn't cost much more than an average DVD, certainly not as much as a box set.

Criterion Collection DVDs usually have lots of good features as well but the main selling point of Criterion is the transfer itself. Still, sometimes even Criterion disappoints. Another favorite of mine, The Most Dangerous Game, is on a DVD put out by Criterion. The transfer is good, not great and the special features? Audio commentary and subtitles. That's it. No really, that's it. And it's Criterion. But it's an older Criterion. Recent purchases of The Rules of the Game and The Lady Vanishes definitely offer more, on par with the Robin Hood DVD described above.


Well, that about wraps up this DVD edition of Spread of Activation. One last thing and this one seems really crazy but maybe, just maybe, I'm not alone. Has anyone else picked up a DVD of a movie they already own on DVD and considered buying it? I don't mean a new, better transfer or any different features. I mean essentially the same DVD but at most it has a new cover box and you think, "Well, I like the new cover a lot and..." Anybody? Or is that just me?