Monday, March 23, 2009

Report On Home Theater Forum/Warner Bros. DVD Live Chat

I typically wait to read summaries of the annual live chats Home Theater Forum holds with George Feltenstein of the Warner Bros. "catalog" DVD division, catching up with the news later at sites such as The Digital Bits.

Due to the major news regarding the Warner DVD Archives, I monitored tonight's chat and juggled taking some notes while I was working.

I'm going to share my notes below. In summary, although Mr. Feltenstein said that the Warner Archives "DOES NOT replace our retail initiatives. THEY REMAIN FULL SPEED AHEAD," it seemed to me as though there weren't all that many retail releases planned. There is some good news here and there regarding Film Noir Vol. 5, Esther Williams Vol. 2, the long-awaited complete SHOW BOAT set, and more, but question after question was met with the answer that the titles would be released via the Warner Archives.

Most ominously for fans of DVD boxed sets, a query about another volume of MGM Dream Factory musicals was answered with the info that more Jane Powell musicals would be released via the Warner Archives. Nothing was said about a future boxed set.

Similarly, a question about the long-awaited John Garfield boxed set was answered with the news that Garfield movies would be available this summer via Warner Archives, which leads me to think the boxed set may no longer be in the works.

All in all, the Warner Archives news strikes me as a mixed blessing. We have the guarantee of being able to eventually obtain virtually any desired MGM or Warner Bros. film we wish on DVD, which is incredibly amazing.

However, it looks like the boxed sets -- with their much better per-film pricing, plus lots of extras -- will continue to decrease in number. This would probably have happened in any event, between the poor economy and declining DVD sales, so the Archives may well be a great blessing for this reason as well, yet it's rather sad to come away from a two-hour chat with so few retail DVD announcements.

The biggest concern to me is that rather than being able to pick up a boxed set at roughly $4-$8 per film (at least in terms of Amazon or Deep Discount type pricing), which includes extras in that cost, we're now looking at $20 per movie for "plain vanilla" releases that may or may not contain trailers. That's a hundred dollars for just five movies, eeek!

The bottom line, I suppose, though, is it's better to have a choice of everything, even at a steeper price, than to have a) few classic movies available in the future due to decreased retail releases and b) many lesser-known titles never released on DVD ever.

I did not take any notes regarding Blu-Ray due to my lack of interest in that format.

My notes are as follows. I tried to be very accurate but if anyone finds an error please feel free to notify me via the comments.

..."The discs are of the highest quality."

..."This DOES NOT replace our retail initiatives. THEY REMAIN FULL SPEED AHEAD."

..."Almost all titles will be available...just give us time to work it out."

...Looking at doing deluxe boxes of "premier" silent films with Kevin Brownlow, along the lines of what Fox has done.

...20 additional silents coming to Warner Archive soon.

...Jane Powell musicals coming to Warner Archive as well as Ginger Rogers comedies.

...(My thought: Ominously, he did not reply affirmatively about releasing another boxed set of Dream Factory musicals...just replied about the Warner Archive.)

...Retail set of Monogram Charlie Chans being released in early 2010 from original nitrate negatives.

...Film Noir Boxed Set Volume 5 coming in "a few months," with further titles to be released via the Archives. No titles mentioned for Vol. 5 but it will not have THE LOCKET or BORN TO BE BAD.

...SHOW BOAT (1951) they hope to do in Ultra-Resolution color process as part of long-planned 3-film COMPLETE SHOW BOAT box. ("It will happen! Trust us!")

...MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS still in development...extras taking a lot more time and money than expected. Will have "significant" materials on the film's production history. JOURNEY INTO FEAR comes out at same time. No date locked in.

...Shorts will be released via the Archive. First shorts sets in early 2010. Cartoons, Pete Smith, Joe McDoakes, eventually "everything."

...More "Smilebox" Cinerama movies like HOW THE WEST WAS WON under discussion, but nothing set. "Working on some interesting explorations in this regard."

...NO TIME FOR SERGEANTS may come out soon.

..."Evaluating film elements on Jeanette and Nelson films." MGM B&W nitrates are "always a hinderance (sic)."

...Original negative for MERRY WIDOW did NOT burn in Eastman House fire; hope to restore soon.

...Early Cagney films coming to Warner Archive "shortly."

...Working on BOWERY BOYS movies.

...David Lambert from TVShowsOnDVD says he's heard comments today that $19.95 is a tad high in today's economy. Would they consider a sale like Buy 2 Get 1 Free? Answer: Service officially launched today to "astonishing sales" and the "issue of pricing as a concern has not been discussed."

...Karloff/Lugosi horror films coming out at Halloween. More horror and sci-fi at Warner Archive.

...Will there be a Gangsters Vol. 5? Answer: don't have any more gangster sets lined up. But..."you guessed it"...more Bogart/Cagney/Robinson/Raft will be available through the Archive.

...Warner Romance Classics (Troy Donahue) set sold very well.

...MISSION TO MOSCOW and McCrea Westerns (incl. TALL STRANGER, COLORADO TERRITORY) coming to Archive this year.

...Newman's THE PRIZE being remastered.

...ESTHER WILLIAMS VOL. 2 TCM SPOTLIGHT boxed set coming this summer.

...Coming to Archive in 2010: HOME BEFORE DARK, YOUNG BESS.

...THIS COULD BE THE NIGHT and UNTIL THEY SAIL require remastering. No date, they are coming. (My note: Did not specify DVD or Archives.)

...5 previously unreleased Garland films including LITTLE NELLIE KELLY coming Spring 2010 along with super-restored A STAR IS BORN.

...25 more Westerns coming to Warner Archives this year, including "several" Randolph Scott films next month (including TRAIL STREET).

...The long-awaited Jean Harlow boxed set will come out for her centenary in 2011. "Worth waiting for."

...Garfield movies long awaited on boxed set coming to Warner Archives "in summer."

...CONSTANT NYMPH they are trying to free up from legal rights limbo.

...GLASS MENAGERIE was originally produced at Warner Bros. but Fox now owns the rights.

...GREED will come out via planned series of silent films done with Kevin Brownlow.

Update: I attempted to "kick the tires" and place my first order, for PRIVATE LIVES, this evening, but after setting up my account I was repeatedly told that my order could not be processed and to "check my payment settings." I did this twice and am certain everything was correct, so I'm going to assume maybe the site was overloaded on its first official day and hope for better luck tomorrow.

I noted they are charging tax, which currently brings the price of a DVD from $19.95 to $21.40 for California residents. Ground shipping was advertised as $4.95, but they were offering free shipping when I attempted to order.

Update: Stranger and stranger: an order confirmation just showed up in my email box. Fortunately (so far) it only shows me ordering the DVD once!

Wednesday Update: Here is another post with more information, including a list of TV series which will be sold via the Archive.


Blogger J.C. Loophole said...

Fantastic news about Greed, Early Cagney and No Time For Sargents (could my taste be more eclectic?), which is one of my granddad's favorite films.
I think we have to look at this as a historic turn in medium or content. I believe Blu-Ray isn't the real next big thing- download is. Studios would control more of the sales, etc is only one thing that makes it attractive. And although I agree with you on extras, I am open to the shorts etc on demand as well. What I would miss would be the excellent commentaries (which nowadays are few and far between) that show up on Special edition and box sets.

As far as the pricing issue goes: I think this is testing the waters time. Initial interest and excitement at being able to order something not previously available was going to make for a great first sales day. No surprise there. The real test is how long they can hold it to that price. I am guessing and hoping that it will come down- or at the very least good sales will occur. People will see the relative cost to value ratio when they think of the plain jane disc they can order vs. getting a different flick with the bells and whistles for cheaper- it's human nature. I think this is phase one- allow for the cost, get things underway and if the other studios follow suit, then competition will drive it down some too. I think it will happen, but we will have to see. The Feltenstein's own answer : "It has not been discussed" leaves the door wide open to the possiblity.

7:37 PM  
Blogger Raquel Stecher said...

Thank you so much for this. I have really come to rely on you for DVD information. You are a great source!

I'm glad the Warner Bros. Romance Collection sold well! :-)

It would have been great to have a Ginger Rogers comedy boxed set (with Bachelor Mother please), but I guess I'll take them as they come.

Maybe I should take a look at some DVD boxed sets out on the market right now and grab them before they go out of print!

4:43 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

J.C., I've been musing a lot today about what a shift this is. It goes against a lot of longstanding practice, i.e., Disney's way of driving up demand by "retiring" films for years. Studios have jealously guarded their product -- and now they're saying "Come and get it!" I think this is not only made possible by new technology, in part it's to compete against new technology, i.e., there is a site I have ordered from a few times which sells DVD-Rs of movies recorded from TV. I've bought there guilt-free since the studios refused to make the films available to a willing buyer. Now Warners is making it possible to buy "legit" professional copies direct from them.

Good thoughts on the pricing. I noticed, in fact, that the WB Archive was set up with a place to input coupon or promotional codes -- perhaps that's just a standard component of their shopping system but it was nice to see that little hint that there could be savings on the prices in the future. (I did a real gulp when I saw the shipping cost which would be added to the price and tax, until I saw that they're offering free ground shipping...wonder if that is a long-term offer?)

Raquelle, you're very welcome, and thank you for the kind compliment! It's gratifying to know that in sharing info on a topic I care about so much I am also helping out fellow fans. :)

Best wishes,

3:08 PM  
Blogger J.C. Loophole said...

Great news for Norma Shearer fans like us- I just saw that Idiot's Delight with Shearer and Clark Gable is available on the archive! I am really wondering if any of these titles will be available on Netflix. I am glad to see ClassicFlix taking the intiative.

5:58 PM  
Blogger NoirGirl said...

Thanks so much for writing about this Laura! I've been waiting ages for Film Noir Vol. 5. Why won't they say which titles will be included?

I think Raquelle has a great point about buying all the box sets out now, especially if they are going to be short lived.

2:20 PM  

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