If you’re a DVD nut without much money, October is hell. It winds up being the perfect point – it’s far enough from the summer to release the summer blockbusters (The Mummy Returns), and it’s in a prime location to get initial sales flurries (and possibly shortages) out of the way before November – Christmas shopping season. Plus, it’s the month for Halloween, so all the good horror flicks come out (like the annual release of two old Friday the 13th films – up to six now).
The main thing is, of course, the release of all the high profile titles that before now had not been on the format. DVD is in a nice little spot where the vast majority of the movies ever made have not graced the format for the simple reason that no one has gotten to them yet. The title gets re-released on DVD but if the producers are smart they don’t settle on some VHS rehash, they give it the bells and whistles 2-disc treatment. Not only do you get to go and rediscover old titles, but you get to play with all the new crap and the pristine transfer a good DVD can deliver.
So Disney delivers the first of its ten reserved Platinum Titles collection, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Need to get that. Coopola releases a five disc Godfather collection (the second movie takes up two discs, the bonus disc is the fifth one). Might get that. And at the top of the heap is the release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. I really wanted this one badly.
However, money is tight (as always), so I’m limited as to what I can afford. Thankfully, my mother in law bought it for me before she even really knew I wanted it – she’s cool like that.
Of course there are those who say I’m foolish for wanting/getting it on DVD. After all, I already have the VHS version of Episode I. The widescreen version, so I got hosed into buying a $30 box with useless crap in it in addition to the video. I wasn’t like my friend Jon who was holding out for the DVD version – I was convinced there wasn’t going to be one.
In addition, there’s the fact that even the people out there like myself who liked Episode I will concede it’s the least favorite of the Star Wars films. However, it’s still a Star Wars anything on DVD, and that’s cool enough to merit a purchase. I believe Episode I will be a much better film once Episode II (Attack of the Clones) and Episode III are released.
George Lucas treats Star Wars like his personal baby – I figure I would too if I were him. DVD did not hit North America until 1997. In 1999 when Episode I was released, Lucas indicated that the original three Star Wars films (Episodes IV–VI) would not come out until the prequels were finished, no DVD until Episode III – 2006 or so. In fact, no Star Wars on DVD until 2006. The reason was that Lucas wanted to do something special for the discs (read: lots of cool special features) and all his resources were tied up until Episode III was finished.
Of course this set off some of the consipracy theorists. They figured Lucas had already planned to come out with a DVD release and hose the consumers a second time (ironically, this is what wound up happening). Some said that he’s staggering the releases of Star Wars related items to keep people’s interest, and the separate VHS and DVD releases were part of that. Some theorized that since Lucasfilm bought into the original incarnation of Divx that they were so miffed once that deal went under that he was keeping Star Wars under wraps out of spite. Still others theorized that Lucas was holding out for whatever the DVD successor was.
Some theorized that Lucas got screwed in the Laserdisc deal. Star Wars movies have been released on Laserdisc, at one point a 9-disc set with each movie on four sides (with a third disc per movie for special features). However since Laserdisc never had much of an installed base, the amount of money it took to make the set divided by potential consumers made for an expensive ($250) set. In 1999 there were fewer than four million DVD players out there, so there wasn’t much point to it (as opposed to the 80 million VHS players in North America alone). However, as of September there are over 21 million DVD players in the U.S., so the acceptance rate dwarves other formats, like CD or VHS four years in.
In late 1999 Lucasfilm announced that Episode I would be available in April 2000 on VHS only. A Laserdisc version was released in Japan only. In the Asian “Tiger Countries”, where VHS and DVD are shunned for some reason in favor of VideoCD, a VCD was released – I almost imported one of these for the neato factor (the original trilogy is on VCD legit there as well).
Websites The Digital Bits and DVDFile put together a petition to gain signatures for putting Star Wars on DVD. Thousands of signatures were collected, but there was basically silence from the Lucas camp on the issue. They did, however, release a re-issue of the classic trilogy on VHS with the new logo theme (the roman numeral behind the “Star Wars” logo) and some blurb about Episode II.
However just after everyone gave up a California radio station spotted George Lucas walking in public somewhere and they started ribbing him about needing to finish Episode II, put Star Wars on DVD and stop shopping. Imagine their surprise when Lucas called in to the show. He was laughing about what they said and just mentioned that he was in town to drop by on the studio producing the Episode I DVD to see how it was going.
So ever since then we’ve known that in fact Phantom Menace has been headed to DVD. The plan now is to release Attack of the Clones and Episode III on DVD as soon as possible after the VHS (maybe even the same time as the VHS) and to follow that up with the original trilogy.
In the first week of its release Episode I sold 2.2 million copies, meaning that over 10% of the DVD player owners out there bought it within a week. And how is it? Well it kicks ass. I haven’t listened to the commentary track or fooled with all the extras, but it’s a pretty kickass production, and it almost even makes the movie seem better as a result of all the stuff they put into this one. Overall worth the wait – I just hope 2006’s release can keep up.