(With apologies to Thrilling Days of Yesteryear-- I just realized you titled your piece on this topic Treasure Island as well. I didn't mean to swipe it from you, it didn't really see the title previously, as I was interested in what you wrote. It should however, reflect the similar attitude with both have towards this news.)
I have dreams. Oh, yes- I have dreams. When I was a kid, they used to be of the trapped-in-a-toy-store-with-endless-amounts-of-candy variety, but nowadays sometimes they tend to be more...pedestrian. I dream that I will come home from work one day and lawn has been raked and mowed, or a neighbor got one of my bills in their mailbox, but figured, "Oh what the heck. I'll pay it for him anyway." That's not to say I don't have some more fantastical dreams. Remember that Twilight Zone episode with Burgess Meredith and the books? Nagged and bothered anytime he chose to read, one day something happens and his city is wiped out- no people anywhere. He goes to the library and rejoices that now he finally has time to read anything he wants. Then his glasses break. My dream is like that, except without the city being wiped out, glasses or books. But it does involve black and white- My dream was that somewhere there is a place, an island maybe, where I could go and ALL of the classic movies would be there and I could just pick and choose what I wanted. No hoping for studios to but them out on DVD, no searching stores for titles, or trying to DVR or catch a lucky break and see it on TV. This dream was a dream of a true Treasure Island.
I say was, because, in a way, part of it has come true. In case you haven't heard, Warner Brothers has begun a new way to provide classic films to consumers. This morning, I began my stroll down my own proverbial Allen's Alley of The Shelf Community and got the scoop from the fantastic Laura from Laura's Miscellaneous Musings, and from our pal Ivan at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear (both of whom credit the blog Something Old, Something New for the news).
In short, Warner Brothers is providing a sort of "upon order" system on their website, where you can order titles from Warner Vault, all of which have never been previously released to DVD. Let me be clear- these are many titles (as of now about 150 are listed) from Warner's massive vault that have never made it, and never will make it to traditional, retail-ready DVD. And the titles are fantastic!
You can order a DVD copy of a title for $19.99 or a digital download for $14.99 of any of these classic titles, which range from the silent era and into the 80s. In the event of a DVD order, WB will then press the DVD of the title and send it to you in a DVD case with artwork and DVD label, just as if you had purchased it in the store. This is a phenomenal move, one that took me a while to truly process the historic nature of and what it means. Ronald Epstein at Home Theater Forum also announced this today and has more details, and there will be a live chat with George Feltenstein from Warner Brothers tonight at HTF, where the will discuss this and other projects in the works. Roger has also stated: "The quality of these DVDs (and I forgot to mention these are only DVDs) are as good as anything you would expect the studio to release. Theywill be in their proper aspect ratio, 16x9, and with the necessary audiocodecs. Nothing will suffer when it comes to presentation quality."
According to sources, WB plans to add to the Archive- about 20 additional titles a month. By end of the year, there may be around 300 titles available. A quick glance at the 145 or so available now have already got the heart pumping: Private Lives with Norma Shearer, Ah Wilderness, Carbine Williams with Jimmy Stewart, the great campy superhero flick Doc Savage: the Man of Bronze, Tugboat Annie with Marie Dressler, Edison the Man with Spencer Tracy and on and on. Like I said, it's my dream of a DVD Treasure Island come to life...except for the island part or the part where it's free. But I will take it! The only disappointment, and I rate this as somewhat minor- is the fact that there will be no extras, except for the occasional original trailer when available. I do enjoy the extras and commentaries, but I would rather have this if means it's a choice of having a great print of a film on DVD or none at all. Make no mistake, this is a counter move by WB brought on by several factors, not the least of which is the economy, the increasing move to Blu-Ray (and I personally think the real new format- download), and a way to satisfy consumer demand while still minimizing the chance that some titles won't sell.
More details are continuing to emerge (so stay tuned), but all indicators are that this is a welcome offering, and I think a historic turning point in the way the content is delivered. Sure, digital download has been around, but on a scale like this from a major studio is huge news and a massive undertaking. George Feltenstein in a article in the International Tribune states: "There are still thousands of movies that we own that consumers haven't been able to get. I expect that we'll be selling thousands of copies of every title over a period of time, and making a lot of people really happy." In another article in the L.A. Times, Feltenstein further states:
"My dream has always been to find a way to get everything to everybody who wants it... No matter how obscure or arcane, there is something in the library that somebody wants. But yet you have to hit a certain threshold of sales potential to justifying making a DVD the old-fashioned way. Just the cost of authoring, compression and menus, all of that kind of thing, can run into a great deal of money, and with shelf space at retail being diminished -- there is no more Tower Records, Music Plus. . . . [Now] We can make two DVDs or we can make 2,000 [of a title]."
Did you catch the "everything" in that statement kiddies? Least you think I am still dreaming, my professional role model, Glenn Erickson, AKA The DVD Savant, wrote a piece about this news at his site, in which he received a further statement from Feltenstein himself, to wit:
"The goal is to eventually make EVERYTHING available, but obviously that will take a lot of time, and a lot of money. I set out some ground rules. Everything HAS to be Original Aspect Ratio, and 16x9 if widescreen. No 4x3 Letterbox. No Pan 'n' Scan. I also wanted consumers to be able to preview the master before the buy, so they'd understand what they were buying." See, Feltenstein told Glenn the goal is to make EVERYTHING available.
So let's show WB our support, classic film fans, by doing your consumer thang, as it were. Who knows- maybe your hard-to-find dream flick is only a few months away from being on the list. You can check out the WB Archive site here: WBshop.com, and a FAQ about the discs here. Laura and several other sources are also stating that television series may be available in this fashion as well. One question I had was if Netflix or other rental sites would be making a connection here, to provide fans the opportunity to rent any of these films, to which we will have to wait and see. However the good news is that ClassicFlix online DVD rental site has already put up and shut up if you will, and have stated that they are purchasing the WB titles and they will be available thru their service.
If anyone has more news to add, or hears of any further details, please contribute your comments in the comments section or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay tuned...
Monday evening update: Please be sure to read the comments section folks- and add your own as well. Please note Ivan's comments (TDYY) about other studios falling suit. I agree with him; and like I said earlier- this is historic folks. I truly believe that. The beginning of a massive move. Now it may not be as historic or earth-shattering as previous breakthroughs, but I think it is rather fitting that the studio that changed the Hollywood and banked on sound films is now taking another turn to the future.
Oh, for ten toes!