Monday, March 23, 2009

treasure island

(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:, 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 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, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

Oh, for ten toes!


Ivan G Shreve Jr said...

As far as the "liberation" of my post title...don't sweat the small stuff. Besides, any attempt I made to take you to court would be beaten down by your keen legal skills...not to mention that your uncle is Chief Magistrate. :)

A friend of mine who posted a comment at Something Old, Nothing New said "I wish ALL the studios would do this"...and if this Warner thing takes off in a big way--and I believe it will--I don't see how they'll be able to avoid following suit. At the risk of resorting to hyperbole, this innovation is going to be the new face of DVD--and you are 100% right that this will be a godsend for people who'd rather stick with what they have instead of galloping to Blu-Ray.

I know you and Laura have been concerned about what impact this will have on box sets, but speaking only for myself I take a pass on most of them because there's usually only one or two films in the collection that I want. Sure, there's a treasure trove of goodies at the Warner Archive--I've already ordered a pair of films in order to kick the tires and test-drive them 'round the block--but in looking at the large list I could only find 6-7 movies that I positively would like to have...the rest I can certainly wait until they make the rounds at TCM again.

March 23rd is a rather inauspicious date, but I think it should be held in observance from now on by classic movie fans--this is truly fantastic news!

J.C. Loophole said...

I appreciate that- and your comments. My Uncle may the Cheif Magistrate, but my Aunt is the baliff- who can win like that?
I agree 100% Ivan- this is a historic day for classic film fans, and I really believe that this is the beginning...
I think it is rather fitting that the studio that took the leap to sound seems to be making another leap to the future....
As far as the box sets go, I know people generally fall into noth camps and I like 'em a lot, but even Laura and I have talked about this before; if it's between not having the film or have just a good print of it- I will take the plain DVD anytime- so I can have it. So I get where you are coming from to. I am heartened by the news that the shorts, etc might be available to.

Laura said...

The idea that 20th Century-Fox might ultimately follow suit has me swooning...MARGIE...CENTENNIAL SUMMER...and all the other great movies they have with Grable, Young, Tierney, Darnell, et al., which haven't made it to DVD... The only problem is going to be affording it all, LOL.

Have really enjoyed all the comments by you, Ivan, and others at the various blogs today, including my own -- your comments on the historic nature of this are most thought-provoking. I really like the idea that this may be where DVD goes, and not Blu-Ray.

My only concern is: what if they stop pressing & mailing DVDs and only offer for digital download? I want those cases sitting on my shelf where I can pull them down anytime, lend them to my parents, send 'em with my kids to college, etc. :)

Best wishes,

Anonymous said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


J.C. Loophole said...

Thanks for stopping by Ruth- please keep coming by and feel free to comment anytime.
Laura- as always we love your comments and posts. I agree - if others follow suit this is going to truly be something. The fact that WB is insisting that the prints be good quality and in original ratio is heartening.
And I know what you mean- the lack of a physical copy does have it's downside. I think that as the process goes forward, we may surprised at the new technology and ways of watching content that will accompany it. We'll just have to stay on top of the story Laura! Between you, Ivan, the DVD Savant, myself and other bloggers I think we are able to recognize the significance of this and report it correctly, while it seems to haven't been noticed in other circles.
Oh well- it's tough being on the cutting edge isn't it! :)

Anonymous said...

This is most incredible news! It's about time. I just bought Doc Savage: Man of Bronze for $15.00 on used VHS last month! Dang! I'm going to blog about this too to help spread the word, that way 8 or so more people will know about it.

J.C. Loophole said...

Retrohound- the last time I saw Doc Savage was too long ago- I didn't realize it was on VHS, otherwise I might have done the same. And tho it seems we are talking amoungst ourselves here I am getting a lot of positive email about it. And judging from WB reports on their first day of sales- the word it out!

mel said...

Hmmm...downloading will be very convenient but does anyone know how they would arrange that - with .avi files that you would have to play on your computer, or have to go out and buy a DVD player that plays all the formats - or would they provide links for downloading DVD files (about 30 - 50 files for each movie to be downloaded) that would have to be joined up after zip extraction? I doubt that many would-be buyers have had any experience with all this. I can tell you that it's complicated and extremely time-consuming. We'll have to wait and see....

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