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Video Reviews: DVD sales have grown faster than VCRs or CD players

Friday, January 18, 2002

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

If you read entertainment publications -- or pages -- you know they've been filled with stories about DVD this and DVD that. Maybe you don't own a DVD player and wonder just how many of the next-generation players are really hooked up to television sets around the country.

Figures released this month show that DVD players are now in one in every four U.S. homes, with 16.7 million players sold to consumers in 2001 alone. It took five years for 30 million DVD players to be sold -- compared with 13 years for VCRs and eight years for CD players.

And if you spent a fair amount of your entertainment budget buying or renting tapes and DVDs, you're not alone. Last year, consumers spent $16.8 billion buying and renting movies -- more than twice what they spent on movie tickets. And for the first time, Americans spent more on DVD software than on videos, which may not be surprising since people need something to test that new toy.

All this is good news for the consumer electronics industry, since DVDs are driving sales of related items such as televisions and sound systems. I can't remember a December when I saw more big-screen TVs being shoehorned into car trunks and the bellies of vans and SUVs.

Here's how the entertainment numbers stack up: Home video revenues, $16.8 billion; books, $16.5 billion; music CDs, $11.2 billion; and video game sales, $6.4 billion. Those numbers are from the DVD Entertainment Group, which worked with Ernst & Young in compiling them.

FOR LIST LOVERS: Yes, but what can we rent tonight?

That's what you may have been thinking when you picked up the Dec. 28 issue of Weekend Mag and saw the lists of best movies of 2001, chosen by the Post-Gazette's Ron Weiskind, Barry Paris and me. If you eliminated the duplicates, there were 24 titles in all.

A dozen of the films on the lists are on video now, with one surefire winner coming next week and others slowly trickling into stores. Already on shelves, in alphabetical order: "Amores Perros," "Anniversary Party," "Apocalypse Now Redux," "Divided We Fall," "In the Mood for Love," "Memento," "Moulin Rouge," "The Road Home," "Shadow Magic," "Shrek," "Startup.com" and "With a Friend Like Harry..."

On Tuesday, you can rent "Rat Race," one of the more mainstream choices on the roster, which tilts toward subtitled and arthouse movies. Due for release March 5 is Steven Spielberg's "A.I. -- Artificial Intelligence" with Haley Joel Osment as a robot who longs to be a real boy.

Other dates to mark on your calendar: "Ghost World," a smart, quietly disturbing film inspired by the comic book and starring Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson and Steve Buscemi, Feb. 5; and "Training Day," a potent drama featuring a dynamic performance by Denzel Washington as a crooked cop paired with a naive rookie, March 19.

You should know, by the way, that critics in Pittsburgh haven't seen a couple of movies -- notably "Monster's Ball" with Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton and "Iris" with Judi Dench and Jim Broadbent --being touted for Oscar consideration. They obviously are a long way from video release.

TOPS ON TV: Not all of the best projects come to the theaters. You only have to see "Impostor" or "Freddy Got Fingered" to second that opinion. If you missed "Life With Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows" starring an astonishing Tammy Blanchard and Judy Davis as the late performer (young and old), it will be released on Tuesday.

The 170-minute movie, which originally aired on ABC in February, will be issued on tape and DVD, with the latter carrying an audio commentary from Garland daughter Lorna Luft, who wrote the source book and shepherded the project to air and beyond.

This week, HBO Home Video released "Boycott," which won Jeffrey Wright an award from the American Film Institute earlier this month. He was named best actor in a TV movie or miniseries for his portrayal of Martin Luther King Jr. in the story of the Montgomery bus boycott.

HOLD YOUR FIRE: Video Business magazine reports that the Vista series DVD edition of "Pearl Harbor" -- which will feature a longer director's cut of the movie and many more hours of extras -- will be delayed till July 2. It was initially supposed to be released this month and then in mid-May. You can buy a DVD of the Ben Affleck-Josh Hartnett movie now and it does feature some bonus features, but this will be the ultimate version.

You can reach Barbara Vancheri at bvancheri@post-gazette.com or by calling 412-263-1632.

'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'

Season One DVD

There's no question "Buffy" is one of the best television series of the past decade. Even in the first 12 episodes, when the show was still finding its legs, "Buffy" proved itself an intelligent mix of horror, humor, drama and raw emotions.

It tells the story of Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar), a girl who just wants to be a normal teen but finds herself charged with saving the world on a weekly basis with the help of her "Scooby gang" of friends.

But if you're spending $40 to buy episodes of a TV show you could just as easily tape in reruns on FX or WNPA, you deserve more. The "Buffy" boxed set delivers a little, not a lot.

Interviews with series creator Joss Whedon and actor David Boreanaz are brief and pretty uninformative. They appear to be culled from an electronic press kit.

The only truly unique and worthwhile "bonus feature" is Whedon's audio commentary, but that's only been done for the first two episodes of the series. It's a little like watching "Mystery Science Theater 3000" as Whedon pokes fun at his creation and discusses technical difficulties with making a show on a shoestring budget.

"Oh look, they're back in the hall they were just in because we only had one hall," Whedon says, commenting on the show's limited first season set.

"OK, somebody explain to [actor] Nick Brendon where the heart is," Whedon says when Brendon puts a stake to a vampire's shoulder blade. "That would help there."

Whedon points out scenes that were filmed after the rest of the episode because the show ran short, he quibbles with the direction and lighting in some scenes and continually praises his cast.

He says one of the early discoveries of the writing staff was the value of putting Alyson Hannigan's winsome Willow in jeopardy. "Alyson's vulnerability works really well and tears the audience up," he says.

Other features on the DVD include a trailer, cast biographies, a photo gallery and the pilot episode script (neither of those last two features worked on my Samsung DVD player, but they did work on my brother's laptop computer DVD player).

The biggest omission: The original 20-minute "Buffy" presentation made for The WB that featured a different actress playing Willow. It never aired on TV but has been kicking around the Internet for years. It should have been included here.

-- Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

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