DVD in 2003 proves ‘Paramount’

Ted Pigeon

In the movie world, last year was an important year for a lot of reasons. At the movies, we got more of the same – more technical advances have been made in the realm of animation and computer technology, and the new record was set for amount of sequels to be released in a year. While Pirates, Hobbits, and a little fish called Nemo ruled the big screen, there was more happening on the DVD front. 2003 was loaded with DVD releases for films that movie-lovers have anticipated since the format was unveiled in the late ’90s. Some of these movies are older and released for the first time, while others have been out before and just received a more complete release. Nevertheless, last year has proven to be a historic one in the realm of home entertainment.

Way back when the DVD format was introduced, a good number of studios didn’t hesitate to release some of their biggest hits of all time. It sounded like a great idea at the time, but back then, this was a whole new world with relatively few options. At that time, most DVDs were packaged in flimsy snap cases (while today some inexcusably still are), and though the prints of the films were mostly pretty good, they weren’t as good as they should have been. On top of that, many of these releases came with the movie, a few filmographies and scene selections, but that’s it.

As the years have gone by, the technology has vastly improved and DVD packages have been getting better. Picture and sound quality are now flawless, and many DVDs now come in two-disc “special edition” sets that offer filmmaker commentaries and a multitude of behind-the-scenes featurettes and documentaries.

One of the biggest re-releases of last year was the “Alien Quadrilogy,” enormous nine-disc set with two versions of each film, documentaries highlighting every aspect of each production and commentaries by the directors. Though the package has set the new standard for box sets, previously set by “The Godfather” DVD box set, one has to take into account whether all the films are really worth it. The first two “Alien” films are in my eyes classic, but the last two were seriously lacking, and many people feel this way. Thankfully, they were also released as individual two, disc special editions apart from the Quadrilogy so that consumers have the option.

Despite the big news that the “Alien Quadrilogy” made, it didn’t hold a candle to the hype surrounding the release of the beloved “Indiana Jones” films, which was by far the biggest DVD event of the year. Even though the films weren’t released individually, like the Alien films, this box set is very impressive. Each of the three films was restored almost to perfection with crystal-clear image and a rich soundtrack, and the fourth disc in the set is full of goodies that will have Indy buffs watching for days.

There is a full “making of” documentary for each of the three films and featurettes that highlight the lighting, visual effects, sound, editing and music of the saga. All that aside, to see “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” one of the greatest action/adventure movies of all time, on DVD is worth any price. Movie lovers around the world have been waiting for it since DVDs first came out, and the experience of it on DVD is everything they could have hoped for.

As for other first-timers on DVD, 2003 was not lacking. Universal has finally released Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece, “Rear Window,” and though the extras are somewhat lacking, the disc is worth it just for brilliant restoration of the film. Presented in glorious widescreen and painstakingly restored frame by frame, this film can finally be seen, heard, and experienced as it was intended. Having this film on DVD is an absolute gift. Another classic that made its DVD debut last year was John Ford’s “The Treasure of Sierra Madre.” This DVD is full of features but is worth it just for the film itself, which boasts one of Humphrey Bogart’s finest performances in his long career.

Also released last year was Kieslowski’s highly acclaimed ten part film, “Decalogue,” which was previously unavailable until now. Though much of the potential that DVD technology now offers is going to waste on the bloated blockbusters of today, it has proven to be a useful tool for various reasons.

One of the best things about all the advancements is that, now, cherished films of old can be restored frame-by-frame and given brilliant releases instead decaying in studio vaults. Not only that, but many of these films are presented in their definitive form because of the DVD, and the information on the discs provide a wealth of information.

The effect of all this is two-fold: first, people who love these great films can finally revisit them and see them once again in all their glory; and second, younger generations of movie-goers can better appreciate these films and have a better understanding of great cinema, now that so much of it is easily accessible with more yet to come. For anyone seriously interested in film and all that it can offer, DVD technology is a great thing, and if last year was any indication, movie lovers have a lot to look forward to in the future.