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So we’ve reached 2007, but what happened in 2006? What was the big news in the world of DVD in the last twelve months, other than the addition of yours truly to the DVDActive team of course?

The DVD Market


The home entertainment market is bigger than ever, with the DVD format reaching a level of maturity and accessibility similar to that of VHS in the late 1990s. However, the internet provides so many more retail opportunities that the policy of stack ‘em high and sell ‘em cheap has never been so widespread. The time between a title’s DVD release and its appearance in the bargain bin can now be counted in weeks rather than months, which means that the lifetime of a major release is now significantly shorter.

Scott McKenzie's Review Of 2006
With many more major Hollywood productions appearing in cinemas and the opening weekend’s take counting for a major percentage of its total theatrical haul, the studios have reduced the time between theatrical release and DVD release to about four months. This policy is also supposed to cut down on piracy but I’m not sure I agree with that theory. People who want to watch pirated copies of movies will always find a way not to pay for their entertainment, irrespective of whether it will get an official DVD release next week or next year. For me, all the early DVD release does is provide the pirates with a DVD-quality version to find via BitTorrent sooner than ever before. This is also frustrating for the legitimate consumer because the first DVD release is frequently a bare-bones or extras-light version to buy the studios time to put the ‘real’ release together. Superman Returns is a prime example: the recent two-disc edition (admittedly containing an essential comprehensive documentary) has sold by the bucket-load but everyone who follows the DVD market knows that a special extended edition is certain to be released some time in the future.

High Definition has arrived and while the usual bunch of early-adopters have picked up their HD-DVD and Blu-ray players, the general public have shrugged their shoulders in unison. From a hardware perspective, it has been a bad year for Sony, and not just in the home entertainment market thanks to their apparent inability to produce batteries that aren't packed with TNT. Production delays have held up the release of the Playstation 3, the games machine that Sony are hoping will create a market for Blu-ray and with the software of HD-DVD still in the early stages, the jury is still out on whether the HD disc formats will be a success before we’re all downloading high definition content and completely by-passing this pointless format war.

Scott McKenzie's Review Of 2006

Blockbusters


Ever since the re-appearance of Spider-Man on the big screen, every year has seen major releases of comic book adaptations and 2006 was no exception. With Bryan Singer defecting from Marvel to DC, the X-Men franchise was left in the hands of hack director Brett Ratner who did his job and turned in the third instalment in time for its release date. Never mind that it didn’t receive the same critical praise as its predecessors, the money still rolled in. Marvel productions head honcho Avi Arad has said that he learned a lesson following the box office bomb that was Elektra, but has he learned any lessons from X-Men: The Last Stand? The production line way of making movies will only work for so long before the audience tires of men in suits standing in front of explosions and longs for movies that have excitement and a heart.

That’s why my pick of the blockbusters of 2006 is Superman Returns. OK, so it felt like a bit of a re-hash of Richard Donner’s original and there’s not as much action as you’d expect from the Most Expensive Movie of All Time, but as an exercise in restarting the franchise of one of the world’s favourite characters in a way that will ensure future outings for the Man of Steel, it is a successful production. Newcomer Brandon Routh performs admirably in a role that will always belong to Christopher Reeve, no matter how many more sequels are made, but no matter how much we all love Gene Hackman, Kevin Spacey may be the Lex Luthor that everyone remembers in years to come. What must also be applauded is the use of the original titles and music to re-familiarise the audience with the characters when it must have been tempting to do a complete reboot in the style of Batman Begins.

Scott McKenzie's Review Of 2006
The Da Vinci Code came and went without controversy and quietly made enough money to make sure we’ll see the prequel Angels and Demons remade as a sequel in 2008. Sony Pictures came up with an odd release policy for the DVD, making the extended edition available in some markets but providing the UK and USA with the features-light two-disc edition. King Kong arrived on DVD twice in 2006, initially as the theatrical cut then followed by the three-and-a-half hour extended cut. Peter Jackson’s DVD packages for the Lord Of The Rings movies were some of the best ever produced and it made sound business sense to follow the same path with his latest movie, but with the remake already doubling the running time of the original, did we really need another thirty minutes of monkey action?

Guilty Pleasures


Released on DVD in the UK just in time to qualify for inclusion in this article, two movies hit cinema screens at the end of the summer that could only be described as guilty pleasures. This double bill of movies low on intelligence and high on action is Snakes on a Plane and Crank. The former arrived with a buzz of anticipation that meant it could only be met with disappointment from critics and fans, while the latter appeared from nowhere and reminded us what a proper action film for adults should be. Both movies are fast-paced high-concept popcorn-munchers and Crank just edges it for me, with a great performance from Jason Statham as the wonderfully-named Chev Chelios, a hitman that is injected with a drug that will kill him if he stops producing adrenaline. Unfortunately the UK region two version of Crank is a vanilla release, but the up-coming region one disc looks like an essential purchase, with commentaries and plenty of other extras.

Scott McKenzie's Review Of 2006

Horror Porn


The closest thing we have to a modern-day equivalent of video nasties from the 1980s, the ‘horror porn’ sub-genre continued its rise in popularity in 2006. If Hollywood is to be believed, the movie-going public like their horror graphic and extreme and movies like Hostel, The Hills Have Eyes and the continuing Saw saga were some of the most profitable films of the year both at the cinema and on DVD, exceeding many of the mega-budget blockbusters of 2006. The producers of these movies also know how to treat the people who buy their DVDs, offering up unrated versions loaded with special features, in particular the Hostel DVD which contains four commentaries including one with producer Quentin Tarantino and director Eli Roth.

Foreign Language


With Hollywood apparently running out of ideas and producing more and more sequels and remakes, it’s no surprise that many of the best films I’ve seen this year were foreign language productions. It’s also an indication of the popularity of world cinema in English-speaking markets that these films receive special edition treatment on DVD. 2006 saw the UK release of a three-disc tin set of La Haine, a comprehensive six-disc set from Tartan containing high quality versions of Sympathy for Mr Vengeance, Oldboy and Lady Vengeance and the official release of Nightwatch that makes inspired artistic use of subtitles. All of these are highly recommended purchases for both the quality of the DVD sets and the movies themselves.

Scott McKenzie's Review Of 2006

Honourable Mentions


Other DVDs that found a regular home in my player this year included the UK release of Event Horizon Special Edition, which is a significant improvement over the dodgy video and audio quality of the original disc and the spaceship pod packaging certainly looks good on the shelf. The release of M:I:III was a surprising occurrence: a major blockbuster appearing on DVD without a hint of a future double-dip. While I don’t agree with the consensus that it’s the best in the series (in my opinion it peaked too early with the bridge attack), the two-disc package comes loaded with features and a banter-filled commentary with J. J. Abrams and Tom Cruise that actually makes the Cruiser sound like a normal human being for two hours rather than the sofa-bouncing Xenu-hating loudmouth whose personal antics were blamed for the film's under-performance at the box office.

For the British stand-up fans, Ross Noble’s four-disc Randomist set should be top of the wish-list as it’s not only one of the best comedy packages of 2006, it’s one of the best pre-Christmas comedy releases of all time and received the only award I’ve given to any of my reviews this year. Speaking of reviews, the best film I reviewed for DVDActive in 2006 was Michael Haneke’s Hidden, a low key thriller that warms up the grey matter and if you’re watching it with friends, will really get you talking.

Scott McKenzie's Review Of 2006

Looking Towards 2007…


Like every other year since the dawn of DVD, we’re still waiting for the final cut of Blade Runner and 2007 is supposedly going to be the year it finally arrives. In the first few months of the year we can look forward to the UK release of British horror-comedy Severance (highly recommended and not in US cinemas until March), intelligent thriller Children of Men and the re-appearance of a certain Mr Bond in Casino Royale, another successful restart to a popular franchise. Harry Potter will return to our screens in the summer and the DVDs of Order of the Phoenix are guaranteed to find their way into millions of Christmas stockings next December. However, the film I’m most looking forward to is Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s joint production Grind House, which at nearly four hours in length, should allow them to put together a DVD set overflowing with deleted scenes, behind the scenes footage and commentaries on a par with the track they did for the special edition of From Dusk Till Dawn. As ever, the quality of DVD releases in 2007 will generally depend on the standard of movies produced but with the studios possibly shifting their focus to the HD formats, will we see a lack of attention to detail for the standard DVD format? Only time will tell...

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