Streaming is making inroads but DVDs and Blu-rays are far from 'dead'

Posted July 13

Way, way back in the day, when I was doing call-in radio, one of the most frequently asked questions was “Can you tell me if (fill in your favorite movie title) is on videotape?” And later, when I was no longer on radio, I’d get emails at the Deseret News asking the same question (though “videotape” eventually became “DVD”).

Believe it or not, all these years later I still get that question from time to time, only now people want to know if a certain title is on DVD or Blu-ray, or whether it can be found on a streaming site.

The search for elusive movies lodged in memory is eternal.

In those early years, the late 1980s into the early ’90s — when VHS was winning the battle over Betamax, and LaserDiscs were strictly for the 1 percent — it took a while for even the most popular movies to land on home video. And it also took a long time for the movie studios to figure out that people would buy movies, not just rent them, if the price was right.

For years, the most-requested title was “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” (1982), which Steven Spielberg dangled like a carrot until the demand became enormous. And it paid off when “E.T.” was finally released on tape and became a huge best-seller.

Other movies that fans desperately wanted to buy, not rent, that took their time coming to videotape were the Cary Grant/Deborah Kerr romance “An Affair to Remember” (1957), the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “Carousel” (1956), the Peter Sellers farce “The Party” (1968), John Wayne’s “McLintock” (1963), the Richard Chamberlain musical “The Slipper and the Rose” (1976), and several Disney animated features, including “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937) and “Fantasia” (1940).

Anyway, there has been for several years a lot of internet chatter declaring that “discs are dead.” Why fill up shelves and boxes at home with DVDs or Blu-rays when you can download movies or stream them at will?

That’s fine if you’re just scanning for something to fill an evening, but if you are a fan of a certain movie and get an itch to see it now, a download or streaming may not be available. If it’s on your shelf, well, there it is.

A great demand still exists for rare, unavailable titles that are not considered popular or profitable enough to mass-produce in any format. Hence, the manufacture-on-demand model.

The Warner Archive Collection, a subsidiary of Warner Home Video, was created to respond to movie fans’ requests by printing in limited numbers DVD-R discs (as opposed to the more common, more sturdy and more expensive pressed DVDs) of older, long-requested-but-never-released movie titles and making them available through a website.

Beginning in March 2009, the site initially made available titles that had long been ignored or had been previously released on videotape but never made it to DVD. Owning the film libraries of Warner Bros., RKO, most of MGM, and several others gave the site a deep catalog with plenty to choose from.

Warner Archive has since been expanded to include reissues of out-of-print titles, widescreen versions of films previously available only in the full-frame format, Blu-ray upgrades, and TV movies and series, as well as streaming selected titles. There now are thousands of titles listed on its website (warnerarchive.com), and more are added nearly every week.

Among Warner Archive’s most recent releases are the Blu-ray debuts of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Suspicion” (1941), the Humphrey Bogart/Lauren Bacall mystery “The Big Sleep” (1946) and the John Wayne/John Ford Western “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” (1949), along with the DVD debuts of Robert Taylor in “Valley of the Kings” (1954), the Miriam Hopkins/Merle Oberon soap opera “These Three” (1936), the “Charlie Chan 3-Film Collection” (1945-49) and many more.

And the site’s enormous success, which went far beyond projections, prompted other studios to follow suit with their own manufacture-on-demand subsidiaries, which have been releasing rare titles steadily, albeit more sporadically. Some of what’s listed below can also be found on the Warner Archive site or at Amazon.com and other online stores. Watch for sales to bring down prices.

The Universal Vault Series: The Doris Day thriller “Midnight Lace” (1960), the Alan Ladd mystery “The Glass Key” (1942) and the Alan Alda/Meryl Streep political drama “The Seduction of Joe Tynan” (1979), etc.

MGM Limited Edition Collection: Judy Garland’s “I Could Go On Singing” (1963), Boris Karloff’s “Voodoo Island” (1957), the Richard Widmark military drama “Time Limit” (1957), and many more.

Fox Cinema Archives: James Stewart in “Take Her, She’s Mine” (1963), the Debbie Reynolds/Tony Curtis comedy “Goodbye, Charlie” (1964), the Susan Hayward/James Mason comedy “The Marriage-Go-Round” (1960), etc.

Sony Choice Collection: Joan Crawford in the fright flick “Strait-Jacket” (1964), Lucille Ball’s comedy “Miss Grant Takes Richmond” (1949), the Robert Wagner/Ernie Kovacs caper-comedy “Sail a Crooked Ship” (1962), etc.

In addition, older movies have still other disc avenues for collectors. Regular pressed-DVD/Blu-ray debuts are being offered on a regular basis from the Criterion Collection, Olive Films, Kino Lorber, Arrow, Flicker Alley, VCI, the Shout! Factory, Twilight Time/Screen Archives and various other independent/boutique video companies.

So the next time someone tells you discs are dead, don’t you believe it.

DVDs and Blu-rays are alive and kicking. Collectors just have to think creatively about additional shelf space.

Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parent’s Guide to Movie Ratings." He also writes at www.hicksflicks.com and can be contacted at hicks@deseretnews.com.


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