FLIP THROUGH A DVD MAGAZINE : A New Page Turned (Quickly) in Home Video Presentation

Donald Liebenson is an occasional contributor to Calendar

With the 5-inch digital versatile disc now available nationally, studios have concentrated efforts on filling the product pipeline with movies--both old and new releases--that would benefit most from the format’s superior picture and sound.

But what of DVD’s much ballyhooed potential for added features that set it apart from videocassettes and laserdiscs? Several studios have released discs that contain such extras as star bios, theatrical previews or “making of” documentaries.

But not many studios are taking full advantage of the format’s capabilities, says Christy Grosz, managing editor of Digital Home Entertainment magazine. “Most of the discs I’ve seen have got a film in widescreen on one side, the pan-and-scan on the other and some menus. It’s not anything great.”


Polygram Video and New Line Home Video are offering new products that take advantage of DVD’s storage and interactive capabilities, including alternate audio track, camera angle and foreign language options, and menus that allow instant access to specific scenes or film production information.

Polygram is distributing Short Cinema Journal, a DVD “magazine” that retails for $29.95 and showcases live action and animated short films that have won Oscars or film-festival awards, innovative advertising and original interviews and monologues. It is accessible with a DVD player or on a computer DVD-ROM drive.

“There hasn’t been anything like this that really makes an effort to show DVD’s capabilities,” Grosz said. “The format is at such an early stage that when consumers get a DVD player, they want to say, ‘Wow, look what DVD can do. I’ve never seen this on VHS before.’ ”

The first issue includes George Hickenlooper’s “Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade,” which writer and star Billy Bob Thornton expanded into the feature film “Sling Blade.”

Other “articles” include Pepe Danquart’s Oscar-winner, “Black Rider,” in which an

elderly bigot is seated next to an African American man on public transportation; the stop-motion animated “Mr. Resistor”; and the documentary “This Unfamiliar Place,” about a Polish Jew who cannot discuss with his daughter the horrors he experienced during World War II.

Among the pieces produced for Short Cinema Journal are interviews with director Michael Apted and blues legend John Lee Hooker, and a Henry Rollins performance piece, “Easter Sunday, NYC.”


In the Oscar-nominated short “The Big Story,” a trio of stop-motion animated Kirk Douglas models, each voiced by Frank Gorshin, hold court in a newspaper office. In what is billed as the first commercial usage of the “alternate angle” feature, viewers can simultaneously watch the corresponding animation pencil test.

“Every technology brings about a new format of publishing,” said Ninan Kurien, chief executive of Short Cinema Journal. “DVD is perfectly suited for journals. It allows you to get to any article instantly from the table of contents, as if you were paging through a magazine. This would never work on video. If it was on tape, you couldn’t jump to the article you want. You could do it on laserdisc, but that is clumsy and expensive.”

Beyond technophiles and home theater enthusiasts, Polygram is marketing Short Cinema Journal to film buffs. The project made its debut at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. It was showcased recently on the opening night of the Los Angeles International Short Film Festival.

The next volume is scheduled for release in mid-November and will contain “A Girl’s Own Story” by Jane Campion; the Venice Film Festival award-winning “Depth Solitude,” narrated by Max von Sydow; “A Guy Walks Into a Bar,” starring Fred Savage; and Chris Marker’s classic short film “La Jetee,” which inspired “12 Monkeys.”

Recalling the earliest days of home video, studios have concentrated efforts on getting their titles into the marketplace. “Producers haven’t had the chance to step back and say, ‘What else can we do?’ ” said Judy Anderson, executive director of the Optical Video Disk Association, an industry trade group. “They did the best they could with what they had. It takes a lot of extra work to create all the bells and whistles. It’s a new creative process.”

For its part, New Line Home Video is trying to make use of DVD’s added features.

Says Michael Karaffa, New Line’s executive vice president: “We’re trying to handcraft each title and not just crank out movies on a 5-inch disc.”


The DVD release of the live-action “The Adventures of Pinocchio,” for example, contains two interactive games that can be played using the DVD remote control. Last week, New Line simultaneously released with the video an expanded, DVD version of “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery,” with six deleted scenes having been restored, “good banter” between Mike Myers and director Jay Roach on an alternate audio track and a spy film retrospective.

The studio’s most ambitious DVD release is Robert Altman’s “The Player,” which contains 350 menu pages--the norm is around 25. Among the interactive features is an index that allows viewers to instantly access one of the film’s many celebrity cameos. It also contains five deleted scenes, an audio commentary track with Altman and screenwriter Michael Tolkin and a featurette on the making of the film.

Other titles include an unrated director’s cut of “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” which also contains an animated main menu page, a behind-the-scenes featurette with interviews with stars Val Kilmer and David Thewlis and Academy Award-winning special effects artist Stan Winston. The DVD version of “Shine” includes Geoffrey Rush’s Golden Globe acceptance speech for best actor, a question-and-answer segment with director Scott Hicks and an audio track with pianist David Helfgott performing “The Flight of the Bumblebee.”

“New Line is one of the few studios that seems to be willing to give the early adopters and laserdisc fans, who are still the primary buyers of DVD, something to give them a reason to buy a DVD version of the same film they may own on laserdisc,” said Kevin Brass, senior editor of Video Store magazine. “They really are one of the few studios willing to do something extra special and fully use the technological capabiliites of the format, and I think you are going to to see many others following in the near future.”