Lost in the DVD desert
El Cid is a 1961 epic classic about the legendary Spanish hero starring Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren that was nominated for three Oscars.
Ishtar is a 1987 box-office flop starring Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty as lounge singers caught up in a Middle East espionage tangle.
Orson Welles’ Falstaff is considered the best of the legendary director’s three Shakespearean adaptations, a 1965 comedy.
What do all three of these films have in common? None has yet been released on DVD in North America, even though the format turns 10 next year, next-generation, high-definition discs are on the market, and conventional wisdom holds that practically everything in Hollywood’s vaults is on DVD.
Nothing could be further from the truth. For example, of Warner Bros.’ 6,650-film vault, only about 1,300 movies are on DVD.
“Some are tied up with legal issues, some are a result of an inability to find good-enough elements to work from, and others are being held back for commemorative opportunities,” says Warner’s George Feltenstein.
Falstaff, for example, was partly financed by a Spanish company that holds the rights. The film is available on DVD in Spain, but the disc won’t work on U.S. players because of regional coding, launched in 1997 to combat DVD piracy.
In many cases, Feltenstein says, a film remains in the vault simply because the studio doesn’t think it will sell. “The fact that a film is old doesn’t necessarily make it a classic.”
What’s a fan to do? Bob Graham, 54, a Missouri market research manager, bought a region-free player to watch foreign DVDs of Falstaff.
John Scheinman, 46, a reporter in Washington, D.C., is desperate to see Ishtar. “The film was pummeled in the media before it came out because of big-time cost overruns,” he says. “But Warren Beatty, Dustin Hoffman and Charles Grodin are pretty hilarious ó and I, for one, would buy it on DVD.”
Greg Pasqua, 40, an entertainment consultant in Burbank, Calif., would like to see Lost Horizon, the 1973 musical with Peter Finch, Liv Ullmann and George Kennedy.
“The film was coined ‘Lost Investment’ in Hollywood when it did poor box office and the reviews weren’t very good,” Pasqua says. “But it has a pretty good cult following and was once released for a limited time on laser disc.”
Sometimes, fans can make it happen. A barrage of petitions led Sony to issue the cult classic Heavy Metal on DVD a few years back.
“The best current case in point is the (Richard) Donner cut of Superman II,” Feltenstein says.
NOTABLES NOT AVAILABLE ON DVD IN NORTH AMERICA
-African Queen, 1951 adventure classic with Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. Requires extensive restoration.
-The Jazz Singer, the landmark 1927 talkie with Al Jolson. Also needs cleaning up.
-Porgy and Bess, Otto Preminger’s 1959 film version, which upset the estate of composer George Gershwin.
-Ace in the Hole, Billy Wilder’s 1951 noir with Kirk Douglas.
-Adventures of Don Juan, from 1948, Errol Flynn’s last great swashbuckler.
-Brewster McCloud, from 1970, from the late Robert Altman.
-Song of the South, the 1946 Disney retelling of the Uncle Remus stories and one of the few Disney classics not on DVD.
Lost in the DVD desert