DVDs: Long Live Blu-Ray!

Where were you when the format wars were over? HD-DVD is dead. Long live Blu-Ray. With Toshiba throwing in the towel on HD, everyone is asking me again: should they plunge into Blu-Ray? Not necessarily.

I'm a little bummed the more consumer friendly HD format died. It often contained a regular DVD version of the movie, so you could build your library even before you bought an HD player. Best of all, it got rid of the stupid region coding which makes DVDs from overseas incompatible with standard players. So theoretically if there were a UK TV show or Japanese anime or Australian miniseries you wanted to buy that wasn't going to come out in the US for years if ever, you could.

Oh well. Blu-Ray has won. And yes, Blu-Ray is a dramatic improvement over regular DVD. Unfortunately, you have to spend literally thousands of dollars on a plasma or LCD TV, surround sound and a new Blu-Ray DVD player to get all those benefits. On top of it all, Blu-Ray (like HD), is nearly 50% more expensive than regular DVDs. That's right, DVD sales have stopped exploding dramatically so the bright idea of the studios to goose them is to introduce a format that costs thousands of dollars to watch and is a lot more expensive. Yep, they think Blu-Ray is so wonderful you'll want to spend a lot more money on it.

Not me. I have no intention of replacing all my DVDs with Blu-Rays. Maybe for a handful of special titles, like The Lord of the Rings and (the original) Star Wars. But most movies? Nope. CDs were a once in a lifetime phenomenon where everyone replaced virtually their entire collection of LPs with more expensive CDs. Regular DVDs were one of the most successful product launches in electronics history for a very simple reason: they were a quantum leap better in quality compared to VHS, they included tons of extras that VHS never could, they came out at a sale price much quicker (VHS often took six months to a year to come down from the "rental" price of $100) and on top of it all (and this is what they always forget) DVDs were the same price or cheaper than VHS. Almost none of that is true for Blu-Ray.

Blu-Ray is a much improved picture, yes. But the extras aren't much different than what we normally get. (Despite some bells and whistles more exciting to them than us.) It takes a major investment to get all those benefits and on top of it all, they're more expensive. I don't think Blu-Ray will flop a la the "improved" CDs record labels tried to push on us in the last few years. But they might. But they certainly won't start flying off the shelves and it will be years before even half of all homes can watch Blu-Ray DVDs on a home theater system.

So I say, drag your feet. The longer we take to make the switch to Blu-Ray, the more likely they'll lower the price so it's the equivalent of regular DVDs. And if the studios think we're all going to happily replace our library of movies and TV shows on DVD with Blu-Ray, they are in for a rude awakening.

Also out this week: George Clooney's Michael Clayton ($28.98/$5.99 Blu-Ray; Warner Bros.) is such an intelligent, adult legal thriller it seemed to come from a different era; German Expressionism Collection ($69.95; Kino), an exceptional boxed set of four German masterpieces in terrific prints with loads of extras, including the iconic masterpiece The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919) and G.W. Pabst's Secrets Of A Soul from 1926; Ang Lee's dry but intelligent spy romance Lust Caution ($29.98; Focus), which isn't defined by its sexual explicitness any more than Brokeback Mountain was simply a gay cowboy movie; Father Ted: The Definitive Collection ($79.98; BBC Video), the UK sitcom about Irish priests that leaves Catholics in particular helpless with laughter; Walker ($39.95; Criterion), director Alex Cox's oddball biopic about the dictator of Nicaragua (embodied by Ed Harris) with a thunderous score by Joe Strummer of the Clash; Kurt Cobain: About A Son ($19.99; Shout), is a dream-like meditation on Cobain that uses audio interviews and virtually no images of the artist or his band in concert but rather focuses on the places he frequented to commune with his lost spirit; Rendition ($28.98; New Line), a well-intentioned drama about a conflicted CIA agent (the always empathetic Jake Gyllenhaal) upset over the torture of a US citizen handed over to our allies; In The Valley Of Elah ($27.98/$35.99 on Blu-Ray; Warner Bros.), another Iraq-linked drama with Tommy Lee Jones giving an Oscar nominated performance as a dad determined to learn the truth about his late son's tour of duty in that war-town country; Cops 20th Anniversary Edition ($29.98; Fox), a two-disc set on the reality series that will unquestionably celebrate a 40th anniversary and still be on the air; Margot at the Wedding ($29.99; Paramount), Noah Bambauch's acidic, unatisfying follow-up to The Squid and the Whale has fine acting from Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Jason Leigh in a too-familiar story of family squabbling; Don Rickles is celebrated in Mr. Warmth ($26.99; HBO), a rare chance to see his comedy of insult in action; Madeline: Meet Me In Paris ($14.98; Fox), is an animated take on the schoolgirl and after umpteen attempts via TV, cartoons and yet another feature film in the works, maybe they can admit it simply works best as a picture book and leave it at that; four Alain Resnais films from the 80s come to DVD with modest extras, led by 1983's acclaimed bauble Life Is A Bed Of Roses ($29.95; Kino); the Easter Bunny simply doesn't have the pull on the imagination that other holiday characters exert, as proven in two so-so TV specials, The Easter Bunny Is Comin' To Town ($14.98; Warner Bros.), a Rankin-Bass stop-motion show narrated by Fred Astaire and It's The Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown ($19.98; Warner Bros.) with the even more desperate It's Arbor Day, Charlie Brown special as a bonus; Chaos ($19.98; Lionsgate), a B movie bank heist but with Wesley Snipes, Ryan Phillippe and Jason Statham heading the cast, wouldn't you have loved to hang out on the set and heard their conversations?; and 1965's Pierrot Le Fou ($39.95; Criterion), Jean Luc Godard's final stab at actually entertaining an audience via a madcap road trip movie shot with élan if not a lot of sense.

So are you going to make the plunge into Blu-Ray? And will you replace all the DVDs you own with Blu-Ray versions?