If you've been paying attention to any of the film or DVD news sites then you've probably already heard of the new Warner Archive DVD line, wherein Warner Brothers is digging into their archive to make films previously unavailable in the marketplace directly to the consumer via the Warner Archive website. These are the films that have been sitting on the shelf for too long, the ones that get DVD-R'd when they air on TCM, and the ones that most folks wouldn't care much about, but the true movie lovers are most excited to find. It's not quite like there are any long-overdue classics in here, but there are certainly hidden gems a-plenty: WESTBOUND, the last of the Beotticher/Scott westerns to hit DVD; Frankenheimer's ALL FALL DOWN; Coppola's THE RAIN PEOPLE; George Roy Hill's THE LITTLE DRUMMER GIRL; Floyd Mutrux's DUSTY AND SWEETS McGEE; John Flynn's THE SERGEANT and Jack Webb's THE D.I. (what an interesting double feature that would make!); several missing Cary Grant titles (CRISIS; DREAM WIFE; Leo McCary's ONCE UPON A HONEYMOON; MR. LUCKY and ROOM FOR ONE MORE, directed by Norman Taurog); and many, many more, over 150 in total. And this is just the beginning, as Warners has vowed to make pretty much their entire collection available as long as the sales allow it. And I couldn't be happier.
Sadly, it's the erosion of DVD retail that's made the timing of this so ideal; with most retailers going (Transworld) or gone (Circuit City; Virgin), Warners doesn't risk pissing anyone off by going direct to the consumer, and the Best Buy and Target really could care less about these titles. I have to assume that they'll make a deal with Amazon or Netflix soon enough, after their direct sales to inch downward. From what I've heard, Warners is quite happy with the numbers they're seeing, and since there's no middle men or discounts (other than free shipping) anywhere in the equation, it's all pretty much found money for them at this point. While even I have to admit that the appeal for classic or obscure films is limited, Warners has certainly hit upon the correct formula at a point in time when catalog titles on DVD, the only real place where real movie fans can get any satisfaction in DVD these days, are being passed over by the blockbuster-hungry public and retailers. Add to that the fact that Warners has made sure each disc is in its proper ratio, 16x9 enhanced and contain the occasional trailer, the fact that these discs are nothing more than DVD-Rs still makes them worth your time and money, providing you actually have some of that around.
What I'm interested to see now is how the other studios, many of them with similarly deep catalogs, will react. Sony had announced a similar deal way back in the fall of '06, but nothing came of it and no titles were ever announced, so the whole idea is not without precedent. Everyone has been updating transfers over the last decade due to DVDs, new cable networks and satellite/HD broadcasts, so there is plenty of stuff not out there that could keep the fans pleased for a long time. But the question is whether or not they'll take the time and trouble to make this happen. Everyone's laying off staff and home video divisions are being folded into bigger departments, so the attention to detail that a project like this requires could possibly fall by the wayside. On top of that, the majors surely know that even though they will be giving their DVD market a much-needed shot in the arm, none of these titles are going to do more than a few thousdand copies each. There will certainly be profit, but it might not be enough for the bean counters to see the positive side of things. But all I can say at this moment in time is that I'm extremely excited by what Warners has done here and I hope and pray that others follow their lead and get in touch directly with the fans. Like I said before, these are still exciting times for catalog DVD titles, providing the majors still take the time and trouble to make them available. Warners, as always, is leading the way, and it's up to consumers like us to prove to them that we're still ready to support these releases.
And now if you'll excuse me, I've gotta go order WESTBOUND...