Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Why do some movies take so long to make it onto DVD?

In my last post on DVDs, I mentioned how the film Taras Bulba intrigued me, from the first time I saw it on NBC's Saturday Night at the Movies.

The making of this film is a story in itself, because it was released in 1962, way before the use of CGI special effects. Back then if you were a director and wanted 2,000 16th century Cossacks on horses galloping across the steppes of Ukraine, what you did was spend 6 months of location shooting in Salta, Argentina, hired out a regiment of the Argentine Army, and your costume dept. had to come up with 2,000 16th century Cossack outfits! Plus Polish knight oufits too! The scene in the latter part of the film where the Cossack cavalry gathers from all points on the compass remains a breathtaking piece of cinema. And Yul Brynner was excellent as Taras Bulba.

The last time I remember seeing Taras Bulba was in the 1980's. In 2008 MGM is finally doing a DVD release. Which brings up the question: Why do some movies take so long to make onto DVD, while others are released 3 months after theatrical release? You may indeed wonder why your library, or video store never seems to have some favorite movie from the 60s or earlier?

First of all don't blame your library or video store. We are all subject to the whims of distributors. And librarians tend to be inclusionists. We like the idea of all these old films being on a more permanent format, and becoming available somehow, to whoever wants to see them again. And Video stores, while favoring popular titles, do like having large collections; it keeps people browsing longer, so that they're bound to rent something.

The answer usually comes down to money, lawyers, and music rights. Older films tend to have legal issues, such as who owns the film now, or does some actor's or director's estate have a say in a re-release. And if the film was shot in Technicolor in the late 50's or 60's, the film stock may be over 40 years old now, requiring some restoration, which means money being put up front, for a good digital transfer.
If there is some dispute over which studio owns what after countless Hollywood mergers, lawyers tend to get involved. Lawyers also enter the picture if music rights have to be renegotiated
Older movies may have had music rights in place for the original theatrical release, and even the VHS release back in the 1980's. But for a DVD release, the music rights have lapsed, and renegotiation ensues. And suppose some music publisher of just one song, holds out for more money this time.

As to why it took so long for Taras Bulba to make it onto DVD, it's hard to uncover. It was released on VHS, and there have been poorly transferred DVD copies from Taiwan of questionable status. In searching I came across this press release from MGM:
"MGM has announced that three major action epics starring Yul Brynner will be released on DVD for the first time in February, 2008. The titles are Solomon and Sheba, Taras Bulba and Kings of the Sun. The latter two titles in particular have been on many action fan's "most wanted" lists in terms of films that should be released on DVD. The DVDs will be available on March 25. "
One person’s epic may be a potboiler to someone else, but at least such titles have now been released for film lovers to judge on their own.
Posted by JP at Southside

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