Monday, October 10, 2005

I Heart DVD....

One of the generally underappreciated features of DVD as opposed to VHS--how quickly we get spoiled--is how much bang you used to get for your buck. Back in the bad old days, pretty much any movie on VHS cost $20. Therefore, my rule of thumb was $10 per hour (although in the case of an 80m movie, you actually didn’t even get that rate).

That why I was always annoyed when they’d put one friggin’ episode of some TV show—Maverick, Wild Wild West—on a tape for $15. First, damn, those shows ran for years, and you couldn’t stick two episodes on a tape? Second, that means they were trying to get $15 for a measly 45 or 50m of material. Jerks.

DVD, needless to say, is vastly cheaper on a per-hour basis. Last week was rich in newly released sets, which provide your best bargains. Let’s take a look at what I bought, from Amazon as it happens (free shipping/no tax), which all arrived this morning.

The Best of Abbott & Costello Volume 4

I got sets 1 and 2 (although not 3), and probably could have skipped this one. The other sets had like eight movies (on two discs) for around $20. This one has 3 movies, one compilation ‘best of’ film, a TV special (Abbott and Costello Meet Jerry Seinfeld) and a half hour documentary on the A&C “Meet the Monster” films, ported over from the earlier Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein disc, which I already own.

Obviously, Universal have run through their A&C stock, given the lame offerings here—Meet the Mummy and Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are the only reasons I bothered getting this—so I don’t forsee a fifth such set.

Even so, and despite a bit of buyer’s regret, for $19 I got six and a half hours of material. Even if I only watch the two monster movies, I didn’t pay more than I would have for the same movies on VHS, and the discs are lighter, take up less space, and are way more durable.

$19 Five movies/TV specials. A measly 357 Minutes, or six hours.

Kolchak: The Night Stalker

All twenty episodes of the classic series. To admit I’m a fool, I years ago—before DVD—bought the “one a month” tapes from Columbia that had two episodes each on them for about $25 a shot (including monthly shipping charges). I ended up with a shelf full of tapes that cost me about $250, and that (here’s really the worst part) that I only watched one tape of.

Now I have all the same material—a bit over 17 hours of material, for $28, a little over what one of the videotapes cost me. The image quality will be better, the set is about an inch wide, and they will (according to what we’ve been told) play as well in thirty years as they do now.

The Alfred Hitchcock Presents -- Season 1

Collects all 39 (!) episodes. (Back in the day, they didn’t rerun network shows—this being back when there were but three networks—but ran them nine months straight, with little or no preemption, and then put in a summer show for the remaining three months.) Also features a documentary on the show.

Alarmingly, though, all this material is on three discs, and there have been reports of faulty DVDs. Hopefully I won’t get one of the bad ones. Still, for $28 I’m getting nearly 17 hours of material, less than two dollars per programming hour. And not fake hours (as when you got a 90 minute movie for $20, or ten bucks an ‘hour’), but full ones.

The Val Lewton Horror Collection

No exact hour count available. However, the set features nine complete classic movies on five discs—many previously unavailable even on VHS—at, I would figure, around 80 minutes a movie. Right there, that’s about twelve hours of material.

The set also features commentaries on seven of the movies (including one by recently deceased director Robert Wise). Functionally, if you like commentaries—and I do—that’s adding seven more entire movie-lengths of material. Also included is a documentary on Lewton, length unknown.

To put this in perspective, back in the days of VHS (had all these films been available, which they again were not), with no extras—which in this set probably equal nine to ten hours of material—and in a format inferior in all ways to DVD, buying each film represented here would have run right around $180. Plus tax. I paid $42, for a longer lasting format with improved quality, etc. And all those extras.

Also, I haven’t seen a lot of these films (five of them, to be exact), which I can’t say about many horror films from the ‘classic’ era. So I’m really thrilled.

Good times. You whippersnappers have no idea.


At 11:45 AM, Blogger BeckoningChasm said...

So how does the image look on the Kolchak set look? America wants to know!

Also, I'm glad the Lewton stuff is getting out there. I've got the old laserdisk box, and those films are just terrific

At 11:57 AM, Blogger Ken Begg said...

I got the discs at work this morning. I've heard they look soft, but it's a '70s TV show, and I don't know how fine an image you can expect. I'll check tonight and advise.

The Lewton set indeed looks awesome. And such a deal!

At 1:48 PM, Blogger BeckoningChasm said...

I guess Kolchak's condition will depend on how well the source material was preserved (if at all). It was not only a 70's show, but a low budget one that never got much of an audience.

On the other hand, the image on the Star Trek boxes is terrific, and that's a 60's show that never got much of an audience. It did get a lot of attention, though.

At 1:56 PM, Anonymous John Bohlke said...

I remember the bad days of VHS. I remember Paramount releasing the original Star Trek series at the whopping one episode per tape. A friend of mine still has the ones he bought. Not to mention the ones that I bought and then had a tape go bad.

At 2:52 PM, Blogger Ken Begg said...

Yes, the flaws that VHS is heir to.

I don't think they spent a lot of time cleaning up or (especially) remastering the Kolchak materials. Certainly they didn't bother with even token extras. After all, the only reason this got released at all is to tie-in with the awful looking (and no doubt soon to be cancelled) new 'Night Stalker' series.

I expect the quality to be 'good enough,' and not much better. Star Trek fans, on the other hands, are fanatics (including the ones that probably worked on the DVDs), and free with their money, so it made more sense to give them a meticulous release.

Carl deserves better, but again, at least they're out.

At 7:35 PM, Anonymous Tork_110 said...

Back around 1996 my family started buying Three Stooges tapes for about 15 dollars for 3 shorts each or one feature film. We must have had about 40-50 some of those tapes. And we never did complete the collection, because I don't think they ever released the Besser shorts, nor the later Shemp shorts where they just remade earlier Shemp shorts.

Another waste of money was the Simpsons VHS sets. I must have had 5 of them. I remember back in 2000(?) they supposedly advertised it as a year dedicated to the Simpsons fans or whatever, and they released more of those Simpsons sets, which were about 40-60 dollars for 6 episodes. It wasn't long before they turned around and released the first DVD set. The only good thing about these sets is that they have a Tracy Ullman short sandwich in between episodes (which begs the question over why they haven't released all the shorts on a seperate DVD. I guess they're saving that for the Tracy DVDs or later Simpsons seasons.)

At 10:07 PM, Anonymous Sarah Brabazon-Biggar said...

I got the Alfred Hitchcock Presents set for my mom for her birthday on Saturday. I watched about six episodes over the weekend. They're really good; it's kind of like Twilight Zone, but without the sci-fi stuff. Also without the heavy-handed sermonizing that many TZ episodes had, which drives me up the wall. I love the opening and closing bits with Hitchcock himself; they have this macabre humor which was unusual in American TV of the era.

The discs all work, but they really should have spent more time on restoration---the video is somewhat grainy, and the audio is tinny.


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