Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: DVD Review: The Warner Archive Collection

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

DVD Review: The Warner Archive Collection

If you're a movie buff, then by now you've heard of Warner's clever DVD scheme, an initiative to address thousands of film fan's requests to release hundreds of titles still unavailable. They've opened their vault and begun an MOD (Manufacture-On-Demand) program under the moniker of The Warner Archive Collection, with 150 titles for all manner of cinema lovers be you of the classic stripe or the cult fan. At first glance, I found a whole lot of movies I hate to admit I wasn't familiar with. But I, most excitedly, also found at least 4 titles I've longed for: the George Pal-produced Doc Savage (1975), directed by Michael Anderson (Logan's Run), and starring Ron Ely (Tarzan); Countdown (1968), directed by Robert Altman (pre-M*A*S*H), with James Caan and Robert Duvall; The Rain People (1969), directed by Francis Coppola (pre-Godfather) and starring Caan and Duvall again; and An Enemy of the People (1978), an oddity in which Steve McQueen performs Ibsen (surprisingly underrated piece of acting I must say). When offered the opportunity, I requested one of these for review in order to gauge the quality of the picture and sound on movies I was already familiar with. But due to the already high volume of demand, I assume, I received a film I didn't know too well, Strange Interlude (1932), with Norma Shearer and a young Clark Gable. Rather than trying to pick apart a film of which I'm not really too well-versed, I'll instead concentrate on what you might really want to know: Are these DVDs worth getting? The answer is an unqualified YES!!! Many of these films would be unavailable to the cinema lover, scholar, or yes... blogger, if it weren't for Warner's decision to implement this program. They plan on adding at least 20 titles a month (both film and TV) to this collection with the hope of reaching 300 titles by the end of this year, according to Daily Variety. For $19.95, plus shipping, they will manufacture a DVD of any title you order, create a box with some custom art, and get it to you within 5 days. If you'd rather download it digitally, you can do that for $14.95 and view it immediately. Now looking at my copy of Strange Interlude, I can give you some quick first impressions. The video and sound quality are not the best. The print has some noticeable scratches and dust. The sound has a vague hiss heard throughout. Warner is up front about this. At the website, each film has a preview clip that allows you to judge for yourself the quality you can expect. Here is the clip for Strange Interlude: Warner's aim is to provide these films at a nominal price to a small group of fans for that movie. One of the ways they save on production costs is by releasing the films as is, with no additional extra features, chapter stops every 10 minutes, and the most basic of menus (Play is the only option) on a DVD-R. But if you have a long cherished movie or TV series that is dear to you, you'd probably be happy with its availability in any form. And the logical conclusion to this is that if enough people buy a particular title, Warner will probably reconsider an upgraded edition for the mass market. Visit for a list of all titles currently available and vote for a number of the next 20 titles that will be offered in April. Video courtesy Warner Home Video


Anonymous said...

Great to hear that Countdown and The Rain People have finally gotten DVD releases. I've always thought of the former as one of the strongest of Altman's films. Like the others (M*A*S*H and The Long Goodbye), this is a film where Altman used mobile cameras and a certain amount of improvisation to give a loose, casual surface to what is, in fact, a tightly-scripted, sharply-directed bit of suspense adventure.

As for The Rain People, it's not only one of the more adventurous American films of the period (compared with stuff like Easy Rider, this one captures the chaotic feelings of the time--great hope and intense dread--much more accurately), but it has extraordinary performances by Shirley Knight and James Caan. Coppola wouldn't make a really good film again until he made Gardens of Stone in the late 1980's (I am quite aware that this is very definitely a minority opinion)

Anonymous said...

I know that these are dvr's so I was wondering-often on burned DVR's towards the end of the running time the audio is out of sync slightly with the action(much like watching those old dubbed Godzilla movies). Does this also occur on the screener copy that you have? $20 seems steep to pay for movies that they show on TCM and that you can burn on your own. It might be worth it if this audio sync problem is adjusted.

Tony Dayoub said...

@1st Anonymous,

While I don't agree that these are the strongest films by Altman or Coppola respectively, I do think that it highlights how each director started to find their strengths. In Altman's case, the movie does clearly demonstrate the beginnings of an improvisational style that would really take off in subsequent films. In Coppola's, the film shows how motivated he is in bringing out nuance-filled performances, and his respect for characters.

I have to vehemently disagree with your hyperbolic statement that he "wouldn't make a really good film again until he made Gardens of Stone". Seems like someone is trolling for an argument with that comment. Even if you ignore his popular hits like The Godfather films or Apocalypse Now, The Conversation is about as close to perfect a film he ever made.

@2nd Anonymous (please leave names people, even fake ones will do)

My screener copy did not have any such problems regarding sound sync.

Anonymous said...

I was extremely disappointed with the several DVDs I received in the mail today - they will ONLY work on DVD "play only" machines - what film buff does not have a DVD with recording capability - the packaging states it won't play on computer DVD drives either - it didn't have any warning on the website when I ordered, otherwise I wouldn't have, as these are useless to me - I can't play them on 2 of my 3 DVD players

Tony Dayoub said...

"...what film buff does not have a DVD with recording capability..."

This one doesn't. But point taken.

Anonymous said...

To the point someone made about receiving several of these DVRs and their not working on several player/recorder/computer systems--that is remarkable as the series is not available until July 2009. (His comment has a date of April 8, 2009) If this person really does have copies of these they are pre-release for professional review and might be expected to include stiff anti-copy protection.

Tony Dayoub said...

"...that is remarkable as the series is not available until July 2009..."

Incorrect. The Warner Archive collection has been available since the end of March. However, each month additional titles are released. This may have contributed to your confusion since you may have seen a promotion/article regarding July's particular titles.