The Spokesman-Review

Laser Discs Still The Ultimate In Video, Sound Quality

SUNDAY, JAN. 22, 1995

In spite of announcements that CD-sized video discs are on the way, the laser disc format didn’t fall apart in 1994. In fact, Billboard reports that laser had its best year ever, with “double-digit growth in software sales.”

Laser’s most impressive new star is “Jurassic Park,” which was released just three months ago and has already sold 400,000 discs, toppling “Terminator 2” from the all-time No. 1 slot.

Also selling exceptionally well on laser: “The Fugitive,” “Tombstone,” “Cliffhanger,” “Mrs. Doubtfire” and, despite its $250 price tag, “Star Wars Trilogy: The Definitive Collection.” (It won’t be definitive for long. George Lucas is planning a 20th-anniversary theatrical reissue of “Star Wars” in 1997, featuring previously unreleased footage, new digital special effects and a digitally remastered soundtrack.)

Laser continues to be the symbol of quality video, with THX sound, alternative soundtracks, letterboxed wide-screen movies and “special editions” leading the way.

Five-inch CDs cannot yet compete with 12-inch laser’s 400-line resolution, and probably won’t for years to come. So until the next century there’s little cause for worry about obsolescence.

Home video laser discs are heading into 1995 with two predominant release patterns: quick and reasonably priced issues of recent theater hits, such as “Speed” and “The Crow,” which have been transferred to disc with outstanding sound and picture; and elaborately produced, higher-priced special, commemorative or collectors’ editions of classic films, replete with supplemental materials of interest to the dedicated movie buff.

One of the first big packages of 1995 in this special mode is the 30th anniversary edition boxed set of “The Sound of Music” (Fox Video/ Image Entertainment 4267-85, three discs, $119.98), the last musical of composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II.

In addition to the movie, reproduced through the highquality THX process in its original Todd-AO widescreen dimensions, the package provides a gold compact disc of the movie soundtrack; an original soft-cover chronicle of the evolution of Ernest Lehman’s screenplay; a promotional featurette on Salzburg, Austria, where much of the movie was filmed; a gallery of text and still photos tracing the movie’s history; a slick, eight-page brochure guiding the viewer through the special features; and an engaging, 86-minute “making of” documentary, narrated by Claire Bloom, featuring contemporary interviews with Lehman, the players (Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, Anna Lee, Charmian Carr, Nicholas Hammond, et al.), the associate producer (Saul Chaplin) and producer-director Robert Wise.

On alternate soundtracks of the discs are Wise’s running commentary on the making of the movie; radio interviews, previews and promotional spots made at the time of filming; an expanded audio interview with Lehman, and the stereo orchestral music isolated on a separate track.

As a tribute to one of the great box-office hits of Hollywood and to the musicals of Rodgers and Hammerstein, this is an outstanding example of laser disc technology at work in preserving and promoting the history of filmmaking.

Special indeed is another quite different tribute to popular music, “Swing, Swing, Swing” (MGM/UA Home Video ML109328, five discs, $99.98), a treasure trove of rarely seen black-and-white movie shorts from the ‘30s and ‘40s featuring the bands of Artie Shaw, Louis Prima, Ozzie Nelson, Jimmie Lunceford, Woody Herman, Cab Calloway, Red Nichols, Jimmy Dorsey, Desi Arnaz, Eddie Duchin and others.

Some shorts are straight bandstand presentations, others feature story lines, vaudeville inserts and special effects photography. All are fascinating, filled with revelations. In a short featuring singer-actress Ethel Waters, for instance, the tot nestled on her lap for a lullaby is unmistakably a very young, very tiny Sammy Davis.

The supplemental features of “This Is Spinal Tap” (Criterion Collection CC1390L, two discs, $99.95), the amusing 1984 spoof of rock-documentaries, include alternate track commentary by the film’s creators; a 20-minute demo reel that preceded the featurelength film; trailers, promotional shorts, photo stills and some wonderful outtakes featuring Billy Crystal as a malcontent mime. All this, plus terrific stereo for the rock music.

The Deanna Durbin Collection

MGM had Judy Garland. 20th Century Fox had Shirley Temple. Universal had Deanna Durbin. Who?

Unlike Garland and Temple, Durbin is largely unknown to baby boomers because she retired at 27. But from 1936 to 1948, she was as popular as her two now betterknown peers. It is well documented that the honey-voiced Canadian singer’s musicals saved Universal from certain bankruptcy. Four of the Durbin films that kept Universal solvent are now available at sellthrough prices.

In her film debut of “Three Smart Girls” (1936) Durbin co-stars with Ray Milland. In “100 Men and a Girl” (1937), Durbin is the daughter of an out-of-work widower who persuades world-famous conductor Leopold Stokowski to create an orchestra for unemployed musicians.

As the youngest of three sisters in “Three Smart Girls Grow Up” (1939), Durbin plays a conniving Cupid for her two older sisters. In “It Started With Eve” (1941), Durbin plays a hat-check girl who has to convince a dying millionaire (Charles Laughton) that she’s the high-society fiancee of his son (Robert Cummings).

From Universal, $19.98 each.

Last heard, Durbin was living in France. She would be 73. She’s probably still living off her percentage of the millions she made - and is still making - for Universal.

New releases for children

“Shelley Duvall’s Bedtime Stories” (1993) (MCA/Universal) $39.98. 78 minutes. Six more animated tales from the cable series: “Elbert’s Bad Word,” “Weird Parents,” “What Happened to Patrick’s Dinosaurs,” “There’s a Nightmare in my Closet,” “There’s an Alligator Under my Bed,” and “There’s Something in my Attic.”

“There Goes A …” (1994) (KidVision) $10.95 each. 35 minutes each. Three more episodes from the children’s learning series about vehicles and machines: “There Goes a Spaceship,” “There Goes a Boat” and “There Goes a Race Car.”

“A Troll In Central Park” (1994) (Warner) $19.99. 76 minutes. The voices of Dom DeLuise, Cloris Leachman, Hayley Mills, Charles Nelson Reilly. Don Bluth directed this animated fairy tale about a lovable troll with a gift for growing flowers who befriends a lonely young boy and his little sister.

What’s new to video

Scheduled for release Wednesday: “Killing Zoe”


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