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Where’s my Blu-ray? Greats yet to make the HD leap

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When the public was introduced to DVD back in the late 90s, many consumers were understandably eager to leave behind those bulky VHS tapes and space hogging VCRs for the promising new technology; but with any modern piece of hardware, a fair multitude simply could not afford a DVD player at the time. Yet with such astounding features such as the leaps in picture and sound quality, chapter selection, languages and subtitles, and the freedom from the grind of rewind, the movie-going public couldn’t help but become entranced as said features sang more bang for their entertainment buck. Something great had at least arrived. And really, was adjusting that VCR tracking setting ever actually accomplishing anything? Major studios also saw the economic savings in production costs, as well as retailers benefiting from the added inventory and stock space. Everybody wins! So even with sales numbers still forming in their infant stage, movie studios began transitioning many of their films digitally to what was gradually establishing itself as the new standard of home video – DVD. And since digital transfer was easier and more cost effective, movie studios now didn’t have to spend up to a year in order to bring their theatrical releases to home video, and be able to make back more of their box office expenditure sooner.

Ok, fast forward about a decade later, with the introduction into the world of high definition – a DVD-killer video format with a significant jump in clarity, color contrast, sharpness, sound quality and video detail; consumers were fairly impressed although perhaps not as quickly, mostly due to the financial incentive having a catch – the requirement of new HD television. Such an expense stopped, and still stops many in their tracks. After blu-ray won over HD-DVD as the primary format, the American public seems slower to transition completely over to it, reasons being financial as well as perhaps even a bit sociological. But were DVD’s not also just as expensive at their release? Even with studios releasing package deals containing blu-ray discs along with DVDs and digital copies, what buyers think of most is simplicity and low price tags vs complex improved technology and higher price tags: a trade-off which has shown to be more a “guy thing” considering, well, women tend not to care as much for such geek-inclusive technological incentives. Not only do many people not want to have to purchase a brand new television in order to take part in HD video, but many people still make the argument that there is no significant difference in quality between standard and high definition. Therefore, and getting back to the point of this blog (yes, there is a point), this leaves many films in sort of a limbo – a good crop of movies that studios simply do not (at least not yet) see the point in transitioning to an HD video release. Doing so would require extra dollars in updates and digital remastering. Dollars that these studios (many of which may not even exist anymore, or have been bought out) do not predict making back in sales, despite whatever fan circles, indie cred, or cult statuses these films may hold.

Here are just a few great films that at the time of this blog, have not yet made the jump into the blu-ray foray… but hopefully someday will, some perhaps having more a chance than others.

‘Revenge of the Nerds’ (1984)

This R-rated semi-sleaze comedy classic of the 1980s saw a group of outcast nerds making their way as freshman in college, who are soon ostracized by the college jocks on campus, to all stereotypical levels of course for the sake of comic relief. Within their very first day they are kicked out of their dorm by said jocks and now must not only find a new means of housing, but also use their nerd smarts in various ways to make themselves accepted in a college that for the most part segregates them. Being banned from joining any fraternities, they find a loophole which allows them to form their own, proudly called the Lambda Lambda Lambda fraternity at Adam’s College. What ensues are uproarious personalities, cliched music montages, and campus war pranks to get back at the bully jocks. The film stars Robert Carradine (King of the Nerds) and Anthony Edwards (ER) as the two nerds who head this hysterical charade, which find our nerds competing in sporting events, throwing parties, and even finding love from the jock cheerleader girlfriends, proving to the world that they are much stronger, and really, cooler than they are given credit for.

The film holds significant popularity, namely among your nerd crowd, and has already been released in various formats on both VHS and DVD. A triple-pack DVD is available which contains both sequels – Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise, and Revenge of the Nerds III: The Next Generation. Only the first sequel brings back the majority of the original cast and comes closest to being just as good as the original, and the second is really a sort of throwaway; what is not included yet still released was the atrocious and forgotten 3rd sequel entitled ‘Nerds in Love.’ Since nerdiness is beginning to make a comeback (as superficial as much of it may be), we can only hope that someone will decide to spend the money to transfer onto big blu. Honestly, with the standing popularity of the film and the voice it has regarding nerd culture, it’s really a wonder why this has yet to see an HD release.

*A Simple Plan (1998)

This intense morality tale/ dramatic thriller follows the story of three middle-aged blue collar men living in a very small town in the American rural mid-west, and their actions after they happen to stumble upon a crashed private plane in the middle of the woods; a plane containing a duffel bag stuffed with four million dollars in cash. The men, only one of which garners any real respect in their town as he is both a husband and new father, muster up a plan in which they can find a logical and rational way of keeping the money to be split three ways. While one man wants to just keep it no questions, another decides to go on a slower approach, making sure they can clear any wrongdoing first. Conflicts in plans and ideas eventually ensues, and something that begins rather steadily, soon turns to shaky to ultimately destructive. What follows is a story of betrayal, secrets, false assumptions, and much bloodshed; all for a prize that seems t0 just lead things from bad to worse.

The film stars Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thorton as two of the brothers involved in the cash find, as well as Bridget Fonda as Paxton’s greedy and conniving wife, who plays more the small devil on Paxton’s shoulder. The film is eerily atmospheric, brought on by its setting in the dead of winter. Quickly gripping and emotionally dramatic, the story unwinds as we slowly learn about the lengths people will go through for an easier and supposed better life, and if such an ideal is ultimately worth it. Regarding any high definition remastering, this did not gain much box office notoriety when released, although being mostly liked by critics, it may have just released with some bad timing and/or limited release to make the impact as it perhaps should have.

* It should be noted that this film has not seen an American blu-ray release, yet has elsewhere, and is a sort of exception on the list simply due to it being a fantastic film, and good enough to at least warrant a full North American/Canadian Region 1 copy. This actually has been released on blu-ray ONLY in Germany, and at the time of this writing there is only 1 copy available on ebay, 1 on Amazon, and a good handful on the Amazon German site; yet those CANNOT be shipped to North America… trust me, I’ve tried. Considering the rarity, the 2 available to North Americans range from $30 to $40. The most affordable copy on sale ($19.99) has already been purchased by yours truly at the time of this writing. So, uh, sorry.

The Abyss (1989)

This James Cameron directed sci-fi fantasy epic brings us deep underwater with an oil drilling team led by actors Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrontonio (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves… remember her?), who play a married couple on the fringes of divorce, but forced together by a mission handed to them by the US Navy. Now the team must investigate a downed military submarine deep in the ocean to search for any survivors, yet little does anyone know that there is a mysterious alien race living deep under the waters of the earth who have been the prime cause of many of the near disastrous events up on the ocean surface…. all with good intentions of course. The oil drill team is accompanied by a small band of military naval soldiers led by classic action film and grossly underrated actor Michael Biehn (Terminator, Aliens) as our main villain. Just like with any James Cameron epic, the film is both a visual marvel and pushes the boundaries of possible special effects technology, not to also mention being incredibly imaginative, wholly ambitious, with a great cast of (get this) NON stereotypical actors of which whom none are under the age of perhaps 35. The drill team is scripted with relatable and comical personalities that make us truly care for their situation. The Abyss is a stellar adult-aimed action fantasy that was grossly underwatched. The special edition released by Cameron a few years later is in itself a significant improvement over the original, and making this the one blu-ray potential that… got away… at least for now.

I personally consider this one of the top two Cameron films, just a hair under 1st place by his reigning masterpiece, Terminator 2. The Abyss did not see great numbers at the box office, most likely because the publicity did not advertise enough of what the film was truly about, hence many people perhaps thought they couldn’t relate, and choose not to see it. It has a great fan following, and from what has been reported, Camron IS planning on a blu-ray release, but as to exactly when has yet to be decided (as he is currently on Avatar sequel phase). Current releases are in standard and special edition formats on both VHS and DVD, the most popular being a double-disc pack containing various behind-the-scenes featurettes. Of the films on this list, this undoubtedly deserves an HD release the most.

Three O’Clock High (1987)

This classic 80s high school comedy introduces us to a wimpy and pale hypoglycemic senior played by C-list actor Casey Siemaszko (Young Guns) who is given an assignment to interview the new school student on campus, played by now D-list actor Richard Tyson (Kindergarten Cop); the problem is that this new student has an incredibly rough and rebellious past in various other schools he was kicked out of for being too violent. Said wimpy teen accidentally offends the bully and is then challenged to a fight by him at 3pm that day in the school parking lot. The rest of this vivid and ambitiously directed cult hit has the teen trying various methods to get out of his predicament, which involve everything from trying to get the bully kicked out of school to ripping off the school store to pay a tough football star to take the bully down. Of course, none work out, as he unintentionally ends up charming various girls throughout the day, including his beautiful English teacher, and making more of an impression than he ever thought he would.

The film has some very creative camera and editing that work to highlight its tongue-in-cheek deprecating humor, great pacing, and an incredibly catchy and upbeat theme song (Something to Remember Me By) by one-hit wonder Jim Walker, which is a treat in itself (could be found on Youtube, but is a pricey soundtrack as it is a rarity on Amazon). Even though the film has a passionate and dedicated cult following (one including huge outspoken fan Seth Green), that following is simply too small for any studio to probably ever consider an HD blu remastering. The movie saw only one edition released on DVD, but is readily available.

The Last Dragon (1985)

This cult-style kung-fu comedy classic brings us a sort of Harlem-bred black Bruce Lee, aptly named “Bruce Leeroy.” Played by 80s film stuntman Taimak, Leeroy stars as our protagonist who is simply trying to live out his life and improve his karate training in order to one day become a true karate master. He runs a small dojo in town as well, but then his life is soon interrupted when another local gang headed by a self-proclaimed “shogun of Harlem,” Shonuff, hears about Leeroy’s skills and insists on fighting him one-on-one to prove himself as the true master. Enter 80s sex icon (now born-again Christian) Vanity, who is being harassed by a local small time producer in order to make his ditzy girlfriend a famous pop singer, and who has to be saved several times by Leeroy, then looks to make him her bodyguard. ‘Dragon’ is a martial arts film chock full of simple yet effective charm, as well as cute comedic moments, holds a slew of 80s nostalgic music and tone to make one feel like they truly are back in the decade, to further mention paying well-deserved homage to the legendary Bruce Lee himself. It is upbeat, colorful, fast-paced, and overall just plain fun for any fans of martial arts and even romantic comedies. A film that does not go to the extemes of blacksploitation, but holds enough respect for itself to garner a greater non-black audience.

The Last Dragon has a solidified place in black culture itself, and groundbreaking in its own small way for breaking the mold of a martial arts film with an all black lead cast, which was unknown of at the time when these were only headed by either Asian or white actors. It never saw a blu-ray release perhaps for the reason that, just like most others, its audience is just too limited, no matter how respectful they are of the work. Yet with a possible modern remake being talked about, or perhaps even in the works, the classic may once again be granted enough attention to turn people’s heads towards this one.

The Hidden (1987)

This unfortunately forgotten work of sci-fi action horror takes place in an unnamed city in California, where normal law-abiding citizens strangely begin going on robbery heist and killing sprees, one after another for no apparent reason. A mysterious FBI agent played by Kyle Maclachlan (Sex and the City, Twin Peaks) partners with a homicide detective played by Michael Nouri at a local precinct in order to track down said killers, or killer. Little does anyone know that the murders are being caused by a sadistic space creature from a far away alien race, who begins by harboring a human body as a host, goes on a rampage, then transfers itself into another living body when the body it’s using has worn out, leaving it to die; the alien does this for no other reason than for kicks, as it has a hankering for money, Ferrari’s, strippers, and heavy metal. As it turns out, Maclachlan is a fellow visitor from beyond who has been tracking the killer all the way from his home planet. The film is full of fantastically directed action sequences including exciting car chases, bombastic shootouts, and enough creepy moments to warrant itself as a horror film, not to also mention the eery and beautifully scored soundtrack (of which, you guessed it, is a rarity on CD, selling for a fairly high price on Amazon). Revelations of all of these mysterious character and plot events are impeccably paced, allowing the film to build enough tension and mystery to grip its audience and make it the sleeper classic it is.

The Hidden is a great action film that absolutely deserves an HD transfer. The reasons may just be business as usual – popularity. That it is a more obscure sleeper hit studios probably feel it’s not worth the effort, or contain any significant Hollywood names to make this marketable. Still, the DVD transfer is very good on its own, so with a good upconvert player, at least you can get close to a better thing.

How I Got Into College (1989)

This very upbeat and fun late 80s comedy follows a series of high school seniors as they have reached the clutch point of their lives in applying and hopefully being accepted into college. It centers mostly on all-around good guy Marlon, whose main focus is getting into “Ramsey College” where his high school crush Jessica plans on attending (played by Lara Flynn Boyle), even though they are no more than mere school acquaintances at the time. Anthony Edwards also stars as one of the Ramsey recruiters who is trying to save the integrity of the school, which has lost focus by a slowly corrupting administration more interested in student test scores than ambition. Rounding off the bigger names is the late Phil Hartman in this unfortunately mostly unknown role as a greedy yet comically colorful SAT prep tutor. While preparing his college application video, Marlon attempts various unusual feats in order to make himself more of a well-rounded student, including joining a wrestling league. Yet, he is not the only one struggling at this life point, as other students from different schools are also highlighted and granted their own delightful and comical personalities, however much exaggerated or stereotypical some may be. It’s entirely an uplifting and cute sarcastic parody of that point in our young lives that grants us relevant laughs even to this day. Despite it’s lower budget it still manages to garner enough creativity so we don’t notice. There are some very creative joke ideas throughout, and it never really takes itself seriously. These bright spots coupled with a lighthearted soundtrack makes this one of the better sleeper hits of this decade.

Unfortunately, I honestly do not ever foresee an HD release anytime soon, if ever. The audience exposure was in fact so small, that many a fan of 80s comedies probably wouldn’t even recognize this if asked. For any studio to remaster a blu-ray seems at this point highly unlikely.

The Wizard (1989)

This adventure comedy stars ‘The Wonder Years’ star Fred Savage, along with Beau Bridges as his loving but bumbling father, Christian Slater as his slacker older brother, and Luke Edwards as Jimmy Woods, his younger autistic ten-year old brother, played by Luke Edwards. Jimmy is living in a home for autistic children due to his overly worried mother and advice from her pompous new boyfriend. Savage, playing Corey Woods, decides to run away with Jimmy and soon discovers that the young boy has an unusually stellar knack for arcade and Nintendo games. They run into a young and fearless girl named Haley, and decide to use Jimmy to place bets on unknowing arcade players. They get the idea to take Jimmy to compete in the video game championships competition in California, and get on a road trip to do just that, with not only their parents and older brother, but also a hired goon to chase Jimmy down and bring him back home. The kids soon come across pompous gamer genius Lucas Barton, where they learn Jimmy has his skills cut out for him, and now must not only help him practice, but also avoid being caught. While this has been mostly panned as just being a 90-minute shameless Nintendo commercial, the film still has much more going for it storywise than just product placement – flawless chemistry with all characters, a well implemented soundtrack, cute jokes, and the introduction (at least at the time) to one of the more anticipated Nintendo games of all time, being Super Mario Bros. 3. The Wizard is always a fun watch even after multiple viewings, harboring a certain charm for an entertaining movie style that is unfortunately no longer made.

Only a DVD version was released to reasonable publicity in the summer of 2006, as the film was a fairly hard VHS find until then, so whether it ever sees the blu light of day is just a wonder. This one perhaps holds the best fighting chance due to its popularity and relevance to the vast retro gamer culture, and may be safe to say that out of this list, holds the best fighting chance.

Innerspace (1987)

This sci-fi adventure comedy stars Martin Short as Jack Putter, a wimpy and nerdy down-on-his-luck single guy who makes a living as a supermarket cashier, and seems to suffer from a sort of anxiety disorder. He becomes inadvertently mixed up in a secret science experiment heist gone array when he’s injected with a shrunken microscopic travel pod containing a military flight lieutenant named Tuck Pendalton (played by Dennis Quaid). Originally shrunk in order to be injected into a lab rabbit for testing, the experiment lab gets broken into by high-stakes criminals who are there to steal special microchips programmed with the ability to shrink subjects. When a lone scientist escapes with the floating pod syringe, he escapes into a local shopping mall and in a dire clutch pops Jack Putter with the liquid in order to give Lt. Pendalton a fighting chance. Granted that now Putter can both hear and speak to the lieutenant inside him, he must find a way to not only recover both microchips, but also escape being captured by the villains. Along the way he runs into Pendalton’s girlfriend, played by Meg Ryan, and together they go on a fun and hysterical adventure to save Pendalton by restoring him back to size. Ryan herself puts on her usual cutesy performance yet is able to gain just as many laughs as anyone else, even though Short is truly the show stealer. It is imaginative in a way that makes you nostalgic for such 80s adventure films that simply, just like the Wizard, are not made this way anymore. By this I mean, an action/adventure film that is not rated R, and doesn’t require a hint of CGI to tell its story, and yet could still tell a great story.

Why this has yet to see an HD release is a complete and utter wonder, since there are a significant number of factors going for it. Not only does it hold a substantial Hollywood budget, but it’s also chock full of A-list Hollywood names, and a premise and direction that would just look fantastic in high definition. Granted the film still holds impressive quality even on DVD, it may just be a matter of time before a studio can revive this lost sci-fi gem, and hopefully reviving such a faltering and unique genre. This one is a definite possibility.

Return to Oz (1985)

This more “unofficial” sequel the 1939 classic brings back Dorothy to the Emerald city, and this time perfectly cast by actress Fairuza Balk. Holding an almost complete reimagining of Oz, however twisted it may have become, this could perhaps be one of the more unique films still lingering in DVD limbo. Dorothy is once again in good ol’ Kansas, but is a topic of concern by her family who eventually puts her into shock therapy due to her constant obsession with the land of Oz, as she remembers from her original visit (that is, the original 1939 Oz). Once transported to Oz, she discovers that the land is now one of near complete desolation, looking as the victim of a recent apocalypse. Dorothy runs into her old friends – the tin man, scarecrow and cowardly lion that have been completely turned to stone (fans may notice their more cartoony look, which are closer to the original imaginings). Still, she will eventually meet up with new allies – Jack Pumpkinhead, Tik-Tok, Billina, and Gump, which really are a new scarecrow, a bulkier and more gutsy tin man, a talking hen, and a talking moose head, respectively. This cast, however uneven, will aid Dorothy in stopping the evil princess Mombi who is responsible for the ongoing decay of Oz. What fans will notice initially is the significantly darker tone, harboring a steampunk-like flair with a gloomy atmosphere that almost unintentionally made it so appealing to fans of goth culture, none of which could have ever given it the cult status it proudly holds. With scenes of shock therapy, sadistic men-monkeys skating on limb wheels in frightening laughter, and a witch with a head collection for which she is able to switch on a whim, not to also mention headlessly chasing Dorothy in one creepy scene, the film fan base now consists mostly of 20/30-something sci-fi/horror/gothic/fantasy fans who were shocked by such images as children, with parents who were none the wiser figured it was just another harmless children’s film.

Considering the film was released by Disney, it may be safe to assume that releasing this on blu-ray with their name on it may not be the most politically correct or most thoughtful choice, considering many parents may again purchase it for their young children, only this time such unintentional potential frights may not go over so well. For a long time for reasons unknown, after its initial release it was fairly difficult to find, even on VHS tape, hence fans would only be treated by televised viewings anytime stations felt thoughtful; with no advent of the internet yet we were completely powerless. Only in recent years has the film been brought to DVD, but the blu-ray treatment seems a harder fare, therefore only time will tell if Disney decides to forgo any perceived risk and give this an HD rework.

*    *    *

While this list comes nowhere close to totaling the amount of films that are still waiting for the HD video makeover, it is a few that do have significant worth in terms of cult fandom. There exist many horror films whose VHS coffins have been set long ago, yet now with plenty of collector attraction via online auctions, telling us that many films overall just do not meet the perceived financial risk. Reasoning for keeping such memorable (if not always great) films away from the new format extend beyond just mere popularity or initial box office exposure, as there are a slew of films that are for the most part forgotten yet have still managed to convince studios to be remastered, even with new special features. The logic within what makes the cut and those buried does not always seem to make sense, but thanks to our voices maybe such lost films will witness their long-awaited revivals. Accomplishing this would be a feat considering that cult films have never really shined dollar signs to production studios, who in recent years can’t seem to see beyond expensive CGI laden 3-hour epics. Still, even in the midst of these old film’s SD state, they have established a comfortable if grainier home amongst some of their most loyal followers, who are perfectly content keeping their beloved classics out of mainstream clutches. So for the time being, I would highly recommend getting these on DVD, and hopefully you have already purchased a blu-ray or at least upconvert DVD player.

Happy Metal viewing! Grinch, signing off…

About metalgrinch

Media lover and collector, freak over action/adventure games, classic old school, 80s/90s film/music, movies and pop culture, even lots of new school thingamabobs...and those other meticulous little things we tend to get snooty about. Sony fanboy for life \m/ (>_<) \m/

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