According to everyone in the know about these things, the Format War (it feels oddly appropriate to capitalize those words) is over. HD-DVD is dead, and long live Blu-Ray. It’s VHD Day (as opposed to VD Day which doesn’t end with a guy kissing a girl in the street, but with stinging pee and cold sweats) and there is much rejoicing.
I was witness to an odd skirmish in the Format War in December. When I attended Harry Knowles’ Butt-Numb-A-Thon 9, we were all told that we would be getting free Toshiba A3 HD-DVD players. The war wasn’t over by then, but it was obvious that Cornwallis was being surrounded at Yorktown. Toshiba did a 20 minute presentation, showing off their player’s capabilities by showing parts of 300 and MIAMI VICE on the giant Alamo Drafthouse screen. And it was impressive, I must say. Sharp as any good film print, loud, and the colors were bright. I’m certain Toshiba’s motive in all of this was to take these players home, hook them up, and ooh and aah the friends and neighbors into buying one themselves.
So I took it home… and in the box it stayed. I never cracked it open. Eventually a couple of weeks later I gave it to my brother-in-law. Yeah, it was a free HD player. But it just wasn’t hitting me. I had already made up my mind: it was going to be Blu-Ray. The reason could be summed up in one word: Pixar.
Disney has an exclusive deal with Blu-Ray. And I am a Pixar junkie. Call me an apologist, whatever. I think Pixar is the one studio right now that is making the most inspirational, the most wonderful films. It’s not just that they’re family oriented. It’s that you’re not ashamed to take your kids. Pixar films never talk down to the adult or the child in the audience, and that’s a neat trick, to make a movie that resonates on those multiple levels. A child can enjoy the stories and the wonderful visuals, while the adult can appreciate the deeper resonating themes of their stories. Their films aren’t made to sell Happy Meals, although they sell quite a few. Pixar films feel to me like a marketing nightmare. “How in the hell do we sell a movie about a cooking rat?” “A dysfunctional family of superheroes? Are there any fart jokes?” On their face, they aren’t easy sells.
Pixar films work because the story is what dictates all, not marketing choices or theme park rides. It’s why the first Disney films are such classics. Animated films by other studios, with few exceptions, feel like they’re made by committee, especially the abysmal SHREK films which even my kid despises. It seems some studios are getting wise that it’s the film and not the ancillary products that are key, but even when Pixar is off (A BUG’S LIFE and CARS, while good, are definitely weaker efforts) they still have more going on behind them than most other animated films. When Jessie sings her song in TOY STORY 2, it’s not only a toy mourning the loss of her best friend but a parent mourning her child growing up and leaving her. FINDING NEMO has much of the same themes. A BUG’S LIFE is an odd riff on Kurosawa’s SEVEN SAMURAI. THE INCREDIBLES deals with the struggle to remain special and relevant in a world where mediocrity is treasured. Even a film like RATATOUILLE talks about the pursuit of excellence in all endeavors.
This summer, Pixar’s releasing WALL-E, and I can’t wait. It’s easily my most anticipated film for this year. During BNAT 9, Pixar brought a 15-minute presentation of the film that brought tears to my eyes. It was beautiful. WALL-E puts the awe back into space. The visuals were so stunning it was difficult to take in everything. I imagine WALL-E will do for kids what films like JAWS and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS did for me. When those films came out I read everything about sharks and UFOs that I could get my hands on. I think kids who see WALL-E will start consuming everything they can about robots and space. Films like that, it seems to me, come along once in a generation or so, a film that inspires a genuine life change, or that spark that creates a passion that ends up taking root and affecting their entire lives. I’m certain I’ll be accused of hyperbole about this movie, but I don’t care. I’m not going to let cold, hard reasoning get in the way of something so awe-inspiring and beautiful.
This week I bought a Playstation 3, mostly because of the Blu-Ray player, but I also grabbed some games. The Blu-Ray titles I bought were CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, BLADE RUNNER, and RATATOUILLE. When I put in RATATOUILLE, it practically jumped off the screen, and I’m still rocking a tube television set. BLADE RUNNER and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS looked amazing as well. It’s the best purchase I’ve made in months. I plan to upgrade to a LCD HDTV this summer as soon as I possibly can (thank you, Bush Blood Money Stimulus!) and I can’t wait to see it on there. Meanwhile, my XBox 360 is waiting for yet another white coffin-box to come in the mail so I can send it off for repairs. And I have to say, I’m loving my PS3 right now. It’s quiet as hell, sleek, makes a nice Blu-Ray player, and I’m able to access my PC’s music through it with real ease. On Friday I’m having some friends over and I intend to deal them some electronic death as I perforate them in CALL OF DUTY 4. Let the ass kicking commence!