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Tuesday, February 10, 2004

The Laserdisc Player's Looking Pretty Good

George Lucas has finally deigned to release the original trilogy on DVD, even though Lucasfilm has been saying that the original trilogy was not going to be released until after Episode III stinks up the theaters. Of course, Lucas (whose true brilliance is as a marketer a la P.T. Barnum) realizes that in another year or two, HD-DVD will become a practical reality, and people won't shell out the money for a regular DVD version. So he strikes while the iron is hot, and America will pony up its cash now and then again for the HD version.

I'm reminded of my days working at the video store, when a customer wanted to buy the original trilogy when it was released on THX-approved VHS tapes a few years ago. He asked if there was any way to ensure that the tape would stay pristine forever. I told him that the most optimistic reports are that VHS tapes keep a signal for 20 years -- and most home-recorded tapes are dead or seriously deteriorated in 10.

He was stunned -- "What if I put them in a lead-lined safety-deposit box?"

I stared at him for a moment. "Lucas is going to release these on DVD someday, and your VHS tapes will be instantly worthless. And then he'll release them on the next new format, and the DVDs will become worthless."

The customer thought about this for a moment, then bought his tapes and left.

So, be forewarned. You're putting cash in Lucas's pocket just at the end of the DVD revolution. Lucas is betting that you'll pay it, even though you know HD-DVD is coming, even though you know you're being rooked, because you're a sucker. Flip him the bird and watch "Dark City" instead.

And here's the real clincher: just as promised, Lucas will only release the "Special Edition" of the trilogy. You know -- the one where Greedo shoots first? That's the one. The original movies have just been flushed down the memory hole. That means that the best version of the original trilogy will continue to be on laserdisc, and the better LD players will continue to sell for a premium on eBay. For LD afficionados like myself who invested in the Pioneer "Elite" players, it's a sweet moment. Sadly, it also means that my customer was right, in a way. Those tapes (and the laserdiscs) are the last chance to see the films as we all remember them.

So to review: (1) flip Lucas the bird, and (2) watch "Dark City" instead.

 12:49 PM

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