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Hollywood rolls out the red carpet for new DVDs

With 100 new releases every week, and more than 1 billion sold, the DVD is Hollywood's new favorite star.

By Arts and culture correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / October 25, 2002

Camels and belly dancers fill a Hollywood street as muscle-bound warriors in full fighting regalia zip over the heads of awestruck bystanders.

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A Hollywood première, right?

Yes, but not for a feature film. All this recent klieg-light activity was staged by Universal for the release of "The Scorpion King" on DVD. The extravaganza culminated at a Virgin Megastore, where the first DVD was handed out.

"You had 400 people walking down the street in the middle of huge lights and explosions," says Clint Walker, editor of DVD ETC., a new enthusiast magazine dedicated to the format. "It was just amazing."

Hollywood is rolling out the red carpet for new DVD film releases the way it used to for movie premières.

Walker's publication itself is only a few issues old, but it has doubled its circulation since June. He attributes this success to the exploding popularity of the five-year-old DVD format, which he says is sweeping the consumer marketplace.

A hundred new releases come out every week, and more than a billion DVDs have been sold over the past five years. The VHS format took twice as long to sell that many.

"We're feeding off what we call the late adopters," Walker says. "These are people who weren't willing to drop a few thousand dollars on the early versions of the DVD players in 1997.... They were afraid they might be just another Beta- max." Now, people create entire home entertainment theaters around DVD players, he says.

Picture clarity is the first reason DVDs are so popular. "It's twice the picture quality of the VHS," says Amy Jo Donner, director of the DVD Entertainment Group. "Then you wrap in all the extra features and people feel like they're getting close to their favorite stars and getting more entertainment value for their dollar."

Falling prices also have helped push the DVD format into the mainstream. When the 5-inch discs first came out, prices were high – $25 to $40. Observers expect prices to sink to the $10 range by next year.

DVDs were not an overnight hit. When players were first introduced, few DVDs were available. Studios viewed them suspiciously as a source of piracy, and directors didn't want to be bothered with the secondary-use market. That scenario completely reversed as film folks began to see the creative potential in the new format.

These days, almost no director works without the DVD in mind. Interviews, outtakes, commentaries, and minidocment-aries are de rigueur for most new DVDs. Some even allow viewers to update content online.

Australian director Baz Luhrmann packed the "Moulin Rouge," DVD full of fun goodies for fans. They can see Luhrmann talk at length, watch alternative scenes from the film, see giggly outtakes of stars Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor, and the audition tape from costar John Leguizamo.

Last month, the release of "Monsters, Inc." broke all DVD and video sales records, selling 11 million copies in its first week of release.

DVD quality was a major reason for the popularity,and the film itself has unprecedented clarity. The DVD was transferred from the digital original instead of being transferred from a film copy, which has been the usual procedure.

The other major draw is the stunning added content. The creative team at Pixar used the DVD to showcase new ideas that emerged during the making of the film, like a fully animated short called "Mike's New Car."