UPDATE 31 August 2006 2:25 pm ET
Los Angeles (CA) - There has never been any doubt that 20th Century-Fox has been firmly entrenched in the Blu-ray camp, as one of that technology’s more outspoken supporters. But unlike Sony - seen as Blu-ray’s caretaker, and the parent of Columbia, Tri-Star, and MGM - 20th has held out on announcing actual titles and release dates for the format. That changed this morning, with 20th’s announcement of eight titles for US release on 14 November, and a ninth the following week. The reasons for 20th’s careful timing appeared evident in this morning’s press release.
Two of the stars whose every line and whisker you’ll see in crisp, clear HDMV in 20th Century-Fox Blu-ray releases this November : Gene Hackman (left, Behind Enemy Lines) and Skrat the Saber-toothed Squirrel (right, Ice Age 2 : The Meltdown). (Courtesy 20th Century-Fox Home Entertainment)
The very first words of the release state, "Continuing its unwavering and exclusive support for the Blu-ray Disc format..." and almost every successive paragraph merely serve to glue the message firmly to the company marquee : 20th Century-Fox won’t be supporting HD DVD. But the studio also appears committed to following the Blu-ray timetable, which means even though BD players are available from Samsung now, it will wait for the full "ecosystem" to come into fruition. This includes not only Sony’s PlayStation 3, but the release of BD players from Pioneer and Matsushita.
There’s also evidence that 20th waited for the first full-scale Blu-ray Java (BD-J) development systems to be built, enabling the studio to create richer, more interactive titles than those currently released by other studios. And while some early Blu-ray adopters voiced disappointment that picture quality was not what it could be, even compared to the lower-capacity HD DVD disc, 20th’s strategy may offer a solution : By waiting for full-scale BD-J, 20th now promises titles that use full MPEG-4 compression with DTS HD Lossless Master audio. Sony’s first titles, by comparison, stick with the older MPEG-2 format, which doesn’t compress as tightly. As a result, some say, MPEG-2 videos play back with lesser bit rates, not taking full advantage of BD’s higher capacity.
So by waiting for the early adopters among the studios , 20th may have bought itself time to perfect the format technically. This morning’s release quotes director Ridley Scott, whose Kingdom of Heaven is among the studio’s initial release of eight titles, as saying, "I reviewed my Director’s Cut...which is 3 hrs and 8 minutes thereabouts, on Blu-ray Disc and I was astounded. It was like looking through a window of clarity. It was the most impressive thing I’ve ever seen."
20th is making certain consumers recognize the high technology behind its titles, which is supposed to be one reason for investing in high-definition video discs in the first place. Today’s release touts technology brands such as HDMV (High-Definition Movie Mode), DTS, and BD-J as modern counterparts of Cinemascope, which distinguished the studio during the 1950s.
In addition to Kingdom of Heaven, 20th also announced titles with a pretty obvious common theme : Behind Enemy Lines, Fantastic Four, Kiss of the Dragon, The Omen (666), The Transporter, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. For this latter Sean Connery film - which was a box-office disappointment - 20th touts the viewer’s ability to sort individual scenes by category, such as by actor, by role, or by scene location. Such features are evidently made possible by the full BD-J authoring suite. The studio will follow up the following week with a simultaneous DVD/Blu-ray release of Ice Age 2 : The Meltdown.
UPDATE : A 20th Century-Fox Home Entertainment spokesperson also confirmed to TG Daily late this afternoon that it will also serve as distributor for Blu-ray movies from MGM, even though Sony is that company’s new parent. Forthcoming releases on 28 November include The Usual Suspects and Windtalkers, followed on 5 December by the original Rocky and the martial arts film Bulletproof Monk.
These titles won’t be cheap, selling for $39.98 apiece ($49.98 in Canada). 20th’s announcement comes on the heels of Warner Home Video’s announcement yesterday afternoon of ten new titles for Blu-ray and HD DVD, for release on 26 September. Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, Swordfish, Space Cowboys, Lethal Weapon 2, The Fugitive, and House of Wax will appear on Blu-ray, while The Dirty Dozen (ahead of a reported remake), Grand Prix, Terminator 3 : Rise of the Machines, and The Adventures of Robin Hood will appear on HD DVD. No news accompanied Warner’s announcement with regard to the technical features and capabilities of these titles, though they’ll each sell for $10 cheaper than 20th’s titles in the States.
This morning, Warner added it will release "more than 10" Blu-ray titles in European markets, apparently day-and-date with the rollout of Blu-ray players in Great Britain, France, Spain, and Germany. While Warner didn’t provide the entire list this morning, a partial list included Firewall, Syriana, Full Metal Jacket, Training Day, and Space Cowboys.