The last time Lighting Dimensions looked at the home video market, the Digital Versatile Disc (DVD) was but a glimmer on the horizon. This spring the format arrived, and by summer the first DVDs were widely available. It is a promising technology: the discs are CD-sized, and their interactive menus enable you to access features that include multiple languages and Dolby Digital multichannel audio. A DVD can hold up to 133 minutes of movie on one side, and on some players you can choose between a standard and a widescreen version of a film. On the best DVDs, like the freshly tweaked transfer of Blade Runner: The Director's Cut, the picture is outstanding. And the price, early on in the rollout, is right: $20 a DVD at many outlets.
Do not, however, throw away those laserdiscs. Twelve-inch discs may be bulky compared to their sleeker cousins, but their educational value remains equally immense. Crash, Shine, and Evita, three films prominently featured in Lighting Dimensions in recent months, are due from The Criterion Collection as special-edition laserdiscs. The first two will feature extensive commentary tracks from directors David Cronenberg and Scott Hicks, respectively; the Evita (right) disc will cover almost every facet of the film's production, including Darius Khondji's Oscar-nominated cinematography.
Also due from Criterion is a special-edition disc of The English Patient, with John Seale's Oscar-winning lensing spotlighted in its original widescreen ratio. The Criterion discs, which have run the gamut in recent months from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Olympia, and Breaking the Waves to The Rock and Supercop, are still the best bet for the at-home cinematographer, and continue to inspire budding filmmakers. LDs themselves continue to participate in the format as guest commentators. On the latter score, however, DVDs are stirring: the DVD version of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? features a talk from its Oscar-winning cinematographer, Haskell Wexler.
The lowly tape market, which has been well behind the times in adding value for renters and buyers, has picked up on the popularity of widescreen editions of movies. Those black bands framing the picture were once anathema to tape producers, but a generation of letterboxed music videos and widescreen movie broadcasts on TV stations have apparently worn down resistance. Disney, MGM/UA, and Columbia TriStar have all seen the light and are now releasing films with their aspect ratios intact, for a welcome change.