As you may have heard, Sony has announced that Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” will be reissued in a deluxe special edition in November — on standard DVD, and in a Blu-ray version.
Naturally, this is being interpreted as a format endorsement from the filmmaker, who has yet to comment on the whole red-versus-blue deal.
Well, except for the thing in January when Universal was forced to publicly recant its announcement that “Jaws”, “Duel” and “Jurassic Park” would be coming to HD DVD.
Here’s the key question, for me: If Spielberg’s picking a side, why would he come out and “endorse” Blu-ray, when so much of his films are tied up with Universal?
The studio no longer holds the home-video rights to Spielberg’s DreamWorks films, which are now distributed by the format-neutral Paramount, but Universal still owns the “Jurassic Park” films and a number of Amblin productions, including the very profitable “Back to the Future” trilogy.
And HD DVD is struggling. Every poll that gives it the edge in the format war does so by leaving out a key factor that would tip the scales in Blu-ray’s favor; there are rumblings that the Weinstein Group, one of only two remaining HD DVD-exclusive studios, will go format-neutral when “Death Proof” and “Planet Terror” come to video later this year. And the same rumblings persist about Universal, though I think that’s more to do with wishful thinking on the part of consumers who really don’t want to have to buy two high-def players.
Given all of this, my feeling is that the release of “Close Encounters” has absolutely nothing to do with Spielberg picking a side, and everything to do with plausible deniability; he wants to see whether the high-def market is strong enough for his films to sell in large numbers, and this film — owned by Sony and therefore technically less in his control — gives him the opportunity to dip a toe in the waters.
If it sells well, Spielberg will give the nod to let his other titles start trickling out at other studios — including Universal, which will inevitably release them in HD DVD editions. If Universal really is considering a format-neutral move, here’s hoping it happens by then, so everyone can get the pristine edition of “Jaws” they deserve.