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The Hell Plaza Oktoberfest IV

Hell Plaza Oktoberfest IV

Adam Jahnke - Main Page

Nightwing (DVD)

1979 (2010) - Columbia Pictures (Sony Screen Classics by Request)
Released on DVD-R on October 5th, 2010

While Blu-ray has been hogging most of the attention recently, hardcore movie buffs have been debating a different home media development: the rise of manufactured-on-demand (MOD) DVDs. Warner Bros. has led the charge with the Warner Archive Collection, releasing hundreds of coveted but relatively obscure titles dating back to the silent era. MGM and Universal have had somewhat less success, due in part to an exclusivity deal with Amazon that makes it virtually impossible to find what's available. Last month, Sony made a bold move into the market, launching their Screen Classics by Request line, available exclusively through their own web site.

The MOD system has more than its fair share of detractors. They claim the discs are of poor quality, are too expensive, and complain about their lack of bonus features. Admittedly, the price point is an issue. Most discs start at around twenty bucks plus shipping. In their defense, Warner Archive holds frequent sales so it's unlikely you'll pay full price for anything unless you're impatient. As Sony adds titles, they'd be well-advised to do likewise. As for the no-frills discs, the fact is that collectors have become rather spoiled over the years. We've come to expect extra features and have forgotten that the word "bonus" means "something given or paid over and above what is due". Home entertainment is a business and the studios were only willing to dig into their catalog as long as that business remained profitable. As they turn their attention and resources to Blu-ray, there is very little incentive for them to continue searching for buried treasure in their vaults. DVD has been around for over a decade now and if a given title hasn't been released yet, odds are good the studio has no intention of releasing it at all. MOD offers them a low-cost, potentially profitable alternative to mass production and offers us the chance to finally get our hands on these rare gems. And if you've been following my ongoing JET's Most Wanted project at the Jahnke's Electric Theater Facebook page, you know there are hundreds of titles out there still waiting to be released. Sony captured two of my Most Wanted picks in their opening salvo of Screen Classics by Request, including Nightwing, a vampire bat terror flick that I dimly remembered seeing on cable back in the early 80s.

Nick Mancuso stars as a tribal deputy on the Masakai Indian reservation investigating a series of strange deaths. Horses and people have been found with dozens of bite marks, completely drained of blood and reeking of ammonia. Turns out there's a colony of vampire bats infected with bubonic plague in the area, so Mancuso teams up with David Warner as the Van Helsing of the bat world, on a quest to eradicate what he considers to be the most evil species on the planet. I'm guessing that PETA was not consulted on this project.

Arthur Hiller, the director of Love Story and The In-Laws, isn't the first guy you'd think of to direct a movie like this. He'd directed a few episodes of Thriller and Alfred Hitchcock Presents but Nightwing is the closest he came to making a horror film. You get the idea that he wasn't all that comfortable with the assignment. A lot of time is wasted on a subplot involving a shady business deal about oil rights on the reservation that doesn't have much to do with anything. The bats themselves were created by Carlo Rambaldi and whenever they do show up, they're pretty neat, although they don't inflict much damage. Nightwing isn't an awful movie. David Warner is always fun to watch, no matter what the project, and the location shooting in New Mexico is impressive. But while it's mildly engaging while you're watching it, the movie is strangely forgettable. It's no wonder I could barely remember seeing it the first time. I'm having a hard time remembering it now and I just watched it.

If Nightwing is any indication, Sony's MOD program is going to be a winner. When people complain about the poor quality of MOD discs, I suspect they haven't seen very many. Sure, there are some clunkers but most of them that I've seen have been just fine. Technically, Nightwing looks extremely good. It's a clean, clear print and a very high quality anamorphic widescreen transfer. The disc also includes a trailer, which isn't always the case for MOD products. My only criticism is that Sony may want to put a bit more effort into the packaging, especially the back cover. The synopsis reads like they simply copied and pasted the first two paragraphs from an online summary (and even includes a typo in the word "helicopter"), while the credit blurb misspells Arthur Hiller's name, turning him into "Arthur Miller". Hiller was already an unlikely choice to direct Nightwing. I can't imagine what the author of Death of a Salesman would have done with the material.

Sony is off to a good start with their MOD program, releasing a diverse selection of titles in above-average condition. Price remains a sticking point and one thing I would like to see both Sony and Warner do is partner up with Netflix to make these titles available for instant viewing. Both studios have a lot of titles I'd love to see but I don't necessarily want to own and $19.94 is a bit steep to encourage a blind-buy. Even so, the MOD experiment looks like it's here to stay and for movie fans who think they've seen it all, it's an exciting opportunity to uncover something new.

Film Rating: C+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B/D

Adam Jahnke

Adam Jahnke - Main Page
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