Knives Out


Street Date 2/25/20;
Mystery Comedy;
Box Office $163.71 million;
$29.95 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, $42.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for thematic elements including brief violence, some strong language, sexual references, and drug material.
Stars Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Lakeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, Christopher Plummer, Riki Lindhome, Edi Patterson, Noah Segan, K Callan, M. Emmet Walsh, Frank Oz.

Director Rian Johnson’s penchant for subverting expectations has manifested itself in the delightful Knives Out, a modernized take on the classic murder mystery format.

The set-up is familiar. In a quirky mansion in the countryside of New England, the maid discovers the body of her wealthy employer — crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) — dead from seemingly cutting his own throat.

As Harlan’s family comes out of the woodwork for the funeral and reading of the will, the police initially rule it a suicide. Yet the case remains open at the behest of private sleuth Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), Johnson’s southern-flavored homage to the likes of Columbo and Hercule Peroit. Hired by an anonymous party to ensure all aspects of Harlan’s death are explored, Blanc quickly uncovers dissension within the family, several members of which having had loud arguments with Harlan in the day leading up to his death.

The expertly-crafted, Oscar-nominated screenplay toys with the conventions of the genre, revealing what actually happened within the first 30 minutes or so, then uses the next hour-and-a-half to clue the audience in the fuller context of the events viewers have already seen, thus providing the true focus of the mystery.

Blanc recruits Harlan’s nurse, Marta (Ana de Armas), to aid in his investigation, though she is more aware of what happened than she lets on. A unique physical tic causes her to puke whenever she lies, providing one of the film’s central running gags but also lending a fair amount of tension to the proceedings as Marta has a fair number of secrets she’d rather not help expose either. The pairing of Craig and de Armas must have been agreeable enough for them, as she’s slated to appear in his next James Bond movie. And for Craig, tapped to reprise Blanc investigating new cases in future sequels, the role offers a nice new franchise once he wraps up his tenure as the super spy.

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This is the kind of film that not only invites multiple viewings, but practically demands them. Luckily, the Blu-ray offers a couple of nice options for the rewatch in the form of audio commentaries that dissect the story structure and reveal many of the details layered into the film’s intricate construction. Both are well worth a listen. One is a solo commentary by Johnson, originally released online while the film was still in theaters so fans could listen to it through headphones when they returned to their local cinema to partake in a fresh viewing. The second commentary, recorded for the home video release, features Johnson, cinematographer Steve Yedlin, and actor Noah Segan, who plays one of the cops investigating the murder.

Visually, Knives Out is gorgeous, shot digitally yet rendered to evoke the feeling of classic film, bringing forth textures and color that immerse the viewer in the story’s uneasy atmosphere while making one wish they too could be crawling around that quirky old mansion searching for clues.

The Blu-ray includes the outstanding “Making a Murder,” an eight-part, feature-length behind-the-scenes documentary that provides in-depth details on all aspects of the production, from writing it, to casting it, to making the costumes and sets, and recording the music. It runs a shade under two hours in total.

The “Rian Johnson: Planning the Perfect Murder” featurette supplements this a bit, with a six-minute video on how Johnson created the story to be, as he describes it, a Hitchcock thriller within a whodunit. There’s also a 42-minute Q&A from a SAG screening in November that gives the massive cast a chance to sing their own praises while recounting their joy in making the movie.

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The Blu-ray also includes two deleted scenes comprising about five total minutes, with optional commentary by Johnson. These add some interesting subtext to some of the film’s subplots, but it’s easy to understand the decision to omit them from the final cut.

Finally, the disc offers a trove of marketing materials, including trailers and viral ads starring several of the characters in the film.

All-in-all, it’s an impressive package that harkens back to the glory days of DVDs that really gave fans a lot of bang for their buck.

‘Knives Out’ Coming Home on Digital Feb. 7, Disc — Including 4K — Feb. 25

The murder mystery Knives Out, which earned writer-director Rian Johnson an Oscar nom for Best Original screenplay, is heading home.

Lionsgate will release the whodunnit on digital Feb. 7 and 4K Ultra HD combo pack, Blu-ray combo pack, DVD and on demand Feb. 25.

The film, which has earned $278 million at the global box office, also received Golden Globe nominations for Best Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy, Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy (Ana de Armas) and Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy (Daniel Craig). Written, produced, and directed by Johnson (Star Wars: The Last JediLooper), Knives Out also has received awards from AFI, National Board of Review, New York Film Critics, Philadelphia Film Festival, The Hollywood Critics Association and Rotten Tomatoes’ Golden Tomatoes Awards.

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In addition to Craig and de Armas, the film’s ensemble cast includes Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, LaKeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell and Christopher Plummer. It follows the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Plummer). There’s one thing that renowned Detective Benoit Blanc (Craig) knows for sure — everyone in the wildly dysfunctional Thrombey family is a suspect. Blanc must sift through a web of lies and red herrings to uncover the truth.

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Special features include an audio commentary and in-theater commentary by filmmaker Rian Johnson, two deleted scenes, the eight-part “Making a Murder” documentary, the “Rian Johnson: Planning the Perfect Murder” featurette, and a Q&A with the director and cast.

Kino Lorber’s January Home Release Slate Includes Spaghetti Westerns, British Noir and Vintage Sci-Fi

Kino Lorber has set home release dates for its January 2020 slate of classic movies. The 19-movie slate begins rolling out Jan. 7 with the following eight releases:

  • The Hellbenders (Special Edition) – Released in a new 4K restoration, this 1967 “spaghetti” Western from famed Italian director Sergio Corbucci follows the patriarch of a family of ex-Confederate killers who, in order to finance an invasion of the North, massacre a Union Army convoy carrying a large shipment of money. Bonus features include a new audio commentary by filmmaker Alex Cox and the theatrical trailer. The film will be available at a suggested retail price of $19.95 on DVD and $29.95 on Blu-ray Disc.
  • Kill Them All and Come Back Alone – Another new 4K restoration, this 1968 spaghetti Western from director Enzo G. Castellari revolves around a mercenary who leads a squad of cutthroats on a mission for the Confederate high command to infiltrate an enemy fortress and steal millions in gold from the Union Army. Bonus features include a new audio commentary by filmmaker Alex Cox, both the English and Italian cuts, and the theatrical trailer. The film will be available at a suggested retail price of $19.95 on DVD and $29.95 on Blu-ray Disc.
  • The Specialists – Another spaghetti Western from Corbucci, this 1969 classic is centered around a notorious gunfighter who is looking for revenge after traveling to a town called Blackstone, where his brother was wrongfully accused of robbing a bank and lynched for it. Bonus features include a new audio commentary by filmmaker Alex Cox, both French and Italian audio with optional English subtitles, and the theatrical trailer. It will be available on DVD for $19.95 and Blu-ray Disc for $29.95.
  • Brick (Special Edition) – A 2005 thriller from director Rian Johnson, this film follows the story of a high school loner. The girl he loves turns up dead, and when he tries to find out why he gets plunged into the girl’s dark and dangerous social strata. Bonus features will include the brand-new 4K restoration, eight deleted and extended scenes, the short documentary “The Inside Track: Casting the Roles of Laura and Dode,” the theatrical trailer, and audio commentary by writer-director Rian Johnson, actors Nora Zehetner and Noah Segan, producer Ram Bergman, production designer Jodie Tillen, and costume designer Michele Posch. The film is being released on Blu-ray Disc only at a suggested retail price of $29.95.
  • Dr. Cyclops (Special Edition) – This 1940 science-fiction classic, directed by Ernest Schoedsack and Merian Cooper (King Kong), follows the story of a brilliant but deranged physicist who learns how to shrink his enemies to one-fifth their normal size. When four explorers discover that his mind has been warped by radiation and decide to send him to civilization for help, Dr. Cyclops makes use of his experimental body-shrinking device. This brand-new 4K master edition also comes with audio commentary by film historian Richard Harland Smith, “Trailers From Hell” with Jesús Treviño, and the theatrical trailer. Released on a dual-layer BD50 Blu-ray Disc, the film carries a suggested retail price of $29.95.
  • Cobra Woman (Special Edition) – Robert Siodmak, director of Phantom Lady, The Spiral Staircase, The Killers, and the Crimson Pirate, directed this 1944 adventure film that follows a man who discovers his fiancée has been kidnapped by a lost tribe. He and his friend set out across the seas to find her, and soon after discover that the island paradise where she is being held captive is ruled by the Cobra Woman, who commands newcomers be killed on arrival. Bonus features include a new audio commentary by film historian Philipa Berry, optional English subtitles, and the theatrical trailer. The film also is being released on a dual-layer BD50 disc priced at $19.95.
  • The Slasher –  Directed by Lewis Gilbert, this 1953 noir follows the story of a gang of teenage delinquents who make money by mugging women on the streets of London. It proves to be quite lucrative until the police catch up with them, and they are offered lenient sentences on the condition that they join a youth club and reform their ways. The film will be available on Blu-ray Disc only at $19.95.
  • British Noir: Five Film Collection II – This five-film collection assembles some of the lesser-known Brit Noir titles from various British studios, featuring such major talents as actors John Mills, Joan Collins, Valerie Hobson, Dennis Price and Sean Connery; and directors Lewis Gilbert, Gerald Thomas and Don Chaffey. The set includes The Interrupted Journey (1949), Cosh Boy (1953), Time is My Enemy (1954), Time Lock (1957) and The Vicious Circle (1957). The DVD-only set lists for $49.95.

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Coming Jan. 14 are House by the River (Special Edition), a 1950 feature directed by Fritz Lang about a Victorian ne’er-do-well who accidentally murders his wife’s housekeeper; Room at the Top (Special Edition), a 1959 British drama that won two Academy Awards for Best Actress and Adapted Screenplay; The Whisperers, a 1967 thriller from Bryan Forbes, the writer-director of The Stepford Wives, about an elderly woman who becomes increasingly ensnared by her own world of delusion and exploited by the world of morally corrupt people; The Great McGinty (Special Edition) and The Good Fairy (Special Edition), a pair of comedies from Preston Sturges, the legendary writer-director of Christmas in July, The Lady Eve, The Palm Beach Story and Unfaithfully Yours; and Just Visiting (Special Edition), a 2001 French-American remake of the 1993 French comedy Les Visiteurs that stars Jean Reno, Christina Applegate, Christian Clavier, Malcolm McDowell, Tara Reid, and Bridgette Wilson in a fantasy about a medieval knight and his serf who travel to 21st-century Chicago, meeting the knight’s descendant.

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Rounding out Kino’s January 2020 slate are five more releases arriving in stores on Jan. 21: Semi-Tough, a 1977 romantic sports comedy, from Michael Ritchie, about a three-way friendship between two free-spirited professional football players and the team owner’s daughter; High-Ballin’, a 1978 highway adventure with Peter Fonda, Jerry Reed and Helen Shaver as three angry independents who are set to take on a vicious gang of hijackers; Tobruk (Special Edition), a 1967 World War II blockbuster from Arthur Hiller, the director of Love Story, that stars Rock Hudson and George Peppard as the leaders of a commando group on a desperate mission to raid the enemy’s fuel bunkers; Ulzana’s Raid, a 1972 Western from Robert Aldrich, the director of The Dirty Dozen, The Grissom Gang, The Killing of Sister George and The Longest Yard; and The War Lord (Special Edition), a 1965 adventure film, set in the 11th century, from Franklin J. Schaffner, the acclaimed director of Planet of the Apes, Patton, Papillon and The Boys from Brazil.



Over the Moon for 4K

Filmmakers have long championed new home viewing technologies, but their support of 4K Ultra HD — particularly in director Duncan Jones’ case — is “over the moon.”

Jones directed Moon, a 2009 science-fiction cult favorite that won a BAFTA Award for Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer. And he was thrilled that Sony Pictures Home Entertainment decided to celebrate the film’s 10th anniversary in July with a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray  release.

Moon was a tiny little independent sci-fi film from England,” said Jones, who went on to direct Source Code (2011), Warcraft (2016) and Mute (2018). “The fact that we got a theatrical run in America at all was a thrill, but even with that run, a lot of people never would have had the chance to see the film in the fidelity of those who were able to see the screenings back in 2009. Fortunately the film has lived on and grown in cult status over the decade, but up until now has only been a shadow of its original self! Now we finally get to give our fans what they remember from those early, limited screenings.”

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Jones — who also happens to be the son of the late rock legend David Bowie — is by no means alone. Directors such as Oliver Stone and others in the creative community applauded Blu-ray Disc when that format was introduced more than a decade ago, but their cheers are even louder and more enthusiastic for 4K Ultra HD — with high dynamic range (HDR), of course.

“It’s astounding how far home theater tech has come in the last 20 years,” said director Rian Johnson (Star Wars: The Last Jedi) at a recent UHD Alliance event. “I think we’re really kind of in a golden age right now of home theater technology, and it’s only getting better in every single aspect of our TVs at home. Everything in resolution, dynamic range, the size of the screens, everything has gone up through the roof recently, while prices of all the tech has gone down so it’s in the reach of most consumers, and that for me is really, really exciting. I love that my mom has a great TV that she can watch at home. I love watching movies at home.”

The resolution of 4K is four times sharper than HD, while HDR offers brighter brights and darker darks — as well as wider color gamut — to create a more vivid and lifelike picture. What that means is that home viewers can replicate the theatrical experience more closely than ever — and since directors are all about the “Big Screen,” they see 4K Ultra HD as the best way to archive their artistic vision for future generations.

“I think for anyone who spends time and effort making a film, we desperately want the audience to see all the little details and care we put into our work,” Jones said. “Especially for those who are lucky enough to make ‘world-building’ films. From production design, to wardrobe, make-up and, in Moon’s case, model miniatures, just about everything is created to hold up to scrutiny in a close up. 4K UHD with HDR gives us the pleasure of knowing you are going to see all that hard work!”

Studio executives, too, see 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray as packaged-media’s most effective bulwark against total domination by streaming media. It remains the optimum way to watch a movie, despite steady advances in bandwidth capacity.

“The collector in the enthusiast market wants to buy discs,” said Bill Hunt, editor of home entertainment enthusiast site

So, apparently, do a lot of other people. Ultra HD TVs were in about 53.4 million households at the end of the first quarter, an increase of 55% from the prior year, according to CTA numbers cited by the DEG. Meanwhile, the number of households with at least one 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray playback machine rose 63% to 14 million. According to the CTA, the total TV category will ship 38.8 million units in 2019 (a 1% increase) with upgrades driven by big-screen models and sets featuring 4K UHD resolution and HDR technology. This year, 4K UHD sets will account for 17 million of those units (a 6% increase).

IHS Markit estimates that by 2022, 60% of North American households will own at least one UHD video display.

Software continues to expand as well. Nearly 600 titles have been released on 4K UHD Blu-ray Disc, according to Media Play News research. And digital outlets tout the feature, and sometimes charge a premium for it.

Indeed, consumer interest in 4K UHD with HDR continues to grow.
“I think people are definitely into it. I think interest is growing; demand is growing,” said The Digital Bits’ Hunt. “There’s no shortage of people who read my website that are eager for every piece of news on 4K.”

Retailers of both digital and physical content are serving the rabid 4K consumer. Netflix offers 4K UHD content under its premium plan for $15.99 a month (up to four screens at once). Amazon also offers 4K streaming on certain titles. At transactional VOD site FandangoNow, 4K is a major selling point, noted Fandango VP of home entertainment Cameron Douglas.

“We saw there was audience demand,” he said. “It just kept growing.”

Redbox in March reported it more than doubled the number of cities offering 4K Ultra HD movie rentals — bringing 4K to a total of 15 markets. Rental pricing for 4K UHD titles is $2.50 per night.

“Our customers have spoken — they love the quality of 4K content,” said Galen Smith, CEO of Redbox. “We’re happy to make 4K rentals available to even more movie fans, giving them more format choices than ever before so they can make the most of their movie night.”

New markets included Colorado Springs, Colo.; Des Moines, Iowa; Kansas City, Mo.; Minneapolis; Portland, Ore.; Reno, Nev.; San Diego; San Francisco; and Spokane, Wash. They joined preview markets Austin, Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami, New York and Seattle.

“4K UHD continues to experience strong and steady growth across physical and digital, buoyed by the significant retail commitment and CE support, and an increasing number of titles being released,” said Eddie Cunningham, president of Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.

“4K UHD is no longer an early adopter format and has widely established itself as the best way to watch our content at home,” said Jessica Schell, EVP and GM of film at Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.

“We’re enthusiastic about the rapid consumer and retail adoption and the ability to present our films in the highest possible quality for the home,” added Lexine Wong, senior EVP of worldwide marketing at Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

“The popularity of 4K continues to grow as evidenced by the wide range of titles now in the market,” noted Vincent Marcais, EVP of worldwide marketing for Paramount Home Entertainment.

Indeed, content available on 4K UHD is varied, from new releases to classic catalog.

“Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, a leader in the 4K Ultra HD market, consistently delivers premium product for the growing consumer base,” said Sony’s Wong. “To date, we have over 80 4K UHD titles available — including the global tentpoles Men in Black: International and Spider-Man: Far From Home, along with key library titles such as the commemorative 35th anniversary release of the original Ghostbusters and the fully remastered modern classic Stand By Me.”

“At Paramount, we just released Rocketman, and over 15% of our physical sales are 4K to date,” noted Marcais. “In addition, we will be releasing the perennial favorite It’s A Wonderful Life on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray for the first time in October. The studio spent over a year restoring the film from the original negative and we wanted to make sure that enthusiasts and long-time fans could truly appreciate the vibrant and detail-rich picture, which 4K makes possible for home viewing like never before.”

“The continued diversification of content available in 4K HDR ranges across not just our new-release films, but also includes more and more evergreen classic catalog titles like 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Wizard of Oz and The Shining,” said Warner’s Schell.

“Catalog in particular has surged to become a meaningful driver of consumer engagement, with newly available classic franchises fueling a 25% growth in 4K UHD disc sales across the industry,” added Universal’s Cunningham.

Readers of enthusiast websites have feasted on new-release and a growing list of catalog classics that have greatly expanded this year.

“You had your big, splashy, superhero titles, but then you had Alien and Apocalypse Now,” noted Adam Gregorich, co-owner/editor of enthusiast site Home Theater Forum. “It’s not just new releases that people are interested in.”

“The biggest problem that people that are into 4K have is that there are titles that they want that they can’t get,” said The Digital Bits’ Hunt. “Fans are really starting to jones for those big titles now.”

Hunt’s readers are particularly looking forward to the 4K catalog releases on tap for the end of the year, including The Wizard of Oz, due Oct. 29.

“That film will look tremendous on 4K,” he noted.

“There is a ton of excitement for both The Wizard of Oz and It’s a Wonderful Life,” added Gregorich. How black and white films, such as Wonderful Life, would fare on 4K elicited “some concern,” Gregorich noted, “but then people pointed out Schindler’s List,” which translated and was enhanced very well.

Both Gregorich and Hunt agreed that the best way to experience 4K UHD with HDR is on Blu-ray Disc, which doesn’t suffer from the potential delivery dilution of streaming due to bandwidth.

Still, streaming is gaining.

“Stuff that I want to buy I want to buy on disc,” Hunt said. “The younger audience doesn’t seem to have that problem.”

“I think that discs are still more popular, but streaming has made up a huge amount of ground,” added Gregorich.

Soon, technology may offer a streaming assist, and studios are prepared to deliver 4K UHD wherever the consumer goes.

“With the expansion and adoption of 5G wireless service allowing faster access to streaming 4K UHD video, the demand for high-definition content will continue to grow rapidly,” said Warner’s Schell. “We are committed to delivering the best possible viewing experience of our wide array of film and television content, and we will continue to adapt, along with other studios and content providers, to the ever-changing technological landscape that dictates our business.”

4K Ultra HD Blu-ray All-Time Top 50 Sellers as of 8/24/19
All-Time Top 4K UHD BD Market Share as of 8/24/19

UHD Alliance Introduces ‘Filmmaker Mode’

The UHD Alliance, along with leaders in consumer electronics, the Hollywood studios and members of the filmmaking community, Aug. 27 announced collaboration on a new viewing mode for watching movies and episodic TV called “Filmmaker Mode,” designed to reproduce the content in the way the creator intended. (L-R): Panasonic’s Ron Martin, Vizio’s Kenneth Lowe, Warner’s Michael Zink and director Rian Johnson were on hand to announce the launch. (Photo by Patrick T. Fallon for UHD Alliance)

Star Wars: Episode VIII — The Last Jedi


Street 3/27/18;
Box Office $619.6 million;
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, $39.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of sci-fi action and violence.
Stars Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, Benicio del Toro.

Writer-director Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi is perhaps the most complex, thought-provoking “Star Wars” film to date in the way it asks its audience to reflect on their relationship with the franchise (a challenge many fans, it seems, were not up to). The result is a spectacularly entertaining film that deftly mixes thrills, nostalgia, emotion and humor.

The follow-up to 2015’s The Force Awakens, and the eighth of the numbered “Skywalker Saga” films in the “Star Wars” canon, answers some questions director J.J. Abrams left open in the previous film, while leaving more for Abrams to wrap up in the concluding chapter of this sequel trilogy that thus far represents the cornerstone of Disney’s cinematic plans for the franchise since acquiring Lucasfilm in 2012.

Picking up where Force Awakens left off, General Leia (the late Carrie Fisher, in her final film performance) and her Resistance fighters are on the run from the First Order, which is on the verge of seizing military control of the galaxy. Meanwhile, Jedi wannabe Rey (Daisy Ridley) has located the self-exiled Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), and works to convince him to join the fight, all while the villainous Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) hopes to turn her to his side.

Last Jedi is an improvement upon Force Awakens in many ways simply by not following so closely to the template of an earlier film (the 1977 original, in the case of Force Awakens), and not getting bogged down with trying to address every nagging plot thread from earlier films. (Seriously, to hear some fans tell it, they wouldn’t be satisfied unless Rey spent two hours sitting at a computer reading exposition about every new character from space-Wikipedia and narrating fan fiction.)

That isn’t to say the film pushes aside all tropes and familiarity. There are several plot points that echo previous installments, most notably Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, in keeping with the grand “Star Wars” tradition of intergalactic history playing out in cycles and new characters encountering situations similar to their predecessors, and having opportunities to make different choices. Indeed, Johnson at many points plays off the audience’s familiarity with these archetypes to purposely subvert their expectations, both for dramatic effect and as a bulwark against the franchise becoming stale. This is in many ways a film for the “Star Wars” fan who is willing to grow along with the franchise.

That’s not to say it’s a perfect film — some of the jokes and subplots have been criticized for straying too far from the formula. And certainly, the “Star Wars” films could benefit from a stricter storytelling structure that is rumored to be less of a priority at Lucasfilm than it is at fellow Disney company Marvel Studios. But for the most part, the film works exactly as it was intended to do.

Last Jedi is, at its core, a rumination on the nature of hero worship, and in forcing the characters to confront their preconceptions about the people and places they encounter, it also asks “Star Wars” fandom to make the same considerations. The film even gets meta at times, almost directly addressing the idea of obsessing over fan theories while also reminding us about the larger-than-life nature of the characters that made us want to experience their adventures in the first place.

The presentation offered by this absolutely loaded Blu-ray is a visual treat that preserves the big-screen splendor of the film’s gorgeous location photography and visual effects, including several scenes that are all-time franchise highlights.

The centerpiece of the extras is the 95-minute behind-the-scenes documentary The Director and the Jedi, an often-candid look at Johnson’s journey to bring the film to life, from the announcement of his involvement to the final photograph of the cast and crew.

For all that detractors may complain about their own vision for “Star Wars” not aligning with Disney’s, it’s clear that Johnson himself is a fan with a firm grasp of the franchise’s mythology.

There’s even more to learn in another 50-minutes of making-of featurettes, each dealing with specific scenes or concepts, such as an examination of the nature of the Force and looks at creating various battles. An especially fun one offers Andy Serkis’ on-set performance as Supreme Leader Snoke in his performance-capture suit before any of the character CGI is applied, and he’s just as menacing with little dots pasted to his face.

The Blu-ray also includes 14 deleted scenes running more than 24 minutes. While most of these are wise cuts (an extended chase sequence on the casino planet really tests one’s patience), many offer some fun moments of story and character.

Johnson provides an optional commentary on the deleted scenes, as well as for the film as a whole. It’s a solo commentary, and he and talks openly about recording it before the movie even hit theaters, which leads to some interesting passages where he ponders about how the audience will react to certain things, leaving viewers with their hindsight to fill in the rest. It’s an informative track, but also raises a few questions about just when these commentaries should be recorded.

For movies that even offer a home video commentary, they tend to be recorded just before the film’s theatrical release, likely due to scheduling concerns and possibly the idea that the filmmakers are better able to recollect certain details when it hasn’t been that long since the film wrapped. On the other hand, this might have been a good opportunity to get a few people involved with the production to record one after seeing the fan reaction and focusing it more on analysis and response. Perhaps taking such a tact is liable to raise more issues, and simply carrying on with the confidence of having created a good film is the more appropriate way to go, but it might have led to a damn interesting commentary track.

Speaking of damn interesting — and perhaps a bit of it’s about damn time — the digital version of the film offered through the Movies Anywhere service includes a score-only version of the film that puts composer John Williams’ excellent music front and center. The soundtrack version is available exclusively to Movies Anywhere accounts linked to an affiliated retailer where the film was purchased, or by redeeming the digital copy code included with the disc.

It’s a nice gesture that hopefully paves the way for music-only versions of the rest of the “Star Wars” films.

Movies Anywhere Offers Music-Only Version of ‘Last Jedi’

A score-only version of Star Wars: The Last Jedi with an audio track that isolates composer John Williams’ music is available exclusively on Movies Anywhere for a limited time to those who link a digital purchase of the film to the service.

The Lucasfilm blockbuster distributed by Walt Disney Studios debuted on digital March 13 and arrives on Blu-ray Disc and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray March 27.

Movies Anywhere March 12 added FandangoNow to its list of retail partners, which also include Amazon Video, Google Play, iTunes and Walmart-owned Vudu. The digital movie rights locker service features content from Disney, Sony Pictures, 20th Century Fox Film, Universal Pictures and Warner Bros.

A Disturbance in the Fan Force

By now, it’s no secret that the response to Star Wars: The Last Jedi has caused quite a stir. Having thoroughly enjoyed the film upon its release, as well as subsequent viewings, I was baffled by the negativity from the darkest corners of the Internet being hurled toward the film and seemingly everyone associated with making it. Having taken a closer look at the criticisms, I must say the message being sent is troubling, to say the least.

Troubling not because the film was actually bad (which it most definitely wasn’t), but because of how the disparate reactions to the film have exposed a deep split among the viewing public. The amount of vitriol, name-calling and all-around nastiness that often ensues during arguments about the film on social media and comment boards almost seems like a modern political discussion, given how much each side seems to take any disagreement personally.

Even worse, some of the highest-profile entertainment vloggers on social media in their quest for click-baity headlines seem all too willing to foster this animosity, lest they alienate one side or the other by telling them to shut up (not that there aren’t plenty of videos and articles to be found rebutting various arguments for or against the film).

From my own perspective, it seems those who would rather sling hate at the film aren’t exactly trying to engage in an honest discussion about it, proclaiming how valid their own initial subjective reactions must be as if they were a god-given objective truth, making no effort to understand the filmmakers’ intent and how it fits into the larger whole of the “Star Wars” saga, and basically ignoring any thought-out explanations as to why what they thought was wrong with the film wasn’t actually the case, responding only with repetition of their original premise and, usually, with further-escalating insults.

In finding a “Star Wars” film that challenges their expectations for the franchise, but also forces them to take a hard look at their own fanaticism, some viewers would simply prefer to find any excuse to bash the film, dismissing it as a whole over what would ultimately amount to minor quibbles in the eyes of any rational, reasonable observer.

Much of the acrimony likely stems from viewers who, rather than accept “Star Wars” as an entertainment with a vast story to be discovered, seemingly spent a large portion of their brainpower since Star Wars: The Force Awakens came out two years ago into trying to unlock every mystery of the “Star Wars” universe, and simply cannot accept that The Last Jedi not only didn’t prioritize those storyline elements in the same way, but provided answers that completely contradicted what they came up with in their heads. Rather than ruminate about what could happen based on various clues dropped into the previous films, those viewers afflicted with Jedi Derangement Syndrome became convinced that what they speculated was what should happen, and that no variation would be tolerated. (The film brilliantly provides some meta dialogue that subtly jabs at fanboys obsessing over details that really don’t matter — a fact some viewers seem to have taken personally).

Rather than rehash any specific arguments about the film, which anyone can find anywhere they want online, I’m more interested in the underlying assumptions about fandom that form the basis of much of the debate.

It should perhaps come as little surprise that a film in which one of the central motifs is an examination of hero worship should engender a debate that itself plays out like a treatise on the nature of fandom.

It’s often thrown around that while general audiences liked The Last Jedi, “the fans” did not, or are split in their reactions to it. What fascinates me about the discussion is tendency for each side to retreat to a position that anyone who disagrees with their position of the film is not a “real fan,” as if there were some universally accepted standard for determining who belongs in that group.

The haters, for example, chide some of the filmmakers, particularly director Rian Johnson, for “not understanding ‘Star Wars’” or such nonsense. As if the people making the films weren’t as much fans of the franchise as those willing to insult them, when it’s clear many of these filmmakers were as much fans of “Star Wars” as anybody growing up. Many, in fact, went into the entertainment industry because “Star Wars” inspired their creative impulses (which begs the question, if so many of these people hate the direction Lucasfilm is taking the films since being bought out by Disney, why they didn’t go into the entertainment industry and pay their dues to rise through the ranks of Hollywood so that someday they themselves could be in the position, as J.J. Abrams, Rian Johnson and Kathleen Kennedy were, to implement their own visions for what “Star Wars” should be).

So to suggest that Johnson wasn’t a fan is insulting on its face to not only him, but also any viewers who consider themselves fans, appreciate his vision and don’t mind the direction he took the franchise.

To that end, it raises a serious question of what it means to be a fan of “Star Wars” anymore in the first place. Many of the people hating on the film seem to fall into that camp that has had no trouble consistently bashing any “Star Wars” film that has come out since the original trilogy ended in 1983. So, if they haven’t liked a “Star Wars” film in 34 years, how are they still counted among the fans? These are people who even turned against George Lucas, the creator of “Star Wars,” once they decided his prequels didn’t measure up to their expectations either.

On the other hand, if someone loves the original trilogy so much, and felt the prequels and sequels don’t measure up to the spirit and story of the originals, and all they want is continuations to live up to that quality, are they reasonable to be miffed if they think other fans to be too accepting of what they perceive are substandard additions to the franchise they say they love. (Of course, I wonder if, in their zeal to form petitions to ask Disney to remake Episode VIII to be more in keeping with their interpretation of the original trilogy, and “do more justice” to the older characters, they realize that to do so would be wiping out the late Carrie Fisher’s last “Star Wars” performance, and as a result the movie they seem to want would have to rely even more on the newer elements they object to.)

To be fair, this isn’t like criticism of the prequels, where fans were pretty much in agreement as to what the problems were. With those, it was more a question of how tolerable the negative aspects were and whether they were egregious enough to ruin the movie. Now, listening to complaints about The Last Jedi, it’s almost as if the people who didn’t like it saw a completely different movie than I did. And their laundry list of complaints (repeated with a relentless, close-minded stubbornness throughout the Internet, whether anyone asked for their opinion or not) would suggest that the only acceptable interpretation of “Star Wars” going forward is the one everyone can agree on, as long as they agree with them.

Is that what fandom has become?

Now, it’s pretty evident that the complainers are a loud minority subset of the fandom, with voices amplified by the echo chambers of the Internet. Is Disney supposed to ignore the appreciation mainstream audiences had for the film, or the hardcore fans who liked the direction it went? Or is Disney supposed to cater to this loud minority (or, as Red Letter Media jokingly suggests, make a different, personalized “Star Wars” sequel for every single person who complained)?

This is where the fissure in fandom would seem to have the most impact on future films, as we’re very close to the point where each side prefers their “Star Wars” to be something mutually exclusive from the other side (in that a specific plot turn will only satisfy half the audience, while turning off the other half). The things that the haters of Last Jedi hate about it are pretty much the very things that people who love the movie love about it.

Last Jedi haters say they have no interest in Episode IX, but is that really the case? After all, if they don’t see it, they wouldn’t know if they were appeased, or if they weren’t what to complain about (not that such a thing would stop anybody from complaining anyway). And maybe fans of The Last Jedi wouldn’t mind easing back on some things to make Episode IX more palatable to the haters, but at this point, TLJ supporters might just insist Disney ignore the haters just out of principle. (Not to mention that a lot of the online criticism may stem from a coordinated effort to attack anything owned by Disney — Lucasfilm and Marvel in particular — out of spite for bad reviews for Warner’s DC Comics movies.)

Of course, the biggest downside of appeasing a small subset of the so-called fan base is the risk that making everything too familiar in the way they would want would make the franchise too stale over time, turning off the mass audiences who are at most casual fans (huge box office numbers are pretty much a balance between getting more people to see the movie once and getting more people to see it again and again because they’re huge fans of it).

This is a lesson J.J. Abrams, director of Force Awakens and the upcoming Episode IX, is rather familiar with. With his Star Trek reboot, he didn’t mind alienating the extreme hardcore fans of the spinoff shows in exchange for a template that let him re-cast the basic elements of the franchise in a more accessible way, and the result was a tremendous box office upside above and beyond what the previous few films had done. Then, when his sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness, tried to appease the hardcore fans by rehashing familiar elements, it backfired.

(Ironically enough, Abrams streamlined Star Trek for mass audiences by basically overlaying the story of the original Star Wars on top of it, which he would also do with Force Awakens.)

What’s especially interesting is how this fan rift parallels difficulties marketing “Star Wars” in China, where the franchise has never caught on the way it has in America and Europe. According to an article in Forbes, Chinese audiences tend to prefer relatively unsophisticated fare that doesn’t require much investment in ongoing storylines, the way “Star Wars” does. So the franchises that do well tend to be action-oriented, like “Fast & Furious,” where a coherent story isn’t at the forefront of the filmmakers’ minds.

Forbes also suggested Chinese audiences prefer bright, flashy colors and spectacle over films such as “Star Wars” with meaningful ideas and emotional stakes.

Let’s also not be too surprised that a franchise that is fundamentally about the pursuit of individual freedom over collective tyranny might not appeal to a population inundated with Communist philosophies. (Good job, Last Jedi haters, on this one you managed to be on the same side as China — where the all-time top movie is Wolf Warrior 2, which is about the equivalent of American audiences elevating cheesy action movies like Rambo or Delta Force to the box office heights of, well, the original “Star Wars.”)

What it speaks to, though, is a larger problem Hollywood has in appealing to China as a last resort for growing international box office profits. It was all fine for a while as China simply responded to increased access to Western movies. Then, when studios started pandering to China with curious casting and story elements, American audiences began to take notice, and the filmmaking suffered. Transformers: Age of Extinction, for example, basically turned its final battle into propaganda for the Chinese government, which for many stateside viewers was the last straw in an already problematic franchise — and the next film took a huge hit at the box office. (If “Transformers” movies are going to be propaganda, it better be for the U.S. military, dammit.)

There’s also the question of whether such pandering even works in China. Certainly, adding Asian elements to the past few “Star Wars” films has done little to increase their appeal in the Middle Kingdom.

And so it goes. Appeal to one country, lose another one that might have more money. Appeal to one group of fans, lose another. Make it too niche, lose wider audiences. Make it too familiar so some viewers complain, or worry about viewers tuning it out for becoming stale.

Are these the new metrics Hollywood must deal with? Is box office potential closing in on a kind of peak efficiency, where structural problems in marketability and regional appeal will topple the lofty expectations of the modern mega-blockbuster? Is it even still reasonable to believe that a movie can draw similar revenue from different types of crowds who simply don’t think alike anymore?

Or maybe it’s just the latest version of the same types of problems Hollywood has always dealt with in reaching an audience. Thanks to social media, at least, we have a keener understanding of Hollywood’s relationship with its audience, beyond just pure box office results.

As frustrating as it can be to deal with the diversity of opinions available, it’s also fascinating to watch the dynamics unfold, yielding new lessons for both the studios in understanding who they’re making the movies for, and for members of the audience in coming to terms that not everything is made for them.

Of course, lessons like this are only as effective as the willingness to listen of those who would benefit most by them. After all, the Internet allows almost anyone to express their voice, regardless of relevancy or accuracy. We just have to learn to filter out the noise.