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Set-Top DVD Recording: Not Your Father’s Fair Use Doctrine

Yay! It’s pouring rain here in Florida for the first time in six months! Now perhaps we can finally stop smoldering, inhaling noxious smoke and — dare I say it — go back to washing our cars in our driveways without getting two-hundred dollar tickets. But that’s not the subject of today’s post. No; today’s post is about the struggle that ensued between man and machine (more like man and despotic racketeering lobby) in my living room yesterday evening.

Having given away or trashed all but one videocassette recorder (my coveted JVC HR-S5300U S-VHS deck), Apple and I recently decided that it was time for us to step into the world of set-top DVD recorders. Our TiVo’s ginormous hard drive is always chock full of movies, shows and suggested content that we occasionally find good enough to archive for future viewing, plus I wanted to give Apple a way to watch her downloaded Japanese and Korean AVI files without transcoding them to DVD video. So, I decided to pick out a DVD recorder that could do both: Permanently archive our TiVo recordings, and natively play DivX/XviD encoded AVI files burned onto a standard data disc.

This turned out to be a bigger challenge than I had anticipated — at least, on the budget I wanted to work with. While many DVD recorders can be found for $100 or even less these days, short of spending several hundred dollars more, there’s not much available with the aforementioned features. After a few hours of research, I narrowed it down to an Insignia unit (an LG rebrand sold exclusively at Best Buy) that would do everything I needed, all for $115. Seeing the local store had the unit in stock, I went to pick one up.

After spending a few minutes wandering around and looking for the thing, I found only a newer Insignia model, one that managed to cost $15 less but no longer supported DivX/XviD. Way to improve the product there, muchachos. After some more digging, I found the model I wanted — but it was an open-box item. Eeew. My last (and only) experience with open-box or refurb’ed electronic products was my Playstation 1 back in ’97. I traded in my entire life’s collection of classic videogame consoles for that thing, only to have it fry itself when I hooked up a second gamepad so a friend could play a round of Need For Speed III: Hot Pursuit with me.

Not wanting to give up that easily, I recalled a recent post by Pooch in which he managed to find the product he wanted at Best Buy only after asking a clerk to check the store’s inventory. So I asked a nearby sales guy if the store had any unopened units of the model I wanted. They didn’t. Neither did any other store in the area. Worse, the unit was discontinued and no more would be coming. It looked like it was either open-box or no box for me.

But then the salesman offered me a killer deal — $49, instead of the $115 retail price for the unit (which had already been discounted $20 or so). He also opened up the box and let me inspect the contents for unusual wear or damage, of which there was neither. So, since I could still return it within 30 days in case of trouble, I bought it. At least that’s better than the $129ish I spent on that ill-fated Playstation. I picked up an S-video cable to go with it and headed home.

That evening, I hooked up the DVD recorder. Everything seemed to be fine. The unit had apparently been set up once before, because the on-screen menu system had been switched to Spanish, and the geographic region code had been set to Mexico. (Mexico? WTF?) I reverted it all back to its Anglo-Saxon defaults and finished configuring the other settings. All righty! Ready to go! Next, I got a blank DVD+R disc (Verbatim, of course — only the best media here), popped it in and initialized it.

Now, what do we have on the TiVo that I could save down to disc? Well, there’s that airing of Howard The Duck from the Encore channel that I recorded last month, and have been saving on “Keep Until I Delete” mode just for this very occasion. Yes, I’m a freak — one of the few people who actually enjoyed (okay, more like loved) Howard The Duck back in 1986. I suppose that’s partially because I was six years old then. But it’s still a taste of campy fun even today, and since this much-ridiculed film was never released on DVD (George Lucas is probably too embarrassed by it), I decided I’d make my own copy. I activated TiVo’s “Save to VCR” feature and pressed the record button on my new box.

BZZZT! Sorry, no can do. The DVD recorder popped up with a message: “Copyrighted content. Cannot record.”

I was floored by this. Sure, I’d heard about this copyright protection — called CPRM — that can be transmitted secretly within the NTSC video format. Just about every set-top DVD recorder sold in North America conforms to this standard. But I had believed it to be something that only kicked in if you attempted to record from a premium channel, like HBO, or a pay-per-view broadcast. Cruddy old movies, I figured, wouldn’t be affected. Apparently I was wrong. Even the critically-panned, twenty-year old, mega flop Howard The Duck is protected from unauthorized dubbing.

Disgusted, and with my newly-christened DVD disc already spoiled, I decided to devote the rest of it to a test. I would see which programs on my TiVo’s hard drive could be recorded freely, and which could not. Here are the results of that experiment:

Unprotected (Freely Recordable)

  • Street Fighter: The Movie (okay, no surprise there) from the Encore Action channel.
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit, recorded from the Encore channel.
  • The I Inside, recorded from the Encore Mystery channel.
  • Acacia, a Korean film recorded from the Sundance channel.
  • Grosse Pointe Blank, a TiVo suggestion recorded from TNT.
  • The last two episodes of Battlestar Galactica season 3.5, aired this past March.
  • An episode of Star Trek: Voyager from Spike.
  • An episode of Star Trek TOS: Remastered from the local (former) UPN affiliate.
  • An episode of the Oprah Winfrey show.
  • A five-minute cooking special called The Minimalist, digitally delivered to us by TiVo.

Protected (Not Recordable)

  • Howard The Duck, master-flop of the ’80s, bane of George Lucas’ existence.
  • Donnie Darko, being recorded at that moment from the FLIX channel.
  • Judge Dredd, recorded from the Encore channel. (I was on a shitty movie kick, okay?)
  • The Exorcism of Emily Rose, a suggestion from the Encore Drama channel.
  • That evening’s first-run episode of 24. [!]
  • Sunday night’s first-run episode of Desperate Housewives. [!!]

The irony? The Minimalist, that short cooking show I successfully recorded, is considered by the TiVo to be protected content that cannot be copied to a computer with their own TiVo Desktop software!

In the end, I was disturbed most by Fox and ABC’s decision to copy-protect popular, primetime shows like 24 and Housewives, shows that people watch religiously and would most likely want to record if they weren’t going to be at home. Since the set-top DVD recorder is billed as the replacement for the VCR, those without a TiVo or other DVR would most likely turn to their DVD recorder. But it looks like you’re shit outta luck if you aren’t going to be home when your favorite show’s on — you’ll have to watch live, or not at all!

The whole CPRM concept really just disgusts me. The way it works is, a secret digital message is sent along with a video stream — and yes, it even works through purely analog connections, like the old composite RCA. The secret message can be “Copy once,” “Copy always,” “Copy never” or “Copy already made.” This tells a CPRM-compliant device (like my Insignia DVD recorder) what it can and cannot do with the video that’s being passed to it.

Unlike the old VHS days, when you could record anything you could feed it (except a commercial VHS tape, whose Macrovision protection would produce a deliberately dark and unwatchable picture), it seems that now our “fair use” rights are being eroded through the introduction of this brand spanking new digital technology. Since the MPAA and other jerkoff organizations like them are getting upset because people are pirating content, not buying DVDs and not watching ads during live TV broadcasts anymore, and because they’ve not yet succeeded in getting the Fair Use Doctrine revoked, they’ve found their winning strategy of choice: Just make it so damn inconvenient for us to exercise our Fair Use rights that you have to be very determined (and in some cases, very rich) to actually do it.

What do I mean by rich? Here’s what. There is, of course, a solution to this CPRM protection. The solution comes in the form of a device that you pass your video signal through, on its way to your DVD recorder. This device either strips out the CPRM signal altogether, or it modifies it, replacing it instead with the message you choose. Through the latter method, you could intercept a video broadcast whose CPRM mode was set to “Copy never,” and change that message to “Copy always.” In other words, your DVD recorder would think it was allowed to record as many copies of that content as you wanted. But of course, these devices cost money.

The best such device out there, as far as I’m concerned, is the Zorrilla Video Filter. It’s a small, home-brew device that does exactly what I just described, and supports composite, component and S-video connections delivering either SD or HD signals. The only problem with this box is that it costs $169. That’s almost three and a half times more money than I spent on my DVD recorder itself. It could be argued that you’d be better off spending that money to buy legitimate DVD copies of the movies or shows you’d otherwise be recording off your TV. Yeah, but recording a copy of broadcast video for your own enjoyment is something the United States government ruled was already legal — something you could do with your VHS or Betamax VCR.

But times have apparently changed, and of course, the MPAA and their ilk have lost a lot of money and good will to their backward ways and pigheaded tactics. So now we have to deal with CPRM. And if you think this is the end, it’s not — it’s only the beginning. One of the reasons why there are so many critics of Microsoft’s new Windows Vista is because it relies so heavily on DRM — or Digital Rights Management, the computer world’s rough equivalent to CPRM. Soon, even the cables you use to connect your monitor to your PC, or your TV to your DVD player, will have to be “compliant” with anti-piracy standards — or your analog picture will be degraded to the point of worthlessness. They call this compliance “HDCP,” or High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection.

Yep, it’s a brave new digital world out there. And when I say “brave,” I mean “fascist.”

But I shouldn’t complain so — at least there are options out there. In fact, I’m already thinking of spending some of my upcoming project money on a Video Filter box. Because after all this, there’s still no way to buy a new copy of Howard The Duck on DVD — so I don’t feel sorry a’tall.

19 thoughts to “Set-Top DVD Recording: Not Your Father’s Fair Use Doctrine”

  1. How is Acacia? A good chunk of my Tartan Asia Extreme Discs (and I’ve got like eight of ’em) have the trailer for that film, but I’ve never actually seen it anywhere to rent or buy, and I don’t get the Sundance channel (however, I do get Encore and its family of channels, and actually watched Street Fighter one day…eugghhh — although it was amusing to see Ming-Na in a role that wasn’t whoever she played on ER).

    As for the rest of your post, I agree that it’s sad that you can’t even record a movie such as Howard the Duck for your own amusement – I believe the bootleggers out there always find ways around such draconian measures, and in the end the regular person is the one who gets screwed the most (note: I’m not saying I think bootlegs are okay; but in a case like Howard the Duck — where you can’t even buy the damn thing on DVD — what good does preventing recording do?).

    I was actually having a discussion along these lines with my mother the other day — it’s a gray area, at the very least, especially where fair use is concerned. Do I condone the people out there downloading terabytes of music and movies without compensating anyone, and then sharing them with the rest of the world free of charge? No. On the other hand, I don’t think you should get locked up for making a copy of a CD for your friend, or making a mixtape/mix CD. One of the problems, and I’ve seen this written and discussed about elsewhere, is that the MPAA and whoever are trying to continue to use their old business models and apply them to digital media, and the two don’t exactly mesh.

    And don’t get me started on copy-protected CDs and the like (like, y’know, the Sony ones that installed rootkits on your computer).

    What’s the answer? I dunno. But I don’t think assuming all of your customers are potential criminals is a good way to go about things.

  2. I haven’t watched Acacia yet, actually — it just aired a couple days ago, although Apple started watching a few minutes of it and said it looked interesting. We just got done watching the live-action Death Note and Death Note 2, which were excellent, so we’ll probably take a look at Acacia pretty soon.

    Other recent Asian cinema airings by the Sundance channel include the Japanese Pray (Purei), which I thought was great, and the Korean Memento Mori (Whispering Corridors 2), which didn’t pull me in whatsoever. The latter may be because I never saw the first film, but there was something about the style of the sequel which turned me off.

    My take on copy-protection and media rights enforcement is that when it starts severely inconveniencing (or even damaging) the legitimate buyer/user, it’s gone too far. Sony’s rootkitted / drive-damaging protected audio CDs are one of the worst examples, and Sony themselves are responsible for the industry’s worst ideas in media rights management, bar-none.

    And in the case of Howard The Duck, I’d be perfectly happy to pop on down to Great Buy and pick up a brand spankin’ new DVD copy, except that said product doesn’t exist. Yet I’m still restricted from recording the movie off the TV. What are they afraid I’m going to do — remanufacture and sell thousands of copies of Howard and deprive George Lucas of a new revenue stream? Pssh. If Lucasfilm thought there was any money in releasing Howard on DVD I’m sure they’d have already done it.

    As you said, the professionals always find a way around this stuff — the best bet for groups like the MPAA would be to make it as easy as possible for consumers to acquire legal copies of media, and do so through more than just delivery of physical media. And in terms of digital files, DRM protection schemes that tamper with, interact poorly with or otherwise fuck up somebody’s computer are going to lose you more business than they will save. Steve Jobs has figured out that DRM just doesn’t work, and encouragingly, even some major music companies like EMI are starting to get it too.

    People, by and large, don’t have any respect for the enforcement techniques of the major copyright holders because they treat a kid trading CDs with a buddy on the same order of magnitude as a guy duplicating DVDs for resale in his basement. The easiest target to sue is the one who gets sued, and usually that’s the person who’s making a copy of a CD to give to a friend or trying to record a movie off the TV so they can take a DVD with them and watch it while they’re on vacation.

    Of course, I’m no saint — I’ve got some things here that I’ve downloaded which I really should not have, mostly sound effects — but as sound effects libraries are assembled by studios for licensed use in media projects (film, TV, radio, et al) and I’m using them only for personal enjoyment, I have a hard time feeling much remorse.

  3. Pray is the one with the two kidnappers and the girl, and they take her to the abandoned (?) school and hijinks ensue, correct? I rented that one a while back and wasn’t overly impressed. There were definitely some creepy moments (which isn’t hard with a spooky ghost girl and a creepy abandoned school), but the ending really fell flat for me.

    I actually own the first Whispering Corridors on DVD, and have seen both Momento Mori and Wishing Stairs, the first and seconds sequels to the aforementioned Whispering Corridors. The movies aren’t interconnected at all, only that they share a similar format — creepy ghost girls in all-girl schools, so you’re not missing any crucial story by not having seen the first one. The first one (that I own) is actually pretty good; the second one was garbage and not creepy in the slightest, and the third one is somewhere in-between (actually, the second and third ones play more like teenage love stories than horror films for the most part). I’ve also seen Bunshinsaba (“Witch Board”), which is a bit of a “spiritual sequel” to Whispering Corridors, and it isn’t too bad. Perhaps amusingly, a few of the aforementioned movies — and two or three other Korean horror flicks I own — all feature the same two or three women to some extent.

    Actually, it’s getting to the point where I’m starting to recognize a lot of the actors in the Japanese and Korean movies I see. For example, I picked up Train_Man (a geeky chick-flick sort of movie) on DVD, and I recognized one of the female actors in the movie — turns out she played one of the nurses in Infection. Plus said movie also stars Miki Nakatani, who played Mai Takano in the Ringu films.

    I find it funny that Sony is at the forefront of horrible, ill-conceived copy protection schemes in America (and that their stuff that physically damages their customers’ property is going way too far), while in Japan their CDs are (as far as I know) free of such crap. Actually, they tried copy protection on a handful of their CDs (two of which were by Puffy), then they stopped (again, as far as I know, as no other Japanese Sony CDs I own have copy protection). In fact, the two Puffy CDs that were initially released with copy-protection went quickly out of print, then were re-released in normal CD format a few years later. It doesn’t excuse Sony at all in any way, I just think it’s amusing that their American arm is apparently far more concerned with kooky-copy-protection schemes than the home office.

    I definitely agree with your argument about Howard the Duck and a single user’s rights with such content. Like I said, presuming your customers are going to commit all sorts of illicit criminal acts before you’ve even sold them anything isn’t a very good business model. The music industry survived blank cassette tapes, and they’ll probably survive the digital age (though not necessarily in the same state that it began). Did they ever think that over-priced media and potential customers being force-fed lousy music and movies might be the cause for the current sales slump, and not because some dude burned a copy of In the Court of the Crimson King for his best friend?

  4. In the Court of the Crimson King — now that brings back memories!

    That’s funny to hear of the dichotomy of Sony’s media protection efforts on opposite sides of the globe. I think the North American arm of Sony operations has done the most damage to the brand in recent years, being mostly motivated by politics if I were to hazard a guess. Whereas the Japanese arm may have tried DRM, saw the backlash and said, “Well, I guess that didn’t work,” the American arm seems to have said to their legal department, “Get that lawsuit settled while we move on to the next protection scheme!”

    Heh, so Wishing Stairs is part of the Whispering Corridors series? I mean, “series” is being a bit generous in a sense, since as you said, the stories aren’t really related other than general subject matter. Apple and I saw Wishing Stairs and thought it wasn’t too bad, certainly better than Memento Mori by a wide margin, in retrospect. With all that said, I’d like to see Whispering Corridors now for comparison’s sake. The plot summary makes it sound intriguing.

    Yeah, Pray is the movie you’re remembering. With the abandoned school, and the creepy little girl, blah blah. You’re precisely right about the ending, definite low point — actually, the whole “reveal” behind the hauntings was really flimsy, but I got hooked by the great atmosphere during the first two-thirds. I guess I’m a sucker for abandoned buildings and urban exploration, which is probably also why I love Session 9 absolutely to death despite it being widely regarded as a merely mediocre horror film.

    Apple recently read an article in an Asian media blog about how the reproduction rights to vast numbers of Asian horror films are getting snapped up by Hollywood producers. Looks like we’ll have more Ringu/The Ring and Ju-on/The Grudge asshattery coming to a theater near you. (I saw part of the Americanized The Grudge on TNT-HD not long ago and felt all weirded out, like it was the same movie but Steve Susco stuck Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the title role and thought no one would notice. Hee!) At first I got all excited, because I thought she meant that the rights to screen the original films were getting picked up, but apparently I was a little too optimistic on that one. 🙂

  5. I have a ton of Asian movies I can show you when you’re up here in October. Heck, we could spend your entire time up here watching movies. =P Plus I’ve got my ten or eleven Puffy DVDs, and you’ve gotta see one or two of those. 🙂

    Yeah, the Sony thing is weird. I guess there’s not a whole lot of intercommunication going on between the various arms; if there is, then I guess they don’t listen to each other. All of Puffy’s CDs are released by Sony (on various labels, but all Sony-owned), and I’ve got six or seven other Sony-manufactured CDs from Japan, and only the aforementioned two Puffy discs have any sort of copy protection (which, of course, is easily bypassed if you have a recording device with an “Audio In” port).

    Yep, Whispering Corridors, Momento Mori and Wishing Stairs are all part of the same series. According to the IMDB there’s a fourth installment, too, but I don’t think that’s been released over here (not counting Bunshinsaba, which isn’t officially part of the series, but does star the woman who played the main student in Whispering Corridors). Like I said, I’ve got Whispering Corridors on DVD, so if you don’t see it before October, I can show it to you. It definitely focuses on the supernatural aspects of things more than “high school girls in love” like the sequels do (in fact, that’s not even really a plot point in the first movie).

    Ah, so I was correct about Pray. I saw it probably last year sometime, so I’ve forgotten a whole bunch of the particulars, so maybe it’s better than I remember (except for the ending, which I know blew chunks). And if you like abandoned buildings and what not, I’ll have to show you One Missed Call — a good portion of the final act takes place in a dark, rusty, abandoned hospital, with the main characters being stalked by a rotting zombie woman. 🙂

    I’ve seen most of The Grudge (which, like Train_Man, features one of the actresses who played one of the nurses in Infection), and I agree it’s pretty much Ju-on, but with Buffy and Bill Pullman. Actually, I was disappointed that they made Kayako (the ghost mother) Bill Pullman’s creepy stalker in the U.S. version, since that makes her less sympathetic in my eyes, and the sympathy you feel for her in the original version is one of the better parts of the story (to me, anyway). Of course, that was all shot out the window in Ju-on 2, so I guess it doesn’t really matter.

    Anyhow, I think I’ll avoid the American remakes and stick to the original Asian versions when I can. 🙂 At least we’re getting more such DVDs in our market now; I’ve been buying quite a few Asian DVDs from Borders the past few months, and I’m not complaining (I also ordered Neighbor No. 13 — starring Puffy’s own Yumi Yoshimura — from Borders and should be picking that up this weekend).

  6. Oh yeah, I’m sure we’ll be watching lots of movies up there! I believe both Apple and I will be glad to assail you of your Asian horror movie collection. Since we cancelled Netflix, our only outlet has been the Sundance channel, short of going and buying DVDs of course — which gets expensive if you start trying to diversify your collection. Our local rental stores haven’t seemed to care much for Asian horror, but I should be fair — it’s been years since I walked into one. 🙂

    Wow, I really must see One Missed Call, then — put that at the top of the list, ha! Of course, true to my last post, get ready for the American remake — coming next January!

    Reading the synopsis, I was reminded of a Korean horror flick I saw not too long ago called Phone. In it, a woman gets a new cell phone and inherits the number that formerly belonged to a victim of violent death, and it leads to some really weird shit, yada yada…kinda fuzzy in my memory now, but I remember liking it. The funniest part about it, though, was that the production company for the film credited itself as “Toilet Pictures.” (Oh great, my Google keyphrases are going to hell now.)

    Mmmm, I think I’ll go check the Sundance listings right now.

  7. Heh, I own Phone on DVD — another Tartan Asia Extreme Disc. 🙂 Actually, most of my Tartan Asia discs are Korean movies.

    I don’t have a TON of stuff, but I think I’m off to a good start. I’ve recently begun to diversify my collection, too, so it’s not all horror — the most recent film I picked up is called Linda Linda Linda, about a group of high school girls who form a band to play some songs at their school festival. It stars Bae Doona, who played the Sadako character in the Korean version of Ringu (called The Ring Virus — yes, which I’ve seen) and also the crazy revolutionary girlfriend of the main character in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (which I also have on DVD).

    Anyhow, it took a couple of watchings to really get into Linda Linda Linda, but it was worth it. It wasn’t as immediately accessible as, say, Kamikaze Girls, but it’s still pretty good. I’ve got some other stuff as well, so hopefully we’ll find something to intrigue you.

    I’ll definitely show you One Missed Call (but not the sequel, which is pretty bad and pretty much destroys the established storyline of the first film) — I got it and its sequel in a two-disc set when I also purchased Shutter at Great Buy.

  8. Heh, just posted and saw you replied again. 🙂

    Yep, I’ve seen Koma — it’s pretty good. The lead actress in that one also starred in The Eye, which was really good (its sequel, though, not so much).

    Anyhow, yeah, give Koma a chance.

  9. Linda Linda Linda has some great reviews. Sounds like a good film, admittedly the opposite of the horror genre, but everything has its place. If I’ll watch (and thoroughly enjoy) anime like Chobits and Ai Yori Aoshi, I’m sure I could get into this.

    So you’ve seen Koma? Sweet, I just programmed it to record. The following week they’re airing Marebito, so I set that one to record too for the hell of it.

    Speaking of movies — although definitely not Asian ones — today Universal HD aired The Andromeda Strain in glorious high def. Holy shit, it’s awesome. Geek paradise.

  10. Eh, I wasn’t too impressed with Marebito. It’s directed by Takashi Shimizu, the dude who directed Ju-on. I dunno, it didn’t really resonate with me, perhaps because it’s a bit too bleak and dark — I won’t spoil it for you, but the main character is a real douchebag (especially when you find out who the naked girl he finds underground and feeds blood to really is). I usually like my characters to have at least some redeeming qualities, even if they’re a stupid dirtbag, but that’s not the case with that movie.

    It really seems to me that Shimizu is real hit-and-miss as a director. I love Ju-on, but could take or leave Ju-on 2 (which he also directed, I think). I hate Marebito. And I recently saw Reincarnation — another film of his — and it was “meh” (actually, for that one I have some problems with some of the storyline and how it pertains to reincarnation and karma, but I won’t go into that here, as you haven’t seen the film), but not horrible.

    Koma, on the other hand, wasn’t too bad. It’s all about kidney theft and being left in a bathtub of ice!

    I’ll have to show you Linda Linda Linda when you come up here, then. Interestingly, the four actresses in the band in the movie actually released a CD under their fictional band’s name in Japan in China (“Paran Maum” is Korean for “Blue Hearts,” as the band in the movie plays songs by the Japanese punk band The Blue Hearts). They actually don’t sound too bad in the movie (I’m not sure, but it appears that they actually play their instruments and stuff — if they don’t, they’re really good at miming), so it might be worth checking out one of these years.

    You know, I’ve never ever seen The Andromeda Strain. I might have the novel lying around here somewhere, but I’ve never read that either.

  11. Whoops – I mean Paran Maum released that CD in Japan and Korea, not “in Japan in China.” That’s what I get for posting at 6:30 in the morning.

    I also find it amusing that this discussion has veered away from “RARGH! COPY PROTECTION BAD!” to a discussion of Asian movies.

  12. And with that, this has just become the most commented post on the site! Woo!

    Hehe, why did I get the impression from the synopsis that Marebito might not be that great? It mentioned a photographer “obsessed with fear,” which suggested a creepy weirdo. I agree; I much prefer my central characters to have some redeeming quality, so that one might be a turnoff. I’ll let it record anyway and see.

    That “obsessed with fear” bit reminded me (in an unpleasant way) of the extremely disturbing Crash, which I first saw in — of all places — a hotel room in Thailand where it was being shown on HBO. (They also were airing an episode of ER dubbed in Thai, which got me laughing because they managed to find a Thai guy who sounded exactly like George Clooney.)

    You should definitely see The Andromeda Strain. Hell, forget the movie and just read the book — it’s awesome. I finished the whole thing in one sitting back in the ’90s because I could not put it down. I’d seen the movie first and loved it — the set design is the most amazing bit of institutional-futurism I’ve ever seen — but the book was even better, which I hadn’t thought possible. Give it a read sometime.

    As for the movie, it’s a Robert Wise production that pioneered a lot of things in moviemaking, including synthesized soundtracks and technology for displaying high-resolution computer graphics on film (that had to be literally invented for this production). It’s obviously dated by today’s standards, but still really cool in a surreal and weird way. The recent Universal re-release of the film on DVD looks masterfully cleaned up, and even includes the 30-minute “making of” documentary (recorded back when the movie was made, for extra coolness) which was a great insight. The DVD was only $9.99 when I bought it locally.

    Hehe…but yeah, funny how we got off the copy-protection discussion and onto movies themselves. I guess that the media rights topic inevitably ends up with “It sucks, whaddya gonna do” so we might as well talk about more interesting stuff… 🙂

  13. Let’s keep it going, then!

    Yeah, definitely watch Marebito and make your own judgment — you shouldn’t be turned off to a movie just because I didn’t like it (though I’ll often give Reaper brief reviews of stuff I’ve seen when he looks at them at Borders – that’s a bit different, though, because those things are $25-$30 apiece). To me, though, there’s nothing really appealing about the movie at all. I suppose that could be what the director wants, but if I’m going to be totally depressed by a movie, I’d like at least some entertainment out of it.

    That Crash movie definitely sounds odd — probably not my cup of tea. I’ve seen plenty of disturbing stuff amongst all the Asian cinema I’ve seen over the past couple of years, though, so crazy/wacky/odd movies are universal. 🙂

    For some reason, the image of a Thai dude who sounds exactly like Clooney makes me giggle.

    I’ll have to see if I can dig out my copy of The Andromeda Strain – I cleared all my books off my bookshelf to make room for CDs and video games a few years ago, and I’m not sure where I put all my old books (mostly stuff from Troll Book Club in grade school – ah, memories!). But if I find it, I’ll give it a read (that is, if I indeed have it — I know I’ve got the novels of Congo and Jurassic Park, but I’m not 100% sure about The Andromeda Strain).

  14. Thanks. I have an idea where I dumped all those books – I’ve got a half-dozen plastic storage boxes in the basement filled with videotapes and all sorts of crap, so I’ll check them out first.

    I agree that being turned on by car crashes is a bit weird, but if there’s anything that the INTARWEB has taught me, it’s that anything can be turned into a fetish. So I’m really not surprised.

    Let me know what you think of Marebito, in any case. It’d be interesting to compare notes, as it were, on our thoughts. Though it’s been quite a while since I’ve seen it, I still recall most of the major plot points.

    Yes, that Street Fighter movie is awful. I forced myself to watch the whole thing out of morbid curiosity — not only is Van Damme in it, but Kylie Minogue (!) as Cammy, and Gomez Addams/Mr. Overdrawn at the Memory Bank himself, Raul Julia (!!) as M. Bison (honestly, during the Bison/Guile fight scenes I kept rooting for Raul Julia). Not to mention the completely wrong (read: short, reddish-brown haired) actor they got to play Ken. I think, however, that if Van Damme wasn’t hogging up so much screen time it would have been better. Not good, mind you, but better. The whole plot was ludicrous, too, but that’s a given.

    There’s so much else wrong with the film, though, not the least of which is the fact the movie keeps trying to pass Van Damme off as an American soldier, despite his thick accent that renders much of his speech incomprehensible. Honestly, if they’d focused more on Chun-Li (yes, I used to have a bit of a crush on Ming-Na too) it would have been at least tolerable.

    As for the new Street Fighter film…meh. It’ll probably be better than Van Damme’s trainwreck, but that’s not a very difficult goal to achieve.

  15. If you have trouble finding the book, let me know — I have the whole thing in a PDF. Yes, I’m insane.

    Yeah, Crash was way odd — mostly it had me going “WTF?” the whole time, and I have no great desire to see it again. The sexual angle was what weirded the whole thing out for me. I could see being obsessed with car accidents, but being turned on by them? I’ll pass.

    I’ll still check out Marebito, although I typically don’t care much for movies that are deliberately and eternally depressing. Obviously though, I trust your judgment on this kind of stuff, but different tastes can always enter the picture. I see what you’re saying about the mini-reviews you’ll give Reaper prior to him buying a disc, though — at that price point, it’s helpful to have some input!

    Yeah, I was laughing at that Clooney sound-alike in Thailand. The guy dubbing Anthony Edwards’ voice was completely wrong, though, so it was extra funny watching those two guys play off each other in one scene. It was like Clooney was reading his lines with a dialog stand-in during rehearsal.

    So last night, as I was deleting it off the TiVo, I took a look at Street Fighter. God, how could that movie have been so frickin’ terrible? Oh, who am I kidding — Van Damme was in it. I had always assumed that film was a realistic, live-action reimagining that took itself too seriously, like so many other videogame movies. But I was surprised by just how deliberately campy it was. I mean, it was so damn silly, there’s no way these actors weren’t fully aware of the cheese it was steeped with. Is there?

    In a goofy anectode, Ming-Na was the first celebrity I ever had a crush on (albeit a short-lived one), and it was precisely because of this film, which I never even saw. Just the TV ads alone — with her in that dime-store costume shop cheongsam — had my attention.

    Ironically, I hear there’s a new Street Fighter film planned for release in 2008, to mark the game franchise’s 20th anniversary. Supposedly the new film will center around Chun-Li. (Where’s Jim-bo when you need him?)

  16. Hehe, I had little exclamation points appearing over my head too at those exact same moments while reviewing Street Fighter. In fact, Apple came over during the “boardroom” scene early on, while Cammy is explaining something, and goes, “That’s Kylie Minogue!” Hahaha…and then suddenly some guy jumped on the table and a fight broke out, absolutely for no reason at all.

    I agree that they completely miscast Ken. He was like Wash from Firefly, a goofy corporate-type dude who’d look more at home in E. Honda’s Hawaiian shirt than a Gi. Speaking of Honda, that guy was more Polynesian than anything — and completely rewritten as a character. It was so damn funny.

    But yes, Van Damme’s thick accent made the whole “American hero” thing seem really out of place. And the fool had to be in every possible scene, even if he wasn’t doing anything. At the end I was thinking, “What? No Sonic Boom? Hosers!” They camped out on everything else, might as well have given Van Damme the ability to throw swirling energy bolts. They used Guile’s Flash Kick, I noticed, but without the Flash. Oh well.

    I just wonder who they’d cast as Chun-Li in the next movie. Hollywood seems to be on a Devon Aoki kick lately which would just not be right. Speaking of which, I saw a bit of the D.O.A. movie (a poor-quality cam, actually) in Thailand and it was hideous — actually, it and Street Fighter would get along famously. Seriously, they looked like the same movie.

  17. God, E. Honda and Balrog had no business being in that movie. For that matter, neither did T. Hawk (though admittedly he’s barely there at all), Blanka, Cammy, and a host of others.

    And that’s really one of the problems with trying to make a video game movie — there are so many characters. If you don’t use all the characters, the game’s fanbase gets pissed off. But with so many characters, you’re left with a lot of dead weight. Street Fighter’s problems went far beyond that, but trying to cram all those characters in didn’t help (and the final shot — with all of the actors doing their characters’ victory poses — was especially cringe-inducing).

    But yeah, Van Damme was so awful. Every scene, always hamming it up, portraying a stereotypical “I’m always right!” superhero. In other words, playing the same character as in every single one of his movies, except in this one he wears fatigues and a silly blue beret. Whee!

    I’m morbidly curious to see the D.O.A. movie, because I’ve heard nothing but crap dumped on it. It’s funny about Devon Aoki, though — it seems that whenever a movie needs any sort of foreign female character, they get her, whether they need Asian, European, or what not. She’s like Interchangeable-Foreign-Girl or something.

    I agree that she’d make a pretty hideous Chun-Li, though. Just like I’m pretty sure she made a pretty hideous Kasumi.

  18. Hehehehe, yeah, Honda and Balrog were total throwaways. The filmmakers attempted to give those guys something to do at the end when they beat up on the Shadaloo henchmen, but Balrog was clearly just whiffing, and had nowhere near enough muscle on him. Honda was just a joke — he looked like he should be selling ukuleles out of a straw hut in some tourist trap somewhere.

    On review, I think you’re right that “character overload” really drove the thing into the ground. There were just too many people in it, such that no character development whatsoever was possible. And jeez, the silly blue wife beaters and berets…the costumes all looked like they came from the cheapest Halloween shop in town!

    “Shadaloo City” was obviously supposed to be in Thailand, because they kept highlighting that country on the map, and because of all the pseudo-Thai roman characters on everything. I think that part was actually true to the game, because as I recall M. Bison and Sagat fought on Thai stages. Speaking of “game,” the part where Bison was trying to blow up Guile’s boat with a panel of arcade game buttons had me rolling.

    My sister in law actually let me borrow her a DVD copy of D.O.A. for me to copy if I wanted to, but I ended up not copying it because the quality was really bad (somebody shot it with a camcorder in a room with bad acoustics). Otherwise I probably would have watched it, out of that same morbid curiosity. But yeah, I was pretty disappointed when I heard they cast Devon Aoki as Kasumi. Besides her annoying me for some reason, her acting credits don’t exactly inspire. (2 Fast 2 FuriousD.E.B.S.…yeeeeeah.)

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