Friday, September 02, 2005

And Lastly but never LEASTLY, A few STAR WARS items


This lengthy miniature depicts the final stretch of tunnel inside the second Death Star's structure.


Wal-Mart Exclusive Early Bird STAR WARS Figure Pack

As our collector fans know, Wal-Mart offered an exclusive product to capture the nostalgia of the first STAR WARS figures ever made.

A near-exact replica of Kenner’s 1977 “Empty Box” has been sold exclusively at Wal-Mart. Inside is a Redemption Certificate good for updated versions of the first four original Star Wars action figures from 1977.

If you have already sent in your completed Redemption Certificate, the figure packs are due to ship from the redemption fulfillment center early November.

If you haven’t sent your certificate in, there’s still time!

Completed certificates can be postmarked up to November 30, 2005.

Don’t miss out on this exciting opportunity to relive the excitement of the first STAR WARS figures ever made!

There is still a limited quantity left at

Early Bird Figures include:
* Luke Skywalker with a telescoping lightsaber
* Princess Leia with her special “star puffs” hairdo, and laser pistol, just like the one she used in the original movie
* R2-D2 with rotatable head
* Chewbacca with his special laser rifle and ammunition belt across his chest

Hasbro Battle Packs -- Good vs. Evil continues
Star Wars Battle Packs from Hasbro give you everything you need to experience the struggle against the Dark Side.EDITOR'S NOTE: LIKE WORKING IN ADVERTISING DOESN'T HELP ME EXPERIENCE THAT EVERY SINGLE DAY? Each Battle Pack includes figures on both sides of the battle between good and evil.

Which side will win? Only you can decide!

Jedi vs. Separatists
Experience the battle between the heroic Jedi and the Separatist forces. Includes Jedi Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Mace Windu, Darth Maul and Jango Fett. Available at most fine retailers.

Rebel vs. Empire
Join the Rebel forces as they combat the evil Empire to determine the fate of the Galaxy. Includes Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Darth Vader and a stormtrooper. Available at most fine retailers.

Clone Attack on Coruscant
Spring into battle with these clone troopers as they speed across Coruscant in their gunship to fight the massive droid armies attacking the Republic. Includes Commander Bacara and four clone troopers. Available exclusively at Target.

Jedi Temple Assault
Anakin Skywalker succumbs to the Dark Side and leads an attack on the Jedi Temple as Darth Vader in this fierce Battle Pack. Includes Darth Vader, a clone pilot and three clone troopers. Available exclusively at Kmart.

Imperial Throne Room
Palpatine disbands the Senate and creates the first Galactic Empire, declaring himself Emperor. This Battle Pack displays the Imperial Throne Room and the Emperor's entourage. Includes Emperor Palpatine, an Imperial Dignitary, a stormtrooper and two Royal Guards. Available exclusively at Kmart.

Assault on Hoth
Imperial forces attack the Rebel Alliance's Echo Base on Hoth's icy surface. Includes General Veers, a probot and three snowtroopers. Available exclusively at Toys R Us.

Darth Maul Statue
Gentle Giant Studios has announced they will follow up the sold out Darth Vader statue with a Darth Maul statue.

The 1/6 scale figure will stand 11 inches tall. The price tag is set at $175. EDITOR’S NOTE: ODDBOB NEEDS TO START SAVING HIS PENNIES. (IN FACT, SEND HIM SOME OF YOURS)
It will be released in February 2006.

Dweebing without borders



August 2, 2005
Where Superheroes Go for Industry News
Fans of comic books know Batman and Spider-Man, and they know Wizard.

But Wizard is not a superhero with a top hat, a magic wand and a talking rabbit as a sidekick. It is a glossy monthly magazine devoted to comics, filled with news, features, profiles and price guides.

In its own way, Wizard has become as important to the comic book industry as the caped crusader and the amazing arachnid. Readers learn the inside scoop on various comics. Creators brag about making Wizard's list of hot writers and artists. Comics spotlighted in the magazine are almost guaranteed a boost in sales.

Since it was formed 14 years ago, the company behind the magazine has evolved into the Wizard Entertainment Group, with a focus that has widened to include anime, toys and trading cards. It publishes several magazines, sells exclusive merchandise and holds conventions around the country.

Wizard World shows are "the one place where all these competing companies can come together to meet the fans," said Gareb S. Shamus, 36, the company's founder and president, from his office in Midtown Manhattan. Mr. Shamus is particularly proud of these conventions, which require considerable preparation time by the staff.Wizard World Chicago, the company's biggest show, begins on Thursday. EDITOR’S NOTE: THIS IS AN OLD NEWS ITEM, MEA CULPA. SO I THINK THIS WOULD HAVE BEEN THURSDAY ABOUT 3 WEEKS AGO? The guests of honor are two of the most popular creators in comics: Frank Miller (a writer and artist of several comics, including "The Dark Knight Returns" and "Sin City," the film version of which he co-directed) and Jim Lee (an artist who has catapulted books like "Batman" and "X-Men" to stellar sales).

Next month the show moves to Boston, and in November it goes to Texas.EDITOR’S NOTE: WE GET A WIZARD WORLD!!! ZOWEE! (JUST WENT TO THE WEBSITE. NOVEMBER 4-6 IN ARLINGTON)

In October, Wizard will produce "Toy Wishes on Tour," a display of the hottest Christmas toys, at 12 malls around the country.

The company also made preliminary plans for a major show in Atlanta next year, but news of that convention recently caused a stir among comics aficionados and professionals. A printed announcement indicated that the Wizard show would be held June 30 through July 2, the same time as the Heroes Convention in Charlotte, N.C., which will celebrate its 25th anniversary next year.

Many creators posted online comments supporting the Charlotte show. They included the novelist Greg Rucka, the writer of several series for DC Comics.

"It's galling," Mr. Rucka wrote on his Web site, "Several industry pros have already weighed in on the subject of a WW-Atlanta boycott in favor of Heroes Con. I'm with them on this."

Taking a stand against Wizard is a decision that must be weighed heavily. Favorable coverage in the magazine often gives books a lift - in "buzz" or sales.

"It's always been a great selling tool for us," said Joe Quesada, editor of Marvel Comics.Brian K. Vaughan, the writer of several comic book series for Marvel and DC, echoes the sentiment. "Having my goofy picture show up in Wizard's 'Top 10 Writers' list every so often has contributed to getting more challenging projects," he wrote in an e-mail message. "It helped to convince editors and publishers that my work is both popular and relatively commercial." (The Hollywood Reporter recently reported that Mr. Vaughan's "ExMachina" has been optioned by New Line Cinema.)

Mr. Shamus explained that there was a lot of behind-the-scenes work in setting up a convention, including creating materials to generate excitement about dates or locations.

"Anything that may have existed was solely for the benefit of working with other companies," he said. The Atlanta show will now wait until 2007.

Mr. Shamus has accomplished a lot is his rise from comics enthusiast to collectibles professional. Wizard has a monthly circulation of about 185,000. Its other magazines, ToyFare, Anime Insider and Inquest Gamer, have a combined circulation of about 238,000. There are also special publications, like the biannual Toy Wishes magazine and Black Bull, the comic book division. EDITOR’S NOTE: EVEN IF YOU ARE NOT ALL THAT INTO TOY COLLECTING, TOYFARE IS ONE OF THE FUNNIEST MAGAZINES AROUND. SNARKY ON STEROIDS.

The passion for collectibles began when, as children, Mr. Shamus and his brothers collected sports cards. Then one brother decided to sell the cards, including those of his siblings. Sensing a potentially lucrative market, the boys' parents opened the Wizard of Cards and Comics, now Toy Wiz, in Nanuet, N.Y., about 20 years ago.

After graduating from the University of Albany, Mr. Shamus and Pat McCallum, the manager of the store, started a newsletter. It was only eight pages, but it sparked the idea for a magazine.

Developing Wizard required a parental loan, the recruiting of store employees to help out and assistance from magazine industry friends, who developed logos and production schedules. The first issue came together in July 1991. Mr. Shamus gave away copies at the San Diego Comic-Con.

"It was amazing how many people didn't want it," he said. "It was very humbling."

But he kept pushing.By issue No. 7, sales were at their lowest. Then Image Comics was founded by some of Marvel's most popular creators, who decided to forgo corporate-owned comics to create, control and profit from their own characters.

"We had all the exclusive news," Mr. Shamus recalled."I flew out to California for the inauguration," he added. "The photo that I physically took became the de facto Image founders shot."

Today there is considerably more staff to handle photography.

Roughly 75 employees are located at Wizard's two-story headquarters in Congers, N.Y. The building has a large warehouse and offices for accounting and circulation on the second floor. Editorial is on the ground floor in work spaces crammed with comics, posters and toys.

Mr. McCallum, who helped create the original eight-page newsletter, is the editor. He is one of several employees who have been around since the beginning.

It would be easy to rest on what has been accomplished, but Mr. Shamus focuses on the future.

"I always feel that there's something more we could be doing," he said. "It's 'What are we going to do next?' " EDITOR’S NOTE: YESTERDAY WIZARD MAKES GOOD. TOMORROW, THE DWEEBLETTER? (SIGH…….)

Research reveals spiritual journey of Tolkien fans
Donald MacLeodSaturday August 6, 2005
Guardian Unlimited

Tolkien fans do not just watch the films and read the books again and again - they are on a spiritual journey and doing their best to forget the ending, says an international study that voyaged to many lands to bring back wisdom and understanding.

Led by a wizard from out of the west, Martin Barker, of the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, the team explored reactions to the film Lord of the Rings III in 20 countries.

They found devotees reread the books, but tried to convince themselves they were seeing the story for the first time (although not knowing one of the most drawn-out and self-indulgent endings in cinema history must be a plus in the case of Lord of the Rings). EDITOR’S NOTE: SNICKER……

"Not knowing the plot or the ending means they can experience as much of the full emotions and tension as possible and their pleasure is increased," says Prof Barker, whose project was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. EDITOR’S NOTE: ISN’T THIS WHY SERIAL KILLERS KEEP MURDERING PEOPLE?

Fans felt the movie was more than just an escape, but it was more important and enjoyable to those who work in jobs where they feel they have little control over their lives. EDITOR’S NOTE: DONCHA HATE IT WHEN THE STEREOTYPE FITS?

Prof Barker said: "And we found that the highest levels of enjoyment and importance came from those who saw watching it as going on a spiritual journey. It was not just 'entertainment', but a source of inspiration. It offered a sense of moral lessons that they want to apply to their own lives, if they can." EDITOR’S NOTE: AND BY SO DOING, PROVE ALL THE PEOPLE MAKING FUN OF THEM RIGHT.

The study, conducted in 13 different languages, had almost 25,000 responses - hugely greater than any previous piece of audience research. It allowed in-depth analysis by age, sex and occupation, as well as revealing how the final blockbuster film in the Tolkien trilogy mattered to different people in various countries.

"Our research is very unusual in trying to open up what is normally taken for granted: how does fantasy, and in this case film fantasy, matter to people? How does a story which is very English in origins appeal to people in countries as different as Italy, Slovenia, China and Columbia?" said Prof Barker. EDITOR’S NOTE: ACTUALLY.....SNARKING ASIDE....THESE ARE VERY INTERESTING QUESTIONS. ALTHOUGH I WONDER IF LOTR IS SO SPECIFIC IN ITS PECULIAR FAN-ATTACHMENT AS TO NOT QUITE ANSWER THE QUESTIONS RELATIVE TO THE BROADER FANTASY/FILM FANTASY GENRE AS A WHOLE GOES?

The professor added: "It appeals to both men and women. Even though many women have thought of this as a male genre - something in the film makes it work very powerfully with female audiences." EDITOR’S NOTE: WELL, THOSE HOBBITS SURE ARE CUTE. AND LEGOLAS…..YUM! (OH, AND ARAGORN)!

Those people, a large proportion of them older women, were also most likely to have read and reread the books, he added. EDITOR’S NOTE: YES, AND THEIR CATS KNOW THE BOOKS BY HEART TOO. (SIGH….)

People in creative jobs enjoyed the film more than expected, although the study points out that they looked for different things - going beyond "superficial" meanings to try to discover something deeper.

The study found that many young girls saw the film with their best friends, and liked the way it showed friendship, especially through the character of Sam. By contrast, there were men - dubbed in the study "lonely epic males" - for whom viewing the film was a very private experience. EDITOR’S NOTE: ‘LONELY EPIC MALES’ MAKES IT SOUND SO MUCH BETTER THAN ‘PATHETIC LOSERS LIVING IN THEIR MOMS’ BASEMENTS’ DOESN’T IT? (LET’S ASK HARRY KNOWLES WHICH HE’D PREFER. GIGGLE).

An unexpectedly large number of unskilled manual workers had read the books. Prof Barker added: "The coming together of moral and emotional audience reactions to films is in line with some other research, suggesting a surprising changing role for today's cinema.

"However, our findings that audiences make such conscious efforts to reread the books and watch the film again as if they had not done so before, was completely unexpected. We are now exploring its significance," he added. EDITOR’S NOTE: NOT MUCH ELSE TO WATCH? NOTHING ON THE TUBE? AFRAID OF THE LIGHT?
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005

Make Your Own Damn Movies!
Lionhead Studios and Activision, Inc. announced the addition of THE MOVIES Online, a community website where aspiring moviemakers can upload and share their motion pictures created with THE MOVIES on the internet.

Located at, the site will launch a virtual film festival for aspiring film-makers when the game ships this fall. Members of the site will also find a host of competitions, Awards Ceremonies, a Prop Shop and additional downloads that will help extend their gaming experience with The Movies.

One of the features that is unique to THE MOVIES, is that you can make your very own films. With over 7000 scenes, 45 sets and countless costume combinations, Lionhead Studios is expecting to be flooded by a whole host of varied and entertaining motion pictures by all you would-be filmmakers out there. EDITOR’S NOTE: OK…THIS SOUNDS SERIOUSLY COOL!!!

THE MOVIES Online has been designed so that gamers get an extra dimension to the game. Every uploaded movie will be given its very own movie page where gamers will be able to post their ratings and comments. THE MOVIES Online and THE MOVIES are connected by an interface that allows players to upload movies from within the game, see which movies they’ve already uploaded and track their success online.

People will also be given their own unique Studio page, where they will be able to upload the movies they have created. Each movie uploaded to their Studio page will feature its own sub page and will function as a hub for all visitors to view these cinematic creations and post their comments and scores.

Players that show the most promise and receive the highest ratings will soon find that their reputation grows very quickly. What's more, the better their reputation becomes the more virtual online credits they'll earn to buy new upgrades and extra content to help make their movie-making experiences more enjoyable than ever.

• Become a Movie Mogul of Legend - Design your own studio and run it from the early days of cinema through present day and beyond in Story Mode, by managing studio resources, investing in R&D and maximizing box office success by staying one step ahead of the competition.

• Make your own movies - Make movies that appeal to the masses in Story Mode or in Sandbox Mode where you can jump into any era and create your dream movie.

• Control the destiny of your cast and crew - Fire and hire them, turn unknowns into movie stars, and take full creative control over script selection and the content of the movies you'll create.

• Play it again and again - Over 30 hours of continuous gameplay, thousands of exciting movie characters, and limitless options allow you to vary just about everything, including the violence, romance, and realism - all mixed with world events that affect audience tastes and expectations.
• Show the world your talents - Post your movies to the web for all to see. EDITOR’S NOTE: SO. HOW MUCH DOES ALL THIS GROOVY’NESS COST, I WONDER?

Yippee-Kai-Yay PALz
Palisades Toys has added a section for its upcoming DIE HARD PALz at

The DIE HARD Trilogy features a New York Cop named John McClane who always seems to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

In fact, on three separate occasions, McClane finds himself the only person with the ability to stop the plans of international criminals, thieves and mercenaries. Reluctantly, our trusty man in blue rises to accept his role as a hero.

Series One of Palisades’ DIE HARD PALz–-featuring characters from the fast paced original movie–-will be comprised of over 10 characters, including John McClane, Sgt. Al Powell, Holly Generro, terrorist mastermind Hans Gruber,EDITOR’S NOTE: AN ALAN RICKMAN ACTION FIG! I AM SO THERE, BABY! and blonde haired terrorist Karl—just to name a few.

Die Hard PALz will be presented in a blind-box package and displayed in a four-color, die-cut counter display containing 16 individual pieces. These will be arriving at retailers everywhere this fall.

The ratio for Die Hard PALz is as follows:
John McClane – 1:8
Karl – 1:8
Tony – 1:8
Hans Gruber – 1:8
Sgt. Al Powell – 1:8
Holly Generro – 1:8
Yippee-Kai-Yay John McClane – 1:16
“Showdown” Hans Gruber – 1:16
Argyle – 1:32
Ellis – 1:32
Agent Johnson – 1:64
Special Agent Johnson – 1:64
Ho-Ho-Ho Tony – 1:64
“Showdown” John McClane – 1:64

Christopher Lee Joins Rhapsody For An Eloquent Metal Ballad

Containing 8 tracks in a limited edition digi-pack pressing, the Italian epic metal band Rhapsody has released an EP titled The Magic of the Wizard's Dream, which proffers a stunning new take on the highlight track from the band's latest album, Symphony of Enchanted Lands II: The Dark Secret.

That 2004 release was given a strong measure of class through narration from actor Christopher Lee, who laid the groundwork for the album's epic tale of mythic fantasy, a continuation of the mythic story, "The Emerald Sword Saga," that the band began with its first album, Legendary Tales, in 1997.

After the recording, Lee, being a talented singer possessing a rich bass/baritone voice, expressed some misgivings that he was about to narrate for the album in a role of a wizard king but not sing at all, laid the ground for what was to come next -- a re-recording of the album track "The Magic Of The Wizard's Dream", this time as a duet that would feature the rich and expressive singing voice Christopher Lee with the band Rhapsody, supported by a Cologne string orchestra and some other guest musicians.

"With Mr. Lee's command of over 12 languages it was a pleasure not a problem to record the song in the four different languages English, German, French and Italian," the band expressed on its web site. A video was shot in High Definition filmed by noted director Neil Johnson featuring a 40-piece orchestra and a 20-piece choir, but no word is out yet on the availability of the video (it is not included on the EP).

Lee's classical baritone voice is beautifully harmonized with that of Rhapsody's frontman, Fabio Lione (formerly of Athena, Labyrinth and Vision Divine). The EP includes the song performed in four different languages (English, Italian, French and German), and includes both the original album version and a version with Lione and Lee backed by a full orchestra. In addition, two previously unreleased tracks are included, "Autumn Twilight" and "Lo Specchio D'Argento" both very well suited for the collection.

Christopher Lee also joined Rhapsody on stage for this year's Earthshaker Fest 2005, held in Geiselwind, Germany last month, performing the new single live. EDITOR’S NOTE: I DON’T REALLY HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT THIS ITEM WAS ALL ABOUT. (THIS MIGHT BE DUE TO THE BLOODY MARY BEING ESPECIALLY STRONG TODAY). BUT WHO CARES?! CHRISTOPHER LEE IS STILL ALIVE…..AND HE SINGS!!!

Three 'Titanic' DVD editions set sail Oct. 25

Three different editions of "Titanic" will be released Oct. 25 on DVD, Paramount Home Entertainment and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment were set to announce Friday -- but only one will be available for U.S. consumers. EDITOR'S NOTE: SORRY TO TEASE YOU LIKE THAT, ANDREW.

A three-disc "special collector's edition" of the world's biggest movie will only be issued in the U.S., Japan and Korea, said Thomas Lesinksi, president of worldwide home entertainment at Paramount Pictures. "Titanic" fans in Europe, Australia and Latin America will get to choose between a two-disc special edition and a four-disc "deluxe collector's edition". EDITOR'S NOTE: I'M BETTING THAT THE SHIP SINKS....VERRRRRY SLOWLY....NO MATTER WHAT EDITION YOU BUY.


Book-banning attempts up 20%

Attempts to have library books removed from shelves increased by more than 20% in 2004 over the previous year, according to a new survey by the American Library Assn.

Three books with gay themes, including Maya Angelou's "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," were among the works most criticized.

The number of books challenged last year jumped to 547, compared to 458 in 2003, with the library association estimating four to five unreported cases for each one documented.

According to the ALA, a challenge is "a formal, written complaint, filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness."

National organizations such as the American Family Assn. have been involved with library challenges, but far more complaints come from individual parents and patrons, according to the ALA.

The ALA study was to be released Friday in anticipation of the 25th annual Banned Books Week, which runs Sept. 24 to Oct. 1 and is co-sponsored by the ALA, the American Booksellers Assn. and others. Gorman acknowledged that few books are actually banned, adding that Banned Books Week is a "catchy name.

New SERENITY Reaver Figure
Diamond Select Toys has released an image of the new 6" Reaver figure based on the characters from the upcoming Joss Whedon film SERENITY.


The film centers around Captain Malcolm Reynolds, a hardened veteran (on the losing side) of a galactic civil war, who now ekes out a living pulling off small crimes and transport-for-hire aboard his ship, Serenity. He leads a small, eclectic crew who are the closest thing he has left to family – squabbling, insubordinate and undyingly loyal.

When Mal takes on two new passengers—a young doctor and his unstable, telepathic sister—he gets much more than he bargained for. The pair are fugitives from the coalition dominating the universe, who will stop at nothing to reclaim the girl. The crew that was once used to skimming the outskirts of the galaxy unnoticed find themselves caught between the unstoppable military force of the Universal Alliance and the horrific, cannibalistic fury of the Reavers, savages who roam the very edge of space. Hunted by vastly different enemies, they begin to discover that the greatest danger to them may be on board Serenity herself.


KING KONG Deluxe Chess Set
What next, lunch boxes?

Alter Ego Comics is currently taking pre-orders for Weta Collectibles' KING KONG chess set.
As described on their site, "the primal savagery of Skull Island clashes against the urban sophistication of 1933 New York as man and monster battle for supremacy on the chessboard." EDITOR’S NOTE: SOMETIMES I WORRY ABOUT THE PEOPLE WHO WRITE MARKETING COPY. ARE THEY TRULY HAPPY? DID THEY NOT GET ENOUGH LOVE AS CHILDREN? DO THEY BELIEVE ALL THE SILLY THINGS THEY WRITE? (AND HOW CAN WE HELP THEM PAST THAT?)

The set is sculpted by Weta Workshop's Mary Maclachlan, Gary Hunt and Ben Hawker. It will ship in December and is priced at $403.75.


My life as an Oompa
Rusty Goffe
Wednesday July 27, 2005

'There are only three of us left' ... Rusty Goffe as an Oompa Loompa

I was one of the original Oompa Loompas in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, filmed in Munich in 1970. At that time, there weren't many British actors who were short (I am 4ft 2in), so six of the actors were British and they used one Maltese actor, another from Turkey, one from Germany, and one woman. There were 10 of us in all. The director Mel Stuart sometimes got very frustrated telling us what to do in English and then trying to explain to the Maltese, German and Turkish actors what he wanted as well.

When we first arrived in Munich the choreographer Howard Jeffrey showed us these amazing dance routines, but he had to change them to suit our short legs. The Oompa Loompas went on to do various other TV, film and stage shows, but there are now only three of us alive. Some of the Oompa Loompas were very old - one was in his 70s back then. It was only since the fantasy films came of age, when they wanted little people to portray goblins, elves and robots, that a lot of short people gave up lucrative day jobs to be in the movies.

Unfortunately, the only work they can get nowadays is Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs pantomimes at Christmas. Everybody is using computer graphics. Even the new Chocolate Factory uses just one man - a very good actor called Deep Roy - for all the Oompa Loompas. He will be cloned by computers so it will look as if there are about 300 Oompa Loompas, to be as faithful as possible to the book, in which there are hundreds and hundreds of them, apparently from a Pygmy tribe in Africa.

I haven't seen the new movie yet. Tim Burton can be very dark and there must be many dark moments in it. Wonka is a part very few actors could play. Gene Wilder was fantastic. But I also love Johnny Depp's work. I would say that in the 1970s and now in 2005 they got the only actor in each era who could play it

I was in the first Star Wars film as a Jawa in the desert, I have played in Mel Brooks' History of the World: Part 1, I've been a goblin in two of the Harry Potter films, I've done Flash Gordon and Willow. Looking back, Willy Wonka was my first and favourite film.

One of the songs we sang in the movie was called Pure Imagination and that, to me, sums up Roald Dahl. He will be remembered as a classic children's writer. EDITOR’S NOTE: GOOSEBUMPS. AND SWEET. (AND THERE MIGHT NOT BE A LOT OF WORK FOR ‘LITTLE PEOPLE’, BUT HE’S BEEN IN ALL THE BEST MOVIES, EH?)

How are squirrels trained to act?
By Tom Geoghegan BBC News Magazine
Forty squirrels were trained to crack nuts in the new film Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.


Even with sophisticated computer-generated technology available, director Tim Burton refused to take any short cuts with the famous Nut Room scene in Roald Dahl's novel.

It had to be as life-like as possible, Burton decided, which meant squirrels cracking and sorting nuts on a conveyor belt.

In the film, they are seen sitting on stools testing the quality of the nuts until their work is rudely interrupted by one of the humans, in an action they take strong exception to.
Some of the squirrels were hand-reared and required bottled milk on set, and others came from squirrel rescues or private homes.

Steve Vedmore, an animal trainer from Brynmawr, south Wales, worked for eight weeks on the film.

The American Humane Society insists that for every animal you use as a hero you have two back-ups, like a human actor has a double Steve Vedmore, animal trainer

Because of a confidentiality agreement with Warner Bros, he can't reveal exactly what happened on set but, having worked with squirrels before, he says some are easy to train and some aren't. EDITOR’S NOTE: AGAIN THOSE EERIE PARALLELS WITH THE ‘HUMAN’ ACTORS.

"The placid ones are good to handle and other ones are aggressive, so we use them as runner animals if we can run them from A to B because they're not good for human contact. They bite." EDITOR’S NOTE: IN MY DEFENSE, THAT ONE DIRECTOR HAD A GOOD BITE COMING.

Training is based on food rewards, so the squirrels got nuts when they did what was required. EDITOR’S NOTE: FELLOW THESPS IN THE READING AUDIENCE….RAISE YOUR PAWS (UMM…HANDS) IF YOU’D GLADLY WORK FOR FOOD!?

"You shape their behaviour so if you're running them from A to B - which could be 100m - you put catching boxes inches away so they run into the box and get a reward. Then you put the box further and further away." EDITOR’S NOTE: OH. WAIT. THAT SOUNDS COMPLICATED.


Animal stand-ins
Some of the work is one trainer with one squirrel, but on occasions 10 squirrels are released on a task. This means the aggressive ones have to be released first to stop them attacking others in the pursuit. EDITOR’S NOTE: OK, WELL THIS SOUNDS MORE LIKE THE AUDITION THAN THE PERFORMANCE. (I DON’T CARE HOW I GET CAST, AS LONG AS I GET CAST. IF THE OTHER ACTORS ARE WOUNDED, YOU WON’T MATCH MY TEETH TO THE BITE MARKS, IS ALL I WILL SAY)

All the animals are given names and can be further identified if their fur is clipped in a harmless way, says Mr Vedmore.

"You categorise animals and one could be a good A to B runner but not a hero animal, which is a trick one doing the most intensive work. EDITOR’S NOTE: AND ONE SQUIRREL IS MOSTLY T&A? (TMI?)

"The American Humane Society insists that for every animal you use as a hero you have two back-ups, like a human actor has a stand-in or double that does the running, so you don't burn any one animal out." EDITOR’S NOTE: AS I SUSPECTED; THE SQUIRRELS HAVE A BETTER UNION THAN THE PEOPLE.

Mr Vedmore, who has trained animals for 30 years, says he hasn't come across an animal that can't be trained. EDITOR’S NOTE: INCLUDING PEOPLE?

They have very acute hearing, so noises backstage can sometimes be a problem. For the movements squirrels are physically unable to do, special effects computers are used to simulate the action.

Starring role
For the film, the squirrels were used for 10 months, including training, but Mr Vedmore has yet to see his work on screen.

The American Humane Society supervised the training to make sure no animal was made to do anything which might cause it distress. After filming the squirrels were either returned to their owners or adopted by Birds and Animals UK until their next role, because by law, rescued grey squirrels cannot be released into the wild.

Craig Redmond, of the Captive Animals' Protection Society, says: "We always have concerns whenever animals are used in commercials or films, and given the computer technology around these days, I find it surprising the film decided to use live animals."


Technology has a RUMBLE




Disc dilemma
Wednesday 17 Aug 2005

As both the Blu-ray and HD-DVD camps travelling full steam ahead to get their disc format to market, optimism for a single successor to the DVD format is diminishing.

No one wants to back the losing team. And today's consumers are savvy enough to know they don't want to be caught anywhere near the quagmire that is the turf war between competing next-generation optical disc formats Blu-ray Disc and HD-DVD. One of these formats will replace the current DVD standard for delivery of packaged entertainment, including video and games. EDITOR’S NOTE: LET US CROUCH AWHILE HERE AND WAIT….. (A WEE SHAKESPEARE JOKE. SORRY).

Consumers want to go with the winning standard, but they also want other things from the successor to DVD. The Blu-ray Disc Association is touting a new study it commissioned to gauge consumers' attitudes about the next-generation disc format, and the results shed light on aspects of consumer thinking about the future consumption of entertainment. The Blu-ray Disc Association – which includes the likes of Apple, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Panasonic, Philips, Pioneer, and Sony – released the results of the independent study in early July.
The state of the battleground

A bit of background for those who don't follow these things: Blu-ray Disc and HD-DVD (backed by NEC and Toshiba) are both formats for high-capacity optical discs designed to play back video content as well as to store games and data. The competing formats are not compatible with one another, so if you buy one type of disc, you won't be able to play it in the other type of player.

Sidestepping the technical minutiae of the two formats, the most obvious difference from a user standpoint lies in their capacity – Blu-ray Disc supports 25GB on a single-sided disc and 50GB on a double-sided disc, while HD-DVD supports 15GB on a single-sided disc and 30GB on a double-sided disc.

Hollywood movie studios have publicly split on support for the two formats: 20th Century Fox, ESPN, MGM, Miramax, Sony Pictures, Touchstone, and the Walt Disney Company are behind Blu-ray, while HBO and New Line Cinema, Paramount Pictures, Universal Studios, and Warner Brothers are behind HD-DVD. The fact that none of these studios has an exclusive agreement with the camp they've backed complicated the matter further.

Earlier this year, the two sides were rumoured to be in "peace talks". However, those talks apparently broke down in the spring, and the two camps are proceeding apace towards bringing their respective products to market. Still, optimists hold onto a sliver of hope – warring parties agreed on today's DVD format at the last minute, too.

Everyone – Hollywood studios, hardware makers, and the consumers whose patronage will keep both in business – knows that a format war will only constrain the potential growth of the high-def movie distribution market. But that doesn't mean the resolution will be amicable.
The latest word is that we'll still see products this year – although not necessarily as early as some of the original projections that the HD-DVD camp tossed out last January at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Holding up progress for both formats is the finalization of Advanced Access Content System copy protection controls, a spec that was originally expected in March 2005 and has yet to be finalized. EDITOR’S NOTE: IT MIGHT AS WELL BE GOVERNMENT WORK, EH?

So, it’s unlikely we’ll see new formats as soon as the industry promised. Compulsive early-adopters may have to think of something else to put on their Christmas lists.

Compatibility is king
The Blu-ray Disc Association study was conducted in May 2005 by Penn, Schoen, and Berland Associates, which quizzed 1,202 US consumers aged 18-64 on their views and perceptions about the successor to today's DVD format.


Many of the study's findings seem obvious, but they nonetheless back up some common-sense assumptions about how people use and consume media.

Of the top seven qualities that survey respondents said they want in next-generation media and players, four focused on the twin desires of backward- and cross-compatibility: the ability to play today's DVDs on next-generation players and to use next-generation discs in other devices, such as gaming consoles. EDITOR’S NOTE: AND WILL THEY LISTEN TO US, OR JUST SQUABBLE THEMSELVES INTO BETAMAX OBLIVION?!

No one wants to ditch their current DVD collections. In fact, the most desired quality in the mystery player of the future was that it should maintain backward compatibility with existing DVD content: A whopping 70 per cent of respondents back this one. EDITOR’S NOTE: FRANKLY, THAT SEEMS LOW. (PLEASE LISTEN. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE).

Second, not everyone wants to invest in new HDTVs to replace their existing TV setups. Most US homes have two or more TVs, and swanky, widescreen high-def models will not replace them all. EDITOR’S NOTE: BUT THEY SHOULD….OH BABY, THEY SHOULD. (LUST ISN’T ALWAYS ABOUT HUMAN COMPONENTS, EH?)

Play it anywhere
The fact that consumers were interested in using the same disc in different ways and devices surprised the Blu-ray Disc folks who commissioned this study.

"The idea of a hybrid disc that works in both an existing DVD player and a Blu-ray Disc player was very strong, and underscores how convergence bubbled up to the top [of consumers' concerns]," notes Marty Gordon, vice president of Philips Electronics and spokesperson for the Blu-ray Disc Association. "The ability to play a disc [anywhere] was very important," he says. EDITOR’S NOTE: THAT THIS SURPRISES THEM SPEAKS VOLUMES ABOUT HOW OUT-OF-TOUCH THEY ARE. SHALL WE HAVE ANOTHER CHORUS OF DUH????!!!!

Incidentally, the Blu-ray Disc spec already has a provision for two variations of a dual-sided disc that combines existing formats with the Blu-ray format, similar to what today's Dual-Disc format does for CD-Audio and DVD-Video. The first combo, for Blu-ray/DVD Hybrid discs, enables a disc with one side that acts as a 25GB BD-ROM (like a DVD-ROM, only of the Blu-ray variety) and the other that acts as a 8.5GB dual-layer DVD-ROM. EDITOR’S NOTE: WHEN I SOBER UP, WILL THIS MAKE SENSE?

The second combo calls for a Blu-ray/CD Hybrid disc, with one side featuring a single-layer 25GB BD-ROM and the other a 700MB CD-ROM, either as data or CD-Audio. EDITOR’S NOTE: THEN AGAIN, THIS MIGHT BE A REASON TO KEEP ON DRINKING.

High-stakes game
Given this new level of convergence, it's possible that either Blu-ray Disc or HD-DVD will define tangible (meaning not downloaded) home entertainment in the next decade. As to which one will come out on top, it’s anyone’s guess at this stage. EDITOR’S NOTE: NEXT DECADE? IS ANY TECHNOLOGY GOING TO LAST THAT LONG? ISN’T THE CHANGE-OVER SPEEDING UP? (OR DOES IT JUST FEEL LIKE IT?)

The Blu-ray Disc Association's Gordon was unable to confirm, deny, or otherwise comment on the reported negotiations between the powerhouse companies in the Blu-ray and HD-DVD camps earlier this year. "There was a lot of rumour and speculation," he says. "You can't always believe what you read." EDITOR’S NOTE: PLEASE PICTURE MY EYES ROLLING.

The prospect of unifying the formats, he says, is "very difficult, but we still have hope." The difficulty, he adds, is that "we're talking about two different physical formats, and two different philosophies. The HD-DVD philosophy has been [concerned with] the industry: cheaper discs, easier replication. From the beginning, the Blu-ray philosophy has been focused on the consumer benefits." EDITOR’S NOTE: I’D VOTE FOR THE BLU-RAY, EXCEPT WE ALL KNOW ABOUT THE APOCRYPHAL BETAMAX.

I found that an interesting, and valid, observation on Gordon's part: After all, HD-DVD's biggest benefits over Blu-ray involve the cost of disc production.

The HD-DVD format has its evolutionary origins in the existing DVD format, which translates to lower costs for media production and disc replication.

Cynics assume those lower costs will probably never be reflected in the prices we see at the shops – they'll just mean a higher profit margin to studios. EDITOR’S NOTE: HOW BIG A COST DIFFERENCE IS THERE? I MEAN, IS THIS SOMETHING THAT CAN BE RECOUPED BY BLU-RAY DOWN THE LINE WITH ECONOMIES OF VOLUME? IF THIS IS THE PRIMARY STALLING POINT (WELL, THIS AND PRIDE), MAYBE THE HD-DVD FOLKS SHOULD JUST LET GO. HMMMM???

By contrast, Blu-ray Disc's higher capacity and roadmap for increased capacity (up to 100GB on a single disc has been achieved in laboratory conditions), indicates that the backers of this format are looking out for the consumer a little more.. After all, if you’re going to buy your umpteenth version of the Star Wars trilogy, I'll want the highest-quality video I can get on the next-generation disc. EDITOR’S NOTE: AS WILL I. AND I BET SOMEWHERE IN THAT RESEARCH STUDY, A FAIRLY LARGE PERCENTAGE SAID THAT UNLESS THE NEW FORMAT WAS A SIGNIFICANT….SIGNIFICANT…..TECH IMPROVEMENT, SOMETHING WE COULD REALLY SEE AND HEAR AND TOUCH (AND MAYBE EVEN TASTE), THERE WOULD BE NO INCENTIVE (LITTLE INCENTIVE, SAVE THOSE GEEKY TECHHEAD GUYS) TO PAY THE MOOLAH TO UPGRADE. THEY REALLY NEED TO THINK ABOUT THAT, EH?

Furthermore, I already have plenty of content to store on those discs – so as far as I'm concerned, the more capacity, the better.

The industry is not blind to the impending nightmare if both formats go to market. As Gordon notes, "No one wants a format war. The thought of one fills everyone – consumers and industry alike – with angst." EDITOR’S NOTE: GOOD.

the hollywood economist
The Next Big ThingSony's Blu-Ray DVD.
By Edward Jay EpsteinPosted Monday, Aug. 22, 2005, at 9:19 AM PT
If you want a glimpse of Hollywood's near future, you need only watch a single scene in David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia on the split screen at the ground-floor showroom of Sony's New York headquarters. On the 70-inch plasma TV, you see swarms of Arab camel-riders racing across the blazing desert. On the screen's left half, the Arabs are so blurred together that they can hardly be distinguished from the swirling sands. When they cross over to the screen's right half—presto!—they pop into such sharp focus that their facial features are recognizable. It's the same screen and the same Lawrence of Arabia. The difference is that the source for the left half of the screen is a conventional DVD, and the source for the right half is a Blu-Ray DVD, which, although identical in size and shape to the conventional DVD, holds at least five times as many color pixels, or picture elements. EDITOR’S NOTE: WE LOVE PIXELS! (THEY’RE LIKE SPRITES OR FAIRIES, ONLY CUTER).

The left half of the screen is composed from approximately 87,000 color pixels EDITOR’S NOTE: I THINK THE PC PHRASE IS NOW AFRICAN-AMERICAN PIXELS….(GIGGLE). —the maximum that a conventional DVD can hold—while the right half is composed from more than 490,000 color pixels. The 400,000 or so additional color pixels, by providing more details, nuance, and depth, create a high-definition picture.

The Blu-Ray DVD is able to display these additional pixels because it employs a blue laser EDITOR’S NOTE: NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH THE BLUE FAIRY, BECAUSE, FRANKLY, I NEVER WANT TO MENTION BAZ LUHRMANN AGAIN. (IF WE ENCOURAGE HIM, HE’LL JUST MAKE MORE MOVIES. AND THEN I’LL BE FORCED TO BE MEAN AGAIN, AND THAT IS SO UNLIKE ME). —hence its name—that has a smaller beam spot than the standard red laser and can distinguish between more densely packed data on a disc. In fact, the blue ray can read as many as eight wafer-thin layers—the top layer being only one-tenth of a millimeter—which can contain 20 times as much data as even a dual-layer conventional DVD. Such massive storage—up to 200 gigabytes—provides an almost endless capacity for add-ons by home audiences.

For example, with a touch of his remote, a viewer could go from watching an action movie to participating in an interactive game based on the movie, or he could switch to a 3-D version of a particular scene. EDITOR’S NOTE: THIS IS AN AWFUL LOT TO ASK OF PEOPLE SPRAWLED ON THEIR FUTON. NOW I CAN’T JUST LAY THERE LIKE A SLUG AND WATCH THE DARN FLICK. I HAVE TO BE INTERACTIVE. (I’M FEELING QUITE A BIT OF PRESSURE HERE).

Sony and its rivals plan to have Blu-Ray DVDs available in less than a year. So, in the near future, the weekly audience that goes to movie houses will have another option: staying at home and watching a high-definition movie with interactive features that is more or less equal in picture quality to what they would see at the multiplex. EDITOR’S NOTE: A COUPLE OF GLASSES OF WINE, AND WE’RE ALREADY THERE. NO TECH UPGRADES REQUIRED. (AND THE CHEAPER THE WINE, THE BETTER).

If history is any guide, changes in technology that make entertainment more convenient make a difference in the way it is experienced. The advent of mass television, for example, came very close to killing the movie business, cutting the average weekly moviegoing audience from 90 million in 1948 to 20 million in 1966. Once Americans had color TVs, some 70 million people a week stopped going to movie theaters, forcing Hollywood to revive the movie audience with massively expensive television advertising.

Videos and DVDs—and the ability to churn out pirated copies of them—have wiped out most of the movie theaters in large parts of Asia and Eastern Europe.

So, what effect does Sony expect that its new Blu-Ray DVD will have on what remains of the moviegoing audience?

To find out, I proceeded from the ground-floor showroom to the 34th-floor executive suite and put the question to Sir Howard Stringer, the British-born—and first non-Japanese—chairman of Sony.

Sony's fabled success story began more than half a century ago, in 1946, in a bombed-out basement in Tokyo. Akio Morita and Masaru Ibuka started the company (originally named Tokyo Tsushin) with the intention of manufacturing necessities, such as rice cookers and space heaters, for the war-ravaged population of Japan, but they quickly found an export market in America for consumer electronics. EDITOR’S NOTE: WE HAVE ‘SUCKER’ STAMPED ON OUR DERRIERES AT BIRTH, DON’T WE? (HOW DO YOU SAY ‘SUCKER’ IN JAPANESE, I WONDER?)

They went on to introduce a string of remarkably inventive entertainment products—including the CD. Along the way, Sony also bought a number of American companies to get content for these products, including CBS Records (now Sony Music), the Columbia TriStar studio (now Sony Pictures Entertainment), and, most recently, MGM.

Even though Sony helped bring about the digital revolution, the company has failed to adapt to it. The standardization required to manufacture consumer digital products undercut the value of Sony's branded products.

For example, the Chinese and other low-labor-cost manufacturers, using the same computer chips, could make the same DVD players and digital TV sets as Sony for a fraction of the cost. The result was a commoditized rat race that became unprofitable for Sony.

When it became clear that Sony had to "revolutionize itself," as Sony's previous chairman Nobuyuki Idei termed it, the revolution involved transforming Sony from a company that had focused on engineering proprietary products, such as the Trinitron color television set, the Betamax VCR, and the Walkman, into one that could capitalize on—and protect from piracy—the streams of digital data that would include games, movies, music, and other intellectual property. When Sir Howard assumed the leadership of Sony this year, part of his mandate was to move the company, as he put it, "from an analog culture to a digital culture."

The Blu-Ray DVD is a critical piece of this strategy.

As I learned in Tokyo, its multiple layers not only can store vast amounts of digital data, they can also be used to record data downloaded from the Internet.

For example, after buying the Blu-Ray DVD for Spider-Man 3, a consumer could then add on a game, music video, or a prior sequel from Sony's Web site.

When I asked Sir Howard if there was concern that the Blu-Ray DVD would result in a further eroding of the world moviegoing audience, he answered that it was "a chicken-and-egg problem."

The "chicken" was theatrical movies; the "egg" the DVD (plus television and licensing rights).

Sir Howard, who is also chairman of the American Film Institute, pointed out that it would be difficult to conceive of great movies, such as Lawrence of Arabia, being made without a movie theater audience to establish them; the dilemma is that it's the "egg" not the "chicken" upon which the studios increasingly depend for their money.

So, even while trying to avoid fatally injuring the chicken EDITOR’S NOTE: ONE THING I’M QUITE PROUD OF, BY THE WAY. NO CHICKENS…NO POULTRY OF ANY KIND, ACTUALLY…ARE EVER HARMED IN THE POSTING OF THIS DWEEBLETTER.—movies—Sir Howard said that studios are under increasing pressure to "optimize" their profits from the proverbial golden egg, the home audience.

Indeed, the Blu-Ray DVD make this balancing act more difficult: With its interactive features, it appeals to the very teenage audiences on whom the multiplexes now so heavily depend.

It's also a vital part of Sony's latest version of its PlayStation, due to be released next year. The prior versions of PlayStation have sold more than 100 million units and have provided the Sony Corporation with up to 40 percent of its profits. PlayStation 3, while it may sound like a child's toy, is in fact an incredibly powerful computer, exceeding in its processing power IBM's famed Deep Blue. The Playstation 3 can play high-definition movies and super-realistic interactive games and surf the Internet, providing a gateway for further digital consumption.EDITOR’S NOTE: SCARY QUESTION….CAN IT DO THIS BY ITSELF, OR DOES A HUMAN HAVE TO BE IN THE ROOM AT THE TIME?

In addition, the Blu-Ray will allow Sony to reissue its movie titles in high definition. In fact, part of the stated justification for acquiring MGM was the profits to be realized from reissuing the 4,100 films in MGM's library in the Blu-Ray format.

At some point, Sony has to overcome a competing high-definition format, HD-DVD, sponsored by its traditional rival, Toshiba. HD-DVD, like the Blu-Ray, uses a blue laser optical reader and renders an equivalent high-definition picture. The principal difference is that Toshiba designed the HD-DVD so that discs can be stamped out by existing DVD manufacturing equipment (which unfortunately is also owned by video pirates). That design makes it less expensive to implement, but the HD-DVD lacks the recordable multilayers or massive storage space for interactive features of the Blu-Ray.

While Sir Howard preferred not to speculate on the outcome of this potential format war, I predict that the Blu-Ray will prevail for three reasons.

First, Sony has a critical mass of movies that it can release on Blu-Ray. Aside from its own titles, Disney, 20th Century Fox, and Lions Gate have agreed to release their titles on Blu-Ray.

Next, almost all of the leading computer manufacturers, including Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and Apple, are committed to using Blu-Ray. So, if a studio wants its high-definition DVDs to be playable on personal computers—or for that matter on PlayStation 3—it will have to issue them in the Blu-Ray format.

Finally, the situations of Sony and Toshiba are not symmetrical. For Sony, the Blu-Ray is an integral part of its overall strategy. For Toshiba, the HD-DVD is just another product they manufacture. If the company reached an accommodating deal on licensing fees, it could also make money by manufacturing the Blu-Ray DVDs.

One way or another, however, the moviegoing public will soon have one more diversion from movie theaters. EDITOR’S NOTE: LIKE WE’RE NOT A.D.D. ENOUGH ALREADY?
Edward Jay Epstein is the author of The Big Picture: The New Logic of Money and Power in Hollywood


DVD format war looms as Blu-ray backers plan launch
BERLIN -- Chances looked slim that consumers will be spared a DVD format war, as the backers of one standard said Friday there was no common ground for a unified format and it was on track for a market launch within a year.

"If we want a unified standard, it has to be better than the sum of the parts. We would like to find something that's better in the other standard than ours, but we haven't found it," said Frank Simonis, a spokesman for backers of the Blu-ray standard.

Speaking on the sidelines of the IFA consumer electronics trade fair, Simonis said the Blu-ray association was ready to lay down the specifications of the higher-capacity DVD format in the spring of 2006.

The rival HD DVD camp has recently had to push back its launch into the New Year. "We're no longer lagging behind," said Simonis, who is also strategic marketing director at the optical storage unit of Philips Electronics.

At stake is the multibillion dollar market for DVD players, PC drivers and optical discs.

Blu-ray promises higher capacity DVD discs (up to 50 gigabytes) that can store high definition films and better interactivity and security.

The HD DVD camp, on the other hand, claims it has a cheaper technology compatible with current DVD and CD players.

Blu-ray is backed by the majority of electronics makers, including Sony, Matsushita, Samsung, Philips, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Apple and Hitachi.

The HD-DVD camp consists of Toshiba, NEC Corp. and Sanyo Electric as main hardware vendors.

The battle between the two camps has become intense after a failed attempt this spring by several of the main Japanese electronics companies to bring together the two standards.

The support of the Hollywood studios and television producers, crucial partners who will have to print pre-recorded disks with movies and TV series, has been more evenly spread and many have held their options open.However, 20th Century Fox said at IFA it had chosen Blu-ray after its backers improved security features that will prevent DVD piracy hurting the industry.

"We talked to both formats and asked them: 'What are you going to do about content protection?' We asked them to step up their content protection in a serious way, and the members of Blu-ray association won," said Andy Setos, president of engineering at the studio which is owned by News Corp.He also said that production costs of Blu-ray are "competitive" and that the format is interoperable with existing DVD and CD formats.

Hollywood is suffering from rampant piracy, because the initial DVD standard that was put together exactly 10 years ago had been rushed to market and lacked features to prevent unauthorized copying and playback.

"DVD is not good. It isn't secure, the capacity is too low, the bit rate is too low," Simonis said.

In China in particular, many films are reproduced on DVDs illegally and sold at a dollar apiece on street corners.

"We sell 20,000 DVDs a year in China, and they're priced at just $4.99. Just to prove a point," Setos said.

Yet, even the piracy underlines the success of DVD.

It has been the fastest-adopted technology in consumer electronics history and has generated billions of euros in royalties for the inventors, a broad base of consumer electronics companies including firms now divided over its successor.

The fight for license income may yet hurt the interests of consumers who face two disk formats which do not play back in all devices, invoking memories of the VHS-Betamax war for the VHS standard, or more recently the rewritable DVD standard. EDITOR'S NOTE: I STILL AM UNCLEAR ON THE REWRITABLE DEALIO. (BY THE TIME I FIGURE IT OUT, I'M HOPING THE QUESTION IS MOOT. MY STRATEGY FOR ALL THIS TECH STUFF WHEN IT GETS TOO ANNOYING...WAIT IT OUT).

On top of that, consumers should expect punishment for tinkering with their Blu-ray players, as many have done with current DVD players, for instance to remove regional coding. The new, Internet-connected and secure players will report any "hack" and the device can be disabled remotely.

"A hacked player is any player that is doing something it's not supposed to do," Setos said, adding the jury was still out if regional coding would be maintained or scrapped.The controversial regional code prevents DVD discs that have been bought in one continent to play on devices elsewhere. EDITOR'S NOTE: WELL AS LONG AS IT COMPLETELY INCONVENIENCES THE CONSUMER, THAN THE SOLUTION SOUNDS LIKE A WINNER, HUH?





More People Turn to the Web to Watch TV
For two decades, media company executives and advertisers have been talking about creating fully interactive television that would allow viewers to watch exactly what they want, when they want it. EDITOR’S NOTE: BUT WHO CARES?! “LAW AND ORDER” ALL THE TIME IS ALREADY ON, SO WHO NEEDS ON DEMAND!?

It looks like that future may well be by way of the computer, as big media and Internet companies develop new Web-based video programming and advertising that is truly under the command of the viewer. As Americans grow more comfortable watching programs online, Internet programming is beginning to combine the interactivity and immediacy of the Web with the alluring engagement of television. EDITOR’S NOTE: THE….GIGGLE…’ALLURING ENGAGEMENT OF TELEVISION’? SNICKER……TV AS JESSICA RABBIT.

The Nickelodeon cable network, for example, recently created TurboNick, a free Internet service that offers 24-hour access to popular programs like SpongeBob SquarePants and Jimmy Neutron. It offers some original programs, too, because the young audience of Nickelodeon, which is owned by Viacom, is increasingly spending time in front of computers.

CBS News, which has no cable network and is also owned by Viacom, uses the Internet to offer video news updates and reports that do not fit in the 30-minute time slot of "CBS Evening News."

And for America Online, offering a wide array of free video programming - from coverage of the recent Live 8 concerts to programs hosted by business gurus like Stephen R. Covey and Tom Peters - is a way to attract an audience to its new Internet portal at AOL, a unit of Time Warner, is also producing with the Warner Music Group an Internet-based reality program called "The Biz." It will seek to find the next music mogul, according to people involved with the program.

For all of them, and many more media and Internet companies, investing in new Internet video programming is a way to cash in on the demands of advertisers who want to put their commercials on computer screens, where new viewers are watching. And on many Web sites, viewers can't skip the video commercials, the way they can when using TiVo and other video recorders. EDITOR’S NOTE: OH GIVE US A FEW SECS; WE’LL FIGURE OUT A WAY TO ZAP THRU THESE COMMERCIALS TOO. (AS JEFF GOLDBLUM SAYS IN “JURASSIC PARK” ----“LIFE FINDS A WAY”).

Of course, there have been bits of rough, jerky video on the Internet for years.

The new video services, however, can count on better software and faster connections to deliver pictures that are nearly as crisp as those delivered by a typical cable signal. This year more than half of the homes with Internet access have high speed, or broadband, service. EDITOR’S NOTE: YES, BUT MUCH SMALLER SCREENS. WHY WOULD I WANT TO WATCH ON MY 15 INCH…ALBEIT LOVELY LCD...., WHEN THERE’S A 46 INCH DLP IN THE OTHER ROOM? (I DO SO LOVE MY TV. SIGH…..I REMEMBER WHAT IT WAS LIKE WITH A GOOD-PAYING JOB…..AHHHH……)

"There is critical mass with high-speed Internet connections, so video is a good user experience," said Jim Walton, the president of the CNN News Group. "And that means there can be critical mass for advertisers." EDITOR’S NOTE: AND IT IS ALL ABOUT THEM.

With the cost of the network connections needed to broadcast video over the Web falling and advertising rates rising, CNN, also a Time Warner property, just replaced a small, fee-based Internet video service with an expanded offering of free videos intermingled with commercials.

"Television is a very straightforward, passive, linear medium," said Lloyd Braun, the former chairman of ABC's entertainment group, who now oversees the development of a sprawling campus for Yahoo in Santa Monica, Calif., that will largely be devoted to creating original video programming for the Internet.

"What I find so compelling about the Internet is that it is not passive," he said. "It is a medium where users are in control, can customize the content, personalize it, share it and tap into their communities in a number of ways." EDITOR’S NOTE: WE GOT THE POWER, BABY!

Mr. Braun said he was exploring dozens of video ideas, including original Internet programming in nearly every genre that has worked on television: news, sports, game shows, dramas, sitcoms, even talk shows. But these are likely to be made up of short video segments that users can assemble to their liking rather than half-hour or hourly programs. "If you try to do television on a PC you will fail, because television does television very well," he said. EDITOR’S NOTE: YES. SOMETIMES IT REALLY DOES.

In addition to its own programming, Yahoo will feature programming from others in its video search service and on its other pages. For example, Yahoo is expected to announce today that it will add video clips from CNN and ABC News, along with video ads, to its existing Yahoo News site.

A watershed event in the development of Internet video was AOL's live Webcasts of the Live 8 concert series earlier this month. Some five million people tuned into the Webcast on AOL, where they could instantly flip among the concerts in London, Paris, Philadelphia, Toronto, Rome and Berlin.

Three times as many people watched the televised version on MTV, but many of them were dissatisfied with the way the network, a division of Viacom, selected which songs to play and had its announcers talk over the music. (AOL also offered users all sorts of commentary - blogs from backstage, user comments, photos - but these were accessible alongside the Webcast and did not interrupt the music.) EDITOR’S NOTE: IF I COULD WATCH THE OLYMPICS WITH THE OPTION TO TURN OFF THE NETWORK WIT-AND-WISDOM (USING THOSE WORDS COMPLETELY INSINCERELY), I WOULD ALMOST PAY TO DO SO! (I ONCE WAS IN EUROPE AT THE TIME OF AN OLYMPICS, AND WAS STUNNED AT HOW MUCH BETTER IT WAS WITHOUT THE AMERICAN NETWORK INCESSANT CHATTER. THE EUROPEAN TV STATIONS JUST LET YOU WATCH THE EVENT….NO BABBLE. AMAZING CONCEPT, EH?)

While MTV's TV network is being criticized, its new Internet video service, MTV Overdrive, is being praised as perhaps the slickest attempt yet to combine the packaging of television with the interactivity of the Internet. With one click, users can view dozens of shows - music video collections, newscasts, artist interviews and supplements to MTV's signature programs like "The Real World."

And with a second click, users can see the various segments that make up those shows. They also can assemble a program of their choosing, mixing and matching parts of any of those shows, as well as videos and older programs from MTV's archive of thousands.

For Alisha Davis, who joined MTV two months ago to anchor its afternoon Web newscasts, the medium offers opportunities and challenges that traditional television does not. With no fixed time slot to fill, her afternoon Webcast can run anywhere from 10 minutes to 20 minutes, depending on the news of the day. (That's far more than the three minutes that the MTV network now devotes to its newscasts.) EDITOR’S NOTE: SOUNDS LIKE WE ARE FINALLY…FINALLY…ALMOST READY FOR THE MUCH BALLYHOO’D, AND NOT-YET-REALIZED, TV/INTERNET MARRIAGE. (THE MYTHICAL WORD FOR YEARS....CONVERGENCE). WILL MY NEXT TV SET FINALLY BE TRULY WEDDED TO MY DSL? (AND WILL THEY HAVE KIDS?)

While she still begins each newscast with an upbeat rundown of stories, Ms. Davis also understands that is not necessarily how Internet viewers will watch the show.

"On a linear broadcast, you can refer to something that happened before," she said. "We can't do that. We'll set up a show for people, but a lot of people will create their own show."

"We always said, 'I want my MTV,' " said Judy McGrath, the chief executive of MTV Networks. "Today that means a very personal relationship to whatever it is you are interested in, so you can talk about it, you can generate it, and you can critique it."

The flexibility of the evolving medium also applies to advertisers.

Services like MTV Overdrive typically show 15-second or 30-second commercials - which users cannot skip - before viewers start watching and then again every few minutes. Moreover, when a commercial plays on Overdrive (and on many other new video services) a static graphic ad from the same advertiser appears on another part of the screen. This graphic ad remains even while the program plays. If users click on it, it opens the advertiser's Web site.

"A commercial on broadband is emotional and impactful," said Matt Wasserlauf, the president of Broadband Enterprises, which sells Internet video ads. He said that Internet video ads already produced 100 times as many clicks as static banners on Web pages.

An Internet commercial typically costs about $15 to $20 for each 1,000 viewers, nearly as much as broadcast networks charge. The price is high because there is more demand from advertisers than there is Internet video programming available.

Broadband Enterprises estimates about $200 million will be spent on Internet video this year, up from $75 million last year. That pales in comparison to the $65 billion or so spent on broadcast and cable television advertising, but it is growing faster. EDITOR’S NOTE: IT IS GROWING BECAUSE HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL. EVERYONE KNOWS THAT TRADITIONAL ADVERTISING’S DAY IS WANING, THAT THE OLD WAYS AREN’T WORKING.




While much of the development of Internet video is now being driven by advertising, there is a growing crop of pay-per-view and subscription video services.

In the fall, CNN will introduce CNN Pipeline, a new fee-based Web service that will give users a choice of four live video programs, as well as access to its extensive archive of video clips. And CourtTV's new $4.95-a-month service on the Internet lets users see as many as three live trials simultaneously and also lets hard-core fans replay testimony and arguments from dozens of past trials.

Already, half a million people pay to watch live Webcasts of Major League Baseball games at $3.95 per game, or an unlimited package at $14.95 a month. That's double the paying audience last year.

In time, industry specialists say, longer, more elaborate programs created specifically for the Internet will also emerge. But how quickly that happens may depend in part on the development of technology that can play Internet video on television sets, on which people are used to watching longer programming.

"It takes time to teach consumers what they can do with this medium," said Kevin Conroy, the chief operating officer of its AOL Media Networks Group. "Now we are in a wonderful position to begin to expand to longer-form content.

New video programs will include a live music performance series and a show where movie stars interview one another. AOL is also scouring Hollywood to buy the rights to old TV shows and movies it can fill with ads and show free on the Internet, said Mr. Conroy, who sees the Internet starting as akin to the ultimate UHF station.

One thing AOL will not offer on Webcasts is the most popular programming from its Time Warner cousins, such as HBO and its shows like "The Sopranos" and "Sex and the City."

"Everybody says why don't you have 'Sex and the City,' " Mr. Conroy said, "but 'Sex and the City' is already in first-run syndication on Turner. It will be on the Internet some day, but for now there are thousands of hours of programming that can't get on the air anywhere." EDITOR’S NOTE: ALL “SCARECROW AND MRS. KING” ALL THE TIME! (YES, IT'S CHEESE. BUT IT'S BRUCE BOXLEITNER CHEESE!)

Pre-Labor Day HARRY POTTER News

A very special delivery
DC Velocity has an interesting and detailed article regarding the logistics and planning behind the shipping and distribution of the sixth Harry Potter book.

With millions of muggles waiting for the latest Harry Potter volume to hit the bookstores (or their doorsteps), the people charged with its distribution relied not on magic, but on careful planning and painstaking execution.

THERE IS MAGIC IN LITERATURE, THE KIND OF magic that engages and entrances a reader and draws him or her into the characters' lives.

And in some books, like Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, magic is deeply entwined in the plot's twists and turns as well.

Whether or not that explains the phenomenon that is Harry Potter, there's no denying that the series written by J.K. Rowling has resonated with readers around the world.

The publishing phenomenon continued this summer. On July 15, fans of Harry Potter flocked to bookstores around the nation to await the stroke of midnight, when the sixth book in the series would go on sale. Within 24 hours, 6.9 million copies of the book were in customers' hands.

While the books' appearance at the stroke of midnight may have seemed another bit of magic, something much more mundane was at work.

The responsibility for ensuring that stores had books to sell on July 16—but not before—required not magic, but careful planning and execution among its publisher, Scholastic, and Scholastic's printers and distribution partners. Given the project's scale—an initial printing of 10.8 million books—and the stipulation that every one of those books be kept under wraps until the release date, it's a story worth telling all its own.

It's all in the planning
The job of planning for the distribution of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince fell to Andrew Yablin, who is vice president of global logistics for Scholastic. It was not his first experience with Harry. Yablin also headed up the logistics effort in 2003, when the fifth book in the series, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, was released.

Yablin credits meticulous planning, which began in January, for the smooth rollllout.

"I think the biggest key to our success, because we knew that this was going to be quite large, was the pre-planning that went into the whole thing," he says. "Plus I was fortunate enough to have the same team members both internally and from all the providers—it was a veteran team."

For Scholastic, the team included Yablin; Francine Colaneri, vice president of procurement, who oversaw manufacturing; and Ed Swart, direcr of operations for the Scholastic Trade Division.

"Watching a team that's been together before come together again and build on opportunities from the last time was an unbelievable experience," Yablin says. "For the three of us, it was quite an interesting challenge time the print-and-bind schedule to what sales needed and to what would work on the distribution and logistics side." EDITOR'S NOTE: PAUSING TO REMEMBER, JUST FOR A SEC, THAT WE ARE TALKING ABOUT A BOOK RELEASE, NOT THE INVASION OF NORMANDY.......

The carriers that would haul all those books also took part in the planning.

Terry Budimlija, who headed up the Harry Potter team for Yellow Transportation, reports that for Yellow, the process began in January.

"We had multiple discussions, conference calls and such to talk about the details, delivery dates and what Scholastic expected from Yellow. What we needed was information ahead of the product. Our detailed planning couldn't begin until we had information on shipments, consignees, delivery dates— information that allowed us to electronically sort into service centers and distribution centers."

Early on in the process, Yablin and his colleagues visited each of the eight U.S. binderies that would produce the book to ensure their shipping processes met Scholastic's strict requirements.

"The three of us went to every one of the binderies and put on a presentation on exactly how things were going to happen. Whether it was coming out of bindery A or bindery F, it had to be handled exactly the same way," Yablin says.

Scholastic went so far as to create a standard operating procedure that detailed everything from how pallets were to be shrink wrapped to the steps to be taken to ensure that shipments were handed off to the correct driver.

Yablin and his team also made site visits to the carriers' offices, traveling to both J.B. Hunt's headquarters in Lowell, Ark., and Yellow Transportation's headquarters in Overland Park, Kan., to work out in detail when and how the books would be moved. The team also remained in close communication with its other distribution partners, like Combined Express, a Pennsylvania-based third-party logistics service provider that managed all the appointments, deliveries and routing for Hunt and United Parcel Service (UPS).

Carriers get on board
Though Scholastic printed more copies this time than it did with the fifth volume (whose initial print run was a mere 6.8 million), its carrier base was smaller this time around. Yablin says he chose to use a single truckload provider to maximize the payload in his truckload shipments. Hunt ended up handling every one of the 10.8 million volumes in the first printing, including those that moved through Scholastic's own distribution center into the Yellow or UPS systems. That amounted to about 1,000 truckloads.

"The last time we weren't able to maximize payload because we had various providers with different tare weights on their vehicles,"Yablin says."This time we worked with Hunt specifically on getting the same equipment, and we were able to take some of our payload targets up to overcome some of the cost increases."

Those included diesel fuel costs that ran about a dollar a gallon higher than in June 2003, for the previous Harry Potter release, plus increases in base rates for all carriers. "We needed to maximize transportation capacity," Yablin notes. EDITOR'S NOTE: THIS GUY IS QUITE CANNY AT TURNING SOMETHING INHERENTLY EXCITING INTO SOMETHING RATHER BORING. (GOOD THING HE'S IN THE END OF THE BOOK BIZ HE IS AND NOT, SAY, AN AUTHOR).

Apparently he succeeded. "With Hunt's help, we averaged over 79,000 pounds on every truckload," Yablin reports. (The maximum allowed on most U.S. highways is 80,000 pounds.) EDITOR'S NOTE: OOO....ONLY 1000 POUNDS UNDER! NOW WE'RE TALKIN SUSPENSE! "That takes a lot of pre-planning, a lot of skill. We kept everything legal, but we kept it right at the legal max. Once we knew the book's specs and weight, we were able to max out the loads. I think we brought the payload up almost 8 percent on average from the last book to this book, which was really phenomenal."

Safe and secure
Hunt had the task of carrying all the books from the binderies and staging them for delivery to DCs run by major customers like and Barnes & Noble, as well as to Scholastic's DC in Jefferson City, Mo. But it also had another, more daunting responsibility: safeguarding those books between the time they were printed and the release date. The enormous number of books involved and the time it took to produce them increased that challenge. Scholastic's printers began producing the books in late May, a full month and a half before they went on sale, lengthening the period of exposure. EDITOR'S NOTE: SO WE COULD HAVE SNUCK INTO A WAREHOUSE SOMEWHERE AND READ THE BOOK IN LINE FOR ROTS!

The books could not linger for long within the binderies, which had little storage space. So the team had to come up with a different solution. Because the copies would move mostly in truckload quantities, the team decided to pre-position a lot of truckloads, using the trucks as rolling storage in Hunt's secure yards.

But the books didn't stay there for long. Two or three days after the presses started up, shipments of books began to move out. At that point, keeping those shipments secure while positioning them for delivery became the carrier's responsibility.

"We told them that security was job number one on this project," Yablin says. "There was an eight- to 10-week period where we had to keep this under wraps. We absolutely mandated that everything would stay on the trailers. I didn't want to take it off and put it in another facility."

This time around, the job was made easier by technological tools that weren't available in 2003.

"I think technology has come a long, long way in a short period of time," says Yablin.

Those technological tools included Qualcomm's OmniTracs satellite tracking system and its OmniExpress wireless fleet management system, which are installed on Hunt's tractors to help the carrier keep tabs on shipments in the yards or on the road.

Hunt also equips its trailers with the FleetView wireless trailer management system sold by Texas-based Terion, a business-to-business wireless communication company. That system, which provides trailer location and event status information, became an important tool in safeguarding shipments after they were loaded.

Yablin explains that Hunt programmed the system on each truck to indicate the route from the bindery plant to the destination yard, so that it would trigger an alarm if the truck strayed off course. But even after the trailers reached their destination, the Terion system remained activated.

"Once a trailer was dropped in the secure yard, there was a geo-fence put around it," Yablin says. That meant the Terion system would send an alert if a trailer moved as little as 10 feet, he explains. "That was a tremendous advance from where we were just two years ago."

Over and out
Another of Hunt's responsibilities was to move truckloads of the Harry Potter book from the binderies to the Scholastic distribution center in Jefferson City, Mo. There, the books were staged for shipment via Yellow Transportation or UPS.

"We tried to make that process as close to cross-docking as we could," Yablin says. "We had our own procedures in the facility to keep the books out of the commingled storage rack. But we definitely tried to time it so that as soon as a Hunt truck arrived, the cargo was quickly loaded onto another vehicle and sent back out."

Much of that activity took place late in the process. For instance, Yellow collected the 750,000 books it would handle in some 2,000 shipments in late June. Those shipments, almost all carton pick orders, were scheduled based on the transit times Yellow needed to deliver books on Thursday, July 14, two days before they went on sale.

Though it handled less total volume than Hunt did, Yellow found that its job still presented plenty of challenges. The carrier had scheduled deliveries in the 48 contiguous states, plus Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico.

Yellow was essentially responsible for two waves of deliveries: the first to small distributors or resellers that then shipped the books to other customers, and the second to small booksellers, drug stores and small retailers. The bulk of those deliveries were executed on Thursday, July 14, with a handful on Friday. Some shipments were as small as half a dozen cartons.

"Every single delivery was pre-positioned out to the destination terminals by Wednesday night. It all happened on Thursday, and we were able to move everything by road. We did not use any air," Yablin says. "By following their lead in getting products to the outer islands, Hawaii and up to Alaska, we released on time to minimize cost and keep the loads secure but also get them in position. In a lot of cases, we were able to load LTL direct to densely populated areas like Los Angeles and Boston and New York. We were able to load those in Missouri so that we wouldn't have to open the trailers until the delivery day. They were actually route loaded, so that we didn't have to touch it. We reduced our security risks significantly by eliminating the need to go through any of their DCs."

It helped that Yellow was able to determine how its trucks would be loaded well in advance of the books' release date, says Budimlija.

"Once we had a spreadsheet that had all the information, we were able to lay that on top of our network and put together a plan for loading trailers with the highest level of security we could. We were able to load 95 percent of the shipments to destination service centers or destination DCs. That minimized handling."

Most of Yellow's work took place on the weekend before the book's release, with shipments timed to reach destination terminals on Wednesday for the Thursday deliveries. Shipments to more distant locations, like Hawaii, Alaska and Puerto Rico, had moved earlier in the month.

Part and parcel
Along with Hunt and Yellow, the third carrier that participated in Scholastic's big rollout was UPS. Yablin says that although UPS played a relatively small role in the process, it was nonetheless a crucial player. The average order size was larger this time than for the 2003 release, he explains, so economics dictated that a larger share of shipments would move via LTL than by parcel delivery.

"But it was still critical to have the small-package service provider," he says.

For Scholastic, UPS handled shipments to some of the smallest retailers, as well as residential deliveries for books ordered directly from Scholastic, about 1,300 deliveries for a total of 16,000 books.

Both Yellow and UPS had a team working in the Scholastic DC for several days.

"We had their teams on the ground verifying count and address and order," reports Yablin. "We shipped carrier load and count: We did not want any problems with the count because of the security issues that would arise if something showed up at its destination short. We wanted to make sure the carrier was absolutely 100-percent responsible."

the end of the journey
Scholastic's logistics staff undoubtedly heaved a huge sigh of relief once all the copies of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince had been delivered safely into their customers' hands. But that was by no means the end of the journey for many of those books. Once Scholastic's job was over, the millions of copies delivered to customers' DCs or fulfillment centers still had to be shipped out to retail stores or for residential deliveries., for example, says it received more than 1.5 million advance orders for the book, all of which had to be delivered to customers as soon as possible after the hour of release.

Amazon worked with UPS and the U.S. Postal Service to deliver hundreds of thousands of copies of the book to buyers on Saturday, July 16. (Amazon also made deliveries of the book to customers in the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany and Japan.)

Both Amazon and Barnes & Noble chose UPS to deliver a large share of their books, says Andrew Yablin, Scholastic's vice president of global logistics.

"Although we weren't paying the freight for those shipments, we did work diligently with Amazon and Barnes & Noble and UPS to make sure security measures were in place."

The process was more complicated than it might appear, says Steve Holmes, a spokesman for UPS.

"We had to create individual plans for Scholastic, Amazon and Barnes & Noble," he reports. "We needed to make sure we had the assets in place and we had to do a good bit of planning on security.

UPS also worked closely with the U.S. Postal Service for the residential deliveries on Saturday. UPS delivered books to post offices around the country on Friday for delivery the next day—a process that required a great deal of communication. Among other things, the postal service provided UPS drivers with letters explaining the plan in case of any confusion at local post offices. The carriers also came up with a contingency plan for UPS drivers to deliver any packages refused by a post office directly to the recipient.

Other carriers played a role in the book's last-mile distribution as well.

For example, Con-Way Transportation handled 4,000 LTL shipments of the book for Levy Home Entertainment, the book distribution arm of Chas. Levy Co. Levy Home Entertainment serves as a supplier to a number of large retail chains, including Best Buy, K-Mart, Meijer, Shopko, Stop & Shop, Target and Wal-Mart. Like Hunt, Yellow and UPS, Con-Way had to come up with ways to accommodate the need for tight security. For example, Con-Way says it had to arrange for shipments stored in its DCs in Hillside, Ill.; Salem, Va.; and Clearfield, Utah, to be held in secure, locked facilities prior to their release for final delivery. EDITOR'S NOTE: I DON'T KNOW.....I DIDN'T THINK THE DELIVERY AND SECURITY PROCESS WOULD BE AS INTERESTING AS THE BOOK ITSELF, BUT I STILL SORT OF FIGURED IT FOR A BIT OF PIZZAZZ. (BUT SINCE I HAD TO SUFFER THRU READING THIS ARTICLE, I DECIDED TO SHARE THE DISAPPOINTMENT. AND NOW, I ACTUALLY FEEL A BIT BETTER, KNOWING WE'VE ALL SUFFERED TOGETHER).

Dutch HBP cover released
Depicting a stairway with spells flying on the Dutch publishing site.


Four new GOF LEGOs released
Four new LEGOs for the Goblet of Fire movie have been added to's online store.

They include:

Rescue from the Merpeople

Graveyard Duel


Harry and the Hungarian Hortail

and The Durmstrang Ship

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Hands-On

Official Trailer

It's been interesting to watch the evolution of the Harry Potter series over the course of its six volumes, from a fairly lighthearted kids' tale to a much darker story that's drawn in millions of adults as well.

This tonal shift has been especially evident in the Harry Potter films--and, of course, the games based upon those films.

The latest game in the series is the forthcoming Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which chronicles Harry's accidental entry into the prestigious--but wildly dangerous--Tri-Wizard Tournament, as well as the resulting events that have enormous repercussions for the entire wizarding world. We got a new look at the console version of the game to see how well it will represent the beloved story of the book and film.

Much like EA's other big-huge-fantasy-movie game series, The Lord of the Rings, Goblet of Fire will let you grab two friends and play through most of the game cooperatively.

In past games, Harry, Ron, and Hermione actually played differently, but this time, the difference between the characters will be cosmetic only, so you won't be confined to one character depending on which scenario you're in.

You've got two basic spell buttons--jinx and charm--and these will invoke different spells in different levels, depending on the requirements of your current predicament.

For instance, we got a new look at the Death Eater attack at the Quidditch World Championship, which will serve as the game's opening level, in which the three friends try to escape a magical assault by the followers of Lord Voldemort, not to mention a host of nasty creatures like the doglike dugbog.

Our charm here was wingardium leviosa, which devotees of the Potter books will know allows the user to levitate objects--in this case, large rocks that we could hurl at enemies. You'll also have to use your spells to solve some basic puzzles, such as using wingardium leviosa , along with the other two characters (controlled by other players or the artificial intelligence), to move a massive boulder and clear a path.

Levels like Herbology will encourage you to go back and look for more secrets as you become more powerful

Only a few sections of the game will constrain your choice of character to Harry; naturally, those are the Tri-Wizard levels, in which only Harry takes part.

The first challenge has Harry speeding around on his broom in a frantic race all over Hogwarts' grounds (and over the castle itself) to beat a dragon. We also got to see the second Tri-Wizard level, which sends Harry to the bottom of a lake to rescue his trapped friends, while he fights off mer-people and grindylows. Both of these levels are different from the regular cooperative ones, not only because you'll play just as Harry, but also because they're a bit more linear, requiring you to travel along a set path, avoiding obstacles and fighting enemies until you reach your objective.

EA isn't ready to show off the third Tri-Wizard level, which will naturally be based on the dangerous hedge maze from the book and film, though we're interested to see how it turns out based on what we've seen so far.

We also got to see parts of two new levels based on the herbology and defense against the dark arts classes at Hogwarts.

Both of these are similar to the Forest Campsite level, in that they're full of obstacles that you'll often need multiple characters to bypass.

In the Herbology level, the three friends had access to the herbivicus spell, which could be used to make plants grow very quickly and in strange ways, which was useful for opening up new areas.

In another instance, the spell was useful for opening up seed pods that would attract some nasty vampyr mosps (which are giant beelike creatures with massive stingers, natch).

The Defense Against the Dark Arts level takes place high up in the castle, and features such puzzles as large drawbridges that you'll have to use the carpe retractum spell to lower.

You'll be able to revisit these and other levels as you progress through the game. The more powerful your characters become, the more areas you'll have access to, and there will be hidden collectibles to discover that should encourage players to go back and explore further.

In fact, though the spells you'll have access to will depend on which level you're playing, you'll be able to power up each character independently by collecting magic beans throughout the levels.

As you finish each level, you'll increase the attributes of a certain spell, which will give it longer range or more power. You'll also have access to a sort of smart bomb that you can activate by collecting enough of the right bean in a given level.

The fourth-year students will take defense against the dark arts lessons from none other than famous auror Mad-Eye Moody.

The EA team is focusing more intently on nailing the look of the film in the Goblet of Fire game.

Whereas the previous game, Prisoner of Azkaban, had a style reminiscent of the film but with its own elements added, this time around the artists are striving to make the characters look as close to their real-life counterparts as possible. EDITOR'S NOTE: AND I THINK THEY REALLY SUCCEEDED!

The artists have also worked with the film's production design to create a Hogwarts and a Tri-Wizard Tournament that are both highly evocative of the forthcoming movie.

We'll find out how successful they've been when Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire ships on the PS2, Xbox, GameCube, and PC in November. Stay tuned for more.