If you burn it, they will come.
This, at least, is what the elves who make DVDs must be hoping this holiday season, as media companies continue to dip deeper and deeper into the well of content to satisfy the growing thirst for home entertainment. Not only can you count on virtually every new mainstream movie to come out on DVD within a matter of months of its theatrical release (and that window is narrowing), but it's often only a few short years before we see the "collector's editions," "deluxe editions" and "anniversary editions" of not-so-old films and TV shows you never even knew had a following. That, of course, is on top of the occasional legitimate classic, the straight-to-DVD oddity and everything in between. All of which makes for a market that is more crowded, and more confusing, than ever. Let the buyer beware: The phrase "with never-before-seen footage" is not necessarily a selling point.
Given the economics of DVDs -- it typically costs about $2 a pop to manufacture one, with a few more bucks per platter if you have an advertising budget -- and given the potential of the Internet (a hotbed of cult fandom) to hook up niche buyers with niche sellers, it often seems that, eventually, everything anybody ever watched on the large or small screen will someday be available on DVD.
Think we exaggerate?
Take one title that recently arrived among the seemingly hundreds that pour through our mailroom: a little novelty called "The Hilarious House of Frightenstein." Consisting of four (count 'em, four!) episodes of an obscure Canadian children's television show from the 1970s featuring Vincent Price, this DVD had long been clamored for on such tribute sites as Frightenstein.com well before its fall release. And guess what? It isn't even all that good. (We know, we know. Somewhere, someone who grew up in Toronto is about to fire off an angry e-mail.)
The point is this: You need our annual gift guide to DVDs (and, let's not forget, CDs) now more than ever. How else to navigate that swelling sea of shiny, plastic discs that threatens to overwhelm the cautious shopper? What follows are a few of our recommendations of recent offerings in several categories, including children's, TV, pop and classical music, and critics' picks. As always, prices may vary -- but never, under the guidance of our trusty critics, quality.
-- Michael O'Sullivan