Sunday, January 21, 2007

Remembering DVD: Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery ...

In September 1998 I was living and working in Munich as the 3rd year of my degree. It was the very beginning of DVD as a real consumer technology, outside research labs at the big tech companies. Recently launched in the US and right in the middle of the European launch. For a consumer tech geek like myself it was an exciting time. The work that I was involved in was not hard or complicated, like they would trust a student with anything like that, so I spent a lot of my time reading websites in the fledgling online DVD community. Some of these website still exist (DVDFile, DVD Review, The Digital Bits ) some unfortunately do not (DVD Resource).

Reading these sites I dreamed of owning a DVD player, starting a collection. At that point my height of home cinema achievement was to have a Nicam Stereo VCR hooked up to my Hi-Fi (all of which actually lived back in England). To keep myself going in Munich I had bought a new Hi-Fi (radio, twin tape and 3 CD changer) which would also handle Dolby Pro-Logic Surround playback, but without a TV, video or DVD player all I could do was listen to some soundtrack CDs that had surround sound encoded in them.

Living in Munich was wonderful. It is an amazing city. Biko came over a couple of times to visit and had a great time, and I keep saying that one day I would love to take She-Ra there and show him the places I would go to. I made many friends from the people I met out there. One really good friend was Simon. He was in his late 30's (I'm guessing, and I am crap at that so apologies if he ever reads this and I am wrong about it), he worked at the same company I was working at. He'd lived in Munich for years, mostly in a fantastic bachelor pad. He lived in a top floor corner flat just on the river near the Museum and Imax cinema. This corner flat enjoyed a bedroom that was in the top of a corner turret with a wood beamed rafters over it. It was a great flat, but Simon was giving it up to move in with his fiance.

Simon and I would meet a couple of times a day for coffee, mid way between our respective offices. I wasn't busy and his project was on hold for a while as the client was running acceptance tests on the most recent deliverable, so we had the time to kill. Our legendary coffee breaks would last almost an hour (remember there were a couple each day). Obviously during these breaks we would chat about many things, but me being me the conversation would often turn to the DVD players I would like to get, or the DVDs I would like to own. We both love comedy films and talked a lot about Austin Powers 2, which was rumoured to be in the works at that time. It was only while I was in Munich that I first saw Austin Powers on a rental video at a fellow students flat.

Before Simon and his fiance could move into their new place it needed some serious painting and decorating, and the good friend that I am I offered to help. I am not the most practical person in the world, but I can paint a wall. So a few weekends of help later the place was ready to go. I also helped with the move, shifting stuff out of old flats and into the new one. All of this was actually a lot of fun, and Simon was a friend so obviously I didn't mind helping in the least.

About a week after the big move Simon and I were meeting for one of our coffee breaks when he gave me a present. It was a thank you for the help. A really wonderful gesture from most people, but Simon has a little bit of an evil streak in him so things were not all that simple. The gift was a Region 1 import of the Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery DVD, and I didn't even own a DVD player! ... yet.

He knew what I would do, I swear to you now that he knew what I would do. I am sure that you know what I did. Of course I did, I knocked off of work at 5:30pm, grabbed a friend and went to Saturn (a large electronics chain in Germany) and bought a TV and my first DVD player. The Panasonic DVD A350. By 6:30pm, after a short cab ride home, I was watching my first DVD, hearing it in Pro-Logic surround.

I was up most of the night, watching the film, the film with commentary and all the special features. What a revelation it all was. In one way I was very lucky, as Austin Powers was one of the best of the early DVDs. While Contact will always claim the crown of the first Special Edition DVD, this wasn't far behind. An excellent screen-specific commentary from director Jay Roach and star/writer Mike Meyers as well as 6 deleted scenes. Not much by today's standards but considering the time absolutely brilliant.

Looking back now it is amusing to note the other special features trumpeted on the cover; Star Highlights (clips from other films the stars have been in), Special cameo menu (audio clips from the film over the "full motion" menu!), trailer and cast biographies (thank God these went the way of the dinosaurs as a claimable special feature). Another downside is the horrible Warner specific "Snapper" case, those cardboard cases with the cover art printed directly onto them so if you damage it in any way there's no replacing the case. Finally I was shocked to discover that all of Christian Slater's scenes had been removed from this copy, later discovering that those scenes had never appeared in any US version (theatrical or home release).

So that was the story of my first DVD, something I always think about when I see it on the shelf. To me now the New Line musical stab that they only sometimes use before films will always simply make me think of DVD in general (something ingrained in me partly because my second DVD also had it at the start). Austin Powers is a fun film, it always makes me laugh, and while many would not consider it a stand out film, to me it is a stand out DVD in my collection simply because it was the first. There are many more standouts in my collection, each with their own (personal to me) story behind them and I hope to tell you about some of them soon. In the meantime please tell me about the story, or not, behind your first DVD.


Biko said...

Ah good days. I remember your love of that DVD. And I did indeed enjoy my visits to Munich. Not that I'm trying to suggest that your text needs confirmations. And anyway, maybe you've made me up entirly and just log in with this account adding comments to justfy your entries and make yourself look popular.

BTW, this is your best entry ever. It really reminded me of the bit in the Guardian mag which puts a back story to classified ads.

Matt Large said...

Thanks Matt ... er I mean Biko ;)

Glad you liked it. I wasn't sure it would work as an article so it's good to get positive feedback.

That New Line musical stab really does take me back, it's true what they say about Music being a strong trigger of memories. They don't use it too much these days but I was watching something on Sky Box Office while I was off sick and it was on there. Took me straight back.

So are you going to follow up with something about your first DVD?

Biko said...

Well, not everyone has a great story about their first DVD. This might be something that is unique to you.

I bought Se7en R1 Special Edition from Play. I didn't have a proper DVD player at the time but played it on my PC and output that to my Hi-Fi and TV. There is a story about having to bypass Macrovision but I'm not enough of a geek to tell it.

I'll have to check out that New Line musical thang as I can't remember how it goes.

She-ra said...

It goes do do do do do do do do bong doooo.

My first DVD was the Matrix, bought by Matt/Biko himself as I didn't even have the internet at that time. Hell, I didn't even have a player until a long time afterwards. I think I'd amassed 40 or 50 discs before I actually got to see one. And as my player was a graduation pressie I had to pass Uni to get it, which was no easy task I can tell you.

And yeah, those snap cases blow!


Matt Large said...

Wow, I had forgotten about your unwatchable collection. It must have been very cool to finally get a DVD player.

I plan on having another or my semi-regular rants about DVD packaging soon ... building up to it.

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