EXTRA: The Case of the Missing DVDs

So, Steven Spielberg has finally given the OK to release his neo-classic Universal movies on DVD. That’s nice, but it’s no big deal, right? Wrong.

Because even though DVD’s emergence as the dominant home entertainment format is undeniable, there are a lot of filmmakers, movie studio types and other influential people out there who continue to deny it, leaving lots of classic movies that have been available on plain ol’ VHS tape for years unreleased in the new format.

In fact, a DVD collector’s most-wanted-disc list would include these hall of fame movies:

Citizen Kane” (1941), “King Kong” (the 1933 original), the “Godfather” trilogy, “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962), “The Apartment” (1960), “The African Queen” (1951), “Bringing Up Baby” (1938), “Superman” (1978) and its sequels, “Back to the Future” and “The French Connection” (1971). (We’re not even going to go into the “Star Wars” movies, which are No. 1 on everyone’s list of Movies That Should Be On DVD.) “Lawrence of Arabia” The DVD format has been around for five years now. According to reports, 4 million DVD players were sold last year, and the number is growing. The little discs are superior to VHS tape in every way: The picture is clearer, sound crisper, and you don’t have to rewind. So, why are so many classic films still available only on tape? The reason, DVD experts say, is that while some movie studios have embraced the new technology, others are simply slower to get with it.

“Warner Bros. is extremely committed to the DVD format, releasing such gems as ‘The Philadelphia Story‘ and ‘The Maltese Falcon‘ quickly and inexpensively,” says Chris Holland, webmaster of the Attack of the 50 Foot DVD Web site (www.50footdvd.com). Holland also praises Paramount and MGM but says 20th Century Fox “has been the slowpoke of the bunch.”

Peter M. Bracke, editor in chief of DVDfile.com, adds kudos for Universal, which has committed its classic horror movies and Alfred Hitchcock titles to DVD, and Columbia Pictures, which has issued several Frank Capra and Jimmy Stewart classics.

And word this week was that Universal Home Video will kick off a series of Spielbergian blockbuster DVDs with a special edition disc of “Jaws,” due out July 11. It will follow with “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial,” “Jurassic Park,” “Schindler’s List” and “The Lost World,” although dates for those titles haven’t been announced.

In case you’re wondering about the “Raiders of the Lost Ark” trilogy, those aren’t available on DVD yet, either, and Paramount Home Video has yet to announce any such plans. In fact, “Saving Private Ryan” is the only Spielberg movie committed to DVD right now — an astonishing fact, considering the bespectacled director is acknowledged as one of the greatest (and highest-grossing) filmmakers ever.

Almost as astonishing as the other Spielberg-related title that many DVD collectors are hope, hope, hoping gets a DVD release: “The Goonies.”