High-def strategy now Universal

Day-date format bows part of studio's Blu-ray way

Beginning in the summer with "Doomsday," Universal Studios Home Entertainment will bow all of its new releases the same day on DVD and Blu-ray Disc, division president Craig Kornblau is set to announce today.

The studio that once was Hollywood's top backer of the HD DVD format got behind Blu-ray the day format developer Toshiba threw in the towel two months ago, though without any details.

Now, Kornblau said, he's ready to go public with Universal's Blu-ray strategy, which includes plans to release about 40 titles in the second half of the year.

Among them are the studio's five big feature films of the summer: "The Incredible Hulk," with Edward Norton, William Hurt and Liv Tyler; "Wanted," the action thriller from director Timur Bekmambetov starring James McAvoy and Angelina Jolie; Guillermo del Toro's "Hellboy II: The Golden Army"; "Mamma Mia," the adaptation of the musical starring Meryl Streep; and the sequel "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor," with Jet Li, Maria Bello and Michelle Yeoh joining the returning Brendan Fraser and John Hannah.

"We're thrilled that our preliminary slate of Blu-ray offerings comprises such a brilliant collection of high-def-centric fare," Kornblau said.

Universal will enter the Blu-ray market July 22 with a trio of films from its "Mummy" action-adventure franchise: "The Mummy" and "The Mummy Returns," both starring Fraser, and the spinoff "The Scorpion King," with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.

Also planned for domestic Blu-ray before the year is up are the catalog titles "American Gangster," "Knocked Up," "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," "Miami Vice," "End of Days," "U-571" and "Land of the Dead," among others.

"We are taking great care in mining our library for those properties we feel precisely hit that high-def 'sweet spot' and best deliver on the promise of providing consumers with the state-of-the-art home-viewing experience," Kornblau said.

The second season of NBC's "Heroes" will be Universal's first global Blu-ray release, with a worldwide bow set for Aug. 26, the same day as the DVD. Universal Studios Home Entertainment will release the title in North America, while Universal Pictures International, NBC Universal's international home entertainment arm, will release it in the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Japan.

Also coming Aug. 26 will be Season 1 of "Heroes," which Universal released on HD DVD exactly one year before.

Universal's international Blu-ray slate will consist of 29 titles this year, including the five big theatricals as well as such catalog titles as "Gladiator," "Casino" and "The Thing."

"I am delighted that highly anticipated feature films and TV titles from one of Universal's strongest lineups ever will be available on Blu-ray for the first time," said Eddie Cunningham, entertainment president at UPI.

Universal had been HD DVD's biggest studio backer ever since the next-generation optical disc format came to market in April 2006. But when Toshiba pulled the plug on the format in February, Kornblau wasted no time switching his allegiance.

He's also firmly committed to BD Live — which allows Blu-ray Discs to be connected to the Internet for special features, from additional content to real-time chats with fellow viewers — though the studio is not ready to announce any concrete plans.

HD DVD offered Web connectivity from the start, and Universal aggressively exploited this through features like a virtual store that allowed viewers to buy items they saw in the movie with a couple of clicks of the remote.
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