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Saturday, September 09, 2006

Cheepnis: Treeline/Mill Creek Mega Packs

This is another entry I'm porting over from my old blog that is about to vanish. Again, this entry needs some updating, and I don't really have the time, but I will mention a thing or two at the end.

I want to hit on one of the more infamous cheap DVD companies out there. I've seen their releases under the Mill Creek name and another one (Dollar something, the logo and layout looks almost the same) but most people refer to them as Treeline, the name most of their releases fall under. Unlike many others in the cheap DVD sweepstakes, Treeline actually has their product stocked in mainstream stores (Best Buy, Borders, etc.) as well as Big Lots and dollar stores. Well, their "top of the line" product, anyway.

You see, Treeline is the company responsible for the "megapack." In side a box about the size of a modern PC game, you get 50, yes, 50 movies of a featured theme or genre. The kicker being, these sets are easily found for around $20-$25 (even less if you buy on line.)

Sound too good to be true? Well, it isn't, but there's a catch...

I own five of these sets. Two horror sets (Horror Classics and Chilling Classics, more on that one in a bit,) the Sci Fi set, the Martial Arts set and 100 Classic Cartoons, which is a slightly different animal. The packaging is very similar to the early Atari 2600 carts in that the box opens like a hollowed out book and the DVDs are each in a cardboard sleeve in the middle. Two pieces of Velcro keep the cover shut so your discs don't spill out. It gets the job done, but it's not packaging that's going to hold up over the long haul.

The idea of buying a crap load of movies by genre is a novel one (though I think Brentwood may have done it first) but Treeline seems to play a bit loose with the definitions. I consider myself to have a pretty liberal definition of sci fi, but I don't consider sword and sandal flicks (like Hercules) or jungle pics (such as the abysmal She Gods of the Coral Reef) sci-fi. Nor would I consider Metropolis horror. Regardless, and lucky for me, they're all films I'm interested in, but be warned that Treeline plays a bit loose with their classifications.

Also, prepare yourself for some real dregs among the gems. There are a lot of movies on these sets I haven't seen other bottom of the barrel companies touch and after watching them, I can see why. There are some real stinkers here, and this is coming from someone who likes crap B-movies. Still, at the price per movie, it's not that big a loss if you don't like a few of them.

For those of you unsure if you want to take the 50 movie plunge, Treeline offers pretty much all their sets in smaller bites, assuming you can find them. I've seen 2,4,10 and 20 packs of their movies in stores. There aren't any different movies, it's just the same discs from the sets sold in smaller numbers (or in the case of the two pack, sold as a single sided disc.)

Now, the catch I was mentioning earlier. (As if the previous things I mentioned weren't "catch" enough.) Each of these sets contains 50 full length movies on 12 DVDs. Now, the discs are double sided, thankfully, but they're single layer which means you get 3-4 hours of video on a disc designed to comfortable hold about 2.

How do they do it? Compression. Ironically, the fact that many of these movies are lousy prints works in the set's favor here because the flaws in the film help to hide the compression artifacts. Still, you don't have to have a HDTV to notice blocks, digital blips and some really nasty blacks.

Is it enough to make these movies unwatchable? It really depends. It's annoying, but usually I can forget about it. Still, if you have a big screen TV, I'm sure these discs are going to look like ass on it and if you're a videophile, you're probably going to get more wrapped up in counting the compression artifacts than the movies.

Really, these discs are the DVD equivalent of old cheapie EP mode VHS tapes. If you can deal with those, you can deal with this.

Now, the 100 Cartoon set is a little different. It also features a lot less content for the same price as 100 cartoons still takes up a lot less time than 50 movies. The good thing is, the cartoons haven't been compressed to hell, for the most part. There's a few that look pixelated and have some severe ghosting. Strangely, one of them I have on another disc with the exact same flaws, which leads me to believe Treeline might be ripping other people's discs.

And speaking of ripping other people's discs, there's a bit of controversy on some of the movie message boards about the sources for Treeline's sets. Some people feel the company is just ripping and recompressing other people's transfers. Kind of a bummer, if it's true, but in the world of public domain, there isn't a whole lot you can do about it.

Speaking of public domain, it should go without saying that almost all of Treeline's product is public domain stuff from the 30s-60s. The real head scratcher is the 50 Chilling Classics set though, which features newer films including Driller Killer and Peter Jackson's Bad Taste which are almost certainty not public domain. I've heard rumors that this set has been pulled along with a "Gunfighters" set which includes some copywrited spaghetti westerns. Oops.

On the positive side of things, if you're a fan of MST3K, buying the Horror and Sci-Fi sets will net you a ton of movies featured on the show. Some of the Hercules, some of the Gameras (albiet in the original AIP dubs, not the beloved Sandy Frank re-dubs from the 80s,) some Bela Lugosi, the Beast of Yucca Flats and Robot Monster, to name just a handfull. You'll easily find just as many movies on these sets that could have been fodder for Joel and the bots.

I should also mention that inspite of the quality, there's something really satisfying about having an instant movie collection for cheap. I bought a few of these sets for less than $10 on Amazon. Even if they aren't much to look at, that's a killer deal.


OK, since I wrote that, Mill Creek has releases several new sets, some with some amazing titles. The Chillers set is more recent horror stuff, the Drive-In set is just amazing sleeze, there's a Warriors set, if you're into the sword and sandal thing and there's another sci-fi set soon to be released. The quality is still crap, and apparently they've been watermarking their movies at various points (ironic, considering they swipe most of what they have from old VHS tapes.)

There's also been some pretty sketchy copywrite stuff going on, espically on the Chillers set. It's highly unlikely that Peter Jackson's Bad Taste would be licensed cheap enought to appear on a 50 movies for $30 box.

There's also a bit of double dipping going on, though not as much as you'd expect. Even then, sometimes they've actually upgraded the source (I think Legend of Bigfood went from pan and scan to letterboxed, for instance.) Someone on the Lanternia forums did a huge cross reference list for titles and collections. Look it up, if you're interested.

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