Sunday, 8 July 2012

The Death of the DVD Film School

This is an issue that had been eating at me for a long time now (not literally. I'm just trying to be metaphorical. Why won't you let me be smart!?); It is inevitable, physical media is going bye-bye and everything will essentially be cloud or computer space, and this isn't a bad thing in itself, but I am a big movie lover, and an even bigger DVD/Blu-Ray special features lover, and I am worried that we may be witnessing the death of the special feature.

I am a bit of a collector (read: hoarder) when it comes to DVDs. I have to have em, and I have to have the most special-est fanciest edition going. Annoyingly, studios double dip, or release better versions of films all the time. I have bought at least 2 different copies of each of George Romero's original zombie flicks, and I am still a long way off having all the bases covered. This is a nuisance, sure, but not my concern. My concern is the complete disappearance of the reasons I buy these discs; the special features.

What the fuck is this 'overkill' you speak of?

My entire life, I have been a horror fan, and film fan in general, and I will always remember that moment I discovered the audio commentary on the first Nightmare on Elm Street film I had recently got for my 14th birthday. Up until then, all I thought of DVDs was an expensive but fancy way of having better picture quality, and maybe a trailer. But this commentary (plus the ridiculously lush release of Hannibal I also acquired) took me to a new level. Suddenly, I was being shown behind the scenes, and not in that annoying E Close-up kind of way, but in a frank and casual way. Though not always the case, you could very often find out what went wrong, or massive problems that were overcome, or the general nitty gritty you might not know otherwise. It was an education. A film school put on to reflective plastic. And I loved it. 

This was some of the best 4 hours 
of my life. No, seriously.

DVDs boomed and everything was the best special edition that could be made (for a high price, of course, but hey, you are no longer watching a film, but experiencing it really). Some releases were brilliant and insightful, like the first two Terminator films or the Alien quadrilogy, and some lacked a depth, typically owing to being recent and people not wanting to burn bridges or just generally wanting it to seem like a classic (see: Alien Vs Predator's horrendously ego-tripping features). But we were given banks of information. And then it started to disappear...

Do yourself a favour and read this article here, about the disappearance of special features (and this response to it, which also gives some nice extra insight). The basic point is that people are watching films on services like Netflix or iTunes, and no longer buy DVDs or Blu Rays, meaning there is no point in companies shilling out for features for these formats, as not nearly enough people are buying anymore. And it is very true. There are some definite exceptions to this rule (like Arrow, who have been releasing amazing special editions of cult classics), but it is becoming more and more rare that you will find a double disc special edition. Sure, you might find an extended cut or whatever, but that's not the same. 

My shelves are literally full of DVDs (with some Blu Rays starting to sneak in), but I know they are quickly becoming obsolete, and really, even though I do love to have and to hold them, I am ready to embrace the change. If you were to tell me I could have all of my collection located in a digital space that is no bigger than a hard drive in the real world, I would go for it. I have run out of room for my habit, and see that the convenience of it all being stored digitally is massive. You may also say 'Hey, Richard, this is no dream. You can do this RIGHT NOW!', and you would be right. But it comes with a heck of a caveat. Whatever I buy will be limited to the film itself. Just the film. No extras. No making of. No commentary. And this is where I call bullshit.

Thanks, Google.

I love the idea of buying a film from iTunes and downloading it right away, but I don't. Special features are a must. As a filmmaker, as a fan, we have had it, and we can not go back. Oddly, The Human Centipede 2 has extra features for download, but aside from that, if you want the features, you get the physical format, which is having less and less features, because of your digital downloading, because of the convenience and lack of features on physical discs, which there wouldn't be, if you... yadda yadda yadda. You get it.

The obvious question: Why can I not download the special features?

I am watching The Thing remake, which comes with a commentary, a making of and deleted scenes, for the price of €8-ish. For just the film on iTunes, I pay €12 (or €17 for the HD version!!!). Why would I do that now? Why aren't special features added in? Like the way you can get album artwork with a music download, you should be able to buy special edition digital downloads. Surely packaging up a film with a making of, deleted scenes, and including a second audio track for the commentary is not THAT difficult. As it stands, there is no benefit to a digital download except that it's digital, but that's like saying 'this car comes with wheels'. It really is standard now. And this is why piracy is still so rampant. DVDs DID curve piracy somewhat, because they offered something new or added, but a digital download is a step back.

Displayed here by the medium of
interpretive dance.

But add in some extras to that download, and I am sold. For the same price, I will move away from DVD and do my purchasing online. I am not the only one. There must be thousands of people who agree with this. And think of the added benefits. Films that are not available in special editions can have features added finally. It has already happened. Darron Aronofsky recorded an audio commentary for The Fountain and Tom Holland did one for Child's Play, and these were released online for free. As a region 2 customer, a lot of special editions in the US don't make it across the pond (say Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas). I own the film already, but I would spend 1 or 2 quid on a downloadable commentary to watch with it. The market is there, and it is all material that has either been created already, or just needs motivation and purpose to be created some more.

So, my proposal is simple. Release films online with special features and you will have more customers. And the interest in special features will be reignited so more will be made. And studios will get money, and we will get the in depth experience we had been spoiled with. 

Let's do this thing!

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