Click here to learn more about anamorphic widescreen!
Go to the Home Page
Go to The Rumor Mill
Go to Todd Doogan's weekly column
Go to the Reviews Page
Go to the Trivia Contest Page
Go to the Upcoming DVD Artwork Page
Go to the DVD FAQ & Article Archives
Go to our DVD Links Section
Go to the Home Theater Forum for great DVD discussion
Find out how to advertise on The Digital Bits

Site created 12/15/97.

Doogan's Views at The Digital Bits!
page added: 3/1/02



Reports of DVDs Demise
Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

(by me of all people)

Well, it's been a very loooooooong week of reading your thoughts on my last column. And now that I'm done, I'm finding myself dumbstruck. Why? Well, because that's how I live my life these days. No, seriously. It's because, surprisingly, a majority of you out there actually agreed with my rant. And here I was, figuring this was going to be my last column for The Digital Bits. I keep looking for a way out... but you keep pulling me back IN!

Anyway, I figured that you guys have put my thoughts into better perspective by telling me your own. So I'm going to take some of my favorite comments, statements and pseudo-questions that you've sent me, and highlight them here for everyone to enjoy.

First up, is Mark. He was the first to write, and his ended up being one of my all-time favorite emails. Here's what he had to say:

I hear ya brother. It's all because of those goddamn Soccer Moms. They control the world. What they say goes, and they say: "Keep my children occupied while I figure out how to get a bigger SUV." I remember when you could buy a cup of coffee and not be bombarded with warnings that it was hot. Of course it's hot - it's fucking coffee! SM's screwed up a nice mindless cup o' joe. That's why LD's rock; because you had to get up and lift the disk every 30 min. The SM's didn't like that because it meant they actually had to pay attention to what their kids were doing so they could flip the disk. Yes, in the end it's the very capacity of the DVD that made it great and that's (what) will bring about its demise. Then the SM's will blame it all on the blind referees.

See! It's a conspiracy we never considered! We're through the looking glass people. Black is white, white is black. And both colors make a soccer ball. Just think about it.

Next up is Lloyd from London. Or is that, Lloyds of London? Anyway, Lloyd loves movies. And he buys DVDs to get great movies - nothing more. Special editions add to the fun of DVD, but aren't the only reason he loves the format. That's a sentiment echoed by most of you out there - that more time and energy should be put into the quality of the film on DVD video and sound-wise. That's why Lloyd's a big fan of Columbia's SuperBit collection. He does support my thinking though, when he says:

I bought The Grinch and enjoyed the film but was disappointed with the extras - they were aimed at the wrong audience. Is The Grinch a children's film? The book has been around a long time - I'm probably not wrong to think that a lot of the parents, who saw the film, saw taking their children along as a rather good excuse.

Still, you can't aim a DVD at children - they don't have the disposable income to buy it. The answer comes, "Yes, but the parents buy for the children." This may be the case at Christmas - an obvious reason why the DVD sold so well, but the rest of the year (excluding birthdays)?

I don't know American parents that well but British parents certainly wouldn't.


In direct opposition is Tom, who says this:

I tend to disagree with you about what you are saying.

Both Harry Potter and The Grinch were more aimed at kids and are kids movies, and I think that's why the DVD's have the special features they do. They figure kids will want Mom to buy it, and then the kids will watch it over and over. Think about, they know adults will not be playing those games. I personally love the Grinch DVD, but understand your point, but I just chalk it up to them going after the young audience. Harry Potter however, I have no interest in. Never have, never will.


Fair enough. BUT... I think if we bend on this, and "let" the studios hand out sub par DVDs, then they'll eventually start trying to steamroll consumers.

Listen, I know DVD is A) about the movie, and we should consider ourselves lucky that we even get the films on DVD, and B) the studios control things and who are we to demand and dictate what WE think we should get? The point is this: DVD was created so we could get extra stuff. If the sheep out there (that want nothing but the film) are happy with movie-only editions, then they should really like D-VHS, because that's all you'll get. And I say let 'em have it. I want nothing to do with D-VHS. Ultimately, I'm fine with DVD's that just have the movie on them. But if you're going to put out a SPECIAL EDITION, then please make it special. That's all I'm saying, people.

Now, this next email makes a point that I should have been clearer on. When I said DVD was dying, I meant the special edition as we know and love it. I thought it was clear from the opening paragraph, but a lot of you felt that I was ringing the death bell on the format. That's not true. DVD is alive and well, and will be for a long time to come:

Dear Mr. Doogan,

I read with interest, your article on the demise of the DVD format. While you made some valid points, I find that the text of your article does not support your thesis. You made arguments about how the quality of material we receive via the DVD format are eroding under some circumstances. However, you leave it to the reader to infer that these changes will kill the format. The fact is, people love movies and will continue to buy them in the highest definition, most convenient, best supported package at the lowest price. DVD scores very well in all of these categories. There may be alternative formats in our future, but nothing has yet appeared on the horizon to displace the champ.

Regards,

Martin


And now, some well thought out and insightful comedy:

You're High!

Listen -- I could really give a shit about garbage like Grinch and (to a lesser degree) Harry Potter. They're studio produced pabulum meant for kids in the first place. Same reason I haven't even SEEN a Disney film, other then Pixar fare, in more then a decade.

Regardless of what I think, however, keep in mind that the studio's job is to maximize shareholder value. If that means releasing crap, at little cost to them, they'll release crap. If they know they have to spend some development $$$ on a disc, they do.

Last but not least ... I would venture to guess that Harry Potter was one of the most documented shoots in the "DVD era." This series very much has the probability to be Warner's' Crown Jewel. Do you think, even for one second, that they are going to release the end-all be-all SE as their first run? NOT! Just watch ... by 2010 or so, when all the movies have been released (and popped to DVD, or whatever else is the new consumer medium then) they will have released, at minimum, 2 versions of every film, and they will then release the "SUPER DUPER ARCH DELUXE VERSION!" of the series for the low low price of a child's education.

Have a day,

Joel


He's right, under the sarcasm. I am high. No, wait... that's not what I meant. What I mean is that Warner will most likely release the Harry Potter DVD that I was asking for in the first place... but only much, much later. Isn't that a cheat? Shouldn't they be up front if that's what they plan to do? Do you really want to drop 30 or so bucks in a couple of months, only to read Bill's announcement that Warner is releasing an elaborate, multi-disc box set next year of the first two films? I just saw Harry Potter a few months ago. I can wait 'til next year if that's the case.

And here's Michael, who says that fluffy films deserve fluffy extras. I disagree. But I do agree with another of his points. I never said every film that comes out on DVD MUST and SHOULD have extra features. But I do think that if you're going to call something "added value material", it should at least actually add some value. I'd be fine with a movie only edition of Harry Potter, instead of a much-heralded special edition with nothing but fluff. Anyway, here's Michael:

Todd -

In theory I agree with you except that I think you miss an important point - fluff movies deserve fluff extras...or none at all. Now I'll be accused of being a snob here but bear with me. It seems to me that most folks don't go to see a film with the expectation they are going to watch a work of art that comprises great cinematography, direction, script and acting. Rather, they go to be "entertained", and there is nothing wrong with that, but then one shouldn't be surprised by the "entertaining" extras on DVD. I imagine that few people bought the "Theodore Dreyer" box set from Criterion and those that did, in part, bought it for the extras. I also imagine those who plan to buy the Pearl Harbor limited edition monster box will buy it for - well I'm not sure why anybody would buy it.... Anyway, who on earth would want to listen to the cinematographer of the Grinch talk about his craft? The guy or gal who wrote the script? Never mind that the whole premise of filming an animation classic speaks to the lack of anything truly original coming out of Hollywood. Films that stand the test of time such as the films of Bergman, Kurosawa, Hitchcock or Lean are works of art … usually collaborative efforts of master craftsman that invite some analysis of their genesis and execution, they also invite DVD extras that are not so much "entertaining" as "informative". Potter and The Grinch are just "entertaining" blips on the radar screen.

Michael


I like this next email, not because Neil waxes our car so very nicely, but rather because he lists some great DVDs that came out this year that epitomize the format.

After about two years of being an avid fan of the Digital Bits, including it's rarely flawed reviews and excellent DVD coverage, as well as reading some insightful articles, I can without a doubt in my mind say that your madness does in fact have method and that your opinions achieve merit.

I would firstly like to agree with you upon the subject of recent DVD's being little (more than) advertising vehicles, which are in no way informative or insightful.

Instead the studio would rather create a pretty little making of featurette that is nothing but clips from the movies and irrelevant commentary. DVD's are certainly going through some sort of metamorphosis that does not impress. One would just want to get one of those D-VHS players without the joys of extra features, because who would want that marketing crap in their features anyways.

On the other hand, there have been some quite remarkable films, which are quite impressive. These DVD's include Dogma, Citizen Kane, 8 1/2, Do the Right Thing, Evil Dead trilogy... The list is endless. Who would have thought that I'd someday own a limited edition tin Heathers with a goddamn ruler and yearbook! These extras are just plain cool.


Jason here makes a good point - one that I think you filmmakers who read The Bits should keep in mind. It's your film and, as Bay, Soderbergh and Anderson have shown, if you want your films done right on DVD, make the studios take the film to an outside party, like Criterion.

What you are complaining about is that "Special Editions" aren't special anymore, which is true to a certain extent. It is just marketing right now. But I don't see filmmakers who really like to indulge in special editions stopping because "They'd sell anyways". There are a lot of directors out there who do care how their product appears in the public and want to do the best for the fans. (Kevin Smith is a good example.) Personally, I'd be more worried about movies that aren't presented in their correct aspect ratios, like what WB does with their "family" titles than the "maybe" death of the SE.

Oh, oh! This next one is great. It's pure art. Dig this - at first you think the reader is slightly agreeing with me. Then it shifts to a slight disagreement over the point about DVDs being about the film (which I already stated, DVDs are about the film) and then it finally spirals out of control with jagged thoughts and ends with the reader quitting The Bits because we've lost our edge. Read on:

I partially agree with what you are saying. There was a time when the first thing I would do after watching a DVD movie was sit through ALL the extras in one sitting. Those times have passed. Maybe its because I buy too many. Maybe its because I found something better to do with my time. I'm pissed about all the versions of Army of Darkness that still haven't gotten it right. But shouldn't the DVD be about the movie? Extras are the icing on the cake. Shouldn't the 5.1 channel audio and anamorphic widescreen be the main discussion about the DVD? It was pretty obvious from the rising sales every month that DVD was gonna blow up big. Did you think all the supplements would remain original and fresh forever? Now, everybody wants a special edition DVD of everything. You can't blame the studios for cashing in. Not everyone can make a Criterion quality DVD or a New Line one at that. And who gives a shit if Arnold was paid $75,000 for a commentary? I liked the Total Recall commentary. No DVD supplement is free.

And laserdisc only stayed completely faithful to their fan base because laserdisc never really hit it big and they did whatever they could to keep it going. And at $100 a pop, it better fuckin' be a damn good laser.

Oh and D-VHS is a slap in the face joke like DIVX.

You seem to over bash too many DVDs, sure they aren't as good as they used to be, but there are still some great ones out there. Supplements aren't meant to be seen as works of art like they're actual film content. What you really need to start bashing is multiple versions of the same film on DVD. And Disney and Fox for their shitty release schedule and Blockbuster for carrying full frame only versions relatively no widescreen releases and unrated versions which is why I didn't see the Grinch or Requiem For a Dream. Kids movies will have kids supplements.

Besides you guys have lost your edge, you don't review a lot the new stuff and I'm probably gonna move over to the DVDFile as my sole source for DVD info. And for the Kevin Smith thing, I haven't seen Drawing Flies and probably wont, but Dogma sounded stupid on paper too and it ended up pretty good.


He didn't give a name, only a handle.

I'd like to comment. I bash because that's what Bill pays me to do. I love movies. But, I'm supposed to critique these things. Ultimately, I say read us for our thoughts... but go out and buy your favorite films regardless what we say. You know what you like - you're the best judge of your own taste. What sucks for me, may be fine enough for you. All I can do is build a trust with you, and hopefully you'll discover some films that you may not have heard about.

I'm very lucky to have a forum to discuss my passion with people who share the same. And judging from many of your comments, you all generally like what The Bits has to say. As for the edge thing: yes, we've slumped in our review content. We're fixing that this year by getting new reviewers who can help us get more stuff covered for you guys. But keep this in mind - Bill and I have been covering DVD from the VERY beginning. Together, we've helped the format - I've no doubt about that. And even thought we don't have the time to read other DVD websites, we honestly do appreciate what DVD File offers you. They do some great work. But I'm a bit confused about how someone could forsake two lonely ol' guys like Bill and I (who do nothing but love the DVD format so much that we've dedicated a large portion of their lives to it), for a site owned and operated by the same people who make the DVD-ROM content for your DVDs (Interactual/PC Friendly). There's really no comparison - both sites are good, but it's apples and oranges. If you want to stop reading us, and only read them, go for it. I don't take it as a threat. I just want to have fun with DVD and hopefully help you out in the process. If that's not edgy enough for you... hey, it's your time. Use it wisely.

And in that vein, here's a strong point from Peter:

I was lucky enough not to have bought the Grinch DVD (although I own the original cartoon version which does have meaningful extras). Not buying junk is our only defense against receiving more junk. How do we, the consumers, avoid buying junk? One way is by reading reviews from those we trust (Such as The Digital Bits and DVD Review) and acting accordingly.

Critics should help form a large movement for quality by not only reviewing the movie, but also recommending how we consumers should react to your own review. A great movie with crappy extras is a good rental, but not a good purchase. A crappy movie and crappy extras does not even merit a rental. A crappy movie with great extras is an oddity and maybe worth buying at half-price. Your reviews and those of other critics should help guide us in keeping the DVD extras meaningful by forming large buying blocks of opinion. You might even want to start suggesting what to pay for a given DVD (rather than just give it a letter rating (A, B, C). If all critics did this, than the free market values might be influenced to reflect quality, and producers of DVD would have incentive to produce DVD of better quality knowing it would command higher prices.


The only problem with this issue is the building of trust. I said a little bit about it above, but ultimately you guys know better than any of us so-called "critics". Yes, Bill and I have studied film. We know what works and what doesn't. But big-whoop! There's often a connection factor that supersedes all of what we know. There may be some of you out there that loved Snow Dogs. I can't fault you on that, but I may personally hate the film. Will you trust my opinion if you disagree with me on that? That's why so many people hate critics.

Also a lot of you said that I picked the wrong fight with the studios. Of course special edition stuff is fluffy. But what about full frame versus anamorphic? Bill and I have said this many times. It's up to you to educate your friends about the black bars. We think the studios should start their own education efforts on the subject. But either way, free for studio use (as well as your own) is our Ultimate Guide to Anamorphic Widescreen DVD (for Dummies), always available by clicking the anamorphic logo on the top of every page of The Bits. Click it and print it out for your friends and relatives to enjoy. We've been banging the anamorphic drum longer and louder than anyone.

Here's Sinople on that subject, as well another - concern for the foreign film market on American DVD:

You're absolutely right. But I think things are far worse for DVD than you think. As the format goes more mainstream, we're going to see more pan and scan/full frame releases. Joe Six Pack loves extras (more bang for the buck, even if it's superficial) but he doesn't want black bars on his brand new 36" Sony Trinitron. Hollywood studios are scoffing up the rights to foreign films and trimming them like the White House X-mas Tree. If you want most of Jet Li's or Jackie Chan's movies OAR anamorphic you going to have to hassle with overseas mail order and multi-region DVD players or settle for cut dubbed US versions. And DVD didn't just kill laser disc, it's killing VCDs as well. Sure they were never popular in the states and they have the unjust rep of being a pirate format, but there were lots of cool movies released on them over the years. Many that probably will never see a DVD release due to source materials being lost, or not enough demand to be profitable on DVD, etc.

But not all hope is lost. I never ever thought I'd ever own copies of Gumnaam or Nagin with English subtitles! Or tell the WB blow it out their collective ass and buy a legit DVD of Eyes Wide Shut as Kubrick intended it to be seen. Ditto for many HK movies (pity non-anamorphic, but I guess one can't have everything)


As a huge fan of foreign movies, I find it disheartening that many films I want to see on DVD I never will... at least without an all-region DVD player and PAL converter (which I don't own). Part of that is the foreign distributors, who have inflated prices for the rights for their films. And the other part is the Hollywood studios mangling them when they do get the U.S. rights to them. Why Dimension did what it did to City on Fire, I will never know.

Phil here has a philosophical thought that I actually considered recently.

Do you remember when you liked a band that wasn't mainstream? They were cool, the right people knew who they were, and you felt personally attuned to their music and their attitude...then they get a big huge hit. Now EVERYONE is singing the songs you (and only you and maybe a couple of friends) were singing, and the concerts are now in sold out stadiums with $50 T-shirts, and parents, even my GOD *#&@ing parents, are bringing their children, and it's all changed, and it can never go back.

DVD is that band.

DVD was for the film geeks, with the sharper picture, better sound, and the extras, oh those beautiful extras...sigh.


It's a great thought. Phil, of course, went on to alleviate my worries and gave me new hope for the future by reminding me of some great DVDs that came out last year.

Following that thread is Geoff:

Just read your article on where you think DVD is going, and have to say I totally agree with you. Any current release of a contemporary film is buggered. The studio still has an investment in the film - the overall profit/loss from that film has not been tallied, and the studio may have a chance to top up the coffers if the video (read: DVD) release sells well. Hence the fluffy, crappy, EPK style empty "special" features.

However, all is not lost. If we look at older films either making their way to DVD for the first time, or being revisited as special editions, the picture looks a little rosier. Films like "Alien", "Legend", "Carrie", "Dressed to Kill", "Suspiria", "Halloween", "The Fog" (OK, so I'm a horror freak, but you get the point...) have been, or in some cases will be, released with informative documentaries and other extras. Part of me thinks that this is perhaps how it should be. Let me explain...

The dust has not cleared on any recently released film. We have no perspective on them. Take "Harry Potter" for instance. A huge hit at the moment, and on every kid's wish list. But this film is yet to percolate through the different levels of popular culture. We have yet to see how much impact it will have on the works following it. And everyone who worked on it is now working on the sequel and is still under contract to WB, which basically means they'll never say anything other than how much fun they've had and how great the film is anyway.

Compare this to "Dressed to Kill". It is twenty years later. We can see what an important film it was to De Palma's career. We can appreciate how it became the poster film for the feminist backlash against the genre that was happening at the time, and contextualize that in terms of the other garbage the genre was producing. And Angie Dickinson can feel free to talk about how horrible shooting the shower scenes was without some executive having it cut from the doc, concerned with how such a statement might affect the sales of the film. Could such a fantastic making of doc been made for a DVD release in 1981, when the film was just six months old? No. Absolutely not.

Another good example is Carpenter's "The Thing". Carpenter, Russell, Lancaster, Cundey, Bottin, et all would have been too depressed over the film's critical panning and disappointing box office to wax eloquent about it's superb ensemble cast and masterfully paranoid atmosphere for the film's first video release. Now, they can all look back - the initial disappointment of the film's reception dulled by time, it's reputation as a genre masterpiece secured - and discuss their pride in the film with some perspective.

I'm not making excuses for studios producing lackluster discs of current releases. But I am saying that perhaps "Harry Potter" and "Rush Hour 2" will not be looked back on in twenty years time as important or memorable films worthy of discussion. Or maybe they will, but we can't know that yet. Can a film like "Blade Runner" or "Vertigo" be fully appreciated without acknowledgment of their impact on pop culture and cinema? Maybe we are entering into an age of having crappy EPK packages for the big hits; with more informative discs emerging after history has weighed in with a verdict. The best special features are always the ones where there has been a passage of time, and the participants can look back with fondness - or not, as the case may be - and that freedom will never happen with this month's big DVD release. And that's my two bits.


Excellent points, all. The historical special features I want really only become worth something a year later. That doesn't exactly explain why so many new films that came out on laserdisc and DVD had great special editions. But there are certain films that really should be set aside for a few years and only then be revisted with a historical eye. I mean... Brazil needed some time to heal in order to get that great Criterion DVD trashing Universal, with Universal's name stamped all over it. Great e-mail, Geoff.

I'd like you all to meet George. George proves several things. He knows what he wants and he knows what he's talking about. But he also shows that everyone wants something, and his or her needs trump everyone else's. See if you spot what I mean:

A counterpoint for your commentary on the future of DVD. While I may disagree with some of you views, you're not an idiot. When DVD first came out, many old laserdisc people (such as me) hoped it would scrap laserdisc. Why? Because laserdiscs aren't durable -- despite Pioneer's claims. When you lose 20 discs to laser rot (at 30 to 40 dollars a disc) which I did, and you look at the underlying technology, it was clear that they had a duration life of 30 years at most, and much less if extremely stringent manufacturing controls were not maintained. Japanese laserdiscs that I bought in the early 80's are slowly rotting away. And they are literally irreplaceable.

So I jumped to DVD, which is based on CD technology, which has shown to be much more durable. CD's from the 80's generally show no deterioration after nearly the same length of time as laserdiscs. My expectation is that my DVD library will outlast me. That may make me appear to be an archival freak, but my goal is simple - buy a movie ONCE not over and over again. Hollywood still found a way to get in on the act, as I occasionally upgrade non-16x9 enhanced movies with enhances versions when they come out. (Oh for a DVD player that will properly handle a letterbox DVD in 3:2 pull down on a 16x9 HDTV).

Why did DVD take off while Laserdisc was always a niche product? Simple - money! Warner was right, at below $20 people buy video, rather than rent it (I'm talking average aggregate demand - some will rent no matter what, and some will buy no matter what). Since DVD was parasitic on CD technology, the cost of manufacture was peanuts compared to laserdisc. So they could be priced much cheaper. Much of Hollywood hates this, because they think that demand is inelastic, so they are pricing their product too cheaply. Besides, all they can understand is selling tickets (pay per view) and are incensed at any model that isn't a pay per view model (renting videos is also a pay per view).

So why do people buy DVD? For the movie! Most people who are buying movies have no opinion about extras. I only care about one extra consistently, the trailer. I like to watch the trailer as a warm-up to the main feature - the movie. I may look at some of the extras - or not. I get bored with hour after hour of extras, and annoyed that I have to keep extra shelf space for all these extra discs, because nowadays every one is putting the trailers on the second disc, so you have to hang on to it (and swap discs) in order to watch the trailer/movie pattern. Sheer accident, of course.

I understand that students of movie making want all the extra information they can get, and I respect that. But remember, DVD is a mass-market product now, not an expensive niche product like laserdisc. The amazing thing is that there are any extras at all. The mass market really does not demand it. It's been more for the egos of the people who made the movies. Yes, Hollywood has been cutting corners. And the talent is now trying to have their ego strokes and get paid for it too . . . good work if you can get it. But this does not mean the end of DVD, just the current overstuffed packages. What will kill DVD will be the next generation of HDTV disc, whatever that will be - maybe. Remember - SACD and DVD-audio aren't killing CD's, and enhanced 16x9 DVD with 3:2 pull down on a HDTV is not quite as good as HDTV itself (which I've seen off special purpose laser and hard drive at Bjorn's in San Antonio), but it's not that far away, and it's already an entrenched technology . . . and durable! Warner has it right, price DVD at the cost of a movie ticket, and make it an impulse item at the grocery store.


Thanks, George. I guess by that thinking, the minute something becomes mass market, I should just shrug and walk away. I think that's a silly thought. I'd like special edition DVDs to be like research books. They have the film... and then they have the study of that film. Remember, I was only criticizing good DVD special editions going the way of the Dodo. At the rate Hollywood is going, they really should just call everything a DVD unless it's a real tried and true special edition. Harry Potter is a DVD, not a special edition DVD. Like I said (and will keep saying), I enjoy the films... but I enjoy learning about the films just as much. I will buy movie only discs. But I'd gladly pay more for special edition discs that let me dig deeper into the film.

This is a fun email:

Todd,

I agree completely with your editorial, but it should come as no surprise that the commercialization of DVD has turned the format into what it is today. Let's face it, in this wonderful market economy we live in, the entire process of making money is always centered around one major concept. "Find out what people will pay money for and then find ways to give it to them as cheaply as possible while making them believe that they're getting the greatest thing on earth." There are simply countless examples of million dollar marketing selling total pieces of crap and people just line up and beg for more. "MMMMMM. More crap. Yummy. Yummy." (Or) "John got a blue piece of crap, I need one too. Wow! Blue crap!"

You get the picture. The wonderful thing about Laserdisc was the simple fact that it never was a mainstream format. It catered specifically to the white-collar wine drinking (not necessarily French) man that had the same tastes in movies as he did in wine. So seeing a plethora of Dom Perignons come out on Laserdisc was no shocker. People spending $50-$150 for one movie will pretty much demand the best. The average idiot purchasing Harry Potter on DVD simply could care less. A great majority of them will probably never even visit thedigitalbits.com to find out what they didn't get on the disc.

Maybe we've just come to expect too much in the way of extras. Sure it would be nice to see more discs come out that looked like SEVEN or Moulin Rouge in the extras department, but DVD has always been hit or miss. If Moulin Rouge or SEVEN were the Dom Perignons of DVD, I guess I'll have to go out and buy myself a good bottle of Mad Dog 20-20 or maybe I'll just settle with a six back of Bud to go with my Harry Potter DVD (which I'll stand in line to buy with all the other idiots).

Have a great day!

Tom


There are people don't read The Bits? Bill, were you aware of this? [Editor's Note: Hhmmm - I'll have to have my people look into this. Disturbing...]

Tom awakens a point in my mind. Are people willing to pay extra for a "real" special edition? If Warner made a movie only DVD in full frame (with DD 5.1 sound and a bunch of games for the people out there who want that sort of thing), an anamorphic widescreen edition with a trailer, DD 5.1 and nothing else (and charged 20 bucks for it), then at the same time (or a while later) put out a "super arch deluxe edition" for 70 or so bucks - would people buy it? It's an interesting thought.

I think this e-mail stands all by itself:

Boy, I debated whether or not to respond to your latest tirade about DVD and just can't help myself. Here goes: Damn, you're an idiot! You along with what I believe is a minority of DVD fans (though not necessarily a minority of the fans that access your site) has apparently forgotten what DVDs are: a medium to deliver movies into our homes. I have been collecting movies in various forms for many years. First, VHS tape. In retrospect, an awful medium due to what has proven to be poor picture quality and lack of widescreen presentations but when nothing else was available at the time very thankful to have them.

Second, Laser Disc. Better picture quality and widescreen too. Over several years I collected about 800 discs including many of those high dollar special editions (which I still have). But after becoming disenchanted with the format due to purchasing too many defective discs (discs poorly pressed, warped, etc.) and discs that deteriorated over time (my copy of the Special Edition of The Abyss and Ace Ventura look like they were filmed in snowstorms) I gave up on that format and refused to purchase any more discs. This was before I was even aware that DVD was coming.

Now DVD. My hometown was not a test market for DVD but on a trip to Phoenix I found them available. I purchased twenty, returned home and on the next day purchased a DVD player. (You could buy players here but no one had DVDs). I was an early adopter. I compared the picture quality of these DVDs to my laser discs and knew laser disc was doomed. I have since collected over 3800 DVDs. With this size of a collection it is not surprising that my wife and I no longer go to theaters to put up with rude crowds who talk during the film. I would rather pay 15-25 dollars to watch a movie in the comfort of my own home even if I only watch that movie once. I do not rent, I realize I am an exception. DVD has afforded me the opportunity to see movies I could never see in any other way. Things that are not available for rent nor are shown on television such as Italian horror and Spaghetti westerns, tons of foreign movies, British television series, and concerts. And believe it or not I have never purchased a DVD because of the "bonus material". I have repurchased DVDs when one with better picture quality or sound has been issued. But first and foremost the format was designed to give us a better and more convenient technology to view movies. I do enjoy some of the special features incorporated in DVDs such as deleted scenes, mainly because I like to debate whether or not their inclusion would have resulted in a better picture. Commentaries - nice, essential - no. To suggest that the Harry Potter disc will be unworthy of our collections because the special features are fluff is stupid. If it had no extras I would still purchase it. I would rather spend my time watching another movie. Again, I realize I may be an exception.

Regarding commentators being paid for their contributions, it should not raise the price of the disc significantly. I believe that the commentators (actors, not necessarily directors) may perceive that contributing in this way to a disc may contribute to the sales of the disc and just may be insisting on their share of the pie. After all, if the price of the disc is increased for this feature the artists should be paid.

Unrelated but pertinent:

I think that releasing DVDs with inferior video and audio and then releasing another improved version later is a crime. At this time there is no excuse for not releasing all DVDs in anamorphic versions. We do not need any more $7.99 pieces of crap on dealer's shelves. If it is worthy of releasing do it properly and at a fair price (Disney included. Universal, $32.99 list for "The Curse Of the Jade Scorpion"? I don't care if you think it has limited appeal, that's gouging)

No, I don't loan out my discs. As you can imagine my collection is a considerable investment and they do not leave my house. You may however come over to enjoy a movie with me.

I believe the biggest threat to DVD for movie fans is the impending release of pan and scan versions of movies already released as widescreen only editions. I avoid p&s like the plague. Television DVDs excepted. If some chains are insisting that companies release pan and scan versions for their customers and do not stock the widescreen version also (Wal-Mart), I suggest you consider shopping somewhere else in protest of their and their customer's ignorance. The Internet is a wonderful store.

Now, quit worrying about extra features, throw a DVD in the player, dim the lights, crank it up, and enjoy.

Thomas


It's amazing to me, that this person considers me an idiot... yet he sounds so much like me in my collective reviews over the years. I make one point about special editions beginning to suck and BOOM! Somehow, I'd like to think that if I lived in Thomas' neck of the woods we'd be great friends.

Here's a reiteration of most of what's been said, but Tom puts it too nicely to simply drop.

I enjoyed your comments and will give the article some thought, but I do have some comments of my own:

1) I think the problem is not in the format, but in the content providers. If an actor won't make a commentary because they think they got screwed by the studio or were not offered enough dough, does it really matter if the studio is putting out a laserdisc, DVD, book signing promotion, whatever? Does it matter if Criterion approaches them or the original studio ("Oh, that dumb movie where they ripped me off and gave me a bad image - sorry, Criterion, I want to have nothing to do with the flick ever again")? I don't think the format is to blame for an actor's lack of appearance for promotional or retrospective material/media. That is a choice made by a person based on an issue or event that has nothing to do with the format. It's just something that happens when a spoiled brat doesn't get his bottle. Spielberg doesn't do commentaries because he thinks it reveals too much of the magic behind the movie. With that kind of an attitude, you're not going to get deleted scenes, making of (of any meaning other than promotional EPK), commentaries, or anything. I am surprised he included the animatronics in Jurassic Park - I thought that gave away too much of how a movie is made (personally, I think he's an insecure dick, but it's his decision). But that has little to do with the format itself. If he won't do that stuff, he wouldn't do it for laserdisc, VHS, TV special, a book someone is writing, or any other format of media.

2) I think the studio probably doesn't care about you or me; they just want to make money. What exactly do you expect from a big Western capitalistic corporation? As I take another sip of my diet Coke, I notice that the bottle is 591 ml. What happened to the other 9? These things used to be 600 ml. The bottle looks exactly the same, costs exactly the same, but at some point in time, they decided to chince you on the amount. I always liked Pepsi better anyway. I am currently reading Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser (amazing, fantastic book, by the way). I am at the part where he is exposing that McDonald's, Taco Bell, and the like all make major campaign donations to congressmen who "don't support" raising the minimum wage so that the restaurants can keep chincing their employees by paying them crap money. Apparently, the REAL wage (that's a fancy way of saying if you account for inflation) of the average US McDonald's employee has decreased 40% in the last like 20 years (that's a fancy way of saying inflation has gone up more than their pay in the last 20 years at a rate of 150%). Welcome to the Western world of capitalism. In some ways it sucks, but could you expect anything else?

So, in conclusion, you can't blame civilization for being itself. It's not the format; it's the people behind the content and the general population it's marketing to. If we're lucky, most studios will continue to put out great detailed meaningful stuff for the enthusiasts every once in a while. May DVD live on!


His first point: Why is there bad blood between the studios and the actors? Isn't that part of the history? If a studio did the disc, there'd be no mention. But if an outside company produced the disc, we'd have a chance. As for Spielberg and Rob Reiner (who's said the same thing about lost magic in special edition discs, but still did his own commentary), filmmakers aren't magicians anymore. We know too much now, so breaking the walls between us is philosophical at this point. I don't think Spielberg's an insecure dick, but I do think he's being lazy. He could give us a commentary and talk about his thoughts on film in general. I mean, how cool would that be? He doesn't have to ruin the film - there are no rules to a commentary. I think it would be great to hear him, Harrison Ford and Lucas just talking on a Raiders disc. They wouldn't have to talk a second about the film itself. Just hearing them would be worth the price of the disc (yes, yes... let alone finally getting the film on DVD.)

His second point: Well, I just bought some Klondike bars from the store (sugar free, thank you) and there's this 7th bar for FREE at the top. I thought, "Wow!" It's pretty cool to get something for free, right? Well, when I got home and broke one out, I noticed that the bars are really, really thin now. It's like with McDonalds - a point he brings up - whenever they do a buy one-get one free promo for a Big Mac, don't you notice that the burgers are really small and getting smaller? They fool you into thinking that you're getting something, but in the end, they cut away a little more and hope you don't notice. Well, I'm here to say we notice. And if we allow the studios to give us ads for their theme parks as an advertised extra, then we allow them to cut the size of our burgers. I'm not saying the studio can't put an ad on their disc - hell, it's their disc. What I'm saying is, don't get a star to talk before it so you figure you can now advertise it.

Tom went on to make a third and forth point, but we've covered them previously, so we're moving on. And, yes... I'd also like DVD to live on.

Many of you were quick to remind me of The Lord of the Rings coming soon and being the perfect representation of what I want in DVD. But there are plenty of DVDs that fulfill my wants. I just want consistency in my consumerism. Plus, Jackson is a Criterion filmmaker in my mind and, with that, he knows what a DVD should be and has the power to make it so.

I'll wait until after I see the second (November) edition of The Fellowship of the Ring. That, IMHO, will determine the future of movies on DVD with features.

Andrew


I don't think anything is hinged on any one film on DVD, but I share your enthusiasm. I can't wait for LOTR on DVD.

David piped in with a real concern that no one knows the answers to:

Hi. I was wondering if you have heard of anything about the so-called blue laser DVD. I have been hearing lots about it, and how it could put an end to the present DVDs. After reading your article about special edition DVDs and how they might be coming to an end, I am becoming worried that DVDs might not be around for to long. Please email me about any information you have on this matter. Thanks!

Bill and I are taking this issue very seriously. So far, only one manufacturer (Panasonic) said that their eventual Blu-Ray disc players will be backwards compatible with standard DVD and CD. Still, that means it's possible for all manufacturers to do the same. You better believe Bill and I will do everything in our power to make all manufacturers follow Panasonic's. I didn't invest so much in DVD to just do it all over again.

This next one is a shame. I'm sorry about the DVD industry failing to provide quality all over the world, but it's tough for us to do anything on this score. It's hard enough for us to deal with the Hollywood studios on some of these issues, much less their international divisions (which often operate completely separately). Anyone outside the U.S. who wants to fight the good fight on this, we're right there for moral support. But hey... you guys are getting Battlestar Galactica.

Harry Potter is being released in Australia (region 4) by Warner in pan and scan only. Hell, I don't even want extras if the film has been butchered.

The writing is on the wall...

Mind you, some of the FOX special editions have been pretty impressive, so it's not complete misery.

Regards,

Simon


And finally Charlotte is here to bludgeon us all with her two cents:

Your points are well taken; there are plenty of crappy 'Special' Editions out there.

There are also a lot of bloated 'Special Editions'.

I wonder why The Fast and the Furious has the movie AND features on one disc and Pearl Harbor can't even put the movie on one disc!

Anyway, as for the 'Dodo' Dilemma, there are two solutions.

1) Negotiate all DVD rights up front. If Arnold makes another movie (and, to be honest, if he keeps up like his last few, that is a BIG if), his DVD participation would be included. Obviously this doesn't help DVDs of old movies (like Total Recall), but perhaps the next Actor's Guild contract could cover this.

2) Sometimes I don't CARE about extra features. You paid for the fluff on 'Grinch', yet you could care less about it. I bought the Full Screen version of The Mummy when I bought the Ultimate Edition, I haven't watched it. I'd like to see more movies go the route of 'Matrix/Matrix Revisited'. You buy one disc with the movie, and then, if you want, you buy the Bonus disc.

Heck, link this up with Columbia's 'Superbits' programme. If you never have to worry about features except for commentary, gimme the great picture!

This has the added effect of seeing who REALLY wants to see the special features. I enjoy them, but rarely watch them more than once. (Of course, many aren't worth rewatching, are they?)

Also, the bonus material can be farmed out, or worked on without having to have it done the same time the movie is released (Hear that George? Put a commentary on Empire, and release the bonus disc in 3 years!)

If videophiles end up getting screwed, then that's free market economics for you. If you don't like it, move to Afghanistan.


But I don't wanna live in Afghanistan. I like her point about the studios negotiating SE stuff up front. I wonder if they do that already? And I don't think every movie should be a special edition. There are some flicks out there, that have some great special editions, that I wouldn't have wanted in the first place. But you never know about some movies until you've gone through the extras. David Cronenberg's Crash for example. It's a pretty inaccessible film, unless you've read the book it's based on. If you have, it's brilliant. But with his commentary on the laserdisc/DVD, you understand the film better and walk away really appreciating the film that much more. It's a dynamic you don't understand or care about until you see it for yourself.

Anyway, I got over 350 e-mails on my last column by Tuesday alone. There were a lot of great thoughts, and everyone was incredibly professional and well mannered. I was proud to know you guys read us. Many of the sentiments were the same, and I hope I pulled a good cross-section to illustrate the way you guys feel. Thanks for taking the time to let me know what you think.

So to end the whole thing: I'm glad I had something to say that peaked everyone's interest. I'm just as surprised to find that this is an issue many of you have thought about. Essentially, it boils down like this for me. DVD was made to replace laserdisc, and instead it replaced VHS. That was a great stroke of luck for the studios, but they shouldn't forget the fans that made the format work in the first place.

I chose two "kiddie" films to pick on - The Grinch and Harry Potter. That may not have been a wise decision, but I think it was an illustrative point that made sense to most of you, so I don't regret it too much. Many of you pointed out the same thing I've said behind the scenes for years: that a really good DVD special edition can't be made for a film under a year old. But I think now that maybe that's wrong - especially when you look at some of the great discs put out by Criterion back in the LD days (released soon after the film's release): English Patient, The Game, Se7en and others. And then there are amazing DVDs like Fox's Fight Club, which came out soon after the film's release.

What it boils down to is this - a film has to be of substance for the DVD to have substance. And for me, Harry Potter has substance. Sure, it was filmed as fluff and released as fluff, and now we have a fluffy DVD. But the Harry Potter phonemenon isn't as big as it is worldwide because it's fluff. And this DVD could have been a better, more worthwhile treat for the fans. I mean, look - we're all kids. We spend most of our time collecting memories and dedicating ourselves to colorful lies. We all want to believe these stories exist, even if only while we're watching and reading them. But we're not all 10-year-olds, so to write the DVD off as something for only the youngest members of the audience is a big mistake.

As for The Grinch, Universal had it right. But they still got it wrong. Everything on the Universal disc should have been exclusive to that 8" x 8" Playset version for kids. That playset tells me: don't buy this unless you're a kid or have kids. Then they could have put some of the fluffy "making-of" stuff, trailers and movie-based extras on the standard discs in keep cases. That would have been nice and probably would have gone under the radar for most critics and fans.

It's not hard to please people. All you have to do is try. More specifically, you have to want to try. That's really it. You won't please everyone all the time. The same people who support my views this week, may condemn me next week. I just think we spend too much money collectively to allow ourselves to be shorted. As a consumer - not as a critic or fan of DVD but just as a consumer - I would be happy just getting the film in optimal form and a trailer. That would make me happy. But I'm standing in front of the consumer masses. I have a direct line to the studios, and so I have to pick and choose my battles. As a member of The Digital Bits (the oldest and longest running independent website dedicated to DVD on the Internet - don't forget that), I can tell you that we've fought many battles for DVD on behalf of consumers... and won. Some of these battles you've seen, while others happened behind the scenes. The point is, we're there for you... because we ARE you.

The solution to this problem of deteriorating special editions, which I promised all of you last week, is a simple one. And I think it would make everyone happy - it would make the studios richer and give cache to the old laserdisc heroes. Here goes - the major studios should release whatever they want on DVD, like they used to with VHS. All the titles they want, any format the want, with all the supplemental bells and whistles they can pile on that will get the Soccer Moms out of their SUVs and into Blockbuster. But at the same time, they should license out the special edition rights to third parties who have the time to make these special editions truly special again. I'd much rather Criterion revisit the RKO library (which includes King Kong, the Val Lewton films and The Thing From Another World) than seeing Warner do it. I'd like to see what Synapse could do with some of Paramount's horror titles, like the Friday the 13th series, Danger Diabolik and My Bloody Valentine. Let Image work with Lucasfilm on the original Star Wars Trilogy on DVD - their first two attempts (with laserdisc) came out really nice and even featured some special edition stuff no one thought they'd get. I think you see the point. All of these independent producers (who work with the studios now) could set up their own shops and we'd have six or seven third party companies that we've never heard of, but who are immediately capable of stellar work. The idea is, they wouldn't be tied down by studio politics, in-fighting and other internal affairs. And maybe... just maybe... we'd get another release like Criterion's Brazil. Wouldn't that be cool?

I know, it's an anti-climatic idea, but the studios aren't really licensing their product right now. It's a situation where, if the director wants it and has enough clout, the studios occasionally do it. But if the studios were to swing open the doors and allow for bidding wars on some of these titles, we'd see some great things. AND the people who don't give a rat's ass would still have their previous studio editions, just like in the days of VHS. That's what it all boils down to, doesn't it? Laserdisc is dead. Now we have to kill VHS. Special editions aren't all that special, because for every 20 films you guys cite to me as having great SEs on DVD, I can cite 20 more that needed to be better... or needed to be SEs in the first place.

You don't need to e-mail me your thoughts anymore. Just know that I love DVD, and I'm not ringing the death knell for the format. The death knell I hear is for those truly special special editions. Sure, we're getting lots of added value material now, but it's all being created by the studios' marketing departments. And they're getting away with it because of consumers who are happy to buy whatever they're given and who think it's not their place to ask for more.

I'm Doogan, these are my views. Now, I'm going to watch some DVDs so I can sing their praises next week, instead of standing on this damned uncomfortable soapbox.

Love, peace and anamorphic widescreen...

Todd Doogan
todddoogan@thedigitalbits.com



E-mail the Bits!


Don't #!@$ with the Monkey! Site designed for 800 x 600 resolution, using 16M colors and .gif 89a animation.
© 1997-2002 The Digital Bits, Inc., All Rights Reserved.
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com