Bring On the Digibooks!

Packaging special edition Blu-rays isn’t easy for movie studios, especially in these challenging economic times. They’re expensive to produce, sport a hefty price tag (even when discounted by outfits like Amazon.com), and often have a limited appeal. In addition, they pose some dilemmas for consumers. First is the question of weighing a title’s bang-for-the-buck quotient. (I mean, do I really want to spend $70 on one special edition or use the same amount to purchase three “regular” releases?). After that, there’s still the matter of finding a place to store an unwieldy box set. Space-saving, attractively priced, and handsomely produced Digibooks just might be the solution many of us have been waiting (and pining) for.

Even when the economy is in the pink, cash comes at a premium for film buffs. So does shelving. Some rabid collectors won’t budge when it comes to relinquishing prime real estate for a space-hogging, elephantine edition – even if we’re talking about such classics as ‘Gone With the Wind‘, ‘The Wizard of Oz‘, and ‘Casablanca‘. While I personally love big, elegantly appointed box sets – especially if they’re packed with meticulously reproduced archival material (Studio memos from David O. Selznick? Glossy scene stills? Original theater programs? Bring ’em on!!) – even I have found storing them to be a challenge. And let’s face it, most of us collectors are plagued by more than a hint of OCD. Disrupting the clean look of rows of shiny, uniform Blu-ray cases with an oddly shaped honker of a crate often drives us up the proverbial tree!

I hope that studios continue to shift toward the attractive, sleek and functional Digibook format to showcase their special edition product. In this era of disposable electronic media, Digibooks are a warm throwback to the days when cradling a hardcover volume in our hands could give us a feeling of substance and cultural grounding. For Blu-ray discs, the look, feel and even the smell of these Digibooks is totally unique, yet not too far removed – at least from a storage standpoint – from their plastically housed counterparts.

Digibooks are artistically designed, packed with photos in both color and black-and-white, and often feature behind-the-scenes stills, poster art, and other rarities. They enhance the viewing experience by allowing us to savor all aspects of a film’s artistry, from the director’s technique to the publicity campaign. Background essays on the production, cast bios, awards listings, and bits of trivia take us deeper into the movie. This helps place it in a proper historical context, and can heighten both its impact and our appreciation of it. (Some even come packaged with bonus soundtrack CDs.) I currently own only four Digibooks: Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘North by Northwest’, David Lean’s ‘Doctor Zhivago’, Milos Forman’s ‘Amadeus’, and George Cukor’s 1954 version of ‘A Star Is Born’. All are, and will be, cherished parts of my Blu-ray collection.

I believe that the Digibook format suits classic films especially well. By virtue of their written essays and varied content, Digibooks provide a greater degree of context and background than regular Blu-ray releases. This allows younger generations the opportunity to educate themselves about films of which they may only have a passing knowledge. Digibooks also lend any movie a weightier feel, both literally and figuratively.

And the number of titles available in the format continues to grow. Warner Home Video leads the pack in promoting Digibooks. In addition to the aforementioned ‘A Star Is Born,’ WHV has also announced ‘Elvis on Tour’, the 1933 ‘King Kong’, and Kenneth Branagh’s ‘Hamlet’ as future Digibook releases. Other studios are also beginning to embrace the format, which is good news for hardcore film fans. Below is a listing of currently available and upcoming Digibooks:

300: The Complete Experience
Amadeus
Batman: 20th Anniversary Edition
Bonnie and Clyde
Clash of the Titans‘ (1981)
Dirty Harry
‘Doctor Zhivago
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Easy Rider
Elvis on Tour
The Exorcist
Falling Down
Goodfellas: 20th Anniversary Edition
The Green Mile
Hamlet‘ (1996)
How the West Was Won
JFK
King Kong‘ (1933)
The Matrix: 10th Anniversary Edition
Midnight Express
Natural Born Killers
North by Northwest
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Poltergeist
A River Runs Through It
Se7en
The Shawshank Redemption
Silverado
A Star Is Born
Star Wars: The Clone Wars – The Complete Season One
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory

Those are just U.S. releases. Even more Digibooks are available in Europe.

If you haven’t yet purchased your first Digibook, I encourage you to check out the format. But be forewarned… Like me, you just might become addicted to them.

11 comments

  1. JoeRo

    Some of the titles available in digibook strike me as odd. 300, Batman, and Star Wars: The Clone Wars, all seem a little … I don’t know – shitty. Just surprised to see them I guess. I tend to think of Digibooks as being appropriate for classics, something along the lines of Criterion releases, but you can bet everything you own you won’t be seeing 300 released on Criterion.

    I also take issue with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, if only because I preferred it when it was called Cool Hand Luke.

  2. I have Amadeus and Poltergeist, and I LOVE the Digibook format! Yes, I loved the collectors Edition of Gone With The Wind, but ended up buying the Target version of Wizard of Oz, and have Casablanca on HD-DVD. Why? Exactly what you mentioned, cost and storage. Gone With The Wind is currently sitting on top of my movie shelves, sadly taking up a good deal of real estate. But its Oh So Pretty in its velvet box! The only other big oversized box collectors edition I have is Fantasia on Laserdisc. This is currently sitting on top of the bookshelf in the bedroom. I keep it more as a curiosity for A/V buffs when they come over for the first time and see the Laserdisc player sitting in my A/V system.

    Sorry, got sidetracked. Yes, I LOVE the Digibooks! Poltergeist is really nice – love reading the little background blips about film production next to the beautiful glossy color photographs. The shelfspace needed is about the same as a Blu-Ray with a slip-cover (actually, pretty much EXACTLY the same size as Discovery Atlas).

    Thanks for this article. I was afraid I was the only person in the world who liked Digibooks!

  3. Joe B

    I love the beautiful digibooks too!! I have HOW THE WEST WAS WON, AMADEUS, DR ZHIVAGO, JFK and NORTH BY NORTHWEST—- and will soon purchase A STAR IS BORN. I also plan to pre-order the Branagh HAMLET soon. All are titles I either own or have previously owned. Incidentelly, many don’t realize that digibook “book” material may be from the film’s original release. The ZHIVAGO book reproduces the souvenir program book on sale in the roadshow release– as does HOW THE WEST WAS WON. So you’re often getting a piece of that film’s history with the digibook.
    I don’t understand why there are outcries against them– unless it involves an allergy to the printed page!

  4. besch64

    I have to say, my favorite format for BD cases are the paper Criterion ones. When I opened up my Amazon box and found my precious copy of The Man Who Fell To Earth sitting inside, I almost began to drool. I really wish they were the standard. Plus, they’re better for the environment… I think.

  5. Curtis

    Gotta disagree. I very much do not like the digibook format as it add very little, usually brief few pages of fluff that could be covered in far more detail and higher resolution by adding it to content on the disc. Harry Potter, Blade Runner, and Wizard of Oz special editions added something.
    The main reason I see it as annoying is that it isn’t the same size as BR packaging so it sticks out and makes collections bet more annoying to navigate and less attractive on the shelf. They also don’t close which is irritating as I have a display where i set my BR/DVD’s that are playing. With these they open part of the way and simply don’t look good.

    • I like Digibooks, but I do have to admit that it bothers me that they’re taller than standard Blu-ray cases. As a result, I have to segregate them to their own section of my shelf. I don’t really see the point making them slightly taller.

      About the content being “usually a few brief pages of fluff,” some Digibooks are better than others. The Silverado Digibook is pretty poor in this regard. The pages just have rudimentary cast & crew info copied from IMDb.

      However, the Midnight Express Digibook has an excellent essay from the director that’s even more in-depth than any of the supplements on the disc.

      • Curtis

        The Green Mile is another example where the content isn’t of real note would have been much better covered in the extras.
        I like the richer look and feel to the packaging (bit how I like my Lawrence of Arabia DVD book-like packaging). However the size and the fact that they won’t stay closed isn’t worth the aesthetic improvement.

        • Curtis

          Should also mention they irritate me as I scan in all my covers as I put my movies no my HDD for My Movies and Media Browser viewing. These are harder to scan and the non-standard size makes the ‘poster’ displays less uniform and attractive.

  6. I have five, an am waiting to pick up at least four more when they are released or their price drops to my budget.

    I don’t do big collector’s sets as I don’t like trinkets, don’t like displaying my movies as if I lived in a Blockbuster Video store, and don’t like to “waste” my shelf space. But count me as a digibook fan because I do enjoy leafing through the extra content after unwrapping them the first time.