A Warning About Your Criterion Collection Blu-rays

Not that I want to start a panic about this, but if you own any Blu-ray titles released by the Criterion Collection in the years 2009 or 2010, there’s a possibility that some portion of those discs may suffer from disc rot and may be unplayable now.

I can’t take credit for discovering this issue. I first became aware of the problem through a forum discussion on our sister site DVDTalk (in this thread), which in turn traces back to a conversation on the Criterion Forum site.

A number of readers of those sites (and I can confirm finding this as well) have discovered that some Criterion Blu-rays released in the range of 2009 to 2010 have developed a brownish discoloration (often described as “bronzing”) and/or a cloudiness on the disc surface. In some cases (not necessarily all), this has caused disc playback problems, typically around the layer change point, which is usually a little over 50 minutes into a given movie.

Some people have reported playback problems even without visible flaws on the disc surface.

Last night, I did a visual inspection of a bunch of Criterion discs I own from this period. I have found discoloration or cloudiness on the following titles so far: ‘Bigger than Life’, ‘Days of Heaven’, ‘M’, ‘Sanjuro’, ‘Summer Hours’, ‘Vivre Sa Vie’ and ‘Yojimbo’. Additionally, a tiny bit of the plastic coating seems to be peeling off ‘A Christmas Tale’.

‘Summer Hours’ has the most amount of bronzing. You can see it around the outer edge in this photo. (Click to enlarge.)

I put this disc into my OPPO BDP-93 player and skipped through the chapters. Sure enough, ‘Summer Hours’ consistently freezes when it gets to Chapter 9, which is just past the 50-minute mark. I am not able to skip to any chapters after that point.

I then tested the other titles mentioned above. Just chapter skipping through each of them beyond the 50-minute mark, ‘Bigger than Life’, ‘Days of Heaven’, ‘M’, ‘Sanjuro’ and ‘Yojimbo’ all made it past the layer change without freezing. Remarkably, so did ‘A Christmas Tale’. However, I worry that these discs may have problems I haven’t found yet, or that the deterioration may continue to the point where playback is affected later.

I also have a number of other Criterion Blu-rays from this period that don’t yet show physical signs of anything being wrong. I tested ‘Walkabout’ and ‘Stagecoach’ (two that a lot of people seem to have issues with), and both played through the layer change. I have not had have time yet to test all the rest.

Reportedly, Criterion has already been slammed with emails about this problem. Some readers have received responses with the following text:

“I hope this email finds you well. Thank you for writing in regarding a discoloration and playability problem with one or more of your Criterion discs. We are aware of this issue, which appears to affect a number of titles pressed four or five years ago at a pressing plant that we no longer use, and we are currently working on a solution. Please be assured that we are dedicated to your satisfaction and will be replacing defective discs. As soon as we have a system in place to handle exchanges efficiently, we will send out a link with instructions on how to receive replacement discs. Thank you for your patience and understanding while we work through this issue.

All the best and thanks for supporting Criterion!”

Criterion is currently in the midst of an unrelated disc replacement program for ‘Eraserhead‘, which was missing a few seconds of footage. I assume that the ‘Eraserhead’ situation will need to be resolved first before the company can facilitate corrective action on this.

Unfortunately, Criterion no longer has legal distribution rights to a few Out of Print titles that may be affected (such as ‘Howard’s End’ and ‘Pierrot le fou’), and will need to make alternate reparations for those.

As I’m sure you do, I find this problem very disconcerting. I’ve spent a lot of money on Criterion Blu-rays over the years, and a lot of those discs were only watched once at the time of purchase, if I’ve had time to watch them at all. It frightens me that a (perhaps significant) portion of my collection may be silently rotting away.

However, the Criterion Collection is a good and reputable organization, and I have every confidence that it will try to do right by its customers. While we wait for an official disc replacement program to be announced, please be patient and be courteous when contacting the company.

I advise our readers to go through your collections to identify Criterion titles from 2009 and 2010, then check each disc for physical deterioration and (at the very least) skim through each disc searching for playback glitches.

For reference, below is the list of all Blu-rays that Criterion released in the years 2009 and 2010 (identified from this page). The exact date range that the issue affects has not yet been determined, but some people claim to have problems with discs as old as ‘The Seventh Seal’ (June 2009) and as recent as ‘Stagecoach’ (May 2010).

  • ‘8 1/2’
  • ‘The 400 Blows’
  • ‘America Lost and Found: The BBS Story’
  • ‘Antichrist’
  • ‘Bigger than Life’
  • ‘Black Narcissus’
  • ‘Black Orpheus’
  • ‘Breathless’
  • ‘By Brakhage: An Anthology, Volumes One and Two’
  • ‘Charade’
  • ‘Che’
  • ‘A Christmas Tale’
  • ‘Close-up’
  • ‘The Complete Monterey Pop Festival’
  • ‘Cronos’
  • ‘Crumb’
  • ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’
  • ‘The Darjeeling Limited’
  • ‘Days of Heaven’
  • ‘Everlasting Moments’
  • ‘For All Mankind’
  • ‘Gimme Shelter’
  • ‘Gomorrah’
  • ‘House’
  • ‘Howards End’
  • ‘Hunger’
  • ‘In the Realm of the Senses’
  • ‘Jimi Plays Monterey / Shake! Otis at Monterey’
  • ‘Kagemusha’
  • ‘The Last Emperor’
  • ‘The Last Metro’
  • ‘Last Year at Marienbad’
  • ‘The Leopard’
  • ‘Lola Montes’
  • ‘The Magician’
  • ‘Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence’
  • ‘Modern Times’
  • ‘Monsoon Wedding’
  • ‘Monterey Pop’
  • ‘Mystery Train’
  • ‘The Night of the Hunter’
  • ‘El Norte’
  • ‘Paris, Texas’
  • ‘Paths of Glory’
  • ‘Pierrot le fou’
  • ‘Playtime’
  • ‘Red Desert’
  • ‘The Red Shoes’
  • ‘Repulsion’
  • ‘Revanche’
  • ‘Ride with the Devil’
  • ‘Sanjuro’
  • ‘The Secret of the Grain’
  • ‘The Seventh Seal’
  • ‘Stagecoach’
  • ‘Summer Hours’
  • ‘The Thin Red Line’
  • ‘Videodrome’
  • ‘Vivre sa vie’
  • ‘The Wages of Fear’
  • ‘Wings of Desire’
  • ‘Yojimbo’

Keep in mind that some pressing runs of these titles (especially later pressing runs) may have been performed at different manufacturing plants and may be completely unaffected. Not every copy of every disc is certain to rot.

53 comments

  1. I own about a dozen of these titles – most of them purchased in the last couple of years during a Criterion sale, and most of them still in shrink wrap, as I haven’t gotten around to viewing them yet. I have viewed a couple of them with no issues, although now I’m wondering if I’m going to have to pull them out every so often to make sure they’re still okay.

    • NJScorpio

      There are a few Criterion titles that I really wouldn’t mind rewatching every few years under the guise of “checking” them.

      “Why are you watching ‘Brazil’ again?!”

      “Making sure it still works.”

      “It worked 6 months ago!”

  2. NJScorpio

    Crap.

    I invested in my Criterion titles because I felt that their quality scans and clean up of films are the definitive versions, that any Ultra HD versions wouldn’t be coming out, so these are the last physical mediums of these films. I thought I’d have them for decades to come.

    Crap. Total crap. I don’t blame Criterion, and I’m SURE they will make good on replacing defective discs (that they have the rights for), but I imagine this whole ordeal will hurt their bottom line…which in turn hurts their stream of new titles added to their collection.

    I’ve only watched about half of my 80 or Criterion titles, and have been trying to motivate myself to watch those instead of new releases like ‘Transformers’ tv shows like ‘Under the Dome’.

    Now, it looks like I have reason to get going watching those discs I haven’t viewed with, starting with the ones on the above list that I haven’t watched via my BD copies yet:

    ’8 1/2′
    ‘America Lost and Found: The BBS Story’
    ‘Che’
    ‘Cronos’
    ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’
    ‘Howards End’ (I don’t really want to unwrap this out of print title)
    ‘Kagemusha’
    ‘Last Year at Marienbad’ (Also, don’t want to unwrap this one)
    ‘The Night of the Hunter’
    ‘Paris, Texas’
    ‘The Red Shoes’
    ‘Repulsion’
    ‘Sanjuro’
    ‘The Seventh Seal’
    ‘Stagecoach’
    ‘Yojimbo’

    Some of these I’ve seen on other formats, some were blind buys.

  3. Well Good thing the only two I own are Brazil and The Game and those are much newer discs, but its good to know to keep an eye out on those. Most of those in that huge list I’ve never heard of or dont care to own at all, not a fan of most of Criterions films

    • Yes, I’m wondering about this…if I bought these versions THIS year, is it a recent pressing or something that’s been sitting in the Criterion warehouse for five years?

  4. I would suspect that even for titles they no longer have rights to, there will be some sort of contractual exception made.
    This proves one thing-Even Criterion farms out the discs to the lowest bidders. I am amazed that even in this day and age we cannot make a flawless disc. WTF?

    I wonder if there is a way to determine what other discs were made at the same fab back then?

    • Chris B

      Yeah, you would hope there would be some sort of manufacturing index number or way to identify which plant the discs in question came from.

    • Josh Zyber
      Author

      Criterion cannot legally offer new copies of movies that it no longer has distribution rights for. Current speculation is that the company will likely exchange those discs for another in-print title of your choosing. (This is not officially confirmed.)

  5. BUMMER! I have 10 of the above listed titles. (Sad face). My Night of the Hunter was like 47 bucks! In related topic, has anyone ever had playback issues wtih The first bluray issue of Enter the Dragon? It looks as new as the day I bought it, but won’t play on any of my players. Is this what disc rot is all about? I wonder if this will affect the B&N sales because they might start losing their butts to make good with their customers. I hate living in fear of my movies going bad just by sitting quietly in their cases.

  6. itjustWoRX

    I own 20 titles on that list. Ugh…makes me feel sick to my stomach. I took a peek at a few discs…”Summer Hours” is heavily bronzed, as is “Bigger Than Life.” And “Hunger,” “Revanche,” and “Gomorrah” were all heavily fogged up.

    Of all companies, I do trust that Criterion will make this right. But being such a small company, I can only imagine the mess this is going to cause.

    Thank you Josh for putting this article up. I wouldn’t have even known about this otherwise. I used to frequent other forums but don’t have the time for it anymore. This is my go-to place. And while it may not be your responsibility, I know many of us (myself included) would be extremely grateful if you could keep us updated on the situation. At least once Criterion has a plan in place.

    🙁

      • EM

        I’m here all week, folks! (Fortunately, it’s already Friday.)

        My Playtime and Modern Times discs looked OK upon physical inspection (once I accounted for moody lighting), and I did some testing by playing the main features a bit, jumping to chapter marks and skipping backward and forward. They seemed fine.

        I also looked through my collection for Criterion Blus with earlier release dates; I reasoned that if discs originally released in the suspect window might be spared because of later repressings, then discs originally released earlier than the suspect window might be affected if they had repressings during the suspect window. I didn’t find any earlier discs to worry about.

  7. Jack

    I own 40 of the titles listed above. My copy of Walkabout is heavily bronzed, bummer. I checked some of the others but they appear to be OK. Hopefully Criterion will replace discs for Canadian customers.

  8. itjustWoRX

    Just a quick thing I noticed while checking some other blu-rays: If it’s marked in larger letters, code “BVDL” are discs that were pressed in (I believe) a Sony factory. Some “affected” titles reported by others, “Days of Heaven,” “The Seventh Seal”—had no signs of discoloration and no playback issues, and my copies were marked “BVDL.” Discs like Summer Hours, M, Walkabout…were marked in smaller letters “CCXXXXBD_L0 or L1.

  9. Ryan M

    Thanks for posting. I own an obscene amount of Criterion on Blu-ray, so I went spot-checking. The discs on this list range from absolutely fine (Kagemusha) to Walkabout. Walkabout looks horrible, as does In the Realm of the Senses. Basically, I would check any title with spine numbers 450-550 and the back titles that were released during that time period. I really hope Criterion has an exchange program, or else I am out literally hundreds of dollars.

    By the way, there is something to the “BVDL” marking on the inner ring. All the discs I checked with this designation were not at all discolored. The others beginning with CC ran the gamut of bronzing.

  10. Chris B

    Just went through and visually inspected my 30 or so Criterion discs including about a dozen on the suspect list. Couldn’t see any signs of discoloration at all and a few of them I’ve played in the last few months and didn’t encounter any problems. May have dodged a bullet on this one…

  11. itjustWoRX

    The three worst discs (thus far in my check) I have that are all bronzing (Summer Hours, Walkabout, Bigger Than Life) have one specific thing in common: A VERY tiny code on the inner ring that appears to read “IFPI LB42”

  12. I am wondering if this applies only to the discs made back in 2009 and 2010.

    If I bought, for example, Paths of Glory a few months ago, does this issue still apply or just the ones produced back in those two years?

  13. I’ve checked the 10 discs on the list that I own and fortunately no discoloration or clouding. I’ve popped them all in and let them play a few minutes before the 50 minute mark and several minutes after and all seems well so far. I’ve chapter skipped and accessed bonus features and audio tracks and everything seems fine (fingers crossed). Another question. Would the laser coming into contact with these discs be a catalyst for them to go bad because they were improperly manufactured?

  14. robert taylor

    This is why you should make copies of your Blu-ray movies you own/purchase when they start to have trouble like skipping ect. when I have a favorite movie that skips or stutters then I make a copy before its too far gone it always plays perfect after that .

  15. itjustWoRX

    I checked every Criterion Blu-ray that I own released in 2009 and 2010 for PHYSICAL defects. 24 of them.

    These titles had a “fog” or residue on the disc that could be wiped off, but no discoloration:

    -Gomorrah
    -Paris, Texas
    -Revanche
    -Hunger

    These titles had moderate to heavy “bronzing” or discoloration:

    -8 1/2
    -Che (ONLY part one disc…weird)
    -Bigger Than Life
    -Summer Hours
    -M
    -Walkabout

    All six of those discs were marked “CCXXXXBD_L#” and specifically, “IFPI LB42.” Whatever that last part is…that’s a pretty good indicator that your disc is FUBAR.

  16. Lone_gunmen

    Out of those, I only have Repulsion. Might have to copy it to my media server like I did with my HD-DVDs that all had disc rot. I honestly cannot wait until blu-ray quality digital files are available for purchase as it seems physical discs are just as unreliable as hard drives now.

  17. Guy

    I didn’t get in on Criterion Blu-rays until relatively recently. It just so happens that seven of the ones I’ve bought during my short collecting career are from that list. I just checked all of them. They were all purchased brand new during 50% off or flash sales within the last two years, all are free of any defects and all have BVDL on the inner ring. Just last week, obviously before I knew anything about this, I watched Ride With The Devil with not a single issue. It seems this is only a problem for folks that bought these titles at the time of release. You should check yours.

  18. If I get home from work tonight and find out my copy of Paris, Texas is fucked up…oh man. I don’t even know what I’ll do. It’s a good thing I just bought some Stephen Colbert’s Americone Dream, cuz I’ll be eating my sorrows til dawn.

  19. Thanks for the warning,since I happen to own four of those mentioned titles yet I’ve had a Blu Ray player for the last two years and hopefully my titles may have been manufactured(past 2011) around the time I received my player,but I’ll take immediate notice of this warning and triple check my Criterion Blu Rays just to be on the close lookout for this problem(if it does occurs).

  20. The only title I have from the 2009-2010 time period mentioned is The Darjeeling Limited. Just checked it and no visible signs of discoloration. Also checked the inner ring and found the “BVDL” marking, which is consistent with what others seem to be finding: that perhaps the BVDL ones are not affected.

    I’ll also say I think Criterion is a great company and they will likely have a strong case for getting some financial restitution from the pressing plant that created this problem.

  21. EM

    From http://www.criterion.com/current/posts/3317-exchanging-defective-discs

    We have confirmed that certain Blu-ray discs pressed at a replication facility that we used for a period in 2010 have become defective, showing a noticeable bronze discoloration on the underside and developing playback problems. We have confirmed the problem on seven titles, though not on all copies of those titles. All of these titles have since been re-pressed at a different pressing plant, and the vast majority of discs in circulation should not be affected.

    The potentially affected Blu-ray titles are:

    Howards End
    M
    Paris, Texas
    Pierrot le fou
    The Seventh Seal
    Summer Hours
    Walkabout

    If you have found that your Blu-ray copy of one of these titles does not play, please send your disc to the following address for a replacement:

    Jon Mulvaney
    The Criterion Collection
    215 Park Avenue South
    5th floor
    New York, NY 10003

    Please include only your disc—no packaging—along with the address to which you’d like us to mail your replacement. We will not be replacing or exchanging packaging. There is no need to email us in addition.

    If we learn that other titles are similarly defective, we will add them to this list and continue to replace them as well.

    Thank you for your patience and understanding.

  22. sissyinhwd

    Thanks for this. So far only my copy of HOWARDS END is completely bronzed and sticks at Chapter 21. I will be sending it back as instructed. All the other maybe ten titles look fine.

  23. adoindele

    I have about 90% of the above list, the blu-rays produced 2009-2010 and the following have bronzing issues

    Lola Montes
    Seventh Seal
    Walkabout
    Paris Texas
    M
    Stagecoach
    Wings of Desire
    Gomorrah
    In the Realm of senses
    8 1/2
    Bigger than life

    and the two out of print ones
    Pierrot Le Fou
    Howards End

  24. Mort Guffman

    For those of you mentioning “IFPI LB24”, this is what is known as the “LBR IFPI Code”, which uniquely identifies the facility (the laser-beam-recorder) that mastered the stampers for your disc, but does not necessarily identify the plant that actually produced the discs. The “Mold IFPI Code” identifies the press that made the disc, and can be found in the plastic very close to the center hole. You’ll see something like “IFPI 5846”.

  25. Criterion has listed a VERY small number of titles they “recognize” in comparison to the potential pool of problem discs. I have many of these. I’ve contacted them about my In the Realm of the Senses – which they don’t list. It does not have visible bronzing although it does have an oily/cloudy, but it has deteriorated and will not play past about the 82 minute mark (on two different players). I haven’t found issues with other titles, but I worry that problems will develop in time; hopefully it’s a case of “if it doesn’t happen in a year or two you’re safe”. They have not responded to my inquiries yet and even deleted a comment I made about this title from their comment section – which I don’t respect nor do I understand it because it was a polite and even-handed remark. This has caused me to lose interest in ever buying from them again – I expect the Blu-rays I buy to last for decades. And I treat my collections like they were my children. Now I look at them like rotting fruit. It makes me ill.

    • Josh Zyber
      Author

      This is a potentially huge issue for Criterion. They’re going to need to investigate it thoroughly before committing to a resolution. They can’t afford to blindly replace every single disc sold in 2009 and 2010 when the majority of them may not actually be defective. They need to study and test to find out which discs are actually affected. So far, they’ve confirmed a handful.

      I think we need to give them time to get this sorted out. Criterion is a good company with a good reputation, and has earned some benefit of the doubt.

      Honestly, the discs in question are 4-5 years old, and for most of us who bought them, have been sitting on a shelf for that long either unwatched or at least not watched since the original purchase. Were you really dying to watch In the Realm of the Senses again right now, or would it have sat on that shelf for another 4-5 years had no one discovered this issue?

      Let’s try to be patient and let Criterion work out a plan. I feel that they deserve that much.

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