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.

52 comments

  1. HelenB

    Sadly Walkabout has the rot. However, after a painful while, at layer change I think, it plays OK. Black Narcissus seems OK. I have not yet had a chance to test my other 15 disc that are on the danger list.

  2. Drew

    Josh,

    Do you happen to have a link to the ‘Eraserhead’ disc replacement program that Criterion is offering? Did you get your copy replaced, yet? Was the process pretty painless?

    • Josh Zyber
      Author

      My review copy was a screener sent by the studio. We’ve asked for a replacement and were told that we would get one, but nothing has come so far. Because we didn’t actually purchase the disc, the replacement process is different for a review site and I assume we haven’t been prioritized.

      I have no idea how it’s going for regular consumers. However, I do know that Criterion has not sent any replacements out yet for the seven titles on their disc rot list.

      • Drew

        Well, ‘Eraserhead’ isn’t one of the titles on their disc rot list. They are replacing it, because the disc is missing a very small portion of the film, right? Any idea how I can initiate getting a replacement? I know they only shipped the disc that doesn’t contain the entire film, during the first couple of weeks, and then they started sending discs that contained the entire film. Or do I have bad information?

  3. bob

    For what it’s worth, there is technology called M-disk that literally carves the data into stone instead of using unstable organic dyes and such. It is said to last 1000 years or more. For the preposterous price those fuckers charge they should be burning them on M disks instead of cheap Blu-Rays.

  4. Susan Morgan

    Believe it or not, I recently inherited all these movies on the list. Not only did I receive DVD edition, blu ray edition, if it was on laser I also received it. Unlike you all, I am not a movie person and therefore I sold some on ebay. I must admit they sell like hot cakes, especially at my prices because I don’t know what the heck I am doing half the time, This certainly explains the defect problems some of the disc had that were returned to me. Unfortunately, ebay is not as forgiving as I may be and they shut down my selling privileges due to defective items sold. Thanks alot Criterion! Maybe they can suggest what I should now do with this collection which now takes up an the majority of my living space due to the fact I received 30,000 movies, series, lectures, concerts,etc. Evidently, Criterion was his fav, that and Bambi. I am still puzzled as to why on earth an 80 year old man has 3 sets of Bambi and Snow White when he had no grandchildren, or next of kin for that matter. I can’t imagine that he watched any of the movies because he was too busy being his own purchasing agent. I have tried to watch(or read) some of these Criterion but find that I must replay the movie ending about 4 to 5 times because I keep falling asleep before the movie is over and even then I do not understand half of them. Each time I make it through a full movie, the words everyone hears coming from my room is “What the Hell?” or “You’ve got to be kidding me!” I think I may have found a buyer for some of this man’s collection and I can honestly say, today, we are both happier people. I do still hope one day I will get my life back. Honestly, at first what I thought I received was the comparable of two blockbuster stores worth of pigeon deflectors and based on this articles contents, I maybe right. I am all ears if anyone would like to comment. But sounds like Criterion needs to set up some their own criterion in order to insure consumers are getting what they pay for or maybe someone wants to make a film called “When Discs Rotted from the Earth” and the movie could end on one of these disc that freeze up. At least the movie would be self explanatory and I would not have to scratch my head over it. To each their own, but I could of thought of about 1/2 million different things I would have done with the $500 K he spent on this stuff. For starters, maybe a super big storage shed. LOL Keep in mind guys, you only live once. Have fun!!

  5. Stephen cowley

    Is this still an issue? I wonder if Criterion recalled from retailers the known defective discs? I’ve been collecting for about 2 years, so I assume I’ve ordered from relatively new stock?, and haven’t watched most yet (long story). I can’t see any bronzing or other defects on any in the 450-550 spine number range, but haven’t played them yet (I will start now!). Like most folks here, I treat my collection like babies and would be sick To my stomach if any were unplayable in the future.

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