Posted Mon Apr 2, 2012 at 02:50 PM PDT by Mike Attebery
Straight Talk with Nate Boss
It’s been over a year since we last checked in to take the studios to task for the questionable decisions and practices that can drive fans mad. We thought it was time to check back and see how they're doing.
The Blu-ray format is still plugging along, just like before, with increased market share to boot, but while some issues have been addressed, there are a growing number of new problems and bugaboos that are a bit less than forgivable. That, and I’ve grown a bit crankier since we last had one of these chats. Thankfully, some of the most annoying issues (lossless tracks on dubs but not native tracks, aspect ratio failures, so on) haven’t been a big issue since the last article.
Of course, if everything were improved, this article wouldn’t exist, now, would it?
So, here’s another list of flat out blunders that the studios are committing, once again proving that pobody’s nerfect. Just as before, hardware concerns are not addressed here, only flaws with the discs, the content itself, and the companies behind it all. Their decision making process will be thrown under the bus time and time again, but the "why isn't this title on Blu-ray yet?" question will not be addressed here.
Surprise! Exclusive distribution failures - This growing trend is getting increasingly troublesome, as more and more discs hit a single chain's shelving units. The problem here is the fact that these releases are not getting the publicity they need to be beneficial to the stores paying to get the exclusive rights, and even the potential buyers. First, who has the time to go to Best Buy and Wal-Mart and Target every Tuesday to see if a title gets slipped on the shelves unannounced? It seems as though the exclusively distributed titles are getting no momentum because there is rarely a press release, or even a notification in a weekly circular that they even exist. Worse yet, there's rarely an endcap position or dedicated area for those browsing for exclusive goodies. They're often just thrown on the shelf, or even just left in a box in the back stock room.
There are so many flaws currently with this system, I would normally need an entire article to lay them out, but here's the nitty gritty: even with stores that have computer systems that inform you of stock available in a store, exclusive titles are frequently not found in the customer-searchable database. The employees of these stores are not educated or instructed to point consumers towards them. Regularly, titles that bow a month early in an exclusive deal don't have this information posted online, making in-store pick-up or even online stock verification impossible. Throw in absolute incompetence of companies like Best Buy throwing the already released 'Casino Jack' in their exclusive display last year in the place of 'Casino Royale, often stocking a dismally low supply of any title, and it becomes almost like a quest to find these titles. Heck, I went to four local Super Wal-Mart stores last year looking for 'A Fish Called Wanda' when it first was released in the exclusive window, to no avail. With so many titles seemingly being leaked out weekly, one needs to be online checking nearly every day for updates when looking for these little gems, and that's bloody ridiculous. These exclusive windows hurt future sales when a release goes wide, as well, due to most online stores, like Amazon, sorting a week's worth of releases by sales rank, and those diehards who must, must, must get a title immediately will have already bought the title, burying it in the ranks from prospective buyers. In the days of ten to twenty Blu-ray releases a week, that wouldn't be so major, but we've had some weeks with upwards of seventy discs recently!
MSRP failures - I don't want to hear anyone telling me that MSRP doesn't matter, because it does. Online stores base their prices on this base number, while non-big-box stores often use that price as their bad, as well. Now, I think it's absolutely foolish to pay MSRP for a Blu-ray…unless it's out of print and you stumble across it, but there are more issues here than the inflated, inconsistent pricing we're seeing lately. Sony Pictures Classics regularly inflates their products by forcing their obscure titles into combo packs, making films like 'Barney's Version' or 'Winter in Wartime' price prohibitive for a number of reasons. Obscurities shouldn't carry new release pricing. I'm sorry. If a film made a total of fifty bucks theatrically, it shouldn't have a higher MSRP when it hits disc. It should be at catalog price, because, lets face it, audiences have already said they don't want to pay a lot to see it, so why not lure some potential buyers in with an attractive price? Nearly every studio is guilty of this. There's a reason the bargain bin titles move in mass quantity. There's a reason why most chain stores stock those Echo Bridge four film feature packs. People see the price and jump. People see a $29.99 sticker price (down from $40.99 list) on 'Jack and Jill,' and they're not as likely to buy it as they are two $15 titles, or even three $10 films.
'Jack and Jill' - The mere existence of this film is a travesty, but the fact that it got not one but two Blu-ray releases (standard and combo editions) says a lot about Sony. Apparently they think we're all diaper wearing, drooling idiots, and I can't speak for everyone, but I know for a fact that I'm not an idiot, nor do I drool.
Catalog support, or the lack thereof - For years, Paramount and Disney released virtually nothing in terms of back catalog. Universal dried up for a while, and MGM went through a period where nothing was released, then only store exclusives came out. Believe it or not, there may be that one consumer on the fence, not willing to adopt Blu-ray until his or her favorite film, 'Leprechaun in the Hood' is released on the format. Even if some titles are destined to only be available in multi-packs for added potential viability, studios need to stop being stingy and release the guilty pleasures, the forgotten treasures, and the absolute obscurities. At times, a week's worth of discs look like nothing but boring, safe bets, rather than interesting, bizarre fare. We need variety. We need the catalog titles we've been waiting for, or even the films we've forgotten to time, to come out and tempt us into making a purchase. It's hard to say a release of 'Night at the Roxbury' would fail if it's not even given a chance! With more studios licensing their lesser fare to other distributors willing to expand their catalog, hopefully this situation is remedied soon enough. Too many years of cinema, too few catalog releases each month to bridge that gap!
Inept packaging - Is quality control now a foreign idea? I was reading the back of one of the Phase 4 triple features the other day, and had to laugh when the synopsis for 'JCVD' was cut off mid-sentence, mid-synopsis, despite there being plenty of empty, unused room beneath the plot to finish it. All too often we come across titles with incorrect specifications or extras that didn't quite make it to the disc. Additionally, it isn't too hard to list all the subtitle and dub options put on each disc, and one would think those reliant on those tracks would be more apt to buy titles that advertised language compatibility than those that just mention the primary languages spoken in North America. I just think it's ridiculous that companies tease or blatantly lie to us, telling us we're getting something that we're not. While Echo Bridge Home Entertainment regularly discourages users from buying their product by featuring inaccurate tech specs (that make the discs look less flattering, even!), I think Tokyo Shock deserves the most shame here, since they apparently can't even count. When 'Tokyo Gore Police' hit Blu-ray, the package said it was a two disc set. Yet, there's only one disc in the package, no matter where you buy it, so it leaves a foul taste in your mouth, that you got less than what you paid for. We reviewers regularly spell check, or at the very least know how to spell in the first place. We don't list content that doesn't exist on a disc. Studios should try doing the same.
Missed opportunities, also known as product tie-ins - Universal did the right thing by releasing the 'American Pie' films on Blu-ray right before the theatrical bow of 'American Reunion.' It gets fans amped up for a new film, is a perfect way to advertise (getting people to pay you money for you to sell them on a new product?! Score!!!), and sells product, both old and new. It's smart, rational thinking, right? So why isn't this a more consistent trend? If a studio greenlights a sequel or tie-in film, they should start prepping a disc for the existing product, especially if it doesn't already exist. Warner has done this with their expansive collection of Clint Eastwood films…yet they didn't release a single title to tie-in with 'J. Edgar. It's almost insulting when a film hits theaters with no tie-in goodies, making consumers hope that there will be a box set or collection, and then when it hits Blu-ray, its associated titles are still nowhere to be found.
Announcement teases, delays, and flat out lies - I'm still all broken up about not being able to buy 'Ishtar' on Blu-ray after it was announced early last year. I'm utterly devastated that the few copies that leaked out found their way to eBay to the tune of two to three hundred dollars a pop…mostly because I paid four hundred. I'm of course kidding, I wouldn't pay ten bucks for 'Ishtar,' rare or otherwise, and I'm not all that sad that it got delayed, but it's yet another example of a studio's failure. Yet, all seven fans of the film are probably disappointed, or at the very least, now a little short in the pocketbook. But 'Ishtar' isn't alone: every year a few titles get announced, then unceremoniously pulled, leaving consumers confused as to its whereabouts when release day comes. It's the only thing worse than not seeing any news on your favorite films at all, having that carrot at the end of the stick constantly dangling in front of you.
007 is coming…to rip you off - Yay, we're finally getting all the Bond films in 2012! They're going to be in an awesome mega-pack, that is seemingly priced fairly! One of the most anticipated sets is finally coming! In all the hoopla for this title, there have been a few major sticking points not mentioned, and they have me a little sour on the deal already. See, eBay is being flooded with thirteen film sets of James Bond, and has been for months, due to the fact that MGM did not announce standalone editions available at the same time, or even a month or two down the line. What if someone only wants 'Goldeneye?' Or the vastly underrated 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service?' If the studio does not announce individual releases to coincide with the box set in the coming months, then I'm sure more than a few consumers who already bought Bond are going to be pissed. After the steelbooks went exclusive before disappearing, after the changes in volume box sets, and a double dip mixed in for good measure, a hell of a lot of money has been spent on 007 Blu-ray to date, and if it was all for naught, then MGM has some 'splainin' to do!
'Harry Potter' plans to do the same! - With the seven million disc set of 'Harry Potter' coming soon, there is another foul taste left in my mouth, due to a very consumer unfriendly move. After releasing the first six films in mega-collector's editions (or Ultimate Editions, or Ultimate Collector's Editions, or whatever), with exclusive bonus discs, the final two films aren't getting this treatment. The exclusive discs for those two films will be found in the Wizard Collection. Now, I don't want to be a stick in the mud, but this means people who bought the triple dip (Blu-ray, then combo, then Ultimate) releases of 'Harry Potter' just got conned for more reasons than the lack of continuity in those already expensive sets. Day and date, Warner. That's the only way to save face on this one. That, or not releasing sets with five hundred dollar MSRPs. Remember: only idiots like Anakin Skywalker call something "wizard." While there is still time for the seventh and eighth films to get their standalone mega-versions, it appears to be unlikely.
Universal's disdain for America - Yeah, I probably won't earn any points with the studio for saying this, but what is the deal with this studio and the way it deliberately ignores the American market? Countless titles hit the numerous countries in Europe that are making Blu-rays, with no word on American counterparts. Why should we wait and hope that the 100th anniversary crap will bring us the titles available to Europeans for over two years already? Why should we be punished for being impatient and importing the oft-barebones releases, only to see an American release get announced a week later? Why can't Universal actually release Blu-ray product at the same clip they did HD DVD, with the same enthusiasm and daring, where even obscurities had a chance?
The shameless double-cross - This one is dedicated to Universal, as well. Does it count as a blunder, or just the most manipulative marketing ever? In my eyes, the way the studio handled 'Dazed and Confused' is just shady. Not everyone keeps track of Blu-rays coming soon online, and very few stores have valuable lists or charts to inform their customers. By releasing a self-distributed edition of this fan-favorite film just months before the Criterion Collection release, (and you know Universal had prior knowledge of this date), they conned quite a few uneducated customers out of their money. Worse still, with the painfully awful MSRP vs what was on the disc, there have been times the loaded edition has been cheaper than the stilted one!!! That makes no bloody sense. Too much, too fast, plain and simple. A year or so down the line, it's easier to swallow either an upgrade to Criterion, or if the Criterion came first, a low price alternative. It seems Universal learned their lesson on this one, in regards to 'Being John Malkovich,' though.
The vague, mysterious double dip conundrum - You know what really burns? When you buy a movie, after holding out for some time, only to have it see a superior release drop the next week. It's really insulting, honestly, and sometimes, even if you keep track of upcoming releases religiously, it can still happen. See: 'The French Connection.' There was no word that this release would be a remaster, to fix the odd color-timing concerns created by the director. The funny thing is, this wasn't even the only title in this exclusive wave to silently upgrade an existing release, with no forewarning to potential buyers of the originals. Upgrades are great, but it's nice to know they're coming. It's even nicer when they aren't buried as store exclusives for retailers that have repeatedly proven themselves to be incompetent in advertising their wares.
The destruction of the second hand market - When Hollywood Video went down the tubes, a number of discs saw their values drop from near the twenty dollar range to the barely two bucks market, the reason being that they had an overabundance of Sony titles that weren't big hits, and they went for dirt cheap when the store was in its 99 cent portion of the clearance. That was a few years ago, and it seems that Blockbuster and its numerous closings is once again decimating the value of discs you paid full price for just months before. The massive excess of discs flooding the market has forced sites like eBay to respond by adding category sorts in their movie listings, asking sellers if they're selling former rentals or not. That it came to that is a sign that there's a problem. I shouldn't be able to land a copy of 'Cowboys and Aliens' for five dollars just a month after it came out, yet that happened. Studios need to buy back that product, and destroy it, because all they're doing by allowing Blockbuster to sell discs for 99 cents or $1.99 is hurting everyone who bought the titles when they first came out. It's no secret that studios buy back poor selling titles and destroy them, which is why the massive influx of Warner titles at Big Lots stores a few years back was such a shock (the lawsuit that followed these doomed discs that escaped the shredder was a tad less shocking). While I'm all for cheap Blu-rays, I don't see where bottoming out the market helps anyone.
Hey studios: DVD packaging sucks! - MGM tinkered with combo packs in both Blu-ray and DVD packaging, and that was nice, since both were offered. However, sadly, there are times when Blu-ray owners have to have a big bulky box, or nothing at all. Some of the Ultimate Collector's Edition releases from Warner Bros are in DVD sized boxes (when they aren't in wide packs), while a number of FUNimation titles, both live action and animated, find themselves standing out among the crowd. Look, it's bad enough stores stock these titles in the DVD section due to the package, where buyers are scared off due to the price (and the fact that, often times, DVD only editions do not exist!), but this also means Blu-ray buyers won't see them. I want my copy of 'Zebraman 2' to fit in with the rest of my collection, but outside of buying a printer and finding a quality custom cover, that won't ever happen. Continuity is great, studios, especially when we build or space our storage units for Blu-ray height cases…
Crappy box art equals crappy sales - Speaking of packaging failures…This is not an issue limited to Blu-ray; however, it is an issue that does directly affect it. A lot of catalog titles lately have some of the most hideous box art imaginable, as if a Photoshop first timer designed a new cover to make a film look more dated than any previous artwork ever could. With all the cutting edge programs and experts out there looking for work, you'd think studios would have a few artists employed making their product look fresh, especially with the massive amount of assets they have in hand with their publicity art. 'Jagged Edge' is a crime, as are some other samples. You can, in fact, polish a turd.
Disc-based Digital Copies - Not everyone likes the idea of UltraViolet, but I think it's a step in the right direction. See, there's no reason that we should be seeing all these mega-multi-disc sets, when a piece of paper is all that is needed. One, it cuts down on weight, meaning shipping product is cheaper, a benefit to the studio, on top of needing less expensive packaging. Two, what are users to do once they redeem a disc based code? Have an empty slot in the package, meaning they can't sell it later? Keep a worthless disc in the package? There's no winning! It's bad enough packages have the inclusion of a Digital Copy plastered on the artwork, rather than on the removable slipcover for limited editions. Let's get everyone on board and make this simple and uniform. DVD+Digital Copy combo discs aren't a bad alternative, either. Disney really needs to make up their mind on this, as no one is fooled into thinking they're getting more with the redundant, unnecessary filler discs.
Double dip failures - I could sum up this note with four words: 'Predator,' 'The Third Man.'. But, really, what fun is that. I'd rather rant and rave about studios like Fox/MGM releasing Digibooks of titles after standalone editions, on movies where remastering is necessary, with no changes. I'd rather rail studios like Warner Bros for releasing anniversary editions where the only thing changed is the artwork and the price. If a film is going to be put in a digibook, that should be the first release, a limited edition version for the fans who have to have it, with regular packaging coming down the line soon after. It shouldn't be a forced double dip with nothing to gain. That's just shameful, preying on the OCD. At the very least, add a DVD, make it a combo pack, and while we're at it, let's make studios realize that a giant sticker on the front with the word REMASTERED would require some swallowing of pride, but would remove confusion and create sales and consumer confidence.
The more things change, the more they remain the same - On a related note to double dip failures, you know what really sucks? When a studio announces a new release date for an existing disc, and it turns out to be the same damn product with new art, instead of new technical aspects. This happened with 'The Italian Job,' which got a superior transfer in Germany, with 'Dreamgirls,' which axed a disc, added a slipcover, and left the lossy audio, and even 'The Mission Impossible' trilogy, where Hong Kong got the same looking set with an audio upgrade, but America got the same old discs (and even one less, removing the bonus disc off of the third film in the set!). It's bad enough that sometimes techs change without any clear or obvious designation on the package (see: 'The Descent' or 'The Fugitive'), where consumers are required to know a UPC code, which is beyond ridiculous. It's deceitful, in the worst of ways.
The Lyin' King - Disney really torqued my gears with how they handled the 'Lion King' releases. Originally, the plan was to have the two sequel releases be available only in the trilogy box set release…you know, the one in the really cheap drum. That was all well and good, and was a way to get consumers to feel they actually got something for the high price…until paperwork included on titles that came out on the same day revealed the individual releases of the two sequels coming in three or so months from the initial street date. Buyers got conned into paying more than they would have, thinking there was only one way to get these films, and the studio advertised this as the only way to get them as well, only to turn around and stick it to anyone who set aside sixty to seventy bucks for the mother lode. Hooray, we're stuck with hideously ugly packaging now, too! This is more shameful than it is a blunder.
Short pre-release windows…confusion ensues - You know what I like? I like having at least two months notice that something is coming out. This allows me to properly allocate money for it by seeing what else comes out on that date, and gives me time to make tough decisions if I have to make a title one that I'll wait on and get down the line. I'm sure lots of other people out there reading this are the same way. What I don't like is when a studio just dumps a title with two or three weeks notice, after either prolonged vagueness concerning its release (see: 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon 3D'), or no word at all, like the amount of publicity 'My Week With Marilyn' saw or 'The Artist' will see over the next four weeks. Give the titles time on the preorder charts. Get people salivating. No window, be it infinitely minuscule or gigantic, will prevent pirates or bootlegging assholes from illegally downloading or ripping the films. They've often had them since weeks before the theatrical bows. Let's not let the jerks ruin the anticipation.
Planned obsolescence - Oh goody, speaking of 'Dark of the Moon'… Real quick quiz: name the highest grossing film of 2009. A hint: it's the highest grossing film of all time, not counting inflation. Now, name the franchise that was the second highest grossing in both 2009 and 2011. If you said 'Avatar' and 'Transformers,' you win! Now, what do these two films have in common? The studios release them in barebones standalone editions, teasing mega-releases to follow. They know fans will buy them twice. They'd buy them ten times. They're impatient, and the hype machine is in full effect. Sadly, even with the announcement that these initial discs would be skimped and sold short, they sold like hotcakes, ensuring gullible consumers will be duped into buying the same crap twice a year the next time a mega-blockbuster happens. Quite frankly, twice in a year is just unfair.
Miramax, and its apparent lack of worth - When the Miramax library was bought and split up through a number of distributors, something bad happened: the non-film company apparently had no concerns for the value of their property. By licensing out titles to companies that would then make titles that aren’t even worth the $5.00 price point that they garnered upon release, future releases were instantly screwed. Echo Bridge isn’t releasing many films individually, so now they’re worth less than $2.50 a piece due to $9.99 quadruple features, or $15.00 sextuple features (which aren't as erotic as they sound). Even Lionsgate is guilty, as their $14.99 and $19.99 list prices are hardly a guide, with Black Friday featuring a number at four or five bucks, and regular sales around the six to seven dollar mark for the prestige titles in the library on the week of release. Throw in the fact that even some of the Lionsgate titles aren’t even worth that price (sloppy discs, folks. Sloppy, ugly discs), and an entirely valuable property is now worth little more than pond scum. And guess what? There is little way of knowing whether your favorite films will come out as standalone releases, as parts of multi-packs exclusively, or even by who. It's a gigantic mess, that could have been handled with actual grace and dignity.
Troma, and how it's apparently worth less than even Miramax - I absolutely love Lloyd Kaufman. The man is a hilarious writer and shrewd businessman responsible for some of the most tasteless cinema out there. However, when it comes to Blu-ray, I hate Kaufman and Troma. Due to the costs of Blu-ray production versus the low sales for the product that was released, when I asked the owner of the company on Twitter if we'd ever see more titles from them, like the much anticipated 'Toxic Avenger' films, I was told it was not likely to happen. Lots of other companies have seen their unviable product released on Blu-ray. Sony has Image release their lesser titles. 20th Century Fox has tapped Anchor Bay for their less-than-gems. Why can't/won't Kaufman reach some kind of deal with another company willing to release this product if they are unwilling? The trash/cult film market isn't being ignored on Blu-ray, even if one of the greatest distributors of the genre is holding out.
Wal-Mart editions of major blockbusters: ensuring that second tier titles are never to be found - Long title, perhaps, but it’s the damn truth. I like the idea behind Wal-Mart releasing single disc versions of films from distributors releasing sets only as combo packs. They have distinctly different art (like the bridge in the background of 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes,' or a full body shot of Jim Carrey for 'Mister Popper’s Penguins') to help set them apart on the secondhand market, they cost five bucks less than regular price movies, and they give consumers a choice. The problem is, with numerous slots given to the combo sets and then these exclusives, there’s less room for the second tier new releases, the 3D editions of films, or the odd catalog fare that comes out every week. Simply put, by giving us more choice on the big titles, we’re getting less choice on what to spend our high def dollar on.
BD-Live: no benefits, only hassles - It's about time studios recognize that this waste of disc space has become this generation's DVD-Rom feature, and kill it. I don't know anyone who ever uses this function, let alone regularly. There haven't been any live screenings in exactly how long? If anything, BD-Live does nothing but burden us. On Universal discs, it forces us to watch pre-menu trailers, randomly loaded, and springs an annoying Ticker at us. On new releases, loading the disc can take forever due to the amount of users accessing the servers on pre-load screens, sometimes creating up to a ten minute delay. It's time for this old dog to be put out to pasture. If there were a regular stream of content exclusive to this service, I'd shut my mouth, but with three to four actual uses a year, despite the sheer numbers of disc with this capability, it's a massive boondoggle.
The proliferation of auto-play - Older WB discs were a major pain in the butt, with the auto-start making the film play with no prompts, meaning you had to pause or restart the film once you set up the settings you wanted, which you had to do for any disc with lossless, as lossy was the default track. When Warner moved away from this method, it was a glorious day. Sadly, though, Anchor Bay catalog titles, some random MGM releases, and now Universal are all employing this strategy. The problem is, now they're more annoying than ever. With Universal, you can pause the film, pop up the menu, and browse through the extras, and all is well. However, if you play an extra, the film starts back up again, as it doesn't remember it was paused. The disc isn't smart enough to realize you're watching extras, and the menu is so big you can't watch the film, despite it popping back up when you finish each feature, meaning it doesn't want you to watch the movie or the extras. It wants you to get mad and throw the disc against a wall and test the durability of Blu-ray.
Packaging failures - Universal (again…) sure loves to be user unfriendly. When they released the 'Back to the Future' series on Blu-ray, they created quite the uproar, with the stacked digipak cases and their lack of instructions on disc removal. Some broke the cases; others snapped the discs in half. Throw in the fact that the case often distorts itself to a diagonal state, and it has to be the worst packaging ever. No studio should ever have to release official directions showing consumers how to properly utilize their packaging. If it isn't obvious and easy…it shouldn't be put to use. Now, Universal isn't guilty of the next crime, but many others are. Slop. There's no excuse for what Sony did to the bonus disc in the new 'Underworld' box set, or how numerous companies throw discs into the package, loose, in paper sleeves, rather than in proper trays. Heck, even Yash Raj Films did this with the release of 'Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year,' a Bollywood release from the UK. It's acceptable to do this as a store exclusive, where the product is often already packed for mass consumption, the bonus tossed in, but not acceptable for wide release. Not one bit.
Oops...don't buy this! - I have a lot of love for FUNimation. They put out a quality product at a low price, especially compared to other anime Blu-ray distributors. They have a wealth of famous franchises, and the amount of key players hitting Blu-ray is admirable. However, they made a dire, dire mistake in 2011: 'Dragon Ball Z.' This world famous series, in its unedited, lengthy as hell form, came too soon after another DVD release of the show. It came while the 'Dragon Ball Z: Kai' series hadn't even finished yet. There just wasn't enough money or interest to go around, and the first two releases of the show, titled 'Level 1.1' and 'Level 1.2,' which comprised the first season of the show, sold so poorly that the distributor canceled the series, including two already announced releases ('Level 2.1' and 'Level 2.2'). Striking while the iron is hot is one thing, but over-saturating a market and causing a backlash is another. After a tease, we have two worthless releases, and an even bigger question mark about the series than before!
Loaded? - You know what would have been really, really nice? If Summit Entertainment would have made the technical discrepancies between their movie only and loaded edition discs more obvious, or, dare say, non-existent. I mean, we all can look for variations in artwork, but how many times have we ever thought to verify that the specs aren't changed? How often does a store even stock both editions to compare? This mess gave me another reason to dislike 'Red,' as if the hackneyed film needed any help alienating its audience. Of course, I personally solved this problem by refusing to buy discs from said company, kinda my own way of not supporting a company that makes such awful decisions, or in many cases, awful films (a certain film series springs to mind...).
User unfriendliness - Look, it's nice that only a few studios are giving us the generic promotions for the format preaching to the choir, in, what, the sixth year of the format? It's good that we're seeing some forward progress. That said, there are a lot of changes still needing to be made. Disney is one of the only studios that have pre-menu content down pat, as booting a disc prompts you to skip all the mumbo jumbo on screen. You don't have to guess how to bypass the ads, it tells you exactly how to do it. I like that. Additionally, more and more menus are a pain in the ass to navigate due to unclear cursors or annoying pop-ups that have to be cancelled and closed, rather than disappearing on their own with the press of a direction button. Studios need to make the effort to not annoy consumers. Television releases need to go "next gen" by including season modes, or other user friendly features, as there have been some (like the release of 'Wolverine and the X-Men') that can induce an unnatural baldness from frustrated hair-pulling.
Out of print, because I said so, damn it! - A few studios announce openly that they're putting discs in "moratorium," due to a bigger, better release coming soon, so as to not choke store shelves, allowing existing product to sell without auto-replenishing. Disney is open about their vault system, while Warner informs of us of upcoming mega-releases long in advance. Not only does this ramp up anticipation, it prevents regretful double dips. Now...not every studio is as open and honest as Disney or Warner, as titles fall out of print all the time for no announced reason, with no time window given to make a last grab (to even battle the scalpers!) before prices go crazy. Paramount, I can't even begin to wrap my head around a studio that would discontinue 'Zodiac', as no excuse from the studio justifies this move. Bad sales can be blamed on consumer unfriendly price points and a cache of HD DVD leftovers that further made the price discrepancy an insurmountable barrier. FUNimation lets titles fade from stock without a word, get expensive on the second hand market, and then save us all with their low priced second pressings. Sony lets digibooks go out of print (ahem, 'Silverado'), with no alternative, making prices go crazy. There's no reason obscure catalog titles should average $40 to $80 on eBay, and letting us know before a title slips into oblivion sure as hell would help cripple the scalper market.
Twilight Time - I'm sorry, but what the hell?!? I like the idea of an independent company licensing titles we might not see on Blu-ray, in limited 3,000 copy print runs, especially for obscurer titles unlikely to even sell that many in a year. It's great to see these titles hit the market. However, it's not all that great an idea when titles consumers would actually want go this route. Horror titles sell well on Blu-ray, so the way 'Fright Night' got sold out and hit the hundred dollar mark, timed right around the release of the remake is just confusing. Now we find out that 'As Good as it Gets' will be handled this same way? A multiple Academy Award winning film not even twenty years old gets the shaft, while 'It Could Happen to You' gets not only a standalone regular release, but also the inclusion in a double feature two pack? Is something backwards here? A good idea turns ugly real fast when handled wrong. A premium for super obscure titles not-likely to get real releases? Great! An instant shortage-inducing choke point on distribution of fan favorite films? Shenanigans!
Now, Blu-ray 3D has its own massive set of failures, and I decided to throw all these concerns together, because, seriously, it has been botched from the start.
Continuity - Some studios release 3D Blu-rays in combo packs with 2D editions. Others put the 2D and 3D on the same disc. Exclusive editions have been exclusively one disc, opening the door for questions on whether a release will play in both formats. How hard is it to get the studios together to act in uniform? Honest to goodness, there is nothing wrong with 3D+2D on the same disc. Nothing. Some of the best looking, most impressive discs on the sub-format feature both editions, and extras to boot! Why can't Sony stick to one way or another? Why do some studios release clear packaging (which create interesting 3D layers), while others use slipcovers to fancy up the package (in an attempt to make a title look worth the price point)? Removing confusion from the equation would only instill consumer confidence, and that's not a bad thing!
3D disc pricing - Image Entertainment has it right, as they have priced their IMAX 3D discs (that are both 3D and 2D capable) at the same MSRP as previously released editions of the same titles, and have gone so far as to discontinue many 2D only versions/not make 2D standalone editions even available, so as to remove any confusion and add value to a release. No one else has this down. Sony cuts out extras, and charges extra. Most studios throw in a bonus 3D disc, and up the MSRP five to ten bucks, often giving us eighteen different ways to view a film (despite the desire to only see one). Now, it may seem somewhat fair to charge a premium, but keep in mind that any store stocking 3D content is doing so at numbers very close to MSRP, while regular 2D discs see a considerable discount from MSRP. Best Buy holds customers hostage, knowing full well that they have the best stock on these titles, including exclusive titles that they have limited stock and high prices on.
Missed opportunities - If a movie hits theaters in 3D, it should hit Blu-ray in 3D. This should not be so difficult to understand. We shouldn't have to research Region compatibility and pay hefty importing prices for content to run on our expensive television sets. See this list of 3D movies? Any release listed herein that has seen a 2D release in the last two years is a travesty. Additionally, the amount of films here not even seeing any progress is somewhat scary. Studios want to complain about losing money, yet there are plenty of examples of them just throwing away potential sales and giving consumers the middle finger.
'Scar' - When this title hit Blu-ray in America, it did so in anaglyph 3D, not stereoscopic...in the midst of Blu-ray 3D titles being released from most every company. It's available in Germany (from Sony), but is Region B locked. This is a double fail.
Value dumps - I'd like for a reader to point out where exactly studios benefit from this particular point. When a Blu-ray 3D title is released in a multi-disc set (3D, 2D, DVD, so on), is it fair to say that money is being given away? Scalpers regularly hit eBay weeks in advance of 3D split disc releases, selling the 3D disc by its lonesome, then the 2D disc, and the DVD, and the numbers being pulled exceed the going price of the disc. Studios sell one SKU, yet the product is covering up to three different potential buyers. How is this good business? By splitting 2D and 3D feature film discs, the market on these titles drops due to the flood on the secondhand market for partially complete versions. Resell value drops for those who blind bought and regretted it. I don't see any gain here. Do you?
Now it's your turn.
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