Monday, February 8, 2010

Someone’s due for a big surprise

Barrie Maxwell has a new Classic Coming Attractions piece up at The Digital Bits (thanks to Laura for the heads-up) and begins his article with a nice little observation on the state of classic movies on DVD:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… If you're a classic enthusiast, it will depend on your viewpoint on Manufactured-On-Demand (MOD) discs whether you feel we're in the former or the latter.

It's pretty clear now that MOD is the way of the future when it comes to most classic titles not yet released on DVD. Despite all its problems the Warner Archive seems to be a success and MGM followed suit late last year with Universal jumping on the bandwagon this month. Can Fox, Paramount, and Sony be far behind? Pressed discs of classic films are not going to disappear, but the number of new titles is likely to continue to decline, at least where most of the major studios are concerned. The pluses and minuses of the MOD model have been debated ad nauseum. The main positive, and it is a major one, is the increasing availability of literally hundreds of titles that may not have been otherwise available for a long time or perhaps never. Excessive cost, quality of transfers, and questionable durability are the main negatives. The answer to the former two issues lies within the individual consumer/collector; if one is prepared to pay excessive prices and accept mediocre transfers in some cases, that's what one will continue to get. It's simple supply and demand. As for disc durability, only time can answer questions about that.

The entire essay is certainly worth the reading time, and while I wish some of the factors he writes about weren’t true, that seems to be the direction classic films is moving toward. (The MOD controversy is one that we’ve explored here in the past at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear.) This should dovetail nicely (and if it doesn’t I’ll make certain it does) into the second bit of information that I need to pass along; one of the many TDOY correspondents (who asked me not to mention their name, for fear of lawyer-like activity) reports that many of the Warner Archive DVDs are now available for sale in the Critic’s Choice Video catalog that may be taking up space in your mailbox right now as I type. However, Critic’s Choice neglects to inform customers that the content of the Archives are not on, as Barrie calls them, “pressed discs” and that they don’t feature much in the way of supplements or extras. I’m not certain if withholding this info is going to lead to legal-like proceedings, but if I were a customer without any sort of Internet savvy about MODs I’d be a bit cheesed off.

Barrie brings up a point in his piece that I thought particularly thought-provoking:

One wonders who makes decisions at Universal on what titles get DVD-R treatment vs. pressed disc? The incredible Ruggles of Red Gap goes to DVD-R, yet the static Alice in Wonderland gets a proper pressed disc release (and I don't care that there's a tie-in to Tim Burton's new theatrical Alice in Wonderland film)?

I’d kind of like to hear an explanation on that one myself.

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Matthew Coniam said...

I found this really interesting, because I've been dipping a lot into the Warner Archive lately.
Speaking as a buffoon, what actually is the difference between a DVD-R and a pressed disc? What is the average shelf life of a DVD-R?
Should I be regretting transferring my entire VHS collection to DVD-R even more than I am already???

Flickhead said...

"Pressed discs of classic films are not going to disappear..."

Perhaps. But, in ten years time, my money's riding on streaming. As we've seen with music, new (re: younger) consumers generally don't possess the collector's mentality as my peers and myself do (or once did). They simply want to see the product, not necessarily touch it.

Visit the CD section of a Walmart or Target and most of the stock is either classic rock, classic pop (stuff recorded twenty or thirty years ago) or country music. New bands -- those who've recorded in the last ten years -- are usually bought (or pirated) via download. Almost all jazz and classical are downloaded, all onto iPods. I think movies will follow with a device similar to the iPod or HDTV hooked up to the internet. For Netflix subscribers this means avoiding trips to the mailbox and post office.

Netflix and other services offer limited streaming. Plus there's video on demand on cable. I believe this will eventually win out over manufactured DVDs, especially when this younger generation of consumers grows older.

Believe me, I'd rather keep it the way it is with DVD. But, at one point, I wanted to keep things they way they were with vinyl, and VHS. Like George says, all things must pass.

comicsnstories said...

The flaw in the "everything is going streaming" argument to me, is the huge presence of vinyl in the music world.

Go into any independent music store in your city, and they'll have a huge vinyl section of new releases, from new bands on LP. I think I read that vinyl sales were up 81% from 2008 to 2009. It could just be a trend, but it's something that a lot of folks are banking on.

Stacia said...

I'd love an answer as to what gets released on DVD and what doesn't, too. I'm constantly seeing films that you'd think would have a DVD release but don't, sometimes because they were released on VHS back in 1991 and didn't sell well. There are a dozen pre-codes I saw on VHS which I doubt will even get the DVD-R treatment. Then the choices with the DVD-Rs is a mystery; why isn't "The Money Trap" released properly, for instance?

Ultimately, I like DVD-Rs because it's a better copy than I'd get from recording the movie myself, but I dislike their cost and the flimsy packaging. And I have this sinking feeling they won't have much durability.