Thursday, May 08, 2008

They Blu Themselves

You may have heard that The Criterion Collection has announced it's jumping into the Blu-Ray format and will be re-releasing a bunch of titles in Blu-Ray -- plus Wes Anderson's Bottle Rocket, the first product of his "Remember When We Weren't Tired of Wes Anderson?" period.

I don't have a Blu-Ray player yet, and am not enough of a videophile to go for one until the prices go down still further. (That is, I know that Blu-Ray looks better than Standard, but not so much better that I would notice at the moment.) I assume they will eventually become the standard, just as widescreen TVs are becoming the standard, but for now the question about Blu-Ray is whether it can actually revitalize the sagging DVD business.

Those of us who collect DVDs have noticed that the quantity and quality of DVD releases has gone down lately, especially older movies and shows. Part of this is that the studios were holding back until one format won in the high-def wars, but it's also that DVD sales have flattened out, and that studios now have a good idea of what old movies will and won't sell on DVD.

I think we were lucky, to an extent, because from 2002 to 2005 or so, DVDs were booming and so the studios had a lot of releases, but the format was new enough that they weren't really sure what would sell or how much money these things were expected to make. It was in those years that we got a lot of old movies in surprisingly elaborate special editions or expensively-done transfers, TV shows released with music intact, and so on. Around 2005-6, that started to change a bit, and some studios dropped out of classics almost completely (Paramount) or started chopping out all the music from TV shows (Paramount, Fox).

Will Blu-Ray help revive the market for non-new films? I kind of doubt it, though obviously Criterion getting into the act is an important thing in that respect. (Though most of the movies they're starting with for Blu-Ray are not really ones that would make me want to save up for a player and discs to go with it.) Warner Brothers already kind of tested this by putting out two of their best-selling classics -- Casablanca and The Adventures of Robin Hood on high-def, and apparently they did not sell particularly well. On the other hand, doesn't mean a whole lot at the moment, since so few people have high-def DVD players. But there is the problem of bang for the buck: while black-and-white movie will presumably look better in high-definition, they won't look so much better.

Also, just as Super Audio CD never really took off because consumers preferred lower-quality but easier-to-access online downloads, I have a suspicion that we may be seeing the same with Blu-Ray: the companies will be pushing it, and maybe it'll work out, but this is a time when more and more of us clearly don't want the very highest quality, we just want to see stuff -- see it on TV, see it online, whatever. The age of YouTube and downloading is not a great time to be pushing audiophile/videophile formats. But we'll see; I'm not making predictions. I do think that I'll get more excited when/if I see the studios putting more old movies and TV shows online; for worse or better, we're more likely to see our favorite unreleased classics online than on Blu-Ray.


Anthony Strand said...

That's a terrific point, and one I hadn't thought of. The masses *are* satisfied with YouTube.

Also, are people tired of Wes Anderson? Really? The guy who disappears for three years between movies that aren't marketed very aggressively?

Anonymous said...

Warners is definitely cautious over DVD sales. Rumor is that it's most likely that this year's Looney Tunes Golden Collection will be the last 4-disc set. (It will continue, likely at 2 discs a year.)

Kevin W. Martinez said...

That's happened to Popeye, but I've never heard that about the Looney Tunes, rumor or otherwise. I don't think I need to emphasize the old saw "Don't believe everything you read on the internet"

It's been said that The current recession and the rising fuel costs (which directly and indirectly makes consumer goods like DVD's more expensive to produce) are forcing studios to cut back on releases. That might be true to some extent, but the recession will eventually subside. The softening of the DVD market will be much more detrimental for older films and shows on DVD.

Anonymous said...

I don't believe Blu-Ray will ever be anything other than a niche format for the simple reason that the porn industry has no interest in it. (Hey, don't laugh. Those guys have yet to make the wrong call on video formats!)

Anonymous said...

Oh, man, I hope that was an arrested development reference. You win.