Luke Owen isn’t ready to be forced over to the Blu-Ray format…
This may sound like sacrilege coming from someone who claims to love film, but I’ve not moved over to Blu-Ray yet and don’t intend to do so soon. I don’t think the picture quality is *that* much of an improvement to warrant spending an extra fiver to watch movies and fork out a truck-tonne of money to buy a player to watch them on.
Many of you reading this may not remember those “dark days before DVDs” so let me take you on a bit of a history tour.
I first remember hearing about DVD on an advert for upcoming Warner Bros. releases to the format at the start of a VHS copy of Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks! (to this date, the only good film he has made outside of Batman and Ed Wood). They talked about how they had “amazing picture quality” and “5.1 surround sound” and this that and the other. But the biggest selling point of all was two words – special features.
Before DVD, VHS usually had a couple of trailers and then the movie and that was it. Sometimes there would be just enough space on the end of the tape for a short documentary or blooper reel but the only way to watch them was to finish the movie and then forward past the credits. There just simply wasn’t enough room to have several versions of the movie and a whole host of special features (however my VHS copy of Ghostbusters contains both films, with an episode of the Adam West Batman TV series in between them. To this day, I think this is why I prefer the first film. Not just because it’s a superior movie, it was also a pain in the arse for me to watch because I had to fast forward to the second movie).
So the jump to DVD was a logical one. Now we could watch special features without stopping the tape to fast forward (it was quicker that way) due to the invention of “interactive menus” (remember when they were classified as a ‘special feature’?). It made our movie viewing easier and, with the rise of director’s commentaries, more informative. It was an exciting way to watch movies and you felt like you were getting more than just the film itself. I’ve known people to buy DVDs simply for the special features.
Like many teenagers of my generation, my first DVD player was a PlayStation 2 and I remember buying DVDs specifically for special features (for the record, my first 3 DVDs were Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai, Blow and eXistenZ). Many older movies got a new lease of life with these features, including the aforementioned Ghostbusters, because now there was the scope to do such things. And when you think about it, Ridley Scott never could have put together that epic Blade Runner collection if we were still stuck in the VHS dark ages.
But not all movies were given the same treatment. Unknown movies were often transferred to DVD with little effort and no special features (two that spring to mind from my DVD early days are Office Space and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare). Often films would list “interactive menus” as a special feature and they’d have a trailer just as an extra added bonus. It was basically a VHS copy but on a disc. But this was fine as not all of these movies required big expansive re-releases and they were sold for a fiver as a, ‘you own it on VHS but you may as well get the DVD’ version.
But what does this all have to do with my Luddite view on Blu-Ray? Well, last Monday I went into my local HMV to purchase the new Muppets movie. Regular readers of Flickering Myth will know of my love of the Muppets so it should come as no surprise that I would purchase it on day one. I took a quick glance at the back of the £12 DVD and was annoyed to see that there was just a blooper reel listed as a special feature. Just to further my sense of anger I picked up the £20 Blu-Ray that was sitting beside it and looked at the back of it even though I knew what I was going to see – a whole load of special features. The sort of special features we used to see on DVDs.
This isn’t the first time this has annoyed me. I got the same level of anger when I purchased the DVDs of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The Lion King and Black Swan (the latter of which didn’t have *any* features). And if the Internet rumours are true, DVD will be screwed over again when The Avengers hits the stands, with the film getting an expansive Blu-Ray release and a second hand rush job for the DVD. It really annoys me that just because I don’t own a Blu-Ray player, I have to miss out on the things that made DVDs so appealing to me.
And before you give me the “this is just technology evolution, join us in the 21st Century Granddad” let me give one reason why this bugs me to the point of writing this article:
This isn’t stuff that *should* be on the DVD, it’s stuff that *can* be on the DVD.
When we made the jump to DVD it’s because they offered us something that VHS couldn’t physically do. But DVDs have the capacity and the ability to host all of the special features that currently populate only Blu-Rays. We know this is possible, because they’ve been doing it since 1998 and had gotten pretty good at it. What this means is that we’re not moving forward because technology is, we’re doing it because the studios are forcing us to move forward so they can make an extra £8 on shop sales.
If movie companies are going to ignore DVD special features then fine. But don’t have the gall and temerity to charge us the same price you would have done 3 years ago when they did have these special features. Let’s go back to the early days of DVD when these films with simple “interactive menus” were just a fiver. Then it wouldn’t be so much of a problem. I’d still be annoyed that they don’t have the special features when they clearly can, but at least I’m not out of pocket.
Maybe one day I will move over to Blu-Ray and never look back. Maybe watching one will be a revelation that blows my mind just as DVD had once done before. But I want that to be my choice. I want to choose to move to Blu-Ray, not be forced to into it by greedy bureaucratic fat cats who see us as nothing more than hamsters hitting buttons for pellets.
Luke Owen is a freelance copywriter working for Europe’s biggest golf holiday provider as their web content executive.