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Double Dip Blues: Enough is Enough

Apr 10th, 2009
Time to replace your Blu-ray copy... already?

 

by Kenneth J. Souza

BD vs. BD

While many of us admittedly addicted technophiles have been struggling with the pros and cons of replacing all those amassed DVD titles in our collections with brand-spanking new high-def Blu-ray versions — and salivating over what new announcement will be made to further deplete our ever-dwindling “disposable cash” budgets — we may now have to start thinking about going one step further and replacing the BD of that barely three-year-old BD which was already purchased as a replacement for the prior DVD version, which was possibly a replacement for a prior laserdisc version and, very often, the VHS version before that. When will it ever end?

Another Country Heard From

This week Disney unleashed a new “Collector’s Edition” of the Coen Brothers’ Oscar-winning No Country for Old Men on BD — a fairly new title that now joins I Am Legend, Casino Royale, The Terminator and, oddly enough, Stranger Than Fiction in having duplicate releases on the fledgling format. Having released an already-fine BD of No Country for Old Men just 13 months ago, it certainly smacks of corporate greed to re-release a Blu-ray that fans of this high-profile, Oscar-winning film had already purchased. While most of these “upgrades,” No Country inclusive, do boast additional supplementary material and bonus features not previously available, the video and audio specs remain virtually identical to their predecessors (the one planned exception looming on the horizon is Lionsgate’s highly-anticipated “Skynet Edition” of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which will not only include multiple versions of the film but also spiffy new THX-certified video and audio options to boot). Other titles already rumored to be in the works for a second BD incarnation are Alien vs. Predator and The Dark Knight — both purportedly to include additional “BD Live” content and even more bonus features. And I’m sure there are many others already in various stages of development that we’ll hear about in the weeks and months ahead. While there’s nothing wrong with offering fans special editions of titles that garner a plethora of bonus material, the problem is with such editions being announced and released right after fans already purchased the original Blu-ray Disc version; had both versions been offered simultaneously (or at least the later SE installment announced from the get-go), fans could have simply chosen to buy the one that they wanted and avoided double-dipping altogether.

Do the Right Thing

I guess I shouldn’t be all that surprised, as most home video enthusiasts have gotten used to having their pockets picked over and over again by studios releasing bigger and better versions of their favorite films. For most, it probably began with that initial upgrade from those horribly soft and muddy-looking VHS tape transfers to the niche market of the laserdisc. Then the far more compact and greatly-improved DVD format came along to require yet another upgrade. (We won’t even talk about blips like the competing DIVX or Universal Media Disc formats.) And now, after surviving the head-to-head battle against HD-DVD, Blu-ray is the reigning high-def format of choice … which means some of us more impatient collectors may already have an existing high-definition duplicate title or two sitting on our shelves in a dusty little red case. Hey, there’s no shame in having John Carpenter’s The Thing on both HD-DVD and Blu-ray, is there? And DVD. Twice. And laserdisc. Also twice (but I did finally get rid of that crappy old VHS tape! It was pan-and-scan, anyway). In any event, one would think that finally having a 1080p format offering artifact-free video with audio bit-for-bit accurate to the film master would mean one could finally purchase a properly mastered title and be done. No such luck it seems.

I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge there are some studios and companies (like The Criterion Collection, to name one obvious example) that go above and beyond the call of duty in not only making their re-releases well worth the additional investment, but also giving enthusiasts a heads up when they plan to release a movie on DVD or Blu-ray Disc. By making consumers aware that another, full-blown special edition with all the bells and whistles is forthcoming, a fan can decide whether they want to buy the bare-bones, movie-only edition to satisfy their immediate needs or hold off for that bigger and better version down the road. But unlike the upcoming tricked-out BD edition of T2 that promises to be the be-all, end-all version for fans, Disney’s second release of No Country for Old Men seems like a callous afterthought, boasting a collection of bonus material that, while interesting, really doesn’t amount to anything more than a series of PR appearances that hardly fall into the “never-before-seen” category. Adding insult to injury is the fact that all of these supplements were readily available some 13 months ago and could have been included on the original 2008 Blu-ray release.

Same Old, Same Old

Barring the additional lure of wholly new bonus features or a complete revamp and upgrade in video and audio quality — which seems to be a moot point based on most studios commitment to top-notch AV specs — the burning question at this juncture is: just months shy of the third anniversary of the first wave of BD titles released on June 20, is it too soon to start seeing so-called “double dip” titles re-released on the format? Wouldn’t the time and effort of both the studios and overbooked production facilities be better utilized to crank out titles that have yet to appear on Blu-ray? To me, the answer to both would be a resounding “yes.” While we can all agree that BD is already poised to become a dominant and enduring video format, even though it may be some time before it completely eclipses or even replaces DVD, there are still many potential adopters out there who have been cautiously biding their time, waiting on the sidelines. Those I’ve talked to who have expressed interest in the format claimed to be waiting for more affordable players to hit the market — a wish that will undoubtedly be granted this year— but also, more importantly, for a bigger and more varied offering of BD titles to be released. That being the case, I think studios like Disney, Warner and Sony should focus on getting both coveted catalog titles and newer hit films released on BD and tamp down their obvious desire to cash in twice on what’s essentially the same product.

Don’t Buy It

But the studios aren’t solely to blame, either. As I sit here eyeing my shrine of John Carpenter, George A. Romero and Alfred Hitchcock videos in a variety of formats, I realize there are many like-minded people out there who have fueled the studios notion of “double dipping” simply by buying into it … quite literally. There’s no mystery to it — it’s a simple matter of marketing, nothing more than supply and demand. It’s why almost every movie released on DVD has been “double dipped” at least once since the format’s debut in 1997. Though in most cases, these were justified with improved 5.1 tracks, new anamorphic transfers, and the addition of previously-unreleased bonus material. My fear is that while the overall novelty of Blu-ray Disc is still fresh and the format is doing well with home-theater enthusiasts but not yet firmly established with the average consumer, redundant releases are nothing but a waste of time and resources. At some point, we all just have to say: “enough is enough.” Otherwise there’s at least one collector who’s going to have to face the fact that he may just have to leave some shelf space open to accommodate every conceivable video edition of John Carpenter’s The Thing ever released. And then make room for just one more.

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