Saturday, May 25

Blu-ray has gotten stale...but I'm unsure exactly why... (long ramblin' entry)

Maybe this was inevitable. Maybe it's just me. Either way, the Blu-ray format has become stale. Which feels strange to say since I was an early adopter of Blu-ray (and HD DVD), possess two players, and a couple hundred BDs. I also championed the formats and understand their merit as a potentially fantastic means of home entertainment. I can talk your face off with a litany of technical mumbo-jumbo regarding Blu-ray and put up a good argument as to why you should buy into it if you haven't already.

Yet lately I find myself not caring as nearly as much about the format. It's gotten to the point that it's tough to fathom paying even twenty bucks for a single movie on disc. It's not a cash or Netflix issue, it's more a "why pay that much nowadays" issue. And I can hear it now, "Dude, do you realize how much DVDs were when they first came out?" Of course, remember all those Anchor Bay horror multi-packs of previously released individual titles a couple years ago? Yep, I bought all those when new when they averaged twenty-five to thirty a pop. That might be a big part of the reason. There comes a certain point where you start wondering about weird abstracts like how and when a given film was shot versus the benefit of seeing it in 1080p or simply whether it's worth upgrading to the Blu-ray over the good ol' DVD. Even with brand new titles, if the movie was shot to look dull as dish water, I'll gladly opt for the standard def coaster and save a couple bucks.

Then there's dealing with the marketplace reality of the format compared to its technical potential. As time has passed, Blu-ray has become less a means providing a truly premium viewing experience to being another home video medium to move product. Naturally, that's what it always has been, but there's been this ongoing "settling effect" between what purists want and what the general public accepts as enough quality to warrant buying Blu-rays. So more-and-more I find myself disappointed in new titles with regards to their video quality. Good but not great is the new mantra...

Not to pick on Scream Factory, they have some great titles, but their output so far has exhibited this phenomena. Much like the U.K.'s Arrow Video, SF seem to place more focus on cranking out titles and getting the presentation surrounding the movie itself perfect. The problem is that they don't appear to be concentrating on providing definitive video transfers and as far as I can tell all of their titles have utilized licensor-provided HD masters (like Universal and MGM). In other words, they haven't created any new masters from fresh telecines, only pre-existing ones of varying quality and age.

Take their They Live Blu-ray for example, the same pasty transfer wouldn't have received such high marks by most BD review sites if weren't for the extras, the nifty cover, and attractive slipcover. It would be another wishy-washy BD effort from Universal if they had handled it instead. That's the thing, most can't seem to resist the thrill of "Wow, [insert cult classic] is coming to Blu-ray!" while heaping praise upon Scream Factory for the simple fact they're releasing favorites to get to the heart of the matter.

Better than DVD but mediocre for Blu-ray simply isn't good enough. I'm tired of the whole inevitably double or triple-dip game, if the quality isn't there from a master created years ago, it doesn't matter how cool the cover or extras are. I'll wait until the film's treated right and that goes for all Blu-ray releases. I'm not expecting something shot decades ago to look like 2011 material, but I want the best approximation currently possible of what the film material actually looks like represented on Blu-ray. No digital tampering or filtering.

If anyone can recall the days of LaserDisc and early days of DVD, you may remember how willing major studios were with licensing out even their big titles to smaller distributors. Eventually, once the DVD format really began cranking, this willingness contracted and studios produced their own editions to reap the format's immense popularity. Now that DVD is in decline and catalog titles don't have the moving power they once had (blame Netflix and the like), we're now back to the old days and another gripe.

I've already mostly covered this in this old entry about Twilight Time's limited edition BD of Fright Night (1985). This exclusivity deal still pisses me off especially considering their trumped up "limited" runs, inflated price points, and the aftermarket driving the prices far into the rarefied air of "go fuck yourself with the disc". Sorry, it's garbage like this that sucks the fun out of the format to such an extent that I had to mention it.

What makes this even more irritating is how Mill Creek Entertainment, known for their recent cheap DVD/BD collections at Wal Mart, has also acquired some licenses from Sony. What do they do with them? Pair them up onto double feature Blu-rays with decent transfers at a fraction of the cost of Twilight Time's holier-than-thou releases, like Mr. Sardonicus (1961)/The Brotherhood of Satan (1971) with a list price of only $9.98. That's what it should have been all along instead of giving elitist collectors another reason to be pricks with Twilight's faux-valuable releases.

As you tell, I don't ascribe to those who purport that we should "thankful" distributors care at all to release these catalog titles onto Blu-ray. Steaming video has altered the home video landscape, but given how cutthroat the niche market has been, that's a weak excuse. Yet compared to streaming, I'll pick physical media any day even if I've gotten bored with Blu-ray. It's just the wavering commitments to quality and annoyance of history repeating itself that personally hamper the enjoyment I once found. Not to mention the sheer nostalgia and "discovery" factor of owning vintage VHS certainly beats the pants off ordering a brand new Blu-ray off a pallet of thousands, no matter how hipster that might sound...


Craig Edwards said...

It's just you.

DrunkethWizerd said...

It's not just you. But at the same time you're seeing it all through shit-rose colored glasses. Everything you just said isn't about Blu-ray vs DVD, or even Distributors vs Collectors. It's about life, man. You just took that fateful step outside the circle of accepted manipulation, deception and deceptive manipulated acception my friend.

Rules to die by: Don't buy it if it's over $10 unless you're really drunk or are in lust. Step back and realize that the collection will not die, just because new bullshit comes out and contaminates the earth. Get out to the cinema more, especially if you can find an independent with a lot of drug addict / students / gay hipster / wannabe Hell's Angels that sniff coke there during the films, and hope that they play some old Mario Bava or some Eurotrash.

When the shit gets boring, don't forget to simply remember what it's all about: the chicks! Uhh... I mean, the movies. The only Easter Eggs I like finding are up feelupion tubes. The ones I like to feelupion. Nevermind.

Matheus said...

I understand your point about some films that wouldn't benefit from the 1080p treatment... but my main problem with the dvd isn't its limitations on the resolution but those horrible pixelated disasters caused by the compression. It's totally cool to watch a VHS in a CRT tv because it will reproduce our past experiences just like they happened but it's quite bad to watch them on a LCD full HD display. For me, the same goes with dvd; those artifacts aren't part of the film, they never were intended to be part of the experience at all, they are just matters of bad authoring or the inevitable upscaling of the modern tvs.

Anthony1138 said...

I was really into replacing DVDs with Blu-Rays when I first bought into the format, but that has gotten stale. It's hard to justify paying $20 for an uncompressed version of the same master used for the DVD version that I've owned for years. In some cases the upgrade might be worthwhile, because the DVD was compressed to hell or the movie is one of your favorites. But for most movies, it's just not worth the high price for a marginal upgrade.

Besides the Arrow Bava Blus that contain both the Italian and AIP versions, there's not a whole lot of new Blu-Rays that I "need" to order. While I appreciate the love that SF, Kino, Second Sight and Arrow are giving to their releases, new art work and extras aren't enough. Yes, we want to see new scans for every film released to Blu-Ray, but the fact of the matter is that discs will sell just because it's the first time the films are released on the format. So why would studios spend the extra money on new transfers for first time releases?

On a side note, I'm curious to see how SF handles the upcoming Day of the Dead Blu-Ray. Will they use a new scan, like Liongate's Evil Dead 2 and Arrow's Zombie releases, or the same old master used on the AB disc?

Kev D. said...

If I don't already own it on DVD, I consider the Blu-Ray. But sometimes (MOST OF THE TIME) the money just ain't worth it.

The jump in quality from VHS to DVD was a huge one, and one that was worth paying the extra cash at first. But now, until blu-ray discs start being cheaper... it's just not better enough.

Also, I'll always cherish the bargain bins DVD finds that I've come across over the years. I don't see that kind of shit happening with blu-ray for a long time.

2$ kung-fu movies FTW.. you dare tread upon the staircase?

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