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Los DVDs, los extras y las ediciones de colección

04/14 - 5:30 PM:
Reissues, re-releases, and new treatments: The skinny on the home entertainment phenomenon of releasing multiple versions of the same movie.

In the relatively long history of home video we have all seen studios releasing a particular movie, then, some time later, either putting it back into the vault or releasing an enhanced version. Disney quickly became the master at this with their 'once in a generation' releases of their classic animated films. But they're certainly not the only studio who does this. Star Wars fans, for example, surely have multiple copies of the Holy Trilogy on VHS and/or laserdisc. Sometimes just the packaging was changed, yet more often some little goodie was added or the film was remastered.

The laserdisc market proved especially attractive for the studios. Put out a basic set, then return a few years later with a deluxe treatment. This simple practice serves two particular purposes: 1) fans who care only for the movie are satisfied with a basic release and 2) die-hard fans who crave every possible bit of information found on the special edition release. It was inevitable that this practice would be ported over to the DVD format. Now, in it's seventh year of existence, there is a growing shift in the industry. For those movies that were released in the early days, sufficient time has passed to revisit the properties -- and every studio is doing it. Artisan, Buena Vista, Columbia/Tristar, Fox, MGM, Universal, and all of the Time-Warner companies have started to cash in as the bulk of their high-profile titles have already been released (at least once). This is nothing new and, thankfully, won't go away. I am a firm believer that this is a good practice.

Another trend we're starting to see more frequently is the act of releasing regular and special edition discs at the same time. Although not new, it's far more commonplace than it was a few years ago. New Line has just released two versions of Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) and Fox is about to release two versions of Master and Commander. Doing this eliminates the long wait between the basic release and the deluxe release, but there is a downside -- several actually. A major contributing factor in a studios decision to put out two versions at once (not including multiple aspect ratio releases) is the demand from rental chains, who still carry significant weight in the business. It's far more cost effective for them to stock single-disc sets. The price per unit is lower, there's less chance of damage (since there is only one disc as opposed to two), and the inventory takes up less space. Being that rentals account for a large percentage of total sales, this could eventually become a danger to those who crave bonus content galore. I'm not saying this is much of an issue now, but it could be down the road.

Another problem, which the industry has been facing for years, is that of consumer confusion. Take a trip down to your local store and you're bound to see hundreds of DVD's with multiple versions -- not only movie-only and special edition, but also full frame and in the case of CTHE, Superbit. It's not uncommon for there to be three or more versions of a single movie and most stores are not particularly well organized so they're stacked next to each other. For the average consumer, this can lead to confusion and frustration. Granted, consumer awareness is far greater now than it was before the turn of the century. Studios are adverting more, retail employees know more (although this is a highly debatable matter), and consumers have become accustomed to several treatments. That covers the pros and cons of releasing movie-only and special edition versions at the same time.

Now the fun begins -- the art (or illusion) of limited editions. This has become the most maligned moniker in the home entertainment industry. Various acts have virtually destroyed its meaning. Speaking directly in regards to the discs, and not any special packaging or items coming with a set, "limited" really doesn't exist. It's a marketing tool to encourage consumers to rush out and buy something before it's too late. I've picked on them before, and I'm about to pick on them again: Anchor Bay has been the worst culprit in this, and has annoyed fans for years with their reissues of movies like Army of Darkness and Halloween. Version A -- a two-disc set -- is limited to 30,000 copies. Then, they release Version B, consisting of the first disc from the previous "limited" set, and Version C, made up of the second disc from the last release...and both in non-limited form. In the end, people who bought Version A have something that's collectible simply because both discs come together. Some may say this is acceptable because of that fact. Many, this DVD-enthusiast included, disagree. Let's look at another disc I enjoy picking on: Saving Private Ryan from DreamWorks. This amazing film was released on DVD in November of 1999 as a Special Limited Edition. It has been an active title ever since. Hmmmm...it's not very limited now is it? And now DreamWorks is going back and putting out an even more "special" version. These examples, and there are many more, are what have ruined the limited edition name.

Not all limited releases have been negative. Fox made it quite clear right from the moment it was announced that From Hell: Directors' Limited Edition wouldn't be around long -- and it wasn't. Disney has also kept to their word with both their original Limited Edition DVD's of animated films as well as their coveted Platinum Edition's. Then there are the Walt Disney Treasures releases, which brings us to another brilliant marketing ploy: collectable limited edition packaging. Studios understand that anything limited will catch someone's attention, but if they can actually see it before they buy it, there's an even greater chance consumers will snap them up. Artisan has implemented this countless times -- the metal sleeves with T2: Ultimate Edition and Rambo, the round tin with Total Recall, and so on. Universal has put this to great use recently with the stunning Cylon packaging for Battlestar Galactica, and several of their pending releases (like Northern Exposure). A point to make very clear...limited edition packaging does not mean, in any way, that the contents held within are limited. Some people may assume this, but it's not. Disney's Treasures limited edition tins are only limited so far as to the packaging. The discs will (and already are) being re-released. I like special packaging, but no one should ever take it to mean the actual DVD's going to disappear...at least not right away.

That covers all the major bases. There is one very important thing to realize with the home entertainment market -- nothing is limited and everything will see the light of day again, in some form or another. Having previously mentioned the Ultimate Edition of T2, let's use this as an example. Last year, Artisan released another version. Having already created something that truly can be called "ultimate" the newest treatment is under the heading of Extreme Edition. Is "extreme" better than "ultimate?" A mild marketing blunder by the folks at Artisan. They would have been better calling it a compendium release, which is what it is.

I still receive dozens of emails every week from people asking about limited edition discs and/or enhanced treatments. For those who don't already know, you can keep an eye on our DVD Watch section for a listing of all discs that already have regular and special edition treatments, and those that are coming. The reality is that there will never, ever, be an optimal and final version of any DVD (music, movie, TV, etc.). Studios are always looking at ways to make money and one of the simplest solutions is to raid the catalogue of films. If a basic release, or modest special edition sells well, you can bet some executives will be marking it down to be revisited in the future.

One of the most frequent questions I'm asked is whether or not someone should buy the current release for (insert the title of your choice) now, or wait for the next version. True, the next version will probably be better in some ways -- although it could also be lacking in certain departments...there are, after all, no guarantees. The single most important reason to buy any DVD is for the feature program or episodes. Bonus material is great, no doubt, yet that's icing on the proverbial cake. If you want to own a particular movie in your collection, buy it. Don't worry too much about what the future will hold (unless another version is coming out soon; again keep an eye on DVD Watch for information). You can be sure that any given movie will have multiple versions over time. Just like the plethora of Star Wars tapes most of us have in our collections, we're bound to have multiple copies of certain movies on DVD -- in fact, many of us already several.

Enjoy your DVD experience in the here and now. The future may hold great things, but if you keep looking too far ahead, you'll miss out on all the entertaining and informative wonders currently available.
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