14 December 2006

DVD Peddlers Are Trying to Make a Monkey Out of Me

ANOTHER UPDATE: The 4-disc Narnia treatment on DVD has arrived in the form of an alleged "Extended Edition." DON'T BE FOOLED. While I have not seen this version for myself, this excerpt from the DVD review from the reputable Disney themed site UltimateDisney.com is quite telling:

It's an understatement to say that the differences between the two are minor. There are no whole scenes added and the overwhelming majority of the theatrical cut remains untouched. Most of the extensions are of scenery or of characters walking. The more remarkable but less necessary inclusions are found in the end battle, largely of the weird bat-like creatures and their airborne competitors. There is next to nothing in the way of new dialogue; in fact, there is not a single substantial addition of speech.

Not surprising, but still disappointing that Disney feels like it has to go for that extra Christmas time dip. Oh, and be on the lookout for a 3rd DVD release of Pirates 2 next year, possibly an extended version to coincide with a Pirates Trilogy Box set. Word has it some deleted scenes were held back from the original and special edition releases to pad the extras next year. Now that behavior deserves a "YAR!"

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The Chronicles of Narnia - The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Four-Disc Extended Edition)

The Chronicles of Narnia - The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Special Two-Disc Collector's Edition)

The Chronicles of Narnia - The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Widescreen Edition)

UPDATE: Well, its been announced. But at least this time I was not a double dipping monkey. I will be picking up my first copy of King Kong in November. By the way, there will be an extended Narnia as well (making 3 versions so far), but I think I will pass on that since I already dropped too much on the twice the price "special edition."

Aside from Star Wars, George Lucas' greatest contribution to Hollywood was his mastering of the double dip. When I was young, I was given the Star Wars Trilogy on VHS. The particular version I received was the "last time on video" THX remastered version. It was somewhat cutting edge to have some "special feature" interviews with George on these tapes as well. I suppose some people probably upgraded their VHS copies to this highest quality release. The threat that these tapes would be out of print forever E.T. style is what got a lot of my friends to buy them. What we did not realize that this was a clever ploy to sell some extra copies before the Star Wars Special Editions were released. The trilogy would never actually be "unavailable."And who were the Special Editions marketed to? The exact same crowd who had just purchased the original trilogy of course. Well, at least the movies were an upgrade, and had different content right? But did anyone really want two trilogies on their shelf? In any case, the scheme worked. George had found a way to sell more units than there were customers to buy them. This was only the beginning.

A few years later, when Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace was originally released, it was only available on VHS with "no plans" for a DVD release in spite of a burgeoning DVD market. VHS sales were impressive nevertheless. But low and behold a year or so later, when VHS sales had slowed no doubt, suddenly a DVD 2-disk special edition was announced (this time with only a couple of added scenes, mostly to the already over long podrace). Once again, my peers and I owned two versions of the same film. The DVD was an obvious upgrade, but we couldn't help but to feel duped. This is when the rest of the DVD market began to take notice. I have since purchased the trilogy on DVD, and as many deleted scenes have still not been integrated into the films, a forthcoming ultimate edition is inevitable (maybe the ultimate edition would include Jar Jar in the Jedi ghost scene along with the recently inserted young Ani). I will more than likely take the bait too, since I never seem to learn... Or do I?

It was not long before 2-disk special editions were the norm, in fact they were not that special since they were often the only edition. Even when content would easily fit on 1 disk, we got 2. 2-disks just sounds like you are getting more. And if you are getting more, they can charge more... Right? I had finally gotten used to this though, and by picking up movies during the first week of release, I could get them for a reasonable price. But like the Borg, the industry continues to adapt.

The next big scam occurred when the Lord of the Rings movies were released. First came the theatrical cuts, and a few months later, feature filled and superior Extended Editions were made available. At least with these films, an astute movie fan was aware that director's cuts were forthcoming. The strong willed could wait for the latter release before buying the film. Why the delay between versions though? Supposedly, the good folks at New Line Cinema wanted to let us get a hold of the theatrical cuts "as soon as possible." They were doing us a service. The Extended versions just weren't ready in time. Riiiiiiight. Conveniently, many fans couldn't wait, or were unaware of a forthcoming release and ended up again with two versions of the film. After being fooled with The Fellowship of the Ring DVD release, however, many people wised up and waited for The Two Towers and The Return of the King Extended versions before making the purchase. I must say though that I did appreciate that the extended versions were not a complete secret, and that the theatrical and extended special features did not overlap. But this was the next step in the evolution of multiple film versions. Comic book films in particular have embraced this strategy with director's cuts being released mere months after theatrical releases, and no mention of forthcoming versions until after the initial versions have already been sold. Guilty parties include Daredevil, Elektra, Sin City, Hellboy (Spider-Man 2.5 and X-2.5 are also rumored to be in the works).

More recently, DVD producers have gotten significantly more crafty in getting extra cash out of their turnips/customers. Last year Warner Brothers devised a new plan that hit me hard. When Batman Begins was released, a 1-disk feature only version was released as was a 2-disk deluxe edition. I thought that it was nice that they were giving folks more options and not staggering the release to trick their customer base. But they were still being tricksy, just tricksier than I had expected. During release week, the 1-disk version would sell for the same discounted price as the "2-disk special editions" had been selling. The deluxe version however would sell for a premium of about $8 more (in spite of the $1 variance in MSRP of the versions). Of course advertised prices were for the cheap version, and it was not until buyers arrived at the store to buy the film that they realized they would have to ante up for the special edition features.

But it gets worse. This Tuesday, King Kong is coming to DVD. Not only is there another $8 hit for special features which would have been free a year ago, but there is likely an extended version of the film coming shortly. I say likely, because Universal is remaining hush-hush on the topic. Given Peter Jackson's track record with making long movies longer and his hinting at an extended version, I suspect that come November there will be another Kong DVD for sale. Is this a film that I really need two copies of? Why can't companies just be honest and give buyers the facts? Rumors are that The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe will be pulling the same trick with 1-disk and 2-disk simultaneous releases, and a forthcoming planned but unannounced extended version for later this year. The occasional upgraded version may be warranted, but its the subterfuge that really annoys me. At least Jackson adds a lot of content. Narnia will probably have like 1 extra shot of a fawn or a beaver. I am the one that's already dropped hundreds of bones on my video library, and all they can do is look for ways to sell it to me all over again. Is having happy customers so undesirable? Apparently so.

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