Something I’ve noticed in reviewing a significant number of the MGM Limited Edition Collection DVD-R releases is how the films, while generally worth a look, seem to be either mediocre or burdened by flaws which aren’t ultimately overcome. This is, of course, probably why the titles haven’t been made available on DVD before now. If they were believed to be commercially viable then they would have already been collecting dust on hundreds of shelves. They instead have received the least risky release imaginable. If you want it then you pay a premium for a product which is anything but deserving of being labeled as such. It’s just the film, too. It’s like having access to the oddest on-demand service imaginable but getting to keep a homemade physical copy of your choice in exchange for spending what is, really, a ridiculous amount of money.
The trouble, or at least part of it, is that the prices being charged don’t match up with the overwhelming curiosity element at play with so many of the titles. These aren’t beloved classics or even generally well-known films often appearing on television. They are movies most of us haven’t seen before and, at twenty bucks apiece, they are very difficult to justify gambling on. For the moment, I’m in an absolutely ideal situation: I get a list of titles about once a month and choose up to four that I get for free via UPS, provided I write reviews for them. What I’m finding is that many don’t really warrant the kind of analysis one might attach to something put out by, for example, Eureka’s Masters of Cinema Series or the Second Run label.
That’s not to say that these films are all inferior throwaways. In fact, I put Sam Fuller’s Park Row on my list of the best 2011 releases in home media based sheerly on the quality of the film, the technical merits, and it being finally made available. Others, like Elio Petri’s A Quiet Place in the Country, Jules Dassin’s Phaedra and the one-time Best Picture nominee A Thousand Clowns have surprised and delighted me enough that I do wonder why regular editions from MGM never emerged. I’m thrilled, too, to have copies of some smaller genre pictures like My Gun Is Quick and The Halliday Brand. Plus there’s Jacques Tourneur’s The Fearmakers, Robert Wise’s The Captive City, and Lindsay Anderson’s The White Bus. All were nice to see and I’ve reviewed every one.
Most, though, are probably being made available just for those who have some unusual attachment to them. This can be via actor, director, genre or a specific connection to the particular film. The upside here is that a huge number of films are being put out, in generally pleasing editions quality-wise. So if you’re waiting for a particular something, you have a decent chance of actually seeing it being released. The downside is that hardly anyone beyond those most ardently interested is going to care, thus keeping even the best of the made-on-demand releases in the very ghetto area of home media which they currently occupy. This also all but ensures we’ll never get more comprehensive versions of these titles, especially on Blu-ray. So your consumer vote means virtually nothing.
It’s perversely humorous that the trailblazer and head cheerleader of this made-on-demand movement has been Warner Bros. Home Video considering it was that very same company which packaged its films, complete with a wide array of special features, on properly pressed DVD for years in affordable box sets. With the right sales you could (and still can) find classic WB boxes for just a few dollars per film. It was great while it lasted certainly, but maybe this apparent devaluation of its product was somewhat responsible for ushering in the burned DVD-R model. Had Warner Bros. not lowered the bar for consumers so low then maybe things would have been different, at least for some of the more worthy titles. And, really, it’s tough to argue that many of the films first made available on recordable media could have sustained a normal DVD release. What’s been chosen deserves some scrutiny, particularly considering some of the films relegated to burn-on-demand status, but the apparent lack of any viable alternative is the real problem.
That we’re currently left with no major studio regularly releasing films previously unavailable on DVD as anything but a burned DVD-R edition should be viewed as a problem, right? It’s one further compounded by the strong disparity in past versus present. Where we’d all been encouraged previously, by price and quality, to check out new things, the current model gives little reason for experimentation. Sort of sad I think. My only role in all of this is to try to responsibly cover those few films per month which I have the opportunity to view. I just don’t like having my enthusiasm necessarily tempered by the consideration as to whether a film I think others should watch is worth forking over twenty bucks for the opportunity. It’s usually, I’m afraid, not, and that’s a black eye to the continued interest in the older films I tend to love.