I, Probert

Former GeekPlanetOnline Site Editor Dave Probert is a man with an ear to the ground of the geek community. When that ground starts to rumble, our man in East Sussex has something to say...!


So Marvel release The Avengers on DVD and Blu-Ray and geeks across the country race to get their copy. Collectively they screech to a halt as they are confronted with a bewildering number of editions to choose from. There is a moment's pause, somewhere in the distance a dog barks, then they take to the internet and vent their collective spleen. 

Now I'm as frustrated as everyone else with the different versions of the film that have different features on them that can only be obtained if you buy the film from a certain outlet. I have friends who have diligently researched which outlets are selling which versions and shared this information on forums so that others can decide where to buy the version that ticks the most boxes for the extras they want. Some like behind the scenes documentaries, some like steel book editions and many were after the elusive Joss Whedon commentary and were aghast to discover that it would only be available on US releases of the film. It's irritating but it is the epitome of a trend. 

In the last couple of years studios have been throwing their energies behind pushing Blu-ray as the film geek's format of choice, and as such have been making Blu-ray releases top heavy with extras while the DVD releases of the same films have become sparse to vanilla. This has annoyed many people who have ranted on the subject and I agree with their displeasure. However, at the same time I have to wonder did we, as geeks, bring this on ourselves? 

When DVD first became popular one of the attractions, beyond the superior basic functionality compared to VHS, was the addition of special features. Some VHS film releases contained additional documentaries, but you had to fast forward to them or watch the film first. With DVD you could access them instantly. Soon deleted scenes, gag reels and behind the scenes documentaries became mainstays of most DVD extras menus. The major innovation that DVD created was the commentary track. Now you could listen to directors, actors and other behind the scenes crew discuss the film while they watched it. Some were very good, some were boring, but consumers (especially in the geek community) lapped them up. 

Seeing that there was a market for extras heavy releases the special edition DVD was born. These releases would come on two or more discs and would be chock full of stuff. We as geek consumers favoured special editions over vanilla releases and we showed that we were willing to pay extra to get our hands on all the extra content. Studios began making films with one eye on the DVD market and as far as geeks are concerned this peaked with the special editions of The Lord of the Rings films. Peter Jackson's adaptation of this fantasy classic was an unprecedented event in the history of film making. Not just because of the task of bringing Tolkien's epic to the screen, but because they filmed every detail of the process to the point where the extras alone took up two discs of the special edition. Add to that the fact that the films were extended with lots of extra scenes and had four commentaries and you had the ultimate edition of the film. Geeks everywhere adored it and many consider the theatrical releases to be at best compromised and at worst two hour long trailers for the special editions. 

Essentially we as geek consumers created the market for extra features. In the past we reaped the benefits of this with releases like The Lord of the Rings but now, it seems, the party is over. Studios are now using the geek love of extras to coax us over to the format they would like us to be using, or to buy releases from the stores they have done distribution deals with. It does feel a little like extras are being used against us. 

While I'm irritated that we are being lured to a new format with the promise of lots of shiny things I also can't deny that it's smart marketing. The same smart marketing that led to the boom in special editions in the first place. Is it fair? No, not particularly, but it's how the market has evolved and that isn't going to change. The industry has made it clear that if you want all the extras then you have to switch formats. I don't like it, but the thing is that the strategy is working. More and more of us are switching to Blu-ray in order to get the best special editions of new releases. Some of us may be grumbling about having to do so but at the end of the day we have gone where the extras are. By making that choice we have no one to blame for this continuing trend but ourselves. The studios go where the money is and consumers have made it clear that they are willing to part with the extra cash for Blu-ray. 

I don't own a Blu-ray player but I admit I do covet one and as such I am just as culpable in this as the next geek. In the meantime I shall continue to buy DVDs (for classic Doctor Who if nothing else) and take the lack of extras on the chin. While I accept the situation I don't particularly like it but then I remember feeling the same way when DVD overtook VHS and look how that turned out. Parity of formats would be nice, but it isn't good business and while studios look to maximise profits any lover of extras is going to be caught in the middle. When the next big format change for film arrives it will be the geeks who will help determine whether it will be a success. If the current situation teaches us anything it's that if we are prepared to drop everything in search of the latest shiny toy, we shouldn't be surprised if our fickle nature bites us on the arse.