Feb 23, 2011

The Sad State of Blu-ray Packaging

I have a lot to say about the Blu-Ray format. Way too much, actually, and every time I try to write about the subject I end up going on several disjointed, rambling tangents. So, I'm going to attempt to just focus on one aspect of the format at a time. Right now, I'd like to discuss the packaging.

The awful, awful packaging.

Before I get into this, let me provide a little disclaimer and tell you that I love high definition. I love it so much. I have become infatuated with movies all over again, re-watching films I've seen countless times before in an entirely new way. I love Blu-ray because they won the format wars, but if HD-DVD had won, well, I'd be collecting those discs and loving them just the same.

HD is simply amazing, and it's such a shame that all of this glorious, incredible content is wrapped in an unnecessarily awful, lackluster package.

First, here's what I like about Blu-Ray packaging:

A) The translucent blue cases are nice, but that's mostly because I'm a sucker for things that are clear blue.

B) I like that they are slightly thinner than DVD's, so you can fit a few more on a shelf.

That's it for the positives, and really, the blue cases might look nice but those rounded edges seem to pop off during shipping, resulting in a shelf with big, glaring gaps like the missing teeth in a Hockey pro's smile. The rounded edges are certainly stylish and a little different, but this has to be a design flaw. I've gotten several shipments that weren't noticeably damaged in any way, yet when I removed the shrinkwrap that little blue baby tooth of plastic would fall out. I'm the kind of insane person that will eventually buy a pack of blank cases to replace these, so it's kind of annoying. I feel like if you buy something "new" it should look, you know..."new." Not, "Boy this guy must constantly drop his shit on the floor/fling it across the room in fits of nerd rage."

The actual cases themselves are made as flimsy as possible while still having the minimal structural integrity required to hold a disc in place. I get that they're trying to save money, but these cases just feel cheap. Even worse, many will have huge die cuts in the shape of the "recycle" logo right on the inside front of the case. I know that they're trying to claim this is for the environment, that using less plastic is better, but that's just complete bullshit.

These companies are not concerned about creating waste, they're worried about saving money, and I'm sure removing that much plastic from each case translates into a small but worthwhile cost reduction. It has zero effect on the environment, because they're still pumping out millions of these things and covering them with disposable shrinkwrap. Plus, by making them so fragile you end up with collectors like me buying new cases and disposing of their old ones...which wouldn't have broken in the first place if they used an additional 2 cents worth of plastic.

I've heard the same excuse for not printing booklets and inserts, that it's "because of the environment." Again, complete bullshit, and a little insulting as well. If you guys are so worried about saving the earth, why are you printing thousands of cardboard slipcovers for every new release? They certainly aren't necessary and use quite a bit more paper than a single insert would. They don't even serve any real purpose, often featuring the exact same artwork on the regular cover. Occasionally there will be a bit of metallic foil embossing or maybe some lenticular action, but it's largely pointless.

There are people who obsessively collect these slipcovers, which is how I found out that nearly every major release has one. I suppose the idea is that they help sell more copies early on, because the collectors want the slipcase that won't be available when the title is no longer a "new release" but really, there's no reason for these things.

So, they have no moral qualms about printing up a shit-ton of these cardboard covers, but when it comes to including a simple insert, which often have useful information like episode guides for TV series and occasionally extra artwork, well that would just be too devastating for the ecosystem.

Oh look, I spoke too soon. Inserts promoting the Blu-ray format. Now that I've bought a Blu-ray movie and opened it so I can watch it on my Blu-ray player, I certainly would like to be informed of the benefits of this amazing thing called "Blu-ray". Guess they're not "concerned about the environment" when it comes to printing advertising aimed at people who have already bought the product.

Hey wait, look at this! It's an insert! Well, that's nice, I wonder if it's got some cool pictures or information about the extras, or maybe....

Maybe it's just an add for BD-Live. Great. I actually see inserts like this one in quite a few of my movies, touting how awesome BD-Live is. BD-Live is not awesome. It's something dreamed up by executives to convince naive casual consumers that they need to upgrade from DVDs. "Hey, can your DVDs do...THIS? It's like watching a movie with your friends, on the internet, but they can't hear you so you need to text them! It's like the Twitters on your TV!"

Listen, film nerds love Blu-Ray because it looks and sounds amazing. We don't give half a fuck that you can log online to "chat with your buddies" or "Make a scene to share the clip with your friends". I honestly don't know who does, and I can't see anyone spending any real time using these "features."

The universally cheap and flimsy packaging has led to more than a few "special editions" that just don't seem all that special. There was a time when a limited collectors edition really was something unique and substantial. As an example of how things have changed, let's compare the Fight Club DVD and Blu-ray releases, which have identical content but drastically different packaging.

The DVD comes in a simple, stylish cardboard sleeve. Slide that off and you have a nice, sturdy gatefold case completely covered with images from the movie, references and quotes, all in an over-saturated, gritty, textural style that matches the aesthetic of the film itself.

There's even a booklet filled with even more photos, art, interviews, and a guide to the special features on the discs. Everything looks and feels like Fight Club, right down to the fonts. It's obvious that a lot of thought and work went into this, and it paid off.

Now let's look at the Blu-ray release. This one also has a slipcover, but, uh, it's pink and gray. Not really colors that were present in the movie, but okay. Looks like they went with a minimalist graffiti approach here, I guess that's kind of neat. Not really related to the movie at all, but I suppose at some point they used spray paint during Project Mayhem. Also, graffiti is edgy, right? Right?

Open the gatefold and you get two more graffiti portraits, another quote, and more colors that really aren't evocative of the film at all. Okay. What else is there?

Nothing. That's it. Reused graffiti images and a space monkey on the disc. No inserts.

I think it's safe to say that one of these packages looks and feels like a genuine, loving tribute to the film, while the other is just a box that holds the movie. According to wikipedia, "Fox Creative chose Neuron Syndicate to design the art for the format's packaging, and Neuron commissioned five graffiti artists to create 30 pieces of art. The art encompasses urban aesthetics found on the East Coast and West Coast of the United States as well as influences from European street art" So, uh, where's all that art they commissioned? All I saw were the portraits, and honestly I figured those were made in Photoshop. How about including a booklet with all that art you guys paid for? Also...what the fuck does this have to do with Fight Club? East Coast/West Coast urban aesthetics? WHAT? Whoever was in charge of this seems to have missed the point completely, and it's a shame. I wonder why the DVD packaging was so great?

Fincher supervised the composition of the DVD packaging and was one of the first directors to participate in a film's transition to home media.

Ah ha...

The DVD packaging complemented the director's vision: "The film is meant to make you question. The package, by extension, tries to reflect an experience that you must experience for yourself. The more you look at it, the more you'll get out of it." The studio developed the packaging for two months.

I see....

Deborah Mitchell, 20th Century Fox's vice president of marketing, described the design: "From a retail standpoint, [the DVD case] has incredible shelf-presence."

Your damn right it does, Deborah. That's why I'll always keep this version of the film, even though I'll be watching the Blu-ray. It would have been nice if they'd bothered to put half as much thought into the new package. It's not awful, it's just...nothing special. Which is my point.

High definition is the greatest thing that has ever happened for home entertainment, and I just wish that the packaging had some weight to reflect that. These are the definitive versions of these films, and yet they are sold in what feels almost like a bootleg product. I'm not saying every release needs to be a special collectors edition, but a little bit of class would go a long way.

For a perfect example of what I mean, pick up any Criterion release. The artwork and design is gorgeous, the case is sturdier and feels solid. There's a nice, thick booklet with information about the film and extra content that is always interesting to read. It's significant, it has a sense of importance, it says, "This film is a work of art, and we know it." You feel a sense of pride having these on a shelf, sort of like having big hardcover editions of your favorite books.

Should every Blu-ray have this kind of release? Of course not. How about something like 2001: A Space Odyssey? My copy looks and feels like something you'd buy at a dollar store, but it contains a version of the film that far surpasses any I've ever seen. It's arguably the definitive home version. Would have been nice if they'd at least used a sturdy case, or maybe included a small booklet featuring the original movie poster artwork, maybe something commemorative. Anything that suggested this was more than just a quick catalog release, something to show that the people who produced this piece of home entertainment truly understand how important it is to the fans who adore the film.

In this age of streaming content and mass media consumption, I guess no one really cares about this kind of stuff anymore. (Either that or they're going to re-release all of these movies with fancier, collectible packaging...it's already happening with Kubrick.)

Feb 12, 2011

Feb 10, 2011

Everything Old is the Future Again

When I saw this image of the new Fantastic Four costumes over at Comics Alliance, I knew it reminded me of something...I just couldn't figure out what. It just seemed so damn familiar...the white and black costumes, the hexagons...

Then, suddenly, it hit me:

"The point of these costumes is to really hammer home that everything is fresh and new in the series again."

P.N. 03 was released in 2003, so I guess that's fresher than if the artist had used a game from the late 90's as his inspiration.

Feb 8, 2011

Meanwhile, in reality...

The Intrigue was a loyal travelling companion for many years. We went on more than a few epic journeys together. It was defeated by a speeding driver running a red light, and as its final act it kept me safe from harm. I was able to walk away from the accident with just a couple of bruises, but my car was not so lucky...this was a battle that it could not drive away from.

However...the quest must go on! I will always remember the Intrigue, but the Civic has already proven itself quite worthy during several perilous treks through winter storms.