Thursday, March 11, 2010

Trying to capitalize

This post is only tangentially about the Oscars.

The official nationwide release date of Jason Reitman's Up in the Air was December 23, 2009. In other words, exactly 76 days before it was released yesterday on DVD. That's barely two-and-a-half months. On, it's still listed in a pull-down menu of current theatrical releases categorized as "Popular Movies," and in fact, it's still playing at two theaters near my house, only one of which is a second-run theater. It doesn't even open in Japan until a week from Saturday, though that's hardly the most relevant piece of information I'm presenting, given the delays we sometimes see in the international release of Hollywood films.

The point is: Why the quick trigger on getting Up in the Air out on DVD and BluRay?

Well, the answer occurred to me pretty quickly: They wanted to release it the Tuesday after the Oscars, at the moment of its greatest possible relevance to prospective renters and buyers. Optimistically, they hoped people would rush out to rent/buy the best picture winner, which it looked like Up in the Air might just be when critics started buzzing about it last fall. Instead, Up in the Air quickly went from hero to zero, picking up none of the six Oscars for which it was nominated. Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire used a similar strategy, hitting the shelves on Tuesday as well. But its wide release was November 20th, more than a month before Up in the Air, so this didn't strike me as strange. (And, it should be mentioned, things worked a bit better for Precious at the Oscars, as it picked up two statues.)

But the real point in me mentioning the DVD release of Up in the Air this morning is that it made me realize there is no objective standard for the gestation period between theatrical release and video release of a particular movie. We tend to think of it as three to four months after the movie was released, but it's not as simple as that. It's really a matter of what's the right time for that movie.

First and foremost, you don't want to cannibalize a movie's potential box office by releasing it on DVD too early -- and since Up in the Air is still probably playing in a hundred theaters around the country, there was that potential. It's the reason we probably won't see Avatar on DVD until at least July or August. The movie had its wide release five days before Up in the Air, but it only just started making under $10 million at the box office this past weekend, and will probably play in some theaters into April. Then a July or August DVD release won't seem so strange.

An extreme example of it being the right time for a particular movie is Christmas movies. Releasing a Christmas movie three or four months after it was in theaters doesn't make a bit of sense, because no one wants to watch a Christmas movie in April. So if you miss a Christmas movie, you have to wait until the following November to see it. That is, with one prominent exception that I love to reference. The disaster known as Surviving Christmas, which starred Ben Affleck and James Gandolfini, was released so early in 2004's "Christmas season" (on October 22nd), and performed so poorly at the box office ($11.1 million), that they released it on DVD in time for the very same Christmas, desperate to recoup any of their investment. Hey, it was the right time for that movie.

And then there are the examples of the films that take a weirdly long time to come out on DVD. My favorite film of 2009, Duncan Jones' Moon, had its limited release on June 12, 2009 (limited is as wide as the release got). I saw it in the theater in early July, but my wife didn't. Needless to say, I was eager to show it to her, and expected to be able to do so by October, November at the latest. It finally became available on January 12th of this year, exactly seven months after it was released. What made that more agonizing is that I visited a Blockbuster sometime in late October/early November, and Moon was listed with a mid-November release date on that board of upcoming releases behind the checkout stand. When I went back later and had the January 12th date quoted to me, I figured I must have imagined seeing the title up there. Only in researching it now do I realize someone must have made a mistake -- that November 16th date was when it was released on DVD in England, the director's home country.

I guess the fact that some movies come out on DVD only 76 days after they're released in theaters gives me some hope. I'm making a conscious effort to save money this year, and part of that effort will be not to see so many films in the theater that will leave me wishing I'd paid rental prices. If any of the first batch of 2010 films gets that quick of a release, I'll only need to wait another two weeks for them to come out.

Like Daybreakers, for example. I wanted to see Daybreakers in the theater, and in fact wrote about that back in January. But not so fast, Vance. I now see Daybreakers has been given a June 1st release on DVD. That's 144 days after it was released in theaters, and about 120 days after it left them.

Like I said, you never can tell.


Daddy Geek Boy said...

Disney's been battling UK theater owners over a shortened DVD window for ALICE.

It's the studios trying to squeeze every buck they can out of a dwindling DVD business.

Vancetastic said...

And Mr. Old-Fashioned (me) once again bemoans that things have to change ... can't we still all have Betamaxes and 8-Tracks?

Daddy Geek Boy said...

I'm not saying that it's right. Although I understand why studios want to shorten the window, I don't like the fact that DVD releases creep up on the theatrical release. I think it makes the theatrical release less special.