Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Fox, you wily bastard

It's really funny to me how the word "Fox" means different things in different contexts -- and all when we're talking about the same corporate entity.

If you're talking about Fox News, you're talking about an ultraconservative news outlet that basically makes no bones about bashing liberal ideas. This, by extension, includes Rupert Murdoch and everything he stands for, which most recently includes the phone hacking scandals in England.

However, if you're talking about Fox as the regular broadcasting network, you tend not to think about those same political affiliations. It's just one of the four big broadcasting networks that has had some of TV's most iconic programs of the last 20 years, and has consistently pushed the envelope in terms of content. In fact, you might describe it as the boldest of the major networks. That philosophy kind of extends over to FX, whose original programming has included hits like The Shield and Rescue Me.

Then if you shift to the movies, you've got 20th Century Fox, which was made famous to us as younguns as the home of the Star Wars movies, as well as Fox Searchlight, present-day provider of some of our more beloved independent films.

But when something related to Fox comes up and annoys me, I always think of the ultraconservative political aspects of the company ... even if they are not particularly relevant to thing that's bothering me.

A few weeks ago I was watching Win Win, released by Fox Searchlight, on my portable DVD player at the gym. I'd rented Win Win from Redbox, which meant I had only a short timeframe in which to return it (unless I wanted to pay an additional dollar). That meant that every minute was crucial.

So it was especially annoying that I was not allowed to skip the trailers. In fact, I wasn't even allowed to fast forward through them. Both the fast forward button and the menu button were disabled for this particular DVD. I'd press those buttons, and only a red circle with a line through it would show up on the screen -- you know, like the Ghostbusters symbol sans ghost. I eventually got to watch the movie (which I really liked), but only after seven or eight minutes worth of trailers and other bits of business finally ushered me to the title menu.

I considered writing about it on the blog at the time, and was going to call the post, simply, "Prisoner." But other writing priorities eclipsed it and it was forgotten.

Until yesterday, when I went to watch Cedar Rapids under similar circumstances. Cedar Rapids was also released by Fox Searchlight, but I might not have made that connection if it hadn't been for the disabled buttons on my DVD player. And if the Cedar Rapids DVD hadn't included a trailer for Win Win, a trailer I was therefore forced to watch in its entirety. (If you're reading this before Cedar Rapids appears in my Most Recently Watched section on the right, it's because I haven't finished it yet. I've got until Redbox demands it back at 9 p.m. tonight, and should manage to knock out the rest of it on my lunch hour.)

So what gives, Fox?

I googled some relevant search terms and could not find anyone talking about it.

Granted, the purpose of the trailers is to interest you in other offerings from the same studio/production company/what have you. We can't skip through them in the theater, so why should we be able to skip through them here?

But many studios do let you skip the ads. In fact, I think you kind of expect it when watching something in your own home. There are plenty of things you can do in your house that you can't do in the theater, like pause, rewind, talk over it and text. Why shouldn't skipping the trailers be one of those things?

I guess it could be the difference between the rental version of the disc and the version you would purchase. I've written before about how there are special rental-only versions of various movies, and in that instance, the purpose of the special version was to deny you the ability to watch the extras unless you bought the DVD. So one of the differences between the rental version and the purchase version could be the ability to skip straight to the title menu. I'd buy that as an explanation (as opposed to renting it, ha ha).

The thing is, though this pisses me off, Fox has got me by the balls. What am I going to do, stop seeing Fox Searchlight movies? If you're a film fanatic, you can't just boycott a whole film division like Fox Searchlight. And if you could, you wouldn't want it to be Fox Searchlight anyway, since it consistently releases interesting films -- two of which have been mentioned in this post.

Okay, so stop renting Fox Searchlight movies? I can't just vow to see all Fox Searchlight movies in the theater, because that works out even better for them.

Win win, indeed.

Wily, indeed.

And so, when I rent Fox Searchlight movies, if I even notice that they're Fox Searchlight movies, I've just got to factor in an extra few minutes for all those trailers.

And then just grumble impotently about it here.


Travis McClain said...

It's a growing trend. I've encountered it on a handful of Blu-ray titles. I can't name any offhand, though. I give Warner Bros. credit; their titles generally begin playing automatically and don't show the disc menu until the movie has finished.

Of course, before the menu appears, they show the FBI/Interpol warning screen in ever language written on Earth.

It's all funny to me, because I remember when DVD first emerged, one of the little selling points was that we didn't have to endure or fast forward through commercials and trailers. We could go directly to the content.

Then, in 1999, The Phantom Menace made it mainstream to actively seek out trailers. Hell, until that movie, the general public didn't even use the term, "trailer." Most people called them, "commercials for the movie" or some variation thereof. Since then, DVD buyers have come to express disappointment if the trailers for the movie itself are absent. It's only logical, then, that studios would translate this into an active interest in trailers.

And now we're right back where VHS left off, it seems. At least I'm not concerned about my Blu-ray player eating my discs.

Vancetastic said...

You know, I don't love it when the movie starts automatically either. A lot of times I'll put in the movie and then not actually be ready to start watching for 10-15 minutes. If you were unlucky, you could turn on the TV and see some bit of the story you wouldn't like to see until it actually came up. In fact, I've been meaning to write a post about this phenomenon called "Impatient DVDs," but have never gotten around to it.

Yeah, I think my word of choice for trailers before I knew the word "trailers" was "previews." When you think about it, "trailer" is a rather insiderish term for your average person to know. That's an interesting observation that the turning point could have been The Phantom Menace. I wonder, could we get trailers streaming online back then? It's hard when you look back over the history of the internet to remember what was available/used by the general public at what time.

Travis McClain said...

Oh, trailers were available online before The Phantom Menace, but mainstream viewers rarely actively sought them out. Remember how stoked people became to find out what movie to go see the Phantom Menace trailer? There were fans who went back to see some movies repeatedly just to see that trailer!

So it's not that The Phantom Menace was the first online trailer, but that it was the first time mainstream viewers publicly, actively made finding and seeing a trailer an "event." Ever since then, there has been a noticeable difference in how trailers are presented. They used to be the marketing scheme. Now, they're hyped in advance themselves!