Monday, January 23, 2012

They made BluRays of these movies why, exactly?

We all know that prices for movies on physical media are seriously in the tank. Generally speaking, the only movies that can be priced at top dollar have been released within the past six months, maybe a year. (And special collections like Criterion, of course.)

Everything else -- even the good movies -- can be had for under $15, and usually under $10. That's both DVDs and BluRays. In fact, one of the most interesting parts about this phenomenon is that stores are observing less and less of a distinction between these two formats when pricing them.

Sure, there are the exceptions, like the clueless grocery stores that are still selling DVDs of four-year-old movies for $20. My guess is, they're not selling many of them.

So it's very common to walk into a store that sells movies and find a discount shelf with tons of decent titles on it. Just recently I walked out of Target with a $5 BluRay of Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Never mind that I had an unopened DVD at home I had obviously never watched -- the $5 BluRay was attractive enough that I now have two T2s. In fact, I've decided I need to stop looking at BluRays at Target, period. I could walk away with several each time if I'm not careful.

But this piece is not about an idiotic chain that violates these BluRay pricing guidelines. It's about the idiotic companies that release the dregs of their back catalogue on BluRay in the first place, when their only possible destination is the bargain bin.

When I went shopping at Fry's on Wednesday to pick up a hard drive for work, I came across such a $5 BluRay wall, and because I can't help myself, I scanned it to see what BluRay I would buy if I were buying one. (For me, this is like the problem gambler who makes gentleman's bets to feed his addiction without letting it destroy him.)

I couldn't find a single BluRay on this wall that I would actually buy, regardless of price. And it's not just because they were bad movies from the past couple years that I wouldn't want to own. It's because they were bad movies from the 1980s and 1990s that I wouldn't want to own.

Which got me thinking: Why the hell would they have brought these movies to BluRay in the first place?

As a sometimes-anal guy and a self-described completist, I understand and philosophically agree with the idea of making all movies, however obscure, available on the physical media platform that's the current standard bearer. (That's in part because I'm old-fashioned and still love physical media.) But from a business perspective, I don't get it at all. When someone said "Yeah, let's do a BluRay press of The Gun in Betty Lou's Handbag," did they really expect to make money on it? What buying public out there was frothing at the mouth for a forgotten 1992 comedy starring Peneleope Ann Miller? (I guess I shouldn't diss on Miller -- she does appear in The Artist.)

I haven't actually seen The Gun in Betty Lou's Handbag, but I just noticed a hilarious indicator that it might not be a very good movie. The lead "critigasm" on the poster above is "A screwball comedy!" See, the word "screwball" is not just an adjective modifying the word "comedy." "Screwball comedy" is an actual film genre. So this is the equivalent of a poster for Die Hard proudly proclaiming: "An action movie!" Which tells me there weren't many other options for critics praising Betty Lou. (In fact, it's very possible that this critic was not praising the movie, either. He might have been merely listing the film's genre in his review. But it's common practice for a studio's marketing department to excise any piece of any review for any reason, twist it to sound like praise, and add exclamation points at their discretion. Careful what you write, film critics out there.)

But this was just one of a bunch of hilarious titles, a sampling of which I emailed myself in order to refer to them later. A number of them were terrible straight-to-video movies (Sharktopus) or mockbusters (The Day the Earth Stopped) from recent years, but I get those, because at least BluRay existed at the time those movies were released. It's the ones that are genuine relics that made me laugh the most.

Instead of listing them and telling you why each one is a poor fit for BluRay from a profit perspective, I thought it would be more fun to just show you their posters and leave the conclusions up to you. Forthwith:

For the record, I've seen Consenting Adults, The Marrying Man and V.I. Warshawski. If forced to choose between these, The Marrying Man has a funny moment or two, if I remember correctly.

Of course, if forced to choose from the entire wall, I'd have chosen Betsy's Wedding, a 1990 comedy starring Alan Alda and Molly Ringwald. I remember it primarily as the other movie I saw in an illegal double feature the first time I saw Total Recall. But I also remember finding it pretty enjoyable.

So why didn't I include the Betsy's Wedding poster in my list of humorous posters?

Well, like the marketing departments of movie studios, I like to pick and choose only the evidence that actually supports my case.


Travis McClain said...

I've wondered this myself, especially given all the griping we've heard from studios that catalog Blus don't sell; that they're expensive to create and not very profitable. There are three things that I think are worth considering:

1) None of these are catalog titles getting new bonus content or anything, so aside from the transfer, it's not like the studios are really investing anything to get these made.

2) Regarding those transfers, I have to wonder whether they're truly Blu-ray worthy transfers being newly produced, or if they're essentially skating by with the most recent transfer they made for DVD.

3) Each company has its own catalog division and budget. So even though these are lesser movies in the overall canon of cinema, they may be obvious go-to choices for their respective studios/licensor.

Oh, and...Don't badmouth the Ernest movies.

Vancetastic said...

I must admit to never having seen an Ernest movie, so any badmouthing is strictly based on assumption. However, more than anything I wished to demonstrate that these movies are random and/or inconsequential. Neither would they be likely to find a new audience today nor be embraced by a preexisting audience.

Yeah, I assumed these movies would be fairly cheap to produce as BluRays in terms of rights/content, etc. But still, there's the price of manufacturing them. Without really knowing how many they would press, I'd say it would have to be at least a couple thousand of each movie, right? That represents a cost indeed.

It's good to have that additional perspective, though -- thanks!

Travis McClain said...

I've spoken in the past about a local theater that shows cult movies every other Saturday at midnight. I can tell you that Ernest is quite popular with the midnight crowd. We've had Ernest Goes to Camp (I think twice), and we got Ernest Goes to Jail in 2011 as part of a double feature with Pee-wee's Big Adventure. I'm not suggesting this audience is massive, but that it does exist.

As for production, costs have to be as negligible now as they have been for DVD. Figure, Blu-ray cases are actually smaller and lighter to produce than DVD cases...which means they cost less to ship. The discs themselves can't be much to manufacture by now, six years into the format. The MSRPs of Blu-ray Disc and DVD releases are so comparable--a point you made yourself--that clearly, the investment from the studios has to be nearly the same for both formats.

If we were getting V.I. Warshowski in 2007, I would have been truly baffled. In 2012, though, I just sort of shrug and wonder which dregs that interest me this might foreshadow getting a Blu-ray release.