I thought this week I’d toss my two cents into the whole HD DVD/Blu-ray debate. Let’s be clear: I have no particular technical expertise, and I have no interest in attempting to judge which is the superior format (though I note with interest that, in the latest issue of Video Watchdog, editor Tim Lucas mentions that Blu-ray players are not compatible with standard DVDs). I’m approaching this from the point of view of a collector, and specifically a collector of cult films.
It may be that the format w…r is over before it begins, if Warner’s dual-format disc or the dual-format players turn out to be everything promised. If not, one very significant difference between this battle and the VHS/Beta war occurs to me. During the previous two-format period, whichever side you took, this didn’t really limit your viewing options (at least until Beta started losing). But with studios lining up in opposing camps, that means that whichever format you choose today, there will be plenty of movies that you will simply NOT be able to watch because they will be exclusively released on the competing format. Gee, and is it a surprise that the units aren’t flying off the shelves?
Much has been made in recent days of Sony’s apparent refusal to allow Blu-Ray to be used for porn, and how that same move was in no small way responsible for the demise of Beta. But let’s consider the role of the collector for a moment. Granted, the economic impact isn’t the same, but I humbly suggest it isn’t inconsiderable. Consider the oddity that I encountered back when I first started reviewing discs for this website. The two films that Carol Clover charts as being the opposite poles of the rape-revenge film were released close together, one disreputable but unblinking, the other mainstream and defanged: I Spit On Your Grave and The Accused. The Oscar-winner was dumped unceremoniously on the market with the theatrical trailer as its lone extra. The grindhouse epic appeared in a “Millennium Edition” with both 5.1 and DTS soundtracks, two commentary tracks, reviews, and so on and so forth. Consider also the number of specialist DVD houses: Blue Underground, Anchor Bay, Image, Subversive, Cult Epics, and so on and on and on.
Many collectors and cult and/or classic films are still in the process of converting their VHS collections to DVD, and many long-sought-after titles are only now finally arriving on DVD. The prospect of starting the whole process all over again is, to put it mildly, depressing. To this, add the fact that we are not talking about the same kind of revolutionary change in picture quality and convenience that marked the shift from VHS to DVD, and the fact that many older films won’t necessarily look any better. Just how sharp is it possible to make the likes of Last House on the Left anyway?
TV box sets are among the most successful DVD products. But given how the vast majority of people experience these shows (i.e. on television screens that are not 57 inch monsters), there is one word to describe HD editions of these items: pointless. I won’t necessarily go quite that far with regards to the cult market. And I will say that if and when cult titles start showing up in a serious way in one format in the other, I may be proven completely wrong. Nonetheless, my sense for the time being is of a supply on a fruitless quest for a demand.