Monday, September 11, 2006

But Wait, There's More! : Addressing the Trend of Multiple DVD Releases

Almost three years after the Lord of the Rings’ trilogy was completed, New Line Cinema has released another DVD set of the fantasy adaptation. The so-named “theatrical/extended limited edition” is complete with both versions of the films and six hours of additional extras. The previous film versions are the widescreen and the Special Extended editions previously issued as a trilogy two years ago. The news may be encouraging for the die-hard Lord of the Rings’ fans eager to keep the franchise in the spotlight and collect every "LOTR." But for many consumers, the news may be an unpleasant surprise since New Line Cinema sold the Special Extended DVD in 2004 as the definitive version with no hint of possible future editions. Now two years later, consumers must open their wallets once more if they want the ultimate Lord of the Rings’ set with previously unreleased professional documentary footage. With each edition of the trilogy priced around $50.00 to $85.00, being a Lord of the Rings’ fan or even a DVD collector is quite a financial investment.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy is among the many
films in constant DVD rotation with multiple "special," "limited edition," or "anniversary" versions on the market. Christmas favorite It's a Wonderful Life (1947) is being release on October 31 with special double-disc treatment, despite having seven other versions available on But studios frequently reissue films due to public appeals. The public has requested different editions because of preference for the original theatrical version or desiring a choice between a cheaper, bare-bones film and its more expense, indepth version. The extensive DVDs often carry additional bonus materials, cast interviews, and behind-the-scenes documentaries that are worth the purchase, because they can create an overall richer film experience. Arguably, a film's many DVD versions allow a greater freedom of choice for the consumer.

But how many releases of one film can the film market really have at one time? Terry Lawson of the Detroit Free Press
argues that New Line is marketing the new Lord of the Rings DVDs to people who have already purchased at least one film edition. It is understandable that New Line Cinema would try to increase profit from the Lord of the Rings trilogy as the three films are in the top 11 grossing films of all time with a combined total box office gross of over $2.8 billion. But is it fair to the public? Lawson describes the DVD consumer as turning "cynical" and it is understandable. Studios seem be making a profit just by reissuing "tweaked" film DVDs months or even years after the initial DVD release. More significantly, studios usually neglect to inform the public of the possibility of future versions, allowing an unassuming public to purchase the first-run release. Why is additional material not released separately on a bonus disc, thereby avoiding a repurchase of an already owned DVD? Though each studio may have different answers, Matt Lasorsa of New Line Cinema explains independent release the new Lord of the Rings' footage is "legally impossible" because the film's actors only consented for the documentary footage to be used for DVD film versions. For the public, purchasing the new limited edition is the only choice available to own the exclusive documentary footage shot by Costa Botes.

Can a consumer purchase a DVD without worry that a revised, more complete version will pop up in the near future? Honestly, it seems impossible given the studios dependence on DVD sales for consistant revenue. And since the creation of DVD, it seems past and present films have special, alternate, or unreleased footage that didn't make it to the theatrical showing. But Entertainment Weekly writer Steve Daly presents the real question when discussing the popular DVD trend: Is multiple DVD release a form of public exploitation? Arguably, film reissues could be seen as such since they are primarily released to make more money off the viewing public. But there is a great difference between unnecessary versions of a film and those with additional, special features that give something back to viewers by taking them inside a cinematic world. Though the newest Lord of the Rings edition is firstly for profit, it is a worthy purchase for those who truly love the film. The documentary footage presents behind the scenes' antics, angst, and camaraderie that allows movie watchers to delve deeper in the world of Middle earth in a greater depth than the previously released versions.

No comments: