The Oscars, and the quiet emergence of the Standard International Edition

February 28, 2012 | By

Due to a lack of contextual images, we're using the Random Actress Heliometer (RAH). Illustrated: Senta Berger. Happy, isn't she?

Well, Sunday’s show was pure Meh: familiar, bland, safe, non-threatening, blah, and as many viewers seemed to predict, er, predictable. Having seen none of the films so far (I have more matter to see, but I’ll get there in bits & pieces), I still had an inkling The Artist would win the major prizes, making Harvey Weinstein very, very happy. Not bad for a guy who started out in the business with The Burning in 1980 (and a film, quite frankly, that’s more fun that it deserves to be).

Billy Crystal was literally vintage Billy Crystal, but enough with older men wearing jet-solid hair helmets; when skin texture reaches a certain vintage, a solid matter of type B hair colouring looks absurd.

Still not sure why there were only 2 nominated songs (unless only two listenable tunes were actually all they Academy could find), but the fact traditional interludes were reduced to a Cirque de Soleil vignette (with bizarre Danny Elfman music) and a strangely truncated Dead Celebrity Montage clearly indicated the show’s producers were determined to bring that show to a close at 11:30pm, and they came pretty close in the end, leaving those hungry for more to watch E! terrible post-Oscar coverage were talk more or less hovered around clothes, colours, legs, hair, social oopsies, and other superficialities. (Note: Crystal’s black helmet head isn’t superficial – it’s disturbing, hence socially relevant.)

My wishes were for John Williams (War Horse [M]) to take home the Oscar trophy, though I was happy with the nominated scores because they were all frankly good. Alberto Iglesias’ Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy [M] is definitely a solid Cold War score deserving multiple replays, and Ludovic Bource’s The Artist [M] was fun, and the win gave a newcomer a career boost; one can expect Bource to snap a few high-profile U.S. scoring assignments very soon, as often happens. As long as he stays away from comedies named after hit pop songs, he’s safe.

As NOW’s Norman Wilner points out in his MSN column, the window between a nominated film’s theatrical release and home video debut is getting shorter. Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, which won several technical awards, is out today. While Hugo did enjoy a theatrical run, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s Cannes-winning The Kid with a Bike went straight to DVD in Canada by E1, but no Blu-ray edition.

This isn’t wholly unique – the lack of a BR edition – because there are strange cases where the Blu is available only as a U.S. import. Either it’s a case where the domestic distributor felt a Blu wasn’t necessary, they wanted to stagger the release for potential double-dipping, an HD master perhaps wasn’t ready, the rights were highly complicated, or things just got a little fubared when someone wasn’t paying attention.

Who knows, but there are many strange aspects to the wonderful wacky world of home video.

Case in point: rental and sell-through editions. Drive was offered to rental shops as a Blu-only edition for a lower price for rental purposes, whereas for the general consumer, the sell-through edition (the one you’re supposed to buy) comes in a higher-priced Blu-DVD combo edition. When the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo debuted, the domestic edition from Alliance was a BR/DVD combo, but those wanting just the DVD had to buy the U.S. import.

The theatrical cut of Raoul Ruiz’ Mysteries of Lisbon [M] is available from Music Box Films on DVD, but the Blu was a U.S.-only edition that technically went OOP in a matter of weeks (but is still available, at a discounted price, from & .com). Meanwhile, the longer TV mini-series version is out in France on DVD (French-only dub track), and in Portugal on DVD (original Portuguese dub track with multiple subtitle options), but a Blu-ray edition – even in Portugal – beholds the theatrical cut.

None of this makes sense, and it’s either a sign a few people just weren’t thinking straight, things were rushed into production, or maybe there’s sense of standardizing releases, particularly when it comes to foreign films.

Why shouldn’t consumers / fans be offered the choice of different edits on Blu? Why not market both versions as standalone, shrink-wrapped specials, or deluxe megasets? One could voice similar concerns of the BFI’s imminent DVD edition of Ken Russell’s The Devils, although that one seems to be a peculiar compromise between the BFI and Warner Home Video U.K.: the film’s still a hot moral potato, so a Blu edition is taboo – unless WHV is quietly planning its own special edition later this year.

For that matter, why wouldn’t Fox release Cleopatra (1963) simultaneously on Blu in North America and Europe? Why issue a region-free edition in Britain (which sells for under $20) and hold off in North America, prior to its likely / inevitable release at a higher price point? Why did the Weinsteins license El Cid and Fall of the Roman Empire on Blu in the U.K. and Germany, but not in North America where they’re based?

For new films, distributor rights, delayed theatrical releases and differing video standards (PAL & the old SECAM vs. NTSC were largely responsible for what you got to see on video in your home country 10-15 years ago, whereas today it seems it’s a kind of free-for all: there’s a lack of consistency which now extends to the actual format.

The crazy thing is buyers are becoming increasing accustomed to buying titles from other countries because the democratization of film is arguably widening, from indie labels and majors issuing region-free BRs packed with all the subtitles and / or language tracks needed. From finding better pricing, in terms of cost + shipping from England versus buying it off the shelf from Region 1 / A labels who’ve paid heavy third-party licensing.

Quite frankly, the only thing stopping the broad buying public from embracing this loosely created Standard International Edition is fear of internet commerce, and identity theft.

It’s all so very, very strange.

Coming shortly: soundtrack reviews, Fernand Melgar’s Special Flight, and whether Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons is an over-rated bore or brilliant vision in its hacked up state.



Mark R. Hasan, Editor ( Main Site / Mobile Site )

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