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rare female film critic | by maryann johanson

paralyzed by DVD options

Speaking of the battle between HD and Blu-ray…

I finally indulged in a widescreen HDTV recently (as some of you may have read). I’m in love with it, and I can’t believe I waited this long to buy one. But I’m making do with a standard upconverting DVD player for the moment — it’s a hand-me-down from a friend who’s a couple of steps ahead of me in the new-toy game, and it’s a beauty — because I’m seriously in the grips of techno-fatigue lately. Even if the starving-writer lifestyle I currently “enjoy” weren’t prohibitive enough of buying every cool digital device than comes out of Japan, the movie industry seems determined to paralyze consumers in the home-theater arena.
Look: I’ve always been an early adopter. I was the first person I knew to buy a DVD player, almost a decade ago. The first DVD I bought was Goodfellas (since supplanted by a newer edition): it had no extras and had to be flipped over in the middle of the movie like it was a damned vinyl record or something. (And I had to walk four miles through the snow uphill in both directions to buy it; these kids today, with their Netflix and their Amazon Unbox, they have no idea how easy they have it.) It was a snap to buy DVDs in the late 90s: you just hoped to God your favorite movie had been released in the new format, and then you went and bought it. And that was it.

But now? Sheesh. 300 — still one of my favorite movies of this year so far — was released on DVD on July 31. In five different versions: single-disc widescreen, single-disc fullscreen (do people really buy those?), two-disc special edition, HD, and Bu-ray. The single-discs are extras-free, as usual, but the other three editions all feature different bonus material, so even if you’re one of those early-early adopters who can’t wait for the format war to end and already owns both HD and Blu-ray players (my hand-me-downing friend is one), which one do you buy? Costs aside — and that’s not really something most people can put aside in this, ahem, spartan economy — does it really make sense to run out and buy three different versions of the same movie? Just what does Hollywood expect from us, anyway, dammit? Crap, does anyone really think that We Are Marshall, coming to DVD September 18, really demands regular, HD, and Blu-ray versions?

I thought the proliferation of editions had reached the greedy, grasping pinnacle of getting-out-of-handedness with the 18,000 options for ownership of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but that was nothing to what’s happening today, with HD and Blu-ray still at each other’s throats. If you really care about getting the best image possible, buying a DVD today means you’ve got a 66.66 percent chance of getting it wrong: If you choose Blu-ray and that goes the way of Betamax, you’re screwed. If you choose HD and it loses the battle, you’re screwed. (And actually, you’re 100 percent screwed if you buy the basic non-HD version, because that will certain go the way of the dodo in the near future.)

Used to be, I snapped up every DVD I could possible pretend to justify the purchase of. I love having my favorite movies at my beck and call 24/7. But I’m done for now. I remember, in the late 80s, having to repurchase all my vinyl albums on cassette tape, which I probably wouldn’t have done if I’d known that a mere few years later, I’d be buying them all over again on CD… and if I’d known that, another mere few years later, I’d be ripping those CDs and uploading them to my first MP3 player. (Yeah, I was one of the first to buy one of those, too. Today its best use is as a doorstop.) I’m tired of this nonsense, and I’m much poorer because I gave in to it. I hardly buy DVDs these days — it seems much smarter to just rent the ones I really must see from Netflix. Let them deal with the constant format upgrades.

Personally, I can’t wait to see the geeky hair-pulling and teeth-gnashing that is sure to go on in December, when Blade Runner: The Final Cut, arrives on DVD, in a two-disc special edition, a four-disc “Collector’s Edition,” and a five-disc “Ultimate Collector’s Edition”… which will appear in regular, HD, and Blu-ray formats. That’s five versions. That’s ridiculous.

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