As you know, one of the reasons we at The Nerds of Color decided to celebrate Star Trek this week — aside from it being the franchise’s 47th anniversary — was the fact that the latest iteration of Trek, J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek Into Darkness, was being released on DVD and blu-ray today.
Like a good fanboy, I went straight to Target first thing this morning to secure my copy as soon as possible. After carefully examining about a dozen different cases, I finally chose one whose slipcover was minimally damaged by Target’s idiotic security cases (I’m very picky about the condition of the packaging).
It wasn’t just happenstance that I went to Target to get my copy of Into Darkness. You see, when Paramount Home Video announced the blu-ray release back in May, they also announced a series of retailer-exclusives and multiple versions of the disc. As of today, there are nine different ways to own Star Trek Into Darkness on blu-ray (and this doesn’t include options such as iTunes or DVD). Now, giving different retailers incentives is not a new phenomenon. In the past, the kinds of exclusives offered by different outlets ranged from unique packaging (like variant slipcovers or steelbooks) to including little tchotchkes (such as collectible figurines or other paraphernalia).
A more recent trend, though, is to dish out exclusive content as separate retailer incentives. This is the part that sticks in my craw. See, I chose the Target edition because it was the only version that came with a bonus disc with exclusive special features. However, the bonus features that come on the disc are apparently not the only bonus features that are out there. So, completist that I am, if I wanted to consume every last bit of behind-the-scenes footage about the movie, I’d have to buy the same movie multiple times. That’s annoying. And expensive. I’m also not the only one annoyed by this.
My family bought our first DVD player some time around 1999 when my friend John, who part-timed at a Circuit City, convinced my dad to finally get one. I couldn’t tell you how much it cost at the time, but I’m pretty sure it was a lot more than they are now, considering you can probably get a DVD player for under $20. In case you were wondering, the first DVD we bought was Rush Hour starring Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker. (Hey, it was 1999. At the time, this movie was a big deal.)
Watching a movie on DVD for the first time was a revelation. Never mind the clarity of the picture and sound — which is what prompted most folks to take the leap from VHS to DVD. What appealed to me the most was the inclusion of special features. The bonus content about the movie was often times more interesting than the movie itself. I loved being able to listen to the filmmakers comment on the movie-making process in real time or watching which scenes were deleted and why. And don’t get me started on how important it is to include the theatrical trailers. The ability to include all of this information on a DVD was revolutionary. From that moment on, I made it my life’s mission to only get the “collector’s edition” of my favorite movies. Bare bones DVDs (that is, movies without special features) be damned! They had no place on my movie shelf.
When blu-ray came along, I was late to the game. I didn’t get an HDTV until 2007, and my first blu-ray player came a few years after that since I decided to sit out the format wars. In terms of picture and sound, the jump in quality from DVD to blu, while significant, was not nearly as dramatic as the initial analog/digital conversion. What sold me on blu-rays, though, was each disc’s capacity to house even more special features! With 50GB of space per disc, a disc could now hold way more content than ever before. This, I thought, was going to be a game changer. With everyone worried about digital downloads replacing physical media, the ability to include additional content on blu-ray discs would truly set the format apart. Studios were going to start cramming as many bonus features as they could and really offer consumers an “ultimate collector’s edition,” filled with every backstage documentary, deleted scene, and teaser you could imagine.
I’m still waiting for that day to come.
The thing about Paramount’s decision to divvy up the features across several different retailers crosses the line from fan service to fan exploitation. They know full well that the type of person who will buy Into Darkness is the type of person who would be willing to fork over fistfuls of cash to get their hands on every conceivable iteration of the disc as possible. (Trust me, I’ve seen Trekkies shell out hundreds of dollars at auctions for pins or coffee mugs. Spending $75 to buy Into Darkness five times over ain’t gonna phase them). There’s a reason Paramount chooses this route for movies like Trek — or even G.I. Joe Retalition before it — and not, say, Pain & Gain, the Michael Bay-directed-bodybuilding-buddy-action-comedy starring The Rock and Marky Mark. Movies with built-in fanbases, eager to snatch up anything and everything about their beloved property, are easy prey for greedy studios. Fanboys might bitch and moan, but they’re still gonna fork over the cash.
This is the same reason I hate variant covers in comics and chase figures in action figure collecting. These multimillion dollar corporations have figured out a way to make us fanboys buy the same goddamn thing over and over. And worse still, these gimmicks are promoted as a benefit to the collector. Which is actually the worst kind of sin. It’s fan exploitation disguised as fan service.