OPINION: What’s Wrong With Physical Movies These Days?
There was a time when I was younger where I got almost as much enjoyment out of the packaging for movies as I did out of the movies themselves. When I would get movies, I would open those babies up in the car, just so that there was no barrier to examining both the front and back covers, the disc(s) inside, and any inserts. I would make a mini event out of seeing what a disc looked like for the first time, even going as far as asking to open movies that other people in my family bought so I could see the discs. Weird, right?
But back then, it was easier. Back in those days (let’s say, the early-mid 2000s) there was actually a reason to care about things like discs because effort was put into making them something to care about. Discs weren’t always super fancy or intricate, but they always had at least something, even if it was just a picture of the characters or a particular scene. But somewhere around 2007 or so (by my estimates) we entered the Grey Era, where discs started looking like this:
Yikes. Next stop: Blandness Boulevard.
The dawn of the Grey Era coincided with the birth of Blu-ray. At least in this period, I can surmise that the gimping of DVDs was perhaps an effort to put more visual appeal on the Blu-rays, making the increased cost of both the discs and players seem more “worth it.” And indeed, you can find examples of early Blu-rays of movies whose DVDs became victims of the Grey Era (or its cousin the Solid Color Era). Like Role Models from 2009, for example:
But as the decade wore on and Blu-ray access became cheaper and more widespread, studios flipped their Effort switch to OFF, and the Solid Color Era gained a second wind that still persists. Sure, some studios still did their best to fight the rising tide of Solid Colors - studios like Fox, Lionsgate, and Sony (plus an inconsistent Warner Bros) - but quite a few larger studios - Paramount, Disney, Universal (plus an inconsistent Warner Bros.) - went all in on Solid Colors. Studios in the latter group have become so predictable that there’s no sense of surprise anymore. Like, I know that if I get a Paramount Blu-ray, it’s gonna look something like this:
I also know that a Disney movie is gonna look like this:
I get that these movies are meant for children and should thus be easily readable, but does everything really need to be this big? The film’s logo and the Blu-ray logo take up so much space that everything feels crowded and overwhelming.
And speaking of logos that are too big, it’s time for a post-mortem for Fox. I used to give them kudos for maintaining some level of visual quality on their discs - both DVD and Blu-ray - when so many of their peers had fallen into darkness. But now I have to take that credit back, because in 2018 they’ve decided to start doing this:
Not only are the film and format logos massive compared to everything else, but there’s also no information here. No run-time, no MPAA rating, no audio/video information, no region code, no copyright notice… nothing. Even Paramount and Disney gave us something. Fox has just decided to go even more bare than the already bare-bones approach taken by most other studios. Credit to them for holding out as long as they did, though.
But we haven’t even begun to talk about my least favorite Blu-rays: Universal Studios Blu-rays.
Let’s just call these discs what they are: fingerprint magnets. I thought we had things bad when we decided that double-sided DVDs were okay for a while. But at least with those the center pit was fully transparent, so any fingerprints that came about were barely visible. Universal Blu-rays are overall kind of transparent, just enough to be able to see through them but not enough to keep fingerprints from showing up. Pretty much the only safe spot to touch on these things is the gigantic logo at the bottom, which just doesn’t align with how most people touch their discs.
Yet, we still haven’t touched on another aspect of physical media that has taken a turn for the worst this decade: menus. Menus used to have character to them. You’d see a bunch of clips from the movie coming at you, dressed up with over-the-top effects, creative selection prompts, and cheesy transitions between the different menus. For children’s movies, you’d probably get some bright colors, upbeat music, and maybe some form of humor somewhere. But now those have been sanitized and standardized as well. Sometimes you get clips from the film, to be sure, but there’s no flair to the presentation anymore. It’s just clips plus some boring selection menu slapped on top of it, like with Universal movies.
In the old days, every movie menu had a different feel to it. Action movies were different from romantic comedies which were different from horror films which were different from suspense thrillers and so on. But now they all get treated the same, which is just a waste. But at least Universal is better than Warner Bros.
This is how all Warner Bros. menus get treated. A still image, a static selection bar, and some music playing over it. Paddington 2 deserves far better than this. Every movie does.
The real question behind this drop in quality is why? And the answer to that is unclear, but I have a guess. This decade has seen a sharp rise in the number of films being bought or rented purely digitally. Physical media sales are, for the most part, down. In the studios’ minds, this means that there’s less incentive to put more money into the non-movie part of physical movies. Hiring animators to make a fancy menu costs money. Colored ink to print colorful labels costs money. Money that becomes less and less worth spending every day. While I understand that logic, I’d argue that physical media sales being down is actually more reason to spruce them up. When you buy a movie digitally, you get the movie and bonus features, sure, but you don’t get a menu and you don’t get a disc. Having those things be more appealing might in turn make physical media more appealing. Personally, I wouldn’t not buy a movie because its menu/disc is bland. But it’d be nice to know that when I buy a movie in 2018, it might bring me the same sense of wonder as buying a movie in 2008.