Tuesday, March 27, 2007

It's DVD's 10th Anniversary - Long Live Laserdisc!

A major anniversary passed yesterday without as much as a mention by any of the major media or even in the online fan community. The only thing I’ve seen has been a posting on The Digital Bits and that’s about all. Not that I was expecting some sort of national holiday, but I figured that someone, somewhere would take the time out to mention that DVD turned 10 years old yesterday. “Officially” turned 10, I should say, since the players actually hit the market in mid-February and the first four titles (a couple of IMAX titles and an animation collection) came out from the now-defunct Lumivision label hit in early March. But March 25 was the official launch date (in 7 markets, at least) for titles from Warner Brothers, MGM, and New Line, the three major studios supplying titles, and that was the day that, well, everything changed. For better or worse, DVDs have changed the way we watch movies, the way we love movies, the way we collect movies, the way movies are bought and sold, the way movies are distributed, the way movies are shot, and the way movies are released. Even though VHS and laserdiscs had brought thousands of films to viewer’s homes, DVDs changed pretty much everything about movies and yet, at this 10 year anniversary no one has stopped to reflect upon this. Considering the fact that they’ve given the millions of movie fans all over the world a new outlet for their love of cinema (not to mention the billions upon billions of dollars these puppies have generated for the major studios in the last decade), you’d think someone would care. Well, I care.

The one thing about DVDs that almost no one ever seems to acknowledge (probably because so few really seem to know) is that there would be no DVDs without laserdiscs. Pretty much everything DVDs can do, laserdisc did first. Letterboxing, audio commentaries, documentaries, deleted scenes, isolated music scores, box sets, and director’s cuts, any and all kinds of supplemental features first showed up on laserdiscs. The only things they couldn’t do were anamorphic widescreen and multiple angles (and play more than 1 hour of a movie per side, but that’s another thing), but other than that there was almost no difference. The picture quality was maybe a shade less, but they were still magnificent things. They were big, bulky, heavy (you felt like you were picking up a movie when you held one) and expensive, but you didn’t care. Because they were such a niche item (only about 2 to 3 million players were ever sold in the U.S. and many of them more for Karaoke purposes) if you had one it meant that you were a die-hard cinephile, a member of an exclusive club. Certainly you were a little geekier, but you cared about a quality presentation and you wanted that favorite film in your collection for posterity. It meant something to you and it meant something to have it on laser. When DVDs were first announced, the writing was on the wall and sales started to slip. Once DVDs hit the market the laserdisc audience slowly started to convert over (some happily, some reluctantly, some kicking and screaming) and by the start of 2000 laserdisc were gone. But while they were here they kicked ass in a big motherfucking way. If it weren’t for them DVDs would be really, really boring and I refuse to let this 10th anniversary of DVD pass without acknowledging them.

That said, I still have about 700 or so laserdiscs in my collection and about 3,000+ DVDs. I suppose I should mention that I only paid for about half of them since I work in the DVD industry, but yeah, I’ve spent a serious chunk of change on them throughout the years and a serious amount of time watching them. I don’t watch as many as I used to (mainly for work), but I will get together with friends every couple of weeks and go through a whole bunch on a Saturday movie bender. I love being able to have a pristine version of a movie that I either love or like or will want to see someday. The fact that so damn many films are now available on DVD, especially so many films that you never thought would be available (from the films of Jean Rollin to the works of Valerio Zurlini) and they’re available because this format exists. As a film fan it’s incredible, the closest to owning your own film print and it’s an addiction that I know I’ll never shake. This whole thing about downloading films may well take over at some point, but not anytime soon and not if they don’t start including the extras that people love so much (and are now accustomed to), so DVDs are here to stay for a while, at least. Yes, there are also a lot of problems with DVDs that are too numerous to mention (such as where can I store all these damn things?) and plenty of great films still not available after all these years, but let’s not dwell on the negative at this point in time. DVDs have contributed so damn much to the movie lover’s life and they make being a film fan a little bit easier. I miss being a laserdisc collector because I knew I was part of a select few, but I love the fact that DVDs have taken all that was great about them and made it more compact and affordable, all without missing the quality. In an odd way, even though they effectively killed them, the spirit of laserdisc lives on in DVD and that spirit is that of the movie lover. It’s a spirit I know I can always get behind.

PS – That is not a photo of my collection, although it’s close.

No comments: