Over the weekend Michelle and I went on a quest for milk and spirits to make a couple of mugs of sipping chocolate. That night we would return home with the milk, spirits, and so much more.
Before we left the apartment we decided that now would be a good time to return, the quite excellent, Black Swan to Blockbuster and cancel our membership. We had purchased the all-you-can-rent membership to watch Battle Star Galactica (BSG), which had disappeared from Netflix Instant for about a week (YTF? Who knows). After BSG was back on Netflix we decided to keep the membership to watch Smallville, mostly to laugh at, but then learned Smallville was to old and not cool enough for Blockbuster. The clerk actually said, “We only carry popular DVDs.” We get her implied critique of or tastes.
Well we used the pass a few times, Super, Your Highness, and Balck Swan (did I mention Black Swan) were all phenomenal rentals. But, with time at a premium we just couldn’t justify the Blockbuster card. So we found our self approaching the store on that cold Saturday night ready to end our mutually beneficial exchange. To our surprise, the store was closing and EVERYTHING MUST GO!
The used DVDs were all priced at $9.99 (marked down from an imaginary price of $14.99). At first we browsed the DVDs to see if anything caught our fancy, but nothing really jumped at that price. Then we saw a sign “DVD BACKERS 20 FOR $1”. At first we were skeptical, what does one do with a DVD backer. We made some lighthearted inside jokes and then slowly it dawned on us that you could do some cool things with DVD Backers.
(In case you’re wondering what the hell a DVD backer is they are the over-sized print version of the DVD cover that let you know the movie you want is out of stock, or assist the uneducated in returning movies to their alphanumeric sortation pattern.)
As I dug through and examined backer-after-backer I realized that everything about movies is truly disposable. Most of the backers were crappy-slap jobs of pasted celebrity heads over an allegedly engaging landscape, or even worse dramatic explosion. The others that didn’t follow the headless wonder technique used an ineffective dynamic, “mythic shot” -as they said in Intermission- that failed to resonate any sort of urgency or cool. The mythic shot actually made the cover look even less epic, and more disposable.
It gave me a moment of clarity at just how much of a lost art movies are. When looking at the backers for older movies there is the clear intention of an artists hand at work. Though the cover is only a minor point to the movie, it is a point of excellence that hints at the amount of thought put into its creation.
My eyes glossed over so many formulated covers that all wanted attention with their mythic shots, beheaded stars, and powerful gun totin’ explosions. (Yes, I do mean to say that the explosions were so over used that they began to feel like a gun wielding character.) They all left me feeling apathetic to their stories. A few of the backers were so bad I actually felt disgusted with the star’s whose disembodied head ruined an otherwise decent attempt at an artistic cover.
A few questions were running through my mind as my eyes were vitiated by the backers. Is this what the DVD market has come to? A majority rule of formulated covers that bore the senses? Is this a reflection of the consumers belief in he disposable market of DVDs? Or is it a producer that’s lost touch with an artful part of their product? Is it a margin call to employee talented enough creators that make decent enough (by their standards) covers? Is it the case of creative choices being taken out of an artists hands and given to the financial talents? In the case of disembodied heads, is their size and placement contractually obligated?
As these questions swirled, spawning follow-up questions and gut answers I began to realize DVDs are marginalized. They are bought and kept in a dark drawer, or stored with their spine out to save space. A beautiful cover is wasted in storage. It has no value as no one displays their DVD’s on a mantle or cover-out on the shelf for all to see. It’s just not practical with the storage solutions offered. So I see how some producers would skimp on the cover, but they really shouldn’t.
Great covers are talking points. When I first bought Boarderlands for the 360 I took out the disk loaded it in the console and pulled out the manual. After that I paused as something on the back of the cover caught my eye. I opened the game completely flat and slid out the cover. On the back there was an awesome picture of one of the games characters. It had no synopsis or other product information it was pure art. I immediately returned the cover to the case art side out and left it face up on the coffee table for weeks as it looked so cool! Not only did this simple extra get me even more psyched for the game, as I knew instantly that the creators had loved their work and added the little points of excellence that only come from passion, but I told everyone about it, those who I saw on a regular basis were, no doubt, regaled with my artistic find multiple times.
Another that happens from this glut of schlock covers is a complete lack of product differentiation. Ever walk the aisles of a video store for hours and feel your soul slowly being ground down until you barely remember what you came in for? Some might say that’s the effect of having too much choice, but it seems to be the effect of having to much of the same choice. Your brain is trying to comprehend why so much of the same thing is being presented as different using the same formula of stimulation. Thus requiring or brain to sort out minor details to find a difference that should be obvious. Where no real difference exists (and deep down in our hearts we know the painful truth) at least it could be easily imagined with a distinctive cover. But instead we are overwhelmed with the illusion of choice in an undefined disposable market place.
All this get’s me going on the future. DVDs are coming to an end. Evidence in the closing up shop of Blockbuster, the attempt Netflix made to splinter DVD subscribers, and the following remarks from Netflix CEO Reed Hastings “Streaming is the future; we’re focused on it. DVD is going to do whatever it’s going to do.” Hastings knows a dog when he see’s one. But that’s not to say that physical media is going away. People still want to buy physical items and we love collecting things. But what’s going to capture or money when the digital goods are so easy to acquire?
To that I say physical media as art. For instance, it’s five years in the future and the OMG C. Nolan Batman Trilogy Super Ultimate (and this time we mean it) Ultra Collectors Edition is out! Well why buy the physical item when you can get it digitally and save the shelf space? Because the Super Ultimate Ultra Collectors Edition isn’t a disk, it doesn’t come in a set or aluminum box. It is the most awesome statue of a brooding Batman that contains magical (only magical until science makes it real) technologies that streams the content right to your home media device(s). It even gives access to games, graphic novels, and other media. It is the total product offer, the ultimate edition. (If you could update it with new content as it’s produced that would be even more amazing, but that’s a whole other subject.)
This is art. This is differentiation of a product. This is a talking point, a way to show and share the movies we love. This is the beautiful future I want for physical media.
*If you’re wondering we left the store with 40 backers! Including: Chucky, Dune, Beetlejuice, Romancing the Stone, Cube, Wizard of Oz, Batman Returns, and the hilarious Femalien. We plan to line the ceiling with some, and make fridge magnets and coasters out of the rest.