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Can Criterion Survive in Today's Market?


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#1 of 149 OFFLINE   Scott Shanks

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Posted August 29 2001 - 07:43 AM

With all the major studios now firmly behind DVD, can Criterion survive with the catalog of titles they have or could potentially have given the fact that their release are at least 40% higher than the major studio's prices. Most people don't bat an eye spending between $10 - $20 for a disc. But when you ask someone to pay $35 for essentially the same product, it makes me wonder. Personally, I really have to love a movie to shell out that kind of dough to purchase a movie.

Just curious.

Scott

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#2 of 149 OFFLINE   Jeff Ulmer

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Posted August 29 2001 - 07:56 AM

If you think Criterion is delivering "essentially the same product" then you are missing what most of us value about the collection. Criterion is, and always has been a niche product, delivering films no others would touch, and usually giving them first class treatment, even if all that entails is a decent transfer in the correct aspect ratio.

I have also found that the films they choose are generally ones that I will want in my collection, and that I would otherwise never have discovered.

Yes, I can buy Battlefield Earth for $10, but it isn't Sullivan's Travels , Mon Oncle or L'Aventurra.

Filet Mignon and a Big Mac are both beef, but they aren't quite the same thing.

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#3 of 149 OFFLINE   Jon Robertson

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Posted August 29 2001 - 08:05 AM

Yes. As Jeff said, because people will always want to buy classic films in terrific, often definitive editions, even if they are black and white and subtitled. Posted Image

They ARE a niche product and that's why they can keep producing stuff they only want to in the way they want to (not always, but most of the time), and if the extra $10-20 really prevents you from finding some of the most exquisite and wonderful films ever made in packages that will really open your eyes to cinema that's beyond the multiplexes, then it really is your problem.



#4 of 149 OFFLINE   Philip Verdieck

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Posted August 29 2001 - 08:43 AM

Amen to the last two posts.

Scott, what Criterions do you own?

#5 of 149 OFFLINE   Edwin Pereyra

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Posted August 29 2001 - 08:43 AM

Quote:
Filet Mignon and a Big Mac are both beef, but they aren't quite the same thing.

Hmm, that comment sounds familiar. Posted Image

Quote:
Most people don't bat an eye spending between $10 - $20 for a disc.

It sounds like you just described the casual moviegoer. On the other hand, there are the film lovers who will shell out $35 for a classic film like some of the Criterion collection without batting an eye. Posted Image

~Edwin

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#6 of 149 OFFLINE   Jeff Ulmer

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Posted August 29 2001 - 08:45 AM

Hey, I didn't say I made it up! Posted Image

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#7 of 149 OFFLINE   Wes Ray

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Posted August 29 2001 - 08:52 AM

The Criterion discs I own:

Silence of the Lambs
Sisters
Carnival of Souls
Robocop

Not many, but I'm a picky buyer. Posted Image

#8 of 149 OFFLINE   Scott Shanks

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Posted August 29 2001 - 09:20 AM

I only own 1 Criterion disk - Charade. It's a nice disc, except I was disappointed to learn later that the transfer was non-anamorphic - I bought the disc before I even knew what anamorphic meant.

My point was, not that I think Criterion discs are not quality. I just don't think they are 40% better than the discs that the major studios put out. For instance, in the case of Charade, it has a nice non-anamorphic OAR transfer, a commentary track, a text list of Stanley Donen films and a trailer. It retails on Amazon for $36. North By Northwest has a near perfect anamorphic transfer, a commentary and isolated music track, a making of documentary and a trailer. It retails for $15. I don't think I am comparing a Big Mac to a filet mignon here.

The point I was trying to make is that I question Criterion's ability to succeed with the catalog of titles they have and, more importantly, that they will have access to in the future since the major studios will be less likely to give them access to good-selling mainstream titles. I think it will be very hard for a company to survive on lesser known films.

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#9 of 149 OFFLINE   Jeff Ulmer

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Posted August 29 2001 - 09:28 AM

Quote:
I think it will be very hard for a company to survive on lesser known films.

That is where we disagree, but is also why Criterion's pricing is higher. As long as they deliver quality discs of films people want, they will survive.

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#10 of 149 OFFLINE   AdrianJ

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Posted August 29 2001 - 09:47 AM

Quote:
My point was, not that I think Criterion discs are not quality. I just don't think they are 40% better than the discs that the major studios put out. For instance, in the case of Charade, it has a nice non-anamorphic OAR transfer, a commentary track, a text list of Stanley Donen films and a trailer. It retails on Amazon for $36. North By Northwest has a near perfect anamorphic transfer, a commentary and isolated music track, a making of documentary and a trailer. It retails for $15.

You are comparing apples and oranges here. Look at the other version of Charade available and I think you will come to the conclusion that the Criterion is better.

Also, another reason that they have to charge more money is that they don't own most of the films, but only license them from other companies.

Criterion has recently embraced anamorphic enhancements on DVDs. They may re-release titles like Charade in anamorphic widescreen, assuming they still have the rights.)

--adrian

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#11 of 149 OFFLINE   Rouslan Sytnik

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Posted August 29 2001 - 10:51 AM

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[Edited last by Rouslan Sytnik on September 07, 2001 at 10:02 PM]

#12 of 149 OFFLINE   DonaldB

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Posted August 29 2001 - 11:08 AM

I think some underestimate the number of people interested in the "obscure" films which Criterion specializes in. There are more than enough of us interested in movies other than Robocop and Silence of the Lambs to keep Criterion a profitable, if relatively small, company for a long time to come.

#13 of 149 OFFLINE   Jun-Dai Bates

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Posted August 29 2001 - 11:09 AM

Probably Criterion won't revisit Charade in this format. They've stated that they don't like revisiting titles because there are so many other titles out there that need attention.

In contrast to your assertion Scott, I think that Criterion is probably doing better than ever in the dvd market. Of course they are a niche product. However, unlike other studios, there are some people that will buy Criterion discs, without having seen the film first, simply because they are Criterion. Criterion has the most loyal followers of any studio. I've seen a handful of stores here in San Francisco (and I think all the Virgin Megastores do this) with their own seperate Criterion section.

The prices are kind of steep, but if Criterion hadn't put these discs out, in most cases, you'd be paying a similar price for a Winstar treatment of the discs (::shudder: Posted Image. Or you wouldn't be able to get the film at all. And for the special editions, about half of the collection, it doesn't compare too badly to many titles that are out there (Warner excepted).

2-disc editions:
Pioneer's Akira: $40
Columbia's Lawrence of Arabia: $40

1-disc editions:
MGM's Dr.No: $35
BV's Evita: $30
Image's I am Cuba: $30
Artisan's It's a Wonderful Life: $25

Those were all Criterion Laserdiscs at one point. Considering that amongst Criterion's decent DVD's

The Rock, Do the Right Thing, L'Avventura, and Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie--all 2-disc sets--were $40 (compare to Akira, It's a Bug's Life, Bridge on the River Kwai, and Lawrence of Arabia)

And most of their 1-disc editions were $30 (some $40) (compare to Dr.No, Evita, I am Cuba, Vertigo, Chocolat, 400 Blows)

These discs are not outrageously priced, they're just not cheap. Also consider that Criterion isn't out to make money in the same sense as the studios. They need to recoup their losses, but they don't have shareholders to worry about, and they're not expanding. With this in mind, Criterion's probably doing really well these days, and they're certainly making enough to keep the discs coming out (I think their output has increased considerably). In any case, don't expect their prices to come down any time soon.


some other special editions:
(Paramount) Forrest Gump: $30
(Disney) Bug's Life: $50
(Universal) American Pie: $30
(Disney) Chocolat: $30
(Universal) Vertigo: $30

#14 of 149 OFFLINE   Jon Robertson

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Posted August 29 2001 - 11:31 AM

Well, Rouslan, for the two John Woo titles the Criterion versions are considerably better in every concievable way - extras, transfers, compression, even the subtitle translations are more accurate.

Forgive me for going off on a tangent, but Criterion deliver discs that INSPIRE.

Most special editions will show you what has been accomplished, with all material focusing on the film itself, in the form of straightforward talking-heads-retrospective documentary, trailers, stills, deleted scenes, commentary, etc.

Criterion discs show you what CAN be accomplished with film-making, with discs that do not solely focus on an A-B route of how the film got made.

Where else would you find supplements like a 35-year-old British television documentary featuring some priceless interview and masterclass footage (The Scarlet Empress), early shorts by the director (Hard Boiled, Carnival of Souls), film-to-storyboard comparisons (The Red Shoes, Robocop, The Silence of the Lambs, Rushmore), even essays on how the film fits into its genre (Hard Boiled, Fiend Without A Face).

So many of their discs are a crash course on the director, their career and their craft (Douglas Sirk discs, Seijun Suzuki discs, Preston Sturges discs, Luis Bunuel discs, John Woo discs), that even though it doesn't have half-a-dozen commentaries, or a DTS sound mix (which would benefit only a handful of films in the collection), they are twice as enlightening and twice as satisfying as so many other discs.

To be honest, about 30-40% don't even NEED an anamorphic transfer, because they are in their correct 1.33:1 ratios, and every single new release is now anamorphic (excepting a few titles licensed from Anchor Bay, who apparently don't want Criterion releasing anamorphic stuff). And their non-anamorphic releases (especially the older titles) are hardly what I would call shabby. I would rather have a director/cinematographer-approved non-anamorphic transfer (Charade, The Harder They Come, Picnic at Hanging Rock) than an anamorphic one with colour timing, colour density and saturation levels all over the place.

An example of this is the recent Lawrence of Arabia transfer, which, while technically very good, had serious problems simply because Robert Harris, the film's restorer, was deemed a nuisance and shut out of the telecine suite, when, with his guidance, all the problems could have been easily corrected.

Subtitled films almost always recieve new, accurate translations, making the films that much more clear and resonant in the viewer's mind.

Even releases with only a commentary supported by a few minor special features (although things are almost never minor on a Criterion disc), like Charade, Billy Liar, The Harder They Come, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Time Bandits, I find the commentaries are so excellently planned and edited that they "compensate" for the lack of quantity. I find it amusing when people complain about Criterion's method of doing commentaries. You don't make a documentary by leaving all the interviewees in front of a camera for an hour, do you?

I find myself revisiting Criterion's releases again and again, simply because the films and the supplements are so enthralling. I think the single greatest item I have ever seen on a disc is the documentary "A Very British Psycho" on Peeping Tom.

But, let us not argue solely on the discs, but the main reason most buy Criterions is for the films themselves. These are some of the greatest examples of film-making you'll find anywhere, and denying yourself so many of these priceless jewels because of the price is madness!

From what I can see, you'd rather buy a cheap but extensive special edition of a mediocre film, than a more expensive version, with fewer supplements, of a brilliant film!

And I suppose, in the end, that's why so many HT fans love Criterion - the films are often so wonderful, you accept with smiling gratitude any special features at all that come with it, because you're so keen to find out more about them! I find with Criterion's discs, enough's as good as a feast, and I rarely leave feeling under-nourished. Posted Image

#15 of 149 OFFLINE   Coressel

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Posted August 29 2001 - 11:47 AM

All I know is that I've been a major Criterion fan and supporter since the first Criterion LDs came out. Last year, a self-proclaimed "film-buff" co-worker of mine gave me a blank stare when I mentioned "Criterion" and last week the same person told me that they "...have most of the Criterion DVDs, you've heard of Criterion, right?..."

Criterion is just fine. It's the criterion of film restoration and video presentation. Just look at all the Criterion threads that have just popped up on this forum.

#16 of 149 OFFLINE   Dwayne

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Posted August 29 2001 - 12:02 PM

Take a release like Brazil and let it speak for itself.

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#17 of 149 OFFLINE   Tuomas Maattanen

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Posted August 29 2001 - 12:31 PM

I think Criterion provides an excellent way to venture outside the group of well-known classics, i.e. films that even a casual moviegoer recognises. King Kong, Gone with the Wind, Citizen Kane, Casablanca and the Bridge on the River Kwai are all masterpieces but I'm sure there many obscure films that don't get the appreciation they deserve. A Criterion release doesn't guarantee you'll like the film but it does guarantee that the film has some sort of cinematic, political or historical significance.

Jon already mentioned the supplements that can provide interesting background information. The post-Altamont radio show on Gimme Shelter was really fascinating.

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#18 of 149 OFFLINE   chris rick

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Posted August 29 2001 - 01:46 PM

Again, Criterion is a niche market...it's just a shame it is...everyone should be forced to own a copy of Carol Reed's 'The Third Man' to name one amongst there great catalog of films. Oh yeah, Walkabout comes to mind too...Two of the greatest films ever made, and available nowhere else but from Criterion...thank god for them!
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#19 of 149 OFFLINE   Adam Lenhardt

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Posted August 29 2001 - 01:57 PM

"Walkabout"... I think I saw that on IFC a year or two back. Is that the flick about two kids who get adopted into a primitive Australian tribe?

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#20 of 149 OFFLINE   Jeff Ulmer

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Posted August 29 2001 - 02:07 PM

Quote:
Is that the flick about two kids who get adopted into a primitive Australian tribe?

Close, but not quite.

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