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Criterion and Audio Commentaries

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Dick, Mar 20, 2019.

  1. Dick

    Dick Lead Actor
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    This company essentially invented the alternate-track audio commentary with its laser disc releases. Since then, they've commissioned innumerable such tracks, which led other companies such as Warner Bros to embrace the idea and use it as a "bonus" or supplement" feature on many of their DVD's and Blu-rays.

    But, while small companies such as Kino Lorber and Shout!/Scream are actually increasing the number of releases to include brand new, specially-recorded commentary tracks, Criterion seems to be only those that were previously included on its own or other studios' releases.

    Are we seeing an end to original Criterion audio tracks? Too much of an investment these days?

    Don't mean to be a complainer...I have simply noticed over the past 6 months or so that the only commentaries Criterion seems to be giving us anymore are those that were produced years ago. For the premium retail price Criterion demands for their Blu-rays, I would think that the inclusion of some new such tracks would be appropriate.
     
  2. Josh Steinberg

    Josh Steinberg Executive Producer
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    I think there are a couple different factors at play, which all kinda come back to the same thing: sales of physical media are declining, and even big titles can't be expected to sell today what they might have ten years ago. With less money coming in, budgets are getting tightened. Audio commentaries take time to produce, and in general, studios and home video labels don't pay for contributions to bonus materials. So it both costs Criterion money to record a commentary, and they also have to ask whoever is recording it to donate their time. Additionally, market research has shown that bonus features do not drive sales. Chances are, only a minuscule number of people are declining to purchase a particular Criterion title because it doesn't have a commentary.

    I think Criterion is just doing the best it can to hang on in a declining landscape without compromising their product too much. It's unfortunate but I think they're being affected by declining sales as much as everyone else.
     
  3. English Patient

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    If the commentary Criterion is using is a good one, I don't see that it makes a difference if it's old or new. There are a lot of people like me who didn't buy the old Criterion laserdiscs with their vintage commentaries, so even the recycled commentaries are new to me.

    Also, I imagine it costs a bit of money to record a commentary. For a lot of movies that are obscure or have modest sales prospects, that money could mean the difference between turning a profit and not turning a profit.
     
  4. Ray H

    Ray H Producer

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    It's not just Criterion. Seems commentaries are getting rarer and rarer on releases. Honestly, I'm fine with the interviews that Criterion usually includes in the commentary's stead.
     
  5. TravisR

    TravisR Studio Mogul

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    They been cutting back on the commentaries for years now. I'd like to know the percentage of new commentaries on their discs from the last 5 years. I'd bet it's pretty small.

    I just assumed they've laid off partly because of the cost but also because the number of bland to outright bad commentaries have been watered the feature down to the point where consumers aren't as interested as they used to be in them. I'm sure if a filmmaker is interested, they'll gladly let them record one but it seems like interviews are their thing now.
     
  6. English Patient

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    In a lot of cases, I actual prefer having a good lengthy interview rather than a commentary, especially if the person in question isn't particularly eloquent or a smooth speaker. For example, on the Barry Lyndon disc there are great, meaty interviews with the editor and focus puller, and I learned a great deal, probably because the information was concentrated into a single 15-minute chunk of time that showcases nothing but the most compelling highlights. Had the information been spread out over three hours in a meandering commentary, it might not have made as much of an impression because it might have just gotten buried.
     
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  7. Powell&Pressburger

    Powell&Pressburger Screenwriter

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    In the past few years I feel like Criterion are beccoming lazy with their special editions

    Audio commentaries would have to be one of the cheapest bonus features to produce.
    A great number of films have been given blu-ray releases in the past few years and many titles I think honestly they didnt want to do a commentary for it?! Or a new one

    Criterion Blus should no longer carry a 39.99 retail price, they should be 29.99. They no longer deliver the best blu-ray editions. They arent the best at encoding either.

    I still buy a lot of their releases but the majority of the time I do it during a 50% off sale. Very rarely will I splurge on a new release priced title from them.

    I did pick up DETOUR but even this title I can’t imagine Eddie Mueller or someone with a great noir background couldnt be asked... I bet there were several begging to do one!

    Same with Death in Venice. It has some bonus features but as far as actual detailing of the films making of etc there is very little included.

    To me a label like Arrow is killing Criterion at their own game and deservedly so

    I may sound like I hate Criterion. I don’t and still want them to release a BLU of Sixteen Candles so we can get a better transfer and the films original mono audio track. It just feels like they aren’t trying as hard as they used to.
     
  8. Jeffrey D

    Jeffrey D Second Unit

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    I really enjoy a good commentary track. I wish Criterion could re-release some titles to BluRay, and carry over the bonus material from their laserdiscs or DVDs (The Prince Of Tides and This Is Spinal Tap immediately leap to mind).
     
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  9. English Patient

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    I don't think it's a matter of them not trying. I really think it's a matter of money (declining disc sales probably means tighter budgets for special features), availability of people to do the commentaries during the disc production process, availability/rights to features such as interviews and documentaries, and the demands of directors/producers regarding the disc release (for example, some directors don't want commentaries, some like Cimino were very controlling and had veto power over what appeared on the disc, etc). I seriously doubt Criterion is lazy - like any company selling a product in a shrinking marketplace, they're probably very concerned about the quality of the product and would love to make it more appealing, but like any company they're going to be constrained by budget concerns and availability of resources during a specific production window. Anyone who owns their edition of Tree of Life would have to say that the edition is not lazy - 2 cuts of the film, 4k remastering, great essay in the booklet, some very good documentary bonus features.
     
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  10. Powell&Pressburger

    Powell&Pressburger Screenwriter

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    Their Tree of Life release is still lacking. You get two cuts but even the theatrical cut gets lesser audio option than the original fox blu-ray.

    And 4K remastering it a plus but lets face it 4K down rezzed to 1080P is... not 4K.

    That being said lets just concentrate on a simple bonus feature of an audio commentary. I understand some films may have restrictions but most I find hard to believe would have been told NO historian commentary. An audio commentary is still one of the cheapest bonus features you can produce. Criterion are not broke.

    Arrow and Vinegar Syndrome rival Criterion in regards to image quality & bonus features. When I compare other boutique labels that is when I look at Criterion releases over rhe past 2-3 years and many seem light on special features. Especially when it is a title they upgrade to BLU and yet don’t give bonus features renewed thought. The products speak for themselves.

    I still buy Criterion but I hardly go out of my way for them like I used to.
     
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  11. battlebeast

    battlebeast Cinematographer

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    I agree. Criterion was able to get Lee Grant to talk about another movie, but no interview for Shampoo, the film she won the Oscar for? Shampoo was very poor for bonus features.

    I've noticed this one several releases.
     
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  12. bujaki

    bujaki Producer

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    Lee Grant was nominated; no win.
     
  13. English Patient

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    Exactly how cheap is it to produce a commentary? To book some sort of recording studio, have a technician there to record it, to maybe have to fly the person to the studio or have a small team fly to that person's location, etc? I don't know, but I'm guessing it's a bit of an expense. And some directors - like Woody Allen - are pretty finicky, so maybe there is something in the contract that specifies that there will be no commentary. We don't know the circumstances of every title.

    This is reminding me of some complaints I heard on another site - people complained that Warner's 5-disc edition of Blade Runner was lacking because the 3-hour making-of documentary wasn't in high-def. Even with 5 versions of the film, a documentary, commentaries, and other bonus features, people still thought it was "lacking." I don't buy a lot of Criterions, but I think they still do a pretty damn good job. In the current state of the physical media industry, I'm actually surprised they put as much effort as they do in their releases. And that Tree of Life edition is pretty loaded. They made an effort.
     
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  14. Powell&Pressburger

    Powell&Pressburger Screenwriter

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    Okay English Patient You win

    You are just going to piss on everything anyhow.

    Criterion is near bankrupt, they can’t afford to pay for audio commentaries. We are just lucky yo get a disc cause as you say, sales are bad.
     
  15. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Director
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    Huh? Of course she won for Shampoo.
     
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  16. English Patient

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    That's not even close to what I said and you know it. And I'm not "pissing on everything." YOU seem to be the one pissing on Criterion. I never said Criterion was "near bankrupt," and you know that.

    A big chunk of the discs I buy are pretty much standard-issue catalog titles from some of the major studios, and for the most part the special features on those discs are pretty sparse. A five minute EPK, a couple deleted scenes and that's it. In comparison, the average Criterion offers a hell of lot more than that, whether or not there's a commentary.
     
  17. bujaki

    bujaki Producer

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    My apologies to you and Battlebeast! My memory failed me (maybe because when this film came out I saw it and didn't like it).
     
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  18. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    Let's not get over-heated now as we're only talking about audio commentaries and Criterion. No need to get personal just agree to disagree and move on. Thank you.
     
  19. Powell&Pressburger

    Powell&Pressburger Screenwriter

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    I stand by my opinion that Criterion is lacking on audio commentaries. While some titles may be restricted to have one included, it always seem like they just don’t try or care to inlcude one.

    Their upcoming Diamonds of the Night is an example. Both UK and US BLUs feature decent bonus features the UK does contain a commentary track.

    This is an example of Criterion deciding against creating a commentary.

    I also doubt anyone in charge of lcensing DETOUR would have said NO to letting an audio commentary being included. This is one classic that plenty of noir film historians would have begged to be part of.

    Criterion at this point play it safe, go with the minimum when it comes to bonus features. That is is Criterions choice but I did import Diamonds of the Night because the UK edition contains Michael Michael Brooke’s audio commentary.
     
  20. atcolomb

    atcolomb Screenwriter

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    Was very happy The Magnificent Ambersons had two commentary tracks and both were excellent.
     

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