Fear the YoYo / Warner's Archive Collection

Back on May 1st, the main machine was hit with the YoYo virus, a headache bug that cripples the MBR (Master Boot Record) and gums up the NTUSER files to the point where, if ERD Commander is used (I know this is all gobbledeegook for 99.999% of the world, but bear with me), you can retrieve and copy files to another source, but loading into the affected hard drive is impossible during the normal boot-up.

Ergo, a few uploads are a wee bit behind (although when the problem is solved - as it's slowly being solved - I'll post another here's-how-I-solved-another-fine-mess so anyone who encounters YoYo has another set of options before reformatting everything, and spending a fair bit of time re-installing XP and all the little software and preferences you don't remember, because it was ages since you last dealt with them).

Reviews to be uploaded within the next 12 hours include Mongrel Media's great Blue Gold doc on the commodification of water, as well as Warner Canada's Died Young, Stayed Pretty, about underground music poster artists.

That brings me to a small blog on Warner Bros.' Archive Collection, which offers back catalogue titles on DVD. Like Criterion's Eclipse series, Warner's new brand is mean to put into circulation film titles for which the studio doesn't have the time to give a formal DVD release.

Warner's offerings are bare bones DVD-Rs featuring transfers from older video masters, if not the occasional recent transfer. Barrie Maxwell at The Digital Bits just published a good examination of the program, and speicifics on the available titles as culled by Peter York from posts in the Home Theater Forum (HTF).

Before you jump over to Maxwell's piece and check out the 70 titles tallied from the HTF, here's a few quick thoughts:

- in the case of Criterion's Eclipse series, while not cheap, the sets do feature rare films from a very broad spectrum (foreign, documentaries, experimental), and the films are basically new transfers lacking the fine restoration Criterion applies to their formal monthly special editions. Read: new/recent transfers, budget-styled pricing by Criterion standards.

- Warner's pricing starts out at $20 per disc, which is nuts. They're DVD-Rs of older transfers that arguably allow people 'to have' a film on disc even though some of the titles have apeared on TCM. Judging from the HTF comments, the DVD-R transfers are better than the compressed cable TV signals (in Ontario, TCM is still subjected to heavy, visible compression), but for that kind of pricing, I'd rather wait until TCM airs a film again and PVR the thing. I mean, some of the 'scope films aired on TCM aren't anamorphic, but they did air a gorgeous 2.0 Surround print of Boy on a Dolphin, which did not cost $20 + shipping/handling + duties.

My stance is perhaps more accepting of non-digital cable TV resolution simply because I grew up with VHS, Beta, laserdisc, and DVD, and in spite of the clear qualitative differences, there's wanting the best copy of your favourite film for the personal archive, and then there's just wanting to see a film, and sadly I'd settle for a blah cable TV signal because in the current economy, it seems foolish for Warner's to explect collectors are still willing to jump at every release with their VISA card.

- There's also small indie companies like Flicker Alley Films who invest all of their time and funds into creating higher-priced but notable special editions of rare films, and then there's a multinational entertainment behemoth like Warner's who made billions off The Dark Knight film, and can afford to sell old movies to a smaller fan base for true budget pricing. The transfers are extant, one can dub material with minimal real-time supervision, and replication costs with DVD-Rs probably hover around thirty-five cents, so $20 seems greedy.

You've got labels like Alpha Video and Passport dealing with public domain titles (film as well as TV), and releasing either boxed sets or individual films dirt cheap. If Alpha can sell DVDs of shopworn prints for under $5, paying an extra $15 for a studio equivalent is nuts.

Advice to Warners: price the films at $4.95 for standard feature-length movies (90-120 mins.), and $7.95 for 2-disc epics, and pack 'em in slim cases to reduce shiping charges.

If you want to sell more, the prices have to be competitive; if you want collectors to buy more, keeping the cases slim will save shelf space; and if you want more international sales, keeping the price low also saves on custom fees, if not brokerage fees from greedy companies like UPS.

(Canadians should NEVER use UPS for any international purchases - the brokerage fees are exorbitant and non-negotiable.) In Canada, anything valued at $20 U.S. can get slapped with duties; it might be as little as $1.25, but the post office will charge its $5 flat fee for brokering (which is still preferable to UPS' $20+).

The Archive Collection is a great idea, but not at the current price point, nor with the recent time-limited 2-for-one deal. They're old films and old transfers sitting on shelves that deserve lives, but the market is not as wealthy as it once was, and as more old films fall into public domain, Warner's may also find themselves competing against budget releases taken from collector prints whose quality is more than acceptible.



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