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Dvd re-releases prompt vicious cycle

Brian Doxtader | Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Looking through a list of recently released DVDs, I noticed a disturbing trend. Along with the regular new releases and special editions of old films, I noticed a few odd titles that stood out – “Scarface: Platinum Edition,” “Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels: Locked ‘N Loaded Unrated Director’s Cut” and “Monty Python and the Holy Grail: Extraordinarily Deluxe Edition.”

Releasing a special edition is all well and good, but in most of these cases, there already was a special edition. “Scarface: Anniversary Edition,” released in 2003, was an elaborate two-disc set and even had an accompanying box set that included the original 1931 Howard Hawks classic.

In the case of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” the film was originally released as a bare bones DVD, then upgraded to a single-disc Special Edition, then a two-disc Collector’s Edition and now a three-disc “Extraordinarily Deluxe Edition.”

Aside from trying to milk every last penny from die-hard fans, who will upgrade to the new editions regardless, what do these DVDs accomplish? Some of the special features have been changed and shuffled around, but many of them are the same.

Unless there’s a really important or enlightening new feature that can be added, changing these things around is mostly just bothersome. Big fans will feel the need to buy every edition in order to have every special feature, but a definitive DVD should contain everything viewers need to know about the film.

In the case of “Scarface” and “Monty Python,” both films received new transfers, which means the picture quality has been upgraded. This is undoubtedly frustrating for fans, because they expected that the original special editions contained the best possible picture quality – the studios should have gotten it right in the first place.

Audio is another issue. A few years ago, when “Saving Private Ryan” was re-released in an “Anniversary D-Day Edition,” the picture quality was upgraded from the original DVD, with a noticeable difference – in its original single-disc edition, “Saving Private Ryan” was available with either a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix or a DTS mix.

The DTS mix was superior, but the 2-disc re-release dropped it in favor of the Digital 5.1. In fact, the only way to get the DTS version was to buy the four-disc box set, which included a pair of documentaries and cost about twice as much.

Studios need to do the right thing. Miramax can talk about “multiple bites at the apple” in terms of “Kill Bill,” but it only hurts fans. Even films like “Lord of the Rings” have gotten new releases despite the seemingly definitive “Extended Editions,” and the theatrical version of “Star Wars” finally got a re-release – yet not in an anamorphic transfer.

There needs to be a single, definitive version of a film unless there is a significant reason for changing. For instance, the classic Fritz Lang film “M” received a re-release from Criterion after the company obtained a new print and was able to drastically improve the picture quality.

In most cases, however, there is no reason for DVDs not to have the two most important elements – the film in an anamorphic transfer with the original aspect ratio intact and the original sound mix.

Everything else is a bonus, which is why they’re called “special features.” If studios get those two things right, then that special edition will be really special.

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The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.