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Enough With Dual Releases

June 2004

Apologies for not getting my commentaries out in a more timely fashion. My trip to Europe is rapidly approaching, and I've been spending a lot of my free time trying to learn Spanish as a courtesy to the Spanish people (and out of plain common sense). Navigating through the current wave of European anti-Americanism should prove to be interesting, but that's okay. I'm sure that I'm still going to have fun.

So, there were three blondes on the corner … wait, wrong story.

I'm walking into Wal-Mart (only because I didn't have a choice at the time) and I see the standee for the Return of the King DVD. Of course, I needed to look at what version they were advertising and of course it was the pan-and-scan - sorry - full screen version. This came as no surprise since Wal-Mart is the major reason why most movies are released in two separate formats.

The Sunday before the release, however, I saw something that disturbed me greatly. The color advertisement from Best Buy - an early and previously strong advocate of widescreen movies - was advertising ROTK, as would be expected, except that they were showing the pan-and-scan - sorry - full frame version of the movie!

When ROTK did finally come out, I still proceeded to go to Best Buy. My dread got even worse when the first set of DVDs that greeted me in the video section was comprised of the pan-and-scan - sorry - full frame DVDs! The area where Best Buy was focusing the ROTK fan, however, was a table with numerous other Lord of the Rings merchandise. The DVD sales stand behind that table was full of the widescreen version, but the back side of that stand was loaded with the pan-and-scan - sorry - full frame DVDs.

This is very disconcerting and makes me wonder if Best Buy had devolved to a Wal-Mart mentality. I know, they're in the business to make money and if the ignorant masses are going to spend money Best Buy is going to do what they can to get those dollars. That's capitalism. But considering their early pro-widescreen stance when widescreen first became popular on VHS, this new attitude seems to smack of going two steps backwards.

I suppose that it could just have been that store. After all, I've seen different attitudes towards widescreen in different Wal-Mart stores.

I'm not going to let this discourage me, however. As of 16 June as reported by a leading industry magazine, the widescreen version of ROTK was in the #3 slot for DVD purchases while the pan-and-scan - sorry - full frame version was in a distant 14th place. Unfortunately the DVD rental statistics didn't separate between the widescreen and pan-and-scan - sorry - full frame versions.

When looking at the top ten DVD purchases for the week of 16 June, five of them are the widescreen version for titles that have separate releases. There was only one pan-and-scan - sorry - full frame DVD, which came in at number 10, but fortunately its widescreen counterpart was in the #2 slot.

Wal-Mart and other stores continue to deny these numbers, however. Widescreen sales consistently sell more copies than their pan-and-scan - sorry - full frame counterparts, yet it's remarkable that Wal-Mart and its anti-widescreen cohorts continually try to weaken widescreen by pushing pan-and-scan - sorry - full frame. After all, why should they care? They're going to make the same amount of profit anyway (assuming that prices are equal). So, it makes no financial sense to try to push one version over another. Since there is no evident financial benefit, why are these sudden pushes for the pan-and-scan - sorry - full frame versions of these movies appearing?

Obviously, you don't need to be a rocket scientist to know which version of a movie I fully believe should be shown. But this whole concept of separate releases is annoying anyway for several reasons.

First, it gives ignorant purchasers the ability to discriminate against which versions to purchase for resale. I remember complaining to a local grocery store chain about their continual selling of pan-and-scan - sorry - full frame DVDs. Their response was that they sell what their costumers want. Oh, yes. And everyone who walks into their stores really wants the anchovy paste in aisle eight, too.

Secondly, it gives the potential for customer dissatisfaction due to the version that they want being unavailable. Many of us have run into stores to get the widescreen version only to find that the company underestimated the number of widescreen versions that would sell and were therefore out of stock. Not only does that make them love a sale but it inconveniences us because we now have to go somewhere else.

Of course, I can only imagine how many people have accidentally purchased the version opposite of what they wanted, thanks to dual-releases.

You know that as far as I'm concerned, the version with the correct aspect ratio is the only version that should be sold. If a movie is meant to be in widescreen, it should only be sold in widescreen. If a movie is meant to fit a standard TV, a widescreen version should not be available.

But this continual dual-release method has got to stop. It serves no purpose but to divide and (attempt to) conquer, and it does nothing more than potentially confuse the buyer. Newer DVD cases can hold two - sometimes three - DVD cases in the same sized case as a single DVD case, so the idea of space is a non-issue. If a studio must succumb to the Nazi tactics of Wal-Mart and Target, at least put both versions in the same box.

Anyway, Europe beckons soon.

Until next time...!