16 June 2011

THE BEGINNING OF THE END FOR DVD?

This is an attempt to bring together some of my feelings/thoughts on the current debate surrounding the DVD format and the emergence of VOD:

A few years back in a TV interview on the BBC director Wes Anderson referred to Coppola’s Apocalypse Now as the one film that film makers of his generation keep returning to for ideas, inspiration and cinematic creativity. Whilst many would agree that Apocalypse Now is not as great as The Godfather 1 & 2 or The Conversation it is by far the most ambitious, visionary and most discussed of Coppola’s films. In one of the Blu Ray extras for Apocalypse Now is a candid conversation between Coppola and critic Roger Ebert which was filmed at Cannes in 2001 to mark the release of redux. In the interview Ebert strongly suggests that whilst Apocalypse Now is revered today by many film fans and critics as a gusty piece of against the odds film making, the film’s release in 1979 also signalled the death of auteurism and the end of a new Hollywood cinema. With the current and imminent critical discourse circulating on the apparently imminent death of the DVD format and the so called liberating power of Video on Demand (VOD), the Blu ray release for Apocalypse Now (and even Taxi Driver) makes for a valid cinephile argument why Netflix might actually end up destroying the culture of home video.

Of course the reality is that we are now being told VOD is the future by the culture industries in their typically manufactured way in the way Blu ray was touted as heralding a new dawn in the way we watch films. Inevitably Hollywood will want us to re-purchase films we already have on DVD but this time in a digital format so we can transfer it legitimately to any one of our many portable media devices. Whatever happened to just watching a film, enjoying it, reflecting on it and then formulating an opinion on the film? Unfortunately this is not the case anymore – take for example the notion of triple play; now you can own a copy of the film which comes in three different formats (DVD, Blu ray, digital copy). Of course, for a cinephile none of this really makes any sense when considering how difficult it becomes in which format one is actually going to watch the film! From a personal point of view if we do see the demise of DVD then this would potentially be disastrous for cinephiles who have curated libraries and catalogues of films. DVDs are akin to books; you browse, examine, read the synopsis or booklet and then make a qualified decision on which you will watch. I don’t know why but I feel somewhat cheated when I choose to download the film to my desktop. Also the physical distance from the film makes me somewhat comfortable – I like the pleasure and excitement that comes with holding a DVD. This has been the case with the Blu ray of Apocalypse Now.

The problem with VOD is that you are expected to do a lot more work as a consumer and what would happen to special features? VOD is working under the assumption that your broadband speed is up to the task and that you are technologically up to date with the latest hardware and software. This simply is not the case for all of us. It’s not surprising that the US has been the first to fully embrace VOD and Netflix given the instantaneous consumption habits of today’s media hungry audiences. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a technophobe what so ever but I have tried streaming and the viewing experience was jeopardised by the overwhelming threats posed by buffering. My scepticism really stems from the frightening proposition that one day all of our DVD collections will have to be transferred into a hard drive storage facility whereby endless lists would lead to an unhealthy proliferation of data that suddenly doesn’t mean anything anymore other than pretty little thumbnails. Is this the beginning of the end for DVD as a format?

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