The Home Entertainment market continues to be a strange, ever-evolving presence in the world of cinema. Countless times we have heard about the death of the DVD, the demise of the Blu-ray and the inevitable rise of streaming services such as Netflix (amongst countless others) that will eventually take their rightful place as the first choice of movie consumers. However, the perseverance and loyalty of cinephiles continues to defy this notion. Here in the UK, companies such as Masters of Cinema and Arrow Video regularly pump out new DVD and Blu-ray sets of the highest quality, tempting ardent cinema lovers to keep on purchasing with every release. Whilst not as popular as it once was, Blu-ray is far from dead and continues to thrive in the right markets.
But what makes a boutique Blu-ray set more attractive than an affordable night in with a streaming service? Well, part of it is down to ownership and collecting. Audiences with any kind of art form have always taken an interesting in displaying their fanaticism for all to see, having a dedicated set of films that they can classify as part of themselves. In comparison to this physical format of ownership, watching a film on Netflix feels detached, fleeting, like borrowing a small pinch of sage from a spice rack instead of owning the entire plant. Add in the gorgeous packaging, interviews, extras, video essays and booklets and it becomes hard to turn back to streaming when you know your favourite film is available on Home Video format.
More importantly, no matter what you hear from streaming services about the quality of their image and sound, nothing compares to what you can achieve with a good Home Entertainment system and a Blu-ray. In order to reduce its streaming rate, Netflix has to sacrifice more detail in its video stream and this has a huge impact on the quality, despite the 1080p label. The fact that streaming services also heavily compress their sound quality, unable to compete with discs, means that anyone remotely interested in the full immersion of a film has to turn to Blu-ray.
The reason why this conversation is suddenly rearing its head again is down to the fact that US industry giants Criterion have just announced they will be launching six titles in the UK, beginning in April. Formerly unable to bring their world-renowned quality to British soil due to licensing issues, this is a huge deal for those of us who have enviously coveted the more beautiful releases across the pond (or burned a hole in our pocket in order to own them). Beginning with Laserdisc and expanding into Blu-ray along with the market, Criterion have been the standard that all other companies measure themselves by for almost two decades now (an example being their pioneering of the commentary track). As well as distributing the quintessential versions of world cinema classics such as Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai and Renoir’s The Rules of the Game, they have championed the restoration of previously “lost” films like Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much and the horror masterpiece Carnival of Souls. Criterion chooses their films with strong emphasis on the auteur and the presentation of the film is often determined by the manner in which the director intended it to be seen.
The sheer breadth of their catalogue is something to marvel at and with each release given the utmost care and passion, the announcement of their overseas venture is already causing much excitement in the UK. Six films have been announced thus far and are as follows:
It Happened One Night (1934)
Grey Gardens (1975)
Only Angels Have Wings (1939)
Criterion seems to have a monopoly on boutique, art-house cinema Blu-rays at the moment in the US and whether or not this announcement will impact and unravel all the hard work done by Masters of Cinema and Arrow (amongst others) in the UK remains to be seen. Hopefully cinephiles will see this as another victory for the continuing resurgence of cinema in the Home Video market and continue to support it as much as they can.