If you’re not a hardcore DVD/Blu-ray enthusiast, you may not be aware of an interesting kerfuffle that’s just arisen. But while it might only seem to affect your more devoted variety of Star Trek fans on the surface, it serves as a case study of what’s going wrong with the physical media world at this moment.
This summer, the Paramount film Star Trek Into Darkness managed an impressive thing for a major blockbuster released in 2013 — not only was it critically popular for the most part, but it actually managed to make some money at the box office, as well.
But the site Trekcore.com last week ran an extraordinarily thorough review of the upcoming Blu-ray release of Star Trek Into Darkness — one that rated the Blu-ray transfer quality at five stars, but the special features at 0.5 stars.
Why such a dramatic difference in the ratings? Because, as Trekcore lays out:
There’s no denying that the high definition presentation of this film looks absolutely beautiful — but this is the most confusing, exploitative release ever to bear the Star Trek name.
The primary issue is that of “retailer exclusives” — different versions of the film being packaged with different sets of special features, depending on where you buy the film once it’s available September 10th on Blu-ray.
This means getting an entirely different set of behind-the-scenes featurettes if you buy the film from Target versus Best Buy, and that’s only within the United States — other international releases feature additional features and visual options (including a German edition which may include IMAX-formatted footage).
Plus, the only way to acquire any version of the film that includes an audio commentary is to either buy the film on iTunes or use the accompanying digital download code on the Apple service.
That gets you access to the “visual commentary track” — which is not tied to the original download, but is instead a five GB download of the film described by TrekCore as follows:
The iTunes commentary is more than just an audio track — it’s an entirely separate encoding of the film, with on-screen picture-in-picture annotations and behind-the-scenes footage. There’s no additional scenes in this version of the film, but because the commentators often pause and rewind footage to highlight specific elements of production, the thing runs nearly thirty minutes longer than the standard film.
And while director J.J. Abrams and cast members have mentioned the existence of at least two deleted scenes, the only sign TrekCore could find of those scenes being available on Blu-ray was an upcoming Australian release — a release that may also be tied to another retailer exclusive in that country.
One of those two known deleted scenes, just for the record, is a shower scene featuring fangirl icon/breakout star Benedict Cumberbatch, which Abrams teased earlier this year on Conan. That seems like something that would sell a few box sets.
Amazon rankings, at time of writing, did have pre-orders for Into Darkness at #17 in the Movies & TV category, and the film is also at #4 on the iTunes best-sellers chart. But according to TorrentFreak, a torrent of Into Darkness is already the second-most downloaded movie of last week.
Special features don’t seem to have popped up on BitTorrent yet, but that’s not hard to imagine changing in the next few weeks. Because that’s going to be the only real way to get a complete set — Paramount has no track record for creating “complete” editions of its past Blu-ray releases.
So what does this ultimately mean for the film’s release? It’s not necessarily something the casual viewer will notice — the casual viewer will probably be content with the iTunes edition, or waiting for it to be available on VOD or other streaming options.
But that’s because the casual viewer probably isn’t interested in spending $102.98 without shipping costs (according to math done by a TrekCore commenter) to get the majority of the special features.
And that’s undoubtedly math that Paramount is counting on — has, in fact, counted on in the past.
But trying to keep an entire industry alive on the backs of devoted fans craving limited edition features isn’t the most solid business model. It’s a solution that speaks of short-term thinking, at a time when the rise of HD-quality video coincides with ever-shrinking data caps.
The physical media world has enough problems — why alienate the consumers who are still shelling out cash?