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The real problem with Star Trek Into Darkness‘s bungled Blu-ray release

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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 (s VIA) 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 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 (s AAPL) 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?

36 Responses to “The real problem with Star Trek Into Darkness‘s bungled Blu-ray release”

  1. Got the German edition of the 3D/Blu-ray/DVD combo pack today and I was so excited that they announced the IMAX original ratio and the following Special Features: “Creating the Red Planet, Attack on Starfleet, The Klingon Homeworld, The Enemy of My Enemy, Ship to Ship, Brawl By the Bay AND MORE”.

    So I was shocked to see that the release is 1:1 the same as the US and the “AND MORE” that’s still on the back of the Cover is only 2 Trailers. So the official Blu-Ray of Into Darkness sucks even more than the movie – Great going Paramount.

  2. Why am I not surprised?

    I dunno about the US, but here in Australia I have noticed that many distributors (eg Disney) seem to have a policy of no longer releasing commentaries (when those do exist) on the (region 4) DVD versions of their new movies even though the Blu-ray versions of thos same movies do come with them. As for extras of other sorts, they generally now only provide a sampling on DVD of the ones they could have provided.

    I have also noticed it is increasingly common to package the DVD version with the Blu-ray version, as if the Blu-Ray was the missing second DVD (with the omitted extras).

  3. Some Silly Ficcer

    I find it hideously ironic that these companies that have been whining about piracy are doing things that not-so-subtly encourage it. They’re showing disregard for their hard-core fans and not even trying to hide their greed – that’s the sort of thing that turns a lot of people who would’ve been happy to spend a little more on a single version with all the bells and whistles available into video pirates. The economy (at least in the US) sucks, and most people don’t have hundreds of dollars to spend buying THE SAME MOVIE several times over.

    They would cement the love (and money) of their fans more certainly by hearing what they want and just putting all the cool stuff into a deluxe version, but just charge another ten or twenty for it (making it maybe $30 or $40 for one thing instead of $100+ for five almost identical things). They get their extra money, the fans get their goodies, and no one gets hated on. AND the next production that comes out, the fans will already be preparing to buy.

    It appals me that these companies are so blind with greed and short-sightedness that they don’t realize they’re sewing the seeds of their own eventual crash and burn. (sorry for the mangled metaphors)

  4. Star Trek is one of the most mismanaged franchises in the entertainment industry. But as long as the fans keep shelling out for every product that is released, no matter how lacking in content it can be, the studio will keep on the same business track.

    Don’t want special features doled out as retailer/terriorty exclusives? Stop buying these titles until they offer the product you want.

  5. This isn’t about Blu-ray releases or anything else in this situation–this is about Paramount trying to suckle as much money AS POSSIBLE from Star Trek fans.

    When Star Trek first came out on DVD, Paramount wanted $100 PER SEASON of the show. Same for all seven seasons of The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise. And as expected, Trek fans bought them for $100/season because Paramount knew they could get away with ripping customers off. Right now, several years after the release, prices of a single season of any Star Trek show sits at around $45-$55/season.

    This is paramount exploiting Star Trek fans at every opportunity.

  6. As soon as I heard about this a couple days ago I cancelled my 3D disc order. At this point, I’ll wait for the 9.99 movie-only version and be done with it, if that. It shows a complete lack of understanding on the part of Paramount about what avid buyers (the only ones supporting their industry anymore) will put up with,.

  7. Reminds me of shopping for a mattress. The same model of Serta or Simmons mattress is never sold at different retailers. Sears will carry its own distinct set of Serta models, while JCPenny carries a different set of Serta models, etc., etc. To comparison shop you’re forced to use the no of coil springs, etc.

  8. Reblogged this on Aequanimitas x 23 and commented:
    I saw someone mention plans to live-tweet a Star Trek: Into Darkness rewatch and I thought “Oh, yay! It’s out!” In hunting it down for purchase, however, I stumbled into this article and all I could do was sigh. REALLY?

    Dear Media Companies:
    As a hardcore fan of a great many things, particularly SciFi, Fantasy, and related genres, I’d really appreciate it if you gave me an opportunity to purchase your wares within some sort of PACKAGE that is – if not REASONABLY priced – at least not going to skin my wallet alive and force me to purchase multiple copies of the same crap I already own. What I want is ONE copy of the film itself and ONE copy of every special feature you care to share with the public at large for a fee. I do not need, nor do I want, FIVE COPIES of the same movie, which each come with half of a featurette or every other word of the commentary track. Please tell your marketing guys to make some sense. Because instead of getting me as a $$$ customer, purchasing a MegaPlusSuperAwesomeExtraSpecialAllInOne boxed set, I’m just going to pick up whatever is most easily accessible for me at the most reasonable price, which will probably not be any of your special store affiliates.
    No thanks,

  9. Nicholas Lovell

    “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”

    I disagree entirely. I think helping devoted fans who want limited edition features may be the *only* sustainable business model. It’s just that this a rubbish execution of such a strategy that alienates more than it helps.

  10. :ook at what Disney did with OZ. Buy the 3D edition and it has NO extras. You have to buy the 2D edition to get the extras. Then, if you want the 3D version, you have to send in a coupon (and an additional fee) to get it. Or get the bare-bones 3D and send in the coupon/fee to get the 2D edition with the extras. May these consumer-hating corporate shills burn in one of Dante’s circles.

  11. StarFuryG7

    They’re not getting my money. I’m not a fan of this movie anyway, but I don’t like the implications for future releases of any given film, which is why consumers should close their wallets now.

  12. I hate piracy. I think content creators deserve to be paid for their work, and if you don’t want to pay, don’t watch the content. I feel very strongly about this and have had a lot of discussions with people about why I think piracy is stealing. And then Paramount pulls crap like this and suddenly, while I still won’t pirate content, it’s harder to argue against it. Because as surely as I think pirates are stealing content, I don’t think this nonsense is any better. When will companies like Paramount realize that if you give people what they want fewer people will steal your content?

    • That’s a little different, since each release came at distinctly different times, although I agree the DBZ treatment in America was ridiculous. Some of it couldn’t be helped, since it was all being released during the switch from VHS to DVD. The TV release and then uncut release also made sense, and in no way did you have to buy both. To compare to Into Darkness, the DBZ thing would have had to been just the uncut scenes as a separate release.

  13. This retailer-specific content has to stop.

    It’s just as crappy with video games. 12 different editions, no way to just have all content in one box.

    And I don’t get why this happens now, at a time when retailers have far less power than 10 years ago. Publishers can go directly to customers with digital downloads, so why do they spend so much energy pleasuring Best Buy, Amazon et al?

  14. stewkelly

    Short-sightedness and customer alienation are endemic to the mainstream big media companies. Trying to squeeze every drop of profit out movies, music, what have you, has angered consumers and given rise to more nimble and responsive competitors ready to gut media giants like Sony or Paramount.

    • That was out of left field. What has Sony done for you to name them when its not mentioned anywhere in the article, or anyone else’s comments? Or is it just because it’s one of the big multi-media giants, like WB?

  15. Similar things are done with physical video game releases. You get in-game different extras depending on where you buy the game. It feels just wrong and has lead me to boycott physical video games releases.

  16. Bruce Lamesse

    Is everyone forgetting about The Lord of The Rings? There’s about 5 or 6 different disc versions of each movie (incl. collected sets) and most of those have different extras from each other, or at least some version specific extras, and this is without even looking at international editions.

    • Entirely different issue. LOTR has different versions, each with more extras and therefore a higher price. But all versions are available to everyone, no need to think about where you shop because retailer A has special feature X, while retailer B has special feature Y.

      • Bruce Lamesse

        I don’t think it’s an entirely different issue at its core. It’s all a cash grab, forcing die-hard fans to spend vast quantities of money if they want all the extras.

        • The difference is that with Lord of the Rings, I can spend some extra money to get everything in one release, if I am so inclined. With Star Trek Into Darkness, I don’t even know what all the special features are without doing research and finding out which version has which features, and then buying the same movie five or more times to get everything.
          They are both cash grabs, but one is convenient and fan-pleasing, and the other isn’t. If they had made one “extra-special edition”, four-disc set with all the bonus stuff together, I’d probably get it even if it were expensive. But no way will I hunt them all down on multiple, international releases.

        • They are both cash grabs, but one is convenient and fan-pleasing, and one isn’t. If they had put out some kind of “extra-special edition”, four-disc set with all the bonus stuff together, I’d probably buy even if it were expensive. But no way am I going to hunt them all down on multiple, international releases.

  17. With respect, this problem isn’t new. Ever looked into what was required to get the complete TRON:Legacy soundtrack? Roughly similar cost and very similar geographic issues. And that was simply for a stupid *soundtrack*.