Sunday, July 17, 2016

To Upgrade Or Not Upgrade?

If you have any interest in movies, books, or music, chances are you've bought the same film/book/album many times in different formats. If you are old enough, you've probably bought an album on vinyl...then 8-track tape...then cassette tape...then CD...and finally vinyl again, with that format coming back into vogue. There are a number of movies that I taped off of broadcast TV when I was a teenager, and then purchased on VHS...then DVD...and now Blu-ray.

The reason I bring this up is that in the last few weeks there have been release announcements for several classic monster movies that will be making their debut on Region A Blu-ray. Universal has decided to finally put out their impressive Hammer Films set in a Blu-ray format, and Mill Creek Entertainment is going to release four different Columbia Hammer titles in HD. Universal is also going to release two Blu-ray "Legacy" Classic Monster collections--one for the Frankenstein movies and one for the Wolf Man pictures.

Most monster movie fans have all these titles already on DVD--so once again the question must be asked: Upgrade or not upgrade? The Universal Hammer titles, and the Columbia Hammer titles that Mill Creek are handling, look great on DVD. There has been some fanboy sniping about the aspect ratio of the Universal Hammer DVDs, but for the most part these titles are some of the best Hammer product you can get on home video.

One of the things that makes Hammer movies so noteworthy is their atmospheric widescreen color cinematography. If the Universal and Columbia titles look exemplary on DVD, one would assume they would look even better on Blu-ray. There's no guarantee of that, of course--just go to any Hammer-themed group on any social media site, start a discussion on Hammer Blu-rays, and wait and see what the result will be (chances are you'll have started the internet equivalent of World War III). The Universal and Mill Creek sets will have no extras, but the very thought of seeing so many Hammer titles in majestic-appearing Blu-ray has a lot of movie geeks very excited.

As for the Universal Classic Monster Legacy sets--it's basically the same idea as what Universal did with the Classic Monster Legacy DVD sets, with one important factor...there's going to be some overlap between the two. In other words, the Frankenstein and Wolf Man sets will have some of the same titles. And let's not forget the Universal Monster Collection Blu-ray set which came out not too long ago--that has some of the titles the Legacy Blu-ray collections will have.

What that means is if you are a major Universal monster fan, and you want all the Universal monster Blu-ray titles, you are going to be buying the same product over and over again. A major Universal monster fan more than likely already has the Universal Monster Collection Blu-ray set. Now let's say this fan wants to get THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN and THE WEREWOLF OF LONDON on Blu-ray. That means he/she is going to buy both Legacy Blu-ray sets, along with the first Universal monster Blu-ray set...and all three sets have some overlap.

I've written blogs before on the head-scratching release policies practiced by Universal. Why they would put two monster Blu-ray sets out, at the same time, and aimed at the same audience, when these sets have some of the same movies, makes no sense. The Legacy Blu-ray sets are going to have a lot of extras...but they're going to be the same extras that have been included over and over again on the many Universal monster DVD re-issues.

I still don't even have the first Universal monsters Blu-ray set. I've bought the classic Universal monster movie titles so many times, that I think I just reached a point where I didn't want to get them again. Yes, I'm well aware that many have said the first Universal monster Blu-ray set looks fantastic--but black & white full frame movies are titles I almost never upgrade to Blu-ray. I mean...color and widescreen in HD is one thing, but how much better can black & white full frame really look?

Usually if I do upgrade on a black & white full frame title it is because of Criterion. I have the Criterion Blu-ray versions of IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, MY DARLING CLEMENTINE, and a few others. Criterion always puts out amazing looking product, but they also provide a truckload of extras as well--and many times it is the extras that will cause me to re-buy a certain title. My latest Criterion Blu-ray acquisition is CARNIVAL OF SOULS, and I'll be writing a post on that soon (needless to say, it was worth getting). When it comes to silent films, I have no problem re-buying or upgrading if the print is way better than what is available. (For all those people who own those lousy cheap public domain DVD copies of various legendary silent features, all I can say is, you get what you pay for.)

When you own as many DVDs as I do, there's no way I can upgrade on everything. You have to pick and choose, and decide what titles are more important to you. The Hammer movies have a special place in my heart, so I'll definitely upgrade on those. The Universal Monster movies have a place in my heart as well--but I've learned over the years that Universal re-issues those titles over and over again, so it's best for me to wait a while and see what deals I can get on them.

One reason to start buying the Universal monster movies on Blu-ray is the fact that Universal's DVD sets cram as much stuff on one side of a disc as possible. I've read several stories from consumers on the internet detailing numerous playback issues with these special set discs--and I myself have had a few issues with them. I've got Universal DVD sets representing Gary Cooper, Cecil B. DeMille, Carole Lombard, Abbott & Costello, etc. If Universal starts putting all these out on Blu-ray, am I going to start buying them? Heck no. (If Universal puts out their James Stewart Western collection on Blu-ray, yeah, I'd re-buy that.) But I do worry that someday all these DVDs might not work at all.

Of course finances play a large part in what one upgrades as well. Why re-buy something when there are new titles coming out that need to be purchased? If I happen to find a Blu-ray of a title I only have on DVD real cheap, and it's a movie I particularly like, I'll probably get it. But I always ask myself, "Do I really need to have this on Blu-ray?" The movie's sound plays a part as well--new 5.1 remixes are always welcome, especially on war or action films.

I sometimes feel that the constant upgrades in home video technology--video tape, DVD, Blu-ray, and now 4K--are just a way to get consumers to buy everything over and over again. I know some people who swear that they can't tell the difference between DVD and Blu-ray, or HD TV and regular broadcast TV--and there are times I wish I was like those poor souls, that way I wouldn't spend so much of my hard-earned money on the same product over and over again. And think about this: I do not own a region free Blu-ray player--good grief, if I did, I'd really be a charity case. What movies have you bought over and over again? And what makes you upgrade on a certain title?

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