Over in the Trekkie corner of the internet, a storm is brewing. A similar storm is surfacing in the corner of the internet that houses hardcore cinephiles who are fans of the Blu-ray format. And in the intersection of that particular Venn diagram, there’s a proverbial hurricane blowing. At the centre of that storm is Paramount’s bungled and exploitative release of summer sci-fi smash hit Star Trek Into Darkness.
When Bill Hunt, Editor of The Digital Bits, received his review copy of the new Star Trek Blu-ray, he noticed that there were very few extras available. With a bit of digging, it soon became clear that the other features were out there… as retailer exclusives.
Those two horrible words are very familiar to fans of video games, as Simon Brew wrote on Den of Geek regarding the upcoming release of Call of Duty: Ghosts.
Just to give a flavour of what’s out there, if you pre-order Call Of Duty: Ghosts through Game in the UK, you get a free bonus multiplayer map, or a themed weapon camo.
Meanwhile, should you choose Amazon for Call Of Duty: Ghosts, you get an exclusive Into The Deep Theme, and an in-game patch. You won’t, however, get the aforementioned map. In the US, Gamestop offers a weapon camo that you can use in Call Of Duty: Black Ops II, meanwhile. If you don’t buy versions from the respective stores, you don’t get the extra material.
Fortunately for us, films are yet to reach the depths of video game cashing in, but Star Trek Into Darkness is enough to raise the alarm.
The basic Blu-ray release of Star Trek Into Darkness features seven featurettes. It is currently priced on Amazon UK at £14.99. If you’re shelling out that much for a film, you’d think that you were getting the most complete version of the film out there. After all, that was exactly the principle of Blu-ray from the beginning.
If you buy the film from Target (US), you get a few extra featurettes. Best Buy (US) also has a few and Sainsbury’s customers in the UK get some of those extras. Completist fans will have to pay for the film at least three times in order to get hold of all of the extra content available. Deleted scenes aren’t on any version of the disc and… well, the director’s commentary is something different.
In order to access JJ Abrams’s commentary track for Star Trek Into Darkness, you have to use the digital download code provided to acquire the movie from iTunes. If you think this isn’t too much of a problem for some great content, then think again. As Trekcore point out, this isn’t just an audio track. In fact, the iTunes download is a different encoding of the film entirely, with a (surely irritating) shifting aspect ratio to accommodate IMAX footage.
It’s also an enormous 5GB file.
Not content with stealing the contents of your wallet, it seems Paramount also want to steal a considerable portion of your hard drive. Can you imagine how quickly storage would run out if every major film took this approach?
Of course, British film fans aren’t unfamiliar with this kind of thing. If we wanted to listen to Joss Whedon’s commentary for The Avengers last year, we had to import the US Blu-ray at great expense as no UK version of the release contained that feature.
Blu-ray is supposed to be the format for the film fan. It is supposed to contain the best quality version of the feature presentation and all of the special features available. It is aimed squarely at people who want the complete version of the film and not at impulse purchasers in supermarkets.
This is especially true given that, as Empire have rightly said, the casual consumer doesn’t give a rat’s arse about Blu-ray. For them, DVD picture quality is perfectly okay (most modern Blu-ray players upscale DVDs anyway) and extras are just there for the nerds. They do not need to be sold to with exclusive content. The people who want the exclusive content are the people who will buy Blu-ray anyway and certainly don’t want to have to run around various stores to get all of the extras.
If Blu-ray is going to survive as a format, it needs to be treated properly. It’s never going to hit the mainstream unless it becomes the definitive medium of choice for the hardcore fans first. Abusing the medium like Paramount have for Star Trek Into Darkness is only going to send fans in one direction: a direction that is even less favourable for the studios.
Star Trek Into Darkness is already highly ranked in charts of illegally downloaded films. Whilst the special features don’t seem to have surfaced online yet, it’s only a matter of time before they do and the prospect of a complete version of the film for free will almost certainly be enough to lure loyal consumers into the arms of piracy.
By not making it viable for Trek fans to obtain the full array of special features for free, all Paramount have done is ensured that, contrary to their aim, fewer people will buy the Blu-ray of one of the year’s biggest films and far more people will download it for free.
If this is how studios are hoping to preserve the future of physical media, it’s already stone dead.