February 27, 2012
Hollywood’s Retro-Fueled Nostalgia Trip
Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, which just won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, tells the story of a young artist who finds himself entranced by the romanticized atmosphere of France in the early 20th century. I can’t think of a better microcosm for Hollywood in the past year.
Let’s begin with last night’s Academy Awards ceremony, which in addition to Allen’s award bestowed 10 trophies upon two films built around French silent films.
Voters swooned around The Artist, a French film from a creative team previously best known in America for a pair of James Bond spoofs (among those who knew them at all, that is). Jean Dujardin, a superstar in his native land, plays a silent film star who finds himself unable to adapt to the advent of talkies. Does its win for Best Picture constitute a vote of protest from Hollywood in the face of its own struggles to adapt to an evolving medium? In this case, of course, it’s the plethora of new filmmaking technologies that seem to have democratized the industry, putting less emphasis on the traditional movie star and forcing studios to turn to new gimmicks such as 3D. And that’s not to mention the evolving home entertainment sphere, with the struggle between Blu-ray and digital delivery as the future platform of choice for the theatrical aftermarket.
In embracing the past, the Academy chose a silent movie for the first time since Wings was given the top prize at the inaugural ceremony in 1929. (Coincidentally, Wings was recently released on DVD and Blu-ray for the first time by Paramount.) It’s also the first Best Picture winner to be produced in the classic 4:3 ratio since 1955’s Marty. If not for Schindler’s List in 1993, it would be the first predominantly black-and-white film to win since 1960’s The Apartment. Take that, modern cinema!
On the other end of the scale is Hugo, which celebrates the past with thoroughly modern production values and dazzling use of the 3D form. Martin Scorsese paints a loving tribute to the spirit of artistry found in early silent films, particularly those of French film pioneer Georges Méliès. To celebrate how much cinema has evolved since those early days, Scorsese even converted some of Méliès’ most famous scenes into 3D. Take that, classic cinema!
What Scorsese’s film glosses over is how Méliès was ruined by rampant piracy and his own inability to adapt to the emerging business models of his new industry, which came to be dominated by Thomas Edison and his Machiavellian alliances to control most distribution channels. Instead, the film blames a changing cultural climate following World War I for Méliès’ downfall, as audiences supposedly turned their backs on anything “fun.”
Hopefully, modern Hollywood will not be so similarly oblivious to its own shortfalls.
But, it seems, in these cynical times, Hollywood is pining for a return to a simpler era of creative achievement unburdened by commercialism, when art for art’s sake was enough of an accomplishment. After all, it’s a lot easier to blame the audience when things don’t work out.
Hugo and The Artist haven’t exactly scored at the box office, but that doesn’t mean nostalgia doesn’t sell. Of the top 12 films of 2011, 10 were sequels and two were based on comic books. And both of those, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, are entries in the Marvel Films series that tie into the upcoming The Avengers.
Even looking at the top 25, most have some sort of nostalgic kick to them. One of the central themes of Bridesmaids (No. 14), for example, deals with how friends can find themselves drifting apart despite trying to hold onto what made that friendship work to begin with. And Super 8 (No. 21) is just an homage to Spielberg films of the 1970s and 1980s, with its own subplots of characters having to let go of the past.
And let’s not overlook The Muppets, which may be the ultimate nostalgia trip, as it reminisces about earlier “Muppet” movies as its characters try to re-create an episode of “The Muppet Show.” (Half the dialogue, it seems, is some variation of “I loved you guys when I was a kid.”)
And therein can be found the dichotomy in which Hollywood finds itself: a gap between artists who don’t want to be judged by an audience that prefers the safety of familiarity in the absence of fresh ideas, with the studios caught in the middle, facing a changing technological landscape that makes it that much harder to monetize their product.
If everyone is living in the past, is anyone looking toward the future?
June 02, 2015
'SpongeBob' Soaks Up Retail Attention
Fans of The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water had plenty of options for retail exclusives when the title hit shelves June 2.
Target offered the Sponge Out of Water Blu-ray combo pack (not 3D) with "Invincibubble" packaging and a removable bubble wand, plus free popcorn and juice at the Target Café.
Best Buy offered the Sponge 2D Blu-ray with a "SpongeBob" beach ball, while Walmart offered the Blu-ray in a gift set with pez dispensers.
Best Buy offered a $10 gift card with the purchase of Sony Pictures' Justified: The Final Season along with any previous season. Target offered the DVD of the final season, as well as DVDs of earlier seasons, with exclusive box art.
Target also offered an exclusive steelbook edition with special artwork of the first season of HBO's True Detective.
Walmart offered early availability of the DVD of Alchemy's Welcome to Me, starring Kristen Wiig, for $12.94. The title won't be widely available until June 16.
May 26, 2015
Retailers Lacking Blu Focus
Slow weeks for new disc releases, such as May 26, give retailers a chance to step back and push older titles, though they also call attention to the short shrift given to new titles that aren't major hits or recipients of wide media coverage.
Other than Universal's Seventh Son, availability of some of the other new titles was spotty at the major retailers. Most of the new titles were available in some format or another, but among the brick-and-mortar stores only Best Buy offered the Blu-ray version for most of the new titles. In fact, Best Buy's weekly ad circular doesn't even list prices for new titles other than the Blu-ray version. The exception this week, strangely, was Lionsgate's Sons of Liberty, which received only a DVD mention in Best Buy's weekly ad.
Likewise, Target shelves had only the DVD version of Sons of Liberty.
Walmart, on the other hand, had only the DVD versions for most of its new releases on shelves, a disappointing trend for the top retailer of physical media. It certainly doesn't help grow the perception of Blu-ray beyond a niche, prestige format if half the potential shopping base is never exposed to the possibility of buying the Blu-ray version. There's a reason Blu-ray enthusiasts will generally steer clear of Walmart unless seeking out a specific exclusive.
Best Buy spent a lot of its ad space promoting preorders, this week focusing on Sony Pictures' Chappie with exclusive content and Paramount's The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water with an exclusive beach ball.
May 19, 2015
Retailers Aim 'Sniper' at Shoppers
Retailers offered a few modest exclusives to lure buyers of Warner's American Sniper on disc upon its release May 19.
Best Buy offered exclusive box art and the exclusive featurette "Bringing the War Home: The Cost of Heroism," available via the CinemaNow digital streaming service.
Target offered an exclusive steelbook case of the Blu-ray combo pack, while Walmart offered a single-DVD edition with special box art and no bonus features, instead of the widely available two-disc DVD special edition, which Walmart has done before on Warner titles. Again, by not offering the widely available edition, some Walmart shoppers might be picking up the DVD without ever realizing there is another version available with bonus material they might want to see at a comparable price.
Walmart's website also included the wrong box art for its exclusive DVD edition.
Target offered Orange Is the New Black: Season Two with an exclusive “Glamour in the Slammer” featurette. Best Buy offered a $10 savings with the disc purchase of both seasons of "Orange Is the New Black."
Best Buy also offered $5 pizza coupons with the purchase of select TV DVD titles, and a buy-one-get-one deal on select Blu-rays offered at $9.99 each.
May 12, 2015
Retailers Stimulate 'Grey' Matter
As Universal's Fifty Shades of Grey entered its first full week, retailers continued to make it their top promotional focus even among the May 12 new releases.
Best Buy offered a steelbook case with the Fifty Shades Blu-ray combo pack, while Target presented a deluxe-edition Blu-ray gift set with 30 minutes of additional bonus content and a journal and pen set. Target also had a Blu-ray combo pack with just the 30-minutes of exclusive extras without the journal.
Walmart had the Fifty Shades combo pack with an exclusive photo book and box art.
May 05, 2015
'Selma' in Shadow of 'Shades'
Walmart had a special deluxe Blu-ray edition of Paramount’s Selma containing an AFI Q&A on a bonus disc. Walmart also offered a Selma standalone Blu-ray (without the DVD that makes it a combo pack elsewhere).
The stores also promoted deals for Universal’s Fifty Shades of Grey in anticipation of the Friday, May 8, release. Best Buy offered a steelbook case with the Blu-ray combo pack, while Target presented a deluxe-edition Blu-ray with 30 minutes of additional bonus content and a journal and pen set.
Walmart has the Fifty Shades combo pack with an exclusive book and box art, though a banner on its Fifty Shades Web page touts the disc release as May 15, one week late (the individual product entries list the correct May 8 release).
April 28, 2015
'Paddington' Goodies Abound
Anchor Bay's Paddington arrived at retail April 28 with plenty of options for exclusive add-ons. Target offered the Blu-ray combo pack of the family film with exclusive lenticular packaging and a Meet Paddington book. Best Buy offered the Blu-ray with a pack-on wristwatch, while Walmart had the Blu-ray as a gift pack with a Paddington plush bear.
Among the other new releases, Target offered an exclusive steelbook case with Paramount's The Gambler.
Best Buy offered a $5 Best Buy gift card with the purchase of Sony Pictures' The Wedding Ringer on DVD or Blu-ray.
Best Buy also offers instant viewing of Universal's Fifty Shades of Grey on CinemaNow with preorder of the Blu-ray steelbook combo pack.
April 21, 2015
'Taken' Leads Slow Week
Fox’s Taken 3 may as well have been the only notable new release as far as the retailers were concerned April 21, which might be why the weekly ad circulars were more focused on selling catalog titles and promoting preorders for future hits.
While Taken 3 didn’t come with any retail exclusives, Best Buy did push its Blu-ray preorder for Warner’s American Sniper by offering exclusive bonus content when the title arrives May 19.
Target is offering a $5 gift card with preorders for Cinderella, The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water and Paddington at Target.com/preorder.
April 14, 2015
New 'Batman' Brings Deals
As is typical for DC Universe animated movie releases, Batman vs. Robin arrived April 14 with several retail exclusives.
However, the pattern usually associated with exclusives surrounding the DC titles changed slightly. First, Warner offered a wide-release version of a Blu-ray gift pack with a character figurine, usually reserved for a Best Buy exclusive. As a result, Best Buy spruced up its version of the gift pack, offering a Digital HD copy of Batman: Under the Red Hood and a digital comic book of Batman #1.
Target offered the Blu-ray combo pack in a steelbook case, while Walmart, which usually offers a DVD special edition of such titles, had no exclusive.
Target also touted preorders for American Sniper at , offering a Blu-ray steelbook case and a guarantee for guests to pay a lower price if the cost drops before the title is released.
April 07, 2015
Preorders Take Throne at Target
In a slow week for new releases, Target emphasized home video preorders of several titles currently in theaters. In fact, the week's new releases were so low key that some Target stores didn't even bother to put them on shelves.
The highest-profile new release was Lionsgate's A Most Violent Year, which did manage a mention in Target's weekly ad circular. However, the title that seemed to get the most push was a limited-edition re-release of the first season of "Game of Thrones," timed in the week leading up to the premiere of the fifth season on HBO. The major difference with the "Thrones" release seems to be that it comes in slimmer, more conventional packagine for a lower price.
The preorders Target plugged in its weekly ad circular were Furious 7, Fifty Shades of Grey and Insurgent. The chain offered a $5 gift card and delivery by mail of the final produce with advanced orders placed at Target.com/preorder.
Best Buy did list a slate of new releases in its ad circular, but devoted most of its space to clearing out older titles. The chain touted free shipping on orders $35 and up. It should be noted that in the past few weeks, Best Buy altered its promotions strategy, and usually lists just the Blu-ray price for a new title with a note stating "Other format available," or not even offering the DVD version in stores at all.