Double-Dipping with Dr. Jones (Video View)

May 13, 2008
A thought by James Berardinelli

Beginning this week, I have decided to re-structure the "Video Views" weekly column so it no longer represents a prose catalog of new releases but instead concentrates on one or two hot topics or something interesting associated with a new release. Hopefully, readers will find this more interesting. The other format, while informative and more comprehensive, wasn't a lot of fun to read.

George Lucas is once again pissing off his loyal fans. When it comes to the process of "double dipping" (re-releasing a differently packaged version of a movie), no one has perfected the art better than Lucas. Long-time, Star Wars stalwarts know whereof I speak. The original trilogy was released in pan-and-scan on VHS some time in the mid-'80s. A few years later, it came out in widescreen VHS. Then there were the original laserdiscs, the "last chance to get the originals" versions released shortly before the theatrical openings of the special editions, and the box set which included the special editions. With DVD, Star Wars has already seen two releases and there's at least one more coming. So it's not unreasonable that a true believer could own as many as seven copies of each installment of the original trilogy. How does Lucas do this? By savvy marketing and an understanding how the fan mind works. The obsessive, completist need to have everything assures that any new release, as long as it offers even a crumb of something not previously available, will be successful. (To be fair to Lucas, he's not the only one to do this. Paramount has been similarly milking Star Trek fans.)

Our pal George is at it again, this time with Indiana Jones. This week, the Indy movies are arriving as stand-alone special editions. If you're a fan of Dr. Jones, you may wonder whether you should buy these "new" versions or whether the four-disc box set from a few years ago is good enough. It goes back to the completist question. Lucas is betting that enough Indy fans MUST have it all, so they'll buy the new special editions to complement their existing box set.

So what's different? Not the movies. They are exactly the same transfers that came to DVD a few years ago. So, if you're like me and don't care much about special features, there is no reason whatsoever to even consider these special editions. No deleted scenes, no outtakes. Yes, the title of Raiders of the Lost Ark has been changed to Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, but that was true of the first DVD release as well. (Given Lucas' history of revisionism, perhaps we should be glad that's the only thing he has changed.) The content of disc #4 of the original set is entirely missing. Instead, it has been replaced by a series of featurettes on each movie disc. So, if you want the featurettes, you have to buy the new special editions.

What's curious is Lucas' decision to release the Indy trilogy in standard DVD rather than Blu-Ray. Okay, maybe considering Paramount's HD-DVD flirtation, that wasn't possible within the allotted time window, but what better way to market both high-def discs and the series than by making 1080p versions of the first three films available a week before the fourth opens? Of course, that doesn't fit Lucas' m.o. of milking his properties for all they're worth. This is only the fourth version of the Indy films to be released (VHS, laserdisc, two DVD editions). Why go straight to high-def when there's still a segment of the standard DVD market left to be conquered? Originally, the movies were available only as a package. Now, viewers can get them individually. One might assume that Raiders will outsell the other two by a significant margin.

If you don't already own these movies, by all means go out and buy them. Join the Lucas gravy train. I'm on it, although I will be giving these special editions a pass. I'm happy with my box set and I can wait until the high-def versions arrive. It will be interesting to see what Lucas does in the fall when Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull comes out for home viewing. Does he release it in both Blu-Ray and standard DVD or does he buck the blockbuster trend and go standard DVD only? And if it comes out in Blu-Ray, what about the earlier films?

The problem with this release is that Lucas isn't giving us anything truly new. He's not doing anything for the fans. He's using this as an opportunity to fatten his already-bulging purse and to market the new film. He could have accomplished the same aims with a Blu-Ray release (plus providing a gift to those fans who have adopted the new format), but that's not the direction in which he chose to move. If George Lucas wonders why his name is dragged through the mud in fan circles, all he has to do is look at the price tag associated with loving his films.