Overkill Bill

April 29, 2004
A thought by James Berardinelli

When it comes to studio greed, Kill Bill isn't the only example, but it's the most egregious one. Not only did Miramax have the effortery to break the movie into two pieces in an obvious attempt to collect twice as much money, but one look at their DVD plans makes it obvious that they intend to wring every possible penny from this motion picture.

My opinion of director Quentin Tarantino took a nosedive after it became obvious that, instead of defending his fans by standing up to Miramax, he caved like a badly constructed house of cards. Hiding behind the disingenuous claim that the split was "creatively motivated," Tarantino's meek defense of Harvey Weinstein's dismantling of the film is a slap in the face of everyone who pays to see the movie. Tarantino has shown himself to be a toady of the first order.

So, instead of paying $10 to see Kill Bill, viewers must pay $20 (with a six-month wait in between). But what about the DVDs? Sure enough, instead of paying $20 (discounted) for the film, the cost is now doubled to $40. And that's only the beginning. Those two dead Jacksons are only good if you want the bare-bones, movie-only versions. Miramax also plans to release a Kill Bill Volume One Special Edition (with deleted scenes, commentaries, etc.), a Kill Bill Volume Two Special Edition, a two-pack, and a Kill Bill Ultimate Collector's Edition, which will probably be a six-disc package. Now, for the die-hard Kill Bill fan, what should have been a $30 investment ($10 theatrical ticket + $20 DVD) now costs $200 ($20 theatrical + $40 movie-only DVDs + $60 Special Edition DVDs + $80 Collectors Edition).

New Line Cinema is doing something similar with The Lord of the Rings. Since the studio took a huge gamble on the project, most people have cut them a lot of slack, but their DVD strategy with the trilogy deserves criticism. They are bilking fans out of millions of dollars by releasing the theatrical versions of the films several months in advance of the amazing extended editions. Nearly every Lord of the Rings fan (myself included) owns copies of the theatrical version DVDs and the extended editions. If both were released at the same time, most of us would only own the extended editions. New Line knows how hungry we are for the films, so they stagger the releases to maximize profit. And now there's talk of an uber edition of the entire trilogy which will dangle the possibility of deleted scenes (those not re-knitted into the extended editions) as a purchase inducement. Sorry, but I'll pass.

Occasionally, studios do it right. The most recent example is 20th Century Fox's treatment of Master and Commander. There are two flavors available: a movie-only disc and a special edition loaded with extra features. Both were released on the same day, giving the consumer a choice. Master and Commander devotees can spend an extra $10 on the more complete package, getting everything those buying the bare bones version get, plus a lot more. Those wanting a copy of the movie for their collection can obtain what they want for about $20. In an ideal world, this would be the future of DVDs. But how often do good-will and business go hand-in-hand? (Show me a CEO and I'll show you a greedy criminal...)

Of course, there are times when multiple editions are understandable. Consider Das Boot, which is going into a fourth version. The first was a transfer of the original theatrical cut. At the time, no one thought that more footage from the original German mini-series would be incorporated at any time in the future. When that eventually happened, resulting in a Director's Cut, a second version was released. (The third edition featured superior sound and video, but, in terms of content, was identical to the second.) Now, the decision has been made to release the entire mini-series on DVD.

For the record, I will buy the Das Boot mini-series. As for Kill Bill, I'll get the movie-only versions of the films. I'll also consider the massive Collector's Edition if and only if it offers the three-hour cut that Tarantino initially delivered to Miramax. The Kill Bill that I want to see isn't a longer, more lumbering version, but a cleaner, meaner one. So, in an odd turnabout, I would be willing to pay more for less, even though it's what I should have gotten in the first place.

Coming next... Some random impressions of Peter Biskind's controversial Down and Dirty Pictures. Thoughts on local film festivals. What looks promising this summer. And a defense of The Phantom Menace, arguably the most unfairly maligned motion picture of the last decade.