Film Fanatic: Locked in the vaults

Why are the major Hollywood studios treating classic movies so poorly on Blu-ray?

The tail end of 2014 saw the publication of the latest HCC Movie Awards (which can also be found right here) and, as always, the nominations were a mix of the painfully obvious and the fiercely contested. So, while the likes of Best Picture Quality, Best Audio Quality and even Best Disc fell into place pretty quickly, others proved much more troublesome – the most obvious example being Best Remaster.

The past year saw the release of a stunning array of restored movies making their bow on Blu-ray – far more than we’ve been able to celebrate in the pages of the magazine itself. Heck, if I had my way there would have been at least another ten or more nominations in that category.

However, with maybe one or two exceptions, none of them would have been for a hi-def platter put out by any of the major US studios. Whereas a few years ago film fans were buzzing with excitement about extensive restoration projects undertaken by the likes of Sony Pictures and Warner Bros. for such classics as Lawrence of Arabia or Gone with the Wind, these days the impetus lies with indie labels such as BFI, Second Sight, Arrow and Eureka.

That’s not to say that the Hollywood studios aren’t still digging into their back catalogues from time to time for Blu-ray releases. The problem is that they have clearly earmarked a number of classic titles they believe deserve such extravagant treatment (and more importantly, will keep selling) and simply return to them over and over again, in some sort of hi-def Groundhog Day. This is why we’ve witnessed Blu-ray re-releases of films like Sleeping Beauty, Ghostbusters, The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind in 2014, while other classics like The Big Sleep, The Philadelphia Story, Roman Holiday and His Girl Friday still languish in the vaults at their respective studios.

The same... but worse

At least in the case of Ghostbusters and The Wizard of Oz the Blu-ray re-releases were partially motivated by the creation of new scans/restorations (4K and 8K respectively) and additional bonus features. Far more irksome were the likes of Sleeping Beauty and Gone with the Wind, which were recently re-released on Blu-ray with exactly the same AV specs as their previous incarnations - only with fewer supplementary extras this time around.

The '75th Anniversary Edition' of Gone with the Wind that arrived in the UK is particularly egregious, serving up the same film disc that appeared in the original 2009 Blu-ray, but ditching the hours of extras that featured on the old bonus disc and replacing them with two new featurettes that can barely muster a combined running time of 40 minutes. Importers should note that the all-region US version released back in September includes both bonus platters.

This is why it’s vital that we continue to support the efforts that indie labels are making when it comes to licensing back catalogue titles for release on Blu-ray – and why it’s even more important that we do all we can to encourage the major distributors to open their lockers to these smaller companies. After all, if they aren’t prepared to do anything with all of those wonderful movies on Blu-ray, what’s the harm in licensing them to companies that will?