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Proceed to Check-Out- The Proliferation and Primacy of DVD Content

Proceed to Check-Out- The Proliferation and Primacy of DVD Content

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: Journal of Undergraduate Research on Jul 08, 2009
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05/11/2014

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FILM, THEATRE, AND TELEVISION
Proceed to Check-Out: TheProliferation and Primacy of DVDContent
Daniel Bulger
O
n January 21, 1968 Disney telecast a special event from its Anaheim-based theme park,Disneyland, to viewers across the nation. Marcia Miner, official ambassador of Mickey-dom,hosted the program, called “Disneyland from The Pirates of the Caribbean to The World of Tomorrow,” an emporium of Walt’s latest Imagineering, with behind-the-scenes looks at thepainstaking realization of these two “revolutionary” theme park attractions. Essentially a videobrochure (or inflated advertisement), combined, in Disney’s indelible manner, with an air of newsworthiness sustained by documentary-style presentation, the program represents an earlyeffort at media convergence: the culling of team Disney—its films, merchandise, theme parks,etc.—within a television broadcast, traverses the media landscape in “one giant leap,” in thespirit of the Space Age fervency offered to TV audiences by Neil Armstrong the following year.Culture, nevertheless, extirpated the natural macro-universe in favor of a silicon micro versionfewer than two decades later; yet Disney today seems vindicated, as the Age of Informationcollides its media together with as much frequency as the prolific matter/antimatter pairs of aSpace Age—an apt image for the evolving concept of media convergence.“Convergence” has been a watchword in media camps for many years now, though itspractical success, as such theorists as Anna Everett and John T. Caldwell have argued, has beenmarginal at best. However, the ever-emerging “new media” sectors—including the web, wirelessperipherals, blogs, DVD, video games—have inspired fresh convergence ventures attempting tosynergize these diverse platforms into entertaining and profitable forms. As a result, the notion of convergence continues to be interwoven with the ideal of a dawning “media future.” I thereforeuse “convergence” in this paper as a term for the imbrication of new media in today’sconglomerate-dominated system. However, I am also mindful that it is an industry-inventedterm—a euphemism for the oligopoly and hyperbole of the medium-bending capability of suchmedia.Despite the shortcomings of some of the industry’s recent efforts (especially “crossover”TV programming – see John T. Caldwell’s article cited below), one new media format inparticular, the DVD, has begun to show success on the frontiers of convergence, especially infusing itself with the web. The Disney example, for instance, was not procured through tediousbrowsing through television archives. Instead, Disney resuscitated the featurette as added content
 
on its December 2004 “2-Disc Collector’s Edition” release of 
Pirates of the Caribbean: TheCurse of the Black Pearl
. The film, based on an amusement ride (a phenomenon of aesthetic andeven philosophical proportions itself), entertains many of new media’s incarnations over its twodisks. This particular morsel from the sixties offers a surreal indication of the power of convergence media: amusement park rides, telecasts (from then or now), interactive web-basedmenu systems, and a digital video presentation. And the DVD manages to integrate—almostseamlessly—this array of content.The proliferation of DVD content, in particular, displays the attempts of mediaconglomerates to develop DVD as an interactive and convergence-minded home viewingexperience. Utilizing both “environmental” and “economic” convergence, the DVD mediumentices the viewer to “check out” various features and extras over the breadth of a disk, and thenencourages the viewer to proceed to “check-out” (i.e., purchase) with various brand-relatedmerchandise in tow. Hence, DVD content has emerged as a commodification of a film text—anoutlet for brand cultivation—under the aegis of interactivity and convergence. For today’s mostpopular home viewing medium, this strikes some theoretical chords that I wish to examine in thispaper.I will begin by underscoring the interactivity of DVD disks by examining the praxes of programming and content; I will then examine the increasing trend of the “PC Friendly” DVD,which demonstrates the potential clout of DVDs in the e-commerce sector. It is, furthermore, myconviction that it is ultimately important to keep sight of the movies—that is, to remember thatthere are film texts among the many-layered converge-agents of DVDs, especially as the filmsthemselves are pushed to the periphery by incessant extras and bulging multi-disk epics. DVDcontent today is often colliding rather than converging with film texts, which calls scholars toanalytical diligence and draws attention to the cataclysmic user-text shift in home viewing. In thewords of Charmaine Gravning, product manager for Windows at Microsoft Corporation: “Goneare the days when you view a movie only once or twice. There’s always something new to check out” (NAPSA).For the major home distribution companies, some of whom hazarded significant capitalon a young and untested medium, the reception of DVD has been a godsend. After a contentiousnascence, the DVD gamble has paid off, to the tune of unrivaled sales for both software (DVDsthemselves) and hardware (DVD players). DVD-video (a.k.a. digital video disk, digital versatiledisk, but now an entity all to its own) was an impressive upgrade from the minimal VideoCDformat, which allowed only seventy-four real-time minutes of play (hardly ideal for the 90-minute threshold sometimes imposed on feature films). DVD converted time into capacity,following CD’s 640MB memory, cramming 1’s and 0’s into microscopic spirals with moreproximity and depth than CD and then adding a second layer, so that DVD disks hold up to 8.5gigabytes of information (Lake G: 7). High-Definition formats, which will be on the marketsoon, exceed even that figure: HD-DVD, which presently has the blessing of the DVD Forum(an industry-instigated effort to standardize DVD technology), holds up to 30GB; Blu-Ray,Disney and Sony’s favored child, holds up to 50GB (“Digital Video Disk”).DVD is a compression format, sometimes called “lossy,” since some of the picture andsound information must be sacrificed to accommodate a 135-minute film on one disk. Thefollowing, though, is an advantage of compression: where picture and sound terminate, spaceoften remains (Lake G: 7). The DVD is roomy enough to hold supplementary content. Far frombeing wasteful and unresourceful, the motion picture industry sought to augment the home
 
viewing experience and attract sales—advantageously, one might add—by inventing a dictumthat has evolved to deluging proportions today: volume equals content.Extra content, though, is not without precedent on older home-video formats. Disneypatrons will recall the “special presentation” or “making-of” segment that followed several of itshigh-profile cartoon musicals in their 1990s releases. Likewise, in each re-released “SpecialEdition”
Star Wars
on VHS, the feature was preceded by a brief behind-the-scenes program withfootage from the original filming and commentary on the 20-year face-lift of the special edition.These are only two of the many examples readily produced in correspondence with VHSfeatures.The direct lineage of DVD content, however, hails from its quasi-digital forerunner,Laser Disk. Capable of secondary, even tertiary, audio tracks, the Laser Disk formatrevolutionized the first “Special Editions” as we know them today, utilizing unused space byoffering an optional commentary track to run simultaneously with a given film. Voyager’s“Criterion Collection” pioneered the practice on its 1986 release of 
Citizen Kane
withcommentary by film historian Ron Haver. And at its apex, Laser Disk Special Editions and BoxSets were not radically different from today’s normal DVD releases. Tim Burton’s “Collector’sEdition” of 
 Nightmare before Christmas
, for instance, features a panorama of content (behind-the-scenes footage, production stills, etc.), the full appraisal of which requires hours of viewingbeyond the film itself.Naturally, the emergence of DVD content is impossible without a “text,” the film itself,as an ontological cornerstone. DVD content is mostly designed and published by a post-production team, though development today is sometimes concurrent with the production of afeature (and its release, as in the case of Peter Jackson’s
King Kong
and his
Production Diaries
DVD, is even known to precede that of its text), which further confuses that relationship.However, “content autonomy,” in a motion picture sense, will never truly exist, since, if DVDcontent is produced sans texts, it will no longer represent a
 filmic
form. This is not to say that
within
the medium itself, content, though indebted to its text, cannot take precedence. The newsmedia, for instance, which savors DVD interactivity, seems to subscribe to the new primacy of content: DVD reviews, common now across news outlets, often cite content volume as well asthe post-
auteur 
lease to “become the director” and other such film manipulations as judgmentson DVD quality. Content as a selling point is logical from a company source perspective, too,since sheer volume is what distinguishes “regular editions” from their pricier “special edition”and “box set” counterparts.The function of DVD content as it relates to its text also deserves some brief words.Content can both
immerse
the viewer in the film text and act in the role of 
anthologizer 
. TheCriterion Collection in particular has defined the standards of the latter. Complementing a filmwith historical and expository material, Criterion DVDs formulate an anthology of the film(much as critics and historians have done all along), thereby carrying DVDs from the realm of entertainment into that of historicity. It is not my claim that Criterion’s efforts disparage filmtexts or that DVD releases from other distribution companies do not perform a function similarto that of the anthology (since non-Criterion DVDs comprise my examples). However, I amarguing that DVD extras will begin to veer away from this “educational” model as contentbecomes a commodity—a tool that media conglomerates will exploit to further promote theirbrand.Today, content on a DVD disk is normal and expected, even on regular-release films.Hardly a film is released without menu options and a theatrical trailer or two, even from the

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