It Comes in Peace

More red than blue, ironicallyAs you may have heard, Sony has announced that Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” will be reissued in a deluxe special edition in November — on standard DVD, and in a Blu-ray version.

Naturally, this is being interpreted as a format endorsement from the filmmaker, who has yet to comment on the whole red-versus-blue deal.

Well, except for the thing in January when Universal was forced to publicly recant its announcement that “Jaws”, “Duel” and “Jurassic Park” would be coming to HD DVD.

Here’s the key question, for me: If Spielberg’s picking a side, why would he come out and “endorse” Blu-ray, when so much of his films are tied up with Universal?

The studio no longer holds the home-video rights to Spielberg’s DreamWorks films, which are now distributed by the format-neutral Paramount, but Universal still owns the “Jurassic Park” films and a number of Amblin productions, including the very profitable “Back to the Future” trilogy.

And HD DVD is struggling. Every poll that gives it the edge in the format war does so by leaving out a key factor that would tip the scales in Blu-ray’s favor; there are rumblings that the Weinstein Group, one of only two remaining HD DVD-exclusive studios, will go format-neutral when “Death Proof” and “Planet Terror” come to video later this year. And the same rumblings persist about Universal, though I think that’s more to do with wishful thinking on the part of consumers who really don’t want to have to buy two high-def players.

Given all of this, my feeling is that the release of “Close Encounters” has absolutely nothing to do with Spielberg picking a side, and everything to do with plausible deniability; he wants to see whether the high-def market is strong enough for his films to sell in large numbers, and this film — owned by Sony and therefore technically less in his control — gives him the opportunity to dip a toe in the waters.

If it sells well, Spielberg will give the nod to let his other titles start trickling out at other studios — including Universal, which will inevitably release them in HD DVD editions. If Universal really is considering a format-neutral move, here’s hoping it happens by then, so everyone can get the pristine edition of “Jaws” they deserve.

One thought on “It Comes in Peace”

  1. Spielberg’s actions in this case have nothing to do with his feelings for Blu-ray or HD DVD, and have everything to do with his feelings for Universal. He agreed to participate in a DVD re-release of Close Encounters for Columbia, and when they told him they also wanted to put out a Blu-ray, he said “Sure, whatever”. That hardly constitutes an endorsement of the format over its competition.

    As far as the format war goes, Blu-ray is outselling HD DVD by only an infintessimal margin. Both formats combined make up far less than 1% of the DVD market, and neither has turned a profit for their respective companies. The Blu-ray Disc Association is spending money hand over fist (advertising, locking down retailer shelf space, throwing lavish Las Vegas parties for supposedly “objective” web sites that constantly promote their format — and hiring the editors of said publications to write for the official HollywoodInHighDef BD promotional site without disclosing that fact in their own editorials) to maintain the perception of “winning”. At the present time, all that has gained them are bragging rights. Once one format or the other actually makes a dime, then we’ll see how things stand.

    This format war is going to last a long, long time. In the meantime, by holding out against buying either format, all you’re doing is depriving yourself of all the good High Definition content available on both.

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