Back in February of this year, Lionsgate Home Entertainment announced they’d reached an agreement to distribute the Miramax library left orphaned after the Weinstein brothers’ split with Disney. At the time, it seemed all anyone wanted to know was when they’d release Pulp Fiction on Blu-ray. Earlier today, the studio announced that both Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown will arrive in high-def on October 4.
In Internet terms, five months is an eternity. So naturally, a lot of film geeks are greeting the news with an exasperated “Finally!” But I say kudos to Lionsgate for taking the time to get this releases right. Both discs will feature new 1080p transfers personally supervised by Quentin Tarantino his-own-self and a handful of new extras in addition to those ported over from the previous DVD releases. If Lionsgate had rushed to make these their first two Miramax releases, we’d likely be complaining about how terrible they are.
Lionsgate is something of a strange studio by Hollywood standards. It’s not big enough to be considered a major studio but it’s considerably bigger than most other independents. In theatrical terms, they’re known primarily for two things: an extremely profitable relationship with Tyler Perry and the allegedly concluded Saw franchise. A surprise Best Picture Oscar in 2004 won them some prestige but to most people, they’re still better known for Crank than Crash.
As has been widely reported, sales of deep catalog Blu-ray titles are down considerably. Understandably, major studios are therefore being cautious about their catalog releases, giving special attention to only a few sure things and cursory treatment to titles they’re not 100% sure about. From their standpoint, it makes more sense to concentrate on moving units of new releases on BD than to trying to convince customers to pick up an older title for the second, third or fourth time.
Lionsgate doesn’t have that luxury. They’re a young company working with relatively low budgets. They only have a handful of new releases they can release each year, in addition to television properties like Mad Men. To keep their home entertainment division thriving, they have no choice but to dig into their library.
Lionsgate has a somewhat spotty track record on Blu-ray, although that hardly makes them unique. There isn’t a studio out there with a flawless slate of high-def releases. Even Criterion has had to settle for a field goal instead of a touchdown on occasion. Early in 2010, the studio released several titles as part of the StudioCanal Collection including some previously released by Criterion. Some, like Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt, were quite good. But their version of Akira Kurosawa’s Ran was more than a little disappointing and if there’s anything that boils the blood of a film fanatic, it’s screwing up a Kurosawa release.
However, the studio turned a corner later in 2010 with their spectacular Blu-ray edition of Apocalypse Now. This set proved the company’s commitment to giving prestige treatment to high-profile catalog titles. Apocalypse Now was one of the first releases under Lionsgate’s distribution arrangement with Francis Ford Coppola’s Zoetrope Corp. The studio is currently prepping The Conversation for BD and I eagerly await the results.
The Miramax deal gives Lionsgate access to hundreds of films. They’ve already done a fine job on such titles as Amelie and the Scream franchise. In addition to the Tarantino films, Lionsgate will be releasing The Cider House Rules, Cinema Paradiso, Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind, and Good Will Hunting in the weeks and months to come. If these were still in Disney’s hands, I doubt they’d even be a blip on their radar.
The worst thing Lionsgate could do with the Miramax library is simply dump everything on Blu-ray in one fell swoop. My assumption is that they’re taking their time on prestige titles like The English Patient and Shakespeare In Love to make sure they’re done right. Odds are favorable that Lionsgate will eventually even release Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair on Blu-ray and I wouldn’t be surprised if the results are spectacular. When it comes to getting your favorite movies on Blu-ray, patience is a virtue. Unfortunately, the Internet wasn’t designed to reward patience.