The Bottom Shelf
Monday, 05 August 2013 09:00

The Trouble With Twilight Time

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As The Bits’ resident champion for the release of obscure and forgotten films on DVD, I naturally pay a lot of attention to smaller, independent labels like Shout! Factory, Olive Films, Kino, Synapse and, of course, Criterion. These companies and many others like them are doing important work, taking on projects that the major studios are no longer interested in producing. I support these companies both by writing about their work on this site and, more importantly, by purchasing their products as often as I can. [...]

Twilight Time is exactly the kind of boutique label that I should be excited about. Since its founding in 2011, the company has released a treasure trove of titles on Blu-ray, many of which would not have received this kind of attention otherwise. However, the company has also been the center of controversy among film fans, due primarily to their strict policy of releasing limited editions of 3,000 units, high price and the occasional title that sells out almost immediately. Depending on who you talk to, Twilight Time is either the best or worst thing to happen to Blu-ray since the format’s inception.

Some of these issues are out of Twilight Time’s control. Their licensing deal with the studios restricts them to 3,000 units. The number of titles that have sold out and gone out of print is relatively low and there’s no way of predicting how quickly that will happen. And the sad truth is that if Twilight Time releases a title, that’s because the studio that owns it has no intention of producing a Blu-ray themselves. Virtually all of the studios have lost interest in upgrading their catalog titles to Blu-ray. The format has simply not proven itself to be the cash cow that DVD was in its prime.

However, Twilight Time has effectively created a catch-22 for the Blu-ray industry. If a title doesn’t sell out, the studios take that as proof that there isn’t an audience for it. If you can’t even sell 3,000 copies of an Oscar-winning movie like As Good As It Gets or Philadelphia, why should you continue to invest in this format?

But take a look at the titles that have sold out: Fright Night, Night Of The Living Dead, Christine. These are genre movies and cult favorites. The primary audience for these titles is tech savvy. They’re used to seeking out exclusives and they’re willing to pay a little bit extra to get something they really want. They know Twilight Time exists and they know where they have to go to find their products.christine

But titles like Sleepless In Seattle and Steel Magnolias are mainstream movies. The primary audience for stuff like this doesn’t shop online very often and when they do, they don’t usually venture too far beyond Amazon. They buy movies at Target and Costco. The people who would buy these movies on Blu-ray don’t even realize they’ve been released. If they do decide to check Amazon for As Good As It Gets on Blu-ray, they’ll find it but it’s being sold by a secondary seller at an even more inflated price and that one’s not even out of print yet. Are there 3,000 people out there who would buy Sleepless In Seattle on Blu-ray? Of course there is. But they aren’t going to go out of their way to do it and they aren’t going to pay $30 or more for the privilege.

Of course, frustration over Twilight Time’s policies and pricing would be a lot less if they put a little more effort into the discs themselves. This isn’t an A/V quality issue. Every disc I’ve seen from them has offered a superior presentation of the film itself. But Twilight Time is the first company I’ve seen that seems singularly uninterested in producing extra features. Apart from new booklets and isolated music scores, the company rarely offers up anything new for your buck. Some discs, like Philadelphia, actually provide less content than the previously released DVDs. Traditionally, a “limited edition” suggests that you’re getting something special for the extra money. With Twilight Time, that something special seems to be the mere fact that the movie is on Blu-ray at all. These days, that really isn’t enough.

bodyWhen Twilight Time first started, I felt they had potential to be a real contender. They were releasing some highly sought-after titles that had never been released on DVD before like The Egyptian and The Flim-Flam Man. I feel they’ve strayed from their original mission. Rather than resurrecting forgotten films from the past, they’re now simply taking advantage of studio indifference toward their own libraries. I think it’s a shame that Sony doesn’t see any profit in releasing Body Double on Blu-ray themselves. Since they don’t want it, am I glad that someone else is? Sure. But do I think that someone else like Shout! Factory could do a better job with it than Twilight Time? Probably.

Physical media needs all the help it can get these days, so believe it or not, I’m actually rooting for Twilight Time and I’d like to see them succeed. But as long as they’re offering premium priced limited editions, they need to refocus on unreleased gems and cult favorites like Hard Times and The Driver, not mainstream hits like The Way We Were (which is due out in November). Restricting the release of huge titles like that is bad for movie fans and bad for the Blu-ray industry. They also need to step up their game when it comes to extra content and take steps to curb speculator buying and resale of their discs. With a few tweaks, Twilight Time could be a movie lover’s best friend. But if they continue with business as usual, their name could turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy for catalog titles on Blu-ray.

- Dr. Adam Jahnke


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