Tuesday, September 10, 2013

This Open Letter to Paramount

Dear Paramount,

Let's dispense with pleasantries and get right down to business. You won. It wasn't even a fair fight. In your corner you have Muhammad Ali in an M1 Abrams tank. In my corner I have a sock puppet with a missing eye. We both knew how this was going to end.

Today is the day you released the Star Trek Into Darkness Blu Ray. A while back I was dismayed to learn that you weren't putting all the special features on one release. Instead, you got the bright idea to give different stores different versions, so that each retailer can boast its own set of exclusives. Now, either I buy two or even three copies of the same movie to have all the features, or I choose which features I can live without. It's like Sophie's Choice, except this isn't the Holocaust, it's only a Blue Ray home release, and I'm being incredibly petty.

The point is, I was going to be strong and not buy the movie on principle. I was going to take a stand and show you that I won't tolerate such shenanigans. No IMAX scenes? Commentary that I have to download from iTunes? This would not stand, and I would strike a mighty blow to your pocketbooks, hit you in the bottom line, and fight you on the economic front lines. You would learn the error of attempting to fleece me.

How long did this principled stand last? As long as it took me to drive to the nearest Target.

Like I said, you won. It never up for debate. From the moment I left the theater on opening weekend, you had my money. Star Trek Into Darkness was an amazing and highly enjoyable film. Sure, it has its share of flaws, but how is that different from any other Star Trek movie not Wrath of Khan? I had no problem with the movie. And apparently, I have no problem with your naked cash grab.

You knew this, didn't you? You noted our objections, but that didn't deter you. All you heard were the sounds of cash registers ringing up purchase after purchase. You knew fans were going to complain bitterly and then shove money at you. After all, we're the same people who made the Star Wars Prequels into box office gold, and those movies were awful.

It's not like you didn't have the chance to do right by us, include the commentary on the disk, give us the option to watch the IMAX version, and release a super special edition with all the special features. We would have gladly forked over ALL THE MONEY for that. But no, that's not what you did. You're still going to make money, that's not a question. I just hope you understand what happens next.

This isn't a threat, in case you are wondering. I'm far too busy to make, let alone carry out threats. No, promising to topple corporate giants is a young man's game. I'm simply here to let you know what's happening down the road.

You see, I know why you're doing this. This isn't just about soaking the fans. No, it's about fear. You aren't turning a profit like you once did. Budgets are getting bigger and box-office returns are shrinking. More and more movies fail to be truly profitable, and some are predicting the next few years to be very bad for the movie industry. The home video market isn't what it used to be, either. Some of you are seeing the big picture, and it isn't good.

And then there's the Klingon Warbird in the room. Every year, more and more people turn to piracy to get what they want. Some choose to don eye-patches and intercept trucks on the way to the store, but most pirates don't ever have to leave the house. Thanks to better and better internet infrastructure, it's easier to simply download every movie and bypass such quaint practices as paying for it. Not just movies, all the special features.

These two facts have you scared, which is why you did what you did with Star Trek. You're trying to make a course correction, but you don't see the iceberg dead ahead. (Or black hole, if you'd prefer this to be a space ship metaphor.) Clearly you didn't think your cunning plan all the way through.

My point is that you are only encouraging the pirates. People who would have gladly given you their money will now pirate your movie on principle. How long until the entire movie and all the special features are available for free online? Trick question, they already are. I might still be willing to pay for my media, but I can't speak for everyone.

It's not just about piracy. You have to think about the next movie down the line. After Into Darkness ended, fans were already counting the days until the next installment. Now, this might leave a sour taste in their mouths and make them less excited, less motivated to see it. This lack of enthusiasm coupled with strong competition could spell a mediocre opening weekend. Yes, people are still going to see the next one, but will enough? Will they be willing to shell out extra for 3D?

With better and better home theater setups, including 3D, your movie audience is dwindling, opting to wait for home video. If fewer go see movies in theaters, you won't make nearly as much money on the Blu Ray release. It's hard to justify making multiple versions of a movie no one saw in the first place.

As you can see, this short term gain could have serious long-term consequences. You might not believe it right now, since I apparently couldn't give you my money fast enough. That's a fair point, but my devotion is hardly enough to sustain a franchise. (Otherwise there would be at least 3 Firefly movies.) It's everyone else you need to worry about.

Look, Paramount, I'm not going to cause trouble. You tell me the date of the next Star Trek and I'm there. (I sat through Insurrection and Nemesis and seven years of Voyager - I'm going.) You have my money. I just want to know that I have something to spend my money on. Don't mess this up for me.

Financially yours,

Charles B. French

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