Mourning the loss of DVD booklets

Feature Ryan Lambie 7 Feb 2013 - 07:57

As well as providing extra information about a film's production, DVD booklets were a great extra for film fans, Ryan argues...

In early January, several pieces of news appeared to signal the beginning of the end for physical media. First, there was the announcement that more than £1bn had been spent on digital goods - movies, games, books - in 2012. At the same time, the sales of physical stuff, whether on disc or printed on bits of paper, had plummeted by an estimated 17.6 per cent.

These statistics coincided with the news that two of the UK's major entertainment outlets - HMV and Blockbuster - were going into administration, putting thousands of jobs at risk and leaving gaping holes in highs streets up and down the country. When it comes to the consumption of entertainment, it seems, we're voting with our wallets - gradually, more and more of us are choosing to download or stream things onto a hard drive rather than place them on our shelves.

In many ways, the advantages of streaming movies is obvious; as services improve and online libraries expand, more and more titles are available with the press of a button. We no longer have to look at creaking shelves packed full of DVDs or Blu-rays and wonder what we're going to do when the space runs out. We no longer have to look down the back of the sofa to see where that Tango & Cash disc went.

When the final DVD or Blu-ray plops out of a factory somewhere in a few years' time (and it's still a good few years off yet - although its market share's falling, physical media still accounts for three-quarters of the entertainment market), there are several things I'll miss about them. I'll miss the cover artwork, the steel books and special editions. I'll miss being able to lend them to friends, or better still, borrow films I've never seen from friends, and then chat about them afterwards. And in an odd sort of way, I'll miss looking down the back of the sofa for half-remembered action movie discs.

There's another thing I'll miss, which for most people is probably nothing more than a detail: booklets. Now, booklets began to disappear from the inside of DVD boxes several years ago, presumably when the people who make DVDs realised they could save quite a lot of money by not printing them. But for a while, when DVDs were relatively new (late 90s, early 2000s), these booklets enjoyed a brief golden age.

Sanctuary's 2002 DVD issue of David Cronenberg's The Dead Zone, for example, contains a fabulous little 24-page book, which provides all sorts of background information about the film. There's  an essay about its writing and production, reproductions of international posters, a separate article on Cronenberg's career, and a reproduction of several pages from Jeffrey Boam's script, which show what a deleted scene might have looked like.

Perhaps the finest DVD booklet - at least, that I've encountered - came with the special edition release of Fight Club in 2000. Titled 'How to start a fight', the book is full of interviews the film's producers, makers and author Chuck Palahniuk, which are interspersed with excerpts from reviews. Hilariously - and fittingly, for Fight Club's anarchic themes - glowing reviews of the movie sit alongside more scornful assessments. ("It is an inadmissable assault on personal decency," raged the London Evening Standard's Alexander Walker.)

Admittedly, not all DVD booklets were as smartly put together or inspiring as the two mentioned above. Some were little more than a folded sheet of paper with a scene listing inside, or maybe an advert for Pluto Nash. But the best of them were like miniature time capsules - a chunk of further reading which complemented the extras on the disc and the feature itself. For a fan of the films in question, they made the purchase seem extra special, as though the people who produced it were as interested in movies as you were.

The rising popularity and competition from rental and streaming video services had briefly led me to hope that DVD booklets might make a comeback - that companies might try to seduce consumers back into buying physical media by reintroducing booklets and other extras with their discs. Although this still happens on occasion - the special edition of the recently released anime Journey To Agartha comes with a miniature artbook, for example - they're still relatively unusual these days.

Interestingly, videogame publishers still attempt to entice consumers with special edition versions of games, often packaged with all sorts of books, toys, soundtrack CDs and other trinkets. While downloading videogames is undoubtedly the future, there still appears to be a ready market for collector's edition boxes - especially if the popularity of the recently-released RPG Ni No Kuni's anything to go by.

There's still a tiny, tiny chance, then, that the distributors of movies will adopt a similar tactic, and start putting booklets inside DVD or Blu-ray boxes again. Film fans may be turning to downloads as a quick and clutter-free means of consuming movies, but there will, I'd argue, remain a desire to collect and own truly classic films that we plan to watch again and again.

Great films deserve special treatment, and the better examples of DVD booklets provided the perfect supplement. 

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Most booklets were p*** poor to be fair. Being slightly OCD, I was p***** off when the Bluray packaging shaved a few mm off the case as opposed to the DVD. Perhaps releases on disc go the way of vinyl and the 'super deluxe edition' will become more commonplace for Bluray releases. Only drawback, there probably won't be much change from £100. Never mind retailers, what the **** are public libraries going to do? Danny Baker will be presenting on BBC4 about the magic of the DVD this time next year.

The Red Dwarf DVDs are easily the best sets around. Brilliant special features, brilliant DVD menus and formats, and fantastic, incredibly informative DVD booklets. These are what DVD manufacturers should aspire to.

Criterion Collection DVD/Blu Rays usually have fantastic booklets with them. They typically contain several essays by film scholars or interviews with key personnel involved with the movie. But, unfortunately, they are becoming too rare.

I got turned off CDs when they stopped providing interesting booklets. Hopefully DVDs won't go the same way because I adore my DVD/BR collection.

I remember the Usual Suspects having a nice booklet about how Christopher McQuarrie came to write the script and where all his ideas came from and how the cast and the director improved on those ideas. The Special Features were awesome as well with interviews from the cast and crew about what happened during the filming. What I loved about these interviews was that everyone was really honest about their experience of the filming process: Stephen Baldwin and Kevin Pollak hated each other, no one understood why Benicio Del Toro kept mumbling his lines, there was a general lack of confidence from some members of the main cast felt Bryan Singer was inexperienced and Gabriel Byrne getting upset over the fact that he felt he was misled on how the film was going to end.

It's ok - BD Live provides a lot of this content online now.....oh wait.

One thing I loved about the booklets was it gave you somethig to enjoy instantly, before the DVD was anywhere near the player.
Say you received half a dozen DVDs for Christmas, you couldn't instantly put them on when you should be socialising, but you could whip out the leaflet and have a good quick read. Nowadays there's no point taking the plastic off until you actually plan to watch it.

Hell, at least put a poster reproduction and a chapter list, something at least.

Thankfully there are some specialist labels over here - Arrow, Eureka, the BFI - who also do a great job with their DVD/Blu-ray booklets.

Arrow Video got really nice ones. And posters as well! But most times there is none, especially in DVDs. Gave up hope years ago. Even Limited Editions don't have some (e.g. the all in all very brilliant release of "Jaws" on BluRay). I started to use 2-Disc-BluRay-Boxes and pack an extra DVD with a nice additional film in it. For example the Ghostbusters 2 DVD in the BluRay of the first one or the Original "Let The Right One In" into the "Let Me In" - Remake. Or an old Michael Caine badass-classic like "Get Carter" for the "Harry Brown" Blu. Stallone's Judge Dredd joins the Demolition Man Blu until I get the new "Dredd" here in Germany... ;)

HMV often do exclusives with a mini edition of Little White Lies Magazine with the DvD and or Blu-Ray. I got Attack The Block, Shame and Let The Right One In with it. I heard rumours of few more like it but have yet to find them.

Well said!! I couldn't agree more. I have hundreds of DVDs, and the Red Dwarf ones are far and away the best in terms of special features, menus etc.

I don't see how digital media will ever replace the Blu-ray within the next few years. A full, uncompressed Blu-ray for a movie like Avatar, is 50 gb. Who the heck is going to download 50gb for one movie? Most interent providers these days have limits anyway....And, if you're like me, I don't have any desire to download a compressed 2 or 3 gb sub-par HD download of a gorgeous looking movie like that! For the true videophile, that would never due!
I believe physical media will always have a place; I honestly can't see it completely disappearing any time soon.

I'm glad you're bringing this up. If physical media disappear, the streaming service that is going to get my money is the one that includes special features and commentaries with their movies. I always thought Netflix should offer a premium membership of a few dollars more per month for access to those extra goodies that currently they neglect.

I stopped buying DVDS when I realised I could get the same content from download ie when things like the books disappeared. Shame

'The Living Dead in Manchester Morgue' had a fab book. Better than the DVD in fact.

Having switched from DVD to Bluray, it's the general quality of the packaging that you got with DVDs when they first came out that I'm missing most with Bluray. No booklets for the vast majority of Bluray releases, and the flimsyness of the boxes in general is painfully obvious. Some of the cases (especially noticable with some of my multi-region BDs from the US) even remove some of the plastic from the almost paper thin case by having this star shape cut out of the box to reduce the plastic content even more. I've always really liked steel cases, but wouldn't pay extra for them. I'm also still a fan of actual media over just a download. I want to have a physical item to hold, look at, put on a shelf and so on. I've gone digital for magazines and some books, but won't take the risk with movies.

the best thing about buying bluray over downloads is when the discs are multi functional, a good example is paranorman, its £14 to download from itunes and you can buy it for £15 or less in store and you get the 3d version 2d version dvd copy and digital copy to play anywhere, downloads offer me nothing when it comes to movies and who wants to watch a movie on a mobile,movies should be seen on big screens.

Amen to that. All this new fangled download business. I don't like it. As long as they sell discs in store then that is where I shall by mine from, it's a question of picture quality.

First World problems, eh?

My family has two DVD booklets, Karate Kid and the Mask of Zorro. I REALLY enjoy them, and didn't realize how loved they were until I read this article! I wish they'd keep them, they really do add so much

Jaysus don't say that the last thing we want is to pay more bloody money to more stuff 7 euro or dollars is enough, it's cheap

More value being stripped from commodities.

But stay in line. That's good, keep that line straight.

I'm going to miss DVD and Bluray extras. Wont be getting them on your itune-online. Here's your movie, go watch it quickly before the broadband runs out they'll say. No need for expensive extras when everyone is plugged into the wireless.

I like to own my movies and games, not lease them over the internet which is essentially what downloading a title is becoming.

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