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The Criterion Collection is a video distribution company selling "important classic and contemporary films" to cinema aficionados. In 1984, Janus Films and the Voyager Company established The Criterion Collection as a privately held company concentrating exclusively upon the North American (US and Canada) home video market. The movies were published in laserdisc format until 1998, then in the DVD and Blu-ray formats, and its most recent business venture is a video-on-demand down-loading service in partnership with The Auteurs.

History

The Criterion Collection company was founded in 1984 by Robert Stein, Aleen Stein, and Joe Medjuck, and later were joined by Roger Smith. In 1985, the Steins, William Becker, and Jonathan B. Turell founded The Voyager Company, to publish educational multimedia CD-ROMs (1989–2000), during which time, The Criterion Collection became a sub-ordinate division of the Voyager Company. In March 1994, Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck GmbH bought 20 percent of Voyager for US$ 6.7 million; the founders each retained a 20 percent owner’s share. In 1997, the Voyager Company was dissolved (Aleen Stein founded the Organa LLC CD-ROM publishing company), and Holtzbrinck Publishers sold the “Voyager” brand name, 42 CD-ROM titles, the Voyager web site, and associated assets, to Learn Technologies Interactive, LLC (LTI). Robert Stein sold 42 Voyager titles to LTI for his Voyager–Criterion company share. The remaining partners, Aleen Stein, William Becker (President) and Jonathan Turell (CEO) owned The Criterion Collection company, which has a business partnership with Janus Films, and had one with Home Vision Entertainment (HVE) until 2005, when Image Entertainment bought HVE.

Janus Films

In 1955, Bryant Haliday and Cyrus Harvey, Jr., founded the Janus Films Inc. company, which they sold in 1966. In the event, William Becker and Saul Turell bought it.

Home Vision Entertainment

In 1986, Charles Benton founded Home Vision Entertainment (HVE), the home video division of Public Media Inc. (PMI), which he founded in 1968. The HVE company sells, advertises, markets, and distributes Criterion Collection DVDs, and sells its own HVE-brand of DVDs (co-produced with Criterion), including The Merchant Ivory Collection, and the Classic Collection, "a joint venture between Home Vision Entertainment and Janus Films". The latter enterprise publishes HVE imprint films, for which Janus Films own the video rights, unavailable from the Criterion Collection; however, Criterion has published Classic Collection fims. In 2005, Image Entertainment bought HVE, thus becoming exclusive distributor of Criterion Collection products.

Contributions and influence

Commercially, The Criterion Collection video company pioneered the correct aspect ratio letterboxing presentation of movies, commentary soundtracks, multi-disc sets, special editions, and definitive versions.

Letterboxing

Letterboxing is the proper widescreen, cinema aspect ratio presentation of a movie on a television set screen. Although initially disliked by some aficionados — it does not fill the entire TV screen — it became the standard videographic presentation of the image framed by the director and the cinematographer. This improvement restored the original aspect ratio, from the cropped (25–50 percent) images fitting the 4:3 aspect ratio of the standard television set. In 1987, The Criterion Collection laserdisc of Blade Runner (1982) proved the seminal home video disc that established the letterbox aspect ratio as the home video presentation standard.

Commentary soundtracks

The Criterion Collection's second catalogue title, King Kong (1933), was the début of the scene-specific audio commentary contained in a discrete analogue channel of the laserdisc. It featured US film historian Ronald Haver reporting about the production, cast, screenplay, production design and special effects. He also is the commentator for the Casablanca (1942), Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941), Singin' in the Rain (1952), and The Wizard of Oz (1939) laserdiscs. Typically, the chapter-indexed commentaries are exclusive to the Criterion releases, and the initial DVD reissues; they became collector’s items when the original-owner studios re-issued titles (with commentary tracks or not) licensed to Criterion.

Special editions

In 1984, The Criterion Collection company opened for laserdisc business with the RKO movies Citizen Kane (1941) and King Kong (1933), pioneering the “special edition” DVD concept, containing bonus materials (trailers, commentaries, documentaries, alternate endings, deleted scenes, et cetera), "a film school in a box", as it were, the success of which established the special edition version in the DVD business. In 2006, taking advantage of current film-transfer and film-restoration technologies, Criterion published improved-image versions, with bonus materials, of early catalogue titles such as Amarcord (1973), Brazil (1985), and Seven Samurai (1954).

Definitive versions

The Criterion Collection released licensed, definitive editions of Citizen Kane (1941), A Hard Day's Night (1964), It's a Wonderful Life (1946), Cat People (1942), Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and Jason and the Argonauts (1963), of which some are out of print, either because the copyright has a new owner, or the copyright holders have published their versions, thus, the Criterion discs became collector’s items.

  • The original release of This Is Spinal Tap (1984) contains bonus materials — a 16mm test-film and two commentaries — not in the MGM DVD and Blu-Ray versions.


  • Midnight Cowboy (1969) contains a commentary track and presents the movie in the original 1.66:1 aspect ratio; later versions are matted 1.85:1, cropping the titles.


  • The laserdisc editions of Dr. No (1962), From Russia with Love (1963), and Goldfinger (1964) have commentaries absent from later laserdisc and DVD editions of the first three James Bond-series movies.


  • Dr. Strangelove (1964) includes an original draft screenplay, and many Cold War pamphlets and films, e.g. the full version of Duck and Cover (1951) film about surviving a nuclear war.


  • Director Barbra Streisand cancelled the publication of The Prince of Tides (1991) laserdisc upon second-thoughts about her comments; the disc was published with a re-edited commentary. The current Sony DVD lacks the Criterion Collection bonus materials.


  • The Fisher King (1991) contains director Terry Gilliam’s commentary, deleted scenes with commentary, trailers, story boards, and costume tests; the current Sony DVD includes only trailers.




  • The Hard-Boiled (1992) DVD contains commentaries by producer Terence Chang, film-maker Roger Avary, and movie reviewer Dave Kehr; an early Woo student-film; eleven Hong Kong film trailers; and a Hong Kong crime cinema essay by David Chute; some of which are in The Killer (1989) laserdisc. Moreover, the Fox Lorber DVD contains the director’s commentary that the Weinstein Company’s 2007 DVD does not.


  • The It's a Wonderful Life (1946) laserdisc contains a commentary by Jeanine Basinger, curator of the Frank Capra archives, not included to the current Paramount DVD.


  • The Lolita (1962) laserdisc contains the Stanley Kubrick-approved alternating-aspect ratio (1.33:1–1.66:1) version; later releases are in 1.66:1 aspect ratio.






  • The Carrie (1976) laserdisc contains commentaries by film historian Laurent Bouzereau (The De Palma Cut) and screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen, it is one two extant commentaries for a Brian De Palma film, unavailable elsewhere; the other is Mission to Mars (2000).


  • The Fox-Lorber (Region 1) and Optimum Releasing (Region 2) versions of Breathless (1960) have a green tinge, which The Criterion Collection removed for its two-disc Region 1 edition containing a restored image approved by director of photography, Raoul Coutard, and interviews with the director, assistant director, actors, the film-maker D. A. Pennebaker, a documentary, and the short film Charlotte et son Jules (1959).


  • The Bad Day at Black Rockmarker (1955) laserdisc contains director John Sturges’s commentary, specific to that version. The 2005 Warner Home Video US DVD contains a commentary by film scholar Dana Polan.


Licenses

Some licensed Criterion Collection titles, such as Rebecca (1940), are commercially unavailable, but are for sale at auction on-line. Titles such as The Silence of the Lambs (1991), RoboCop (1987), Hard-Boiled (1992), The Killer (1989) and Ran (1985), become unavailable when their publishing licenses expire or when Criterion publishes improved versions, such as Citizen Kane (1941), Beauty and the Beast (1946), M (1931), Seven Samurai (1953), and The Wages of Fear (1954). As of August 2009, 87 movies / 23 percent of the 373 titles composing the list of Criterion Collection laserdisc releases, have been released.

The film Charade (1963), was a public domain property for lacking the legally-required copyright notice — usually a “license” to sell low-quality DVD products — yet the Criterion company produced a digitally-cleaned edition under license from Universal Pictures, for the initial edition and for the anamorphic widescreen re-release edition.

Film restoration

Originally, the Criterion company released art, genre, and mainstream movies on laserdisc — Halloween (1978), Ghostbusters (1984), Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992), Armageddon (1998), and The Rock (1996) — yet now mostly sells World cinema, mainstream cinema classics, and critically-successful “obscure” movies. Using the best available source materials, the company produces technologically improved versions, thus, The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), M (1931), and the Children of Paradise (1945) discs contain film-cleaning and film-restoration demonstrations, comparing the restored and un-restored images; however, not every film company approved of the exercise — the Toho Company took exception to the restoration demonstration in Criterion's first DVD release of Seven Samurai (1954); the re-issued version does not contain it.

Formats

Laserdisc and DVD

A Criterion Collection logotype: Blu-ray DVD Criterion label, dates from the first movies released on 16 December 2008.


The Criterion Collection company was a laserdisc pioneer, but a late-arrival to the DVD format, publishing titles about a year after the format became commercially established; the early widescreen DVD editions were letterboxed, like the laserdisc versions, but were not enhanced for 16x9 monitors. The first anamorphic widescreen release was Insomnia (1997), catalogue number 47. In 1998, the company discontinued selling laserdiscs, nevertheless, bonus materials from a few Criterion laserdiscs have appeared on other companies’ DVDs; the MGM special edition of Raging Bull (1980), for example, contains the Criterion-recorded director's commentary.

Video-on-demand services

On 25 November 2008, in its web site, The Criterion Collection began offering video-on-demand (VOD) down-loading services, for US$5.00 per select movie, marking the start of cross-promotional VOD services from Criterion and the The Auteurs web sites.

High definition format

The Criterion company published high-definition video format DVDs only after the high-definition disc-format war ended; it published its first Blu-ray Disc titles on 16 December 2008. Unlike its DVD releases, a mixture of NTSC-standard Region 0 (region-free) and Region 1 DVDs, Criterion Collection Blu-ray Discs are Region A.

The first eight Criterion titles, originally released from December 2008 through March 2009, were packaged in cardboard digipaks with outer cardboard slipcases, however, this packaging met with mixed reaction and in some cases, heavy criticism from Criterion supporters, who found that the cardboard cases were easily susceptible to damage in retail environments, online store shipments, and even during regular home use. In April 2009, Criterion responded in a roundabout way by introducing a new, custom-designed, clear plastic Blu-ray case for forthcoming titles, of which The Wages of Fear was the first. The new packaging has seen much greater appreciation, as it retains a distinctive look from the blue plastic of most mainstream Blu-ray Disc releases, but offers a much greater level of protection to the Blu-ray Disc media and inserts that come with each release than the original cardboard digipaks. As of October 2009, there has been only one further Blu-ray release in the original cardboard packaging, Alain Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad, released in June 2009.

In October 2009, Criterion announced via email that it would begin a digipak case replacement program beginning with The Third Man, which is currently the only replacement case available. However, just days after their announcement of replacement cases for The Third Man, Criterion announced they had lost the rights to distribute the film, making The Third Man the first Criterion Blu-ray Disc to go out of print. Because of the small period of time between the shipment of the new replacement cases and the loss of rights to the title, only a small number of plastic cases for The Third Man were ever shipped to retailers, but the replacement case can still be purchased from Criterion for a $5.00 fee.

Product prices

In 2006, the prices for The Criterion Collection movies on DVD, ranged from 30 to 40 US dollars; one-disc and two-discs, respectively. Movies beyond that price range tend to be Walt Disney-produced or -distributed products, such as The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004), and Chasing Amy (1997) — however, Criterion sold the French Holocaust short documentary Night and Fog (1955) for US$14.95, below its price range. Like-wise, earlier, in 2004, the company released The Criterion Collection Gift Set 2004, a 282-disc set for US$5,000, sold exclusively via Amazon.com, although it was not the (then) entire Criterion Collection cinémathèque.

Given their rarity, the great aficionado demand for out-of-print Criterion Collection DVDs, originated the business of counterfeit (bootleg) copies, often advertised as a “Criterion Collection Asian edition” — to disguise their bootleg nature. The company’s web site instructs buyers to shop carefully, advises about identifying bootleg merchandise, and notes that The Criterion Collection company never has published “Asian editions” of its movie catalogue.

Lists of Criterion releases



See also



References

  1. http://www.criterion.com/library/online
  2. http://www.criterion.com/library/bluray
  3. http://www.criterionforum.org/forum/viewtopic.php?p=262441
  4. http://www.theauteurs.com/topics/309/comments?page=1#comment_60062
  5. http://forum.blu-ray.com/showthread.php?t=108273
  6. Criterion Starts BD Case Replacement Program Blu-ray.com News
  7. The Third Man Criterion Blu-ray Going Out of Print Blu-ray.com News
  8. Criterion Starts BD Case Replacement Program Blu-ray.com News


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