Warner experiments with theatrical + DVD hybrid release for “Watchmen”

Fascinating story in the New York Times [free reg required] yesterday about Warner Brothers Entertainment, Inc. and how it’s trying to wrestle with the latest trends in theatrical releases, where a decline of DVD sales is terrifying everyone in the industry, an industry where so much of the revenue from a film project is expected from just those sales.
Watchmen: Image from IMDB.comHow important is this revenue? The Times reports that up to 70% of movie revenue comes from DVD sales, depending on the release and the quality of the disk packaging. You just know that movies like Iron Man and, perhaps to a lesser extent, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull are going to enjoy terrific DVD sales when released.
Following in the footsteps of many successful graphic novel adaptations for the big screen (think Sin City, a film I intensely disliked, 300, a film I thought was great fun, and even the latest dark, brooding Batman films based more on the oevre of graphic novels than the goofy mythos of “The Batman”) Warner is releasing Watchmen based on the complicated but highly popular graphic novel series of the same name.
Jesse Reid reading 'Tales of the Black Freight' from the movie 'Watchmen', Warner Bros., 2009. Image (c) 2009 by Warner Brothers Entertainment, Inc.But what’s so darn interesting is that they are simultaneously going to also be releasing a second Watchmen movie directly to video for retail release just five days after the film opens (e.g. after opening weekend), entitled Tales of the Black Freighter. As the NYT explains, “Tales” will “follow a side Watchmen storyline about a shipwreck”.
Unfamiliar with the Watchmen series? Here’s the synopsis of the movie, as reported on IMDB: “When an ex-superhero has been murdered, a vigilante named Rorshach begins an investigation into the murder, which begins to lead to a much more terrifying conclusion. And also uncovers a plot to discredit and murder various heroes. Rorschach discovers a far wider ranging conspiracy involving his colleagues’ past which could completely change the course of history.”
Check out the photo on the right: that’s a scene from the Watchmen movie wherein actor Jesse Reid is actually sitting and reading, you guessed it, Tales of the Black Freighter. I’m reminded of The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, wherein the secondary characters are frequently seen reading Banzai comic books which, by coincidence, I also have on my shelf.
Nonetheless, kudos to Warner for risking a few million on the production of this secondary film and testing the waters to see if long, complicated stories can be spread across both a theatrical release and a commercial DVD made available simultaneously.
The next step they should consider is offering some sort of coupon, discount or rebate so that people who see the theatrical Watchmen movie can get a price break (or extra goodies) if they also purchase Tales of the Black Freighter. Now that would be an awesome experiment!
By the way, if I can be a bit catty, Warner also complains in the Times piece about soft DVD sales of Will Smith’s latest movie, I Am Legend without bothering to mention that it just wasn’t that good a movie and that once you got over the scary vampire aspect, not a very interesting storyline either. This is consistent with MPAA strategy, as far as I can remember, where it complains about sales — usually in the context of “how much they’ve lost to file sharing” — without ever acknowledging that perhaps the quality of the product is suffering. This also factors into the industry complaints of poor sales with Blu-Ray releases: how many films are on the shelf that are worth $25+ per disk, when the DVD is often less than half that price and looks pretty darn good on modern players anyway?
I applaud Warner for trying something new and am excited to see how the market receives this experimental dual-release of Watchmen and Tales of the Black Freighter.

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