Opening The Film Vault

A new series of luxury UHD box sets of some cult movie classics… and some more recent titles.

In the battle between physical movie releases and streaming services, the former is constantly having to up its game. As streaming services gobble up the more casual viewer – reverting the way we consume movies back to the days of video rental or cinema-going, you might say, where there is no requirement for or expectation of ownership – so the people who are buying films are demanding more. We’ve already seen this with music and the rise of box-set special editions of classic (and not-so-classic) albums and career-spanning anthologies that come with copious extra content, not just on the disc but also in the packaging. The record collector market has perhaps shown the way forward with limited edition, luxurious packaged versions of records that people probably already own but can’t resist buying again in sprawling legacy editions that are pricey, elite and – at least until someone digs out some more content – the definitive edition. You can save your ‘old’ disc – which might already be a replacement for an original edition – for day-to-day playing; these box sets are effectively object d’art. Even if you take them out of the shrinkwrap – and you have to do that in order to pore over the contents – you’re unlikely to actually play them – at least not more than once.

The film industry has never quite reached the same stage – oh, sure, there are fancy editions of certain titles, the odd gimmicky title and multi-disc box sets of a director’s oeuvre. But little that approaches – for example – the new edition of the Beatles’ Revolver, itself part of an ongoing luxurious restoration project. But maybe we are starting to see that shift beginning. For the monied collector, the market is about to get a lot fancier. At least if The Film Vault takes off as a project.

The Film Vault from Universal, Warner Bros and Discovery launches with four titles that come in limited editions of 3000 (which, by modern British sales expectations, doesn’t actually seem that limited but probably is for the sort of cult movies mostly making up the collection) and is a series that positively reeks of luxury. The exterior box is almost – but not quite – twice the size of a Blu-ray and it’s heavy. There are definitely points gained for sheer heft. The packaging features new key art from Vice Press, which might mean more to you than it does me and comes with an acetate O-ring that you can slip off to enjoy the box text-free if that’s your thing. Inside the clamshell box, you’ll find the film and on-disc extras on both UHD and Blu-ray together in a CD-sized case along with a numbered crystal display plaque, art cards and repro souvenirs from the film in question. Now, I know what you are saying – it doesn’t sound all that much fancier than many discs already out there. And on paper, you’d be right. You really have to see and feel these things to get an appreciation for just how luxurious and desirable they are and why you’ll be paying £50 a pop for them.

And in fairness, you are paying for the general luxury of it all rather than simply a finely polished version of the film and a few postcard prints. What you can do with the crystal display plaque – that has the film title engraved on it – is anyone’s guess (the package itself seems a luxurious display item) but it’s obviously a fancy little thing to have for the sort of people inclined towards collectors editions and the package as a whole is unquestionably stylish. We might wonder why the sets are not going further – soundtrack CDs seem an obvious choice for inclusion – but it is hard to quibble with these.

You’ll notice that I haven’t mentioned the film titles yet. The first three in the set are what we might now call vintage classics – that is, films from the 1980s as long as you include 1990 in that decade – I’m sure no one needs any further introduction to or recommendation of Blade Runner, Goodfellas and Scarface and all three sit together as period pieces, even if they are not necessarily connected by genre. The fourth is a bit of an odd choice, though that’s not unusual for collections these days where a much more recent movie is crowbarred into things, perhaps to attract a younger audience who have surprisingly little interest in movies made before they were born – indeed, in movies made before the last decade. 1917, made in 2019, is a good, serious and solid war film but – much as I said of recent films that crept into the Sight and Sound poll – perhaps we need to allow movies that are so recent more time to bed down as established classics before we treat them as such. This film will either be the best seller or the worst seller of the quartet I suspect, depending on who the audience for these editions proves to be. Personally, I won’t deny having a wave of disappointment when I opened up the package containing a sample edition and found that it was this film, and yes, I’m very aware of how utterly entitled that sounds – but of all the films in this opening salvo, this is the one that means the least to me. Even outside a fancy-pants edition, I could probably write very long historical examinations of the other three films (let’s face it, the twisting and changing history of Blade Runner is book-length material); 1917, not so much. In the end, a fancy edition of a film you have no interest in is still a film you have no interest in at the end of the day. And dammit, look at the competition – how could this not be the least interesting title for any film cultist?

Not that you need me to review the actual movies. If you are unfamiliar with these films, we might ask where you have been – and more to the point, no one is going to go out and pay £50 for a luxury edition of a film that they don’t already love, especially when there are more prosaic editions easily available. I could tell you that the UHD looks as good as you could ever hope for the film to look but you already know that, don’t you? And while we are considering a future article about how older movies – the ones made on film – look more alarmingly better on UHD than more recent movies (we just need more UHD titles to make that comparison, so don’t hold your breath waiting for it), that’s not a comparison we can make here. A 2019 movie is not exactly in need of 4K remastering and isn’t going to look so dramatically different from versions already out there.

This is a series aimed at collectors and obsessives – and perhaps 1917 has that audience already, though it seems unlikely. It seems an odd choice for this series when you think of the movies owned by those studios that could’ve been chosen – Jaws, The Exorcist, Dirty Harry…But perhaps those titles are waiting in the wings. Including 1917 and seeing how it sells alongside a collection of 1980s cult classics might be a savvy move that opens the series up to a wider variety of titles – new, popular and commercial titles sitting alongside the more geriatric cult movies. It’d be great to see this series stretch in both directions – reaching all the way back to the early days of cinema and all the way forward to today.

More to the point though, it’s great to see a series like this emerging from major labels at a time when physical media is being written off. There’s the argument that Blu-ray is effectively like vinyl already – a niche format supported increasingly by collectors but nevertheless holding its own and being commercially viable enough to keep going – and UHD is likely to have an even more specialist audience, so why not go all out in terms of presentation? I’m all for this sort of thing (at least as long as more affordable options also remain available) and hopefully, we’ll see a lot more of it in the future. In the meantime, if you are stuck for Christmas gift ideas for film fanatics, these seem ideal. And, you know, there are still three we don’t have…



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