Friday, March 23, 2007

Why Do Great Movies Get Awful DVD Cover Art?

[Welcome, Goodiebag.TV watchers! Feel free to click here and here for some of my more recent posts]

Alfonso Cuaron's "Children of Men" DVD is coming out this week and I strongly encourage you to watch it if you haven't. It's a fantastic film with incredible cinematography and it reaches for some deep meaning. Although I'm not sure if it ever finds it, it certainly tries hard, and that's more than can be said for many films these days.

The DVD was a must-have purchase for me until I saw the DVD cover:

What the hell is this crap? Studios don't seem to understand that for many people who buy DVDs (not everyone, but many), DVDs are considered collector's items. It's a good feeling to have a DVD on the shelf with some nice artwork on it, just like it's nice to have a good painting/photo on the wall. Unfortunately, many studios seem to slap whatever heads and/or names they can find onto the cover in the hopes that passersby at Walmart will get excited at seeing some actress' face and immediately want to buy their latest film (this DVD malady is sometimes referred to as "floating head syndrome").

This is especially infurating when the movie poster art was totally fine to begin with. "Children of Men's" own film poster was marvelous:

Beautiful yet simple. WHY WAS THIS NOT ON THE COVER OF THE DVD? Aside from wanting to get Clive Owen's face on the cover, the only reason I can think of is that the artist of this poster demanded huge royalty payments, and the DVD producer decided to turn him down and make the DVD cover art in 15 minutes with a copy of the DVD and Microsoft Paint instead.

In all seriousness though, why is DVD box art, in general, so bad? There are undoubtedly many factors that go into this, including artist fees and movie-related art availability in general. But the biggest contributor to the horrendous art collection you have sitting on your DVD shelf is undoubtedly the actual purpose of DVD box art, which differs greatly from the purpose of movie poster art. Movie poster art is supposed to make you aware of the film and to create buzz. When you're walking out of a movie theater, all you need to see is this:

That catches your eye, gets you scratching your head, thinking about the film, admiring the artwork, talking about it with friends, and generally psyched for when the movie's going to come out.

DVD box art, on the other hand, is supposed to move products off the shelves; when you've got millions of people walking through DVD sections in Walmart, Target, Best Buy and Circuit City each day, you don't want them to be confused about what the movie is about, or which movie it is they're buying. How do you avoid this? By enlarging the main actors' faces, putting as many big names on there as possible, and making sure to include unsightly review text somewhere on the cover, so that people will know what to think of the film:

"Hey isn't that the magician movie with Hugh Jackman?"
"Who cares, Scarlett Johansson looks so damn HOT. Let's buy it."

Mission accomplished.

Here are some more recent examples of movie posters and their accompanying DVD covers, and my personal take on what I think of each one:

The Departed:

This poster art is not the most beautiful that will be displayed here, but I think it has its charms. "The Departed" is displayed in gigantic, alpha-male-like font while glimpses of the stars' faces are seen in the text. The faces are striking because of their flesh-colored tones against the stark black background. Not too fancy, but it gets the job done.

Unfortunately, between the time the movie and DVD were released, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, and Leonardo Dicaprio all developed jaundice. Their skin tones have become sickeningly yellow and the bold wide font on the poster has been replaced with a crap, generic one. The top left corner shows the city of Boston tinted in a sickening blood red. I throw up in my mouth a little bit everytime I look at this.

Blood Diamond:

Again, shockingly simple. Just a huge ass diamond in the middle with a large drop of blood coming off of it in front of (again, another) stark black background. In small type, the star's names adorn the top. My curiosity is piqued....

The DVD cover art shows some sort of disastrous fire in the background; Dicaprio and Hounsou look reflectively off into the distance, unaffected by the disaster unfolding around them, while an extraordinarily awkwardly posed Connelly stares lovingly at the stoic Leo. Although it's not the worst of what we'll see, it certainly doesn't get me excited about the film. Fairly awful.

Casino Royale:

After a long hiatus, Bond is finally back! Daniel Craig and his Walther PPK (?) are great in this elegant, mysterious Casino Royale poster...

...the DVD on the other hand has an un-bow-tied Craig walking towards you against a pale gray background while a car shoots out of his side. Meanwhile a towering woman's silhouette shows off her hotel-like innards. This is not sexy. This is not exciting. This doesn't even look good. My only question is: Why?

The Last King of Scotland:

Although this poster just has one gigantic head on it, I still think it's quite effective. the stark, contrasting orange and red really make the image stand out, while the tagline "Charming. Magnetic. Murderous" makes Forrest Whitaker positively menacing.

Meanwhile, on DVD, it's the Whitaker triplets! See Whitaker smile sensually at some random woman! See him stare at the camera reflectively! See him appear to be delivering a speech! This looks like some drunken, hopped-up, Whitaker-crazed fan got her hands on some Photoshop and created this eye rape for the movie studio...while she was on acid. Finally, we come to my last example, and the one on this list that's saddest of all...

The Fountain:
Darren Aronofsky's third film, "The Fountain," was one of my favorite films of the year, a glorious sci-fi epic and love story all rolled into one. This poster, which has an image taken straight from the film, manages to capture that magic. On the tree-spaceship (don't ask, just see the movie) Hugh Jackman stares wondrously at the nebula while the memory of his wife, Izzy, looks on. Most importantly, the poster conveys the fact that the film itself is beautiful, and loaded with amazing imagery.

So what did "The Fountain" do to deserve this? Jackman is nibbling on Rachel Weisz' face while she looks off towards the sky, perhaps reflecting on why they're both glowing so brightly. Meanwhile there's a huge tree in the middle and a bizarre-looking fight going on at the bottom, with Jackman dressed as a Spaniard soldier. What market segment is this cover possibly trying to appeal to? Those that are really into romance movies, horticulture, and hack-and-slash period pics, apparently. Ironically, this might actually be who the movie DOES appeal to, but it doesn't excuse this hack job. Truly, this box art makes baby Jesus cry.

Given all this vomit and anger-inducing cover art, I'm going to vote with my dollar and wait for "The Fountain: Together We Will Live Forever Edition" and "Children of Men: Birth-Giving Director's Cut," hoping for better cover art before I plunk down my hard-earned cash on those discs.

[Update: Like what you've read? Subscribe to my blog using this link with your feed reader. Also, read an update about "The Fountain" cover art at this link. And use this link to go to my most recent post. Thanks for reading!]

Update 1:
Hey everyone,

So my story made the front page of digg and generated a ton of comments, all of which I’m grateful for (thanks for reading, even if you hate my writing style and content!) and some of which I’d like to respond to. Before that though, I just want to say thanks to my friend Devindra for his help in crafting the above post. If you have a chance, head on over to his blog and show some support. Anyway, on to the postings:

1) Posters ‘HunterTV’ and ‘soyLocoMoco’ offer some further insights into the cover design process. Digg user ‘HunterTV’ writes that “DVD covers redesign the poster artwork simply because most poster art, when resized, makes the title too small or the art too hard to make out. They're all competing against other DVDs either on the shelf or at the video store, so the faces become more prominent (especially if they're A-List actors) and the titles get bigger.” I agree that this might be the case in certain situations, and I definitely agree that that’s the rationale for the bigger faces. However, I don’t think that’s necessarily a good excuse for pushing out a bad product, especially since small DVD boxes can still hold decent, even great or iconic art on them. Example:

Digg user ‘soyLocoMoco’ writes that “my friend works for a design company making DVD covers. The art directors on the DVD boxes are the product managers at the major studios (ie, marketers with probably no design experience whatsoever). They consistently demand big type, big tits, and fireballs. There you have it.” I have no follow up to soy’s quote, except to say that it explains a lot.

2) Other users brought up some great examples of butchered movie poster art. ‘Spartandog’ brought up “The Rocketeer,” and 'DigTheDoug' brought up “Infernal Affairs,” both atrocious examples of bad DVD art. ‘Drewc1138’ brought up Star Wars as well, which is equally baffling. ‘SanTe’ brings up “History of Violence,” which I agree is a terrible DVD cover, and although I think the movie poster art is solid, I wasn’t as huge a fan as others. Also, I’m not even going to bring up “The Matrix Revolutions,” which was a DVD cover that I could have personally made myself in about 3 minutes:

3) Other random notes:

-Some people collect stamps. Some people collect baseball cards. I like to collect DVDs. It doesn’t mean that I sit around staring at my DVDs all day, or that I hang them up on the walls like paintings. It just means I like knowing that I’ve purchased a product that someone has clearly put some effort and care into.
-‘glxyjones’ makes a good point about collector’s edition DVDs. Oftentimes, studios save the good art for a double dip. As a friend of mine, Angie, pointed out to me, this punishes the biggest fans of the movie the most; the first release is often just a bare-bones with some terrible art, and the people who don’t give a damn buy it up. Meanwhile, big fans and DVD collector’s are forced to either buy this bad copy, and then buy it again, or simply wait an eternity for the second edition to come. Either way, not the best marketing practice.
-I like using the word “stark.” It should be used more in everyday conversation.

Update 2 (probably my final update):

A lot more has been said in the comments section, so I just wanted to take some time to address and acknowledge people’s points, while clarifying my own:

1) Many have provided valuable insights into the whole DVD-making and DVD-art-making process. Different artists, different design studios, studio requirements, etc. all come into play. To anyone that has shared from his/her experience, thanks! The 36 hours since this post have gone up have been very educational for me. In particular, I was intrigued by “Anonymous"'s comments, who claims to work at a marketing company that designs DVD art. S/he made the following remarks on my blog:

“The purpose of DVD art is to get people to buy it. There are tried and true marketing statistics that show that unless, it's a movie they already know they want, a lot of people take one look at a DVD cover and decide whether they will buy it or not. And more statistics that show that a lot of people will buy DVDs simply because an actor they like is on the cover. They go "ooh, Hugh Jackman!" or "ooh, Leo DiCaprio" and put the DVD in their basket. That's why so many older movies with yet-to-be-stars in them have been re-released with that star on the cover, regardless of how big their role is…

Sadly, most DVD releases aren't marketed to movie lovers and collectors, they're marketed towards mass America, particularly moderate middle-class Americans…Wait for the Special or Collector's Edition. That's the one that's marketed toward most of the people reading the post in the first place.”

First of all, I recognize that primarily it’s the studios who are fault here, not the artists or the DVD designers. What else could be the explanation? What else could possibly explain why someone would consciously transform “The Last King of Scotland” into the feel-good comedy of the year on DVD?

I also recognize that DVDs aren’t primarily marketed towards DVD collectors are movie lovers; they are mass-marketed for profit. I'm sure that millions of dollars of market research has been poured into this and that statistically speaking, DVD covers with Leo Dicaprio's face sell more than DVD covers with bleeding diamonds on them, but surely isn't it possible to find a happy medium? There are plenty of DVDs that have found mass-market appeal that still manage to have fantastic cover art (For examples, see “The Sopranos” (and other HBO series), “The Usual Suspects,” “Empire of the Sun,” “Schindler’s List”…just DVDs off the top of my head that are popular yet manage to have a nice looking DVD cover). I think it can often, though not always, be possible to please both DVD collectors and everyday DVD purchasers, but studios are just too lazy sometimes, and this is what I have a problem with.

With regards to waiting for the Special/Collector’s Edition, year's later, there’s still not a lot of transparency with regards to those editions. Many bloggers/writers have already complained long and hard about double-dipping, so I’m not going to devote too much time to it here. I’m only going to say that the day in which studios consistently announce something like “Children of Men SPECIAL EDITION comes out June 15th 2007” the same day that the bare bones edition is released, is the day that I quit complaining about the awfulness like the DVD covers you’ve seen in this post. Obviously companies like New Line did something like this for the Lord of the Rings DVDs, but it is far from being a widespread practice. We all know George Lucas, with his 341 editions of Star Wars is the worst offender in this regard.

2) Several people remarked on Digg (and undoubtedly, others agree) that anyone who chooses NOT to buy a DVD of a movie he likes just because of the box art sounds like a douchebag. I agree; it does sound douchebag-like. But let me just make clear; if it’s a DVD of a movie I love, like Children of Men for example, I’m definitely going to own it eventually. DVD cover art can't stop me from enjoying movies. However, I’m not going to plunk down $20 of hard-earned cash for it on release day if the box looks like crap. I’ll either wait for the special collector’s edition, or wait for the price to go down. Everyone has a price. Mine is $8 for aChildren of Men DVD with that cover.


Anonymous said...

And do not forget the horrible Matrix Revolutions cover. The worse cover ever!

MG Siegler said...

How on Earth do you have 0 comments? Well then let me be the first to say truly GREAT post!

Anonymous said...

The whole point of cover "art" is marketing. Movies have awesome posters to encourage people to see the films. Who honestly buys a dvd based on its cover... nobody. Unless it's porn. If a studio has a great film it will sell itself on its story, not the box 99.9 % of people will throw on the floor while they are watching a movie. You cant judge of book buy its cover and you should do the same to a movie, just watch the damn thing.

Francis said...

Very compelling post. It somehow reminds me of an old article I read ages ago about the problem with marketing electronic music.

It seems that studios don't find the electronic music artists compelling enough to be marketable to a mainstream audience. Their concerts usually consist of a couple of faceless guys (or one) working their voodoo behind some electronic equipment.

The marketing executives are obviously taking this same principal to DVD covers. They don't think a DVD can sell unless they slap on a couple of familiar faces on the cover in some faux-dramatic montage.

Yes, it's all pretty silly and it insults our intelligence. However, the sad truth is that the studios are shooting for a larger and dumber demographic.

das_ said...

Well I have to disagree with you there.

Children of Men, Blood Diamond: A black cover with a small diamond or fetus in the middle simply would not make the product stand out as much in a pile of flashy DVDs. Plus, Blood Diamond's cryptic poster doesn't convey anything of the film itself. It's a teaser, and not suitable as a DVD cover.

The Departed: The theatrical poster wouldn't work as DVD box art because it has too much empty black space, made worse by the fact that those credits on the bottom right would have to be removed, and if anything - reformatted in a larger font at the bottom.

The Prestige: The theatrical poster does catch your eye, but is too unconventional for DVD art.

Casino Royale: Similar to Blood Diamond's theatrical poster, it is meant to entice. It is too passive, however, for a DVD cover. It doesn't convey that "hey, this is a multi-million dollar budget action movie."

The Fountain, The Last King of Scotland: These are the only two examples where the theatrical poster art would have been really well suited for a DVD cover.

Michael Kingery said...

man! the only two movies i was looking forward to buying, just happened to be children of men and the fountain... you, today... crushed my dreams of adding to my dvd collection of 4...

btw, little miss sunshine has a GREAT box art imho

freakystyley said...

I'm Francis btw... somehow Blogger logged me in with a really old profile.

I think das_ just hit the nail on the head -- somehow, marketing for DVD and for the theaters isnt' the same. I wonder what the rationale is for making such a difference?

Do they really have to chance marketing tactics or a movie I have already seen? Or is it just an overly enthusiastic attempt to help me remember what a movie was about once the movie has sat a while on my shelf?

As for The Prestige, I really dig the movie poster. It reminds me of Hitchcock's masterpiece Vertigo for some reason.

das_ said...

I think it has to do with the fact that theatrical posters can be used to entice, and generate general interest. They do this for two main reasons. For one, they can afford to: trailers are released to give audiences a solid preview of the film to come. For another, they may have no choice: they may want to generate hype for the film months before release, before the final production footage is ready. Before the explosion scenes are finalized to a point where they can grab screens for the poster.

DVD box art, on the other hand, serves to attract a direct purchase. As people do judge a book by it's cover, it's vital that it be presented in such a way that it doesn't undermine itself. After all, it's going to be on store shelves for years to come, long after people have forgotten about the trailers and the like.

Aladin said...

It appears that all the movie posters, compared to their DVD box art variants seem to follow a similar trend. It seems that movie posters yield more abstract universal and eye catching designs while DVD covers are there to simply show off the actors. I certainly agree that the abstract designs are much cleaner and interesting looking than the current dvd box format. As for why they are making crappy dvd covers, I do not know.

Anonymous said...

Different design companies. BLT did most of the posters that you see above. Movie studios usually hire out a few design companies to work on the packaging and promotional items. There are a lot of requirements that the studio put on the designers. What the DVD covers have on them, is usually what the studio thinks will sell the movie. In most cases, this is the actors/actresses which appear in the films.

Anonymous said...

and :( @ The Good Shepherd dvd cover.

Anonymous said...

If you think that version of the "Children of Men" DVD cover is bad, you should see what it originally looked like when it came out in the UK a couple of months ago!

The one you've mentioned is definitely an improvement!

Anonymous said...

Don't forget about Boondock Saints. Thats the epitome of a crap DVD cover.

WallStreetMatador said...

i agree completely! as a dvd collector myself, i am constantly annoyed by the crappy box art.

Anonymous said...

It's all about the "grab".

A poster is huge in comparison to a dvd box cover, and it typically only has to stand out against a dozen or so other posters, and be judged by a consumer that by and large has already decided which movie they want to see when going into the multiplex.

DVD box covers are small and for the impulse viewer sit alongside a SEA of other covers. They have to present something unique, and something familiar that tells the person what the movie is, or typically more important, who is in it.

The relative sizes make for larger faces of actors on the DVD box to make that grab.

Anonymous said...

"das" made several good points and I wanted to add my 2 cents.

A friend sent me this article because I work for a marketing company that designs DVD art. I can't tell you which one, but I can tell you that we designed two of the titles you covered in your post. All I really want to say is: please don't blame the artists. We get directions from the studios and sometimes get very little leeway to think outside the box, so to speak. You should see some of the fabulous stuff that never makes it past the first or second round.

However, as stated previously in the comments, the purpose of DVD art is to get people to buy it. There are tried and true marketing statistics that show that unless, it's a movie they already know they want, a lot of people take one look at a DVD cover and decide whether they will buy it or not. And more statistics that show that a lot of people will buy DVDs simply because an actor they like is on the cover. They go "ooh, Hugh Jackman!" or "ooh, Leo DiCaprio" and put the DVD in their basket. That's why so many older movies with yet-to-be-stars in them have been re-released with that star on the cover, regardless of how big their role is.

Third and final point, I swear: sadly, most DVD releases aren't marketed to movie lovers and collectors, they're marketed towards mass America, particularly moderate middle-class Americans. As he said in the post, wait for the Special or Collector's Edition. That's the one that's marketed toward most of the people reading the post in the first place.

Brendan said...

I think the worst was the cover for Serenity. It looked like it was made by a first grader.

Karl Z said...

Another godawful dvd cover that happens to be on my favorite movie is the Stranger than Fiction cover. It shows a bland white background with the title of the movie in the top center and a small picture of Will on the bottom right. It is just terrible. I wont be buying that one.

engtech said...

It looks like when it goes to DVD they want to focus on actor's faces (who's in it) rather than any artistic spin on what the movie is about.

probably based on some survey somewhere that said people by DVDs based on who is in it.

WestCoast Rattler said...

Given that DVD sales are a huge portion of overall revenue for each movie that is released, sometimes much more than the box office (which have led many to say that the theatrical release is just marketing for the DVD), the studios spend a tremendous amount of time and energy designing and planning DVD covers. Earlier comments are keen to note that movie posters are meant to entice the consumer to see a film, the DVD cover is meant to inspire that same consumer to actually purchase the item right then and there. I work for a market research firm that actually tests potential DVD covers for a given movie not just in the US but globally as each market may have slight differences depending on the DVD buyers in each country. So we may test 4-5 different covers with several iterations before the studio will determine which cover is the one to go with. Some actors aren't well known in other countries and they will not have a prominent position on the cover. At the end of the day, consumers are the judge as to which DVD cover is used so if you dislike the 'art' it's because the actual DVD buyers thought the 'really lame' cover was the best. Don't blame the studios, blame your friends... :)

Anonymous said...

I can tell you why DVD covers SUCK in two words– "MARKETING DEPARTMENT".
And I can say this because designing DVDs for major motion pictures is how I pay the bills.
The final printed piece of Art is barely about 1/10th of the artist's original concept, and is more than likely been 2 or 3 separate pieces of art that the client, "Marketing Dept of Major Motion Picture Studio" has combined into 1 to make it look like a previous title's artwork because the numbers say it should be marketed that way.

And the sad part about it, is that the Producers & Directors don't even have that much control over how they sell their movie.

The media has such a potential to elevate itself , but they go with the lowest common denomonator.. and have number-crunchers making the esthetic decisions.


g-raff said...

Excellent post.

It's true though that Special Editions and Director's cuts are always better boxed.

jinamina said...

thank you for putting in words and examples what i have been thinking for a while. the infernal affairs dvd coverart has especially pissed me off, as the "hot chick" so prominently displayed on the cover has so small a role that I can't even remember seeing her in the movie.

Richard Cretan said...

Let's not forget the sinkhole of the star system.

It's long been argued that Hollywood product sucks because the studios are in thrall to star salaries. You know how it works. No Tom Cruise, no picture. Got Tom? Good, let the lobotomy begin. So much depends upon a red wheel barrow, glazed with botox, beside that Scientologist.

With such monster investment in the tiny pack of actors who open Hollywood product, is it surprising that the DVD cover is now, essentially, a platform for face brands? Studios bet the farm (OK, someone's else's farm) on the latest sequel, and they're damn well going to show off what the gazillions bought.

I don't think it's so terrible, just predictable. People who like corporate cinema seem to want it this way: they want stars upon thars. They won't go to movies without stars, so it reasons they won't buy DVDs without big-ass star photos. Saul Bass abstracts won't reach them--that's another sensibility entirely, or as the suits say, "another market."

Anonymous said...

I would like to add to the comment made by the Anonymous person who works as a DVD key art designer...

I, too, have been in Key Art Design for Home Entertainment for 10 yeas, art of those years being at a major design agency and part of those years being at 2 major motion picture studios and I can attest that the marketing people are the ones who make these calls.

These are marketing people who have ZERO training in art and design and usually they fall of the truck fresh from some hoity toity college where they got a nose ring and have to cover it up now that they work in a "corporate" environment. These "kids" haven't even seen 95% of the catalog titles of any of the studios films so they have no grounds to base their judgments on.

Quite frankly, it's the most frustrating thing to wokr in Creative Services at any studio because you are constantly fighting to be creative while marketing wants to do.... well, kiss the ASSES of WALMART and BLOCKBUSTER.

Walmart and Blockbuster are the 2 primary reasons why packaging is done the way it is done.

That's my 2 cents!

Anonymous said...

Fantastic writing, fantastic blog.

"More Than Fine"!?

Surely you can think of a better title?

My favourites just says "more than fine", definitely one for me to rename.

Dave Chen said...

Thanks for the comment and the critique :)

The title "More Than Fine" is from a song by Switchfoot. Here's some of the lyrics:

"I'm not giving up...not backing down.

More than fine, more than bent on getting by.
More than fine, more than just ok."

Basically, the song says we should strive for more than mediocrity, to be "more than fine." I don't like the song too much but I like the message, and the fact that the title is at least fairly unique.

Thanks again for reading!

dave said...

I think the movie producers meet heavy expenses for dvd covers, posters & promos as these are the vital tools to attract audience.

Anonymous said...

It would be cool if DVD producers would put in a reversible cover art sheet so that the buyer can choose which one they want to display on their shelf.

I guess the only problem with that is paying for the design of two covers =/

reuse the great art they ALREADY made maybe like those posters?

walladshab said...

I also have my own DVD collection and I did not like the one in " Children of Men " , so I decided to make my own DVD cover with the fetus in the middle of the black background, it took so much time , but I am so happy with the result , as you said , a DVD cover is an art.

frod said...

I think this is a deliberate thing, in order to seperate Cinema presentations vs. the DVD. A value/quality proposition.

CreditGuy said...

I also like good box design because I think we pay attention to the "image" of the box firstly, especially in case of unknown movies.

Anonymous said...

Studios can create masterpieces for dvd covers, but it's the Dvd producers and marketing teams that have the final word. I once worked with a group of people who created an amazing piece of work and the company turned it down for something more tasteless. That's the way business works. Sad =(

yourtradingstock said...

In a few years you won't have to worry about this, as dvds go the way of the cd... extinct.

My uncle is a huge cd/dvd fan. I think more for the physical product than the actual music or movie.

When all this is digitized, and downloaded, it just won't matter.

Michael said...

Thanks for your nice post!

Anonymous said...

Simple Explanation:

It's basic science.

When you strolling down the aisle, a picture of an actor's face (especially a famous one) jumps out at you far better than any random word or image -- even a great one.

It's just hardwired into our brains.

Anonymous said...

I like purchasing my media online now. I can choose the cover-art myself: do a quick google for the images out there, check iTunes too, and select the one that's prettiest to me. My music collection already looks great as a result. Soon, I hope I can do this for my movies too. (The boxes are just stacked in my room ..the digital art of the ripped versions is all I would see anyway.)

Kiki said...

Your article is spot on, thank you.
I buy all my movies online and very rarely pick one up in a store. And since I am a graphic designer and film lover, I hunt for the best version available - which, 9 out of 10 times, means shopping in Europe, Asia or Australia. They usually have different packaging art from the U.S. version and more or better bonus materials to boot. To make sure, check the desired title at Of course, you'll need a codefree player to enjoy discs that were meant for the foreign markets, but that's a small price to pay for a much better and better-looking product. It's unbelievable, how much attention to detail especially Asian designers give to a DVD. You'll never shop at WalMart again, believe me.
(Still, the best package design won't make up for a crappy movie, but that goes for every product.)

Anonymous said...

A plug for the "Criterion Collection" of DVD's for their efforts in DVD case cover artwork.

KatjaMouse said...

Right on dude. I was looking forward to buying a copy of Frida way back when. The poster art actually managed to make it onto the DVD cover, but by the time I got around to picking one up, instead of the pop art, mexican folk style treatment of Selma Heyick, we got her brief lesbianesque moment w/ Ashley Judd who's on film no more than 3 minutes.

Also, the poster for the indie film, Dancer In The Dark, was striking w/ nothing more than a seeing eye chart (here but then we get a bizarro world vinnette instead of floating heads belonging to the stars.

Anonymous said...

I picked up Children of Men (with that cover) for $5 at Best Buy (Canada) as part of Boxing Week sales. If only I read your post sooner, as the sale I believe ends today if not already over.

Anonymous said...

Who cares about the reason the studios do it.

It is tacky.

The author argues for collectibility, well maybe these cheesy collectors editions should try hard to cater to such consumers. These are the kinds of people who buy into apple products.

Personally I donate most media I purchase to the public library because I don't like keeping it around. I could care less about box art.

Jamie said...

"It would be cool if DVD producers would put in a reversible cover art sheet so that the buyer can choose which one they want to display on their shelf."

Quite a few anime import companies in the US already do this.

Just off the top of my head:

*At least one volume of Sailor Moon SuperS series that I've seen, put out by... Geneon/Pioneer, I think, had a poster-style reverse-side cover, and I'm guessing other volumes from the S/SuperS season had them as well.

*ALL of the Azumanga Daioh volumes released by ADV Films had reversible covers (the initial outside had a shot of a given one of the schoolgirls doing her little jump from the credits, against a white background, with a chalkboard-style back cover, whereas the reverse side featured some scene based on one of the episodes w/ all the episodes and their chapters listed in a small, clean font).

*So did my edition of the first Cardcaptor Sakura movie; it gave you the option of displaying the American design or the original Japanese DVD cover design, complete with the original Japanese-language logo. I didn't even have a fancy collector's edition, either.

*So did Comic Party, Vol.1 (released by The Right Stuf International, aka TRSI), the reverse side for which is actually designed to look like a translated manga volume (the series is about fan-made comic books), right down to being "right-left" orientation. If you happened to purchase the version that came with the "Art Box", you also got one of the awesomest collector's box designs ever made (made to hold the entire series, it features pencil sketch-style drawings of the characters on a clean white background... which are lovely but wouldn't necessarily be all that awesome, except it also comes with a plastic slipcover designed to look like an animation cel with several key characters in bold, sharp colors meant to hover over said pencil sketches. The series bored me to tears but I have never been able to part with that DVD because of the gorgeous box and amusing reversible cover. Granted, the box cost extra, but the reversible cover was there even for the "regular" edition)

Additionally, Google says that all the Chobits (Geneon, I think?) volumes had reversible covers, as did Final Fantasy Unlimited, Gate Keepers, Full Metal Panic!, UFO Ultramaidn Valkyrie, School Rumble, DNAngel (also from ADV Films) and Witch Hunter Robin (released by Bandai). I could swear my copy of the Revolutionary Girl Utena feature film also had a reversible cover.

In actual fact, with anime releases, it's a quite common extra... and certainly the most common "feely" (physical package extra), save possibly for "art boxes" to collect the series in. The reason it is more common in anime releases, I suspect, is that anime is more expensive because it is imported and translated (often with at least one dub and at least one subtitle track), but that's a relatively cheap "extra" to include as incentive to buy it.

Particularly since it is often a lot more expensive to try and purchase rights to additional DVD extras from the Japanese releases; which is why most anime releases' extras will consist of something like "line drawings of the characters, picture gallery, creditless opening and closing, and if you're lucky you will get translation notes and/or reversible cover".

But since it seems to be a cheap and popular extra there, I could easily see western companies making them. It's not like it's expensive to do, just print on an extra side of the sheet, that's pennies extra, tops.

twilightmike said...

"Your article is spot on, thank you.
I buy all my movies online and very rarely pick one up in a store. And since I am a graphic designer and film lover, I hunt for the best version available - which, 9 out of 10 times, means shopping in Europe, Asia or Australia. They usually have different packaging art from the U.S. version and more or better bonus materials to boot. To make sure, check the desired title at Of course, you'll need a codefree player to enjoy discs that were meant for the foreign markets, but that's a small price to pay for a much better and better-looking product. It's unbelievable, how much attention to detail especially Asian designers give to a DVD. You'll never shop at WalMart again, believe me.
(Still, the best package design won't make up for a crappy movie, but that goes for every product.)"

As a resident of Australia. I have to call complete and utter BS on that. We're the ones who have to get region 1 players since the damn international distributers:

1) Don't release the DVD at the same time as the US version.
2) Have less special features (if any)
3) In most cases, the special edition is out in the US before the bare bones is even out in Australia!
4) Not even to mention waiting for rereleases of older films, even ones that were upgraded years before in the US.

Stevie-P said...

I know I've found this post a few years later but it's still a good read. I'm from the UK and it might be worth you investigating the difference in UK and US DVD covers, I was constantly surprised at the different treatment the same film will receive in different territories.

I think we ended up with the better covers for some reason. We Were Soldiers is a case in point.

US Cover:
UK Cover:

Anonymous said...

The reason is because most good movies make back what they spent through cinema ticket sales.

DVDs are just a formality from the point of view of the studio and most of the value is placed in the media as a way of raking extra dollars. A good chunk of the profit from DVD sales go straight to the distributers of the movies and so they can't be bothered to make better DVD cover art.

It just shows how half assed they are at their business. Just wait till movies distribution becomes all digital.

We can finally get rid of this pesky environment destroying discs and get proper HD transfers for a much cheaper price than this over hyped expensive blu-ray bullshit.

Anonymous said...

Great article! I personally really hate the (usually photography based) "modernising" of 80's movies when put to dvd. Film posters in the 80's (and video box art i might add) were typically just BEAUTIFUL, but we get this HORRIBLE modernisation of the art when released upon dvd.
I understand that perhaps some kids today might, in some cases, require modernisation of art in order to make stuff look like it's of their generation, but a huge amount or even a majority of buyers of older era movies are the ones who were there at the time or who at least remember the vhs cover in video stores all through their childhood.

Even a deluxe 2 disc special edition dvd of a 70's or an 80's movie,that costs three times as much as the normal dvd can't get it right and capture the time of the movie in some way by using a classic movie poster or the original vhs or laserdisc art. It should make sense to the studios that a huge amount of potential customers for dvds are people replacing their vhs or laserdisc collections, and those people want to upgrade to dvd with the wonderful art that vhs or laserdiscs nearly always had. It is APPALING.

Your examples here of modern films recieving crap art are great my friend. Well done. Look at this crap! Yikes.


Anonymous said...

i would prefer the poster art on dvd covers...when a movie comes out in theaters and you go see them movies you remember the poster...and when you buy the dvd,that original poster brings back memories of the first time you seen it, like for example "Hiding Out" with Jon poster was black with 4 people on it, the dvd art, just him in one box with his beard and him in another box clean shaven...if the original poster got you hyped up to watch the movie then why should it matter to put new art on a dvd cover just to sell dvd's, we already saw the movie so we know what its dvd art makes some of the older movies look new and only reminds us of this era, i want original poster art on dvd's so it can bring back memories.