The Best DVD Publishers of All Time (Excluding Criterion)

It is a logical progression that, if there are DVDs, then there must be companies that publish them.

I have rarely (if ever) heard the general public discussing a specific DVD publisher. They assume that the studio makes them. This is usually true (though not always) and many of these studio produced DVDs are substandard. Yes, so called “Special Editions” are a good idea, but when every single movie seems to warrant one, they become less special and more like the same factory produced end products that…well, that summer blockbusters resemble.

Still, a few companies really do seem to put some effort into their releases. And it is those companies I wish to highlight in this post. These companies, even when they are preserving substandard films, do it with enough care to convert unbelievers into fans. Each of their DVDs are almost a work of art unto themselves, with a meticulously planned disc and careful technical credits to make sure they get it all right. If you can find anything put out by the companies below, I would highly recommend a purchase, regardless of what the film is.

I also deliberately excluded the Criterion Collection because I had discussed them before and wanted to discuss other publishers. In addition, there are things that these publishers do that Criterion does not; trying to discuss Criterion in the same context as these other publishers would be inaccurate. Also, it’s The Criterion Collection; it is not fair to compare these companies with them. Would you want to read about a comparison between the New England Patriots and a minor league baseball team? Sure, they are both involved in sports, but that is about where it ends.

Anchor Bay Entertainment (until about 2007 or so)-Today,  Anchor Bay is pretty much the home video distributor for the Starz! Company. This means that all of the wonderful cult films they used to release are not even on the release slate any more, and most of their better editions have gone out of print. Go look on DVD Aficionado – their releases are mostly made for TV Starz! properties and main stream horror films. I don’t even think that they have the rights to Army of Darkness anymore. But for a while, Anchor Bay was the company of choice for outsider horror films. They released items from such luminaries as Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, Hammer Studios, and John Carpenter. With each release, they would cater to collectors (with admittedly overpriced tin sets) and general releases for a wider audience.  Their Dawn of the Dead four disc collection is among my favorite DVD releases, simply because Dawn of the Dead, at first glance, is not what people would think of when they think of films that warrant such a release. But then, Anchor Bay did it, and the discs contain more information than many thought existed. Too bad most of this is gone now, but the DVDs still exist (even the out of print ones are becoming cheaper) for us to remember.

Blue Underground– This is pretty much where all of the quality that Anchor Bay Entertainment used to have. This is not an accident; this is because the company was founded by some former employees of the company. They have embraced the cult horror market, and have even released some long forgotten films like Ralph Bakshi’s Fire and Ice. They even have an actual filmmaker (William Lustig…OK, not everyone’s idea of a filmmaker, but still, the man is qualified to run a company such as this) as their CEO. Blue Underground follows the same basic formula as Anchor Bay, in that they release single disc DVDs for the general market and two disc DVDs for collectors that may (but not always) go out of print. They even have released some of the same films as Anchor Bay has in the past, thus saving them from obscurity and leaving the public consciousness forever. Yes, this company is simply a knock off of Anchor Bay. But it is a reminder of Anchor Bay’s glory days.
Warner Brothers Home Entertainment-Warner Brothers produces some of the best mainstream studio DVD releases. Or at least it did; like Anchor Bay, I am not really sure what is happening in the future. Let’s go back to the beginning. The reason I am listing Warner Brothers on here is because they created my favorite DVD extra of all time – “A Night at the Movies.” This is when, before the start of the film, Warner Brothers showcases short films, cartoons, original news reels, and the like, in order to help frame the proper context by which the film was shown to begin with. Warner Brothers has one of the most extensive (and best) back catalogues in history. Normally, the temptation would be to release whatever you can, just in the hopes that the title will still resonate with the public. Remember when Warner Brothers tried to colorize some of their films in an effort to update them? Yea…Warner Brothers matured immensely since them (note: I am fully aware this was ultimately orchestrated by Ted Turner, but considering he was doing it to Warner’s films, it strikes me as bizarre that people would claim they didn’t at least sign off on it). Also, they released the same sort of booklets and special editions that Anchor Bay did for serious collectors, and even the releases aimed at casual fans were some of the most in depth releases I have seen. But it has been a while since I have seen one of these releases and rumor is that most of their two disc special editions are going out of print. This may be the end of the classic Warner Brothers Home Entertainment releases – thankfully they left behind what they did.

Shout! Factory-Granted, this company seems to specialize more in releases of television shows than anything else. But what of it? I will just go ahead and reveal the common theme amongst these companies; they provide a proper outlet to items that would fall toward the bottom of larger companies. It makes sense; a studio like Disney cannot really waste time on releasing the long since canceled My So Called Life when another release of a Miley Cyrus DVD will make far more money. The problem, then, becomes the fact that more people know the name “Hannah Montana” than “Angela Chase,” but I digress. Shout! Factory was founded by former Rhino executives and have released some of the most influential TV shows of all time (All in the Family) to some of the most beloved cult properties that turned out to have a far greater influence than anyone could have expected (Freaks and Geeks). It’s certainly an impressive and diverse collection (sort of like having the Parley Media Center brought to your home) and the company seems to enjoy preserving the shows as much as fans would, including licensing the music played on the show (this certainly cannot be a cheap enterprise). In short, Shout! Factory is what happens when the geeks take over; they try to prove why certain shows are the best things in human achievement. Usually, they are incorrect, but their efforts will help reveal the most pertinent (and fascinating) aspects about the work.

Kino-The early films are now all in the public domain. This is surely a great thing, isn’t it?  Well, there are positive aspects (they are accessible to those who are curious) and negative aspects. Most fledgling DVD companies release a wide number of these, because they don’t have to pay for the rights. This means that most editions of Nosferatu are treated like junk and look as though it was filmed through a coffee filter. Kino releases these films as well, but treats them like items in the Louvre rather than items found in black velvet paintings sold on the side of the road in Tijuana. Nosferatu, Battleship Potemkin, and Metropolis have been spared the indignity of another bargain bin release and returned to an academic setting. In addition, they will be putting out the most monumental releases of the fall, when they release the newly restored Metropolis.  Can anyone think of another company that would be willing to do this? I am at a lost; I know that films like Avatar deliberately have footage removed just so it can be reinserted into future releases. Kino takes meticulous care in re releasing these films, to make sure that all future filmmakers learn from the masters.

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