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01/12/2005 Archived Entry: "The Death of Quality"
Posted by CKL @ 12:01 PM PST

Earlier this week, the "UnderGroundOnline" web site (UGO.com) published its list of the Top 50 DVDs of All Time, which is at best useless, and at worst insulting.

Notice that the list specifies DVDs, not movies. They're ranking the packaging, not the content, and they even admit to it:

The advent of DVD has ushered in a bold era where even the most questionable of movie can result in one of the best home video releases of all time. And that, our friends, is what this list is based on. Sure, that one nameless film makes you queasy in your stomach, but the four discs it comes on are packed with reference-quality video and sound transfers, and hours upon hours of awesome in-depth special features explaining how they made the turtles talk. We've entered an age where a great DVD is more than just a film...it's a presentation, and as the home for Fantasy Entertainment, who better than UGO to decide the fifty best examples of what DVD can do for Hollywood. Enjoy.
Has it really come to this? Are we really okay with a half-baked Indiana Jones rip-off (Stargate, 16th on the list) ranking higher on the list than the actual Indiana Jones movies (19th), simply because it's got more bells and whistles? Is the Goonies DVD (#20), featuring "'screen-specific audio commentary' with Richard Donner and all seven original Goonies", really better than the mind-blowing Memento Limited Edition (#32)?

I mean, seriously. If I don't like the movie, am I ever going to spend four-plus hours watching self-congratulatory featurettes and listening to audio commentaries? And they're recommending Pearl Harbor because of the "technologically amazing re-creation of the USS Arizona splitting in half in high-definition surround sound"? Christ on a stick, why don't I just take some Ecstasy and then read Winnie the Pooh? At least I know I'll be getting a good story.

UGO.com bills itself as "the leading online source for Fantasy Entertainment," which it defines as "a breed of entertainment that values imagination above realism, action above idleness, and superheroes above ordinary people. It's what boys dream about and men refuse to outgrow. The wonder of magic. The curves of Heidi Klum. The thrill of turbo speed. The power of technology." Their tagline, doubling as navigation links, puts it more succinctly: "GAMES : FILM & TV : DVD : MUSIC : TECH : SPORTS : COMICS : GIRLS : VIDEO".

Basically, a slightly geekier, online version of Maxim, FHM, Cargo, or any number of other "men's magazines". Don't even get me started.

A few months ago, I was at lunch with some co-workers and discussing the relative merits of HDTV. One guy-- let's call him "John"-- was adamant about HDTV's technical superiority to everything, and seemed annoyed when I declared that I didn't want HDTV for various reasons, including being unable to time-shift and a lack of content. He almost violently protested the latter point, saying that most network programming is already broadcast in HDTV, and accused me of being ignorant of this.

I deflected the insult and replied that I watch a lot of cable programming which isn't broadcast in HD. At this point, another fellow at the table-- let's call him "Paul"-- mentioned that I watch Star Trek. John offered that Enterprise is broadcast in HD. I pointed out that Enterprise is crap. John countered disdainfully with: "So what are you going to watch, reruns?"

In my mind, John is the kind of guy who would find value in UGO's Top 50 DVDs list. He's the kind of guy who doesn't care what execrable content is coming through his TV, as long as it's coming through in high-definition video with digital surround sound. And he's spending way too much money for it.

I fear for the future of media.

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Additional content copyright © 2005 by Loren A. Cheng