One of the best Christmas gifts I received this year was an early Blu-ray copy of David Gordon Green’s Halloween from Universal (available January 15th), which I eagerly slid into my PlayStation 4 as soon as it arrived on my doorstep. What I found on the disc were a handful of short featurettes as well as some deleted/extended scenes; needless to say, not exactly a robust bonus features package befitting one of the biggest horror films in recent years. Worse yet, one big thing was entirely absent from that lackluster package: a commentary track.
The thought of watching Halloween (2018) with commentary and insights from David Gordon Green, Danny McBride, Jamie Lee Curtis, John Carpenter and/or Jason Blum is surely an exciting one to any fan of the film, but you won’t find a single track when the DVD/Blu-ray/4K Ultra HD discs are released later this month. And Halloween sure isn’t the only major horror release of 2018 that has made its way to home video without a commentary track, as it’s the continuation of a trend rather than the start of one. And man is it a serious bummer.
Like Halloween, other high profile 2018 genre films such as The Predator, A Quiet Place, Mandy, Annihilation, Upgrade, Venom, Suspiria and Fallen Kingdom were pressed to disc without commentary tracks, and you won’t find one on the physical release of Hereditary either; that said, the iTunes release of Hereditary does have an exclusive track.
The list goes on, and the obvious conclusion we can draw here is that commentary tracks are largely going extinct. Gone are the days when major releases had multiple commentaries to choose from, which tended to range from just plain fun to incredibly informative. And the real bummer is the insight that we’re losing by not having commentary tracks included with the films we love enough to purchase and add to our collections, as filmmaker/actor commentary tracks were often an absolute treasure trove of knowledge for fans and filmmakers.
Robust special features packages can be entire film courses for aspiring filmmakers in particular, as well as film fans and critics who want to dive deep into the movies they love and learn everything they can about the process that brought those images to the screen. Buying a physical release often wasn’t merely buying a movie, it was buying an education.
“Commentaries were a huge part of my film education,” BD writer Drew Dietsch noted when I tweeted about this very topic the other day. “Getting that kind of (often candid) insight into a film’s production and intentions made me learn what to look for when watching a movie. Not having commentaries for significant releases is a real loss.”
YouTube movie review channel Bloodbath and Beyond also chimed in on that Twitter discussion, “One of the driving reasons I buy physical media is for bonus features.”
Bonus features are indeed one of the main selling points for physical releases, and while labels like Scream Factory and Vinegar Syndrome understand this and go heavy on them, the major labels seem to be shifting away from bonus contents entirely; Upgrade, one of this year’s fan favorites, made its way onto Blu-ray without a single bonus feature in sight!
Mind you, I’m not (yet) suggesting that physical media is likely to go extinct any time soon, but the continued evolution of digital streaming does seem to be draining physical releases of the life that once made discs such must-own commodities. You can own a digital copy of last year’s Halloween, for example, weeks before it’s released onto disc, and there’s not even all that much incentive to wait anymore. Physical copies will always be superior to digital copies in the eyes of many, but it’s not like the Blu-ray offers much that the digital version doesn’t.
Do we really have to wait for Scream Factory to release their own Blu-ray of Halloween (2018), years from now, before we can get the bonus contents we’re craving? Sadly, it seems we do.
Commentary tracks may be dying off, but all hope is not lost for those who are still begging for them. As Fangoria editor-in-chief Phil Nobile Jr. recently noted on Twitter, the new “commentary track”, it would seem, is Twitter, where filmmakers can often be found engaging with fans and offering up the kinds of insights and filmmaking tips that we used to only find within audio commentaries. So long as we don’t drive them off the platform with cruelty and negativity, social media offers the potential to take the commentary track to a whole new level.
My advice? Find the filmmakers/actors you dig and follow them on Twitter. And hey, it can’t hurt to let the big labels know you still want commentary tracks too, so don’t be shy.