Digital HD and Special Features: An ‘Exodus’ Away From Physical Media

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One of the biggest draws that led to the DVD boom of the early 2000s was the inclusion of special features. Audio commentaries, documentaries, and deleted scenes were among the myriad of bonuses crammed onto DVDs. Then streaming became more and more prevalent in home viewing. Netflix began to dominate the home video market and special features were a casualty of the coup the streaming service staged. Nowadays, most DVDs and Blu-Rays are barebones with maybe a featurette that was uploaded on YouTube the day before the disc’s release or the trailer which was uploaded on YouTube six months before the movie ever came out. However, studios are working on ways to get bonus features to their viewers that purchase their films on all formats. While the intentions are good, the technology isn’t exactly at the point to be a viable option for discerning cinephiles.

For the sake of clarity, while I do my fair amount of streaming across various services, I’ve never gotten into the habit of purchasing digital HD copies on movies from services like iTunes or Amazon. My preference is to stick with the Blu-Ray, and if it has a digital HD copy, so be it. The fine folks at 20th Century Fox were nice enough to provide us a code to get Ridley Scott’s biblical epic Exodus: Gods and Kings (more on that in a bit) through iTunes. Though it was certainly not their intention, the good folks over at 20th Century Fox only reinforced my personal affinity for physical media and its necessity.

Now, if you watch everything on your laptop, the issue that plagued my experience won’t affect you. However, if I have an option, watching a movie on my laptop is one of my least preferred methods of viewing. Also, if you have Apple TV, the problems I discuss won’t affect you. But since I have a Sony Blu-Ray player, there’s no way for me to view any movies purchased in iTunes through my device. So that’s a 1080p picture and 5.1 surround sound that I can’t employ, and which would also be nice when watching a massive biblical epic. Unlike the UltraViolet service, you can’t sync your iTunes movies through any other streaming services available on non-Apple devices. Basically, I have the option of watching the film on my laptop and that’s it.

What’s astounding is that this isn’t the fault of any of the parties involved. The digital distribution of film is still an unsettled territory and nobody seems eager to align themselves with each other. The studios are just trying to get their work out there in every possible means. Meanwhile, Apple has no incentive to team up with UltraViolent or other services as people devoted to Apple are, well, pretty damn devoted to Apple.

Downloading the 5-gigabyte file into my iTunes library took about an hour. After the file wouldn’t play, I finally succumbed to the latest iTunes download where the file did work. As far as watching a film on a laptop, the quality of the picture was Blu-Ray quality, though I can’t judge the sound on these tiny speakers. Like placing a disc in the laptop, the menu pops up and you have an array of options of subtitles, audio languages, and, best of all, special features. If there were a way to make this work across various platforms, it may very well be a strong options for the discerning movie collector.

So bummed they didn't use Wipeout right here. Wasted opportunity.

So bummed they didn’t use Wipeout right here. Wasted opportunity.

As for Exodus: Gods and Kings, it’s a dud. Ridley Scott’s remake (which isn’t a remake) of The Ten Commandments is actually more a remake of Gladiator. Christian Bale’s Moses is brilliant military tactician and though not the blood relative to King Seti (John Turturro), he’s favored over Seti’s arrogant, irresponsible son Ramesses II (Joel Edgerton). Even though they grew up best friends, when Ramesses learns Moses was born a Jew and prophesized to overthrow him, he betrays him, banishing him to harsh wilderness. But you just don’t banish Moses, he winds up talking to God and leads an uprising against the mighty King. Of course, Moses gets a big assist from the big man upstairs when he rains down 10 plagues on the people of Egypt. The big dramatic moments is when the Red Sea is parted and Israelites evade the coming Egyptian forces. Then the film ends with Christian Bale in old-man makeup.

What makes the film so disappointing is that Scott is much more concerned with making the story of Exodus focused on action spectacle that he forgets to introduce anything resembling a larger theme into the film. Actually, in many regards, he makes the film almost cater to the atheistic view that the God of The Old Testament was actually just a dick. Nothing drives home that atheistic bent home further than making the physical embodiment of God a little boy that occasionally displays an unwieldy temper. Say what you will about Noah, but it’s a film that uses a biblical tale to explore themes of faith and humanity’s purpose on the Earth without feeling the need to overtly pander or subvert its audience’s faith. Exodus seems to be trying to pander and subvert, but it’s not really good at either.

As far as the special features included on the digital download was an audio commentary by Ridley Scott and co-writer Jeffrey Caine. The most insightful of the special features is The Lawgiver’s Legacy: Moses Throughout History, which explores the cultural, historical, and religious history of Moses. There’s also 15 minutes of deleted scenes, but there should’ve been at least 15 minutes more if you asked me (nudge, nudge). One awkwardly titled special feature is the “enhancement pods,” which are just a collection of multiple 3 minute or so videos giving a behind the scenes look at the film’s production. There’s also a complete archive of all the movie’s pre-production, production, and post-production promotional material. As far as special features are concerned, this is equivalent to a features-heavy Blu-Ray. Aside from the quality of the film itself, the biggest issue here is the inability to use it across other platforms.

There’s a lot of good with the digital revolution, and it’s nice to see a studio make an effort in making special features accessible whether a digital download or physical media purchase. But with the digital market place as newer market with everyone trying to angle for leverage and no way to guarantee what works on one device can work on another, it’s just a safer bet to go with the Blu-Ray.

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