Lately I’ve been pondering reimmersing myself in Tolkien: I’ve been rereading The Hobbit in e-book form, and am considering going on to Lord of the Rings—it’s been a while. Perhaps after that I’ll watch the twelve-hour extended-length movie adaptations again, by way of getting ready for Peter Jackson’s prequel, which just recently began filming in New Zealand.
Out of curiosity, I peeked at the listing for the Blu-Ray versions of the movies on Amazon, and noticed something rather interesting. It seems that the 1-star protest review has spread beyond the realm of overpriced or windowed e-books, and is now being used to protest DVD-related “injustices” too. (Not that this is unexpected—they were being used to protest restrictive video game DRM before they were used for protesting e-book-related matters.)
And so it is that the Blu-Ray of the theatrical cut of the trilogy whose final installment broke Oscar records has 3,160 1-star reviews out of 3,749 reviews total, averaging a paltry 1.5 stars. Why? Because the studios are releasing two separate box sets, rather than combining both 3-hour theatrical and 4-hour extended versions into one. Writes one 1-star reviewer:
BOTTOM-LINE: The studios will make whatever argument they think will fly to convince us they can’t put both versions on one disc, because they want to double their income on this movie. Which has ALREADY MADE THEM A BILLION DOLLARS. Don’t play along—let friends know not to buy ANY LOTR Blu Ray that doesn’t have BOTH versions on one disc.
They do have a point: the “limited edition” DVD set included both versions through seamless branching. There’s no reason they couldn’t do the same for the Blu-Ray—except, of course, for wanting to milk that cash cow for all it’s worth. It’s unclear whether there even will be an equivalent to the branching limited edition for Blu-Ray—the exclusive extra documentaries from the limited edition set are being tacked onto the extended-edition Blu-Ray release due out in June. (Weirdly, all the extras in that set are being rereleased as DVDs, rather than Blu-Rays—I suppose it was cheaper to keep pressing the same discs than to remaster them to package them together on fewer Blu-Rays.)
I’ve held in the past that 1-star reviews are a way consumers can make their opinions felt in a way that has visible effect, but I’m starting to wonder whether this is simply becoming yet another form of “slacktivism”—the idea that you can somehow “make a difference” by not doing anything more than clicking a link and posting vitriol to the Internet. If people see the Lord of the Rings trilogy rated at 1.5 stars, what are they likelier to dismiss: the quality of the movie, or the quality of the reviews? It doesn’t seem likely that movie studios are going to look at a few thousand 1-star reviews on Amazon and think, “Oh dear, we’d better change our ways.”
And by the same token, it doesn’t seem likely these reviews are going to change publishers’ minds. Though it seems equally unlikely that those who make a habit of posting them will give them up. A better strategy would be drawing attention in blogs and the media to these pricing practices, getting the word out into places that carry more weight than reviews on Amazon. (After one such overpriced e-book was mentioned prominently in a CNET article, the e-book price mysteriously dropped a few bucks.) Of course, that takes a bit more effort than posting a 1-star Amazon screed.