‘Taken 2’ and the Evolution of Digital Movie Distribution

Taken 2: iPad Boogaloo

This is not an article that makes wild predictions about the future. It probably won’t solve all of you movie-watching problems, either. It’s also not entirely about a movie in which Liam Neeson has a set of skills. It is, however, a cautiously optimistic piece about where the world of digital distribution is heading.

We talk about it far too much as part of the debate over piracy. The notion that for producers of content to truly reach the plugged in generation, they’re going to have to fix the mechanism that sells us the content. It’s perhaps the worst conditions under which we talk about digital distribution. So many sides, so many emotions, so much grey area exists in the piracy discussion. And so often, it escalates out of control. But what about the optimistic side of digital distribution. What is it that people want most, if they aren’t simply after something free. It’s simple: they want it now. And more and more, we’re seeing distributors who are closing the gap between when things are in theaters and when you can have it in our home. In these instances, there’s cause for hope.

Earlier this week I received an email from someone at 20th Century Fox Home Video with solicitation to review Taken 2. This isn’t usually something of note, as we get solicitation to review DVD and Blu-ray releases all the time. But this one was a bit different. She offered not a product, but a code that could be entered into the iTunes Store app on any of my various Apple iThings that would grant me instant access to the film via digital download. To date, I can’t say that this has happened before. I’ve reviewed films via online screeners (which is lovely and easy), but I’ve not yet been given the opportunity to test out one of these Early Digital Releases, as Fox calls it. You see, Taken 2 will be widely available at your local retailer or via Amazon for about $25 on Blu-ray on January 15. But right this moment, you can buy it in HD with extras for $15 from iTunes. That’s almost a month early. We’re talking about a movie that hit domestic theaters on October 5. It’s barely out of theaters and there it is, downloading to my iPad in about 15 minutes over Reject HQ’s pedestrian wi-fi connection. This is what living in the future feels like. Legal, high quality and able to be downloaded right now. It’s the perfect solution for law abiding citizens of the “I need that now” generation.

As it turns out, Fox isn’t the only studio dabbling with advanced digital releases. It’s something I’ve been eyeing for some time. A quick scan over the iTunes Store on my iPad (while waiting for Liam Neeson to infiltrate my device with his particular set of skills) revealed that Looper is also available as an early digital release. Sony is in the game, as well. No need to wait until December 31 to get Rian Johnson’s excellent film that some silly film website called “one of the best sci-fi films of the past decade.” For $18, I can have it right now. Not keen on paying more than $1 to be able to laugh at That’s My Boy starring Adam Sandler? It’s available to rent at 99¢. Did you miss The Hurt Locker and just never got around to it? Also 99¢. But I’m off topic. This is about new movies, not Oscar winners of days past.

There’s nothing wrong with taking a moment away from the heated argument about distribution and piracy to observe that progress is happening on an almost daily basis. Companies like Magnolia Pictures and IFC Films are constantly bringing independent films to digital release during (and sometimes before) theatrical release. The films that we write about at film festivals are no longer LA and NYC releases. Take King Kelly, for example. Our own critic Rob Hunter loved King Kelly at SXSW in March of 2012. Not long after, it was picked up by GoDigital, a company founded in 2008 focused on distributing films digitally. It released in New York on November 30, but has also made its way to iTunes and other VOD formats this month. I watched it last week and have to say, that Rob Hunter was right. It’s pretty good, for a film that presents a scandalous series of events via a hawt girl’s iPhone camera. In a world that was once plagued with seeing films sit on a shelf at a distribution house for years on-end after a promising festival debut, having something release as widely as possible (read: on the internet) within the same calendar year is movement in the right direction.

The point to be made is that we’re in a position to stop and smell the small amount of roses that have begun to sprout amongst the weeds of the Pirate Generation. We as movie lovers want to see movies as readily as possible. Most of us are keen on paying for them, out of respect for the medium and the artists. And studios do seem to be working on ways for those two ideas to work in concert. Not just to combat piracy, but to create a better experience for the end-user. The road is long and there will be many a heated discussion along the way, but we’re on it. And that’s not such a bad thing.

How was Taken 2, you ask? Abysmal. I played Angry Birds through most of its second act. I guess you can’t win ’em all, even with a particular set of skills.

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