Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Happy 5th Anniversary to The Warner Archive

For classic movie buffs 2014 is a year of anniversaries. First it has been 75 years since 1939, widely regarded as the greatest year for film of all time. Because of this some of the greatest movies ever made are celebrating their 75th anniversaries this year. Second, the Criterion Collection turns thirty years old this year. Founded in 1984, the Criterion Collection is a video distribution company devoted to classic and quality films. Third, next month will see Turner Classic Movies turn 20 years old. In the ensuing years it has become one of the most valued resources of classic film fans. Fourth, it was earlier this week that the Warner Archive turned five years old. Like TCM, the Warner Archive has become one of the most valued resources for classic film buffs. It launched on 23 March 2009.

For those unfamiliar with the Warner Archive, it began as a manufactured on demand (MOD for short) DVD business. Quite simply, DVDs of films or television shows are manufactured only when the customer places an order for them. Because the Warner Archive's DVDs are only manufactured on demand, they are available only through the Archive. This saves money on storing the DVDs and on dispatching them to stores. From the very beginning of the Warner Archive one could also purchase films as digital downloads.

Since its launch in March 2009 the Warner Archive has undergone a few changes. In November 2012 the Warner Archive began selling limited edition, manufactured on demand  Blu-ray Discs. It was in July 2013 that Warner Archive Instant was launched. Warner Archive Instant is a service whereby for $9.99 a month one can stream films and TV shows from the Archive, not unlike NetFlix or Hulu.

The Warner Archive would prove to be a game changer for classic movie and television buffs and not simply because it was the first manufactured on demand DVD business. Many films and television shows that had never been issued on DVD before or had long ago gone out of print would become available through the Warner Archive.  What is more, titles available through the Warner Archive range from the Silent Era to the Eighties. There is also an incredible variety in what the Warner Archive has to offer. There are genuine classics, such as Showboat (1936) and The Americanization of Emily (1964). There are some prime examples of camp, including 1955's Sincerely Yours (a vehicle for Liberace) and 1975's Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze. There is even some outright schlock, such as The Green Slime (1968). Of course, The Warner Archive also deals in television shows, including such rarely seen series as Search (a short lived show from 1972) as well as better known shows as Maverick.

Of course,  the success of the Warner Archive would lead to other MOD DVD businesses. It was only a little over a year after the Warner Archive had launched that Sony started its own MOD DVD business, Screen Classics By Request (now called the Sony Choice Collection). MGM, Universal, and Disney would follow suit with their own MOD DVD businesses (the MGM Choice Collection, the Universal Vault Series, and the Disney Generations Collection respectively). More recently 20th Century Fox launched the Fox Cinema Archives. As a result of the Warner Archive's success, then, many of the major studios started their own MOD businesses. And because other studios started their own MOD businesses many more vintage films that might never have seen the light of day are now available on DVD and Blu-Ray.

While other studios would start their own manufactured on demand DVD businesses, it is the Warner Archive that remains the leader in the field. Much of this is due to the sheer size of Warner's library, which  not only includes Warner Brothers' own feature films, shorts, and television shows, but films from MGM, United Artists, RKO, and other sources as well. As a result many more films and TV shows can be released through the Warner Archive than some of the other studios' MOD businesses. Another reason the Warner Archive has remained the leader in the field of MOD businesses is the sheer quality of their products. Not only do they use the very best prints, but even the packaging is superior to that of other MOD businesses.

Both the Criterion Collection and Turner Classic Movies (through their TCM Vault Collection) released vintage films well before the Warner Archive was founded, but the Warner Archive has established itself as a valuable resource for classic film buffs simply through the sheer variety of its releases. Both the Criterion Collection and the TCM Vault Collection are primarily devoted to classic films. We will probably never see the Criterion Collection release The Green Slime or the TCM Vault Collection release Yor, The Hunter From The Future. And it must be pointed out that television shows are also released through the Warner Archive. Cheyenne, The Courtship of Eddie's Father, The F.B.I., The Man From Atlantis, and Marine Boy are all available through the Warner Archive. Quite simply, the Warner Archive's greatest contribution to fans of vintage films and television shows may be the fact that they have made available films and TV shows that have been rarely seen in the past few decades. For that reason the Warner Archive has earned the love of vintage film and television fans everywhere.

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