Thursday, July 18, 2019

Criterion Collection #1000 Revealed: Inside the Most Complete MCU Box Set to Date

After days of nail-biting tension, Criterion fans can finally bury their fears and pre-order spine #1000.

Article written by George Stefano Pallas. Cinephilia and unhealthy hoarding practiced by the author is his alone and do not necessarily reflect nor should be construed as those of the Author.

On July 15, 2019, an insatiable panic descended on the streets of Facebook, Film Twitter, Instagram, and the customer service inbox of Criterion. For as long as time immemorial, it had been tradition for the New York-based film restoration and home video company to unveil a new line-up of forthcoming releases on the 15th day of the month, usually no later than 4PM PT. This time, however, metropolitan white-collar workers and arts students furiously pounding the refresh button at their desks were gathering that something had gone terribly wrong at Criterion HQ. All lines of communication were down, and the evening passed with not so much as a mysterious tweet from The Big C.

Criterion aficionados had begun to register unease well before the day of the announcement because of the unique stakes at hand. The last month’s update had concluded on Ernst Lubitsch’s Cluny Brown as the 997th spine number in the collection, virtually ensuring a shockwave of anticipation for the next batch of titles. What would receive the honor of sporting the 1000th spine in the most esteemed, selective, and coveted American video catalogue, celebrated by many as “film school in a box”?

A disturbance rippled throughout the cinephile community. How could this edition possibly top such releases as the 39-film Ingmar Bergman box set, 100 Years of Olympic Films: 1912-2012, or the iconic Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom? Some proposed that a comprehensive Akira Kurosawa collection would be the easiest path for Criterion to take. Others cynically hypothesized that the company would release yet another version of Citizen Kane, caving in to popular consensus.

After days of the most nail-biting tension observable outside a De Palma film, Criterion fans can finally lay aside their baseless fears and pre-order spine #1000, Early Marvel Cinematic Universe: The Infinity Saga. When asked by the Files to explain what caused the delay, CEO Jonathan B. Turell stated that Criterion places “immense value in perfectionism” and “wanted to display a level of love and craftsmanship in the release’s presentation proportional to the films themselves.” They also had to decide upon a fair price point that wouldn’t be prohibitive to consumers while still reflecting the high quality of the Criterion brand.

Given the company’s mission of “publishing important classic and contemporary films from around the world,” the collected first, second, and third phases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) should appease Criterion fans as the only logical contender for this incredible milestone. At the time of writing, the MCU is by a wide margin the highest-grossing cinematic franchise of all time, and within a week or two it will also include the highest-grossing film of all time. Criterion is designating the first 22 films in the epic, comic book-derived series as “early” Marvel in acknowledgment that the franchise is still young, 11 years being a blip in the lifetime of a prolific auteur.  

In addition to its obvious cultural and financial impact, the MCU has broken new ground in the process of filmmaking itself, a feat that’s reflected in the packaging. The Infinity Saga box set substantially deviates from the vast majority of numbered Criterion releases by not attributing the movies to a specific director; e.g. “Ant-Man and the Wasp – a film by Peyton Reed” instead reads “Ant-Man and the Wasp – a film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.” Such a peculiar design choice would seem to underscore the novel and experimental technique of making all MCU movies look and feel mostly the same regardless of who’s directing them, or it may allude to the fact that many MCU directors don’t actually direct their own action scenes.

The MCU has garnered critical acclaim across the board and numerous Academy Award nominations, including for Best Picture. Although entertaining enough to be mistaken for harmless “escapism,” the films invoke the guise of fantasy to deliver subtle yet profound commentary on paganism, bureaucratic overreach, democratic tampering, late capitalism, white nationalism, the military industrial complex, 9/11 Truth, unilateralism, xenophobia, queer identity, and intersectional feminism.


One official Oscar campaign poster for Black Panther blends approximately 20 separate Washington Post opinion articles on the film to say, “As a celebration of Pan-Africanism and a critique of Africa’s colonial history, Black Panther pays homage to forebears as diverse as Marcus Garvey, Booker T. Washington, and W.E.B. Dubois drawing on elements from African history and tribal culture, as well as contemporary and forward-looking flourishes, it is bracingly, joyfully groundbreaking” [sic]. Hundreds if not thousands of other people who get paid to write about movies unanimously lauded the MCU stand-out and forthcoming Criterion title as “revolutionary,” “historical,” and “like nothing you’ve ever seen before.”

Criterion’s Blu-ray/DVD collector’s edition of The Infinity Saga boasts several brand-new transfers from the original Arriraw codecs, guaranteeing that the movies will look more slick and realistic than previous, bare-bones releases. Adding yet more value to the package, a couple of the older films have never-before-seen alternate cuts that make for radically different viewing experiences and help streamline binge-watching. Our e-mail exchanges with a Criterion insider revealed that these cuts will excise elements no longer cohesive to the MCU as a whole, for example editing out the sex scene in Iron Man, the scantily-clad women in Iron Man 2, and Tony Stark’s alcoholism in both. The cuts will also mitigate common, more technical criticisms aimed at the MCU, such as the Dutch angles in Thor and the number of Edwards Norton scenes in The Incredible Hulk. The theatrical versions are included in keeping with Criterion’s record of preserving all options, but the new versions pose a compelling reason for cinephiles to revisit and reevaluate all the films they probably haven’t seen since the theater.

Even the titles that don’t benefit from a restoration or reinterpretation will come loaded with supplements, such as a commentary track by producer Kevin Feige on every installment. The really inquisitive film student will have a surplus of retrospective interviews and documentaries to dig through that explicate the aesthetic, historical, and political significance of The Infinity Saga. Due to the sheer volume of the product, Criterion will be announcing more specifics on special features closer to the release date, but at the moment their website promises a 30-minute video essay analyzing the troublingly relevant geopolitics of Captain America: Civil War. Also exclusive to the box set is a reflection from Olivia Wilde on Captain Marvel’s importance to diversity and representation as the first female main protagonist in an English-language action movie with a budget of more than $150 million that was directed in part by a woman and distributed by Disney.

Turell claims that Criterion’s extended social media silence allowed the company to negotiate the $1000 MSRP sought by Disney, who are sharing the profits, down to a relatively affordable $600. The Early Marvel Cinematic Universe box set ships on October 29, just in time for Black Friday and Christmas.

“We love you 1000,” the Criterion Twitter signed off on Thursday.

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