Monday, March 12, 2012

What's the Holdup on "Hop"?

So, I've been keeping an eye on the DVD release dates of the fourth quarter 2011 films, waiting impatiently to finally get my first look at "My Week With Marilyn" and "Young Adult." While looking over the schedule of upcoming releases, I spotted "Hop," last year's partially animated Easter Bunny movie, slated for a March 23rd release. Not being too keen on watching the film after the negative reviews came in, I'd lost track of it, but I knew it had been in theaters shortly before Easter in 2011. Had Universal really waited a whole year to put the movie out on home media just to be able to capitalize off the holiday again?

Yup. The studio followed the usual release window timeline for Region 2, and "Hop" was released on DVD and Blu-Ray in late August in places like the UK, but Universal opted to wait nearly twelve months to release it on any home media in the US. And they're not the only ones who are using this tactic. "Arthur Christmas," the Aardman animated film that played American theaters starting November 23, 2011, won't reach home media until November 20, 2012. Now I'm a little regretful that I didn't catch it in theaters while I had the chance. It makes sense that both movies, which are so closely linked to a particular holiday, should wait a few extra months to launch their marketing campaigns and maximize sales. After all, who would would want to watch an Easter Bunny movie in August? Or a Christmas movie in March or April?

Out of curiosity, I did a little checking on similar holiday films, including the 2009 version of "A Christmas Carol," "The Polar Express," "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," "Four Christmases," the "Santa Clause" sequels, "Christmas With the Kranks," a couple of Halloween horror movies, the more recent "Valentine's Day" and "New Year's Eve," and "Groundhog's Day." Almost all the Christmas movies that were timed to open in theaters at the start of one holiday season didn't reach home media until the next November or December. By contrast, all the horror movies like the "Saw" and "Paranormal Activity" installments released for Halloween hit store shelves by the following January. "Valentine's Day" and "New Year's Eve," both released close to their respective holidays, were on DVD and Blu-ray a few months later in May. Ironically, the two most recent "Halloween" franchise movies were released in August. "Groundhog's Day" was in theaters slightly after the actual Groundhog's Day in 1993, and was released on home video six months later.

It's understandable why most of the non-Christmas movies don't opt to wait for their holiday to roll around again. Horror movies are effective all year round, as are the romantic comedies that just happen to take place on Valentine's and New Year's. Christmas movies, however, are generally all about Christmas, and the season only comes once a year. Moreover, Christmas movies and cartoons are a holiday tradition, an easy family activity to help fill the dull hours of interminable vacations and family reunions. Americans buy more Christmas themed movies than they do for any other holiday, and Hollywood obligingly produces plenty of them, hoping for more perennials like "It's a Wonderful Life" and "Miracle on 34th Street."

Easter isn't a big movie holiday, despite the yearly broadcasts of "The Ten Commandments." It's a far less commercialized and considerably more religious holiday, one that much of the rest of the world doesn't celebrate. However, there has been a long tradition of secular Easter cartoons and specials aimed at kids. "Hop," one of the few high profile Easter kids' movies, clearly made a play for seasonal relevance, and only time will tell if it manages to stick around in subsequent years or not. By all measures it doesn't seem to be a particularly good film, but there's not much else in the Easter movie category for it to compete with. On the other hand, placing itself in such a narrow niche might end up affecting its playability in the long run.

In the age of steadily shrinking release windows, it's interesting to find a category of movies that still follow a different model, and are immune to the pressures that have so drastically reshaped the rest of the home media landscape. I can't help wondering how these movies are going to be affected by further changes to existing distribution models, especially as consumers' memories get shorter and shorter. I admit I completely forgot about "Hop" until I spotted it on the March release schedule. I'm not really interested in it, but I would like to see "Arthur Christmas," after hearing some positive word-of-mouth over the holidays. But the question is, will I still want to by November? Or will I just watch the next Christmas themed movie that comes along?

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