Joker is a fantastic film with a huge and passionate fanbase. It also boasts a stunning visual style and a hauntingly effective and memorable soundtrack. Put all this together and you’ve got one of the most eagerly awaited home entertainment releases of this or any year.
With this in mind you might have expected Warner Bros to really go the extra mile to satisfy eager Joker fans with every aspect of the film’s home video release. Unfortunately, though, Warners has instead decided that this would be a great release to mess about with by making key content available exclusively to just a single distribution platform.
Here’s the US 4K Blu-ray cover art for Joker with the Digital Code clearly mentioned…
Photo: Joker’s US 4K Blu-ray cover art (Warner Bros)
Specifically, Warner Home Video has made Todd Phillips’ director’s commentary for Joker only available to people who own the film on iTunes. It isn’t available on any other home video platform – including any of Joker’s physical media releases. Not even the $30 4K Blu-ray.
There’s no technical reason for this decision; there are many 4K and HD Blu-rays out there that accommodate commentary tracks, while other non-iTunes streaming platforms routinely carry such extra features alongside the main film. So it seems to be a purely commercial decision by Warner, made at the expense of the good will of many of Joker’s fans.
The US disc releases of Joker do at least ship with a code giving you access to the film via Movies Anywhere, which also works on iTunes – and unlocks the commentary. If you don’t have an Apple TV, though, or some way of accessing iTunes on your TV, you’ll have to try and play the commentary track through your PC or Mac. Hardly ideal when you’ve coughed up so much money for a premium AV experience.
The problem becomes more pernicious if you don’t live in the US and so can’t take advantage of the Movies Anywhere code. In fact, while the Joker US 4K Blu-ray packaging includes a mention of the Digital Code on its front cover, the UK packaging pointedly removes any reference to a digital code. In fact, it’s become common practice for films to ship on disc in the UK without a code since the UltraViolet service closed down last year.
And here’s the UK Joker 4K Blu-ray cover art, with no mention of a digital code…
Photo: Joker’s UK 4K Blu-ray Cover Art
This means that for the UK, and presumably many other territories outside the US, the only way people who buy the film on disc will be able to access the iTunes-exclusive Joker commentary will be to buy the film for a second time on iTunes.
International Joker fans can’t just import the film’s US 4K or HD Bu-ray, either, as unfortunately the Movies Anywhere code won’t be accepted if you try to register it on Warners’ redemption site from outside the US. I know this as I bought the US 4K Blu-ray myself, and tried the code in desperation even though I knew it wouldn’t work. Which it didn’t.
This would be a sorry state of affairs for any home video release. But it’s particularly frustrating with a film as complex and layered as Joker, where a commentary track by the writer/director has the scope to be exceptionally interesting and informative in helping to unravel the film’s narrative puzzles.
Some people (especially those with Apple TVs or television sets/streaming devices that carry Apple TV Apps!) will say, of course, that people who really want the commentary should just buy Joker on iTunes as the only version they buy and stop moaning. And it is fair to say that Apple’s streams, especially its 4K Dolby Vision HDR streams, can be arguably the best streams around. There are numerous reasons why the ‘just buy it on iTunes’ argument is simplistic, though.
First, there’s the simple principle that consumers should be able to buy something they care about on any platform they choose without being penalized for their choice – especially in a world where you’re faced with decisions as profound as physical ownership versus licensing rights ownership.
At least Arthur finds the exclusive commentary situation funny.
Photo: Joker, Warner Bros
I understand the need for different streaming platforms to try and get an edge over their rivals. From a consumer perspective, though, it would clearly be better if advantages were sought through issues such as price and streaming quality, rather than exclusive fan-friendly features.
Second, many people who buy films on physical media – especially 4K Blu-ray – do so because they want the last word in quality and performance consistency. Especially in a world where fast broadband is by no means universally available. And these quality-driven disc fans are the last people who should be punished by losing out on a key fan-favourite feature just because they want – or in some cases need – to buy 4K Blu-ray to get that premium quality. Especially as they typically have to pay significantly more to own a film on 4K Blu-ray than stream-buyers do.
In fact, arguably if any format was going to get an exclusive feature or two, it should be the more expensive 4K Blu-ray. Though while I’m a fan of physical media myself, I fully understand the practical appeal of streaming, and so wouldn’t want to see streaming purchases compromised either.
Third, even if you’re of the view that on really fast broadband Apple iTunes streams get close to the picture quality of 4K Blu-rays (despite 4K Blu-rays being capable of delivering data rates of 100Mbps and more), all streaming services currently use compressed audio streams, whereas 4K and HD Blu-rays deliver lossless audio.
Finally, if you’re someone who sees Warners decision here as part of a creeping policy among studios of ultimately trying to do away with physical media, then just ‘giving in’ to Warners decision without complaint is contributing to this policy and guaranteeing the growth of such practices in the future.
The situation is complicated in Joker’s case by the fact that, as I’ll discuss in an upcoming separate review, the Joker 4K Blu-ray looks and sounds so damn good that in the end it’s hard to recommend that everyone refuses to buy the film in protest at Warner’s actions.
There’s certainly no harm, though, in AV and movie fans vocally letting Warners and other studios know that this sort of consumer-harming, extras-splitting practice isn’t something any consumer should ever really be happy about.
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