The above clip is one of many unboxing videos that can now be found for Criterion’s DVD and Blu-Ray release of Roma (dir. Alfonso Cuaron 2018) – available since February 2020.
This is a significant contrast to the initial premise by which the film was promoted – as being a Netflix original.
What’s more, Netflix announced in January 2020 that four more of its Original Film Productions would be released through Criterion.
Criterion has been a marker of high quality for film preservation and appreciation since the era of the laserdisc. Now, Netflix, the supposed disruptor of old media formats and conglomerates, is embracing a physical format. Yes, the company still rents out discs in the USA, but its predominant focus for several years has been as an international streaming platform.
Is this a step back? Perhaps, and perhaps not, as Roma was not the first. Though not technically a Netflix Original, Annihilation (dir. Alex Garland 2018) was initially released on the platform. Several months later it was quietly released on DVD and Blu-Ray – and on digital rental and purchase platforms – in 2019.
To turn briefly to series as well, many of Netflix’s popular titles – from House of Cards to Orange is the New Black – have been available for even longer on disc and pay-per-view digital platforms.
So what, you may ask?
Well, disc releases are perhaps just a marker of success. For example, Amazon have allowed the disc release of many of their original production shows and films. MUBI have released some of their digital and theatrical releases on disc. So perhaps Netlfix’s actions are nothing new.
However, for those aware of film history, this may sound eerily close to the vertical integration structures of old.
Until the late 1940s, American production studios controlled not just filmmaking facilities, but also distribution and exhibition networks. The practice even continues in some countries, such as China. But its return to an American company, Netflix, is a significant repeat of a historical trend. Vertical integration may not quite be an accurate explanation of what is happening at the moment, but it could easily return in future. For example, the documentaries on the Criterion disc of Roma detail how Netflix financed theatrical screenings at independent and open-air venues in Mexico and other countries. It seems Netflix could easily replicate this practice in future, and possess its titles from inception and production, all the way through to theatrical, physical and digital release platforms.