Box Set Bonanza 2012

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 2nd October 2012.

Every October, dark forces return to unleash unspeakable horrors upon our supermarket and department store shelves. No, I’m not talking about Halloween. I mean the Christmas merchandise that’s already started to appear in our stores. So if it’s good enough for a multinational corporation, it’s good enough for me. In preparation for the silly season, here are my picks for the best box sets to buy for your favourite movie fanatic (or Tuesday columnist).

If too much Bond is never enough, grab Bond 50 – The James Bond Collection which celebrates half a century of Bond adventures with 22 films on 22 discs. If you buy the blu-ray set, there’s also an extra disc full of exclusive new content. Unfortunately, the non-canon Never Say Never Again from 1983 is not included, which is a shame because I’d gladly exchange it for the invisible car and wooden Madonna performance from Die Another Day. With the latest Band mission, Skyfall, hitting cinemas in November, a space has been generously left in the box for you to complete your collection next year. You can then rest easy knowing you own every single minute of Bond goodness, until the next movie is announced and you’ll have to buy a new box set. Start saving your money, Penny.

Speaking of great franchises, Indiana Jones has finally taken the leap to high definition. Indiana Jones – The Complete Adventures features all three original films on beautiful blu-ray, plus an extra disc chock full of bonus stuff. The films have been remastered under the supervision of Steven Spielberg, with Raiders of the Lost Ark receiving a complete restoration from the original print and sound mix. The set also includes a special Indiana Jones coaster. You can protect your tabletops knowing that The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has finally found a useful purpose.

The Universal Monsters Collection on blu-ray celebrates the 100th anniversary of Universal Studios by unleashing some of its iconic creature features in high definition. Featuring a 48 page book and 8 discs, I can’t wait to get my hands on this one and experience horror classics Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, Bride of Frankenstein, The Wolf Man and Phantom of the Opera for the first time. Best of all, The Creature from the Black Lagoon will make his (or is it her, or its) debut in blu-ray 3D.

Finally, the master of suspense has been given a high definition makeover to bring you Alfred Hitchcock – The Masterpiece Collection. The box set features 14 Hitchcock  classics including Rear Window, Frenzy, Psycho and Vertigo, plus every ornithophobe’s favourite, The Birds.  There is also 15 hours of bonus content for your enjoyment. Strangely, my favourite Hitchcock flick, North by Northwest, is not featured. Neither is Gus Van Sant’s disastrous 1998 shot for shot remake of Psycho, which is good thing.

One last thing, all of these box sets are labelled as limited editions. This is a rather meaningless marketing term nowadays so don’t rush out and buy them all just in case. With all of the above around or above the $100 mark, the limiting factor may well be your wallet.

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Product placement in movies: buy a hot dog

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 18th January 2011.

Remember that scene in Casino Royale, the 2006 James Bond reboot, where 007 and Vesper Lynd are travelling on a train and she asks him about his watch? She asks, “Rolex?” Bond (Daniel Craig) calmly replies, “Omega.” Lynd ends the conversation about the watch with the simple, “Beautiful.”

Ker-ching! You’ve just been the victim of product placement. Omega reportedly paid $7 million per film for Bond to spruik Omega watches. Sure, the world’s favourite superspy has to wear a watch so it may as well be an actual brand but there’s really no need to shove it down our throats by altering the script to become a bizarre commercial. Last time I checked, the ads were meant to be before the film, not during the feature.

Product placement in films is nothing new but imagine what might happen if a company actually bankrolls a feature film. There are two famous examples of this. One is a beloved family film and the other is one of the worst movies ever made (it has a 0% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes).

Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was originally published in 1964. A children’s literary classic, it was adapted into a movie musical starring Gene Wilder in 1971. What you may not know is that the film was financed by the Quaker Oats Company.

Founded in 1901, the company specialised in breakfast cereals at the time and had no experience in film making. The film’s producer, David L. Wolper, managed to convince the company that the movie would be the perfect advertising medium for their new candy bars. And thus, the Wonka Bar was born and the film’s title was altered to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in anticipation of a marketing match made in heaven.

Unfortunately, due to production problems, Wonka Bars never made it to the shops and the film was released, unblemished by product placement, to generally positive reviews (Dahl hated it) but mediocre box office. Via endless television repeats and its popularity on video and DVD, it is now considered an iconic children’s film (despite the scene showing a chook being decapitated).

Quaker Oats sold their share of the rights for half a million dollars 1977 and never invested in another film again.

Mac and Me was an E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial rip-off released in 1988. Featuring a cute alien (MAC stood for “Mysterious Alien Creature”) who befriends a boy in a wheelchair whilst on the run from evil government scientists and agents, this turkey was financially backed by Coke and McDonalds.

In one of the least subtle product placement ever, Mac (as in Big Mac) conveniently only needs Coke and Skittles to survive. A visit to a McDonalds Restaurant with the bad guys hot on the trail strangely deteriorates into a syrupy happy impromptu dance contest, complete with a cameo from Ronald McDonald. This sickly sweet scene is widely available on YouTube and has to be seen to be believed. A warning, you may need insulin afterwards.

Ronald McDonald deservedly won the Worst New Star category at the 1988 Golden Raspberry Awards for Mac and Me. The film ends with the words, “We’ll Be Back!” written across the screen. Luckily for us, this atrocious waste of celluloid didn’t spawn a sequel. I understand that business for McDonalds was unaffected by the film’s failure and that there are now several restaurants worldwide.

So the next time you buy a watch, or grab a drink, or participate in an impromptu dance off at your local burger joint, or visit a chocolate factory run by little men with green hair, ask yourself if Hollywood made you do it.