“Since 1984, the Criterion Collection has been dedicated to publishing important classic and contemporary films from around the world in editions that offer the highest technical quality and award-winning, original supplements. No matter the medium—from laserdisc to DVD, Blu-ray, 4K Ultra HD to streaming—Criterion has maintained its pioneering commitment to presenting each film as its maker would want it seen, in state-of-the-art restorations with special features designed to encourage repeated watching and deepen the viewer’s appreciation of the art of film.”
Two occurrences recently brought Criterion to the forefront of my mind – the first was the discovery of another company, Vinegar Syndrome, doing film restorations and releases, its purview being genre films. The second was a question of if video games have a similar advocate for history and restoration.
So what is Criterion? At its core, it’s a DVD and Blu-Ray distribution company that restores and/or preserves culturally relevant films, both historical and contemporary. The company has a long history of releasing films of all genres, from classic films to cult favorites, as well as films from around the world. Criterion also releases special editions of films, with extra features such as documentaries, commentaries, and restored prints. Additionally, they often release films that are difficult to find in other formats.
Criterion spoke to cinephiles during a time when movies were first able to be brought home, in VHS, Betamax, and Laser Discs. The history of Criterion is closely tied to the rollout of Laser Discs in the 80s. “Citizen Kane was the first film released by The Criterion Collection in 1984. The LaserDisc offered not only the best quality version of the film to date but special features that had never been seen before. Nowadays, special features are expected, but this Criterion LaserDisc is where it all started.” (MovieWeb)
The Criterion Collection was the first to introduce these features, such as audio commentaries, production stills, and interviews with the filmmakers. This set the standard for home video special features, and established Criterion as the leader in quality content. As home video changed to DVDs in the late 90s, there was a massive push to include all kinds of special features, perhaps as an incentive to purchase, maybe to build up loyalty for certain studios or distributors, or perhaps even to spread more knowledge of the inner workings of an industry where thousands of workers and artisans can bring a film to market, but only the performers, and maybe the director, receive any sort of notoriety.
And still, it started with Criterion.
I was told, years ago, that King Kong (1933) would never get a DVD release, because it was public domain, and there was no money in it. Of course, it certainly has. I picked up a low-quality print at Big Lots for like two bucks about fifteen years ago. But there’s a laser disc pressing, released by Criterion, I believe in ’87. It includes footage cut from the original pressing, a running commentary, and a visual essay on the making of the film.
As you can see, Criterion is dedicated to preserving film history. Criterion has become a pioneer in the field of restoring film prints and making them available to the public. They provide access to filmmakers’ commentaries and other materials, which can provide a greater understanding of the film and its production. In addition, they often include rare or never-before-seen footage and materials, which are invaluable to film historians and fans.