On a recent Just the Discs podcast, Brian and his special guest Rob Galluzzo discussed the joys of purchasing discs from countries outside the U.S. I’ve been talking about the benefits of owning a region-free Blu-ray player for years and many of my blog followers and Twitter friends have contacted me about taking the plunge. (As far as I know, they’re all satisfied with their decision to go region-free.) But if you can listen to Brian and Rob talk about these imports and not be tempted to buy a region-free player, that’s something I simply can’t fathom. These guys did a stellar job of communicating the many advantages of the region-free lifestyle, but I thought I’d share my own journey.
At first I didn’t even need a region-free Blu-ray player. By keeping an eye on Blu-ray.com, I discovered that many of the expensive boxed sets I had my eye on were available in region-free import editions that were much cheaper than their U.S. counterparts. Three cases in point:
Full disclosure: the UK edition contains one less film than the U.S. edition (North by Northwest), but even when the U.S. edition is selling at 50% off, you’ll still save at least $30 by picking up the UK edition. (Prices change frequently, so keep an eye on Blu-ray.com. More on this in a moment.)
At one time there was at least a $40 difference between the U.S. and UK sets. Currently the UK set sells for around $26; the U.S. for $47. The only difference? If I’m not mistaken, there’s one extra on the U.S. version that’s not included on the UK edition. (Of course the Universal Classic Monsters: Complete 30-Film Collection makes both of these collections pretty much obsolete, but if you only want the original movies, this is still a great set. This also begs the question: Will the UK edition of the 30-film set sell for significantly less than the U.S. version? We shall see…)
When the first Star Trek TNG Blu-rays came out in the U.S., they were quite expensive. I soon discovered that I could buy all seven seasons collected together in a region-free edition that was cheaper than buying any two seasons of the U.S. editions. A definite no-brainer.
I also began to notice that several of the titles I wanted on Blu-ray were either out of print from boutique U.S. labels or had never had a U.S. Blu-ray release.
Walter Hill’s The Driver (1978) is still unavailable on Blu-ray in the U.S. (The Twilight Time Blu-ray sold out long ago and goes for ridiculous prices online.) Yet the Studio Canal Region B edition was (and still is) going for about $13. Although it doesn’t have the isolated score from the Twilight Time edition, I’m very satisfied with the Studio Canal edition.
I’m also a big David Lynch fan and noticed (at the time) that few of his films were on released on Blu-ray in the U.S., but several were available in the UK. While that has changed somewhat, Lost Highway still doesn’t have a U.S. release. I was able to pick up Region B editions of Lost Highway, Wild at Heart, The Elephant Man, and Mulholland Drive for less than $10 each.
I’ve never been a huge fan of SteelBook editions, but picked up both Hitchcock’s Lifeboat (1944) and Aguirre, Wrath of God (1972) at very reasonable prices. Both have since been released in the U.S., but the value of both of these SteelBook titles has risen.
Other titles had sold out in their comparable U.S. editions, such as Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce (1985). The 2-disc Collector’s Edition from Shout Factory was (and is) going for high prices while the 2-disc Arrow UK Region B edition was (and is) much more reasonably priced. The same was true of The Train (1964), out of print from Twilight Time (who eventually released an encore edition), but also sold by Arrow Academy for a very affordable price.
Two film noir titles (both directed by Jules Dassin) that were released on Criterion DVDs have yet to receive Blu-ray releases in the U.S. are both available for modest prices from Arrow Academy: Brute Force (1947) and Thieves’ Highway (1949).
If you’re into British films, especially classics, Region B is obviously the way to go. Studio Canal’s Vintage Classics line boasts some great films, such as The Fallen Idol (1948), Brighton Rock (1947), and Went the Day Well? (1942) to name just a few. These films are not yet available on Blu-ray in the U.S. I picked up the UK editions for just over $10 each.
All of these were good deals, even considering overseas shipping, but the best Region B purchase I’ve yet made has been the BFI 3-disc release of Abel Gance’s Napoleon (1927). This is a monumental film and a very impressive release. If you’re a fan of cinema, it’s simply a must-own, well worth the $35 I spent on it. Also consider that the film’s music rights have been disputed and battled over for years. The BFI edition includes a score arranged and conducted by Carl Davis, but Francis Ford Coppola has attempted to sue over the use (or rather non-use) of the Carmine Coppola score. Apparently Davis and Coppola reached an agreement over the music rights for the BFI release, but some experts have speculated that Napoleon may never be released on home video with the Coppola score. The BFI may be the only way we’ll see this film on Blu-ray anytime soon. I do not exaggerate: owning and being able to watch Napoleon is reason enough to buy a region-free Blu-ray player.
You can also find many British TV shows on Blu-ray and DVD, shows that aren’t available in the U.S. Some of them are priced so low they’re worth a blind buy, such as the 70s anthology show Thriller (not to be confused with the Boris Karloff-hosted TV show).
A few other items to consider:
Disney and Marvel movies are often much cheaper in their UK editions and are sometimes region-free.
Amazon UK frequently offers great multi-buy deals such as Five Blu-rays for £30 as well as boxed set deals.
Always compare prices on Blu-ray.com by going to the search field and choosing “All Countries.” You might be surprised at how much prices vary between U.S. and UK editions. Even when you factor in shipping, you often come out ahead (sometimes far ahead) buying the European editions.
At our Great Movies program at the library where I work, we always try to screen our films on Blu-ray, but sometimes those movies aren’t available as domestic Blu-rays. I convinced my branch manager and our Library Foundation to purchase a region-free Blu-ray player for our library, which has opened up so many opportunities for us to present movies we wouldn’t otherwise have been able to show.
And remember, Amazon UK is not the only place to purchase import discs. You can often find great deals directly at Arrow, Indicator, Network, and other vendors such as Zavvi and other UK retailers. Most will ship to the U.S.
Now a few of disclaimers:
In choosing to purchase imported discs, I am in no way denigrating the U.S. companies and distributors who release the same films. I sometimes purchase the Arrow UK editions over the Twilight Time releases, but I’m still a big supporter (financially and otherwise) of Twilight Time. That’s just one example.
More distance in shipping does, of course, include the possibility of more opportunities for damage along the way. I’ve been buying European discs for over three years and have only had one shipment that was badly damaged. I also had an order that was lost in overseas shipping, but the company sent a replacement order immediately.
Always use a pounds to dollars calculator. You can find several online.
Amazon U.S. prices seem to change much more frequently than at Amazon UK, but always check current changes at Blu-ray.com.
Be aware that some titles on Amazon UK do not ship to the United States. Sometimes this changes. You may discover that a particular title that did not ship to the U.S. last week actually does if you check a few days or weeks later.
Understand that I’m a big pros-and-cons type of guy. I’m also very skeptical. But after my first purchase, I was hooked. For me the pros (great discs at great prices, discs unavailable domestically) vastly outweigh the cons (waiting, overseas shipping). I have easily saved hundreds of dollars by purchasing imports. I’ve also been able to enjoy many films that have never had Blu-ray releases in the U.S. I’m just one guy who’s a movie fan, but if I can answer any questions, please leave me a comment or contact me. Happy viewing!