The Marvel Avengers Assemble Blu-ray blunder

posted on Sunday, 30th September 2012 by Steve May

home cinema  Blu-ray 

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It was a shaping up to be the hottest Blu-ray demo disc of the year. One the year's biggest event movies, Marvel Avengers Assemble was destined to be a solid gold seller of big HD screens and serious home cinema sound systems.

But just days after releasing the superhero blockbuster on Blu-ray and DVD, Disney UK found itself cast as a super-villain by fans for censoring the movie and lambasted on BBC TV's Watchdog consumer affairs programme for the lack of extras. And somehow in between I managed to end up on Mickey Mouse's Most Wanted list. This is the story of how it happened.

Within hours of The Avengers Blu-ray launching social media sites were alive with indignation about an apparent cut to the film, which made the UK disc release different to both the version seen theatrically and the American disc release.

UK film fans stabbed in the back?
The cut in question surrounded the death of a key character, speared through the back when confronting supervillain Loki. On the US Blu-ray, the pointy tip of the weapon clearly emerges from the character's chest. On the UK release, the same sequence has been politely sanitised. The character stiffens, but no bloody tip emerges - the weapon  has been digitally removed. A small matter perhaps, but the entire impact of the scene was different. Fans were surprised and outraged. After all, the British Board of Film Classification had no problems with the original sequence, declaring: 'The image is not dwelt upon and serves an important narrative purpose.' The film was passed 12A for theatrical release. Images of the different versions appeared on www.movie-censorship.com.

Bemused, I put a call into Disney's UK HQ, for some qualification. At first Disney refuted any differences. "There's been no censorship, no foul play," I was told by UK home entertainment spokesperson Lydia Rodrigues. "The version of The Avengers on Blu-ray disc in the UK is the same as the version shown theatrically. It really is..."  We talked at length about the social media storm raging around the release. Rodrigues explained that surprisingly few territories around the world screened the unexpurgated version in cinemas, with some European territories only able to issue the sanitised version.

For fans of the film, the back-stabbing brouhaha was adding insult to injury, as it came hot on the heals of the revelation that the UK release would not feature the commentary of fanboy favourite director Joss Whedon. It was this omission that was to help land the release in the Watchdog dock, several days later, after the BBC latched onto all the bad buzz.

"That was a bit of a disappointment," Rodrigues told me. "Our DLT had to be delivered one month earlier than that required for the US pressing, and the commentary had not be completed at that point, so we missed out."

Rodrigues went on to say that the Whedon commentary track would probably never be released in the UK: "We know that hardcore fans with Blu-ray players are probably going to end up buying the US release which has the commentary. The American Blu-ray is region-free."

I duly reported all this on the Home Cinema Choice website. The story went viral, picked up by (amongst others) The Guardian, Variety, MTV, Chicago Tribune, YouTube and a gazillion other geek sites (somewhat ironic that a story about the lack of a spike cause such a spike for HCC).

Blu-ray backtrack
However there was a difference. Unsatisfied by the studio's denial and the steadfast conviction from fans that Disney was duping them, I went to the BBFC. The ECI description on the BBFC website wasn't clear on the matter, but eventually I got confirmation from Catherine Anderson, the BBFC's press officer: "The version submitted by Disney for DVD/Blu-Ray classification was not identical to the version submitted for theatrical classification," she said. The BBFC website was updated, with the ECI description altered for the release.

I went back to the House of the Mouse, armed with the BBFC comment. Some 24 hours later the company confessed that the wrong elements had been used to master the movie, releasing this statement: 'Each country has its own compliance issues relative to depictions of violence. Unfortunately, another region's elements were inadvertently used to create the UK in-home release which minimally altered this scene in the film. We thank our fans for their vigilance in recognising this and apologise for the mix up.' Another story followed, buyers were even more furious. On Amazon, the title had assembled over 100 one-star reviews.

Unsurprisingly, Disney wasn't prepared to say any more; it was an extraordinary conclusion to probably the most badly botched blockbuster Blu-ray release in recent memory. Quite how such a studio managed to master the wrong elements remains unclear - was it a genuine mistake or the result of penny-pinching replication that allowed the company to master once for the whole of Europe? And why exactly was the studio's PR briefed to deny that there was no difference between the versions of the film released theatrically in the UK and on disc? Only the operatives of S.H.I.E.L.D. know for sure - and they're not talking to me anymore.

Also read:
Jurassic Park Ultimate Trilogy

Steve May

Steve is a veteran of the UK consumer electronics industry, having covered it for
various media outlets for more than 20 years.

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