The debate over the future of physical media has intensified in 2020 as more people spend their time watching streaming and digital services instead of actually putting discs into players. As Disney announced that they would no longer be releasing catalog titles on 4K, leading some to wonder how long they will be releasing Blu-rays at all as they push more movies to Disney+, even the Criterion Collection took some recent criticism for how they curate their selections. With a new streaming service announced every day, what will happen to people who love physical media? The truth is that it will become more of a collector’s market, providing elements in that vein that streamers cannot. Leaning into this future, A24 has released their first 4K Blu-ray, a lovingly packaged and gorgeously transferred edition of Ari Aster’s “Midsommar,” presented here in its director’s cut, which runs 24 minutes longer than the original. A24 knows that they’re one of the few small studios with an actual fanbase—people buy A24 merchandise (there’s even an RPG for the upcoming “The Green Knight”)—and so they’re using that market power to enhance their legacy and that of one of their most acclaimed films. It’s a fantastic release.
In a sign that A24 recognizes that physical media collectors also value presentation, “Midsommar” comes packaged in a clothbound, yellow slipcase that opens to reveal a 62-page booklet. The actual disc here doesn’t include a single special feature, leaving the film to stand for itself, while the packaging and booklet serve as the supplemental material. It includes artwork for the film by Ragnar Persson and a foreword by Martin Scorsese himself, who writes, “I can also tell you that there are true visions in this picture, particularly in the final stretch, that you are not likely to forget. I certainly haven’t.”
About those visions—Aster’s formal control seems to be a dividing point for his fans and detractors. While Tomris Laffly praised the film’s tangible dread on this site, Scout Tafoya argued that the detached approach of Aster’s reduces the actual messy humanity of grief. While I love Scout’s personal reading of the film, I’m closer to Tomris by some stretch, but the truth is that my favorite films are usually the ones that get people talking, and in the months after this film landed some of the best writing on film, pro and con, concerned “Midsommar.” I wish there were more movies that provoked such passion. (We also posted pieces about the film’s role in the history of break-up movies and the film’s relation to Bergman, and I have a feeling we’re not done writing about this movie.)
However one feels about the film, the director’s cut of “Midsommar” looks stunning in 4K. The colors are richer and more intense—you can almost feel the heat of the neverending sun. It is a richly transferred release that highlights the film’s remarkable technical prowess in ways that streaming services simply cannot. Even 4K streams on Netflix and Amazon don’t look as rich as 4K Blu-rays.
Finally, there’s the question of this version’s quality. Watching the director’s cut reminded me what I really admired and liked about “Midsommar.” It plays even more confidently when you know where it’s going. And there are some elements of the director’s cut that I like more. It mostly forefronts the villain arc for Christian more completely, including more gaslighting and general asshole behavior. He’s more explicitly awful in his exchanges with Dani in this edition, which is valuable but I’m not sure it’s necessary. I’m torn because I like the idea of this film further stretching out its mood and experience, but I’m not sure it needs to explain more about the Dani/Christian dynamic than what we see in the theatrical version. I also think a sequence that involves a possible second suicide ritual, and the fight between Dani and Christian that follows, feels extraneous and not as well-composed as some of what’s in the theatrical. If I could, I would probably include the other re-insertions in the DC and cut that whole sequence, but we really don’t need a third cut, do we?
What will happen to Blu-rays? I think we are rapidly approaching the point when major studios don’t release them anymore. Disney channels its product to their service; WB titles go to HBO Max; everyone fights for space on Netflix. However, there will always be a collector’s market. Vinyl has gone through waves of popularity and Blu-rays will too. Part of the resurgence of vinyl came through exclusive editions designed for people who really loved a specific artist. We may have to adjust to that future for DVD and Blu-rays. And A24 seems to be ready for it.