A piece in Sound & Vision Magazine talks about the five biggest reasons a given movie is selected for a Blu-ray release. Reason #1 is that said title fits in the "home theater demo disc fodder" category — or, in plainer language, stuff gets blowed up real good.
That part didn't surprise me, and sadly neither did reason #5: the title in question doesn't require a great deal of restoration to be put out quickly in a good edition. Hence the emphasis on recent releases, many of which already have ready-to-go hi-def masters taken directly from the digital intermediate created during filming itself.
One of the companies I see bucking that trend is Warner Bros., if only because they have invested an enormous amount of money and sweat into their ongoing film-restoration effort, and because a good chunk of their catalog titles are movie history: Casablanca, Citizen Kane, Blade Runner, Cool Hand Luke, The Wizard of Oz, and so on. All of these are movies I'd gladly have on Blu-ray, but I'm also not silly enough to ignore the fact that a) there are only so many release slots in a given year and b) sometimes the amount of work required to create even a basic edition of any movie, let alone a landmark film, is enough to keep a whole team of people busy for months.
When Criterion announced their first Blu-ray release slate, two things about it struck me. One was the lack of Kurosawa titles (but that's just me being me); the other was how many of them were either broad-selling titles that people who normally wouldn't pick up a Criterion title might be interested in (Bottle Rocket) or titles that had badly needed remastering even under Criterion's aegis (Walkabout). Makes sense.
The earlier titles, though, will need more work. They had been saying that they had hi-def masters for just about everything in their catalog for a long time now, but that didn't mean they could release everything tomorrow — both because of the bare costs involved in filling store shelves with product, but also because even a hi-def master made 12 years ago is going to be blown away by one authored today on a telecine that can do twice the resolution of its predecessor. (And also because Criterion puts more genuine effort into their extras than most studios put into their flagship releases!)
Finally, I made a side trip to the public library earlier today and found that they did indeed have Blu-ray titles in stock — a small selection, but the good stuff like Blade Runner is there. I took home The Golden Compass and want to try and unwind with it one night this week.