Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Movie and DVD Reviews: The best and not-so-best movies available on DVD, and whatever else catches my eye.

DVD killed the video rental

Jerry Stratton, July 10, 2006

John Swansburg writes an elegy for the video store. The big problem is that there never really was much of a video store. Most video stores are video rental places. The big reason I don’t spend time in video rental stores any more is that I no longer rent videos.

Back in 1986, right after I graduated from college, I was already becoming a big movie fan. Before I even bought a new car, I picked up an RCA stereo VCR, and immediately went out and bought two of my favorite movies at the time, The Blues Brothers and Ghostbusters. But over the next twelve years I picked up maybe three or four more movies on VHS. What happened?

Part of the problem is that 1986 was about ten years after I first started buying cassette tapes. My cassette tapes soon started to go bad. I’d soon be buying vinyl (and a few years later, CDs) to replace them. I had no desire to do the same for VHS tapes. I don’t like buying the same thing twice.

Another problem was one I wouldn’t even recognize until the turn of the century: these movies were cut. There was no time removed, but the sides were. The Ghostbusters practically lost an entire member on the VHS release. I didn’t realize at the time why I didn’t feel any need to own the movies I loved; I just didn’t, and so I didn’t buy them. I became the guy with the VCR whenever my friends and I would rent a movie to watch.

I rented movies because I had no desire to buy them.

Now cue the release of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas on DVD in 1998. I pretty much ignored the video disk. I had plans in the back of my mind to buy one, but they seemed too much like 8-tracks to me, and I never got around to it. But at one of the comic-cons, perhaps in 1997 or 1998, I saw the DVD release of The Mask. The quality impressed me enough that I decided to remember this technology. When Fear and Loathing—which had quickly jumped to the top of my all-time favorites after seeing it in the theaters—came out on DVD I looked into DVD and decided that this was not an 8-track. The form factor meant that it would be able to replace CD players and CD drives. It didn’t (for most movies) require flipping, the quality was a hell of a lot better than VHS, and the movies were all available with the sides intact.

I put in an order for Fear and Loathing on November 22, 1998, before I even knew what brand of DVD player I’d be buying. I didn’t even have a television set, hadn’t had one for nearly a year. By the end of the year, I had a Pioneer DV-414, a Sony stereo system, and a 27-inch television set. (I’m still using them all, although the 27-inch television doesn’t look as big as it did then.) I also had:

I ordered them all from Amazon. My local video rental places didn’t sell DVDs yet.

I used to rent VHS tapes because I had no desire to own them. I now buy DVDs because they are well worth owning. While I still occasionally watch rented movies, I never rent them myself. My “to be watched” DVD pile isn’t quite as big as my “to be read” books pile, but it’s still big enough to keep me from renting:

I once wrote the same thing about DIVX, but the VHS rental market was basically predicated on the assumption that consumers won’t want to own the movies they watch. With VHS, that was true. DVDs are much closer to the theatrical experience and they include fun extras that make watching and re-watching enjoyable.

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