End of yet another era
It happens so often these days it almost doesn’t feel like an event anymore. The latest casualty in this bricks-to-bits world is Blockbuster Video, which has announced it will close all of its remaining stores (some of you may not realize there were any left) for good.
True it was only a matter of time. Also true is I bumped the post I’d originally written for this spot, about how fast things are changing, with numerous examples, for another post about how fast things are changing, with numerous different examples.
To some the closing of BB may elicit little more than a shrug. And truth be told, they were hardly my favorite retailer. Too many copies of junk geared at ten-year-olds, here today and gone tomorrow. Not enough movies with any depth.
But with BB gone the only options for DVDs and Bluray rentals are Netflix’s and Redbox’s home delivery systems, but let’s face it, they will dump the tangible media service quickly, which, with BB gone as competition, will be sooner rather than later. Remember how generous Amazon used to be with product information and “Look Inside” features on their website, until the brick and mortar competition disappeared. Now you get almost no worthwhile info and maybe a couple of sample pages at best, not counting copyright info, credits, etc. The 900 pound gorilla gets lazy when it has no competition.
As others have pointed out, streaming simply isn’t as good. The technology is inferior and has innumerable glitches: even service providers who promise lightning-fast internet can only deliver it intermittently—not what they tell you when you join. Ironic in these times of increasingly-sophisticated special effects and audio in films, we’re opting for a delivery system that can’t handle it.
Streaming limitations aside, what kind of enjoyment do people get watching the latest Star Trek or Star Wars movie on their iPhones or iPads? Alone? v We complained about the limitations of the small screen back in the days of conventional television, but now that the screen is far smaller and the sound far poorer, no one seems to care. I really do’t get that. Add isolation for a completely baffling experience. What fun is it watching a comedy or adventure film all alone? I find it kind of lonely and sad.
That aside, though, and assuming technology to deliver the goods will improve, there’s still something about not possessing solid, unalterable media that I don’t like. Simply put, there’s nothing stopping some future streamer of, say, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, a film the Meese Commission (young ‘uns: Google it) tried to ban as obscenity, from cutting it up or watering it down. And not telling you.
The cuts may well be subtle, of the type where you’re saying, “Weren’t there shots of..?” “Wasn’t there a line about..?” so subtle you’d have to compare it. And that’s just the point. There’s nothing to compare it to. As in Orwell’s 1984, records aren’t permanent, and changes can be introduced gradually, one at a time, so that you’re never really sure what you once saw. Think it can’t happen today? Then meet me in the Florida Everglades and I’ll tell you about a great real estate-buying opportunity.
On top of that, cover art, liner notes, all the things that enhance the experience, are now by the wayside, or at least less complex and impressive. The beauty of owning Casablanca on disc is that you get a historical perspective, never-before-seen photos, impressive artwork, etc. Now you get a signal spurted at your TV.
As with the advances of sonics in the 70s and 80s being sacrificed into cheap earbuds and compressed MP3s today, the great advances in video in the last ten years are being sold short for…for what? Convenience? The companies that provide streaming brag that you can now watch movies and TV shows at your desk, on a bus, on the train, and they’d say in the toilet if decency permitted them. I really wonder why anyone wants to watch a film this way. Seeing it at home in your living room is compromise enough, really, and one I never full accepted until the era of widescreen HD TVs. Movies don’t belong on a phone any more than a symphony should be played on a kazoo.
Fortunately my favorite home video supplier, Criterion, is conservative when it comes to adopting new technology, and is sticking with the old formats for now. How long this will last I don’t know, but I will buy and own every title I think I may want to watch for the rest of my life, because in a streaming universe you never know when someone might shut off the tap, or change the formula. And for rentals, I still have access to an old-fashioned mom-and-pop store, though I wonder sometimes how it stays in business. I find it disturbing, though, how the default assumption in our society today is that newer is always better, that if a change is being forced upon us, it’s for our own benefit. That in itself is rather Orwellian, don’t you think?
I don’t do Netflix or any of the others and don’t really want to. If I ever sign on, it will be because I have to, and even then I can see myself as the one lone hold-out. I enjoy going out into the air, walking into a store, flipping through titles, chatting with the video clerk.