Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Blockbuster bye-bye

By now, I expect most of the people who read this have already read What I'll miss about Blockbuster by Matt Zoller Seitz. It's a good article and if you haven't read it, you should.

But I wanted to bring up my own feelings.

A couple of days before that article went up, I'd been going through an unfamiliar part of Austin and saw an unfamiliar mom and pop video store, and realized I hadn't seen a Blockbuster nearby. I said something to Kim about how the predicted end of Blockbuster could be good for independent video stores.

For me, I'd never been a serious Blockbuster customer. Probably as much by coincidence to begin with as anything.

When I started seriously renting as an adult with my own video accounts, I was living in Tacoma. There were three places that were convenient and valuable. Two were good size independent stores and a Hollywood Video, which was new at that time. Traveling between these generally satisfied my growing movie geek needs of that time.

Eventually I added another, Stadium Video as well, which was where I best got my first adult taste of having a video store I could go into and chat with the people and get that feeling people so often discuss in terms of the advantages of brick and mortar video stores.

By the time Blockbuster was king and I was near one, etc., they were already well despised by movie lovers such as I.

I did make one step into regular commerce with them. I was having a major problem with the customer service at Netflix, which was insultingly terrible at that time, although I should note that it has, in my experience, improved markedly in the time since then.

I explored GreenCine, which comes highly recommended by fellow geeks, Seitz makes note of his preference in the article linked above. I didn't much care for it. The movies not only took nearly a week to arrive, and the much crowed about improved selection was - at least at that time - illusory - to put it kindly. At the time, my feeling was that the improved selection was a flat-out lie! - because while there certainly were more cult, indie and foreign movies listed on their site, almost none of them were actually going to be sent to my house.

Does that make sense? Well, they could be put on my queue, but they didn't really have copies until enough other people also wanted it, too.

Between those two, I couldn't deal with it. At least Netflix makes it pretty darn clear which movies I will and won't get eventually.

(Ok, I admit, there's one - but only one - weird exception to that. I've had The Day of the Cobra by Enzo G. Castellari at the top spot on my queue for at least two years now. It always says "Very Long Wait". It's become almost like an in-joke for my own amusement. I keep assuming it will slip into "Unavailable" status, but it never, ever does.)

At that point, I did try out the Blockbuster online service for a couple of months. It was odd, when I started out on it, it seemed to work out well, but in that very short time, it's like it melted down. Movies took longer and longer to come and the ones that arrived seemed to have no relation to the order in my queue.

I gave up and returned to Netflix, tail between my legs, well shamed for my brief dalliance with the devil.

I ended up with one of the Hollywood MVP plans to augment my Netflix account, and that Hollywood there became one of the other friendly neighborhood video stores for me, despite it being a corporate chain store.

Now, I have Netflix. I live down the street from Vulcan Video and I Luv Video... which even combined don't add up to being as cool as living by Scarecrow Video, although I'd say they make up for it having more helpful and personable staffs.

Not to mention, they do indeed fill in the random gaps, such as the amazing new releases by Shout! Factory and Code Red DVD that Netflix is bizarrely and irresponsibly not keeping up with very well in recent months.

I know I'm in a unique position and not everyone will likely be in this position.

But I see that this could return more and more, in many places. I certainly hope so.

Blockbuster created their own destruction.

They drew the mainstream renter by showing purposeful contempt for movie geeks. They shunned the NC-17 rating, while hypocritically including "unrated" movies with the same content. They cut down their catalog titles to bare bones in even "hip" neighborhoods.

Someday, when people have giving Spielberg and Lucas more than their share of the blame for the decline of the mainstream movie, perhaps people will look more carefully at the role Blockbuster Video played.

By feeding and encouraging nothing more from video consumers than a desire for the newest releases without any meaningful human interaction, they built the world in which Redbox could be the most desirable option. It's a better Blockbuster than Blockbuster could ever hope to be.

I'll be sad if the brick and mortar video store is essentially a thing of the past, but if that's what it took to drive the mighty Blockbuster to the ground, it may actually be worth it.


Greg said...

I just put Day of the Cobra at the top of my queue to see "Very Long Wait" and there it is! Kick ass! I'm never taking it off. Thank you for that.

Also, I worked for Blockbuster and hate, HATE, H*A*T*E THEM!!! Good fucking riddance you worthless film-hating sacks of shit!

Neil Sarver said...

Watch, though, you'll end up getting a copy shipped to you and it'll kill the joke completely.

Of course, if enough people did it, perhaps they might actually bother to order a couple of copies of the damn movie!

Yeah, I can't feel bad about the loss of Blockbuster, as I said. Even Hollywood, as mediocre and chain store as they could be, at least kept the pretense of being about movies.

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