My weekly TV column is up at Torontoist.
So I was sorting through my movie collection the other day – I do this about every three months, whittling down those movies I don’t really need to keep – why did I buy The Dish, anyway? It’s a nice little movie and I know I must have paid maybe four dollars for the used DVD, but did I need to own it? – and taking stock of what’s been released on Blu-Ray that I can upgrade from my DVD collection. (Yes, I duplicate on Blu-Ray. What’s more, I buy blank multidisc cases from blankmedia.ca and turn everything that isn’t already a Blu/DVD combo pack into one, because I want format redundancy wherever possible. I probably have something of a condition that demands exotic pills of some kind.)
Although Blu-Ray selection is growing steadily, it isn’t growing explosively like DVD did. It’s slow and steady, and so many major titles just aren’t available on Blu-Ray at all. Lots of classics are just missing – there’s no Touch of Evil on Blu, no The Big Sleep, no Ikiru, not a single Marx Brothers movie, not a single Astaire/Rogers joint (and the only Fred Astaire you can get on Blu-Ray at all is Easter Parade, which isn’t bad but isn’t even a top five Astaire flick). There’s no UHF, no Monty Python and the Meaning of Life, no Real Genius, no Erik The Viking, certainly no Brain Donors. No Eight Men Out, no Searching For Bobby Fischer – no Abyss, for crissake, and it’s only the single best movie James Cameron ever made! If you want a Blu-Ray copy of Sneakers you have to import it (since its initial North American release was in HD-DVD and, I dunno, someone’s still pissed about that, I guess?). If you want to watch Shall We Dance? on Blu you have to settle for the mediocre American remake instead of the Japanese original – and don’t get me started on foreign films generally, if it’s not top 200 IMDB it’s kind of a wasteland.
Now this is the point where someone says “but we’re all going digital instead” and I get irritated by this because digital is hardly an answer. First off, renting films – and when you “buy” digital movies, that’s what you’re doing almost every single time – is not the same as buying them. Second, digital delivery is getting more and more sporadic as rights get more and more expensive for distributors to purchase.
As an example, take Wimbledon, a charming little 2004 sports film/romcom starring Paul Bettany and Kirsten Dunst. I am not saying Wimbledon is an unsung treasure or anything; it’s a lesser offering from the Working Title factory that cranks out chipper British romcoms, a solid B-grade movie: well-written with a few flashes of inspiration, good performances all around (including a younger Nikolai Coster-Waldau before he became the Kingslayer) and mostly funny, although Jon Favreau’s character is just annoying. But it’s fun, and it’s less than a decade old. It should be relatively easy to catch digitally, right? But no. It’s not anywhere. And there are tons of Wimbledons out there. (I asked on Twitter a while back what the word should be for when you want to watch something you would expect to see on Netflix – an unambitious mid-level dramedy that only really wanted to make its modest budget back and maybe a little more – and it is not there. My friend Tara suggested “Netflunx” which is just perfect.)
And then there’s international rights issues. Of the digital solutions, Amazon Instant Video is the best for selection (although at ten bucks a flick I would not say it is especially a winner on price considering you’re just paying for a license) – but that assumes you live in the United States. Outside of the United States digital selection is crap or nonexistent. Digital is not really a great option for non-Americans period, which is why we furners all spoof our DNSes and watch American Netflix instead of the local brand: there’s just so much more on it.
And worst, remember the DVD selection explosion? All that stuff is out of print now. Want a copy of Without A Clue (another great movie not available on digital anywhere)? Get ready to pay upwards of forty bucks for a new DVD of it.
It’s nuts when you think about it. We very briefly had a neverending rainbow of home cinema, the largest film selection available to any generation ever, period, end of story, and we’re regressing from that. How depressing is that?