Blockbusters: We Had Some Good Times!
By Erin Whitney
It hardly came as a surprise earlier this month when Blockbuster announced that all of its stores across the country would be closing. In our age of digital downloads, online streaming, and Redbox rentals, it’s more shocking that Blockbuster managed to survive as long as it did.
It’s puzzling to imagine why anyone of late would actually go into one of the brick-and-mortar stores to rent a movie -- although the last time I did wasn’t more than a few years ago, when I was looking for Hitchcock films that weren’t available online. With the addition of the company’s online streaming service, the thought of going to a Blockbuster to rent a DVD that you’d have to physically return in a few days seems simply absurd today.
We have to admit, however, memories of good ol’ video store renting definitely trigger a wave of nostalgia. I can think back to my earliest memories of picking out a VHS in a video store when I was five or six years old. It was a little shop in the Valley in L.A. called Video All Stars, back when a mom-and-pop video store was in every Albertson’s parking lot for your movie-watching convenience. I probably rented the “Look Who’s Talking” series more times that any human in history should be allowed. And although my Kindergarten self always knew I was going to walk out with the same VHS tapes, it was the act of stepping into a video store, scanning the racks, and possibly discovering something new.
It became an event to visit a Blockbuster store when I moved near one. I always rushed to the beginning of the New Releases section, starting at the front of the alphabet, carefully and methodically scanning each and every row of covers. For a young film fanatic like myself, picking out a selection of new movies to take home and watch was a thrill on par with a Toys ‘R’ Us visit. Racing to a store on the day of new releases to rent that new film I’d been itching to see usually turned into a city-wide expedition -- if one store was out of rentals, it was on to the next, then the next till I had a copy in my hands. But if a popular movie was simply out of stock, that just meant better luck next time and to go with your second choice.
That exciting mystery of not knowing whether you’ll be able to rent the movie you want is nearly extinct now. This summer’s biggest blockbusters can be found on iTunes or Netflix in minutes, while almost every Criterion Collection film is available on Hulu. There’s no doubting the wonders of streaming and online renting, as it’s allowing us to watch whatever film whenever we want, and for a cinephile like myself, that’s a dream come true. And honestly, if a Blockbuster did exist near my apartment, I would still choose Netflix, since it’s better and more efficient in every way.
But still, as with everything in the pre-digital age, there was something special and magical about journeying to the blue and yellow store, standing among rows of movies, and grabbing your own personal copy. Maybe I’m overwhelmed by the surplus of options today, maybe I miss the physical event of renting movies, or maybe I’m just another nostalgic kid of the ‘90s. But at least I don’t have to worry about those outstanding late fees anymore.