Do You Really Miss Blockbuster, Or Is It Just Nostalgia?
Electric dreams and subservience have become one, stable connections reign over physical; ‘we live in a society’ where Blockbuster’s soft touch is a distant memory.
One memory is clear as day: I was sitting in room on a lowly Saturday, bored, restless in mind, immobile in body. Games just weren’t playing the same. Then, through the quicksand of that tedium, my mum called from downstairs: ‘Do you fancy going to Blockbuster?’
A short car ride later, the blue and yellow sign came into view. Through the doors, I was met with the harmonious comfort of the great video stores: the cosy warmth, the familiar carpets, the unmistakable aroma, the tides of DVDs waiting to be flicked, read and perused. Not just joy, but peace.
On Netflix in the US and Amazon Prime on-demand in the UK, viewers can visit the scene of the crime for The Last Blockbuster, chronicling the rise and fall of the titanic rental company and the only remaining branch in Bend, Oregon, kept running by the patron saint of physical media, Sandi Harding.
It’s a charming film; though not earth-shattering, it takes a fair, affectionate look at the empire and its downfall, from the late fees debacle to the rise of the red N. It’s also benefitted by its roster of ‘stars’ and commentators; most of all Kevin Smith, with unwavering enthusiasm and even predicting a grand return à la today’s record shops.
It had me thinking: do we actually miss going to Blockbuster, or is just another extension of the zeitgeist’s fetish for nostalgia?
The pros for streaming are obvious: you have a world of movies, TV and more at your fingertips across a host of platforms, far beyond the realms some viewers would ever explore; in addition to subscriptions, immediate rentals of brand-new, premium movies are more readily available than ever, without even leaving the house; and it’s cheap. Why pay for individual rentals when you get 10, 20, even 30 times the value in one monthly direct debit?
But then, as is often portrayed in sitcoms and movies when it comes to cost-cutters, it’s impersonal – despite any offer of personalisation, from home screen icons to ‘picked for you’ lists.
Streaming has ramped up an era where entertainment is treated as content. We scroll, scroll, scroll, like a conveyer belt, before clicking and watching. It ends, then we go again. Scroll, scroll, scroll, click, click, click, with no human interaction. A huge abundance of choice, where choice is ultimately insignificant.
While loading up a streamer is a pastime, going to Blockbuster was an outing, whether you were a family planning a movie day, a couple carefully curating their date night, or a group of pals looking for a film to watch with a pizza. The decision mattered. It was worthy of serious debate, often reduced to an indecisive customer with a DVD in each hand.
It would always feel like home, and that’s before you get to the staff who’d chat to you about your choice and whether it was wise. Of course, employees vary, but even a reverent ‘good choice’ was a grace note.
Also, game rentals were a huge saviour back in the day. Naturally, they likely wouldn’t be feasible with today’s game prices – would you really pay £10 to rent a next-gen game before forking out £70 if you were keen? – but they allowed for test-drives and weekends of fun with school friends. It was also the first place I went to for a midnight game launch, for Call of Duty: Black Ops.
Sure, some discs would be scratched. You’d pop it in and be met with stop-start playback, eventually succumbing to taking it out in a huff. Towards the end of the company’s life, it really was the luck of the draw sometimes. Also, the mere idea of not being able to access a new movie because there aren’t any left is enough to bring on a hissy fit.
But would I trade off all my streaming platforms for that old Blockbuster feeling? A place where time stops and flies, where taking a chance on a film was a leap, where my love of cinema evolved; a sanctuary of entertainment.
Absolutely. Alas, ‘all those moments will be lost in time… like tears in rain.’
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