Saturday, July 31, 2004


I wasn't planning to do a full entry for Blockbuster video, but my friend Aaron went off on them the other day, and frankly he has a point. Blockbuster is a fairly steady source of minor irritations. I still wasn't going to write a column, but then I was browsing in a blockbuster the other day and I saw Space Ghost: Coast to Coast season 1 placed in the children's section. Huh? I moved one aisle over and saw the George Clooney "Solaris" in the action section. What? Action? The Whales of August starring Jessica Tandy had more action than Solaris. That's when I knew someone had to start bitching about Blockbuster. And that foot is me.

Aaron was steaming about the unreasonable $5 charge for a rental, but also the absurd policy whereby movies are due back at noon. How can this possibly be convenient for anybody? The Blockbuster guy says "2 Fast 2 Furious is due back on Tuesday at noon!", like he's doing you a huge favor. Here's a question for anybody reading this, anywhere. Aren't you busy next Tuesday at noon? Of course you are.

This takes me back to the old Blockbuster sleight of hand trick. The "3 day rental". Do you remember this scam? The movie you rented under the 3 day rental agreement was due back in... wait for it... 2 days! Yes! Really! People tend to rent movies in the evening, right? Anybody out there ever go to a blockbuster at 9 AM to rent something? No? Me either. So you rent your movie on Friday around 7 or 8 PM. Then it's due back Sunday night by closing time. You generally would bring it back at a decent hour though. Say, 7 or 8 PM. Now let me do the math here... yep. TWO DAYS.

But forget my casual assumptions about when you're renting your movie. Pick any point in time. Rent a movie. Now fastforward exactly 3 days. Uh-oh! Your 3-day rental is late! 9 hours late at the absolute minimum.

So that is strike one against Blockbuster. The stupid return policies and the bald faced lying. Let's move on to movie selection. Strolling through blockbuster reminds you of something you often forget: that most movies in existance are just absolutely god awful. Wouldn't we all like to forget Three Fugitives starring Nick Nolte and Martin Short? Thanks to blockbuster, that'll never happen. You're going to be 80 someday, hobbling around through a blockbuster of the future, and that stupid, stupid movie is going to be there, staring you in the face.

Wouldn't that be a good idea? A video store that screens its catalogue for zero-star turkeys and removes them from the shelves? Let's also not forget the scores and scores of horror movies. Why is it that any random blockbuster just has an unbelievable wealth of selection when it comes to Z-grade horror? A lot you've heard of, lots that you haven't. 70's, 80's and 90's horror, direct to video horror, new releases horror (also that you've never heard of).

I'm not in any way opposed to every blockbuster everywhere being a living testament to the entire horror genre. But why bring all that depth and selection to just horror? Why not documentaries or anime? Why not westerns or silent film? Why not television, martial arts or music video or stand-up comedy? Who knows? Maybe they bought all that VHS horror in bulk real cheap. Another genre that's overrepresented is 1980s, Jean-Claude-Van-Damn-style brainless action. Early Stallone stuff. Chuck Norris. Big machine guns and big dirty warehouses. Those kinds of movies. Tons of those.

Why is half the store dedicated to new releases? Why are half the movies in the new releases section not actually new releases? Do you think maybe the "Blockbuster model" that is still used today is based on an obsolete understanding of what the customer wants? Is today's rental customer as obsessed with renting the new releases as his counterpart was in 1985, when the VCR was new and interesting, and the biggest thrill came from screening a new movie in your living room? Does breaking all movies into four general categories: Action / Comedy / Drama / Sci-fi-Horror still make any sense? How can an American Pie sequel be placed on the same shelf as Peter Seller's The Party? Where do you put the Sopranos? How do you charge a one-rental fee for a two-disc movie like the Godfather, but charge one full price per Sopranos disc, even though the season is 4 discs and the last disc only has one episode?

Strike 2.

Now we come to the biggest grievance. The major annoyance. The soft core porn. Blockbuster prides itself on its family friendly movie policy. Nothing that is unrated, or rated NC-17, and absolutely no porn. (Forget for now that they carry the most gruesome and disturbing horror, and apparantly those are family friendly movies. That's a whole other topic.) Yes, they carry no porn. Their sister chain-store Hollywood video handles the porn. Okay fine. It's your store, carry what you want. So why is the average Blockbuster riddled with Soft Core pornography (the Playboy channel kind of porn, where they can show full nudity and everything else except actual contact with genitals) and why is all of it in the drama section?

Frankly, I'm not much for the soft core porn, and I don't think much of the dudes that are. Isn't it just a lot of closeups of the guy's face? If porn is what you want, can't a grown man do better than soft core porn at blockbuster?

But setting that aside, the complaint here is two-pronged. (ewww) First, it's the hypocracy of the no-porn store clearly carrying porn. I mean it is porn, lame porn though it may be. But secondly and more importantly, why must they crowd it all into the drama section? If someone is browsing for a good drama, why must they be forced to wade through all this porn? Every third movie on the shelf is Night Mistress 3, or Midnight Satin 2, or Steamy Nurses 4, etc.

On the other hand, I feel just as bad for the guy looking for some good soft core porn who has to sludge through Amistad and Lorenzo's Oil just to get to his steamy nurses. He deserves better too.

So that's the beef with Blockbuster. They need to remove the crap from their catalogue, diversify into new genres, and refuse to appeal directly to the lowest common denominator of moviegoer. Force that moviegoer to watch better movies by improving his selection and removing the swill. Either ditch the softcore porn or put it in its own section. Make return times as convenient as possible lest you lose more people to Netflix.

And no, I don't want to join the 30 day club or whatever the hell it is. Stop asking me.

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