Although physical media is on the decline, Matt Goldberg argues why it's important for film fans to keep investing in physical media as opposed to digital.
I thought this was a pretty good article that touches on a number of things I've been thinking about lately with regards to streaming services. My home internet is having issues again and I've been forced to watch my collection of physical and digital media that doesn't require an internet connection.
The age of DVDs was a bit of a renaissance for film fans since A) we finally got our movies in the correct aspect ratio as opposed to the days of pan-and-scan on VHS; B) there could be a wealth of special features that sometimes functioned like film school in a box; and C) there was an easy way to share movies I loved with friends.
It really was, wasn't it? Sure VHS was classic and did a lot for movie lovers, but DVD was an amazing successor. Accurate reproductions, smaller physical format, options, extra features (I feel like these really don't get the credit they deserve, these are often excellent for fans), NO REWINDING! What could be better than this?...
But the days of the DVD/Blu-ray collection have come to a close. The big player these days is streaming, and in theory, it’s a good one. Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, iTunes, Vudu, and others offer a plethora of choices. No longer do you have to pay $15-20 for a movie on a disc and then find a place for that disc in your home. You pay around $12/month and get a bunch of movies or you can just rent the one you want from iTunes or Vudu for $3-7 depending on how new it is. If push comes to shove, you can find your way to a Redbox and rent a new release for a night. On the surface, one viewing medium has been replaced with another.
Yes in theory it's excellent. Convenience and less money than building a physical collection? Sign me up!
However, look closer and the imperfections of the streaming landscape start to become clear. To illustrate this, let me tell you a story about wanting to watch Air Force One on July 4, 2017. I own Air Force One on Blu-ray, but the Blu-ray didn’t come with a digital copy, so the disc was the only way to watch it. Unfortunately, the majority of my discs (Air Force One included) were in storage since I had recently moved out of my apartment and was living with my mom while I waited for my fiancée’s lease to end so we could move into a new apartment together.
But surely, Air Force One, the fifth-highest grossing film of 1997, would be available on a streaming service. Netflix? Nope. Amazon Prime? No dice. Hulu? Sorry, not here. Okay, well maybe we can rent it on Vudu? Not listed. Not even iTunes? Sorry, bub. Air Force One, which is by no means an obscure movie, was not streaming. Period. There was no point going to Redbox because it wasn’t a new movie, and we conveniently killed Blockbuster Video thinking we would never need it again. Even the option of going to a Best Buy or Barnes & Noble was out because, again, if it’s not a new title, they probably don’t carry it.
This is one of my biggest issues with these services. Occasionally absolutely none of them have a specific movie I want to watch and my only option is physical (and you had better hope that the physical is on Amazon for purchase through some seller, unless you want to start looking through racks at scary DVD stores and flea markets....)
“This is just one title!” you exclaim. Most of the time, you can find what you need. Perhaps, but I would counter that in this scenario, your viewing desires are at the mercy of the streaming services, not at what you’ve chosen to buy or not buy.
This is my main problem. I have no say over what is presented to me. I'm paying for access to this curated library of shows that is ostensibly here to satisfy my entertainment needs. Sure, some of the time, Netflix's priorities and my own interests overlap and they present something that I could see myself watching. But what percentage of the time do they have some obscure movie from the 80's or 90's that I actually wanted to watch? 5%? It's abysmal.
You eat what they serve, not what you had in mind. And over time what people have in mind is just...whatever is on Netflix. Amazon Prime is a little better in that regard, but still not great. I think of a movie to watch, and it's not on any services. Once upon a time, you used to just head down to the rental store and they probably had it, or could order the rental. Nowadays? You just pick a new thumbnail and move on.
...while plenty of movies are available on Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, etc., they tend to be presented in the wrong aspect ratio. While this may not seem like a big deal to the casual viewer, if you’re a true fan of movies and respect the decisions of directors to shoot their movies in a certain aspect ratio, then you want it screened correctly. Netflix claims it doesn’t crop movies, but past investigations show that sometimes it does.
Haven't investigated this a lot myself, but this should literally never happen. As he says, casual viewers will not notice or care about this, but imo this is inexcusable for a movie streaming service.
Secondly, we’ve lost a lot of the bonuses that made viewers better informed. Yes, there are things like iTunes Extras, but Netflix has no interest in going behind the scenes of its shows and letting viewers learn from the filmmakers. Even when Netflix shows come to DVD, you get a barebones release as was the case with House of Cards, Daredevil, etc. Again, this is all fine for people who just want the show itself, but for fans who want to know more about how the shows and movies they love are made, they’re out of luck. Netflix did have some online David Fincher commentaries for the first couple episodes of House of Cards, but it seems to be an idea they’ve abandoned or approached in a different way like the Stranger Things after-show rather than straightforward commentaries.
Where are the fucking extras??? Commentaries? Behind the scenes? Making of special effects, etc? I love these fucking things, and they are absolutely nowhere to be found via streaming, and Netflix can't even be bothered to throw some together for the few things it does decide to release physically. $5 DVDs I buy are more feature rich than what is presented to me on Netflix or Amazon. Give me a fucking break!!! There's no reason all of this content needed to die, this was one of my favourite things about the DVD era.
Third, to go back to my story from last summer, you’re at the mercy of what’s available. Additionally, because movies and television are spread out over different services, it may all come down to what you subscribe to. I’ve currently got subscriptions to Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and FilmStruck, but let’s say you’ve only got a Netflix subscription and you want to watch A League of Their Own. That’s tough luck. It’s only available to stream on Hulu. You could rent it from Amazon or iTunes for $4, or even pay $12.99 to own it on iTunes (most movies on iTunes sit in the $10-20 range even though it’s just a digital copy; for example, you could get Spy on iTunes for $14.99 or buy the Blu-ray for $7.40, which comes with a free digital copy)...
This gives me a fucking headache. (Incidentally, A League of Their Own is available for free on CTV.ca a Canadian broadcasrt network website that has a bunch of free movies for streaming, I use this frequently)
...Or you could just pay $10, get the Blu-ray, and never have to worry about it again (unless all your stuff goes into storage).
Which is exactly what I started doing.