I wish I could start this column with a safe platitude like, “I will never forget the first time I set foot in a Blockbuster,” but the truth is, I don’t remember my first movie rental experience.
Browsing the aisles, struggling to make a decision and swearing at the top of my lungs at a skipping DVD has become part of my weekly routine for quite a while now. I probably make as many trips to Family Video as I do to the gas station.
For someone like me, someone who seemingly loves movies more than sunshine, a Netflix subscription should have been a godsend. It put a seemingly infinite selection of movies at my every whim, leaving me free to browse titles from the comfort of my funky smelling couch.
With all that entertainment at my fingertips, I should have been in heaven. Yet, something was missing from my movie-watching experience.
Sure, I had nearly every movie ever made ready to view at my leisure, but I realized that this pleasure came at a cost. A cost slightly higher than the $16 a month Netflix charge.
Though Netflix has a giant selection of movies, it’s clear that the company has little respect for its consumers. A few weeks ago, Netflix proposed an ill-advised split between the online service they provided and their mail-order service. Customers would have been forced to purchase two separate subscriptions to get the same service.
This caused many Netflix customers to flock back to their local video rental stores; Family Video wisely took advantage of Netflix’s problems by offering discounts to any customer who shut down their Netflix account.
The shift toward popular movie services such as Redbox or Netflix has left movie rental stores out in the cold. And while getting movies from a vending machine or the Internet may be more convenient, some of my favorite movies would still be unknown to me if I didn’t have the helpful suggestions of the movie fanatics working at my local Movie Gallery chain in the lower peninsula.
Even if locations such as Family Video don’t go out of business, robotic rental services have already put an end to many indie movie stores such as Third Street Video, who just couldn’t compete. But though the movie rental business may have almost completely migrated to the Internet, a few cinephiles have held out.
Last Saturday marked the first annual “International Independent Film Store Day,” in Canada. While the event may seem excessive, it represents the passion that some still have in providing this valuable service
What automated movie services fail to offer consumers is a choice. While oftentimes there is a large selection of movies available, it can sometimes be difficult to find something worth watching. Helpful clerks at video stores act as a sort of librarian to help guide patrons through aisles of crappy movies and to the cinematic treasures hiding just below the surface.
Even if I wasn’t morally opposed to robots taking over people’s jobs (“Terminator,” “Battlestar Galactica” and “I, Robot” have taught me well), as a poor college student, piling on something like Netflix to my monthly bill seems asinine. For Netflix’s monthly price of $16, I could check out 32 movies from Family Video. Now I may have significantly less free time than some, but renting 32 movies in a month seems a bit excessive just to get my money’s worth.
After spending about a week trying to watch every movie ever made, I finally gave up hacking into my roommate’s Netflix account. I got off my butt, onto my bike and back into the movie rental store. To my joy, I was accepted with open arms. Even my late fees, which at that point rivaled our national debt, were waived by the friendly cashier, who was just happy to have another customer back. Try getting that kind of service from a website, or the ominous Redbox machines surveying the checkout lines at Walmart.
I guess my love of movie stores lies less in practicality than it does in nostalgia. It’s hard to compete with Netflix’s warehouses filled with selections or the convenience of renting from a vending machine. My only hope is that more people see things as I do and return to their local video rental locales before the machines take over for good.