Blockbuster, RIP

Interesting article by Dana Stevens for Slate magazine regarding the news that the owners of Blockbuster are closing all remaining retail centers, effectively ending the era of the big video rental stores:

When Blockbuster first came along, there were more than a few “Mom & Pop” video stores around renting those pre-historic VHS tapes for film fans to watch.  Those who weren’t around back then don’t remember the way the film market used to be.  Recent movies took forever to be released to the home market and, when they were, they cost a lot to buy.  It wasn’t unheard of to see “new release” films go for as much as $50-85.  Further, that “new” film often took over a year -sometimes much more- before it even reached the home video market.  I distinctly recall the amazed reaction by many when the original Tim Burton directed Batman film was “quickly” released to video.  I can’t recall the exact time it took for the film to be released, but it was perhaps three to six months or so after its theatrical release, a turnaround that was completely unheard of back then but not so much now.

But this was the exception that eventually proved to be the rule.  Again, at the time and given the high price of films, video stores were a necessity.  If you didn’t rent and only bought the films you wanted, you would very quickly go quite broke.  When Blockbuster showed up, the Mom & Pop stores in my area were doomed.  These small stores couldn’t compete against the sheer bulk of material Blockbuster offered.

Even then, one had to be quick as even if Blockbuster had a large number of the latest “new” film available for rent, there were plenty of others trying to get their hands on it as well.

But for me the greatest thing about Blockbuster wasn’t so much the new and desired films, but their vast library of older classic films..  It was thanks to Blockbuster that I became aware of the movies of Stanley Kubrick.  It was also where I discovered Metropolis (the Giorgio Moroder version, which of course lead me to eventually want to see the original, uncut version) and Orpheus, two of my all time favorite films.

I could go on and on…

For all its flaws (and there were many) Blockbuster was a great place for its time.  The first big signs of trouble for the company probably came from the arrival of the DVD and the significant lowering of movie prices.  You could rent a film from Blockbuster for about $5 for three nights, but for another ten dollars or less you could purchase the DVD and own the film outright.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was likely the same as the one that killed music stores (and, sadly, looks to be doing the same to bookstores): computers and the internet.  Not to mention more choices in general.

Why would one go out to a Blockbuster to rent a film when you could Netflix it or stream it or Pay on Demand?  For those far less honest, you could steal a film via downloading it through one of many torrent sites.

So no, I’m not at all surprised Blockbuster has seen its end.  It was expected and, if anything, the only surprise one feels is that it lasted as long as it did.  Yet like Borders, like Circuit City, and like Peaches, I’ll miss her and the era she inhabited.

The world moves on and all that remains are the memories of what once was.