Tech Suckers and My Lost Battle Against Blu-ray

I recently purchased the Criterion Blu-ray boxed set of the Showa-era Godzilla movies. I hear it’s great. I wouldn’t know. I don’t have a Blu-ray player so I can’t watch it.

It was not a mistake. I knew I was buying movies in a format I had no way of viewing. As a pretty major Godzilla fan (I have a Godzilla poster gallery on my wall) it was a given that I would get the boxed set. And then Criterion offered it ONLY in Blu-ray. What choice did I have?

How evil. Buying a Blu-ray player will be complete surrender. A fact which has made me still delay purchasing one in spite of my obvious need.

You see, out of a combination of stubbornness and anger, I had refused to buy into yet another technology format. This, in spite of the fact that I watch a whole lot of movies and fully appreciate the quality difference between standard def dvd and Blu-ray. I was just done with it.

“They” win again. “They” being the studios and manufacturers that continue to find ways to make my often very extensive, painstakingly and expensively assembled collections of music and movies obsolete in ever shorter time spans. I hate them.

I know there is nothing new about this complaint and it isn’t a groundbreaking claim. Particularly from grumpy (almost) old people. It’s just a fact of our times. But honestly, I really need to rant about this issue. Just look at what I’ve already gone through in my life collecting movies.

Once upon a time, collecting movies was a source of pure happiness and joy. Way back when, the fact that you could even own uncut movies at home was shocking. I mean, what was next, computers you could carry around with you? Crazy talk.

As a result, VHS rocked the film industry and incidentally funded a huge wave of independent filmmaking that helped launch the careers of Jim Jarmusch, Spike Lee and Steven Soderbergh among many others. Unfortunately, it also killed many beautiful old revival theaters. Before VHS, it was either see an old movie in a theater or on TV, censored, cut and interrupted by commercials for processed foods and laxatives.

I can’t say it enough, owning a copy of the movie that you could watch at home was almost unbelievable. Okay, so the VHS tapes of movies were anywhere from $40 to $80 each. Pricey as hell by today’s standards. But you OWNED them. This was just an amazing thing for a film fan.

It was great. And by asking for VHS tapes of my favorite movies for every birthday and holiday and managing to buy a few of my own, I slowly assembled a small but very nice little movie library. Something I hesitate to even think of the cost of. All of which ended up so worthless that just a few years later those very same tapes were sent to a landfill.

Now, before we get to the chapter of this story about DVD, allow me to take you on a little detour. The format of the true film nerd. Laserdisc.

For those of you who have forgotten, or never knew, about Laserdisc, it was an optical disc format similar to DVD but the discs were the size of a record album. And, like record albums, they needed to be flipped over.

The upside was the picture quality was far better than VHS. The normal ones were still expensive, like the tapes. However, true movie nerds discovered this then-new company named Criterion and lost all sense of reason.

I’m pretty sure my TAXI DRIVER laserdisc was $125.

Yep, over a hundred bucks. That was for the CAV version, of course, which had all sorts of special features on it. The downside of CAV besides the cost was that it took even more discs to store a single movie. I seem to recall TAXI DRIVER was three discs. That’s a lot of getting up to change the disc.

The upside was the picture was great, the sound was great and the “deluxe” versions truly were deluxe. Some of the early Criterion ones were incredibly comprehensive in a way no home format had ever come close to.

From memory I’m pretty sure TAXI DRIVER had the original screenplay on it, storyboards and the then-unheard-of commentary track option. I can’t emphasize what a huge deal that was back then. Having Scorsese walk you through his own movie was up there with God himself talking to you about the process of creating heaven and earth. It was groundbreaking, amazing stuff.

But did I mention it cost $125 and had to be flipped over many times during the course of the movie? Laserdisc had its drawbacks to be sure.

Which brings us to DVD. As important as the format itself, it ushered in the direct to consumer pricing model. Movies for $10. Crazy. Just crazy. The picture quality and sound quality were as good, if not better than Laserdisc. You could buy them almost anywhere. The selection and variety was mind-blowing.

The only downside to the whole thing was that many of the commentaries and “extras” became a complete waste of time. Something clearly done in most cases because they Could not because they Should. Oh, and the little fact that I already spent hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars obtaining many of the very same movies earlier in VHS and on Laserdisc. Oops.

So, yeah, VHS to Laserdisc to DVD. And then, after all that, they announced Blu-ray. Guess what? I wasn’t excited. I was pissed.

Keep in mind, it wasn’t just my movie collection that had gone through all this nonsense. It was also my music collection. Vinyl to CD to Download and then back to Vinyl. The whole thing was just out of control. I was done. Out. Over it. Screw you Blu-ray! It’s not gonna happen!

And, for over ten years, that actually worked. I’ve been that much of a hold out. In all that time, I bought the occasional movie download if it was very, very cheap (like $5 to own). I also replaced my old standard def DVD player with one that did a particularly good job of upscaling the picture to “near Blu-ray quality” for $40 (cheaper than any of my VHS tapes or Laserdiscs had been). But I never, ever, bought a Blu-ray player or Blu-ray disc. Even when they were on sale and cheaper than the standard def DVD version.

I wasn’t completely ignorant that technology would keep moving forward and getting better. Eventually I would have to upgrade again. In my heart of hearts I always knew that. It’s just a fact.

I was just really hoping I could maybe skip a generation of tech upgrading. Say, maybe go from standard def DVD to everything I wanted in high-quality streaming. Maybe?

But nooooooooo. Criterion just HAD to come out with this Godzilla set and only release it in Blu-ray. I really do kind of hate them for that.

So, here I am. The proud owner of an outstanding boxed set of a series of movies I love and know I will watch repeatedly…someday.

At least during my hold-out the price of players has gotten amazingly cheap. Unless you want Dolby Atmos, or 4k, or…God damn it!

WTF happened? The Gutenberg Printing Press was invented almost 600 years ago and my books still work fine!!! I mean, better than fine. Reading a printed book, on paper, is still far and away the best reading experience possible. No glaring backlight or wifi needed.

It’s a plot. A cynical, evil plot to make companies rich and keep us poor. And to destroy the planet. And it’s just shitty. It’s built in obsolescence on an insanely short timeline. Fight the power! Read a book!

But God it’s killing me not to be able to watch my Godzilla movies yet.