I started collecting DVDs in my senior year of high school, and continued to collect them throughout college, which, in retrospect, was not the smartest idea since at the end of every school year I would have to pack up boxes and boxes of DVDs to either send home or store with family who lived near campus. And yet I don’t regret collecting these DVDs because it gave me a valuable resource and a way to dive into movies. 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.
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.
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 4th last year. 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 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. That’s not to say that streaming services or online rentals don’t offer plenty of movies. They do! Nor is that to say that DVD and Blu-ray offer every single movie ever. They don’t! (I had to order a region-free DVD of 1972’s Sleuth) My larger point is a matter of who controls the movies you watch, and a group of consumers that’s not being served.
Yesterday, Indiewire’s David Ehrlich tweeted that Amazon’s Wonderstruck won’t be receiving a physical release of any kind. Flavorwire editor Jason Bailey did get a response that a physical release would be on the way at some point, but for the foreseeable future, the only way to watch Todd Haynes’ film will be online (and hey, wouldn’t you know it, Amazon has a streaming service). That means if you wanted to buy it and watch it (without being at the mercy of an internet connection), you’re out of luck. Want to loan it to a friend? Give them your Amazon password, I suppose. No, Wonderstruck didn’t blow up at the box office, but its chances of being seen are now further diminished because it has fewer avenues available. If it does land on physical media, that would be great, but all you have to do is glance over to Netflix to note that their movies like Okja, Death Note, and War Machine have no physical releases planned. That’s great for Netflix if you want to get a subscription to watch those movies, but not so great if you wanted special features or the ability to watch these movies on your TV without an Internet connection.