Truth be told, I don’t have any idea how many movies I own. The first movie I ever bought with my own money was Tim Burton’s “Batman” way back in 1989 – on VHS – when I was about ten years-old. That same year I also saved up and bought “Lethal Weapon 2”. For a while, it was just those two. I ran those tapes into the ground, watching each of them over and over – sometimes multiple times per day. My family didn’t have cable television or any movie channels back then, and when you’re 10, 11, and 12 years-old, there isn’t much more to do when you get to stay up late on weekends than watch TV. But if you’re a night owl kid who only has five or six channels to choose from, you gravitate towards movies – many of them repeatedly.
The late ‘80s and early ‘90s were the height of the video store era – and video store culture. They came in many different shapes and sizes. Almost everybody remembers – or is aware of – Blockbuster, but how many recall when smaller video stores could be found in strip malls, supermarkets and even liquor stores? And in addition to Blockbuster there were other rental superstores such as Planet Video and Hollywood Video (no matter how short-lived both were compared to granddaddy Blockbuster). Sure, most people just rushed in, grabbed a movie as quickly as possible, and ran out; but for kids like me, video stores were a place to hang out, talk about films with other regulars and the employees, learn about films we’d never heard of, and acquire whatever movies and movie posters we could get our hands on in that pre-internet era. I would browse the isles of Blockbuster and the various neighborhood mom and pop video stores for endless hours each week. I would study the VHS boxes (searing the cover art into my brain), discover actors’ entire filmographies, talk with the video store clerks (I even became one myself at about16 years-old), and learn everything I could about movies and the movie rental business. Then I would take whatever treasure I settled on for the evening home, watch it (perhaps multiple times), and return the next day and do the same thing over again.
One thing I could not usually do that I desperately wished I could in the case of many films was own a copy of my very own. I’m not sure how many of you remember (or even ever knew) this but, in the VHS days you generally couldn’t buy a movie brand new from Blockbuster – or even Best Buy or Target – until about six months after its initial video release date. And if you wanted to special order a movie to own it immediately upon release (or, God forbid, had to replace a video store copy of one you lost or damaged), it would cost you anywhere from 75 to 100-plus bucks for those first six months or so. The idea of a massive home video collection had yet to take off. Sure you had your “E.T.’s”, “Batman’s”, “Jurassic Park’s” and the like – huge movies that studios knew families would gobble up at the “low, low “sell-through” price of $24.99” (every once in a while there would be a more fringe-level, genre hit like the aforementioned “Lethal Weapon 2” or an adult comedy smash like “Pretty Woman” that studios would test the waters of demand with), but for the most part, sell-through titles were limited to cartoons, family hits, and massive blockbuster tentpoles.
But there was one blessed way a kid like me could build a home video collection in the video store era: PVT, or Previously-Viewed Tapes. After a title had been on the shelf for a month or so and there was no longer a high rental demand for the 10, 20, 50 or 100 copies a store initially ordered (the number depended on the popularity of the movie and the size/profitability of the store; so Blockbuster and the like had entire walls full of some new releases, while the smaller stores has maybe five to ten copies of even the biggest films), they would put all but a few copies up for sale. PVTs usually started at $19.99. After they had been sitting around a while, they would go down to $14.99, and then $9.99. Some titles that had been out for several years could be had for $6.99, $4.99 or even around 3 bucks in some cases. Paying $19.99 (or even $14.99 or $9.99) for a used VHS tape might seem insane in an era where you can buy Blu-rays released in the last few years for as low as $5.99 at Best Buy. But compared to $80 or $100, or even $24.99 new six months down the road, 15 or 20 bucks seemed like a great bargain.
After “Batman” & “Lethal Weapon 2”, I loaded up on the likes of “Die Hard”, “Predator”, “RoboCop”, the other “Lethal Weapon’s”, “Tango & Cash”; the 90s brought the likes of “The Last Boy Scout”, “New Jack City”, “Point Break”, a new Steven Seagal must-have every year, “Total Recall”, “Terminator 2”, “Batman Returns”, “Cliffhanger”, “Reservoir Dogs”, two more “Die Hard’s”. I owned every “Dirty Harry” by the time I was 12 (and most other Clint Eastwood classics – “In the Line of Fire” and “Unforgiven” became my go-to answer to “what’s your favorite movie?”).
The collector and completest in me really emerged in the PVT era. How many people do you know who remember or have even heard of, much less owned a copy of, say, “Amos & Andrew”, “Threesome”, or “Dream Lover” (use Google, my friends) – and never mind at 12 or 13 years-old? Even infamous flops and critical pariahs like “Hudson Hawk”, “Harley Davidson & the Marlboro Man”, “Graffiti Bridge”, and “The Adventures of Ford Fairlane” I would giddily wait for the day they would turn up on the PVT shelf and I could add them to my collection (I don’t regret buying any of those, by the way; in fact, I upgraded each of them to DVD (and then Blu-ray where available) and still love watching all of them). I suddenly wanted to own every movie I liked to even a minor degree (which is why I still have VHS copies of “If Looks Could Kill” and “Eve of Destruction” sitting on my shelf – yep, I paid hard-earned 13-year-old money for those!). And it wasn’t just about collecting. I would watch all of these over and over again. It was a true passion.
[I SO WISH I HAD A PHOTO OF MY VHS COLLECTION CIRCA 1997 TO INSERT HERE.]
As the ‘90s wore on, video collections became more of a cultural norm. VHS tapes still cost upwards of $80 throughout the decade, but when the advent of DVD hit and every movie was available affordably immediately upon release (albeit for around $40 initially) – not to mention the promise of optimal sound and picture quality, the ability to skip “chapters” VS rewinding and fast forwarding (Hey, and no rewind fees!), special features, and widescreen formatting – movie buffs like me, while elated with all that stuff, faced a difficult choice: What about the hundreds of VHS tapes I had amassed? Some of the movies I owned on VHS I had already bought multiple times, because of different cover art, an upgraded edition, or in a box set collection. It would be a lot – and a lot of expense – to replace. And what if DVD was just some flashy trend that would go the way of Laserdisc?
Well, we all know what happened. Within two years of hitting the mainstream, I was quickly gobbling up DVDs the same way I did VHS tapes a decade earlier; slowly replacing a VHS here and there when I could, while now buying every new film strictly on DVD.
The problem with DVD – certainly the first generation ones (and a large amount beyond those as well) – is that for all their focus on upgraded picture and sound, most of them still looked pretty shoddy. The bigger issue may be that TVs capable of maximizing DVD’s upgraded specs were still too damn expensive back around the turn of the millennium. Anyone watching a DVD on the same 19-inch (or even 35-inch) tube TV they watched VHS tapes on wasn’t going to gain much benefit from the new technology. I remember buying my first widescreen HD TV in 2002 or 2003. It was 50-inches or so, but a projection set with a huge back to house the projection components and a massive speaker underneath that the screen sat on. It cost about two grand, but was one of the cheapest HD flat screens available at the time (Plasma screens were going for as much as $10,000 then). And then you needed a decent sound system. Still, when I got that first widescreen TV, coupled with my ever-growing DVD collection – which in about 4 or 5 short years had already greatly eclipsed the VHS collection I spent a decade building – I thought I had reached the pinnacle of home entertainment and film collecting.
But TVs kept improving and dropping in price. So did DVDs. I was buying new and previously viewed DVDs for under $10 on a regular basis. I replaced my projection TV with a DLP, and then LCD (now I think I’m up to an LED, though I’ve lost track and I’m not even sure it matters any more – they’re all good at this point – I guess 4K is the latest-greatest, but I think my interest in improving picture and sound has plateaued for the time being). Of course, as HD quality and HD quality televisions improved, so did home video technology.
Enter Blu-ray, which I resisted for three or four years. In 2005 – 2006 when Blu-ray came on the scene (some of you might recall it was released at the same time as HD DVD and the two had a brief face-off – we all know which won) I didn’t have a HD television, I didn’t want to rebuild my collection yet again, and I also had the usual “will the new fad last?” concerns. Again, we all know what happened. Around 2009, I bought my first Blu-ray player, and my first Blu-ray: “2012”, a movie I ironically didn’t really care for, but I bought because I thought it would be the perfect type of flick to test the sound and picture of this new technology. However, even more ironically, 7 years later, I have yet to even unwrap “2012”.
I think the first movie I watched on Blu-ray was actually the first rated-R film my mom allowed me to see in a theater (I was like 9) and the one I credit with beginning my love for, not just action cinema (though certainly that – you saw my list of my earliest-purchased movies and what they all had in common), but film in general as an art form and creative process: “Lethal Weapon”. To this day, that film remains something of a standard for me. When a new and improved technology comes along, it’s generally the first film that pops into my head that I want to experience in a newfound technical glory. It did not disappoint (though imagine my surprise when I looked at some reviews of the first generation “Lethal Weapon” Blu-ray and the general consensus seems to be that it is a crappy transfer). I was convinced. Within a few years Blu-ray prices dropped from what seems to be the usual starting price of all new home video media of around $40 (that’s where DVDs started and now it’s what 4K Blu-rays have come out at) to a new-release norm of $20-ish, to sale prices around $10 or $12, and bargain bin prices if you wait even just a year or two (in many cases) of five to eight bucks (I always kick myself when I buy a title I want right away at 20-plus dollars, and now I see it just thrown into a $5.99 bin). Also importantly again, TVs have not just caught up to the Blu-ray technology, but 1080p televisions (what you need to get optimal picture from a Blu-ray disc) can often be found dirt cheap (I saw a 50-inch at Best Buy the other day for well under $300 – I paid like $1800 for my first one seven years ago).
So, my Blu-ray collection is now beginning to rival my massive DVD collection. I went about buying Blu-rays with the same philosophy I did when replacing my VHS’s with DVDs: Buy any new titles or films I don’t already own on Blu-ray, slowly replace the ones I already own on DVD, only when I find them cheap. I have a general “No More Than $10 rule” when it comes to rebuying movies on Blu-ray that I already own on DVD. The problem is, these days, $10 or less BRs aren’t hard to find. I’m buying them faster than I can watch them. Part of it is I’m older now and I have a full-time job and a family. I’m lucky if I get to see all the new movies I want to see, never mind re-watch older films for an umpteenth time. Another issue is that TV has really stepped up its game in the last decade. When I do have time to sit down at home and watch something, I have a DVR full of stellar dramas I’m usually excited watch – or in many cases, shows I simply feel compelled to get through/finish.
I was looking at my film collection a while back and thinking about all of this. I catch myself looking at all those shelves lined with films sometimes, just staring at them in admiration, or remembering where I was when I first saw a specific film, or thinking about when I first bought it on VHS when I was barely a teenager and how long I had to wait or save-up to get a PVT copy. Some of them I have yet to even unwrap. Some of them I haven’t watched in years. Some of them I haven’t yet seen with adult eyes. I thought, “Man, I should sit down and watch all of these someday”. So, you know what? That’s exactly what I’m going to do. And I’m going to chronical the experience.
Starting next week I am going to watch every movie in my Blu-ray collection and write a short (hopefully) review/post about it: What I thought of the movie when I first saw it, what I think of it now, what I like about it, what I don’t, if it is special to me for some reason and why, did they fuck up the classic artwork for the Blu-ray cover (a horrible phenomenon of the Blu-ray era – and one of the best things (still) about VHS)? I’m limiting this experiment, if that’s the right term (it may prove to be just that in the sense of ‘can I actually accomplish this given my schedule?’ – finding time to watch them all will be hard enough, never mind writing about each film – or ‘will I actually make it through them all?’; and ‘how long will this take?’ I estimate I have around 300 BR titles – with more that will be added while this is going on), just to Blu-rays. Adding in VHS & DVD would simply be too mammoth an undertaking. And only films; no TV series or music Blu-rays. I could watch and discuss “24”, “Arrested Development”, “Archer” and “South Park” forever, but, again, that would simply be far too much; and I really want the focus here to be on my first love: movies.
I hope I can pull this off. I’m excited. I think this will be a fun adventure and hopefully lead to some fruitful wring and interesting blog posts and discussions. I hope you all will follow me on this little adventure.
Please follow my progress on Twitter @RDavidOnTheWire. #WatchingAllMyBluRaysAtoZ. I may even finally start a Letterboxd account for this. I’ll update here and on Twitter if I do.