I’ve rented movies long before I could comprehend the material on-screen. I saw As Good As It Gets because I loved Helen Hunt in middle school. It took me nearly twenty years to fully get all the jokes in Mrs. Doubtfire, probably the first movie I ever saw in theaters twice. As I grew old enough to rent VHS (yes, I’m old enough to recall them) from the local grocery store, I took every opportunity to watch a movie with my family. When I got my learner’s permit to drive. I became a member of the local Blockbuster. I became fiercely loyal to seeing anything I could. My parents would gripe about my movie watching, concerned that it would stunt my socializing, but I ignored them. As I developed an insatiable taste for films that Blockbuster couldn’t help with, I became wise to all the local libraries that rented movies, and added two more video rental cards from Blockbuster competitors. Renting or watching a movie was now a wild goose chase to find a working copy that I could get my hands on. In a pre-Netflix world, I had a list of films on a slip of paper my friend Aaron and I would update regularly in our classes together. I began keeping a movie diary after reading about it in an article Stephen King wrote for Entertainment Weekly.
When I moved to Montana, this well-crafted method of procuring the ideal rental was a trick since all three options basically shared a street corner. I migrated to Hollywood Video as much as I could. I found out the hard way the maximum rentals allowed from them at one time was 9. I once overdrew my debit card from renting so much (I was also horrible with money at this phase in my life). When I started attending Iowa State University, I saw my local options included my second home. It was laid out different, but a Hollywood Video was the place I visited most often those days. Then they went out of business.
Over the course of the last few years, I’ve had to lean more and more on Netflix to get me the titles I’m looking for. Ames, Iowa, once a place of many rental options has seen the variety depleted heavily. The only remaining options are, besides the ideal Netflix, are That’s Entertainment, Family Video, or Redbox. Redbox only has the latest few releases and fillers no real cinephile has ever heard of. It’s convenient for many, but not for this highly meticulous video rental Jedi. That’s Entertainment is only in business because it mostly rents/sells pornographic videos. I’m sorry, but that doesn’t mix well with family night or popcorn. So that’s not a viable option.
The only one left? Family Video. I don’t know how this company isn’t dead yet (it’s probably the porn they also rent to keep in business). Their choice is so disorienting, that you have to look for one film in at least three different places. Instead of the convenient organization of going by genre, then alphabetized, they adapt a clustercuss system that makes no sense logically. There is the New Release wall (a staple in rental stores), then the Nearly New, then Favorites, then the rest is alphabetized. If you wanna see their selection of horror films, you have to walk the entire floor. If you want to find Bruce Almighty, you have to check the B section, the Sequel, Prequel section, and the Favorites before you finally find it. As you peruse these areas, you see films that seem to collect dust as a primary purpose. The cases can asphyxiate anyone who accidentally shakes one. There is a reason you don’t know who Lorenzo Lamas is.
Their organization system
After you suffer the marathon of running all over the store for one title, you will likely experience one of three scenarios. Each one with their own troubles.
1) They don’t have the film. You’ll ask them about it. The staff will remember the film fondly, but will end up just as puzzled as you are when they too can’t find it. To my best recollection, when this has happened, they have not offered to call around or offer to order it. This is the expectation when this happens, but it has never happens to me. And I’ve suffered this indignity quite a bit from them.
2) They have but it’s rented out. With a film that is easily one of Jim Carrey’s best, why only one copy. The shelf containing the cases easily holds two copies. What gives?
3) You find it. You find yourself relieved and excited. They notice the disc looks dirty. Without a second thought, they throw it in their cleaner. Now, when you get home. You put the film in and enjoy all the skipping that occurs. I remember one instance where I spent an hour trying to get Zoolander to play. It was cheaper to buy it at this point, so I took it back and told them. When this happens, they stick it in the cleaner and call it good. This doesn’t help a big scratch. A gash buffed is just a shiny slice that renders Ben-Hur unwatchable.
On occasion, I’ve found myself able to get around all three of these obstacles, but not often. In a previously rant, I was encouraged to provide solutions to the problems I presented. It’s simple, but it doesn’t matter. If Family Video were to actually make the layout and system more user-friendly, they still have to worry about the selection choices. I may only have 350 DVD and Blu-Ray titles, but my collection is far more comprehensive and accessible than Family Video. I try everything I can to avoid them, but there isn’t any alternatives when you want Gran Torino that night if Redbox doesn’t have it (I’ve been on the verge of driving 20 miles out of my way to the nearest Blockbuster, it gets that frustrating). Like Wal-Mart, Family Video is a parasite, feeding on the convenient site by giving its customer’s broken dreams.