Tonight on the way home from my 11-year-old son’s karate practice, we decided on a whim to stop into the local Blockbuster video store for its going-out-of-business sale, five days before its closing. The “previously viewed” (aka “used”) DVDs are down to $1.99 — still too much, and I knew I’d find scant pickings, and I don’t really want any anyway, but I figured it’d be a fun 15-minute diversion for the two of us. And given that signs proclaimed that “everything in the store” was for sale, including the fixtures, I might find something else fun to buy.
After poking around through the thousands of unwanted direct-to-video third-tier movies and broken-up boxed sets of TV series (anyone need Justified Season 3, but only the second disc? ‘Cause I know where to get it), I actually found something I’d wanted to see: a thriller called Whiteout starring Kate Beckinsale and adapted from the comic book by Greg Rucka. At $1.99, it was cheaper than a digital rental, and a quick check from my phone verified that Netflix didn’t have it for streaming. Which I could have predicted. Because any movie you’ve heard of? It’s not on Netflix streaming.
I took the disk to the register to pay for it. A guy at the register went to ring me up. His name badge said, “Vince.” Below that, he’d taped an additional label that read, “Not for sale.” (So much for everything in the store being for sale.) My son Dietrich was also buying a movie, Expiration, a “horror thriller” with “human lab rats” about which I’m sure my wife will be talking to me soon. Vince advised Dietrich that since all sales were final, he should open the case and make sure the disk didn’t look too scratched, because even if it didn’t play, there would be no returns. Opening the case revealed that the disk looked pristine — i.e., Dietrich would be its first (and probably last) viewer. Like Blockbuster itself, Expiration‘s expiration would be imminent.
I looked inside the case at the disk for Whiteout and saw a few viewing marks but decided to buy it anyway. At $1.99, this seemed like a better gamble than a lottery ticket. Vince said, “You sure you want that?”
“Yeah,” I said. “It’s probably okay.”
“You’re sure you want it? You should probably put it back.”
“It’s fine,” I said.
“I saw that movie,” he said. “I didn’t like it. It’s really slow.”
I thought about that and gave Vince the lookover. No way to know if his tastes match mine — maybe he likes more action. I was riveted — twice within a month!! — by All is Lost, but to read online comments, some audience members are up in arms by how “slow” it is.
“I’ll take it anyway,” I said. Then, in an attempt at courtesy, I added, “I’m an insomniac. Maybe I’ll wake up at 3 a.m. some night and watch it.”
“It’s perfect for insomnia,” he said. “You’ll go right back to sleep.”
Two hours later, I’m still mulling over this exchange with Vince. Was this typical of the “recommendations” at this (and so many other) Blockbuster stores? Or was the impending closure liberating? (“Hey, everybody! We’re closing in five days — say anything! No sales needed! Nobody cares!”)
Whatever the answer to these questions, somehow the guy behind me managed to find 10 movies he wanted to buy out of what I’m telling you is the detritus of direct-to-video movies so godawful that even Blockbuster cashiers are reluctant to sell them. Now I’m wondering if that guy will ever actually watch those.