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In Tale of the Tape, Titles Go to DVD

December 27, 2000|STEVE CHAWKINS

I walk into my local Blockbuster--a video store just like 5,000 other Blockbusters in the U.S.--and experience another wonderful Obsolescence Moment.

You know the Obsolescence Moment. It's when you suddenly realize that while you've been staring out the back window and multiplying numbers in your head, persons more dynamic than yourself have changed the world and are charging you plenty for it.

Not that long ago, it was Starbucks that served up the Obsolescence Moment. Now it's an article of faith that coffee isn't coffee without espresso, cinnamon, cocoa shavings, a dollop of whipped cream, a shot of Italian syrup that looks like Vitalis, and a spray of foam from the mouth of a raving angel. No longer does a guy down on his luck seek a mere quarter; thanks to the Obsolescence Moment, the poor wretch can croak with hardly a trace of exaggeration: "Seven bucks for a cup of coffee, mister?"

In any event, I was headed to Blockbuster to rent "The In-Laws," an old Peter Falk movie that has become a fixture on the Chawkins Hundred, a listing of the dumbest, most hilarious movies of all time.

It was there--but I couldn't find it right away.

I couldn't find it right away because most of the ancient (pre-1999) videos suddenly were shelved like library books, forcing prospective viewers to kneel down, twist their heads and scan titles on the spines instead of immediately spotting a cover with big, flashy letters and dumb, hilarious pictures of our favorite stars.

A petty complaint?


Well, of course it's petty. We can't always be proposing a Middle East solution in this space, and, besides, a newspaper without petty complaints would be a svelte publication indeed. In any event, the larger point is this: the pre-Neanderthal videos were shelved like library books because Blockbuster had to make room for hundreds of DVDs, which apparently are how civilized people watch movies these days.

What happened, I asked a clerk, pointing to all the aisles of DVDs that lately had held videos.

Shrugging, she uttered a plaintive line that could have been lifted from "Chinatown," another Chawkins All-Time Favorite.

"It's the technology," she said.

That it is. After two dormant years, DVD players (Dazzling Victorian Dreidels? Dubious Viennese Dentists?) are hot gifts. Their cost has drifted down to as little as $200. Their picture is supposed to be more vivid than a VCR's. The sound is to die for, according to all the DVD hype.

"Imagine how your friends and relatives would feel if you were able to bring the most intense and lifelike movie theater experience right into your living room," enthuses a Toshiba promotional blurb. "Imagine how the value of your couch would increase if it were enveloped in Dolby Digital Surround Sound. . . ."

But what about all of us troglodytes who are OK with the semi-worthless sofa that the cats keep getting sick on and a sound system that can't knock apples from the tree?

What about those of us who would just go on with our quaint VCR ways, unmindful of Super ColorStream Pro Progressive Scan technology and 10-bit 54MHz Video D/A Conversion with Super 4:4:4 Processing?

What about all of us who don't get all dewy-eyed over the ballyhooed "extras" of DVDs? Not everyone needs a 20-minute interview with the movie's caterer or wants to choose among different endings for their favorite films: "It's Thousand Oaks, Jake."

Will our VCRs wind up in the same ash heap as our record players and 286 computers?

Liz Greene, a Blockbuster spokeswoman, said the company is "very excited" about DVDs, pointing out that they'll account for 10% of revenues this year. But she told me not to junk the VCR.

"The consumers are going to tell us which direction we should go," she said. "We see a definite future for both right now."

I do too.

The definite future for DVDs is that everyone will have to buy them, because that's what the market wants us to do and we won't have much of a choice.

The definite future for VCRs is that they'll wind up in the garage with all the audiocassettes--technology now mainly available next to the leatherette steering-wheel covers at carwashes and truck stops.

Resistance is futile. One day I'll grudgingly buy a DVD, because I love movies too much not to watch them at home. And as I put my feet up on my suddenly re-valued sofa, I might just go whole hog and sip a mocha grande with a shot. But I won't feel good about it at all.


Steve Chawkins can be reached at or at 653-7561.

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