Tag Archives: bluray

Barry’s very bad day: bye, bye Blockbusters

blockbusterAnd so it was finally fade to black, eject, roll credits for Blockbuster UK which closed its return boxes for the final time ever last weekend.

You Only Live Twice

It had seen more back from the dead endings than Freddy Krueger and its final gasp was almost as drawn out as the end to Lord of the Rings: Return of the King as it had gone into receivership twice this year alone.

I’d had two stints working for Blockbuster, once in around 2001 – 2004 over in Kent and then again in Essex in 2012-2013. It was a store that had changed in some minor ways, but at the same time it hadn’t in most, which is probably what saw it hurtle toward its final destination.

Barry, and his bad day, just in case anyone is wondering, is the name of a training video infamous with employees as it was that old, had generally poor acting and was laughably bad. Barry of the title role was played by the bloke in charge o the market on EastEnders and onetime voice of the CoCo Pops Monkey! Yes, we’ll we’d rather have had a bowl of said turning milk choclatey cereal as well…thankfully there wasn’t a sequel!

I’d only ever worked part-time at Blockbuster so I always found it a fun way for some extra money, you got seven free rentals a week and money off games and films to buy…as a film buff what wasn’t there to like! As a (still) budding screenwriter the video store worker leap by Tarantino to script doctor and film director wasn’t entirely lost on me either.

My first interview for Blockbuster was also probably the most fun I ever had at an interview, having to explain why Jaws was my favourite film.

There were distinct side effects to working at Blockbuster though and you got spot the signs of an employee a mile off! Mine manifested itself as lacking the inability to open a VHS, DVD or Bluray if someone hands me one (outside of blue uniform) to check if it is there/the correct one, and ordering my DVD collection in genres – I didn’t quite go as far as having a top ten!

Ah, the top ten, if you just didn’t know what you wanted you would look at the top ten, well you did in my first stint but by my return they had done away with it – fools! There was also blocking, nothing to do with The Karate Kid, but more on that later.

Star Wars

Sometimes my first stint at Blockbuster could by fairly surreal as we had several famous people come and use it. I remember serving former javelin thrower Steve Backley (no he didn’t chuck his rentals at me) and Craig Fairbrass AKA Dan from EastEnders as he was at the time ( also see London’s Burning, Cliffhanger – we had it on our shelves but he never rented it I checked – White Noise 2 and The Sarah Conner Chronicles).

I even remember having to say to him once that he had an unpaid fine on his account (gulp) and I half expected the duff duffs to kick in when I’d made the announcement.

Of course they weren’t the only celebs to use Blockbuster. It wasn’t my store but famously in 1999 (I’m sure it was then) when Tom Cruise was filming Eyes Wide Shut he tried to rent a film from Blockbuster only to be asked for his ID or membership, of course he didn’t have any, apart from the countless films lining the shelves…not deemed sufficient proof he was denied rental and left bored on the 4th of July (perhaps). A true Mission: Impossible for the A-lister but far from being in a daze of thunder he seemed to take it all in good humour. Cue smile.

Be Kind, Rewind

Oddly at my first store they also trialled selling wine and beer, a hit with us in store but it didn’t seem to last very long or make its way across all stores.

That first store was also very much VHS, sure DVD was on the shelves but the tape was still the dominant species, which meant sore hands from pulling out and whacking in the yellow plastic sticks that tried to thwart thieves. And we had to rewind the bastards each time someone never rewound a tape back…I’ll never get that time back as I stand between two tape machines as they insistently scream back in fast rewind – it always sounded like the speeding simulator that Roger Moore gets trapped in Moonraker to me.

Lost in Translation

And because we had VHS (boo hiss pan and scan full screen at that) that meant that when we got films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon we got them in both the subtitled and dubbed version and not only did people not know it was a foreign language film (really?) but we had to double-check that they knew when renting at which point people look repulsed. Okay, so the title is in English but the German Das Experiment (the clue is in the title) had exactly the same problem…it’s not about a fricking washing powder! And despite it having a German flag on the back and the blurb, language from country of origin, didn’t seem to matter one jot! I didn’t know what the German flag looked like was the common reply…of course with DVD you often have language and dubbing options.

My personal fave has to be the Jean Reno films, which are made in French but he even re dubs himself!

So, the video may have well and truly vanished when I started my second spell at Blockbuster but I still have a soft spot, more of a fond memory , of big box video. Of course by then it was both DVD and Bluray and although you always had tracking or sound issues with the odd VHS, DVDs could often be found to be scratched to buggery as if people have worn it on the bottom of their shoes performing a tap routine on their way back to the store…or perhaps cos it isn’t theirs, people don’t look after it.

Certainly one of the few perks on buying ex rental DVD as an employee was that you were able to tell how many times something had been rented and compare and contrast the 20 or so copies that may have gone to ex-rental.

With the move to Bluray, this I largely found was not a problem. The only problem was that if you weren’t careful you could have quite easily spent half of your wages on items in store as it was a little bit like being a kid in a sweet shop. A bit like when major incidents have taken place in earth’s history and paleontologists can tell just by looking at layers of soil when there was an ice age or a great flood, the same can be said with my film collection which probably features more films from the #Blockbuster periods’ than any other.

The Box

The constant enemy of any Blockbuster employee was the drop box, a fiendishly simple device that acted as a post box for returned films…unless it was taped over…I say constant enemy as on nights through the weekend and after the weekend, especially if it was three for three nights or three for £10, there would be a river of films to scan in.

There was only so many you could humanly carry at once, cue tower of films crashing to the floor when being a tad over ambitious, but I always found it worse when it had been raining and the boxes were wet and ended up practically sticking together.

Um, talking of things sticking together, first time round at the store Blockbuster merrily stocked soft core porn, but porn nonetheless. This always seemed a little odd to me with its strong links to children’s charities but certainly second time round that sort of thing wasn’t on the shelves.

I can’t imagine that it really rented that well as it all looked bloody awful, not that I’m an expert or anything, in fact I think we only rented them to two or three people, but then with titles like Lord of the G Strings and Illegally Buxom Blonde I don’t think the main film studios had anything to be concerned about.

On a final note before I lock up the store, quick now before the smokescreen system goes off and fills it completely like something out of a James Bond film – funnily enough this happened the first night upon my return to Blockbuster, with the smoke billowing out of the store anyone would have thought that the store was on fire!

I’m sure all Blockbuster employees have encountered the following…

  • A customer will always ask to rent the latest film…that has just been released at the cinema/isn’t even out at the cinema yet!
  • Even though you are closed, it clearly states what time you are open until, people will still try and return items/rent something because your lights are on. Note, cashing up is much harder in the dark, although I wasn’t much better at it lights or no lights.
  • Blocking – the term given to the task of correctly laying out how the boxes are displayed and that they are done neatly so and in the correct order. Whenever visiting your store when you aren’t working, another store or just any shop with a similar setup you will inexplicably be drawn to blocking like you have really bad OCD. Sorry HMV!

And so that’s it, another familiar name vanished from the high street. The reasons for that are a whole new article, that wasn’t the aim of this, the aim of this was to merely celebrate of sorts the life and times of Blockbuster employee.

Is is a shame though that you now can’t pop in and rent a film of your choice in person, I know you can do that on demand etc, but it just doesn’t feel the same for me, plus I like to read the box when vowing the film. Ho hum. I guess the follow up question now is just how long can HMV hold on for?

End of Days

As Buggles famously sang, video may have killed the video star but several factors killed the video store…of course it all really boils down to what killed Woolworths really, it was an outdated model and couldn’t really compete with online prices or, in the case of Blockbuster, postal rental services – it had one as well – but especially download services. People weren’t bothered about a physical DVD or Bluray (I am, I still love the extras and commentaries) nevermind a physical store.

I don’t know what has become of my first store but the one in Essex is now a cafe and my local rental stall now simply stands empty. I drive past it most days to work and its said to see it empty of people and all those dreams, now only memories remain.

My three year old daughter even liked running round the store and picking a Scooby-Doo, Pixar or Blue Sky title off the shelves. Growing up my local independent video store was Video Magic, back in those days we had Betamax, and I used to love browsing the titles on the giant video boxes, the artwork (it was practically an art gallery for me and although I didn’t see them until much later the artwork on the likes of Fright Night were ingrained in my memory, which may go some way to explaining my collecting of classic movie posters) and the cardboard standees.

Isabelle will never have that experience and that is exactly what it felt like, an experience, it was a real thrill to have to go to the video store and not know just what you were going to come back with, or ask the person who was working there ‘which is best?’ or ‘Have you seen?’. Nothing gave me greater pleasure than introducing someone to a film that they had never heard of that was brilliant, or perfect for a fan of this or that genre or averting a rental disaster when they go to rent a film that was terrible. People got to know you and trusted your valued opinion or knowledge, even if it was for only 90 mins we had helped improve someone’s day.

And that was all part and parcel of the fun of it all, no matter which side of the counter I was standing…

Jaws – still top of the blockbuster food chain

Jaws is released on Bluray for the first time in the UK on Monday 3rd September, I look back to my first viewing of this newly spruced up print of the classic Spielberg thriller on the big screen back in June. And yes, I’ll be buying it again, adding it to my pan and scan VHS copy, my widescreen VHS copy and both the 25th and 30th anniversary DVDs.

My journey to see Jaws, my all time favourite film, has been 10 years in the making and after all that time, all those viewings, it didn’t disappoint. Put simply it was Jawsome.

It is somewhat fitting that Jaws has been re released as part of the centenary celebrations of Universal Studios in June, smack bang in the middle of the summer blockbuster season, as Jaws is the grandaddy of them all, the first film to have such a large (at the time) opening, and the first to hit that magic $100 million mark. In more ways than one it is the big fish.

37 years have passed since Jaws first swam onto our screens but it still more than holds its own against today’s output, in fact it is the filmic equivalent of what Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) calls the shark, ‘the perfect eating machine’.

As a piece of cinema Jaws was always the near perfect piece of cinema and now, cleaned up frame by frame and looking like it was practically shot last week, this lean mean thriller machine became the closest to cinematic perfection it has ever got.

Put simply, you can forget your Star Wars, forget your toying with special effects, nipping, tucking or even adding here and there (yes you Mr Cameron, Mr Lucas – sounds like Are You Being Served – and Mr Scott), this is cleaned up but otherwise untouched, and still has the same shark and still has that primal fear in buckets, along with the chum.

Spielberg has clearly learnt from his ‘walky talky’ medling with E.T. and left Jaws exactly as it was, save for giving it a fresh lick of paint and thankfully modification free.

It may sound obvious but never having seen the film on the big screen the first thing that hit me was that it all looked so big, from the (thankfully) old fashioned Universal logo to each and every character introduction, counting the fictional Amity Island in that.

With such a large canvas, that had also expertly been cleaned up, we are able to feel even closer to that (really rather sunny and bright for the most part) world and see and notice so many small things in the background that I hadn’t done before. It was practically like seeing the film for the very first time.

Jaws still packs a punch (or should that be bite radius) of a juggernaut. The opening Chrissie attack sequence has never looked so uncomfortably clear, her nakedness making you almost feel voyeur like – making it even closer akin to the shower scene it Psycho in that respect – right up until that moment of impact when the John Williams score and sound effects really kick into high gear. If anything its heightened more than ever with the Alex Kitner lilo attack, which in many ways seemed even more powerful. They both form part of my article, Death Becomes Them, charting the ‘best’ death scenes in the Jaws series.

It’s not the 25 foot shark, all three tonnes of it, that dominates the film though, each and every piece of the film he is in is dominated by Robert Shaw as Quint. Scheider and Dreyfuss are no slouches for sure and the way the threesome ping off each other is a joy to behold (the script coupled with the beauty of the extra rehearsal time due to operating problems with the shark et al – read Man vs Beast for my take on the making of) but Quint has never been so dominant, so alive. He chews scenery like the shark chews his boat, the Orca, at the end of the film and his eyes, his eyes are just so piercing a blue that they make Daniel Craig’s look practically dull in comparison. It confirmed to me that more classic Shaw films should be viewed on the big screen but also left a genuine feeling of loss, for the man, Shaw died only three years after the release of Jaws, and for cinema generally as he carved such an impression up their on the big screen, seen as he should be and not on a box – no matter what its size – in the corner of the room.

Jaws never puts a foot wrong, it still has fantastic pace, still thrills and scares a little in all the right places and also makes people laugh in all the places that it is meant to do. Rubber shark or no rubber shark it, like Alien after it, which after all was pitched as Jaws in Space, still taps into that primeval fear and when each and every person bringing that to life is working at the top of their game you can’t go wrong, critically,commercially or for longevity.

The decade wait was well worth it, and I’m pleased that Bruce, as the shark was nicknamed by Spielberg, came back for his noon feeding to mark the hundredth anniversary of Jaws,it mattered not that most of us in that small screening room had seen it hundreds of times, knew exactly what shot or line of dialogue came next we were all in awe of the remastered Jaws and to paraphrase Chief Brody at the end of the film as he blows the great white shark out of the water as it races toward him, we were all smiling like sons of bitches.