Star Trek III: The Search for Spock was the first videotape I ever bought. In fact, I still have that copy, and any time I run across it I am surprised again by how hefty it is. As time went on, videotapes got lighter (weight-wise, not brightness-wise), but that tape was the heaviest one I ever owned. I doubt it’s still playable, but I haven’t tried playing it because who has a VCR anymore?
Several years later, I bought Star Trek III again. It was still a videotape, but it was part of a set of all six of the original Trek movies, and they were in letterboxed widescreen. Plus, the packaging for all six, when lined up correctly, had a picture of the Enterprise on the spines. Worth it.
A few years later, I bought Star Trek III again, this time on DVD. The series was being released little by little in special 2-disc editions with tons of extras, and I was buying them as they came out.
Then, of course, a little over a year ago I bought Star Trek III again, this time as part of a Blu-Ray (BD) set of the six movies.
Here’s the thing: you probably don’t even like Star Trek III. I do, but I’ll admit that a big part of that is nostalgia. It’s the 4th-best OG Trek movie (II, VI, IV, III, I, V, in case you were wondering), but it has a bunch of Vulcan stuff in it that I find (for the lack of a better word) fascinating. But that’s not even the real reason for me buying it four times.
The easiest answer is technology, of course. As I’ve mentioned, most homes don’t even have a VCR anymore, so it would be difficult to watch my VHS copies of Star Trek III. Plus, videotape degrades every time it’s played and even when it’s just sitting there, so eventually I wouldn’t be able to watch it anyway. DVD doesn’t degrade as quickly as VHS, nor is it susceptible to many of the same damagers (temperature, storage position), but it does still degrade. I can still play DVDs I’ve had for ten years, but will I be able to play them in twenty more? And that’s even assuming there’s hardware still available that can play them.
DVD is an upgrade from videotape in more than just longevity, though. The format allows for more information to be stored in less space, so better picture and sound quality account for some of the draw, but the extra features that will fit on a disc are a huge draw as well — even though many of those never get watched!
BD isn’t as huge a jump from DVD that DVD was from videotape. I mean, to someone who knows all the ins, outs, and bitrates it might be, but to the end user it’s functionally the same. Cloverfield was the first movie I ever watched on Blu-Ray. I was expecting to blown away by the picture quality (because shakycam looks so much better in hi-def!), but what I really was blown away by was the sound. I remember being amazed at how much clearer it was on my exact same equipment that I had been using for DVD.
When I first got a BD player, I determined I would not rebuy movies I already had on DVD unless it were something that really warranted it. “Warranted it” was defined in my head as “big action movies or things with awesome special effects.” I knew going in that I was going to rebuy the Matrix movies, for instance. And most superhero movies. But I sure didn’t need a BD of When Harry Met Sally, because how does that help anything? Oh, and of course anything new I’d buy would be on BD, because that just made sense. It doesn’t sound like my system makes much sense, but it was very clear to me how it worked, and I could imagine no other way.
Until recently, anyway. In the last several months I’ve changed my position somewhat. Now it makes sense to me that if it’s a movie I love, I should want to see it the best possible way. Again, that just makes sense, and it saddens me that I didn’t realize that until just now, but that’s how it goes sometimes. I can still make other excuses as to why I want to buy a BD upgrade to a DVD I already have (“It’s so cheap!” being the biggest one), but I’m starting to settle on the “because I love this movie” reason without feeling bad about it.
Frankly, there are some upgrades I couldn’t wait to get because the DVD was so awful. I know there’s a name for this, but I get confused about all of that, so I’ll just explain it. Both my DVDs of 10 Things I Hate about You and Grosse Pointe Blank were formatted for a 4:3 TV, but letterboxed widescreen inside that 4:3 window. That means that I had black bars on the sides and the top, reducing the movie to less than a third of the available screen. Now, sure, there are zoom options available that will make it fill the screen, but it’s not the same and looks…not great. Neither of these movies fit the “big action” or “awesome special effects” bill. I love Grosse Pointe Blank (seriously, it’s probably in my All Time Top 5), but I only like 10 Things I Hate about You. When Grosse Pointe Blank was released in August of last year, I bought it the day of, even though it was pretty lousy as far as BDs go: NO extras at all! But it fills the whole screen now, so that’s still an upgrade. I didn’t like 10 Things well enough to spend a lot of money on it, but I found it at Target for $5 and that seemed about right. I haven’t watched the new copy yet, but I assume it, too, fills the whole screen.
I know everybody is all about digital only these days – I’ve gotten more than a few aghast eyerolls when I tell people I don’t like buying digital-only versions of movies. It’s not that I don’t like having digital versions, I certainly do. It’s that I don’t like having digital-only versions. “One good EMP will take out that whole collection!” I’m fond of saying. (Yes, I know that a good EMP will wipe out anything I’d be able to play a BD on, too. Leave me alone.) There’s something about having an alphabetized collection of discs that makes a difference for me. If it’s ones and zeroes, what do I own? If it’s a disc, I can loan it out, I can hold it, I can see it. I know that makes me old school/lame/a geezer, but that’s how it is. I know the industry is moving towards digital, but I’m still looking forward to the next format I’ll be able to buy Star Trek III in.
Written by: Mark