The biggest rip-offs in home video

Movies for suckers

Have you ever felt ripped off? Of course you have; we’ve all been there. That “fantastic bargain” seemed like much less of a good deal once you got it home or a cheaper alternative suddenly became blindingly obvious right after it was too late. We’re very fortunate to be living in a time period so steeped in home viewing bargains. DVDs cost a pittance look great and are available in the original aspect ratios with a wealth of bonus material. Of course this cavalcade of value makes the rip-offs all the more obvious. • “Surprise! You Didn’t Win a DVD!” Arcade Machines — you’ve seen them in shopping malls and theatre lobbies; those bright yellow arcade machines filled with twirling DVDs each with the price sticker still tantalizingly visible. It looks too good to be true (and is). Just plunk in a toonie hit the button at just the right moment and bam! That deluxe edition of Casino Royale is all yours! There’s just one snag. Nobody wins a movie. Ever. Let’s apply a little common sense now shall we? First this machine isn’t going to hand out a $20 movie every time some mallrat makes a $2 investment. That’s just not good business. Second the machine gets to decide how close you were to winning and there’s no reason for it to be impartial about it. Third the machine is full of R-rated movies but there’s no age verification system of any kind. How do they keep little kids from winning a copy of Saw III? Easy; by making the game impossible to win! Lastly just look at how many copies of each movie are loaded into the machine. They only go three deep! One or two copies might be missing either because some magic person actually won a disc last February or because the vendor just left the space blank so the game wouldn’t look rigged. • UMD Movies on PSP — These tiny optical discs provide DVD-quality films on your PlayStation Portable (PSP) game console. Trouble is they’re more expensive than DVDs have no special features and can’t be viewed on anything other than a PSP. Sales of UMD (Universal Media Disc) movies are plummeting and it isn’t hard to see why. Is a tiny handheld screen really the best way to watch Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon? One store actually offered movie bundles with the UMD and DVD versions of films like BLADE: TRINITY shrink-wrapped together into one overpriced package. Wow! Did anybody actually buy that? • “Priced for Rental” VHS Tapes — VHS tapes came in two price points: “sell-through” (reasonably priced) and “priced for rental” (horrifically expensive). The price point of a certain film was a completely arbitrary decision made by the studios. This movie will cost $11.99 while this other one will cost $149.99 and be marketed only to video stores as rentals. Shoppers who tried to special order “rental only” tapes like Vanilla Ice’s ill-advised action flick Cool As Ice (1991) got a bad case of sticker shock. Fortunately bargain hunters only had to wait a few months before fishing their prize out of the $3.99 bin. One of the most ingenious things about the establishment of the DVD format was the written agreement that every DVD release would be “sell-through” effectively eliminating the “priced for rental” fiasco. Good riddance! • DVDs containing a single 30-minute TV episode — Box sets of entire seasons of classic television are now widely available and affordable. On the other hand a few single-episode ripoff discs are still out there. Thirty bucks for 624 minutes of entertainment is good value. Twenty bucks for 22 minutes is not. Do the math. • Retitlings — Did you know that Zombie and Zombi 2 are the same movie? This came up all the time during the reign of VHS when video stores got suckered into buying multiple copies of the same damn movie. Thankfully the trend is now in decline. • HD DVD/Blu-Ray Discs — I almost didn’t include these expensive playthings since anybody determined to spend over $600 in order to play pricier-than-DVD discs isn’t looking for advice from me. Still leaving these competing new formats out seemed like a mistake. Sure they look ever-so-slightly better than DVD but at the moment the price is insane and the selection of titles is pathetic. We don’t even know which of the two will win the format war but it’s starting to look like the answer is neither as many stores are giving the costly discs precious little shelf space. • DIVX (Digital Video Express) — This doomed alternative to DVD crashed and burned so quickly nobody noticed. The idea was instead of renting a disc you’d buy it for five bucks from Circuit City an American chain of electronics superstores. Forty-eight hours after you first put it in the player the information on the disc would be scrambled and you’d either “recharge” the disc for four bucks or throw it away. It was a wasteful and idiotic system. People didn’t like the idea of not owning the movies they bought and in 1999 less than a year after its introduction the format died out. • The Criterion Collection — Sure these guys put out really really great DVDs. But come on! $40-130 bucks for one movie? Yikes! Okay I did buy Eyes Without a Face (1960) but that was totally worth it and I had a coupon. Sometimes you want to spend a little more to get the very best. Plus from time to time they’ll go easy on the price of movies like Chasing Amy or The Royal Tenenbaums. • Pay-Per-View Pornos — In the 1990s satellite services and hotel-based SpectraVision systems started offering pay-per-view adult films. What horny viewers discovered after accepting the fee was that the movies had all of the hardcore sex edited out leaving only the stilted awkwardly acted filler material. Perverts everywhere went purple with rage.