The Last Blockbuster

Now streaming on Netflix this highly nostalgic documentary covers the rise and fall of an industry and those who refuse to let it die.

In the late 1970’s, VCR’s and VHS tapes revolutionized the way people watched movies. However the cost of a single VHS tape was so exorbitantly expensive that most people couldn’t afford more than one or two movies. Some enterprising individuals saw a need and a massive industry arose in the 80’s renting movies. The largest was Blockbuster. They were an absolute Goliath until they all but disappeared. What killed Blockbuster? The answer is more complicated than you’d think.

I had a lot of fun with this movie. It really lured me in with its early reminiscences about the excitement of entering a video store as a kid, the very particular smell of a Blockbuster, and the agony of finding out somebody else has rented the movie you really wanted.

If any of that rings true for you, you’re going to get a real kick out of this movie. It’s a lot of fun reveling in the past and glorying in those old days when people came together to rent movies and get recommendations from the staff. However the irony was not lost on me that I was watching a film about renting movies on a streaming service.

The heart of the film follows the family that owns and operates the last Blockbuster store in the world. The film follows a countdown of stores from 9,00 down to one. The family that runs the store treats everyone as part of the family, and that is what keeps the place running. The family feeling can’t be duplicated and keeps the experience special.

For me the most interesting part of the film is the light it shines on what actually killed Blockbuster. The quick answer everyone assumes is Netflix killed Blockbuster, but that’s not the case. I really enjoyed getting the behind the scenes look at what went on.

A couple of problems hold the film back for me. The first is how low stakes the film feels. Really, what is at stake? The nostalgia of a generation for a bygone era and an obsolete industry. The movie could have examined its nostalgia and really interrogated the idea of this golden age thinking, but it doesn’t. It keeps everything real low key.

My other problem is the subjects they chose to interview. It’s a lot of celebrities who used to work at or go to Blockbusters as kids. They aren’t experts so much as recognizable personalities waxing nostalgic. The movie could have benefited from a different perspective. Someone other than a celebrity telling us how great Blockbuster was.

In the end, this movie is a lot of fun. It’s not deep or challenging. It’s just a fun nostalgic ride. The perfect accompaniment to a quiet Sunday afternoon.

It’s my cup of tea. B

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