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I don't see Red Box as progress

Date: 8/13/2012

By G. Michael Dobbs

If you follow summer movie releases, you may have heard that "The Expendables 2" is about to hit theaters.

Now, my wife loves action films, even cheesy action films, as much as I do, but she had missed the first film, which stars Sylvester Stallone as the head of a mercenary group all played by other well-known action stars.

I doubt sincerely if seeing the first film is a prerequisite to understanding the subtle nuances of the plot and characterization of the movie, but my wife wanted to see the first one before she committed to the second.

Since she has been married to a movie nut for more than 33 years, I'm afraid some of my habits have rubbed off on her.

Securing a copy to watch, though, proved to be more difficult than I thought. Since a video store is practically an extinct species, my logical choice is Netflix. I had dropped my Netflix account, though, because there were weeks I never rented anything but I was still paying for the privilege.

So, my next option was the video on demand section through my cable company. That proved fruitless.

I then went to the ubiquitous Red Box. What evil genius came up with that idea? Eliminate the video store, fire the employees, stock a limited number of titles and carry versions of the DVDs that have no extras. Charge only a dollar a night rental, but make people line up like they live in a third world country for their chance to scroll through the touch screen hoping to find something interesting, only to find that title is out.

Just a few years ago, the video store was a mom and pop success story in this country, that is until chains such as Blockbuster and Hollywood Video used business practices, such as signing studios to exclusive deals, that the mom and pops couldn't match.

The conversion to DVDs and the decrease in the price of DVDs to the consumer — it was actually cheaper for a video storeowner to go to Wal-Mart or Costco to buy copies than through a wholesale distributor — made business even more difficult.

For many independent shops what kept them afloat was special deals for rentals — do you remember stores that would include a bottle of soda and a box of candy as part of a rental? — and the X-rated room. With free porn on the Internet, the adults-only room is also a dinosaur.

With Netflix and a blanket rental fee with no late charges came the slow destruction of the chain stores. Enough people have computers to make the Netflix business model the dominant one. If you have the proper device and Internet connection, you can stream a number of films to your TV.

I miss the joy of looking up and down that new release wall and discovering movies that were unknown to me. I miss the little bit of hoopla and showmanship that accompanied the video store industry.

With Netflix, I really have to know what I'm seeking and sometimes they don't have what I want. I really don't like the whole industry being dominated by one company, a company that can make decisions to keep smaller or lesser-known movies off if its list. When there were thousands of neighborhood stores, there was a greater opportunity for those movies to get some exposure.

Is progress in this country merely an acceptance of fewer choices and greater inconvenience?

Did my wife actually get to witness the innumerable pleasures offered by Stallone and his fellow mostly geriatric co-stars? Yes. I found a copy to buy and add to our library.

And after this extensive search, thank all that is holy she liked it!

Disagree? Drop me a line at or at 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028. As always, this column represents the opinion of its author and not the publishers or advertisers of this newspaper.