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The Last Blockbuster – The Light We Needed in This Tunnel

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I will watch anything if it is 90 minutes. If my thumb is hovering between the “play” and “next” buttons, my decision is made or broken on the timing of the movie. Ninety minutes is just perfect, it’s the perfect amount of action and/or information, (nearly) guaranteed to entertain with rising and falling action on predictable cues.

At some point in my lifetime, the ninety minute movie started to go out of fashion. I’m going to arbitrarily call it the “Peter Jackson Phenomenon” in which we all decided that two hours was the bare minimum that we would accept because there is just too much to see for only ninety minutes! The Peter Jackson Phenomenon is, in my opinion, complete bullshit. Not only because it opened the door to the recent release of a FOUR HOUR LONG superhero movie, but because I’m old now – my bladder is small, my attention span has always been bordering between ADHD and a three year old’s brain, and I like to go to bed early. If I dive in to a two hour movie now, it’s with the understanding that I’m going to watch in two parts.

I miss the days when 90 minute movies were standard. Back in the days of yore, when I was but a youngster obsessed with John Travolta and I would walk the mile down to my local neighborhood Blockbuster so that I could make my way through his entire discography. With my heart drenched in nostalgia and my keen eyes on the Netflix trends, I spent this snowy afternoon here at my little cottage in the woods watching the documentary “The Last Blockbuster” – because it was #7 in the US today and because it was, you guessed it, ninety beautiful minutes long.

I’m going to pause in this review to tell you how to begin this movie. By all means, follow in my footsteps. I packed a decent amount of Mars OG in to my bong bowl, made a snack (thanks to Edward for the homemade chili garlic oil – elevating my stoner snacks since he started making it a few months ago), and settled in to enjoy a light walk down memory lane.

The Last Blockbuster surprised me because it broke from my expectation of 90 minute movies – it didn’t have a clear timeline and message. The movie wandered through interviews with famous actors that used to work at Blockbuster, interviews with movie makers that never had anything to do with Blockbuster (also the guitarist from Smash Mouth?), odd animations of mailboxes, and reenactments done Drunk History style.

Side rant: I hate Drunk History. I wish I didn’t, it seems like something I would like because I like history and up until recently, I was a big drinker. But I just can’t help it, I have always hated Drunk History. I couldn’t tell you why if I tried, it’s like that line from Step Brothers – I can’t put my finger on why, but I want to punch it in the face.

About halfway through the documentary, the movie begins to find its footing. Viewers will notice that it really starts to land after they make their way through the “this is how Blockbuster really died” story (it’s not as big of a bomb drop as the preview suggests, though it is cool facts). Around the 45 minute mark the film focuses on the demise of the stores themselves and the people affected by the downfall. We’re reminded that while Blockbuster may have seemed like a giant corporation to anyone who lived in the late nineties and early 2000s, it was actually a franchise. While we could argue all day about the pros and cons of franchise ownerships, this film portrays them as small business owners struggling to stay afloat in a world that does not support human interaction in any way that it can be eliminated for convenience.

When the film takes this turn, it really starts to land with me. The first half was foreplay, it just got me in the mood. When an interviewee says that of course no one wants to go into a store to rent movies anymore, he’s told by the man behind the camera that the last standing store still sees a rush on weekend nights. He says “well then, I would say that they’re offering something else. They’re offering an experience. Probably something more than DVDs. It’s more of a relationship and an experience than getting a DVD.”

The film goes into a montague of Sandi, the manager of the last standing Blockbuster, working her tail off as All Star plays in the background. (Is this how they got the guitarist in a random interview? They asked for the rights to the song and he was like “duuuude I wanna be in that!”) And they show people who have traveled from all of the world to experience a Blockbuster store while they still can. I don’t know if it’s the overwhelming nostalgia, the Mars OG, or lingering hormones from my period, but I just started bawling. It really got to me, seeing all of these people desperate to recapture a memory that they hold dear. Maybe I cried because while they were all reminiscing about going to Blockbuster, I was reminiscing about times when I could take road trips and go into a store without a mask or fearing for my life.

Eventually, we are left with the message that was always intended (though it took awhile to get delivered) – in this day and age, we have sacrificed human interaction for convenience. While it’s nice to have so many things at our fingertips, we all got sucked in to how easy it is and never considered the cost. We wanted free two-day delivery and never thought about the person who gets paid minimum wage who can’t take a bathroom break because her scanner went off telling her that she needed to get your Marvel-themed Adult Coloring Book from the other side of the warehouse and she only had two minutes to get there. We want to sit on the couch and push play on whatever the algorithm has recommended for us rather than talk to another human being and get their perspective.

In a year that has left all of us rocked and wrecked, when we couldn’t have interacted with people if we wanted to, the idea that our tangible experiences may be disappearing is so frightening. I am the first to say that I’ve been enjoying quarantine in an odd way. I can be a bit of curmudgeon, it’s tough for me to like new people and I’ve enjoyed not having to meet anyone else for a whole year. But when they hand all of the interviewees the physical Blockbuster video (VHS!) box, their reactions or surprise and nostalgia, the way that they talk about having something tangible to experience again, it makes me long for new people. When I went to college I didn’t know anyone and I used to sit next to other people that were sitting alone and ask them if they wanted to be friends. That’s who I was in the world where Blockbuster exists. In the streaming world I lived with a random roommate for six months and I managed to barely speak to her the entire time. I miss the person that I used to be in the world where we all rented movies from a physical store. I could use a little bit more of that in my life, I think we all could. As vaccines become available and we all begin to stretch our legs again, I hope we remember that.

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