Last Christmas Mom bought me all three Lord of the Rings movies on DVD. Since it’s the thought that counts, I sincerely do appreciate the thought. But I already own the movies. I bought the special editions—you know, the seven-disc boxed set with the extra footage and the documentaries—years ago, as soon as I could find someone willing to sell each of them for less than $15. I may be a fan, but I’m a cheap fan.
And Mom is likewise a fan of cheap movies. (She’s been buying used VHS tapes like crazy. Yes, she still uses her VCR.) Round Christmastime, she’ll regularly check the bargain bins for inexpensive movies. That’s where she found the Rings movies; it’s kinda obvious. One of them is in “fullscreen,” i.e. a movie cropped for idiots who think it’s more important to get rid of the blank black spaces on their 3:4-ratio TV sets than it is to see an entire picture. And since all my screens are widescreen—with the exception of my 13-year-old iBook, which doesn’t play movies anyway—it’s an out-of-date term now.
Mom shops for movies like a 13-year-old shops for pop music: She’s not selective. Well, other than that she usually won’t buy R-rated movies, or action films and comedies that look “dumb.” Mom and I don’t have the same sense of humor—she thinks Monty Python falls into the “dumb” category, so that should tell you everything—and yet she’ll find a comedy, somehow calculate that I’ll enjoy it, and give it to me. If I actually do enjoy it, it’s a happy accident on her part; she doesn’t entirely understand what I find funny. But for me, buying movies for a person is like buying music: I have to know they’ll like it already. I don’t presume. Mom presumes.
She figures I like comedies, so I’ll like this comedy she found in a bargain bin. Or I like superhero movies, so I’ll like this superhero movie. Or I like dramas, so I’ll like this drama. Hopefully you recognize the flaw in the reasoning: She thinks it’s about the genre. It’s not. It’s about the writing. If it’s well-written, I like it. If it’s well-acted too, that’s a bonus, but good actors tend to follow good writing, so it’s safe to primarily focus on the writing. I don’t care what genre it is… well, okay, I don’t want porn; there are some limits. But in general, if it’s well-written, I’ll want to watch it more than once, and those videos are keepers.
I’m particular about which movies I own. I don’t buy, and don’t want to own, movies I’ll only watch once, and never care to watch twice. I’m probably as particular about my music. So this kinda makes me a difficult person to shop for when it comes to movies and videos.
But Mom’s gonna try. “What movies do you have already?” she asked me recently, then browsed through my collection—this time to make sure she doesn’t buy me a movie I already own. And possibly to get ideas. Realizing this, I pointed out a few gaps in my collection. Not so she’d fill them, but so she wouldn’t. Fr’instance, I own Bruce Almighty, but if you gave me Evan Almighty I would take up shooting and use it as a clay pigeon. I own the first two X-Men movies, but not the third ’cause it wasn’t any good, and not X-Men Origins: Wolverine ’cause it wasn’t any good, but I might watch X-Men: First Class again… although James McAvoy’s habit of holding his fingers to his temple whenever he used his special mental powers was irritatingly stupid… but I need to get off this tangent. You get the idea.
I would just make her a list, but I know how she shops: It’s gotta be a movie she’d find in the bargain bin. It’s gotta be on sale for $5 or less. Otherwise it falls into the category of “major purchase,” and she doesn’t buy movies as major purchases. Not for herself either; it’s rare.
She did buy herself a Blu-Ray player on Thanksgiving. (Yes, she went to the Walmart pre-Black Friday sale.) Not that she intends to buy herself Blu-Ray discs; it’s because every once in a while she comes across such a disc. She accidentally got a Blu-Ray disc from a Redbox automated video store machine, and couldn’t figure out why it didn’t work in any of her DVD players until she read the disc and realized it was the wrong format. She also got a Blu-Ray disc as a gift. So she bought the player so she could head off any future inconveniences.
I bought my first CD player for the same reason. Then I bought several hundred CDs.
But I have no plans to get a Blu-Ray player. Actually, I’m gonna leapfrog that format and go straight to digital. I started years ago, after I bought my first iMac and started ripping my old VHS tapes to QuickTime videos—then realized I could actually fit a decent-quality video on a blank CD instead of converting it to DVD. And since blank DVDs weren’t cheap at the time, I wound up with a big pile of videos on CD which I can watch on my computer or iPod. Add to that all the stuff I’ve bought from iTunes or Amazon, and who needs Blu-Ray? High-definition video fits on blank DVDs just fine.
Mom was hoping to get a 30-inch high-definition TV at that sale, but Walmart had impossibly long lines throughout the store, so that didn’t happen. She may find something in the next big Christmas sale. Meanwhile, she can’t do much with the Blu-Ray player: She doesn’t have a digital coaxial cable—or an adapter for her analog low-definition TV—so it’s a paperweight till she gets the new TV. I keep telling her, “Skip the TV; buy a high-definition video projector, and depending on how far away you mount it from the wall, you can have a hundred-inch TV.” But she doesn’t want her TV to consume an entire wall, so she’s not going for that.
I would… but I’m in no hurry. My computers’ monitors (which are already high-definition) are just fine for now.