Monday, December 27, 2010

Haunted by spirits

As recently as Friday I wrote about how our "new" LG BluRay player (we got it in August) has been acting up a bit. In a longer post about other things, I mentioned that it had shown poor fault tolerance when trying to get me through a viewing of a DVD of The Best Years of Our Lives, which I was able to complete without further incident on my laptop.

It's not the first time it has showed that behavior, and the age/history of the disc doesn't seem to be a factor. As a matter of fact, it choked on the last chapter of Gigli a couple weeks ago -- on a brand new disc. How did I have a brand new disc of Gigli in my possession? It was part of a gag gift for a friend, and the gag part required me to open the packaging anyway, so I thought I'd use the opportunity to finally watch this famous turkey. Let's just say I didn't find it to be as much of a turkey as most people, but I did think it was hilarious that even a brand new disc couldn't play through to completion. At the time I took it as a sign of the poor quality of the pressing -- but now I'm not so sure.

So over the last few days we had a couple funny incidents that I thought were worth sharing, involving the movies Disney's A Christmas Carol and Japanese Story. As you see, I have cleverly fit them both under the title "Haunted by spirits" -- A Christmas Carol involves that quite literally, while Japanese culture is steeped in the spirit world. But the real haunting is of my BluRay player, whose quirky behavior is getting harder and harder to pigeonhole.

Don't pause it

As I may have discussed before, I'm a bit of a control freak when it comes to monitoring how closely other people are watching the movies I'm watching. And since my wife is the one I usually see movies with, she's the one who gets under my skin on this issue -- looking down at her food too long while missing visual information, not looking at the screen while there are subtitles to read, etc.

But the one that gets me most is when she gets up from the couch and says "Don't pause it." That's right, she's going to walk away from the movie for some unknown amount of time -- she may know, but I don't -- and she doesn't even want me to pause it. If it's a crappy movie, I don't mind so much, but if it's something I'm enjoying, it disappoints me greatly.

"Don't pause it" took on a different meaning on Friday night, Christmas Eve, when we watched Disney's A Christmas Carol, which I had been raving about since I saw it in the theater last year -- and since she refused to go with me for what would have been my second time. The viewing was a victory overall, because she told me afterward that it might be her favorite film version of Dickens' tale -- and that it would, in fact, have been cool to see it on the big screen in 3D. (Not saying "I told you so," not saying "I told you so.")

But the viewing got off to a rough start when I paused to yell at the neighbor's dogs. Most often, their toxic behavior presents itself in the form of hair-trigger barking, but they're also known for trying "to make their great escape" from the yard. That's how my wife and I refer to it when they rip and tear at the corrugated plastic fence, which sounds a bit like a child's toy going a couple rounds in the garbage disposal. "Knock it off!" I shouted a couple times, with mixed results at best.

The results were decidedly negative for the movie. For some reason, upon coming out of the pause, we were now in "closed captioning for the hearing impaired" mode. Huh?

Thinking it a fluke, we went back to the main menu and reset the settings. Back to normal. But, I made the mistake of pausing a second time, and once again, the movie thought we were deaf. I've seen strange behavior by DVD players in terms of the closed captioning, but never triggered by the pause button.

So we took this opportunity to go to the bathroom, put on another layer, and stock up on whatever food and drink we might possibly need for the rest of the film. Still, I was worried. This was a film I had a lot invested in, and I could easily see her needing to do or get something, and refusing to let me pause it, knowing that the pause would entail yet another trip out to the setup menu.

Nope. We made it all the way to the end. She fell asleep for 15 seconds once or twice, which I guess is the equivalent of leaving on a 15-second errand around the house -- or "not pausing." But her praise for the film meant I could live with that.


The previous story could have been blamed on either the BluRay player or the disc itself, but this next example is a lot less ambiguous.

Wanting to reconnect with her Australian homeland on Christmas Day, my wife asked if we could watch one of the Australian films we had on our Netlix instant queue -- which of course uses our BluRay player to operate. Walkabout was a possibility, but we ultimately went with Japanese Story, a movie directed by a woman named Sue Brooks, starring Toni Collette. It's a bit of a weird movie, but I mean that in a good way. It's about an unexpected love affair between Collette's geologist and the Japanese businessman she's driving around, because his company owns hers. And it takes a definitely unexpected turn around the end of the second act. But I agreed with my wife that in the end, it's quite beautiful in its way.

It was the end of the third act that was the problem. In fact, on the very last shot of the film -- even if she hadn't already seen it, I'd have known it was the last shot because it had that "last shot feel" -- the movie crapped out. At first it just got stuck, like a DVD freezes when it encounters a scratch. But then when I tried to press stop, it hung while trying to process the command to return to the previous menu.

It soon became clear that I wasn't going to have any luck until I shut down the player entirely. But even this was a no-go. Pressing the power button on the remote control was having no effect. So I pressed the power button directly on the player. Still no effect. Just when I thought I was going to have to unplug the damn thing, it finally shut down.

That would have been weird enough, but when it came back on, and we tried to go to Netflix, it asked us if we were subscribers. Upon selecting "Yes," it then asked us to go to our Netflix account on our computer and type in this code. In other words, we needed to be set up for the first time all over again. I immediately wondered what might have been lost in this exchange, like the memory of where we were in certain incomplete viewings -- or even that we'd ever had any viewings at all.

My wife did as requested, and everything was restored. Except for the fact that we had recently viewed Japanese Story -- there was no evidence of it whatsoever. I had to select it from our instant queue again, and fast-forward all the way to the end in order to watch the last 30 seconds of the last shot, and the credits.

So yeah, we may have a cheap BluRay player. I guess we'll just have to see what the future holds in store.

And maybe call an exorcist to banish these ghosts from my machine.

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