Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The world's oldest "dee-vee-dee"

Watching DVDs of older movies can be a fun trip down memory lane. You see trailers for movies that have already been out for a decade, and the style of the title menu and other promotions and design details can be gloriously dated.

But rarely do you actually get to watch a DVD in which DVDs themselves are being promoted as the wave of the future.

Such was the case with my boss' copy of Taxi Driver, which you may remember I watched when I went for my night in the hotel earlier this month. (It's only coming up now because I pulled the DVD out of my bag to return it to my boss last week.)

I can't say for sure when this DVD rolled off the assembly line, but it seems to have been long before I got my first DVD player in 2003. In fact, the back cover of this particular incarnation of Taxi Driver says "1997 Layout and Design Columbia TriStar Home Video." But I'm assuming that was for a VHS release of the movie. I mean, people didn't actually have DVD in 1997 ... did they?

In any case, its status as one of the earliest DVDs is cemented by the sticker on the front cover, as seen above. See what it says? "Also Available on VHS." Like, if you're a regular joe who's scared off by this new-fangled DV-whatzit technology, this same title is still available on good ol' VHS. A sticker on the back reveals that this DVD seems to have been purchased at a video store called Video Out-Takes Inc. -- which almost certainly isn't in business anymore.

But even funnier is what happens when you pop in the disc.

You're greeted immediately by a promotion that starts out with a shot of a bunch of planets and other celestial bodies, visible out in deep space. Emerging in the center of these various orbs is a spinning disc, starting out small but rapidly growing as it makes its way to the foreground.

An announcer then chimes in:

"Reach for the stars and discover a whole new world of home entertainment."


Yep, he enunciates it like you'd enunciate a word (or acronym) the listener had never heard before.

What follows is a series of short clips from Columbia Tri-Star movies, set to a dramatic orchestral score. The titles include the major (Ghostbusters, Stand By Me, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Dr. Strangelove) and the minor (The Net, Mathilda, The Craft, First Knight). You know, it's one of those promotions designed to simultaneously sell two things: a new technology, and a series of specific properties in the Columbia TriStar catalogue. As if the images of these movies alone are supposed to somehow communicate the possibilities of this new "dee-vee-dee" medium.

After about a minute of this melodrama, the promotion closes with:

"Dee-Vee-Dee. See the future."

It's not so much funny to me that this DVD ever existed -- everything is new at some point, and needs to be promoted. I guess what's funny to me is that this is the copy of Taxi Driver my boss still has, and it actually still plays fine. Though that really shouldn't be a surprise, either. My boss is a movie fan, and he probably was doing well enough financially to be an early adopter of a new format like DVD. If he bought Taxi Driver back when DVD was in its infancy -- perhaps it was even before the year 2000 -- there's not really any reason he should replace it with a newer pressing. He's not that kind of movie lover, the kind who needs the Criterion edition of Taxi Driver before his collection is complete.

What does interest me is that I think you might only be able to get these old-fashioned, original series DVDs precisely in this way -- borrowing them from a friend. (He's my boss, but I've known him for ten years, so yeah, I also consider him a friend.) If I rented Taxi Driver from Netflix, they'd certainly send me something that had been pressed within the last couple years. That's perhaps a testament to how often our classic movies are repackaged and sold to us again, if only so that they don't seem so archaic, so they don't have such simple, analog menu screens.

Also, maybe I'm just a little bit nostalgic for a time when the DVD -- a media format that could now be on its way out -- was something shiny and new.

Those were the good old days, right?


Joseph B. said...

DVD's and players were around in 1997. I worked in retail at the time we carried 3 models.... a Sony, RCA and Panasonic, all for over $400. The first DVD's were around $34.99 each, and I can vividly remember "The Peacemaker", "Heat" and "Seven" being some of the first movies. I bought my RCA DVD player in early 1998 at a lovely clearance price of $245! Still have it somewhere.....

Vancetastic said...

Ha! Nice, Joseph. Those $34.99 prices seem quite reasonable when compared to what they charged when VHS and Beta first became available, which was nearly $100 per movie. It's funny how difficult it is -- without having the kind of context you had -- to remember exactly when a new "thing" (whatever it may be) started. I knew I was relatively late in buying a DVD player in 2003, but I doubted they had been around at least a full six years already by that point.

Thanks for the comment!

Travis McClain said...

I bought my first DVD player sometime in '99, I think it was. I had a coworker who was the first person I knew to go gaga over original aspect ratio and he turned me onto Widescreen VHS. Remember that brief era? You had to buy those at a movie specialty place, like Suncoast though you could sometimes find the major titles at a place like Target.

Anyway, I really wanted to see Tombstone in its OAR, but there was never a Widescreen VHS release of it. Eventually, I broke down and bought a DVD player just so I could buy and watch Tombstone on DVD. I was young, single and had plenty of disposable income at the time. I could do things like that in 1999.

I remember going to see The World Is Not Enough with that same coworker. On the way out of the movie, we stopped at Walmart and I bought Thunderball. We took it to his house and watched it. Good stuff.

I also got a kick out of playing some of the dubbed audio tracks. I had a lot of fun watching Star Trek: First Contact and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in French. (Seriously, it's hilarious to hear the deep voice of the actor dubbing Patrick Stewart.)

For me, the dawn of the DVD era was important. My friends had graduated high school right behind me and had all gone to college somewhere else, and I was working so our days of going to the theater on Friday nights were over. DVD gave me the chance to begin exploring the catalog titles I'd always heard of but never really taken the time to see. Yes, they existed on VHS but DVD was a new format where I was in early. It gave me a sense of ownership, I suppose, that the years-old VHS tapes at the rental store didn't invite.

Before long, I heard of this new company called Netflix and, well, that was a whole revelation.

Travis McClain said...

Incidentally, I became curious and consulted DVD Profiler. It tells me that the oldest manufactured DVD currently in my library is Rising Sun, released 3 June 1997. Tombstone was released 2 December 1997.