Sunday, October 2, 2016

The novelty of streaming The Force Awakens

It wasn't too long ago that I thought Star Wars and Netflix streaming were a very unlikely match.

In this post almost exactly five years ago, entitled "Searching for Star Wars on Netflix" and written on the occasion of the announced division of the company into a streaming service and a DVD-through-the-mail service called Qwikster (a plan that was quickly scuttled after a resounding public backlash), I wrote: "I don't expect a movie like Star Wars ever to be available on streaming. 'Ever' is a long time, but let's just put it this way: it's not going to happen anytime soon."

I guess five years was fairly soon after all.

No, the original Star Wars is not available for streaming. But a movie "like" Star Wars -- that's what I said, anyway -- is. In fact, it's so much "like" Star Wars that this was one of the reasons the people who didn't like it didn't like it. The new Star Wars movie is available on Netflix, as will every subsequent Star Wars that gets released, according to the recent (not that recent now) distribution deal between Disney and Netflix.

And so Friday night, almost purely for the sake of its seeming lack of likelihood, I watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens on Netflix.

There was really no need for me to see this movie for the third time in its first ten months of existence. In fact, you might argue that intense initial exposure to a movie has the chance to turn you against it. I mean, I still love Creed, but my third viewing of that back in June was probably too soon.

But there was no denying that every time I scrolled past it on Netflix, my salivary glands activated just a little bit. It was a physical reaction I couldn't deny. I wanted to see this movie again.

And, I'm glad to report, pretty much no change in my feeling about it after a third viewing. I still love it.

But it occurred to me that it does represent a bit of a watershed moment in our relationship with various delivery systems for our movies.

Five years ago, I discounted the possibility of Star Wars being available for streaming because it seemed to me, even if I didn't state it aloud or even consciously define my own perspective, that making something available for streaming reduces its sense of glamour. If you can just watch a movie any old time with a click of a button, its value takes a hit. It's no longer some elite commodity that you will want to buy in order to have it in your collection. By it streaming, it's in your collection without you even having to do anything.

Star Wars seemed unlikely to cross that line. As it has perennial resale value as a physical disc, Lucasfilm seemed likely to remain content to milk every last cent out of it in that format. Giving it to us for free -- with our monthly streaming subscription, that is -- seemed an admission of defeat for that particular revenue stream.

Has that defeat now been admitted? Or does Disney just have a different way of doing things?

Maybe a little from Column A and a little from Column B.

One of the ways I knew I was excited to see The Force Awakens again, beyond the mere likelihood of watching Star Wars movies multiple times, was that I recently looked for it on the shelf at Target. Not to buy it -- DVD prices here are still outrageous. No, I just wanted to look at it. I just wanted to marvel over the fact that I could purchase this on DVD or BluRay, this Star Wars movie we had all been anticipating for so long. I still get a little excited by the possibility of owning a new movie that had excited me, even if I do it less and less these days.

But you know what? I couldn't find it.

I figured I had just been looking in the wrong place. There was a Lego version of The Force Awakens, but not the one starring actual people. I shrugged and gave up, not thinking much more about it.

Until now.

Now I wonder if we've reached a point in the devaluation of physical media that they actually didn't have The Force Awakens at Target. Available on Netflix? Who needs a disc?

Because now the assumption is that we all have Netflix, and really, don't we?

I guess I'll take the glass is half full approach, though. The glass is half full approach meant that I got to watch this movie I wanted to see on Friday night without lifting a finger.

Correction: I lifted the finger necessary to press play on my remote.


Wendell Ottley said...

Wow. I have Netflix and had no idea this was on there. Then again, I'll probably never stream it since I did buy it on Blu-Ray immediately after it became available. Disney having an agreement with them could mean big things for more than Star Wars, though. I find it odd they would do such a thing because of something you touched on. They typically overvalue their physical media. Just about any movie they make is more expensive than the normal market value of whatever home media it comes out on simply because it's part of their catalog. It seems odd they would make a move that could potentially cut into that. I imagine they view it as a way of keeping up with the times.

Derek Armstrong said...

I found it odd, too, and one of the more chilling portents about the shift away from physical media. Then again, the only physical media I have bought in the last couple years were DVDs and BluRays I found at garage sales for $1 or $2, so I am one to talk.