I walked out of HMV carrying two VHS movies: Beavis and Butt-Head Do America, and Reservoir Dogs. I didn’t fully realize at the time that these would be the last two movies I bought on the aged format, but there was that inkling. DVD was just around the corner, after all.
My VHS collection was modest, but I can’t help but think that if I was a bit older and more importantly, had money, that I would have had a much larger collection. Just as I was entering high school more films were being released on VHS in their “as the director originally intended” widescreen format. Fox released an entire series of special editions (of which my friend had many) and I picked up a couple, as well as a few other editions. Notably, I was most proud of my copy of The Rock, and reveled in its widescreen glory. I would often order PPV movies when they were widescreen, and record them onto my own tapes.
Then, DVD came out and rendered all these tapes obsolete overnight. I knew it was coming, but I didn’t know how big it would really be.
In the winter months of 1997, I was in North Bay visiting family. Being a bit bored, and with my fresh drivers license, I decided to head over to the mall and quickly found myself in Wal-Mart. The store was nicer back then: it was still new, novel. And North Bay seemed to have one of the better ones. In present times, Wal-Mart is a soul crusher of retail destruction. Every time I go in the pressure of gigantic box store consumerism bears down on me and I find myself going home to curl up in the fetal position and sing myself to peace. In 1997 though, it was a different game. I make a bee-line for the electronics section, as I always do, and was perusing the movie section when I saw a small cardboard box sitting on top of the shelf. In it, were about 20 DVDs. It may have been the first time I saw them in store, and my excitement was difficult to contain.
Two titles were in my grasp, and I found myself wandering to the checkout in a zombie like trance of anticipated digital revolution. The cashier didn’t share my excitement, but they rang them through and I slid my debit card to finalize the purchase. The first one I bought was CONTACT, while the second choice was U.S. MARSHALS. They were both released by Warner Bros, in what is now considered old – and horrible – packaging that was mostly cardboard secured by a plastic snap commonly known as “snappers.” CONTACT was a great movie that I had seen a few times, and was well worth the price. U.S. MARSHALS, on the other hand, would become my first blind-buy – I had some money to spare and no other title held my interest. Consequently, it would become one of the first DVDs I sold in The Great DVD Purge, which will be discussed later on. My copy of CONTACT remains in my collection as a memento and symbol of a dawn of the digital age and of serious collecting and critical viewing of movies.
Driving home, I was giddy. My parents were visiting an uncle, and I eagerly showed off my latest purchase. The sixteen year old Ryebone was full of life and energy, as he explained why DVD was superior to tape in a multitude of ways, and how it would change the way we consume movies and television shows. They may not have been convinced, but were amused at my ramblings. They were also in stitches when they discovered that I had no way of playing these CD-sized discs back. They didn’t work any your computer, in your CD player and most definitely not in your VHS player. An investment for the future, I would tell them. In retrospect, it was pretty funny, but I was confident back then – for good reason. DVD would reign supreme to the foreseeable future.
Luckily, my father was into it as well. For Christmas, he picked up a DVD player for the family, and we all got to enjoy digital clarity that day once it was all hooked up. I spared no time in getting it connected to the stereo, and became enveloped in sweeping audio. The intro to CONTACT, where we zoom out of the planet and listen to various radio broadcasts was incredible, and still a demo worthy technical achievement. The picture, going from VHS to DVD was really astounding, and was noticed by everybody we showed it to. There was no doubt that DVD was going to take the world by storm.