After the family got the DVD player in 1997, DVDs were purchased on a fairly regular basis. I was always on the lookout, as it wasn’t easy. As you could imagine, the selection was poor, at best. Warner Bros did the best job of releasing a good variety of movies, and as such my collection reflected many Warner titles. Nearly every birthday and Christmas, DVDs were given and received as gifts, and we built up a decent collection. I would borrow DVDs from a friend, and rental stores began offering them. The VHS collection was neglected, and gradually discarded over time. The last tapes to be given away were a collection of Disney movies, in their “collectible” oversize white plastic tombs.
THE MATRIX stood out as a pivotal DVD upon initial release. The movie was all the rage, especially in my circle (who wasn’t in love with it?) and it seemed to be the perfect fit for the digital format. My guess is that it was the first movie for many people to go out and purchase. At the time, my friend bought and installed a DVD-ROM drive for his computer in the hopes of playing back these discs, and we used THE MATRIX as the test. Unfortunately it seemed to have some problems and would stutter, so to speak. Soon after, the PlayStation 2 would be released and easy playback of DVDs would become available to millions of users. Sony, as one of the co-creators of the format, had a vested interest in DVD technology and sales taking off, and the home video game system was the perfect platform to get it going, as standalone players were still fairly expensive.
In 1999 I had managed to save a decent amount of money and bought myself a home theatre system, that included a JVC 5.1 receiver, and a set of surround sound speakers – my uncle provided the fronts as he was replacing his own system. DVDs came to life in a new way, as I experienced surround at home for the first time. TOMORROW NEVER DIES was the demo disc of choice, with gunshots and bullet ricochets bouncing around the room. In what was probably my first true “special” edition, I would turn the volume way up on the FIGHT CLUB intro, much to the frustration of my parents upstairs. The only thing lacking was a big television, but those were prohibitively expensive, and I was going off to university.
University wasn’t too far away though, as I studied in town but lived in the school’s residences. The DVD collection didn’t make the trip, so I would organize special trips with some of my friends to my parents house for the sole reason of watching movies. One of my roomates had a new iMac, which came equipped with a DVD-ROM. Somebody picked up AMERICAN PSYCHO and we spun that disc (what feels like) a hundred times. And of course, we were watching it on the tiny monitor as no video out option was available.
I bought the two disc digipack edition of FIGHT CLUB alongside the five star INDEPENDENCE DAY edition from Zellers (a now defunct Canadian department store chain) on a whim. FIGHT CLUB would be the best blind buy I’ve ever made, and sit at the top of my favourite movie list for nearly a decade. ID4, on the other hand, brought me back to the multiple times I saw it in the theatre upon release back in ’96, but it offered something else that was fairly novel on DVD: different versions of the movie on one disc. It included an alternative cut that added a whole new story line to the film, and both movies presented us with audio commentaries that warranted multiple viewings. These two films on disc offered a new way to watch movies that was actually engaging. Special features became a criteria for future purchases that would both consume and disgust me over time.
Standalone players were cheap enough by my second year of university that I purchased one for my home away from home, and brought along the excessive sound setup as well. The criteria for purchasing movies was fairly loose, but I focused on special features quite a bit, and with the internet really ablaze, was able to plan ahead and become aware of future releases. Every Tuesday, my buddies and I would hit the town looking for the latest releases. They were growing their collections while I quickly surpassed a hundred movies – a feat of no insignificance as I was working on a student budget.
There was a loose $20 to $30 limit – if I recall correctly – but I allowed make some purchase above that range. EQUILIBRIUM, for instance was a very pricey title for a long time. One of my crown jewels was finding the special edition of MASTER AND COMMANDER. It disappeared from store shelves quickly and it was the envy of my friends (although it’s quite inexpensive to find and buy now). Collecting went to a whole new level when my parents agreed to buy me the Criterion edition of THE ROCK for a birthday one year. It was my first hands on exposure to Criterion, and it blew me away. We had seen other Criterion movies around, mainly at large stores in downtown Toronto and in US malls, but none of us had them as they were simply too pricey (aside from a release of CHASING AMY which landed at typical retail prices). A local rental/weed shop had a hearty collection of them for rent – never for purchase – so we were able to experience some of them, including ROBOCOP.
As collecting took hold, we became enthralled with the whole process. It didn’t take us long to count and compare collections, and in this process, come up with a set of guidelines for the official count, which I’ve included below.
Although the version 1.0 above was a bit crude, it added an additional way for us to enjoy our collections, as we could talk at length about how we count them, store and sort them after we finish talking about the discs and movies themselves. It wasn’t long before we would compare number of discs, number of movies, number of packages and so forth, in addition to discussing how complete our sub-collections were – like how many David Fincher or Martin Scorsese films we had.
It may seem odd, but I sorted my collection by packaging. I amassed quite a few special editions that were either taller or wider (and both) than regular releases, and I found that they just looked out of place when strewn about through their typical alphabetical order. They were then given top priority – literally – as they took their place on the top shelf. Regular releases, which made up the bulk of the collection, were alphabetical, and at the bottom was all the Warner Bros films that used the cardboard packaging. They were slightly taller and thinner than the typical case, and drove me nuts to no end. They did not age well, getting scratched, peeled and bent, so they took their place on the bottom and were often forgotten. But when I did sit down and go through them, they brought me down memory lane: many of them were some of my first purchases and additions to the collection.
A portion of the collection in 2004
Rarely were blind buys utilized, but there were many DVDs I just never got around to watching. Later on, the $5 bin at various stores were coming about, and DVDs were becoming pretty inexpensive, which allowed the collection to grow even more rapidly.
A spreadsheet was used to keep track of all the movies I had, but has unfortunately been lost to time. Only one number stands out in memory now: 184. That’s how many I had before The Great DVD Purge, where casualties were high. 184 may seem small in comparison to some collections, but it was a sight to behold in its time. Considering the circumstances, I did pretty well for myself.