Unpopular Opinions

I've been having the same conversation for what seems like forever, but it's only been five years at most.

"Have you seen (movie I would never see)? It's on Netflix."

"I don't have Netflix."

"Whaaaaat? What's wrong with you?"

Apparently something has to be wrong with you to want to watch films on a proper screen with proper sound, as opposed to a laptop. But I gave in after receiving a six-month free trial card. I'll see what Orange is the New Black is all about. And that documentary about show poster screen printing. Hey, I've never seen the original Skins. And on and on ...

For those out of the loop that are wondering why Blockbuster and Rogers closed up, Netflix is an inexpensive web-based service that allows viewers to stream hundreds of film and television titles, including such exclusive Netflix programming as House of Cards and Derek.

Immediately after signing up, my frustration began. I wound up pulling my 20-something inch iMac into the living room so my partner and I could binge on OITNB. "Just use your Xbox," you'll say. I don't have an Xbox. I'm an adult. "But Nick, you can get a cable or an Apple TV or blah blah blah" and no. The more cables you hook up, the more quality you lose. And I’m not buying a new TV, either.

So I'm watching on my iMac and the stream, which already seems choppy, cuts out. More than once. Within the first episode. Okay, I have crummy Internet, I live in River Heights. I know DVDs can skip and VHS needs to be tracked and I have to flip laserdiscs halfway through, but I've never had luck streaming a film. Maybe those tiny Shaw robots are too busy being adorable to ensure my Internet is at 100 per cent.

When I sit down to digest a film, I like to learn all about it. I love my three disc edition of Hot Fuzz with its multiple documentaries and commentaries. Netflix doesn't have any such option. You get the film, and that's good enough for the Walmart crowd (these are the same people, I assume, that don’t care whether they download MP3s or AIFFs - they just want the thing they want).

Interestingly, you don't get all of the film all of the time. A while back, Netflix came under criticism for cropping the frames of films. If something is shot in 2.39-1, Netflix crops it to 16:9 (HBO has also come under fire for this practice). What further annoys me is that as soon as the closing credits roll, Netflix slides it to ⅛ of the screen and makes recommendations. Yes, you can re-inflate the screen to catch the credits, but 93% of people won't, just like they can't wait to get out of the theatre at the end of a film. By taking away the option to appreciate the hundreds of people that spent time creating the thing you just enjoyed, Netflix is essentially saying that the process of filmmaking doesn't matter, only the fact that you viewed it on Netflix.

Speaking of jobs, remember going to a video store and reading the back of a VHS tape? The person who wrote the synopsis to Uncle Buck is now writing captions for grapefruit softdrink ads. Or dead.

The biggest Netflix negative, and the reason I will never give up my subscription to Movie Central/HBO or my PVR, is that there is no HBO. Arguably the greatest shows of all time - The Sopranos, The Wire, Larry Sanders or Sex and the City will never be on Netflix. But hey, Netflix has that unwatchable fourth season of Arrested Development.

Aside from all of its faults, Netflix has a few positives. It is convenient, it has an alright selection of films and TV series I might not otherwise think to check out (though I'm told that titles disappear without notice - eek). Mostly, I do like seeing the spines of DVDs on a shelf, and though I must admit that I don't collect as hard as I used to, I will always prefer something physical over something on a hard drive or streamed, because those things aren't real. The Goonies on VHS - that's real.

Nicholas Friesen is an award-winning filmmaker, the Executive Director of the UWpg Film Fest and has written about film for Uptown Magazine and The Spectator Tribune.

Published in Volume 69, Number 1 of The Uniter (September 3, 2014)

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