Video Smarts – When Video Rental Stores Still Existed

Years ago, before the age of smart TVs and video streaming, most people rented their movies at a video store. Here are a few rules I developed back in the day to have a better video rental experience.

To begin, my wife refused to accompany me to the videotape rental stores after a few trips. She claimed I had a love/hate relationship bordering on masochism when it came to trying to decide which movie to rent.

“The worst part,” she told me, “is when your eyes start to glaze over after a half hour of reading the backs of the tape boxes. I swear all you’re doing is seeing how much print there is. I don’t even think you read the descriptions.”

Technically, she was right. I didn’t read all the descriptions. But contrary to what my wife will tell you, that look on my face was one of thoughtful contemplation, not vacant stupidity. After having rented what must be several hundred videos since buying our first VCR, I found several common characteristics of those movies whose only redeeming quality was that the plastic case they came in could be recycled. I condensed these characteristics into my personal set of “Rules for Video Selection.”

If you applied the following guidelines faithfully as you browsed through the several thousand titles carried by those mega-video stores, you’d have substantially reduced the odds of taking home a movie that causes the sort of glazed-eye look previously described by my wife. Here they are.

Video Rental Rule Number One

Never rent a movie with a title you don’t recognize. If you’ve never heard of it, it will invariably be because it’s so embarrassingly bad that it either (a) was released direct to video upon completion, or (b) sent to video after a theatrical release lasting about as long as the lifespan of a housefly.

A word of caution here: it was important to not be fooled by the fact there may have been a few well-known stars in the cast. That simply meant they weren’t entirely successful in their efforts to have the film removed from distribution entirely. Unless your IQ was the same as the room temperature, you quickly learned that movies you’ve never heard of would almost without exception be as boring as seeing Fantasia for the third time.

Video Rental Rule Number Two

Never rent a movie for which there are no critic’s quotes given. The complete absence of comments from any film critic means there was nothing positive to say about the movie. Undoubtedly there actually were plenty of critical remarks such as: “Devastatingly bad”, “Unbelievably dull”, or “A career-ending movie for the director”, but you won’t see these printed on the box.

Video Rental Rule Number Three

Never rent a movie with too much plot description on the box. Movies such as ET and Star Wars give brief descriptions that are eloquent in their simplicity. But if you paid close attention, you’d notice that movies following rule one or two try to compensate for the complete lack of plot coherency by giving it a flowery description peppered with plenty of adjectives.

They may even use critic’s comments out of context and the story thus becomes “Devastating”, “Unbelievable”, and “A career milestone for the director.” If the producers were really smart, they would have hired the person who wrote these video box descriptions to write the screenplay for their next movie. It would at least be creative.

Video Rental Rule Number Four

Never rent a “new release” which is still on the shelf after five p.m. on Saturday. Actually, if you followed rules one through three this would take care of most of these anyway, but occasionally you’d be tempted to disregard them just once for that new movie still on the shelf.

What you need to understand is that when it comes to knowing which movies are best used as fertilizer, the public grapevine is the fastest and most accurate communication method known. Look closely at the tape box and you’ll see the marks where other people have been touching it with ten-foot poles.

And so, armed with the above information, you would have been able to confidently stroll into your favorite video store, secure in the knowledge that you’d score a movie that has a high likelihood of keeping you awake and alert. You’d recognize it immediately. It would be the one with the title you’d been hearing about for months, loaded with glowing critical reviews, a plot description on the box consisting of 12 well-chosen words, and a rental history that the store attendant assured you included zero shelf time on Saturday nights.

Your only problem was finding it before your eyes glazed over.

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