The Last Blockbuster


Reviewed by: Sunil Chauhan

The Last Blockbuster
"The Last Blockbuster seems aware that it is exploring a niche interest, taking an irreverent, slightly self-deprecating tone towards its subject."

At one point in the late Nineties, the Blockbuster video rental chain had a ubiquity comparable with other American mega-chains like KFC or Burger King. Today, the company has downsized – it only has one store left in all of the US. The Last Blockbuster, an amiable, breezy documentary directed by Taylor Morden and narrated with enthusiasm by actor Lauren Lapkus, aims to explain how this onetime king of the video rental fell from grace.

Morden knows most will blame Netflix for Blockbuster’s woes, but after considering the question early on in the film, he takes us on a roundabout history, first of the video rental market and then Blockbuster itself, centring on a remaining last-store-standing bastion of the chain still operating in Oregon, where old dusty PCs that require floppy disks are still in use, and its manager, likeable ‘Blockbuster mom’ Sandi Harding, continues to fight the good fight.

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As its title suggests, this is not a tribute to the humble independent ‘mom and pop’ video rental shops (many of which, as shown here, were put out of business through Blockbuster’s corporate muscle), nor is it a commiserative lament for the era of tape and disc rentals or an embittered tirade against the new streaming powers. Blockbuster is presented as an institution for movie lovers, and if anything, Morden demonstrates how corporate colossi can end up as sites of pop culture nostalgia and even causes to be defended: one scene shows fans journeying from as far as Spain to make a pilgrimage to Harding’s store.

We hear from some of the most famous fans, from director Kevin Smith, to actors Adam Brody and Ione Skye and members of bands Smashmouth and Savage Garden, but it’s dedicated locals who show who miss these stores the most, each offering their own iteration of similar reminisces – they recall a certain Blockbuster smell and describe the ritual of renting, conjuring a movie-watching lifestyle that might be alien to many millennials. Indeed, when one teenager is asked his opinion on the idea of couples browsing for an hour to find the perfect date night disc, his only response is ‘weird’. That might be a common response to this documentary, which often trades on cheap nostalgia.

The intriguing question of how a once-dominant chain falls prey to internal complacency, changing consumer patterns and hungry industry upstarts does receive an answer (in short: Netflix in its early mail order DVD incarnation had more capital to grow its reach at a point when Blockbuster faced mounting debt) and some analysis of the ”physical emotional experiences” that rental shops once offered is provided, but largely, The Last Blockbuster seems aware that it is exploring a niche interest, taking an irreverent, slightly self-deprecating tone towards its subject. That provides it with a lightness, but also renders it a little flimsy on depth. But avid generation X renters wondering where all those nights scanning video aisles went will find much to enjoy.

Reviewed on: 16 Dec 2020
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A documentary about the last remaining Blockbuster Video in Bend, Oregon.

Director: Taylor Morden

Writer: Zeke Kamm

Starring: Sandi Harding, Kevin Smith, Ione Skye, Brian Posehn, Doug Benson

Year: 2020

Runtime: 84 minutes

Country: US


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