Earlier this week, we took the kids to see “Jurassic World.” We’ve all been eagerly anticipating this one — my husband and I loved the first film and its sequels. Our boys knew it would be all about dinosaurs, but they hadn’t seen the first movie. (No spoilers, I promise, but the new film is great fun — it’s exactly what you’d expect, and if you’re a Jimmy Buffett fan, don’t miss his cameo in one of the dinosaur scenes. I laughed out loud!)
We promised the kids that we’d watch the original “Jurassic Park” this weekend. We knew we had the movie somewhere in our collection.
I should explain that we have a rather eclectic collections of movies here at the Cataldo house. Perhaps my money-saving side has approached the “frugal to a fault” level where media is concerned. I simply don’t like buying things more than once. If we own a movie on VHS, I won’t buy it on DVD out of principle. I already bought it once.
My family has just accepted my bargain-minded ways, and trust me, this isn’t a debate worth getting into with me. Yes, I know that DVD is superior, and that Blu-Ray is superior to that. We own movies on those formats too, but the older a film is, the higher the likelihood is that we don’t own it on DVD. The same’s true for my music collection — I’ve got CD’s, cassettes, vinyl, 8-tracks, and some reel-to-reel. I just don’t like buying the same album more than once in multiple formats.
I should add that we also have movies on formats like laserdisc and SelectaVision videodiscs in our library. (Hey, some people collect baseball cards or commemorative figurines — I absolutely love old electronics and obsolete A/V formats.) The SelectaVision discs shown above are among of my personal favorites in my collection simply due to their uniqueness — I’m fascinated that technology to put movies on vinyl records even existed and that the quality was watchable. Today’s DVDs also have more in common with SelectaVision than you may realize — they were the first format to utilize chapter stops and interactive extras. Of course, you still have to flip them over to watch the second half of your movie. I just love them.)
Jurassic Park came out in the 90s, so I knew it wasn’t among the videodiscs. A quick look through our DVDs and VHS tapes revealed no Jurassic Park, though my husband and I were sure it was around here somewhere.
Meanwhile, the kids checked both Netflix and Amazon Prime to see if our Saturday night feature film was available in a streaming format. Nope. (Perhaps Universal is trying to capitalize on nostalgia by offering the original trilogy on sale all over for $14.99 this week — really a great price for all three movies.)
Finally, my husband found our copy on a shelf with other titles in yet another obsolete video format. Our Jurassic Park is a VCD.
If you’re not familiar with Video CD, it was a funny little format that launched in the 1990s. VCD was the first format of storing video on a compact disc. They couldn’t hold nearly as much video as a DVD does — they were limited to about 70 minutes, so feature films came with two discs — you had to swap the discs out at the end of the first one. VCD’s video compression resulted in quality slightly better than that of a VHS tape.
In their heyday, VCDs were wildly popular in China because videos for home release were so inexpensive – about $4 in US dollars for a new release and less for older titles. Note that these weren’t bootleg movies — these were actual, legitimate releases on home video, all at bargain prices. My father had been traveling in China in the 90s, and he came home with stories of video stores selling new movie releases for prices we could only dream of in the United States.
(A little history for you: VCD also became a popular format in China for bootlegs of movies too, but those are not what I’m referring to here — I’m talking about brand-new, legitimate studio releases with cover art and official packaging. In fact, the rise of the CD-R and the popularity of CD burners with consumers was what killed the VCD format, because it became so easy to copy these movies. Movie studios quickly lost interest in releasing movies on a copy-protection-free format that consumers could too-easily burn perfect duplicates of.)
Here’s where our copy of “Jurassic Park” enters the story. In the early 2000s our family was in New York visiting family, and we went shopping on Canal Street. There, in the heart of Chinatown, we saw several VCD movie stores. Remembering my dad’s stories about the bargain movies in China, we went inside one store after another. Movies, movies, movies — many of them priced at just one dollar!
We went on a little shopping spree buying up movies. Hey, we were young, newly married and fairly broke. This was before Netflix and Redbox were popular, and getting a movie usually meant driving to Blockbuster and paying rentals in the $2-$3 range. Why wouldn’t we want to buy movies cheaper than we could rent them? That’s exactly what we did, and our New York City souvenirs from that trip consisted of a stack of VCD movies guaranteed to entertain us for many cheap date nights at home. One of the VCDs we purchased on that trip was indeed the 1993 classic “Jurassic Park.”
My husband triumphantly returned to our living room, disc in hand, proudly proclaiming “Don’t you remember? We bought this for a dollar!”
(Yes, I do remember, and I love him. He reminisces about great deals just as fondly as I do.)
He popped it into our DVD player, and… nothing happened. You see, a few years ago, DVD players played not only DVDs but other formats too — they supported audio CDs as well as VCD and Super VCD. However, the DVD player we use for most of our family movie nights is now “too new.” It no longer supports the no-longer-popular VCD format.
Our old DVD player in the basement? Exactly what we needed — it’s older. A few minutes later…
Oh yes — I should add that all of our VCD movies feature Chinese subtitles for the English dialogue. No, you can’t turn them off — VCDs aren’t DVDs and don’t have menus. The subtitles are coded into the movie, so that’s how you watch ’em.
I’m sure someone will argue that we should just re-buy this movie on DVD. I disagree. Every movie we’ve purchased for our collection has a story or a memory behind it. Tonight our sons got to hear all about our Chinatown movie shopping adventures that took place before they were born… and so did you.