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Be kind, rewind: The story of ‘The Last Blockbuster’

| Monday, April 12, 2021

Maggie Klaers | The Observer

Ask anyone over the age of 30 what Blockbuster Video is, and they will immediately know what you’re talking about. They probably remember the yellow walls, the iconic logo and (of course) the trademark khakis worn by employees. Blockbuster provided an experience that very few from our generation will understand. We live in a world of convenience, a world in which any movie you could possibly want to watch is already waiting in some corner of the internet to be streamed on your TV or computer.

Largely thanks to these technological developments, Blockbuster has been rendered irrelevant, and all its stores have been forced to close … all except for one, that is. “The Last Blockbuster,” an aptly-named 2020 Netflix documentary directed by Taylor Morden, details the rise and fall of the iconic company with a special focus on the lone standing Blockbuster, the team behind it and its struggle to remain open.

The first segment of “The Last Blockbuster” follows the company’s journey to become the biggest movie rental chain in the world. First, movie companies decided to sell copies of the movies directly to consumers on VHS tapes. Then, some entrepreneurs had the idea of buying a copy or two of the movie and renting it out to others for a much lower price. The studios sued them and the case went all the way to the Supreme Court before it ruled in favor of the entrepreneurs. From there, mom-and-pop movie renting stores began popping up all over the country. The market became very competitive; many smaller stores were driven out of business, while large companies like Blockbuster— which had over 9,000 stores worldwide at its peak— rose to the top.

Another segment of the documentary is about the last remaining Blockbuster, which is still open today. Located in Bend, Oregon, the last Blockbuster is run by a woman named Sandi Harding. She has almost single handedly kept the store afloat as others bowed out and closed. People love the nostalgia of going to Harding’s Blockbuster and perusing the aisles. Apparently, the store even attracts some tourists who want to experience Blockbuster again while they still can. 

One of my favorite aspects of the documentary was the appearance of several guest stars. The film’s producers reached out to celebrities who had worked at Blockbuster locations before they made it big and asked if they would be interested in being in the film. A few notable presences were Jamie Kennedy (“Scream”), Samm Levine (“Freaks and Geeks”), Adam Brody (“Jennifer’s Body”) and James Arnold Taylor (“Star Wars: the Clone Wars”). The most famous cameo, however, was from director and actor Kevin Smith (“Clerks”). These contributors told stories about their time at Blockbuster and their favorite memories there. One of them, Doug Benson (“The Lego Movie”) even visited the last Blockbuster in the documentary. 

I think the appeal of “The Last Blockbuster” comes from the fact that it documents an era unfamiliar to most of us. We can only imagine what it was like to head to the local Blockbuster on a Friday night to peruse the aisles with friends, debating the perfect movie as we browse. We don’t get a cashier telling us all about his favorite movies or recommending series based on ones he noticed we’d been renting. We get an algorithm that is programmed to recommend movies that companies have paid to be sponsored. Our modern movie streaming is incredibly disingenuous and utterly lacking in personal interaction; Blockbuster represents a lost age and I envy those who had the opportunity to experience it.


Title: “The Last Blockbuster”

Director: Taylor Morden

Genre: Documentary

If you like: “Netflix vs. the World” 

Shamrocks: 3.5 out of 5

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