Plenty of people are frustrated with Netflix. The video rental company has made some major missteps in the past year. But before one makes the choice to punish the company by revoking a subscription, I suggest that the alternative that most people are turning to, Redbox, is the greater evil.
If you’re unfamiliar, Redbox is the giant red box sitting outside local convenience stores. Swipe a credit card and it dispenses the DVD of one’s choosing (among a dozen or so of the latest releases). Patrons are charged for each day they keep it out. It requires no monthly fees or commitments. Last year’s top 10 rentals on Redbox were (in ascending order): “Just Go With It,” “No Strings Attached,” “Rango,” “The Dilemma,” “Due Date,” “Despicable Me,” “The Tourist,” “The Lincoln Lawyer,” “The Green Hornet,” and “I am Number Four.”
I can only recommend two of those films: the animated ones, “Rango” and “Despicable Me.” The former enthusiastically, the latter only if there’s nothing better on TV. The rest are two hours of your life you will regretfully never get back.
The fact that people are choosing to rent some of the worst-reviewed comedies of the year is partly the fault of the renters and partly the fault of the Redbox system. By placing these boxes outside convenience stores, the company has reduced movie viewing habits to an impulse buy. No longer is one making a trip to the video store where there is time to browse the selections or culling the Netflix queue with any thought or care. Redbox is something one does on the way home from the mall while stopping into the CVS to buy liquor and toilet paper. Selecting a movie is now the equivalent of grabbing a candy bar on the way to the checkout stand; it’s not something to think about and it results in a stomachache afterward.
The selection in the box is extremely limited. Where recently there were hundreds of movies to choose from at Blockbuster and thousands to choose from with Netflix, Redbox offers about 10 DVD selections at a time – a kind of mutually agreed-upon censorship. Redbox doesn’t have to stock many options and the renter doesn’t have to think to hard about the choice. And while it looks like a win-win for all involved, it’s not.
Like working in the fast-food industry, no one seems to be truly happy with his or her place in the process. No one in this cinematic chain of production from conception to consumption takes much joy in these films and like McDonald’s, the consumer eats it because it’s there; kind of sweet and mildly addictive.
From the looks of the top-10 list, the choices made at the box are bland, unchallenging fare that someone can take home to the spouse or family. It’s nothing anyone will truly enjoy, but nothing that will offend, either. It’s a way to kill two hours and a way to kill the future of the film industry.
Because you, the renter, put money into the Redbox, screenwriters, directors, studio executives and marketers all have to put these kinds of Redbox films onto their production slate because, they’re told, “That’s what people want.” In actuality, it’s not that you want what Redbox wants; it’s that they leave you no choice. And if people begin to drop their subscription to Netflix in favor of this system, it only encourages more of this mediocrity to be produced.
So in this interim, while DVD rentals still exist and they’re figuring out how to allow people to collect movies in the cloud, I would encourage everyone to avoid the box and keep their rental habits with a company that has a wide selection. Because you have a choice right up until you don’t.
Gina Hall is a writer/producer with more than 10 years experience in television, documentary and feature film production. She is a graduate of USC’s School of Cinematic Arts and lives in Los Angeles. Follow her on Twitter @GScottEnt.