Moving Pictures
Jun 10, 2008, 11:41AM

Let Us Now Praise Obsolete Media Formats

Director and writer Mark Altman extolls the virtues of Laserdisc on the 10-year anniversary of the technology's extinction. Turns out that Laserdiscs were like DVDs that only hardcore film nerds would buy. Perhaps that's why they advertised with Devo.

Well, this year marks ten years since the unheralded demise of laserdisc, an anniversary you are unlikely to read about anywhere else. But I thought it might be worth the time to recite the final eulogy to this dearly departed format. You see, laserdiscs unlike today's DVDs were what retailers call a niche format. You couldn't find it in the corner supermarket or at Walgreen's. It required visiting speciality retailers and, often, roadtrips to visit stores hours from your home to procure the latest films on the big, shiny disc. But that's what made it cool.

Unlike my man Barack Obama, I am an elitist and proud of it. There was something special about being an owner of a rarefied format that only .001% of the United States population owned (and, by the way, I have no idea if that statistic is right and have absolutely no way of verifying the truth so we'll just go with it for now). But for those of us who did, laserdisc was something special.

Like records, they came in giant oversized packaging so the art was often stunning. In fact, some of the most prominent reminders of this antiquated format only exist in my house in framed laserdisc covers that are mounted on my living room wall alongside some of my favorite LP covers. Take that, 8 Track!). Laserdisc was really the first time you could actually play movies in their actual aspect ratio (only Woody Allen had previously mandated that Manhattan be released on videotape in its OAR of 2:35 with gray bars along the top and bottom of the screen).

It's easy now to forget the impact laserdisc had on the miniscule amount of us who owned them with DVD's being so ubiquitous. Now you can pretty much get any movie you want on disc for less than a sandwich at Quizno's. But back then, the best of the best, could cost you well over $100 (which probably helps explain why I don't own a house today). These were the Rolls-Royce of laserdisc: the Criterion box sets. Starting with the unparalleled Close Encounters and continuing with such superb releases as Seven and Brazil, Criterion was the benchmark for the format.



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