Siskel and Ebert Movie Reviews

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11 thoughts on “What’s Wrong with Home Video and How It Might Be Improved, 1988

  • This episode has been justifiably famous for their campaign for letterboxed editions of movies on video. But nobody seems to point out how correct Roger is on how Hollywood’s blockbuster mentality affects video stores and video collectors. Thankfully, we do have streaming services like Netflix and Amazon. But are people really gonna bother watching offbeat films? It’s part of the reason why Roger keeps writing his books and creating his own website.

      • Yes I do. What I was saying is that the hit mentality in video stores is what partially led to Roger writing his books and creating his website. Still a shame that Roger died though.

  • Two of those movie companies mentioned at the end are still in business. (Movies Unlimited & Facets Multimedia)

  • I think I know the roots behind the hit mentality they were talking about. Back when movies on video were blossoming, they were very expensive to but or rent. Then Top Gun hit videos stores with a price of $26.95, showing signs that video companies are lowering their prices of their products. Once the prices were lowered on video versions of big blockbusters, the big video chains like Blockbuster and Hollywood video began to pander. As a result, the big chains seem to be interested in selling big hits, giving customers limited variety on what tapes or discs to buy.

    • Patrick you’re wrong on that. First of all Top Gun was NOT the first title that it video stores or retail stores with a low price. Paramount was the very first studio to start selling titles at around 30 dollars in the early 80’s. The first two titles that they did that for were An Officer And A Gentleman and Star Trek 2 The Wrath of Khan in 1982 to yes, both capitalize on the success of both films but also get people to buy into home video even more. Raiders of the Lost Ark was the third title that began to sell at 24.98 about a year later. So this trend did not start with Top Gun, but Paramount, the studio that produced Top Gun was the one who broke the ice on lower prices back then. Then you started to see studios like Universal and Warner Bros. also start to capitalize on the success of their blockbusters this way.

      Also just in case you forgot other titles that became instant best sellers at lower prices up until this show aired in 1989: Beverly Hills Cop, Crocodile Dundee, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (which finally debuted in 1988), An American Tail, The Land Before Time and Batman (1989)

      • Why do these sources lie to me? They keep saying that Top Gun was the first official VHS release to sell that many copies at a low price when movies like Indiana Jones do that before.

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  • Then you have to find better sources because they definitely do not know what they’re talking about. I lived in the 80’s and I definitely know that Top Gun was NOT the first cheap title they did directly like that. I know the article in which you are talking about and the person who wrote that did not research it properly. Top Gun may have been considered the first commercial release that way but it definitely is not the first hit movie to be sold for that low low price directly in this fashion. I’m going to set you straight on a couple of things (politely).

    The original cost of a VHS tape back then (1980’s) averaged between 79.95 to 119.95 depending on the title. Star Wars according to a friend who had the original video cassette told me that it sold for over a hundred dollars and that was a Fox Video and eventually CBS/FOX Video when it was released back around May 1982. He had to save up just to get a used copy which went for about fifty dollars. I definitely remember titles such as Forced Vengeance starring Chuck Norris from MGM/UA that I saw selling for 79.95 brand new at a mall where I saw Star Trek 2, An Officer And A Gentleman and Raiders of the Lost Ark all for 24.95 each and my mother got me Raiders that same day. Star Trek 3 The Search for Spock was also released at the super lower price of 29.95 in late 1984. I also saw Tron which was right around 39.95 or so as well. Porn videos were upwards in the hundreds around that point. Back then, as you’ve probably seen on some the older episodes stemming from 1982 and 1983, they mentioned Chicago area stores selling VHS movie bundles at around 89.95 or more that included the Jaws Trilogy and Amityville films as examples which was more than half what of one film would cost on its own. Pretty much like a Blu Ray box set or even less now with the films in letterbox format and special features along with digital copies which make those sales really pale in comparison.

    At this point in time, VHS had competition from Betamax and also CED which was RCA’s answer to MCA’s Discovision which would eventually lead to the more potent and advanced Laserdisc in 1984. Discovision failed but CED was alive but it was a failure because it was a record based system that was so delicate and problematic that if you left the disc inside the player, it was pretty much done which had to do with the needle itself. Discovision failed because of problems with the laser lens modifications which were later corrected for the much improved version of the system later on. By the mid 80’s, there plenty of options to watch movies with VHS being the most viable because it caught on and almost everyone in America could afford to have one. Betamax despite it’s better picture quality was fading. CED was on it’s deathbed by then with their discs reduced pricewise. Laserdisc’s were expensive but offered alot for the price with King Kong from 1933 being the first to be released in the format which included special features for the first time like commentary and documentaries which was not available on any other of the formats at all. Also, the films were released in their original aspect ratio which opened up a new world of watching films from 1985 going forward. The studios started to take notice of this and eventually the prices of video tapes did start to drop by this point. This also lead to Columbia House offering movies for a penny or a dollar. I forget which but I got sucked into that that lead me to get Predator, Beverly Hills Cop, Project X and The Money Pit but of course you had to buy at least two or three “monthly” titles for full retail price of 79.95 up to 89.95 depending on the title. So things definitely were changing in that way. By 1990, the average VHS title was now selling at 14.95 sometimes lower or higher than this price range.

    This of course changed once everyone was able to afford a VHS player and video stores started selling used copies of their tapes for less than the cost of the retail price (ie. 89.95 for example) starting from about 20 dollars upwards to 30. This I remember because I paid about 30 dollars for used copy of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off at my local video store which was around 1987. I think I also bought a used copies of Crocodile Dundee, Star Trek IV and Top Gun for about 10 dollars which I thought was a steal back then. By 1988, the low price blockbuster hit commercial films were basically here to stay when E.T. was released at about 20 dollars by Universal and became a best seller instantly. By 1989, Batman at 20 to 25 dollars was a major seller and by 1990, The Little Mermaid for Disney and Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade again for Paramount and in 1991, Home Alone was a blockbuster VHS title for Fox that took off thanks to the films’ surprising blockbuster success.

    Now, all this is pretty much moot with Blu-Ray, DVD and streaming services which each are alot cheaper than what a VHS tape used to cost and back then people forget that it took about six months to see a movie that was in it’s theatrical run on VHS. Batman was a rare example that it was released a few months later in the Fall of 1989 after it’s blockbuster theatrical run. Now, the average movie is about three months or less and at the low cost of basically of dinner and movie plus transportation which is pretty much like the retail price of an old VHS. 2004’s Surviving Christmas broke that record when the film was released late October only to be released at Christmas of that year clocking in at around two months.

    There’s alot of misinformation out there regarding stuff like this and you really have to keep digging for the info.

    • This is why people really need to start reading articles from Billboard Magazine. Hell, I’ve been doing it myself. Very insightful research. Just out of curiosity, do you have Roger Ebert’s video guide books he had written in the mid 80’s to late 90’s? Because I like to read his books as a response to the big chains blockbuster mentality, since there’s a large of titles he really help encouraged his readers to seek out and treasure.

    • I was actually referring to Top Gun’s Wikipedia article. I like using Wikipedia sometimes, but I often take facts with a grain of salt because people edit crap there.

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