The extremes of collecting physical media: how many copies of the same film do YOU own?

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VHS? LaserDisc? DVD? Blu-ray? 4K? Delve into one man’s lifelong obsession with collecting physical media.

A few words on collecting…

Hands up if you’ve ever heard any of the following from bemused friends, or exasperated partners…

“Don’t you already have that one…?”
“So what’s different about this version?”
“But the picture quality on DVD is fine”
“Does this mean we have to get a new TV?”
“What’s a Steelbook?”
“What’s wrong with the old Steelbook?”
“Oh, MORE shelving…”
“You will be tidying up these wires, won’t you?”
“No, honestly, it’s your money, you do what you want with it”
“… sigh…”


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If those sound painfully familiar, don’t worry, you’re not alone.

I love movies. And, as convenient as streaming services can be, I love buying movies. But it’s more than that. I obsess over buying movies. Which version has the best transfer? The best extras? The best packaging? Is it uncut? If not, it looks like I may need to buy two versions – the newly remastered – but slightly shorter – version, as well as that rougher-looking, but longer, German release from a few years back. But that’s okay. It’s not a problem. I can handle it.

So how did we (I know I’m not the only one…) end up like this?

For some, it may simply be a case of having a favourite film – perhaps from childhood – and feeling an automatic need to buy each new edition that’s released. For others, maybe it’s the special packaging, like Steelbooks and Digibooks, which provide a real sense of a premium product, especially when using unique or specially commissioned artwork. We may not even like that particular film, but the packaging makes it irresistible.

For me, it began many years ago, and was influenced by a couple of events.

Firstly, I grew up during the height of the ridiculous ‘video nasties’ hysteria of the 80s, and, while I generally didn’t have much interest at the time in the kind of films under attack, I was still curious as to why they were being cut or banned outright. I never really wanted to see any of those films, but now I was being explicitly told I couldn’t? Well, consider that challenge accepted.

Secondly, the early 90s saw a slow but steady rise in the availability of letterboxed widescreen VHS releases of high profile films like Alien, Die Hard, the Star Wars and Star Trek films, among many others.  Now we could finally see these blockbusters in all their widescreen – albeit very low resolution – glory.

These two factors resulted in a singular mission – if I’m going to buy a copy of a film, it’s going to be the best possible version I can get hold of. As noted above, that may have often been versions plural, but the hunt was well and truly on.

From VHS I quickly moved on to LaserDisc, which provided higher quality picture and sound and pioneered the inclusion of extra features like commentary tracks and documentaries, then DVD, which carried on the trend of increasing quality and special features, but in a much easier to handle, compact format. Over 20 years later, DVD is still going strong, while HD and 4K Blu-ray continue to bring the ultimate in picture and sound quality ever closer.

If you’re like me, there will be several films in your collection that you’ve owned on all of those formats. Maybe you even still have your VHS tapes or LaserDiscs on a shelf, even though your players have long since given up the will to live.

And that mention of hardware brings us to the large, black, rectangular elephant in the room.

As well as spending money again and again on our favourite films, we need to actually watch them, a pastime that opens the door to whole other levels of expense.  How quaint to think back to those early days watching laserdiscs on a 4:3 25” TV. That didn’t last long of course. Soon, I was living the home cinema dream with a 28” 16:9 set. Oh sweet summer child… The years rolled by, and the screens got bigger and bigger. Recently, my thoughts are about whether a 75” will fit nicely in the room, or if it might be a bit too big. I think we all know the answer to that one…

With great picture comes great sound, and with today’s Hi-Def Dolby Atmos and DTS-X audio tracks, a TV’s asthmatic speakers just won’t cut the mustard. For those short on space, a soundbar will suffice, filling out the soundstage to a relatively impressive degree. But for the true keepers of the faith, nothing less than (at least) a 5.1 surround sound system will do, and it had better be loud. Never mind what the neighbours think.

Of course, all of this tech requires even more pre-purchase research than the films themselves. If that Blu-ray turns out to be crap, well, no big deal, it was only £20. But when you’re spending £100s, if not £1000s of pounds on a new TV or sound system, you’d better be sure to get it right the first time.

So, that’s the films and the equipment taken care of. Who wants some merch? Been there, bought the t-shirt. And the ‘making of’ book, and the Pop! Vinyl figures, and the limited edition art print (so many of those, dear God…), and the tie-in LEGO set, and the tea mug.

Whether our friends and family appreciate it or not, us collectors can at least provide a range of great free services – we can recommend which version of a film to buy, or offer advice on the best TVs to fit all budgets, all without being asked. You’re welcome. We’ll even fix those God-awful colour and contrast settings on your TV for you. No honestly, there’s no need to thank us, it’s our pleasure.

Where does it stop?

To paraphrase what a great man once said (probably in some film or other, I dunno), listen, and understand. That obsession is out there. It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.

Or your bank account’s empty.


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