Laserblast: What's Wrong with Redbox Rentals
In an era that sees brick-and-mortar video rental stores resembling dinosaurs fated to extinction, the increasingly ubiquitous presence of self-serve Red Box locations in front of convenience stores and even inside some grocery stores is a good sign for those of us who do not want to wait for Netflix to ship us that latest DVD or Blu-ray disc. Redbox also offers other services, dispensing videogames for Wii, PS3, and XBox, and it recently started offering tickets to select events in Los Angeles. With a $1 price for a one-day DVD rental ($1.50 for Blu-ray discs) and a $1 service fee for ticket purchases, Redbox offers great value along with convenience. Unfortunately, it is not quite perfect.
First, Redbox offers only the latest home video releases. I’m not sure what the exact window is, but the standard “shelf life” appears to be about six months, after which a “last chance” warning is flagged on the title in question, which disappears shortly thereafter. Occasionally, an older title returns (e.g. SPIDER-MAN went back in the box when THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN opened in theatres; PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 is back now that PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 is out), but generally speaking, if you are interested in anything more than what’s current, you are out of luck.
And by “current,” I mean something with a recent copyright date. New DVDs and Blu-ray discs of older titles do not get into Redbox. If you are hoping to see that new Blu-ray release of Mario Bava’s 1972 neo-Goth BARON BLOOD, you are out of luck, and you might as well forget about the upcoming Blu-ray of Hammer memorable THE VAMPIRE LOVERS (1970).
Still, these titles appeal to a relatively small slice of today’s homevideo audience, so I cannot blame Redbox too much. However, there is another problem, as I found out this week when I wasted $1.50 on a rental of the new Blu-ray disc of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4: although the DVDs and Blu-rays available for purchase through other outlets (such as Amazon) contain both the original theatrical cut and an unrated extended cut, the discs available for rent through Redbox contain only the R-rated theatrical version.
To be fair, the Redbox website’s FAQ section clarifies that Redbox does not carry NC-17 titles, but it says nothing about unrated titles. Also, the information on the website mentions the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4’s R-rating and the running time (87 minutes for the theatrical version), and nothing on the artwork suggests you are getting anything else. So I guess it is my fault for not looking more closely before renting the Blu-ray disc.
However, this is not always the case. Redbox sometimes displays artwork indicating that you are getting something more than an R-rated version. For example, the box art for both DRAG ME TO HELL and LOCKOUT clearly indicate “Unrated Edition,” while the accompanying text shows that the film you rent will actually be rated PG-13. This could certainly be construed as false advertising.
Obviously, there are other ways to view the unrated version of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4. The extended cut is available for rent and purchase through steaming and download services such as Amazon and iTunes, but you will not get the 30 minutes of additional scenes available as a Blu-ray bonus feature. For that, you have to purchase the disc or rent it through Netflix and await the arrival days later.
Obviously, a short waiting period is not a great burden, but it is strange that Redbox would cede this advantage to a competitor. Presumably, Redbox is leery of accusations that children might get access to unrated movies, but they already have a system in place to validate for age, in order to prevent R-rated movies from getting into the hands of youngsters. If the system is good enough to do that, then there should be no additional onus on unrated material, which should be available to adult renters.
Redbox remains a useful service. In addition to their current a la cart rental service, they plan to offer a subscription service that will include four one-day rental a month, plus unlimited streaming through Verizon wireless. But it is unfortunate that their selection is so limited. This is no doubt due to the size restrictions of the redboxes themselves (approximately equal to a jukebox), but if they have room for every piece of direct-to-video junk that comes out each week, there should be a way to include unrated titles and also older titles given new home video releases.
Although it may not be viable to stock BARON BLOOD, TWINS OF EVIL, VAMPIRE CIRCUS, and THE VAMPIRE LOVERS at a box in front of every 7-11 store, Redbox does have an online reservation feature and allows you to create accounts listing your order history and movie preferences. Certainly, these features could be tweaked to move discs with specialized appeal into locations convenient for people who want them.