It’s raining today. It might not be when I post this or when you read it, but it’s raining now while I write it. It’s dark, it’s cold, it’s wet, and Octoberween begins in under a month. Sure, maybe it’s too early for horror movies, but it’s not too early for… a late night double feature science fiction picture show.
Okay, so I have a confession to make. I recently purchased a LaserDisc player. And about eighty-five LaserDiscs. Not that I feel the need to defend myself or anything, but before we get into accusations of hipsterdom and irresponsibility, let me just say that it was an amazing deal. Format aside, I just came across a ton of movies that I would never have otherwise. There are some classics in the bunch. I got Casablanca and Ran and Tom Jones. I also got Plan 9 from Outer Space and Dune.
Now, for those of you unfamiliar with the Disc itself, LaserDiscs entertained a brief period of popularity—a fad of sorts—and then were replaced by VHS. So, keep that in the back of your mind. The discs themselves are very much like DVDs, except they’re twelve inches in diameter. It’s like if a DVD and a vinyl record had a baby. You take the disc and you put it in the disc tray, and the whole thing looks as though you’ve magnified a regular DVD player. Anyway, you push it in and you don’t have to press play or anything; it’s automatic, just like a VHS. You know what else is just like a VHS? The picture quality. So, at this point you’re watching a record-size DVD that plays a VHS-quality film. Let’s say you’re about forty-five minutes into whatever you’re watching. Suddenly, it stops. What? Why did my DVDVHS give up halfway through the movie? Aha, you say, that’s the end of side A. Wait, what? Now we’re back into record territory. Get up and flip your massive DVD, and then you can watch the rest of the film on side B. If it’s a particularly long movie, like Ran, for example, then you have multiple discs to keep track of, sort of like if you’re listening to the full four-side Empire Strikes Back soundtrack on vinyl.
What I’m getting at here is that watching a LaserDisc is an experience. A fascinating experience, and an educational one. The first LaserDisc I watched was The Keep, starring Jürgen Prochnow, Scott Glenn, Gabriel Byrne, and Ian McKellen. This sci-fi horror mystery, directed by a pre-Miami Vice Michael Mann, boasts a whopping 5.8/10 on IMDb, and an even more impressive 14/100 from Metacritic. The film tells a riveting story of Nazis in—you guessed it—the Carpathians (!) getting picked off one by one by a vicious killer monster. Ian McKellen plays the Jewish scientist they’re forcing to help them.
The Keep is, not to overuse the word, fascinating. I learned a whole lot about 1983 by watching it. Things I never would have otherwise known, like how weird Scott Glenn looked on steroids, how Ian McKellen wasn’t always old, how Gabriel Byrne did stuff before the ‘90s, how Michael Mann desperately needed Miami Vice, and how Jürgen Prochnow should have had a better career, because Das Boot is wonderful. Tangerine Dream provided the bizarre synthesizer soundtrack, lending smooth tones to completely inappropriate moments, the likes of which not even Vangelis would have attempted. The Keep is quite the film, but I would not have even tried to watch it on anything other than LaserDisc, nor would I advise anyone to watch it any other way. It’s difficult to explain, but somehow the novelty of it just worked. It’s almost as if the movie was made specifically with this medium in mind. It just makes sense.
The next film I watched I’m sure most of you have already seen, but I’m equally confident that most of you haven’t seen it as I saw it. Shockingly, this was my first ever viewing of The Terminator. I’d seen Judgment Day and Salvation, but never the original. I didn’t even realize what I was missing. Can we just take a moment and bask—I mean really bask—in the majesty of 1984 Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Have you taken a moment? Take another one.
Okay, you good now? He was gloriously cast.
Surprisingly, I just don’t have that much else to say about this movie. Gosh, it was a good time. Sci-fi classic. We’re all pretty squared away with The Terminator, right? I’m not going to say anything new here to increase your appreciation of it or make you view it differently. Lolz, though, remember when James Cameron was good?
Now that I’m nearing the end of this article, I realize that I’m not exactly encouraging anyone to purchase a LaserDisc player. That just wouldn’t be very responsible. If you happen to stumble across one, however, and have some time on your hands, show it a little love. I’m lovin’ mine, so far. It sort of feels like a bit of cinematic history I’m enjoying. An indisputably lesser part of history, but a part nonetheless. I believe that if you truly love film, you should at least be able to appreciate the value of every little stepping stone along the way to getting to where we are now. I guess that goes for pretty much everything, though. Appreciate history, guys. Not sure how I wound up here… I guess… I should have paid closer attention to my history? Meh…