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Second-Guessing Physical Media in a Rambow and Street Fighter World


“DVDs suck,” I once again surmised in a fit of frustration. The disc for the delightfully inspiring Son of Rambow arrived damaged from Netflix.  Of course, the flaw didn’t reveal itself until an hour after I made some popcorn, cracked open a sodie pop, found my favorite spot in my couch, and pressed “play.”

But before I dust off the heavily worn soapbox, let me provide a little context…

Son of Rambow is about an artistically creative pre-teen boy named Will. Born into a no TV, no music, Plymouth Brethren way of life, he entertains himself by drawing colorful, but crudely charming, pictures of flying dogs, evil scarecrows, and other common creatures with a fantastical twist. One day at school, after graciously agreeing to wait in the hallway until the teacher finishes showing the other, non-Plymouth Brethren, students a video documentary, Will meets Lee Carter, a bright student who seeks trouble like a mid-to-late ’90s Robert Downey Jr. At first, Carter takes advantage of Will’s naiveté, but quickly gives in to his persistence and honesty. In a pivotal “neither of us have friends let’s be friends” moment, Carter invites Will to be the stunt double in his movie. Despite having never experienced the wonders of cinema, Will enthusiastically accepts.

In an unexpected turn of events (and the basis for the entire movie), Will’s life is changed forever when he sees Sylvester Stallone portray a psychologically damaged Vietnam veteran in Rambo: First Blood. Drunk on ’80s action-movie testosterone, Will flees the scene and meets a towering scarecrow guarding a nearby field. After giving the inanimate sentinel a quick once-over, he stabs it and his imagination explodes. What follows is a Michel Gondry mise-en-scène -inspired dream sequence with the  hyper-religious boy self-cast as the son of Rambo on a mission to save his father. The following day, Will pitches his revelation as a script to Carter, and he agrees to film it instead of…whatever he had in mind.

Cut to ¾ into the film: Shortly before a tear-jerking scene where the mother, played by an uncharacteristically morose Jessica Hynes, spills the beans to Will about her childhood passion for music, the disc spontaneously paused  itself. As I scrambled around my room trying to get a handle on  what I’d pressed, bumped, or nudged, violet and lime green artifacts started frolicking on the screen. Then the film skipped to the next chapter.

By outsmarting my PlayStation 3’s search tools,  I managed to catch a sliver of what I’d missed and concluded I probably would’ve ended up sympathizing with Will’s mom and admiring her honesty. But who knows? Some careless customer wrecked my moment and now it’s lost forever. If I’d instead been viewing a digital copy; I wouldn’t be sitting here, bitter, assuming, and once again hating on a distribution method.

Coincidentally, a videogame (surprise!) has curbed my hatred for physical product. Last week, Capcom revealed the most spectacular collector’s edition since Bungie released the Halo 3 cat helmet. The deluxe fanboy version of Street Fighter IV includes a collectible figurine, a new 65-minute anime movie, a comic book-style hint guide, and five downloadable costumes, all for just $20.00 extra. Oh, and you get the game, too.

A few weeks earlier–before the company rolled out the list of goodies–I  preordered this monstrosity, expecting only a “making of” featurette. Now, Capcom has overwhelmed me with fan service.  Still, to some degree I remain undecided.

Here’s the dilemma: Although the Xbox 360 and the PS3 versions are essentially the same, the 360 has Xbox Live, an online service vastly superior to Sony’s PlayStation Network. Plus,  nearly everyone I know favors the 360. On the other hand, the more durable PS3 version includes a high-def copy of the anime movie (thanks to Blu-ray), and a statue of series star Ryu (The 360 gets newcomer Crimson Viper.) I’m torn between a potentially more fulfilling gaming experience versus prettier tchotchkes and a rugged disc. This should be an easy decision, but it’s not.

How is this happening?  I find myself asking nobody in particular. I’ve been a good proponent of digital distribution all year long. I’m not supposed to like physical product, even when it’s the only option.  Okay, even if it wasn’t the only option I’d completely forego the digital option and drive the eight grueling minutes to my local brick-and-mortar to pick up the collector’s edition.

To make up for my moment of weakness, I think I’ll buy a game on Steam, Valve Software’s digital distribution service . Better yet, I’ll snag a community-developed title on Xbox Live’s “Community Games” marketplace and support some struggling designer. (In my head, he or she sneaks into homes, hides in closets, and consumes seaweed for sustenance). Through this wonderful digital world, I can channel my inner, late-night , altruistic infomercial and and help these poor artists upgrade to ramen for only five dollars a title. Maybe it’ll turn into a monthly thing, like a videogame version of sponsoring a child.



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