September 21, 2006


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Movies, just click your mouse!
Or, Hollywood overpromises and underdelivers yet again
By John “jaQ” Andrews

What luck! My need to quickly catch up with film director George A. Romero’s body of work for this wweek’s cover story coincided serendipitously with the debut of Amazon Unbox, their new movie downloading service. Why, I’ll just visit and watch, for a reasonable fee, a number of horror classics, I thought to myself.

It was not, of course, that easy. Searching for “george romero” brought back precisely one result. Granted, it was his first and still most famous work, Night of the Living Dead, but it cost $9.99. That’s for two digital files, one for watching on your PC and one optimized for your portable media player, like a video iPod.

Note I did not mention anything about burning to DVD to watch on a television. You know, like a normal person. Oh, sure, you could hook up your computer to a TV, but who needs that trouble?

A quick check of local box stores revealed a DVD edition of the same movie for half the price, as well as other Romero flicks. Rental stores have even better prices, considering that I don’t necessarily want to own all these films.

To be fair, Amazon Unbox is new, and the downloaders and the zombie fans might not be the same demographic. I tried The Matrix, a geek film if there ever was one. That was available for a $1.99 time-limited rental or $9.88 purchase, and the second film, Revisited, was a bit more. Revolutions? Not even listed.

OK, this is pathetic. Why am I supposed to give up my local store or NetFlix/Blockbuster Online/Intelliflix again? Or, not that I would ever try it, free filesharing?

There must be better (legal) movie downloading options. Let’s take a look. Woo-hoo! Free downloads! Of ... well, trailers. Still, it gives you a good idea of how the site works. And by “works,” I mean “works only if you’re using Internet Explorer and you’re willing to register your e-mail address.”

Fine, what about their selection? Searching on Romero’s name brings up nothing except Monkey Shines, about a dude in a wheelchair with a telepathic, murderous helper monkey. Sounds sweet, but not really what I’m looking for. I can rent either The Matrix or The Matrix Revisited for $2.95. Ooh, this one’s run by MSN! Microsoft! Sure, they’re evil, but they have it together, right? Load up my digital-rights-managed, piracy-hardened Windows Media Player and let’s go! Uh-uh. The only Romero film is Monkey Shines again, and still no Revolutions. I’m beginning to suspect that the problem is with the film studios, not the online renters.

You need to use Internet Explorer here too, but that’s not so surprising for Microsoft, really. They do have a limited number of titles that can be burned to DVD, but only with their software, which only runs on Windows XP. Did I mention Microsoft is evil? I found this site linked from an October 2004 blog post that made fun of its inability to get a .com domain name. Cheap shot — c’mon, I’m sure they’re fine.

Or, um, will be. All the FAQs on their site are in the future tense, as in, “How much will the service cost?” and “Seriously, when are you actually going to start operating?” None of the links for browsing their catalog work, and their “Instant Demo” requires the installation of something called the PowerGrid Suite version 1.1.0116.

The buzz? Don’t trash your DVD player just yet..

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