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Review: The Last Blockbuster (2021)

The Last Blockbuster (2021)

Directed by: Taylor Morden

Premise: A documentary about the history of Blockbuster Video with an emphasis on the last remaining Blockbuster store operating in Bend, Oregon.

What Works: As millennials hit middle age, media has catered to nostalgia for the 1990s with movies and television shows such as Dope, Captain Marvel, Mid90s and Fuller House. The documentary The Last Blockbuster fits into this trend and it satisfies as a nostalgic look at one of the defining corporate brands of the 1990s while also telling a contemporary story. This documentary summarizes the history of Blockbuster Video and the boom, bubble, and bust of the video rental store between the 1980s and the 2000s. The filmmakers tell this history lesson quickly and creatively and with a great deal of humor. The picture includes a roster of colorful interviewees including Kevin Smith, Jamie Kennedy, Doug Benson, Ione Skye, and James Arnold Taylor. It also provides some new insights into Blockbuster’s demise. The conventional wisdom is that competition from Netflix killed Blockbuster and while there is some truth to that, the reality is a little more complicated and this film explains the business end in an accessible way. The documentary is also a look at the advent of home video and The Last Blockbuster acknowledges how transformational home video was and the way it shaped individuals and the culture around moviegoing. The retrospective portions of The Last Blockbuster are juxtaposed with the ongoing story of the last existing store located in Bend, Oregon. The store is locally owned and operated with the owner a franchisee and the profile of this family business with a corporate name is agreeable. Their business is precarious and by getting to know the people who work there the viewer is made to care about the store’s future.

What Doesn’t: This is mostly a nostalgia piece about Blockbuster and the video store in general and nostalgia inherently looks at the past with rose-colored glasses. The Last Blockbuster is lightweight and mostly superficial. The filmmakers ignore Blockbuster’s competitors even though Family Video lasted a decade after Blockbuster’s bankruptcy filing. More troubling is the way the filmmaker’s wistfulness papers over Blockbuster Video’s unseemly business practices. The rental chain, which was part of the Viacom conglomerate, used its corporate muscle to destroy local businesses, strong arm filmmakers into creative concessions, and blacklist certain titles by barring them from their stores. The filmmakers do bring on Troma Entertainment guru Lloyd Kaufman to talk about the way Blockbuster treated independent filmmakers but his comments are overwhelmed by everyone else’s nostalgic gushing. This documentary is, at least in part, a loving tribute to a corporate brand and that’s a little gross.

DVD extras: Currently available on Netflix.

Bottom Line: The Last Blockbuster scratches the nostalgic itch that Generation X and Millennial viewers may have for the days of the video rental shop and younger viewers stand to learn a little something about a bygone era. But this is a puff piece that ignores any hard or complicated questions.

Episode: #846 (April 4, 2021)