In our era of numerous, pervasive streaming services all offering swaths of library content for any taste or niche, no matter how broad or centered, it can seem antiquated, costly, and even silly to maintain a physical media habit. This perspective must be even more accurate with the granddaddy of streaming services: Netflix. Why purchase Blu-rays of Orange Is the New Black, Stranger Things, or Roma when you can simply pull them up on that ubiquitous red N and tell it you’re still watching? If this is, sincerely, your opinion, I welcome you and invite you to stream away. But even if you have an inkling of buying Blu-rays of Netflix properties, I implore you to go for it. Here, then, are some reasons to buy Netflix movies on Blu-ray even though they’re streaming, using two recent Criterion Collection packages of excellent 2019 Netflix feature films, The Irishman and Marriage Story, as case studies.
Let’s start with the sometimes bitter truth of rights and licensing issues in the wild west era of streaming, and how frustratingly fluid they can be. Yes, at the moment, you can stream The Irishman and Marriage Story on Netflix. But as we’ve seen with previous Netflix mainstays like Friends, Parks and Recreation, and all the damn MCU movies moving to their respective studio-owned streaming services (not to mention the forthcoming loss of The Office in 2021), these facades of streaming ownership are only as good as the last dollar spent. Sure, Netflix was a production company on Marriage Story from the ground up, and their acquisition of and investment in The Irishman was a huge play for cultural cachet, giving them incentive to keep it on their service as long as possible. But money talks, man. What happens if Disney buys Netflix and shuffles any adult-leaning properties off the streaming service, or banishes them to a weirdo niche service that costs too much? What happens if Netflix needs to sell off licensing of certain properties to pay back some of their massive spending debts on original content? Hell, what happens if Anonymous hacks every single streaming service and deletes all the source files off all the source servers just for the lulz? I’ll tell you what happens: You’ll wake up one day, ready to spend three and a half hours on a slow-burning tale of crime and regret, and it simply will not be on Netflix any longer. And you will look at the various forces at play when it comes to streaming content online, and they will look back and simply say, “It is what it is.” Get yourself these flicks on Blu-ray, and you will always be able to pop that sucker in, no matter the online chaos flying by you. A final anecdote to prove this point: A few months ago in Los Angeles, a heat wave caused our internet to go out for a full day. What could we do for entertainment? My Blu-rays did the talking.
So you’re not worried about potentially apocalyptic online content scenarios? Good for you; I wish I could borrow some of that mindful energy! Netflix films are still worth owning on Blu-ray because of that time-tested appeal of physical film and television collection: Special features. Granted, Netflix the streaming service is starting to get into this game a little harder; at the time of this writing, you can stream a 23-minute conversation between Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Al Pacino called The Irishman: In Conversation. But is there anything for Marriage Story? Nada. For any inside looks into that exacting piece of psychological drama and surprisingly lovestruck breakup story, including insightful interviews with the robust ensemble cast, filmmakers, and that master of neuroticisms Noah Baumbach himself casually walking around one of the film’s locations (it’s more interesting than it sounds, I swear!), you’re gonna have to cop that sucker on Blu-ray. And if you want any other features on The Irishman besides a quick conversation (understandable; it’s a long-ass, complicated-ass movie!), including a beautiful video essay called “Gangster’s Requiem” and an actual series of conversations with the actual subjects Frank Sheeran and Jimmy Hoffa, again, you’re going to have to cop that sucker on Blu-ray. For any serious film fans or filmmakers who love to dive headfirst into the depths of their favorite cinema, the Blu-ray remains the best, and oftentimes only way to do so (and I haven’t even mentioned the astonishing covers, critical essay booklets, and in the case of Marriage Story, pieces of tactile material that directly engage with a key conceit of the film! Hurray for physical media!!).
Okay. So you don’t care about special features, and you’re willing to roll the dice on streaming rights staying relatively put. Very well. My final case on the Netflix Blu-ray is also the most important one: Consistency, fidelity, and intention. I’ll explain: By now, we all know that The Irishman uses some high-tech, experimental, expensive de-aging effects to make its stars, all well over 70, look all kinds of different ages during the various points of their lives. And by now, we’ve all dunked on how weird and icky and uncanny valley it looks. When I first watched the film on Netflix, I agreed, but not just about their de-aged faces. The film was primarily shot on 35mm film, with digital camera utilized in mixed methods for sequences involving de-aging. And yet, my Netflix experience watching the film felt universally weird and icky and uncanny valley. It felt consistently digitized, smushed into a certain compression rate, with color correction that smeared artificially all over the screen; I knew I was not watching Scorsese’s preferred look of the film, but rather an attempt at compromising it for technological reasons. And I say my Netflix experience with intention; everyone’s Netflix experience is going to be fundamentally different, depending irresponsibly on the viewer’s internet connection strength. Case in point: When I first watched Marriage Story on Netflix, my bandwidth had a brief hiccup around a pivotal moment — no spoilers, but if you’ve seen any meme involving Adam Driver and a wall, you know the moment — and it took me the heck out of any level of immersion and enjoyment.
With a Blu-ray, a piece of media that will always play and behave the same no matter how many times you watch it, none of these constantly differentiating bandwidth issues are on the table. You are always getting exactly what the filmmakers want you to get — and in the cases of these two Criterion packages, this is an explicitly made promise, with every detail of the director-approved transfer available for your perusal. Watching The Irishman on Blu-ray, with every facet chosen and executed with mindful, unchanging intention was revelatory. The evidence that this was shot primarily on film was much clearer, the color palette and grain added and intensified the film’s elegiac, melancholy tone beautifully, and most importantly, the de-aging effects felt more embedded within the film’s organic visual language, no longer squicking me out. As for Marriage Story? First and foremost, there was no glitching out or sudden loss in image quality at pivotal moments, because, again, it’s the same disc doing the same thing every time. And secondly, it looks simply divine, a broad, alive coat of 35mm film grain covering the interestingly warm color correction of the picture, giving it a sense of vitality and welcomeness that’s just compressed out of its soul when you watch it on Netflix.
For reasons of intention, of consistency, and of the comfort that comes in knowing the same feature will always belong to you no matter how the world turns, I cannot recommend enough owning Netflix films you love on Blu-ray, even if they’re still streaming on the service. If you’re willing, wanting, and able to make the investment, it’s the perfect way to ensure you are still watching, and still enjoying your filmic experience with as much purposeful intention as possible. Happy spinning (What I’m trying to coin as a slang term for “watching a Blu-ray”; please help me make it catch on; I need this)!
Only four more episodes left of the Baby Yoda Show, but so far it’s fun yet slow.
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