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Deep Impact

The concept of home video entertainment is forever woven into a physical reference point for me. True, I've 'moved with the times' and listen to most music digitally these days, but somehow cannot find the ability to enter the 21st century and watch movies via streaming. I'll stick with DVDs and Blu-rays, thank you very much. This is why I always took such comfort in the existence -- despite the odds -- of That's Rentertainment DVD/Blu-ray rental store, nestled in a small(ish) space in the campus town of our fair twin cities. Alas, that is soon to be no more. After 30 years, the store will be closing later this summer.

It was three decades ago that my parents brought home our first taste of home video entertainment. They situated the VCR (VHS, not Betamax) next to the television set, and had rented a few videos to watch. For them, Alfred Hitchcock movies. For me, some episodes of the Transformers cartoon series. It boggled my mind that it was possible to watch Transformers on any occasion other than the set time it was aired on television. This, and the first occasion I had to use a smartphone, was when technology really wowed me.

Over the years, the home video format changed. We went from VHS to DVD, then to Blu-ray, and now we're in the age of streaming. Sure, some folks -- including yours truly -- still muddle about with physical copies of movies and TV shows, but a lot of people (a majority?) now have no need of venturing somewhere to procure a bit of audio/visual entertainment. Netflix can do that for them just fine. I've lamented this of late, not only for feeling behind the times, but not going unnoticed that it's another bit of childhood chipped away.

That's Rentertainment was a place of comfort. Here was, to be frank, a relic of years gone by, a place that used to exist in various permutations all over town. Blockbuster, Stars and Stripes Video, Family Video, countless others: They were dotted across the landscape. The Internet, for all it's worth, is unable to recreate the experience of browsing physical things (books, movies, etc.), of running into friends and neighbors while searching for the next film to rent. That's something we're losing as places like video stores become relegated to the past.

In truth, I should have shopped more at That's Rentertainment. Habitual late fees rather put a stop to that, but that's my issue, not theirs. Cool people worked there. You know -- people that you could interact with, as opposed to staring at a computer screen while an algorithm creeps on your history and suggests items of interest. There would be conversations with fellow patrons, as we'd discuss some of the common titles that we had rented and watched. It was neat to see a special section devoted to films that had played at Ebertfest. That's a nice, local touch that you're unlikely to find online.

I dunno. Everything has its time. Everything comes and goes. To seek permanence in a world that has let us know over and over how transient it is would be folly. And yet... I miss That's Rentertainment, and it's not even gone. In truth, I miss what it represents, an era that has gone the way of the dodo bird. Is digital streaming more efficient than the physical encumbrances of consuming the same entertainment? Perhaps. But since when has efficiency always meant that something's better?

Kudos to owner Geoff Merritt for steering such a valuable, beloved ship for so many years. Thank you to the incredible, knowledgeable, fun-to-talk-with employees for making it a neat place to visit. Thank you to the other patrons who engaged in amiable conversation about our shared love of cinema and good television over the years. A unique piece of Champaign-Urbana will be going away soon, and I, for one, am sad.


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