Ever had that movie at the back of your mind but can't remember what it was called? Or maybe you taped some flick off the TV with some actor in it whose name you know, but you missed the beginning? Maybe you know the movie you're after but can't find it on Amazon? Or, worst of all, you've found that desert island disc but you're not sure whether the version you've found is the best you can get? Are you sick of the phrase 'Special Edition'? Do you know the difference between PAL, NTSC, VCD and DVDR? Do you even care anymore as long as you get to watch that coveted movie of yours?
No, of course you don't, which is where we come in. It's our love of rare movies not technology which has made us quite knowledgable at this kind of thing, so read on and follow our official guide to finding that forgotten flick.
What works for you?
The first thing to establish is what formats are you cabable of playing?
VIDEO - Most UK players only play the European PAL format, but a lot of players will also play the US NTSC format through a normal RF cable on any old UK TV. It's well worth checking out to see if US tapes work because if they do you open up the vast US ex-rental market.
DVD - Find out if you have a multi-region player. All UK players (and PS2s and Xboxes) play European region 2 discs, but you really need to be able to play American region 1 discs if you're at all serious about movie collecting. A lot of players are labelled region 2 but can be unlocked with a bit of research (type your player's model number into google along with the words 'unlock all regions' and follow your nose).
DVDR, VCD, DiVx - These writeable formats are rarely as good quality as their official cousins, but sometimes they provide the only option. Check your DVD player as most support these formats, but if the worst comes to worst you can always play them on your PCs after downloading the appropriate drivers. Note that these formats are not supported by games consoles.
This is the place to start any kind of internet search as the Internet Movie Database is without a doubt the most important movie web site in the history of the whole wide world wide web (with the obvious exception of eatmybrains.com of course).
It has perhaps the most comprehensive listing of movies ever collected in one single place, plus each movie is cross-indexed by every actor involved and the producer, writer, director, cinematographer, designer, etc, etc. All in all, it's a pretty phenomenal resource, not least because the majority of the information available is submitted by average joe users like you and me. Spot a mistake on imdb.com? Well, simply register and tell them all about it.
Tips on getting the most out of imdb.com
- Keep your eye on the Amazon sponsor box in the top right corner. This can give you a good and relatively instant clue as to your chosen flick's availability.
- Scan through the alternate titles and make a mental note of them all. This kind of info comes in handy later on, especially when searching through ebay and what have you.
- Browse through the user comments looking for film search buzzwords (video, dvd, words like that), maybe even using your browser's search facility if there are a lot of entries. Often you'll find that for every 'why isn't this released on dvd?' there'll be an 'available on Japanese import...' comment to match.
- Scroll down to the forum and look for topics relating to a DVD. You'll often find that if there is no official release, bootleggers will advertise here.
Here's an example of using imdb. I recently remembered a film from, I think, the late 70s about a group of people suddenly waking up in some kind of futurist western game - a bit like a Westworld influence or something. Anyway, I'm pretty sure it had Jack Palance in it.
Looking 'Jack Palance' up on imdb I get this page. Scrolling down, the late 70s gives us 'Cocaine Cowboys', 'The One Man Jury' and 'Welcome to Blood City'. Jackpot.
Clicking on 'Welcome to Blood City' gives us this page. I think we've cracked it...
Run by film fans for film fans, dvdcompare.net does an great job of telling you which region offers the best version of any given movie, including listing all extras including easter eggs and any cuts that have been made. This is an amazing resource but sadly it's not exhaustive and on a couple of occassions I have searched for flicks and not found listings. However, I have chatted with the guys that run the site and they've said that if you post a request on their forum, they'll do their research on your behalf and add the listing. You can't say fairer than that.
Here's an example of how good the site is - look up 'Friday the 13th' on dvdcompare.net and you get this page. Scrolling down, you can see that two versions of the first movie are in circulation - an 'R' rated cut shown in theatres and an unrated home version.
Check this out -
* R1 America - (Paramount) - No cuts - but it's not the original R-rated US theatrical version. It contains a longer version of Annie's death, but an edited version of Mrs Voorhee's decapitation
* R1 America - (Paramount - Friday the 13th Box Set: From Crystal Lake to Manhattan) - (Box set) - No cuts - This is the “R-rated” theatrical version. (The previous R1 DVD contained Annie’s full death scene but the ending was missing a few frames of gore. This new R1 disc is the real theatrical cut (R-rated) meaning we’re missing a few frames from Annie’s death but the ending has been restored).
* R2 United Kingdom - (Warner Bros Home Entertainment) - No cuts - Unrated version
So, I could buy the UK DVD and get the unrated version, or I could buy the big box set and get the original version. Or, since the unrated DVD usually goes for around £6 or £7 in sales and on ebay, I could get both...
This little known UK site has the last word in listing what cuts the BBFC impose on our favourite flicks. It's very primitive in its design having that feeling like it was made ten years ago (which of course it was) but it still works fine all the same. This site is especially interesting for film historians as it documents all cuts made chronologically plus when those cuts were waived, but not so useful for lunch hour surfers as you are also prevented with a list of cuts made to recent 18R hardcore pornography releases. So, caution required.
Okay, by now you should have a pretty good idea of what you're looking for so now it's time to try out the Amazon family of websites. As you've already checked imdb.com, you've probably already got a pretty good idea of the availability of your title here, plus dvdcompare.net has most likely pointed you towards the best version available. So, once it's a case of simply finding your film at a price that's right head to Amazon first.
Tips on getting the most out of Amazon.
- They look the same, they feel the same and - what do you know - they are the same. Amazon.co.uk & Amazon.com are in fact the same sight, albeit with slightly different presentation and different currencies. More importantly for us, the search engines appear now to be much more integrated than they used to, meaning region 1 versions of movies now pop up in searches made on the UK site. Cool.
- Don't be shy about using Amazon marketplace as it just happens to be one of the cheapest places to by stuff on the whole net. Just click the buttons on the right and Bob's your Uncle. Mind you pick a reputable seller though as you do get some cowboys operating here.
- Use Amazon market place to get around paying international postal fees. Here's how - If you're looking for a region 1 disc, find it on Amazon.com then run the same search on Amazon.co.uk, this time noting the 'REGION 1 - NTSC' bit in the title. Once you find it, follow the links to Amazon marketplace again and buy from the cheapest source with a consistantly good rating (I recommend caiman_usa, they've never let me down). What you've just done is import a DVD from the States and only paid £1.24 P&P. Yes, this is one of the best kept secrets on the internet.
Take, for example, my recent hunt for a widescreen copy of 'Jason Goes To Hell'.
A quick trip over to dvdcompare.net reveals that only the region 1 version is in WS, with the UK disc being 4:3, even though both editions have the uncut version included.
Going to amazon.co.uk and entering 'Jason Goes to Hell' in the search box reveals that (at time of writing) Amazon is selling the UK edition for £4.97 + P&P, with Marketplace offerings a little less.
But, scrolling down a little, the 'Jason Goes To Hell (REGION 1)(NTSC)' listing is being sold in the Marketplace for £4.51. Low and behold it's a posting by caiman_usa. If you click 'add to baket' and then head to the checkout, you'll see that you're only being charged £1.24 P&P even though they post out of Miami.
That makes £5.75 in total - which is actually getting towards what most ebay sellers charge to post across the channel...
Operating out of the channel islands, play.com and its sister site playusa.com does the same job as cdwow.com except it has a more extensive back catalogue. The site is reliable and their customer service is excellent, but the main draw of play.com is that it always has a sale on. What this means is that pricing is totally inconsistant; the title you're after might be full price or ludicrously cheap, you never can tell. So, always worth a quick check, just in case.
Now we're talking - the Grandaddy of all online auction sites. You can literally get anything on ebay, so the only advice I can give you is how to maximise your searching and how not to get ripped off.
Tips on getting the most out of Ebay.
- Always include international sellers in your search but remember to keep in mind how much P&P you're going to have to pay to ship in from abroad.
- Never buy from a newbie seller, just in case.
- Always try and get postal insurance. If you can get the ID number off the recorded delivery receipt you can track the item on the Royal Mail web site (for UK deliveries anyway).i
- Remember to try all the alternate titles for the film in the search as you never can tell. Germany in particular has a thriving uncut DVD market and a lot of UK importers stock those discs and regularly have them in your ebay listings.
- Read the item description carefully. It's here where they tell you the disc's region, aspect ratio and it's language and subtitle options. By this stage I doubt regionality is an issue as you've undoubtably got an all-region player by now, but aspect ratio is. Different distribution company's in different countries often own the rights to different prints of the movie, so be careful to bid only on the best version available. Maybe double check dvdcompare.net again, if you're film's listed there.
Take extra care when order movies not from the UK or the US. Most companies do their best to produce various audio and subtitle tracks, but some of the older titles may just be straight transfers of an old VHS tape. In that case they're not much use so be careful.
- Ask questions if you have any doubts. Don't be blinded by how much you want that movie, as you'll soon discover that you can get pretty much anything these days. If the seller is rude or generally uncooperative, don't buy from him. He might be trying to rip you off.
- Be mindful of DVDR sellers, these can both save you and give you a real hard time depending on what you're after. In America, it's perfectly legal to sell copies of out-of-print titles, even if the title is still under copyright.But as soon as a title becomes officially unavailable, it's fair game. As are alternate versions; if an uncut print of a movie is unavailable officially, you'll often find said uncut DVDR bootleg readily available on ebay even if the title is still in print in it's 'R' rated version. Yes weird, but that's US law for you. The big stinger with DVDR however is quality - it's rarely any good. Transfers to DVDR usually come from old TV broadcasts or old VHS tapes, neither of which are particularly good sources. Home mastering software is available, but sellers are as likely to bother with that as they are source the original Japanese laserdisc, so be warned.
Looking for another movie to go with 'Welcome to Blood City', a little tour round imdb.com throws up 'Without Warning', starring Jack Palance and Cameron Mitchell. Currently unavailable anywhere, it appears ebay is my only hope.
And here we are - go to ebay and search worldwide on 'Without Warning'. You should get a few people in the states selling NTSC ex-rentals and DVDR copies. I bought one of those and it plays a treat. Guess I was lucky.
And The Rest...
Well, if you've got this far and you're still none the wiser, you might be in for a bit of a struggle.
All you can real do now is a bit of googling, although the chances are you'll just end up hitting obscure specialist cult film websites (a bit like this one) where you can read stuff about your chosen movie but can't actually buy it.
You might find a site dedicated to selling DVDR copies of long out of print movies, and in some cases this may be your only choice. Whatever you do, scope out the seller before you do anything as once you've paid up there are absolutely no guarantees your flick will actually turn up, so be careful. One good way of breaking the ice with these kind of people is to ask them how come they can operate legally, as these guys love to talk about what they do. One guy even sent me a 10 page description of how US copyright law works! Ker-razy...
I don't know about all the DVDR sellers on the net, but I've bought from bijouflix.com and revok.com. Both were very reliable and both made the effort to sort out some cool packaging so I could slip the discs on to the shelf with the other DVDs proudly.
Of course, you're more than welcome to contact me, Rawshark or Zomblee as one of us is bound to be able to help you.
Alternatively you could always ask for help in our forum...
31st Jan 05 Peter Cushing appears to have modestly declined from participating in any of this kung fu nonsense although there is a charming battle later on when he gets a little carried away with a big flaming branch...