Part crash-course in the history of the video store, part biography, The Last Blockbuster is a feel-good documentary that hits the perfect notes to bring out your nostalgia for the oddly specific experience of visiting a Blockbuster store. While many have heard the legendary myth of one of the last remaining Blockbusters saved by John Oliver’s kind donation of Russel Crowe memorabilia, most do not know that Alaska is now bereft of any Blockbusters, and the title of the final Blockbuster in the entire universe goes to a humble, family run franchise store in Bend, Oregon — which is somehow still open to this day.
Filmed over the course of the last few years, The Last Blockbuster charts the journey of Sandy Harding, ‘Blockbuster Mom’ and manager of this final franchise store as she somehow keeps her beloved shop open. The doc is filled with talking heads from all over pop culture and some more mysterious figures from Blockbuster’s history to add context about the rise and fall of such an iconic brand. Furthermore, this doc begins to philosophise about what made Blockbuster so special, and will have you dying to spend your last savings on a ticket to Oregon, just to see that giant, blue sign.
While the doc never really deviates from the ‘Interview-Voice Over-B-roll’ formula that we have come to know and love, it does attempt to be a self-aware, comic film that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Director Taylor Morden walks the delicate balance between a childish reverence for the brand, and an awareness that Blockbuster nostalgia is a niche for a certain audience. This is achieved mainly through the huge variety of contributors. From filmmaker and pop culture personality Kevin Smith, to former Blockbuster EVP and CFO Thomas Casey, and local video store enthusiast/film critic Jared Rasic. The range is wide —perhaps chaotic— but the balance is surprisingly effective as the audience receives insights into the brand from people involved at every level. From filmmakers and chief officers, to branch owners and customers, everyone gets a chance to comment on Blockbuster’s impact upon the world.
There are moments where the filmmakers stray too far from their trusty documentary format. One of these moments is the sequences where they take a contributor’s description of a trip to Blockbuster; such as Jared Rasic’s site specific experience at the Bend store and bring it to life. They utilise both Rasic and Harding in an attempted homage to the monologue enactment popularised by Ant Man, but it is clear that neither party are actors and this moment undermines the documentary’s structure and message. The filmmakers are also quick to cover up an awkward sequence or transition with pop culture references or clips that, although appropriate, feel like a cheap joke.
Yet much like the store itself, the beating heart of this documentary is Sandy Harding, the Blockbuster Mom. The title was born from the fact that almost every teenager in the town has worked for her at some point. The film works best when they let Sandy take over and display her love and care for the store which has supported her family for decades. It speaks to the strength of Morden that he recognised how key she was to the store’s survival and wove her warmth into the fabric of this film.
Although there are moments where the reverence and nostalgia become too much, The Last Blockbuster does a great job of outlining the rise and fall of this iconic company whilst chronicling the life and times of “the little Blockbuster that could”. Whether you loved or hated your local Blockbuster, this documentary will have you pining for the popcorn scented, blue and yellow carpet, that wall of new releases, and the one copy of The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D that you rented all of the time because it is the only film you and your three siblings would watch together.
The Last Blockbuster is available on VOD from December 15th
by Mia Garfield
Mia Garfield is a London based writer, director, and freelance production assistant. Over the last year she’s amassed credits on feature films such as Fast and Furious 9, Infinite, and Venom 2. She is a big lover of Fantasy, Sci-Fi, and Mythology but her taste is incredibly varied. Today her favourite films include Howl’s Moving Castle, Romeo + Juliet, and Inception. You can find her talking about books on twitter at @MiaGwrites or @Mia_Julianna on Letterboxd.