True Movie Nerds Go Region-Free (Here's Why & How)
Whether you're an avid movie collector, or just a super fan of a few particular films, you need to go region-free. Region codes are bits of data stored on a DVD or Blu-ray, that are meant to restrict where in the world you can play that disc. Distribution companies do this because rights to said movies is a tricky web of confusion, where one company has rights to a film in one region, while another has rights for a different region. It's a distribution turf war and the movie studios as well as the consumer electronics industry, all play ball in order for everyone to be happy. Of course it's a huge pain in the keester for movie fans and collectors. But it doesn't have to be.
For the blu-ray format there are 3 basic regions "A", "B" and "C". The map above lays out for you where those regions reside. Why would you want to import a movie from a different region? First off, many times the rights holders don't care to distribute the movie you want in your region, so you have no choice. If you want to own that movie, importing is the only way to go. Sometimes if you want the very best quality presentation of a movie, or the most complete extras, or a super swank collector's edition, it's found in a different region. Other times it's just plain cheaper in another region. Look, far be it from me to find a positive spin on the Brexit fiasco, but I found a positive spin on the Brexit fiasco. The British pound is tumbling, and it's a great time to import. I'd rather they have a stable currency, but until they don't...weeeeeee!
Still not sure? Well, let me explain from the perspective of a huge horror dork with a 130 inch projection screen. One of my favorite movies of all-time is Re-animator. Right now some of you are going, "But Ryan, you can order that right now on Amazon for this region!" Yes, you could, but you'd be ordering an insult to yourself as a fan of that movie. It's an upscaled turd. That's right, the only version offered to us proud Americans, is one that is just an upscaled DVD quality version. Don't believe me? Let's have a look below.
The differences are pretty astounding considering they're both supposed to be HD presentations. Not only is there a lot of fine detail lost in the US version, but it's dirty and slightly cropped. None of this matters to casual fans of course, but if this is your favorite movie, why upgrade your DVD copy for something that might even look worse? There are many examples of this, even when you least expect it. Criterion is often thought of as the definite version of anything, but many hardcore fans were not a fan of the revisionist color timing of David Cronenburg's Scanners & The Brood. For those releases the only alternative was to import "better" versions.
If you're a completest, sometimes you need to own several versions of the same movie. Scream Factory recently put out a remastered collector's edition of Return of the Living Dead. It's the release I would recommend to any fan, if you had to own just one. But, if you want to hear the original audio, with the now missing/replaced T.S.O.L song "Nothing For You", you have to import. The release from Second Sight Films has the songs because the rights were not an issue in the UK. The video aspect of this release is inferior to the Scream Factory version, so a super fan is going to want to own both.
Ok, so I sold you on the potential. But how do you do it? Don't you have to order some mod kit from ebay to modify your US-bought dvd player? That is certainly an option some people take. But I'm too lazy and clumsy for that, I just went ahead and bought a region-hacked blu-ray player. You can find plenty of these on ebay to suit your tastes. But you can also find them on Amazon, that's where I got mine. Yes, they can be a bit more pricey than your standard blu-ray player, but if you sop around like I did, finding an affordable one isn't too hard. Once you realize how many doors this can open for you as a movie lover and collector, the added cost seems like more than a bargain. There are other tricks you can use, with certain region A players to trick them into playing other regions for some discs, but I've found those methods to be far less reliable than just getting a dedicated multi-region player. The Sony I got is quite simple to change regions. You simply power it off, press a button on the remote and you're ready to go!
Ok, so that was easy enough, how do I know where to find the movies I want? How do I find out which version is the best, among them all? There's a lot of great blu-ray review sites out there like DVD Beaver or The Digital Bits, but there's one place that needs to be your first stop: Blu-ray.com. This is my home away from home. Go there now and register for a free account. The search bar at the top of the page has a drop down menu that lets you select the region you want to search for. Want to search them all? You can do that too. You can also click on one of the categories above and browse their vast database with a plethora of filters to help you narrow down your search. Be it by region, title, genre, distribution company, actor, year etc. Once you find a movie you want, go to it's listing, see if there's a review. Many times there are. If not, click on the forum tab below and see if there's a discussion thread for that release, often times there are. There's also often a melodramatic nerd battle over how the finest minutia of any release has made something fantastic, or ruined someone's entire childhood. So be prepared a bit for that.
Most of what makes one release better than another is subjective, so your mileage may very. Of course, if it's simply a matter of getting any version, because your region has left you high and dry, it's a moot point. You can just go browse the international sections of the forums to stay on top of what's getting released there. Here is the UK section, one I frequent. But the forum thread you most want to checkout and follow, is one dedicated strictly to which releases are better in other countries, right here. There's tons of other great features there, but I'll only bore you with one, the Price Tracker. After you register and you find some releases around the world you want, you might not be able to afford them right now. Or, if you're just frugal, you may want to wait for a certain distributor to go on sale. Arrow Video for example has huge sales about 4 times a year. You can add any movie to your tracker, set your price, and the site will email you when it's close to that price. The caveat being, it works primarily with Amazon prices, so you should also keep an eye on the Hot Deal section of the forum, to see sales going on elsewhere.
Does that all sound like too much of a pain in the ass to sift through? Well I have another quick fire option that can often be of great help. At least in terms of trying to determine which release meets your technical expectations. The site Caps-A-Holic is a pretty simple site where you can search or browse for a movie title, then select two versions to compare. It will then bring you to a page where you can mouse-over compare screen shots, or do zoom-in comparisons of those screenshots, to see how they stack up. It also will tell you all of the technical information about that version of the movie. Again, many times the differences are subjective. Or some scenes appear better, while others appear worse, and the overall winner is hard to crown. Not to mention, watching a movie is the best way to determine quality, not just screen grabs, but it will certainly give you a quick idea of how the versions compare.
So shut up and take your money, right? But wait! How do you even figure out the conversions? This is likely the most tricky part. The best way to quickly get a look at conversion rates is a site like XE. Thankfully most retailers do all this work for you and let you know right on their site. But it's good to know what the rates are in general. Commonly there is a slight fee they charge for currency conversions. If you have a visa or mastercard with no fees for conversion, you might want to select the option (when available) to pay in the regional currency with that card. Don't stress too much about that part though, it's only worth investing a lot of time in to knowing if you are really penny pinching for the best fee, which is more often than not very tiny. Especially when you factor in prospecting! Yes, some of the more rare and limited resale movies reside out of Region-A and they can fetch some coin in the collector markets. Take Arrow Video's Limited Dawn of the Dead release from a few years ago. Boy did that shoot up in price since I bought it!
Throw off your region shackles my movie loving friends! The next time Arrow Video or Second Sight announces a Limited Edition for a movie you adore, you won't feel left out in the Region-A cold!