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The Stupidest Thing I've Ever Purchased

Nathan Strum

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As you know if you've read my blog, I'm a fan of "Weird Al" Yankovic. I've bought all of his albums, books, videos, and many years ago went to one of his concerts (and really would like to have gone to more).

 

But one thing I didn't buy, was a boxed set of all of his recordings that came out in 2017 called Squeeze Box. Why? Well, first, I have all of his albums. And even though there was a bonus CD of extras called "Medium Rarities" there just wasn't enough on there to warrant buying the whole set. They weren't really even Medium Rare, as they were Medium Common (I know... that's not a pun). A lot of his early work from the Dr. Demento show wasn't included because, well, he wrote it as a kid and he felt some of it wasn't very good. But that's the sort of stuff fans want. I know this, because I've bought tons of Monkees reissues over the years precisely because of all of the unreleased tracks that have seen the light of day this way. Similarly, I've been subscribing to the Maynard Ferguson Lost Tapes club, which has been releasing a new CD of previously unreleased live recordings every month. They're starting on the third (and final) edition now, and at $100 for six months, that only works out to about $17 per CD. So I don't mind paying for something that I want to own on physical media. Price isn't so much the issue.

 

So, back to Squeeze Box, because it's tangentially relevant to this blog post. The reason I didn't buy it wasn't solely because of the weakness of the bonus CD. It was because of the packaging. It came in an absolutely humongous replica of "Weird Al's" accordion:

 

weirdal-squeezebox.jpg

Those aren't CDs sticking out of the top. They're LPs. That should give you a sense of scale. (You could get CDs instead, but the accordion was the same massive size.)

 

I just didn't have any interest in that. I have no place to put it, and I don't really care to display a giant, fake accordion somewhere. It would just end up getting shoved into a closet somewhere, for the sake of basically getting one CD. Oh, and a book came with it too, although I already had a book about "Weird Al" and didn't feel I needed another one. (Of course since then, I've bought two more, with a third on the way. :roll: But they don't come in a giant, fake accordion. They're just books.)

 

So, I didn't buy that set.

 

Just recently though, I bought something stupider.

 

Something else you'd know if you've read my blog, is that I grew up watching Speed Racer. I reviewed the (awful) live action movie here some years ago. I'll leave it to you to find that review, since the blogs here are so horribly broken right now, I can't even find things in my own blog.

 

Which reminds me - yes, I'm starting to blog again. This is my second blog post now in... oh, 9 months or so. I'm on a roll!

 

I've had stuff I wanted to blog about, but the current state of the AtariAge blogs since InVision's last "update" has left me so completely frustrated that I just haven't bothered. So even though nobody wants to slog through the mess that's the front page, can't look up anything by category, and they'd be better off using Bing to search for something than use the built-in search here, I'm going to blog anyway.

 

So there.

 

Good luck finding anything.

 

Right. Speed Racer.

 

For years, the U.S. rights to Speed Racer was owned by Speed Racer Enterprises. Starting in 2003, they put out some DVD releases of the series, but they were mostly disappointing. The main titles and end credits had been overlaid (badly) with modern graphics. And while the first disc had some nice bonus features, none of the other discs did (the biggest omission being the original Japanese version of the series). Also, as more editions were released, the quality began to suffer (including "time compressing" one episode so it played at a higher speed). But okay... at least I could watch the TV series again in some form.

 

Then, there was the packaging. These were all "Limited Editions" in "collectible packaging". Okay... if I had to buy that to get the series, I guess I would. But I'm not a fan of this sort of marketing gimmickry at all. I don't like "exclusives" or "limited editions" or "collectors' editions" that come in non-standard packaging. Just sell me the thing. If you want to add more content and charge more, then add more discs and raise the price. When I buy a DVD, I just buy it, stick it on a shelf, and once in awhile take it down to watch it. I have no interest in displaying them as "collectibles".

 

The first DVD was actually pretty good. It did have some bonus material, mostly in the form of trivia. The packaging included an outer sleeve that featured actual rubber, stamped like a tire tread. To be fair, I could just discard the sleeve and keep the case inside. But this was okay. Pointless, but okay.

 

speedracer-vol1.jpg

 

The second one had a cover that opened like a book, then played a sound clip and the Mach 5's lights would light up. This was actually kind of cool. Until the battery died. So, now it's a cover that does nothing. But hey - foil stamped logo! Woohoo!

speedracer-vol2.jpg

 

The next one is the one that really started putting me off. At least the first two were standard DVD cases in a sleeve. But for some reason, Volume 3 came in a metal can, wedged into half of a cardboard DVD box. It looked like a film reel, but it was supposedly the Mach 5's steering wheel. Just getting the disc out meant popping open that stupid can (and the disc just bounces around inside it), and the box would break down more every time you took the can out or put it back. But I still have to keep the box to prevent the can from rolling off the shelf. Something which may not be readily apparent, is that the artwork started taking a hit in quality at this point. More on that in a minute.

 

speedracer-vol3.jpg

 

The next one was actually kind-of-cool, because it included a die-cast version of the Mach 5. The outer box was larger than normal, but it did include a normal DVD case inside, and the toy was cool. In fact, they should've just done that for every edition, with a different car for each one. Collectors could display them separate from the DVDs, and kids would have something to play with. And of course, the cars were the stars of the show!

 

speedracer-vol4.jpg'

 

Here though, is where the artwork really started to go downhill. Speed's outlines look like he was drawn with a paint roller (click to zoom in):

 

Speed-Racer-vol-4-closeup.jpg

 

The final volume included a small, stamped, metal license plate. So... yay. I guess I could... just leave it in the box forever. I have no idea what else I would do with it.

 

speedracer-vol5.jpg

With this one, the artwork finally took a complete and total nose-dive.

 

speedracer-vol5-interior.jpg

You probably can't see how atrocious that is, at that size. So here's a zoomed-in version (click for the close-up). Sparky's teeth are just... wrong. I can't tell if Trixie is winking, having a stroke, or was punched in the face. The line "quality" is catastrophically bad (I'm guessing MS Paint). And apparently, Speed ran over Spritle's hand. And face.

 

Speed-Racer-vol-5-closeup.jpg

 

But okay, I guess at least I had the episodes. And they do fit on a shelf.

 

(At least I didn't buy this thing.)

 

Now, do collectors like this stuff? Maybe when I was ten I would've been into some of that. I don't know. The toy car was the only one that really had any appeal to me. The rest I just found annoying, because what I really want is a DVD in a normal case, that I can easily get the discs out of when I want to watch them. I don't "get" or like the collector's editions that come in weird cases. I don't want some big, oversized, tin, plastic, cardboard, or wooden thing that I have to find someplace to store. Maybe this is one of the reasons I've largely stopped buying physical copies of movies. I can get a set of movies on iTunes, without the trappings.

 

But for some things... I still want to own physical media. Music, for example. I always buy CDs. I only buy downloaded music when it's the ONLY way I can get a piece of music. I want to own my music, physically, so if the cloud-of-the-week that it's on disappears, I still have it. Same with certain movies or TV series. I have a connection to them, and I want to own them. For recent stuff, like the Marvel movies, I genuinely don't care. They're on TV all the time, and I have them on iTunes (and they're on Disney+ as well), so I can watch them whenever. Or not. I don't have that emotional tie to them. Star Wars, on the other hand (and don't ask "which one"... there's only one movie titled "Star Wars"), is something I've bought multiple copies of over the years. I keep hoping (against hope) that Disney will release a proper version of the original theatrical print. And if they do, I'll buy it again. Even if it comes in a big, giant, plastic Death Star or something. For me, owning the movie on a disc is important. And because Speed Racer was a big part of my childhood, the same applies to that series.

 

Which brings me, longwindedly as usual, to the whole point of this blog entry.

 

By the way - did'ja miss me? Because if you've followed this blog at all, you had to know going into it that this blog entry was going to be a rambling, incoherent mess. Regular readers (or irregular ones) wouldn't expect anything less. You wouldn't want me to be brief and to-the-point would you? Where would be the fun in that?

 

Right.

 

Speed Racer.

 

So, Speed Racer Enterprises lost the rights to distribute/market Speed Racer several years ago, after some legal battles with the original animation studio Tatsunoko. Funimation took on the task of releasing the series on Blu-ray in 2017. Now, I didn't even hear about all of this until just recently. I hadn't searched for the series in years. But I ran across one of my Johnny Lightning Speed Racer cars the other day, and thought, "Hey... I wonder if the series ever came out on Blu-ray?"

 

capn-terrors-car.jpg

 

So I checked Amazon, and well, it had. Thanks, Captain Terror!

 

cap-n-terror-dude.jpg

 

The complete series was available in a nice, standard Blu-ray case for only $20. So, did I buy it?

 

Well... no.

 

Because they had also put out (sigh...) a Collector's Edition.

 

An "Ultimate" Collection, according to Funimation. In a really big box. How big? Well, we'll get to that.

 

speedracer-bowlingball.jpg

 

Now, what did this Collector's Edition offer?

 

Not only the complete Speed Racer series... but also the original Japanese version of the series: Mach Go Go Go!

 

Yeah. I had to have that. (Yes, I have the manga. Thanks for asking.)

 

And of course, it wasn't available in normal packaging. You could only get it in this ridiculous, giant-sized Collector's Edition. But it had the bonus content I wanted. Content worth the price of admission.

 

Unfortunately, and predictably, it also included superfluous junk I didn't want: the 1997 remake series (Mach Go Go Go Restart), DVD copies of the Blu-ray content (why??), and a keychain.

 

Oh, and a giant plastic head.

 

speedracer-gapingmaw.jpg

 

Ugh.

 

This thing is huge. It's the size of a bowling ball (note - these are pictures from Funimation, I didn't want to waste the time setting up a space big enough to take pictures of mine).

 

It's well made, I guess. But it's really the stupidest thing I've ever bought. It's huge. And I have no interest in seeing Speed's gaping mouth yawning at me from a shelf (I actually don't have any shelves big enough for this thing).

 

Currently, and forever more, it sits in the box. That huge, huge box. I have to find space in a closet for it somewhere. I suppose there's a keychain in there too, but I haven't looked for it.

 

Now, given the (brace yourselves) $300 !!!!! sticker price for this, you may be thinking I'm insane for having bought this.

 

Well, Amazon is currently selling it for $224. Which is better.

 

But when I ordered it (from Amazon) a couple of weeks ago, for some reason, it was only $109. So that's why I bought it. Totally worth that price for the discs. Despite the stupid head.

 

Besides, the discs themselves actually come in cardboard booklets, that can be removed by taking the back of Speed's head off, and reaching into his skull.

 

speedracer-lobotomy.jpg

 

Did I mention this is the stupidest thing I've ever bought?

 

Anyway... the episodes themselves look as well as can be expected, for 50+ year-old TV animation. The transfers are clean, and you get to see the series as it was made. Warts and all. In fact, there are some interesting artifacts visible around the edges of the screen, as they shot this on full-frame film, and around the edges you can see unfinished artwork that was meant to be cut off by televisions of the day. I'm glad they didn't mask those out - it's part of the charm of something like this.

 

The titles and end credits still have modern overlays for some reason, but they're more in keeping with the style of the originals. They were clearly created with modern technology though, with little attempt to try to match the look of the original filmed elements. That's disappointing, because someone with just a couple of hours work in After Effects could've easily made them at least appear more authentic. For a Collector's Edition, I'd expect that.

 

As far as bonus content, well, there's Mach Go Go Go and the reboot series. Otherwise, just a single interview with Connie Orr (Trixie). I would've thought there would've been more interviews done over the years, or other archival materials that could've been included. But maybe Speed's brain only had so much space in it.

 

Anyway, I don't regret the purchase, because I got the discs I wanted, and am enjoying watching the series. After an episode or two I'm skipping through the titles and end credits anyway (there's only so many times you can listen to that theme song). I've only looked briefly at the Japanese series - I want to re-watch Speed Racer first, then go through Mach Go Go Go and see what the differences are (I don't think it was heavily edited like some later anime series, but there are certainly dialog changes to "Americanize" the language). It gives me something else to binge watch, which is good. Since the Coronavirus pandemic started, I've been working my way through every episode of This Old House, and I'm 24 seasons into it. I could stand to change things up a little. ;) 

 

 

 

Well... that took awhile to write.

 

What to do next?

 

I suppose I could do an Artie the Atari episode. I even have one written. And I can guarantee it's the funniest one in over a year!

 

Mainly since I haven't done one in over a year. I think this is the longest stretch without an episode ever.

 

I have a ton of New Old Music I could write about. Which is easily the least popular feature of my blog. So that would seem apropos for a blog that nobody can find anything in anyway.

 

Or maybe it's time for a movie review.

 

Not that I've actually been to the movies since... December. But I'll figure something out.

 

Well, there will be some sort of blog entry.

 

You may not be able to find it. But it'll be here.

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