Except that, if you are in the United States, you can’t. At least, without dealing with a lot of technical nonsense. And legality issues.
This past summer, I kept hearing about this movie, the one with the wordy title (perfect for me!), the one with Chris O’Dowd.1
But, of course, I couldn’t legally get my hands on it, because it’s only been released in region 2. And no one was streaming it — at least not any of the big hitters — Amazon, Netflix, Apple.2 Luckily, AM the Younger came home from the UK, and brought it with her.
If this were a post about Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel (Frequently Asked Questions, for short, because I’m getting tired of writing it out!), I would tell you that the problem with time travel stories is that they invariably have a logical flaw, something that keeps them from being satisfying if you poke too hard at the plot. So the trick is to make the audience not care about those holes, usually by being charming or funny or epic enough (see also: Doctor Who).
Frequently Asked Questions is this film. Low budget, creatively executed, charmingly quirky, quintessentially British, this film was, for me, the movie The World’s End wanted to be, but didn’t quite achieve.3 In short, this is exactly the kind of film nearly all of my friends would enjoy.
If they could watch it.
See, this isn’t really a post about Frequently Asked Questions, it’s a post about distribution. We can’t see this movie in the United States, but you could buy a PAL DVD of it from Amazon, because it has been distributed in the UK. However, because of the lack of global standards in film speed, for most of us, unless you are a diehard film buff with cash to burn who has bought a region free player, we can’t watch that DVD here.4
And in today’s global world, this is just stupid.
The distribution system, of breaking down the world into regions, with each region having a different company negotiate for the release rights, may have made sense at one time — when access was different and local companies were more efficient.
But here’s what happens now.
Whether it’s a British film not making it to America, or an American film unavailable in Kenya, or a Chinese film unreleased in Saudi Arabia, people still find out about it. Because people in China and Saudi Arabia and Kenya and the United States all talk to each other. They get frustrated that they can’t legally watch it.
And then they torrent it.
Which means that little, low budget film — the kind of film that most benefits from word of mouth, which can really use the royalties from Netflix or Amazon or wherever — that film loses out.
And the audience, who loves the film, risks legal ramifications to watch it.
Here’s the dumbest part of all, in the case of Frequently Asked Questions: it’s not a new movie. It was released in 2009. So, by conventional wisdom, it should be more available, not less so. It’s long passed its value date for the production company, so distribution fees should be lower. It’s exactly the kind of film you’d expect to find while trolling Netflix.
If we are going to work within the system – assume that the system still works (even as, clearly, it doesn't) – there’s no reason why a region 1 distributor (i.e. American) shouldn’t be putting it out. In fact, there are good reasons for it to be “re-released” now, starting with the fact that Chris O’Dowd has really hit in popularity during this past year.
So why isn’t it available?
1 You know him, he’s the guy in the IT Crowd — no, not Maurice, the other one. “Have you tried turning it off and turning it back on again?” Yeah, on that HBO show now. Totally awesome. He’s in this film. And it’s the best — you gotta see it.
2 Internet rumors tell me that it has aired on HBO in the United States, but I have no easy way to verify that, and more importantly, that is still remarkably limited access for a film.
3 How's that for tying this into the previous post?
4 Also, I am not a lawyer, so I’m not positive, but I believe there may be some legal issues if one did watch the PAL version in the US. Not positive, but throwing it out there, in case.
Frequently Asked Questions about Time Travel. Directed by Gareth Carrivick. Lionsgate, 2009. Film.