July 31, 2008

A Half-Century Search Ends for $1.99 and 2 Gigabytes

Greetings. Once upon a time many years ago -- something on the order of 45 years or so I estimate, I was taken as a young child to a number of film screenings as part of a series at UCLA's famed Royce Hall. The Internet -- and affordable bandwidth -- have in the last few hours closed a circle for me that has been gaping open all these many years since those screenings.

One of the films I saw back then at UCLA, The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T, so disturbed me at the time that we had to leave the screening in the middle. Years later I rediscovered this amazing work, and have shown it a number of times at conferences and film festivals. Amusingly, the scene that so upset me as a child is so remarkable in context that it routinely gets unsolicited applause from audiences!

But Dr. T is comparatively well known now to cult film fans at least. Another of the films in that UCLA series, the 1953 French animation The Curious Adventures of Mr. Wonderbird, remains much more obscure. I only saw it theatrically at that one Royce Hall screening, and then once more a couple of years later when it was serialized on commercial television. Then -- poof! -- it essentially vanished.

For a number of reasons -- perhaps partly the imaginative and fantastic technology portrayed, Wonderbird, particularly a few specific scenes, has remained bouncing around in my head for all these years. I would occasionally try to locate a print -- even at one point decades later reaching the person at UCLA who remembered it from the original film series -- but I never could lay my hands on a watchable copy.

This almost half-century quest ended earlier today. After a new round of Google searches, I found a relatively beautiful and apparently legitimate print available for immediate DVD burning and/or local viewing -- the cost all of $1.99 for a 2 GB download (in fact, simply streaming the film is free). For the curious, here's the link.

As I watched the lights blinking an a nearby router while the film downloaded in about half an hour, I found myself wondering if I'd have been so immediately willing to make the purchase if I knew that the 2 GB involved was going to eat up a significant proportion of an Internet usage bandwidth cap. After a search this long I probably would have gone ahead anyway, but certainly a cap would be a major impediment to all manner of other potential downloads of similarly legal and wondrous content.

Whether we're talking about 5 GB or 250 GB a month, it's clear that bandwidth caps will inevitably have the psychological effect of suppressing Internet media downloads. As the entire video entertainment complex moves to high definition, such negative impacts will be ever more heavily felt. Internet subscribers will feel increasingly pressured to purchase "non-metered" content from their own ISPs rather than purchase from outside sources where the ISP bandwidth meter is running in addition to the cost of the content itself.

I relate this saga since we tend to think about these sorts of issues in theoretical rather than concrete terms most of the time. But sitting here spinning on the hard drive a couple of feet from me is a real world example of memories validated and a quest begun in childhood -- however trivial it may seem to some observers -- finally ended in success, thanks to a forward-thinking content supplier and the typical high quality of Google Search.

It would be unfortunate indeed if unreasonable, anti-competitive bandwidth limitations serve to smother the potential for the Internet to provide the vast range of nearly infinite content that doesn't fit the profiles of the telephone and cable company ISPs.

Here's hoping that we'll all be permitted to find -- and can afford to download -- our own Internet "Wonderbirds" and memories, and that our bytes and neurons won't be held hostage by those parties who view a truly open and neutral Internet as a threat, instead of as a treasure.


Posted by Lauren at July 31, 2008 05:35 PM | Permalink
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