Why do the studios bother with this nonsense? The ostensible reason is to protect theatrical opening dates. For instance, one of the biggest movies of 2007 so far is Ratatouille, which opened in North America on June 29. But it only opened in England Oct. 12, less than a month before it became available on DVD in North America. Without region coding, British animation geeks would be ordering copies of the film to watch at home while their less tech-savvy countrymen are, like suckers, still paying box-office prices to see the flick.
The thing is, those geeks are already doing that, because region-free players are way more prevalent overseas than they are in the United States, for precisely this reason: Geeks in Regions beyond 1, whether they be Australian, Polish or whatever, want to see movies as soon as they can. Oftentimes, that means “get your hands on a Region 1 DVD.”
It suddenly occurred to Region-1 me, though, that I could be satisfying one of my hungriest entertainment joneses—for British television—if I acquired myself a pre-hacked region-free player. I found RegionFreeDVD.net, from which I purchased, for a not-at-all princely sum, a Pioneer DV-400V-K. It’s high-def and HDMI, so I get great picture and sound on my new widescreen HDTV. Plus, it handles conversion from PAL, the British TV format, to NTSC, the format we use here. (Legalese: I have no affiliation with the site; I’m just a satisfied customer.)
And I’m madly in love with it. I’d been hearing about a whole bunch of highly intriguing British TV shows that have never aired—and will never air—here in the states. Or maybe it’ll air on BBC America, edited for time and for content and to stuff in commercials. But Amazon U.K. delivers the crack … er, stuff right to my door, at ridiculously low shipping rates and at ridiculously fast shipping speeds. I may never leave the house again.
A sampling of what I’m watching now: British director David Yates blew me away with his bleak and grim Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix this summer so, of course, I wanted to check out the two miniseries from recent years he also directed, State of Play (a murder mystery set in political London) and Sex Traffic (about the brisk trade in Eastern European girls to Western European brothels). As a nut for anything with a tinge of the science fictional, I was also dying to see the series Life on Mars, about a cop who falls into a coma in 2006 and wakes up in 1973.
They’re all fantastic. Mars, in particular, is one of the best TV shows ever made, period. And now I’ll be able to trash—that is, compare—David R. Kelley’s planned American remake. Hollywood’s got its grubby mitts on State of Play, too. And, by an astonishing coincidence, all three of these projects star John Simm, who’s a huge star in England, and rightly so. Imagine an actor at the imaginary intersection of Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe and Ewan McGregor—but that’s not quite right, either. The point is, he’s brilliant, and you’ve never heard of him. Until you get yourself a region-free DVD player.