This article was originally published on VICE Canada.
While scrolling through Amazon a couple of months ago, I landed on a strangely appealing Frankensteinian product: one of those discount bin DVD double features. The two titles brought together (for the first time, most likely) were The Fifth Element and 13 Going on 30 , part of Sony Home Entertainment's "His vs. Hers" series with the tag line "Who will get to watch first?" I needed to ponder this beautiful mess of a DVD multipack. On the one hand, I love both of these movies, and I'm thrilled that they're available in one convenient package. On the other hand, what the hell is this?
The whole thing is premised on an absurd vision of heterosexual romance, with date night framed as a battle of the sexes, where loving partners vie for the top spot, affirming their most basic differences while ostensibly bonding and having a good time. "His" is written in blue, and "hers" in pink, get it?
This was a short-lived initiative at Sony, back in 2004, which I can only guess is because it failed to take off with any demographic on any level. Only five combos seem to have been produced, but the exact number is hard to pin down. They're no longer manufactured or sold by Sony. In fact, Sony doesn't acknowledge their existence on its website or online store at all. They don't even have an official listing on Amazon. Instead, they can be found through independent sellers or eBay, ranging in price from $0.01 to $65 and over. They're usually advertised with low-res images of the DVD cases, photographed under awful lighting, presumably by the sellers themselves. (A perfectly appropriate venue for encountering this kind of merchandise, if we're being honest).
Here are the gems I've found in my post- Fifth Element + 13 Going on 30 search:
Casino Royale and The Holiday.
xXx and Maid in Manhattan.
Bad Boys and Hitch.
Big Daddy and 50 First Dates.
I have to admit that I'm dying to watch all of these together. I have an unhealthy love of both trash and kitsch, and "His vs. Hers" is nothing if not trashy kitsch. I don't think I've ever dated someone who'd be on board though. I may not know anyone, gender be damned, who'd be down with this.
You can probably imagine the couples watching these together though. Or at least some fabricated vision of Hollywood coupledom that this is meant to reinforce. The guy who chooses xXx likes to feel manly with his choices, but he's careful not to overdo it. Those Vin Diesel one liners just crack him up. ("The things I'm gonna do for my country," Xander Cage says with a sly grin, right before some on-the-clock boning. Classic!)
She's game for most movies, though xXx wouldn't be her first choice. She might concede and watch it before they launch into Maid in Manhattan, after getting him to promise he wouldn't just tap out after Vin Diesel saves the day. It's all a weird game of pretend though. She secretly actually loves the "guy" movies, and she hasn't told him that she saw xXx with some girlfriends when it came out. She'd probably be more into something out of the Fast & Furious franchise, if anyone had bothered to ask her. He'd similarly never admit that he'll take any excuse to "reluctantly" watch a romcom. She gets genuinely annoyed when he makes a point of groaning at the mushy stuff though. Just watch the fucking movie, Brad, she thinks to herself.
I don't know if couples like this exist, but Sony seemed to think so when they concocted this line of DVDs. Who else would this be made for?
The concept of DVD ownership itself already seems quaint and dated. But this idea in particular can't possibly have ever felt current. Just the basic notion of buying a DVD combo when it requires the most serendipitous misaligning of tastes is, in and of itself, mind-boggling.
I like to imagine that a flesh-and-blood Sony employee curated these DVD film programs, painstakingly deciding each individual pairing with a specific couple archetype in mind. Sadly, this is probably all done using some company algorithm that looks for specifically gendered tags. It seems like they're selected from a list of titles not raking in much money. The "His vs. Hers" roster would then serve to squeeze every last drop of profit from a movie library that otherwise just sits there collecting dust.
Some are obvious choices, like the Big Daddy / 50 First Dates bundle, for that rare couple that shares a love of Adam Sandler (but still needs something to fight about). The Will Smith twofer of Bad Boys and Hitch actually works just fine, though most of the former Fresh Prince's movies could be crammed together haphazardly with pretty decent results (maybe just leave out Wild Wild West and The Pursuit of Happyness).
The other movies don't seem to have much in common: their casts don't overlap; they came out in different years; they have different directors; they tackle totally unrelated subject matter. If I had to reverse-engineer the logic behind them, I'd say that The Fifth Element and 13 Going on 30, aside from both having numbers in their titles, feature women who suddenly find themselves in unfamiliar new worlds. Similarly, xXx and Maid in Manhattan follow protagonists masquerading as something they are not. Casino Royale and The Holiday have an even more tenuous link. The Holiday doesn't feature any spies or gadgets, but it does have a suave Brit, played by Jude Law, who routinely makes it onto lists of Bond contenders.
Maybe the most disappointing feature of these double bill DVDs is the degree to which they miss a golden opportunity to play with how they combine titles. If we're going with overtly gendered movies, why not throw in a healthy dose of irony by bringing together the hyper-macho (and self-aware) Big Trouble in Little China and the brilliantly satirical Romy and Michele's High School Reunion. Or maybe ditch the strictly hetero implications of the sets by combining Brokeback Mountain with But I'm a Cheerleader. I'd also love to see the butting heads premise of When Harry Met Sally paralleled with a bickering buddy cop movie like Tango & Cash. Even a straightforward dog-themed date night would do, like Cujo plus Marley & Me.
Did I waste time over-thinking such a fundamentally absurd and short-lived product? Probably. But the "His vs. Hers" series does present us with some interesting questions about gender and taste. Netflix, in its attempts to create an all-knowing algorithmic recommendation machine, has done away with demographic information like gender. The streaming giant has realized what most of us probably feel intrinsically—that sometimes we like movies that aren't "for us." I'll watch 13 Going On 30 any day, and, fellow dudes, I dare you not to love that movie.
While we probably won't get any date night double bill offerings in online form, it's nice to know that this quaint, silly, and outdated concept will live on, immortalized in some of the last remnants of a pre-Netflix physical media industry.
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