BBS: The Documentary
Special Edition, Director's Cut
DVD | Box Set
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(May 01, 2005)
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Before the Internet became the way to connect to the world through a computer, life had already started to move online. Throughout the planet, regular folks were taking their new home computers, connecting them to a modem and a phone line, and starting Bulletin Board Systems, or BBSes. Once numbering in the tens of thousands, these "Dial-up Bulletin Boards" have mostly disappeared and mostly been forgotten... except by the people who lived, loved and worked on them. Director Jason Scott travelled thousands of miles and filmed over 200 people about their stories of the BBS, resulting in this 8 episode, five and a half hour long mini-series. The three DVDs in the set are region free, copy protection free, and Creative Commons licensed. They're also a lot of fun as the various episodes cover different aspects of the BBS Story. Episode titles include BAUD, ARTSCENE, SYSOPS AND USERS, NO CARRIER and MAKE IT PAY. "BBS: The Documentary" covers the era of the BBS, one caller at a time.
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It becomes clear from the first glance at the chapter listing that most of the chapters cover a rather limited amount of territory. There's a segment on the obligatory H/P/A/C scene and a very welcome piece on the artscene (which is actually quite notable simply because it takes a scene that has ALWAYS been underground and places some of its important characters in front of a camera for a proper interview), but given how many hours of material there are here, it's surprising how quickly the material seems to pass, and how little sense of the BBS world has actually been conveyed during viewing.
Far and away the weakest point of this production is its format: It consists primarily of talking-head interviews, where somebody simply sits and talks about things that happened back in the day. While this kind of first-hand testimony is definitely valuable, there's precious little footage of anything actually happening; at the very least, a proper video of someone getting on a computer, dialing up a BBS, and reading a few messages would have been appropriate for those who've never used a BBS. With the exception of the artscene segment, where several actual pieces of ANSI art are shown, there are hardly even any shots of computer screens. It's clear that Jason Scott wanted to focus more on the people of the BBS world than the computers (probably keeping in mind the socialization-oriented folks who aren't all that interested in nuts-and-bolts technology and would have been turned off by too much techie stuff), and this is a welcome perspective that most people have never seen before, but for the seasoned BBS veterans who would have liked to see a little less talk and a bit more action taking place, one can't help feel that this production misses the mark slightly.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
1) Do you remember PC Talk? Qmodem? Procomm?
2) Do you recall companies like Hayes? Racal Vadic? Everex? US Robotics?
3) Can you describe the differences between v.32, v.32bis, and v.32HST? And what was MNP5?
4) Do you remember the great war between ARC & ZIP? Heck, did you ever use SQ.EXE and LBR.EXE before archival tools?
5) Can you explain the differences between Xmodem, Ymodem, Zmodem, & HSLink?
6) What was so special about ANSI.SYS?
7) Did you ever use PCPursuit? Or Wardialers? Or Snatchit? Or a BlueBox?
8) Have you ever picked up a copy of 2600 magazine?
9) Did you ever pick up Assembly language? Do you remember what was so special about INT13?
10) Have you ever connected to any of the following? FIDONET, RBBS, Emulex, PCBoard...
If any of this makes sense to you, you're part of an 1337 club of folks that will 'GET' this DVD set... and you'll 'get' it in a big way. If you own a copy of "Wargames" just 'because'... you'll defintely 'get' this documentary.
This documentary brought up so many happy memories of my adolescence, I found myself welling up with tears during parts of it. If you were the type that woke up in the morning and went straight to your terminal to see, 'What happened while you were asleep', you'll truly enjoy this stroll through memory lane.
European buyers should be aware that all DVDs are NTSC with MPEG1 audio, which can cause problems on some DVD players.
Except the little technical problems very good!
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