If you’ve got an Xbox Gold subscription and are a Netflix customer, then you can sign up to download select movies on-demand through Netflix’s “Watch Instantly” feature. It’s pretty handy; although the selection’s limited, it seems as if a lot of the smaller movies and many of the newer documentaries are being made available this way. You don’t get any of the DVD special features or commentaries, but you can always add the DVD to your queue for later, if the film takes your fancy.
The one problem with the service that I have noticed, though, is subtitles. I was watching Rachel Boynton’s fantastic documentary Our Brand Is Crisis, about the work of an American political consulting firm (headed by James Carville) in the 2002 Bolivian presidential elections, and I came to the realization after about 20 minutes of mixed dialogue in English and Spanish that the scenes in Spanish were going on far too long to be included just as atmosphere. So I stopped watching the instant feed, moved the DVD up to the top of my queue, and waited a couple of days. Sure enough, the DVD had subtitles for almost all of the Spanish dialogue.
A related issue came up with Day Watch, the sequel to the Russian fantasy FX-extravaganza Night Watch, which I mentioned the other day. I started watching the online version through the Xbox, but it was subtitled, not dubbed (as Night Watch had been, quite expertly) and I decided to wait for the DVD. When it arrived, I noticed a significant difference in the wording and length of the subtitles, almost from the beginning of the movie.
Netflix has the same instant play option available on a number of DVD and set-top systems, as well as on both Windows and Mac computers. But I’m a little leery at this point about foreign-language movies on that basis because of these experiences. Sometimes having captions running even on English-language films is handy, but so far there’s no option to turn them on. So I’m calling this a limited success on Netflix’s part. Not giving on up the DVD player yet.