Tonight I just wanted to say my piece, briefly, on a subject which I have wanted to speak on for some time now.
To put it simply, it shouldn’t matter at this point where your film gets seen, as long as the people you want to see it “see it.”
The classically trained and traditional Directors, Producers, and Actors will argue, however, that watching something like 2001, or Lawrence of Arabia, or even A Street Car Named Desire on a cellphone or an I-pad is a travesty, and should be shunned and ridiculed, in preference of always seeing “high cinema” in the theatrical environment. And I won’t argue with them that watching a great many films in a large theater with a large group of people around you (especially the kind at film festivals who are courteous enough not to speak during the screening), is a grand experience. The characters and the worlds are 20, 30, 40 feet high. The sound system fills out the room and makes the film feel alive and like it’s really happening. The immensity and the scope of a theater is so much more preferable, especially for the Epics (where the landscapes are wide, and the actors can be as small as ants). Even watching them on my modest (speaking in 2015 terms) 40 inch LCD screen in my bedroom does not compare to a 400-1000 seat auditorium and an IMAX screen. Not in the slightest.
But when we’re talking about a small town drama, a $20 million dollar thriller, a murder mystery, a rom-com, or an independent film with a simple but engaging story, seeing that in a theater isn’t as necessary anymore. The weight and emotion of those stories is big, strong, and impactful. But the visuals take a smaller part. They aren’t there as much to impress, only to help drive the story home for the audience due to quality direction, camera placement, and performance. These films as a whole are on a smaller scale to begin with because the larger-than-life scope people always talk about in these discussions, is not a part of those stories. The only thing larger than life are the characters. But within their depicted universes, they aren’t really all that much bigger than anyone else. They’re not historical warriors and renegades, they’re not world leaders, and they’re not superheroes.
Go see The Avengers in a theater: because it’s got aliens, wise-cracking guys in armored tank suits, and rampant destruction.
Go see James Bond’s Spectre in a theater: because it’s got super spies, hidden gadgets, smart cars, exotic locales, and dastardly villains who control the fate of the world.
Go see The Hunger Games in a theater: because it’s got strong independent female warriors, an oppressed class of rebelling citizens, and a tyrannical dystopian leader played by one of our greatest 3rd generation classic actors, with an entire city of soldiers at his disposal.
Go see Star Wars: the Force Awakens in a theater: because it’s in a galaxy far far away, with droids, Jedis, Sith Lords, and evil galactic empires.
But if you just want to watch Juno, Kill Bill, Speed, Ted, a Tyler Perry flick, Home Alone, Evil Dead 2, Black Snake Moan, anything with Adam Sandler in it, or even The Big Lebowski; just go ahead and watch it on your phone. You really won’t be missing much from not being able to see it in a theater, or in a large, expensive, and technically accurate home theater, on 35mm. You just won’t.
In fact, the difference between watching a movie on my 40inch LCD screen with my wireless Sony headphones is negligible if I decide to watch the same film, with slightly different headphones, on my LG smart phone. The pixel density is 4k, compared to my TV’s 1080p: that’s already a plus. The sound chip is incredibly good compared to my TV: another plus. And I can watch a movie from any angle, as opposed to having to always be lying down in my bed, facing the same direction, when after a while, my neck starts to hurt and I have to flip over, or shut the movie off. So that’s plus number 3.
The phone just wins out more often then it doesn’t. So why try to fight it?
The cellphone and tablet developers are even taking this aspect of modern culture seriously, and are developing products that actually improve the prospect of watching films on them. And you can actually read reviews about which phones and tablets make for the best experience.
Eventually, every movie we see–except for a very rare special occasion–might just end up being on everyone’s phones. People might even purchase their whole movie collection on the cloud, watch it on their phones, and then hook their phones up to their TVs to see it bigger. DVD players, Blu-ray players, and dedicated game-systems might be a thing of the past in another 10-15 years. All games will be bought and sold on Steam. Steam and GOG will be on your phones instead of just PCs. All TV networks will cease to exist on a linear time-schedule and will be on a pick-and-choose model on their own dedicated streaming sites. And movies will premiere on Vimeo and Amazon before they quickly switch over to instant download from I-tunes, Amazon Instant Video, Ultra Violet, and other digital services.
This is the way things are going. We didn’t think TV could look or feel as good as it does now, but now actors are going into television just as easily as film because it’s a long ended contract, it pays well, and it keeps you working in the lime-light, along with quality scripts and good directors. Some day, we might not even call film “Film” and television “Television.” The terms will have no meaningful purpose.
Shooting on film, despite it’s resurgence, might still someday cease to exist as a recording medium, and will only be used for archiving. And Television will simply be a term to refer to your largest video monitor, but cable channels and TV stations won’t exist, in favor of everything going on-line. At that point, you can’t even call them web-series, because even though they’ll all be web-exclusive, the internet will be even more commonplace because any and all content will come from it. So what will we call motion media then?
We might just have to switch to referring to things by their length and style. You’ll still have documentary, comedy, horror, science fiction, fantasy, thriller, and others. But the quality and length will determine whether something is referred to as a mini-series, a series, an extended-length series (where each episode is actually an hour and a half long), or a stand-alone feature, which could range anywhere from an hour and ten minutes, to three and a half hours.
There are any number of combinations already, it’s just a matter of homogenizing the terminology to include all various options under a nondescript banner of motion-media art, rather than “Film” VS “Television.” But of course, no matter what we eventually call it, the most common platform is eventually going to be our phones, I-pads, and Laptops. And if it isn’t already, then it very soon will be. So either we learn to accept it, appreciate it, and embrace it in order to rake in the rewards as best as we can. Or we stick to our guns and suffer due to this need to always see “Films” in theaters, and “Television shows” on a television.
The hardcore cinephiles will obviously still have a problem with the steady decline in movie theaters across the country, and a growing lack of ability to see the next great film sitting back with a bowl of pop-corn, listening to a 5.1 surround sound system with deep sub-woofers and strong fidelity. And I’ll be worse off for it too if I can’t see one of the later Star Wars films in a theater: assuming the series will continue for another 20 years or so. What if theaters die out by that point, save for the few that are supported by annual festivals? It will no doubt be an emotional thing to miss, just like how record stores, video stores, and arcades houses have died out since the 90s. We all miss them. But there’s a reason that they had to shut down. And by the looks of things, cable television and movie theaters are the next in line.
As a suggestion: maybe if Hollywood can shift away from paying such large sums of money to all of these actors (which incidentally can take up half the film’s budget), can stop vying for the most amazing and most extravagant visual effects, and find a cheaper, more efficient way of producing block-buster content; then maybe the theater prices won’t be as high, and maybe the theaters won’t all die out. People will still be lazy, and many will prefer to stay at home. But at least a slash in prices would get a lot more back in seats.
And as one other suggestion: maybe we should continue to improve the immersive technology, the clarity, and the color space of our phones, tablets, and laptops to compare to the quality of theaters, in order so that the experience isn’t quite as diminished as some would claim. Maybe then it won’t seem as sacrilegious to partake in a grand epic like The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly on one’s Samsung Galaxy, or I-Phone 6.
But hey, that’s just my take on it.