Circumstances have conspired over the last few years to make me think more about where movies should be viewed, and as studios and filmmakers struggle with delivery platforms and distribution methods and try to capture as many eyeballs as they can in a world with so many entertainment distractions, I'm not the only one.
The glib answer to the question 'which movies should be seen in a theatre?' is, of course, 'all of them'. But that's just the answer from a cinema purist (and a Gen Xer) who (a) fell in love with the experience of sitting in a huge dark room watching images and listening to the sound come from all directions around me and (b) wasn't born with fingers specifically evolved for texting and a mobile phone glued to my head.
Now, my time as a professional entertainment reporter in Los Angeles exposed me to the sheer number of movies made and released. You think there are too many films to watch? Let me tell you, from inside the industry it's a flood. If I watched every movie I was offered through various distributors and PR agencies I'd literally spend 24 hours a day sitting in movie theatres. Never mind not having time to work, I wouldn't eat or sleep either.
So with more movies arriving than one can possibly watch (not even allowing for travel time), a common practice nowadays is to send critics a link with a password where they can view the film on one of the dozens of online streaming services. As such, I soon found myself in the position terrified studio heads and media company owners are imagining about millenials today; consuming media on PC screens, iPads, TVs and every other which way.
And somewhere in there I realised something quite insightful. Taking the trouble to drive to a cinema to see most of the films I was watching actually would have been a waste of time because watching them at home on a tablet didn't take anything away from the experience. What did that mean? I realised how many films I was watching that didn't need cinemas, simply because they weren't cinematic.
Some movies are. I remember telling myself while watching the Wachowski's Cloud Atlas what a great big screen movie it was. The same can be said for Chris Nolan's Dunkirk and Interstellar. Gravity loses a lot without the immersion and 3D of a big screen. The original as well as the modern rebirth of the Star Wars films were built from the ground up for cinema screens and big theatre sound systems. Lawrence of Arabia, Jurassic Park and 2001: A Space Odyssey are completely different films on a computer or tablet with tinny speakers or headphones.
Plenty of filmmakers today deliberately design their work to be enjoyed through the unique technology and acoustics that can only be found in cinemas. Remember how mind-blowing Avatar was when we first saw it? Tarantino not only shot The Hateful Eight in 70mm, he had the Weinstein Company buy all the 70mm projectors it could find so it could be projected that way. The audio track even contained the sound of a projector whirring from the back of the theatre to really complete the illusion of a bloodthirsty Western from the 1970s.
Obviously, the thing a lot of the above films have in common is that they're big, special effects heavy blockbusters with strong visuals, so they should be the ones viewed on the big screen, shouldn't they? There's a school of thought that paper was never the best medium for disposable written information like novels and news, which makes the web and ebook readers perfect for them while paper should be reserved for objects d'art which take advantage of the unique properties of the medium.
Isn't it the same for movies, where the huge screen and the dozen massive speakers should be reserved for films that make the best use of them, when every other film that relies just on drama or character but doesn't contain cinematic scope can be digested any way the audience likes? Should movies and cinemas go hand in hand, or does the platform truly not matter?
It's a hard question I'm still wrestling with. On one hand, I love movies because I'm always searching for a story I've never seen about characters I don't know. By that benchmark you could avoid movies altogether for a year and not miss anything. If I do manage to catch something that unique I love the experience whether the screen is 40 feet or ten inches high.
But I'm also constantly searching for another moment like The Devastator roaring overhead chasing The Tantive IV, the T-Rex bursting through the electric fence onto the road in the rain, Sherif Ali growing from a flyspeck in the far off desert into a man riding a camel or orbital debris sending fireworks of destruction into space around Stone and Kowalski as it destroys The Explorer.
Maybe we need a new rating, one advised by the filmmaker and considered by the various territorial film classification bodies. While most of them view movies for content about sex, drugs, violence, etc, maybe they can employ someone cine-literate to assess a film on how much will be lost by watching it in bed on your phone or laptop. BS, for big screen? Probably not – that describes too many movies already...
In other news, you don't have to be too deep a thinker to realise a lot of the movie industry today is just one cog in a vast machine of vertical synergy, an industry tasked with staging sales pitches and brand awareness rather than telling stories.
We've seen it happen to everything popular. Even Star Wars has morphed into a marketing effort, the movies simply promotion for truckloads of plastic crap coming out of factories in China. Did you know Force Friday revenue fills Disney's coffers by several orders of magnitude more than box office receipts for the actual films, and that most of the production cost is covered at cash registers of K Marts and Walmarts the world over long before the movie comes out?But for an entertainment company executive to admit it so nakedly is still a bit jarring.
As the CEO of toy giant Habsro told the Hollywood Reporter a while back without a hint of irony, the brand name (which owns Transformers and My Little Pony, among others) considers movies 'incredible events to help elevate the interest in those brands globally'. Do we react with a sigh of resignation or a gasp of horror? When movies are ads for products and products are ads for movies, what is most of the global media economy actually selling?
Having said all that, it's with the utmost hypocrisy that I can report how enjoyable The Lego Batman Movie was (although to be fair, they had to work very hard to overcome my inherent cynicism and like in The Lego Movie, they succeeded).
Everything you've heard about South Korean zombie drama Train To Busan being ace is also true, but in the biggest surprise I got recently, zany action movie maestros Brian Taylor and David Neveldine seemed to throw caution to the wind with Crank: High Voltage, their batshit-crazy sequel to the okay-enough 2006 original.
Till next time,
Drew @ Filmism.net