Posted by keelsetter on December 28, 2008
As somebody whose livelihood is wrapped up in film exhibition, I’m always interested in movie-watching trends. Three years ago I was party-hopping on a Halloween weekend and noticed that most of the houses I visited had digital projection systems and people were using their walls to emulate the big-screen experience in their own homes. I’d been doing this myself for over ten years, using both 16mm projectors and then early digital devices that were, by today’s standards, quite crude. Now everybody is doing it, and the projectors are delivering quality that is jaw-droppingly good. For example, I recently purchased a Panasonic PT-AE3000U for special shows at my film series to accommodate filmmakers who shoot on HD. I took it home to play around with it and familiarize myself with this device and… wow. I wanted to both laugh and cry. Laugh, because with 1,600 lumens, a contrast ratio of 60,000:1 (an insanely high ratio when you compare it to my first digital projector which had a contrast ratio of 400:1), and full-HD, the films I watched on Blu-Ray projected against an eight-foot-wide screen had finally attained the crisp beauty of celluloid. I wanted to cry because here was a glimpse at the future, and it looks dim for those of us who are already struggling with lagging attendance on the arthouse circuit.
The Panasonic PT-AE3000U currently retails for as low as $2,300 – which is a huge chunk of change for the average consumer, but in a couple years I expect that new digital projectors of even greater quality will be available for around $1,000, and this says nothing of the market that will soon exist for once high-end players that will get dumped on Ebay or Craigslist for a couple hundred bucks by users looking for upgrades. Pretty soon theater-quality screenings will invade the dorms and homes across our nation on a mass scale, and this will have a huge effect on the culture of how we watch movies. Here’s my quick take on the good, bad, and ugly of this situation:
The Criterion Collection announced this month that they are going High Definition. You can now buy Bottle Rocket, Chungking Express, The Man Who Fell to Earth, and The Third Man on HD (along with other titles). This is great news, because until recently (due in part to the format wars) the selection of films being selected for Blu-Ray release was pretty thin. Blockbusters and action films were favored. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying big-budget spectacles (heck, I saw Death Race over Christmas on Blu-Ray and enjoyed it thoroughly – it felt like a revamped version of John Carpenter’s Escape from New York), but the mind reels with joy at the idea of revisiting the classics via a digitally projected Blu-Ray. This revolution will truly democratize and give access to film lovers who want to share with their friends and families the marvels they experienced when they watched (to pick something recently put out on Blu-Ray), say, the original The Day the Earth Stood Still as a kid on the big screen. In a nutshell: hopefully high-quality and cheap digital projectors will put an end to the insanity of watching films on cell phones and laptops and return to the idea of letting yourself be immersed in the visual world and work created by the filmmakers. Of course, some filmmakers have created works specifically with the idea of it being watched on a cell phone, and that’s an entirely different issue. Last year Sundance invited several filmmakers to create short films that could be downloaded and passed around via cell phone, and these very inventive and fun. One of my favorites was by American Astronaut director Cory McAbee and can be seen here:
I have a good friend who is always talking about how she would love to come see some of the things I program at my film series, but she doesn’t have time and is always behind on the films she has waiting at home. Here is a friend, somebody who could come watch new 35mm prints in my 400-seat venue, and so do for free as my guest, but she never does. Why? Because she’s got a digital projector at home, she’s downloading films off the internet, and already has an embarrassment of riches to choose from. The reason this is bad is because what we are losing is a social component, one that took people out of their homes, to be prefaced with dinner, maybe followed by drinks at a bar, and into a communal setting that would have them mingling with other people from their community in a shared experience. As I’ve mentioned before, there is a collection of pheromones and audible and physical communications emitted by a large crowd of people reacting to a film that can definitely accentuate the experience. Also, let’s face it: true immersion into a film is more likely in a theater where you can not pause the action and where your silence and attention is part of the understood bond of that setting. Much of this is lost in home screenings where only a few people are onhand and a myriad of distractions are often unavoidable.
Could somebody explain to me the new “added value” features that studios are adding to Blu-Ray discs? The Death Race Blu-Ray that I rented has the usual stuff that is nice to have (unrated extended versions, “making-of” featurettes, director commentary, etc.), but then there’s also: “exclusive interactive applications that allow viewers to communicate with friends and family while watching the film.” Great! Just what I want: a device that ENCOURAGES people to talk through a film. That’s right, “Just plug your player into your Internet connection and connect to BD-Live to chat with friends while watching the movie and conduct your very own private screening discussions.” (Insert sound of me slapping my head and groaning here.)
So here’s a prediction for the future: as our attention spans continue to fragment and our every compulsion is given free reign, there will be a growing number of people who will treat film as a background activity rather than the star attraction. This despite the fact that HD digital screenings can now not just emulate, but actually begin to replicate the original visual integrity of the work in question. Yes, you’ll be able to buy a High Def projector, one that’s brighter and better than what is already within grasp. And you’ll be able to buy it for peanuts. But what you won’t be able to buy is patience you will need as you try to share that experience with people who are playing with their cell phones, talking through the film, and coming and going as they please.
Well… at least more people will be watching films as they were meant to be seen – on a big canvas. A month ago I talked with a student who told me she thought Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey was boring and she didn’t understand why it was such a seminal film. Hazarding a guess, I suggested that maybe she felt this way because she saw it on her laptop instead of a big screen – something she confirmed. When you watch a film shot on 70mm that was meant for a CineRama screen on a something that is only a few inches wide, I don’t care how close you put your nose to it, you are missing the point. Size matters. On that note; I’ll end here with a public service announcement from David Lynch on the subject of watching feature-length films on cell phones:
MovieMorlocks.com is the official blog for TCM. No topic is too obscure or niche to be excluded from our film discussions. And we welcome your comments on our blogs and bloggers.
Popular terms3-D Action Films Actors Actors' Endorsements Actresses animal stars Animation Anime Anthology Films Autobiography Avant-Garde Aviation Awards B-movies Beer in Film Behind the Scenes Best of the Year lists Biography Biopics Blu-Ray Books on Film Boxing films British Cinema Canadian Cinema Character Actors Chicago Film History Cinematography Classic Films College Life on Film Comedy Comic Book Movies Crime Czech Film Dance on Film Digital Cinema Directors Disaster Films Documentary Drama DVD Early Talkies Editing Educational Films European Influence on American Cinema Experimental Exploitation Fairy Tales on Film Faith or Christian-based Films Family Films Fan Edits Film Composers Film Criticism film festivals Film History in Florida Film Noir Film Scholars Film titles Filmmaking Techniques Films of the 1980s Food in Film Foreign Film French Film Gangster films Genre Genre spoofs Guest Programmers HD & Blu-Ray Holiday Movies Hollywood history Hollywood lifestyles Horror Horror Movies Icons independent film Italian Film Japanese Film Korean Film Leadership Literary Adaptations Martial Arts Melodramas Method Acting Mexican Cinema Moguls Monster Movies Movie Books Movie Costumes Movie locations Movie lovers Movie Magazines Movie Reviewers Movie settings Movie Stars Movies about movies Music in Film Musicals New Releases Outdoor Cinema Paranoid Thrillers Parenting on film Pirate movies Polish film industry political thrillers Politics in Film Pornography Pre-Code Producers Race in American Film Remakes Revenge Road Movies Romance Romantic Comedies Russian Film Industry Satire Scandals Science Fiction Screenwriters Semi-documentaries Serials Short Films Silent Film silent films Social Problem Film Spaghetti Westerns Sports Sports on Film Stereotypes Straight-to-DVD Studio Politics Stunts and stuntmen Suspense thriller Swashbucklers TCM Classic Film Festival Tearjerkers Television The British in Hollywood The Germans in Hollywood The Hungarians in Hollywood The Irish in Hollywood The Russians in Hollywood Theaters Thriller Trains in movies Underground Cinema VOD War film Westerns Women in the Film Industry Women's Weepies