Friday, May 16, 2008

Movies in the 21st Century

The world of cinema has entered a totally new world in these last few years, particularly since the dawn of the internet. Now, I personally haven't been a fan of movies, at least like I am now, for my entire life. In fact, working at a movie theater for six years probably had quite a bit to do with my exponential interest in the workings of the world of the silver screen. But growing up in this time certainly has many pros and cons. Unfortunately, I will be looking at this issue through my admittedly narrow experience, given that I am only 24 years old and rarely experienced movies in the same way that many of those did before my time. So any input from those who have different perspectives would be highly appreciated.

The multiplex is now the preferred method of cinema delivery. Gone are the days of Drive-Ins and small, independent theaters with only one or two screens. Any less than 10 screens is seen to be exceedingly small and is rather rare these days. The intimate experience of going to the movies is now being somewhat diluted by this overwhelming sensory overload. The memories that people have of going to the movies is assuredly different than it must have been in the past.

This, unfortunately, leads to an increasing lack of control on the part of theater management. How is it possible to rodeo dozens of teenagers who seem to be everywhere at once? People who are disrupting the movie for others are becoming insanely difficult to track down and proof of wrongdoing on the part of the perpetrators can be nearly impossible to come by. Couple this with skyrocketing prices (a topic that will be exploited in a future entry) and one can only see why attendance is dropping so dramatically. Box office gurus continue to tout financial numbers like they are all that matter. "$100 Million in its first weekend! $300 million overall!" Yes, but how many people actually went to see these movies? How many people were you able to reach with them? These LEGITIMATE questions appear to be lost in the shuffle of the overwhelming "more is more" policy that Hollywood, and by extension theater exhibitors, seem to have these days.

That policy also extends to the marketing of movies. The way trailers are cut today, I cannot fathom them being cut the same way 20-30 years ago. With so many competing forms of entertainment out there ranging from just web browsing to video games, there seems to be the attitude that so much needs to be shown from the movies to get people interested. The downside is that it lessens the impact of the movie itself. Last year, essentially the entire plot of Spider-Man 3 was given away before the credits even began to roll. Multiple trailers, an 8-minute sequence given out a month before opening, TV spots, all led to a digestible version of the movie to the point where one did not even have to go see it to understand what was going to happen. I understand that anticipation needs to be built, but sometimes you give away too much. So many movies are guilty of this these days, I don't even know where I'd begin to start. (I guess I started with Spider-Man 3, a sub-par Spider-Man movie and a slightly above average action movie, and this is coming from a HUGE Spider-Man fan.)

Of course, not all is bad in this new world of cinema. When an event movie arrives, you are pretty much guaranteed to be able to go to the theater and catch it within a day or so. Gone are the days when people would have to line up seemingly weeks in advance in order to catch a glimpse of the new Star Wars movie. The saturation of theaters has gotten to a point where that isn't necessary. A Star Wars-caliber movie would have a showing almost every half-hour to avoid totally selling out. Granted, some may argue that this lessens the communal nature of movie-going but I think all would agree that it's nice to be able to see what you want when you want. The downside is that it gives crap movies almost an equal chance at success, therefore unintentionally raising the perceived quality of said movies. This could be a symptom throughout movie history though, since I have not researched the success of bad movies in the past.

The internet is also turning into a cesspool of leaks and spoilers and prejudgments on non-finished products. A piece of concept art could be released about a project and suddenly the internet comes out and jumps all over it. This in turn gives the impression that the entire world is against whatever it might be, when in fact I would argue that a tiny percentage of the movie-going public is active on the internet. But with the instant nature of the internet, the ending of a movie could get out, and suddenly it's available to anyone with a search engine. People could come across is accidentally and have the whole experience ruined for them. Granted, I'm sure that is a rare situation, but the fact is that it exists and it can be rather harmful.

On the other hand, the internet has so many wonderful things these days. The ubiquity of internet video and therefore trailers has allowed anyone to be able to find out about the newest movies. No longer do people have to wait in line for a movie they didn't want to see just to find out if a trailer to an anticipated movie will be on it. Just log on and check it out yourself. And for free. The access is unprecedented and I'm sure allows for some movies that wouldn't otherwise be seen to be given a chance at success that it otherwise would not have had.

Yet, when all is said and done, would I rather live now or then? If you take away DVDs and home theaters and the financial issues, and judge movie theaters on their merits between now and then alone, it becomes a difficult decision. Ultimately, I would probably say now because of the ability to see movies on my own schedule, but certain upsides to movie experiences from the past certainly hold water. The thing is, I think we can get to a place now where it becomes more enjoyable for everyone. It will just take a little hard work and some dedication. It's too bad I'm not in a position to help make that happen. Yet.

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