Saturday, April 25, 2009
Cinema and its dicontents, part 5
Today, we conclude a week of cinema grumbles...
Cinemas nowadays seem to be looking for an experience people couldn't reproduce at home, such as 3D, in the hopes that audiences will reject the DVD alternative. The thing is, though, people don't go to most films because they have major technological advantages. They go to films because they want an evening out, or because they want to see the film now rather than wait for the DVD release. Both of those are things the cinemas are perfectly capable of offering. What they can't do, though, do not outweigh the alternatives of going down the pub instead and renting the DVD later if the cinema is offering an unattractive environment. A pub with sticky floors puts off punters however shiny their pint glasses; most people would stay away from a restaurant where somebody kept coming between them and their food. If the place is nasty and you can't concentrate on what it's offering, there's no reason to go.
To be sure, a cinema does offer a big-screen experience that's somewhat different from a television, but even assuming someone has a small TV, that's not as big an advantage as it might be. The human brain is a concentrating organ - which means it's excellent at ignoring certain things. Things that stay still and don't make any noise. That rules out obstreperous punters, but it doesn't rule out your living room. As long as you've been reading this post, have you really been that aware of the area around the screen? I certainly haven't; there's a picture of a bird on the wall above me, a printer to my right, and a certain amount of jumble, but all my eyes have really registered is a page of text, with the occasional interruption from my cat Mika, who's sitting on the window outside making silent mews in the hopes that I'll decide it's teatime soon (reasoning, I think, that as lunch appeared when she was out in the garden, maybe tea will as well) - which is to say, the only thing that broke my focus was an object that a) I'm very fond of, and b) was in motion. Watching a movie on DVD is similar: if it's good enough to hold your attention, then your brain cancels out your surroundings, providing a fairly close equivalent to the big-screen experience.
So the upshot is that going to the cinema feels more and more like going to the theatre: an experience somewhat different from the one you have at home, but not something you run to on a regular basis. And that's the nice cinemas; with the affordable ones, it's more like going to an underground theatre only without the sense of sticking it to the Man. On the whole, cinemas feel more like the Man is sticking it to you - and if he's going to do that, he can do it on his own dime.
To be sure, a cinema does offer a big-screen experience that's somewhat different from a television, but even assuming someone has a small TV, that's not as big an advantage as it might be.Even decent size screen is going to fill more of my viewing area than my TV, which means I'll feel more "in the movie" than at home. Everything on the screen will also appear larger, more "life-sized", which has the same effect. These only matter to me for action, fantasy and s/f movies -- they don't matter at all for rom-coms, dramas, etc.
Today's word: bitypor. When you have enough to buy what you need and mosty of what you want, you're only a bitypor.
One of my complaints about the cinema is that increasingly movies are shown on comparatively small screens. Given how far I am from the screen the picture, though larger than it would be at home, is still not of "cinematic" size. And the sound from the next theater sometimes bleeds in.
Personal peeve. Many of the cinemas have their emergency exit doors immediately adjacent to the screen -- with means that a large green "exit" sign is a constant part of my vision as I watch the film. I know we need fire exits it just seems to me that they shouldn't be placed in such a way that you are staring at them for the entirety og the movie.
Now, off to show a movie in class. The movie will compete with the glow of the screens of the students' laptops and other electronic devices. They will spend most of the time reading email and facebook and then be annoyed that I expect them to _remember_ the film.
3D movies aren't enough reason for me to go to the cinema, in part because a lot of movies lately seem to rely on techniques such as 3D to attract moviegoers more than they rely on, say, plot or good character development. I don't care about 3D if the plot is lame -- a dumb movie is still a dumb movie, regardless of how pretty it looks.
Also, some digitally enhanced movies are made worse if the effects fall into the "uncanny valley". Example: Beowulf. Script was great; written by one of my fave authors (Neil Gaiman) and based on a classic Anglo-Saxon poem that I've always liked. But the 3D effects seemed rather pointless and the over-digitized, bizarre appearance of the actors was way too distracting. You could tell that the director was having a love affair with the effects and focused on them rather than on the plot. I saw what the movie could have been, and how the director's digital obsession got in the way of a great story. I walked out very disappointed.
Mind you, with the right movie, 3D effects can be amazing. Coraline, also written by Neil Gaiman, was fantastic in 3D. That movie was produced in stop-motion by Henry Selick, who's an expert at it. In that case, the 3D effects didn't distract from the story -- they enhanced it. I think that was because the effects were never allowed to steal attention away from the story.
Pixar also understands that. They put out amazing digital productions and constantly push the rendering envelope, but people remember WALL-E for the story. I'm glad I saw Coraline and WALL-E in the cinema because the effects were fantastic, and I'd rent them on DvD. Beowulf's effects were misplaced and they detracted from the story -- which is a pity, because it didn't have to be that way.
Fancy digital effects are icing on the cake if they're used correctly, but if your movie is mostly icing and no substance, then moviegoers are going to feel cheated. And in a world where movies are getting more expensive, as Kit points out, no one wants to feel conned.
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