We all know that with the improvements in our home entertainment systems, there will be a time where we can just watch the movies in the comfort of our homes, without ever having the need of visiting the nearby cineplexes. With television sets getting bigger and bigger each day, our satisfaction from seeing eg. The experience of watching dinosaurs rampaging on the big screen can be replicated right within our house. The question, then, has to be- how are we going to stop the extinction of cinemas?
Ther is a problem that is very real. Paramount Pictures, a few days ago, officially signed a deal with AMC Theaters and Cineplex Chains to allow the studios to launch films 2 weeks after these than 300 theater show the film. That’s in contrast to the current 90 days rule. It’s not like movie studios haven’t toyed with the rules before, like the example of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon 2- when Weinstein Company announced that they are launching their film simultaneously on Netflix and IMAX theaters at the same time, every major theater chain in the United States backed out of screening the sequel to the Oscar-nominated wuxia Chinese film. The problem is that theater chains want their money, and as a form of protest, they decided not to screen the film. And what’s the point of screening it and earning less anyways, when it’s gonna launch on Netflix, for the general public to savor from their computer screens or televisions sets? The Interview probably faced the same issue late last year- after pulling out due to terrorist threats from anonymous sources, they decided to release it after all, but simultaneously in several online streaming sites. Coincidentally, no major theater chain screened this controversial film- only showing at arthouse or independent cinemas. Okay, back on to my point- Paramount was able to pull this off because they agreed to share profits from the home video market with the theater chains. That pretty much means that even if no one turns up, they will still reap up quite a profit, all thanks to this deal. And Paramount wants to test it out first with Paranormal Activity: Ghost Dimension and Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, both releasing this fall. Of course, it tackles the piracy problem, and helps the studios safe some marketing costs. The thing? I can’t believe that the only thing these theater chains care about are profits. Don’t they realize that such a move might have serious implications on the future of cinema? Don’t they realize that this move will make cinemas lose their allure?
I don’t know about what you think, but I do believe that movie theaters still continue to be such a mainstay due to two factors- 1)It is the first place you can catch a movie, right after it premieres 2)The experience which simply cannot be replicated. The former premise doesn’t really ring through nowadays, as many are choosing direct-to-video or simultaneous theater-home video launches in this tech-friendly day and age. However, big blockbusters and star-studded affairs are still firmly following this rule, as it seems. I already speaker about the latter briefly earlier- for big blockbusters, you simply have to catch the film in the largest possible format with the best sound systems to be awed- another few examples being that you simply won’t fill as pumped up when you’re watching the cars parachute down from high up in Furious 7 from a plane, and you simply won’t fill as tensed up when watching Tom Cruise scaling the Burj Khalifa in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol when at your homes. But this doesn’t only apply to big CGI heavy or stunt heavy mega-blockbusters. Your experience will be more satisfying when you simply hear people weeping at any romance movie screening. More satisfying when everyone screams together when in the midst of a jump scare. (Not unlike how people scream when on a roller coaster) Laugh out loud together right in the middle of a comedy movie. Or hearing an ovation or cheers from an eager audience when the title screen pops up for a highly anticipated film, regardless of genre. Or when it ends, and is in the midst of its credits, when the sweeping soundtrack use plays. And after leaving theaters, seeing the bright smiles on everyone’s faces, knowing that your enjoyment wasn’t an anomaly, felt by you alone. This is a movie experience at its fullest. This is nothing that you can replicate when alone in your house, watching a film without the crowds. Movies are a form of art, one meant to be shared and viewed in all its glory, among hundreds and hundreds of people. Unfortunately, we can’t possibly reverse such a decision. We can’t simply ‘riot’ online for the movie industry to hear. All we can do is to accept the potential fate of the industry, and learn how to get over this.
Which brings me to the question- what can be done to tackle this problem? What can we do to make the theater experience unique and special again in today’s context, and stand out just enough for people to rush back into the theaters again?
When 3D was first introduced, people were mad about it. It was a breakthrough, a one of a kind experience which was way more interactive and showed far more depth than 2D films could possibly have achieved. 3D was sold as as something which will bring you into the movies. By the time Avatar came, 3D was already so mainstream, resulting in the majority of Avatar’s gross being attributed to 3D. Oh, and more people watched this in 3D than a majority’s total film attendance. That’s incredible. Alice in Wonderland capitalized on this new big thing, allowing its 3D share to be massive too. Then the buzz about 3D started to fade. People called it insignificant, misused, and even though there are occasional 3D masterpieces (Gravity made good use of this enhanced scope), people altogether started moving on, preferring to save their money on more movies rather than spending the extra few dollars on a 3D ticket, when it doesn’t really enhance your movie experience, and at times give you nausea.
If you haven’t heard of 4D, its supposed to be a sort of successor to 3D. What you didn’t know is that when 3D dropped onto the world like a bomb, it has already been there for close to a century. Apparently, the history of 3D dates back all the way into the 1890s, when it was first tested out. 4D is the experience of watching a 3D film, but with a more immersive experience- you seat will be in motion, there will be gusts of wind felt, water sprays etc. to let you feel that you are part of the film. You’re in the world you’re watching, simply. The first 4D film was invented a long time ago as well, even though you didn’t hear about it- it was launched back in 1984, as part of a theme park attraction at Six Flags. 4D films, though, have been been relegated to theme parks, with their existence elsewhere close to non-existent. Most cineplexes have not adopted this latest ‘next big thing’, due to the high costs. Yeah, there has been a surge in adoption by Hollywood in recent years, but those are mostly confined to a place or two. For example, Iron Man 3 had the 4D treatment, but only in Japan and Korea, in select places. Apart from that, 4D has mostly been a forgotten fad. Yes, there’s this thing called D-Box now, but its presence is once again limited, and it doesn’t comprise of the full 4D experience, as people term it- it just has motion-enabled seats, and no other effects. However, if 4D is at least adopted by a major theater chain, and people love it (that’s if there’s a movie that utilizes that technology and maximizes its potential, like what Avatar did for 3D), then its not hard to believe that 4D might be the next big craze that has rocked the movie industry. Thats definitely something which our homes are unequipped with- are you going to build wind generators, sprinklers and modified seats (which are probably not as comfy as your couch, lets face it), and kind of booby trap your living room? Don’t forget, these cost millions, whereas heading to a theater to watch a 4D film will set you back max. $30. Nothing more.
Another possibility which seems to bring about a lot of potential right now would be virtual reality. Despite being isolated to geek-only hardware like Oculus Rift, it has made huge strides, thanks to the introduction of 360 degree videos on youtube. That’s how it works- in the video, instead of being restricted to a single viewpoint, depending on the camera angle, thanks to new 360 degree cameras released out there (they are kinda limited in supply right now), one can simply use the scroll of their mouse, or through the tilting of the devices (that works on Apple devices, not sure about the rest, apparently it doesn’t work on some), we can now explore videos like never before, resulting in more ‘universe exploring’, which is really exciting indeed. Of course, if this is adapted into movies, we cannot possibly control the outcome of a movie- this is a movie, not a video game, after all- we might be able to explore different viewpoints and camera angles, potentially. For example, lets use Jurassic World- isn’t it great to instead of focusing on the character running away from the Indominus Rex, focus on where Owen and Claire is running towards instead? (Are there snakes etc.). Hang on, that’s a horrible example, no one will do that because it just doesn’t make sense, but you get the idea. However, future movies might make use of this tech and perhaps install Easter Eggs throughout the film? Or have two events simultaneously occurring, so that repeat viewings will give you a different experience every single time? The possibilities are limitless. That, combined with the fact that it obviously is in 3D (how can virtual reality not be in one? If its trying to make you believe you’re in it?). Regardless, challenges face this option though- this will kind of change the identity of cinemas as we know them today- instead of one gigantic screen which everyone shares, it more or less becomes an isolated affair, where you wear VR headset or something. What’s the point of doing so in a theater, then, when you can easily grab the headset and watch it elsewhere? Isn’t the experience completely the same? Of course, VR is still in its infancy, so it should be years before Hollywood starts realizing that there’s such a thing. You know, because Hollywood is at least a few years behind in discovery.
Regardless, movie theaters are in a bad shape at the moment, and this is further fueled by Paramount Picture’s deal with the top 2 theater chains in the US/Canada. I expect other studios to follow suit soon, in order to not lose out if this tests out to be successful in its trial run later this year. Oh, and you never know, Paramount Picture might negotiate for an even shorter period, in order to clamp down on piracy. However, it is important to preserve this ‘ultimate movie experience’ and make sure it stays for years to come. It is how movies are meant to be shown, right in their natural habitats. The future of cinema is undoubtedly bright though, but here’s hoping that it doesn’t go extinct right before that. Or the above potential solutions just won’t work out anymore.