Tuesday, June 01, 2010

DVD finally to kill cinema?

Closing the window on the multiplex
Plans to slash the time between cinema and DVD release, alongside improvements in home viewing technology, could kill multiplexes. Would you care?

Prince Charles wearing 3D glasses in Budapest, March 2010
An old business model gets a revamp … Prince Charles wearing 3D glasses in Budapest, March 2010. Photograph: Imre Foeldi/AP
It does not seem quite the right moment to be worrying about the future of our multiplexes. This weekend, Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland will become the second movie of 2010 to break the $1bn barrier at the box office, following James Cameron's Avatar earlier in the year. Prior to its arrival on cinema screens, some speculated that audiences might find a reimagining of Lewis Carroll's famous tale from the peculiar mind of Tim Burton a little too weird for comfort. Yet it is about to join an exclusive club of six movies, including Titanic, The Dark Knight, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. The huge success of these films suggests that people are seeing movies in ever greater numbers.
The remarkable figures for Burton's film, and the fact that it is still playing in multiplexes, make a mockery of the battle earlier this year between cinema chains and Disney. The mouse house had wanted to bring forward Alice in Wonderland's home video release to well within the traditional 17-week window that usually follows a film's theatrical bow. Several UK chains, including Odeon, Vue and Cineworld, threatened to boycott the film in retaliation, but a compromise was agreed that supposedly preserved the window on an ongoing basis while allowing Disney to push Alice on to DVD according to its preferred timetable.The cinema chains were, of course, terrified that they would lose revenue if studios began routinely releasing films on DVD within just two or three months of their big-screen debuts. And they have good reason: ever since the early 1980s, when VHS players began to arrive in homes, the release "window" has been getting smaller and smaller, and the Alice in Wonderland battle is likely to be the first of many. Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal reported that a number of studios were considering plans to offer US cable customers the chance to view movies just 30 days after they hit multiplexes. They would have to pay $30 (around £20) a pop for the privilege, but the move would crucially undermine the release window and – critics suggest – could even lead to the destruction of the cinema industry as it stands.
It's easy to forget that, in many ways, going to the movies is not a natural communal experience. Most go to see new films at cinemas because they have to, and because they are used to doing so. While people will always visit bars and clubs – if only to meet members of the opposite sex – it's unlikely we would leave the house given the option to download good quality copies of a film at a fair price for viewing at home.
In the 1950s, before the advent of TV, cinemas used to show serials as well as feature-length movies, but these became obsolete when people realised they could watch similar fare more conveniently in their living rooms. In fact, it's possible to argue that the release window is the only thing keeping the cinema industry alive. Even 3D, the great revolution that was designed to revive box office fortunes – and has succeeded in doing so – will soon be available at home. The first 3D TVs have just gone on sale in this country, and broadcasters such as Sky have firm plans for new channels to take advantage of the technology.
All of this, of course, ignores the unfettered joy of seeing a film on the big screen. It is the reason why laughter tracks were first inserted into comedy shows on TV – people missed the feeling of being in the company of others. But would the death of cinemas really be such a loss? Hollywood fare is often predicated on the tastes of teenagers, who make up the largest portion of the cinema-going population. It is designed for the big screen, and big soundsystems, which means it is often built around spectacular action scenes and special effects. The difference between seeing a Roland Emmerich movie in the cinema and at home, is palpable.
In fact, in a world without big screens, Burton's Alice in Wonderland and those other famous five movies that have broken the $1bn barrier might never have existed. Will we see a return to more cerebral fare, aimed at the older people who enjoy watching a film at home? Would the whole concept of a blockbuster movie go out the window? Or would things remain pretty much the same? One thing's for sure – curious and curiouser doesn't even begin to cut it.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please ensure your posts are appropriate in tone and content! All comments are reviewed by the blog owner before being published.