By Liam Alexander
A warm buttery tang intoxicates the air around you, the curtains swing open like the pearly gates of heaven, sinking into the plush seat whilst you are fading into darkness…and suddenly…LIGHT. A blend of visuals and audio transport you to another world, a darker world, a lighter world, a funnier world, a scarier world, an unknown world. This, is the power of the cinema experience. Chemically processed pieces of celluloid film have carved and influenced generations around the world, the ultimate universal way of telling and sharing stories. But as we have progressed for more than 100 years with technological advancements in the world of film, it is the cinematic experience itself that is starting to fade into the darkness for good.
Cinema is currently going through a little bit of a superhero kind of phase, so I will put this in a way that is easy to understand. The Cinema Experience’s worst enemy, its most hated opponent, is this daunting, evil, corrupted thing that you are using right now: THE INTERNET. Cooked up in some lab in the late 1990’s, with the initial intention to ‘help’ people, it has now defeated the cinema experience in many, many, many battles over the years. Using an array of hideous weapons like, spoilers, pesky little things that ruin film’s plot lines before you have even stepped foot into the cinema, can be found littered through the web. Take Star Wars: The Force Awakens, people were so desperately trying to avoid spoilers that they had to just stop using social media as a form of defense (Jack and I both doing so) with #NoStarWarsSpoilers trending during the film’s release. Why is this kind precaution taking place? It shouldn’t be, but it is.
If that wasn't enough to handle, the internet is a home to evil little henchmen that illegally leak movies in lower than low quality, so we can watch them on our iPods, iPads and iPhones free of charge, who cares about quality when its free? Who cares about supporting the industry when you don’t have to leave your room? Films that were intended to be seen on the big screen are being seen by someone who’s sitting on the toilet. I can hear Tarantino shuddering and the millions of people who dedicate their working life to bring these stories to you, sighing in disappointment.
However, a new threat has just taken a turn to the dark side after it was touched by the demonic hands of the internet. Trailers. Trailers for films have been around since the dawn of cinema, but just recently, as the internet has boomed and sites like YouTube and social media can be used as key marketing tools for films, trailers are no longer ways of teasing you for what to expect, getting you excited enough to go see it in the theatre. No, they’re now ways of showing the most iconic shots of the films, giving you the condensed version of the story and letting you know what is going to happen and when. So what’s the point of even going to see it?
Let me take you on an imaginary journey back in time for a brief second, imagine you’re sitting in a cinema, it’s 1974 and you’re about to watch The Godfather Part II, but before they play the movie they show you a trailer for a motion picture, Jaws, being released next year. Hmmm this seems intriguing? Imagine if in this trailer, they show the shark eating several victims, the jump scare under the boat, Brody’s son getting saved in extreme quick cuts after a near miss, a wide shot of Brody stranded on the boat alone and then a quick shot of the shark blowing up…JAWS.
Any kind of subversiveness you would have had in the film next year will be completely tarnished, human beings are smart enough to connect the dots, realising subconsciously that a moment from the trailer hasn't come yet. Cinematic experience, ruined. Jaws won’t become a classic. Thank god that wasn’t the case, but unfortunately it is a sad reality many films face today. They’re being ruined before they’re being seen.
Avengers: Age Of Ultron had 6 different trailers and a total of 16 different 30 second TV spots. To put that into perspective, that’s about 21 minutes of film…all shown in the trailers. Thankfully, Disney fixed up their act at the end of the year with The Force Awakens being a diamond in the rough on how to do marketing right in the 21st century, tease and don’t tell. The accessibility of these trailers and TV spots allow for the unknown adventure of watching a movie to be completely thrown out the window of a 57-story building. Why watch a movie if you’ve essentially seen it already? I know studios have to appeal to the masses, but the masses like intrigue, they like mystery, they like not knowing. Would the Force Awakens have made the money it is doing if it was all spoiled in the trailers…I don’t think so.
Let’s talk about a positive for a second, The Hateful Eight, or more specifically, the 70mm Roadshow Release of The Hateful Eight. What an event. This is the cinema experience at its purest. Well, apart from the fact that the screenplay got leaked online and Quentin Tarantino nearly quit making the film. I got the chance to watch the Hateful Eight twice in this Roadshow release and each time was just marvelous and by far the best cinema experience I’ve ever had; overture, intermission, program book and played in 70mm! How could it get better?
Tarantino is one of the few directors working today that appreciates the audience enough to design an experience that will make you fall in love with the idea of going to the movies all over again, because going to the movies shouldn’t only be seen as an option for a quick date (even though there’s no problem with that). Cinema is art, it’s the best way of sharing stories to an audience on a large scale and we should remember that.
Now, when you’re talking about the cinematic experience, it’s sort of inevitable that Film vs. Digital is going to get brought up at some point. Personally, I like the look of film aesthetically more than digital, but really if I'm being honest, digital can look just as good, if not better in some cases. Emmanuel Lubezki (Birdman, The Revenant, Gravity) shoots stunning images on the Arri Alexa, which is a digital camera. Most audience members don’t really care, and they shouldn’t. If the story is great, it shouldn't matter what it was shot on. One thing I can not deny though is the superiority that film projection has over digital, there is a certain euphoria associated with hearing reels of film run through a projector at 24 frames per second, seeing the grain, the colours, the little scratch marks and cigarette burns as the industry calls them (thanks Tyler Durden).
Film projection feels oddly personal, you’re seeing a version of a film no one else is seeing and will ever see again, one scratch mark may be in a completely different spot in the next screening of the same print. It all adds to the cinema experience. Digital projection is not bad in any way; I’m not saying that. You could have a great cinema experience in digital, but film is film, and the fact that it is so rare to see anything projected in 35 or 70mm these days is sad. As Tarantino once said, “digital projection is just television in public”, which is true, nowadays with Netflix and great television available right at home, people need to have a reason to go fork out 15 bucks and watch a film in an actual movie cinema. Here’s hoping 70mm projection can make a strong comeback, it could be the future of event cinema.
Film and going to the cinema to be transported to another world has been apart of every single culture around the globe for generations. And it should continue to be. This article isn’t going to do anything to change the direction the film industry is going, the decision is ultimately your own. The technological wave is distorting the importance of the cinematic experience, the art form, the pastime, the storytelling event of sitting in a room with completely unknown people and going on a journey with them. Hopefully this article will help you remember the importance or appreciate cinema in a new light. Continue to love film. I sure do. Thanks for reading.