Originally posted on the An Englishman In San Diego blog, 22nd November 2016
“Here at AN ENGLISHMAN IN SAN DIEGO, we like to give opinionated people space to voice their opinion, especially if it’s one that drives to the core of what we strongly feel and believe. And AEISD Contributor Mark Searby has an opinion on one element of the moviegoing experience that, we think, a great many people will identify with…“
Life is pretty hectic nowadays. No one has the time to ‘stop and smell the roses’ anymore, as the saying goes. And we can all agree, to make the investment to take time out of our lives, sit in a cinema for three hours, perhaps even once or twice a week… that’s a very limiting thing for people, not to mention expensive. With more and more films being released that the majority of us want to see, where do we all find the time to watch these movies?
The popular trend is now to watch them on your mobile phone. Phones have pretty swiftly moved along with technology and now manufactures such as Samsung and Apple produce smartphones with the capability of running movies at 1080p resolution which, by today’s standards, is better than a lot of televisions in peoples homes.
With this type of quality on hand it’s easy to see why viewing films on a phone is the answer to a lot of people’s film issues: it’s easily downloaded to your phone, it’s conveniently there whenever you want to watch and it’s more than likely in a superior viewing quality because your phone has that capability, right out of the box.
But I feel this convenience comes at a cost. (And no, I’m not talking about the price tag.) Let me explain, picking a seminal movie moment from one of my own personal cinematic favourites: Francis Ford Coppola‘s THE GODFATHER PART 2.
Imagine getting to a pivotal scene in this film, such as where Michael confronts Fredo about him being the snitch in the family – one of the greatest and emotional scenes ever, in my opinion – only to have it interrupted by a mate, sending you a text message, pinging loudly in your earphones and scrolls across the screen “Well up 4 the weekend big man. Let’s get on it big style, baby!”. (I’m guessing. I don’t have friends that talk like that, of course.)
The tension and emotion that Coppola and his cast have crafted into that scene is lost, all because your mate is ready to get battered on the 2-for-1 deal on Saturday night. Or, to pick another favourite from my DVD shelf, how about trying to stifle laughter whilst watching AIRPLANE!, perhaps on the tube on the way to work or in the common area on your lunch break. Nobody wants to be the one sat next to the weirdo, doubled with thunderous laughter with everyone staring.
Warner Bros. Pictures released THE DARK KNIGHT as one of their first titles available to stream via the App Store for Apple products. They also released an iOS special edition of Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending film INCEPTION upon home entertainment release. Nolan and his cinematographer Wally Pfister worked hard on creating a look and style for these films that would look amazing on the big screen. I can’t imagine they ever considered whilst making these two masterpieces how their efforts would translate to a 5″ screen.
These are craftsmen, film makers who care for their art, wanting their audience to experience the movie universe first hand with using immersive techniques and styles they have learned and evolved over the years. However, it’s looking more and more like major studios are trying to recoup their massive investment by putting out the finished product on any and all formats possible.
There are creative types that saw this coming. Nicolas Cage gave an interview to Digital Spy in 2011, where he said he is against people watching his films on their phones, commenting, “I like movies to be seen the way the director intended them to be seen, which is on the big screen, with an audience.” Whilst it must be conceded that most of ‘Rage Cage’’s recent output hasn’t actually hit the cinema screen, being instead translated rather straight to DVD, he still makes a very good point! Cage continued, saying “I want movies to be an event. I want people to get excited about it and go out for a night with their wife or their date, whatever it may be, and have it be an event.”
Auteur David Lynch has also weighed into the debate, saying “If you are watching a movie on your telephone, you will never in a trillion years experience the film. You’ll think you have experienced it. But you’ll be cheated. It’s such a sadness that you think you have seen a film on a FUCKING telephone. GET REAL!” Passionate words from a passionate filmmaker.
I have an example of this phenomenon which I experienced first hand. Recently, I watched a couple on a train, sharing headphones whilst watching the visual extravaganza, GRAVITY. Instantly, my back was up as this is really not the way you should be watching an immersive film about space travel, one that is probably the closest most of us will ever get to go into orbit. It arguably deserves – no, demands – to be seen on a big screen, the biggest available; IMAX, if possible. Twelve years of painstaking work from Alfonso Cuarón and his team, reduced to viewing on a mobile phone, with some random sitting in the row next to them, reading his Kindle and peering over occasionally. To add insult to injury, the couple then finished watching the film and proceeded to describe how terribly boring it was.
What the hell?!!
How is it possible to determine the nuances of Sandra Bullock‘s performance, her emotions and struggles against the odds, on a tiny screen? How can you feel the vastness of space whilst sharing one channel of a set of headphones, inevitably sharing the phone and watching the film at an angle? There are just too many interferences going on around you when watching a film on a mobile device; as I’ve given as an example above, those interferences could even be coming from the phone itself. The escapism into an imagined world that film can give is completely lost if viewing it on such a small screen.
Maybe I’m of a certain age. Maybe I’m just turning into an old moaner, nostalgic about the way ‘things used to be’. To me, movies are a magical experience should be enjoyed in the best possible viewing option, and if seeing it at the cinema is an available option then I should be seeing it there. I will concede, if Nic Cage’s next film goes straight to DVD, then I’ll end up watching it on my large flat screen TV; when I’m on a long travel journey, I have been known to watch a film or two on my tablet (which, admittedly has a sizeable screen) but, even then, I feel like I’m cheating everyone involved in the making of the film, even if it is as disposable as, say, the latest piffling instalment of the PAUL BLART: MALL COP saga. (Also, I always seem to end up in the seat that has the sun shining through the window onto my tablet screen, so I can’t even bloody see the film that I’m playing anyway! Bah! Humbug!)
More and more entertainment and technology companies are driving viewers to view films on their small devices. Look at the amount of apps that are currently available for you to watch films on: Netflix, Google Play, iTunes, BBC iPlayer, SkyGo, ITV Player, 4OD, Hulu, YouTube… and these just are the legal ones. Time and technology continues to march on, with these latest developments becoming the future standard of movie watching – maybe very soon, we will all be watching movies through our VIVE VR headsets… or maybe even via a biomechanical implant into our eyeballs that allows us to access our favourite films just by blinking! (Okay, perhaps I may have been watching too many David Lynch films lately.)
What I’m trying to say is: please, let’s try and stave off the future, just for a little while longer, can we? Let’s celebrate the communal, almost congregational, experience of watching a movie on the big screen. I implore you to ignore the shilling bleatings of Kevin Bacon for just a while, stop streaming your movie-going over your EE 4G data plan, put down the phone and wait until you have time to experience a film at the cinema, where it was intended to be. Do not devalue the effort and workmanship, the blood, sweat and tears, that has gone into making – creating, crafting, sculpting, breathing the very essense into – a movie.
Even if it does star Kevin James.