Samuel Brace on whether VOD could save film by killing movies…
The mourning of film has been a long and arduous affair, a grieving process that has lasted quite some time.
The death of film has been put down to a number of things; immature audiences, a disinterested populace, asinine competition outside of the medium, and the rise of VOD. People frankly don’t care about film as much as they used to. They just don’t. It’s not important to the culture like it once was. With the rise of the internet, and the myriad forms of entertainment and distraction that has arrived with it, film – specifically the traditional ‘American movie’ — just can’t compete. And with on-demand services sucking away audiences from cinemas, providing them with an alternate, lazier option, folks are deciding to just stay at home.
The only time people will really venture away from their laptops and smart devices, is to go and watch a big blockbuster – which today is just essentially an effort by Disney. And even then, the number of those that would rather watch such a film at home as opposed to on the big screen would undoubtedly be very high indeed. With everything so accessible in 2017, with so much content able to be consumed at places like Netflix, iTunes, and Amazon, audiences are finding it easier and easier to make the decision to stay at home. And frankly, who can blame them? More often than not, what is on offer via your laptop is just as thrilling – if not more so – than anything the silver screen is hosting.
But is it really true? Is VOD actually killing film? Or is it in fact preserving it, providing a safe haven for the small and intricate dramas that have been cast aside by the world while simultaneously mounting the biggest significant offence against the brainless blockbuster movie? And there is a difference between films and movies; the former focused on nuance and character, and the latter with a sole purpose of providing fun escapism. But of course, there should be, in a perfect world, a place for them both to live and to succeed. And some films can of course do both, straddling that line between highbrow and its lower, sillier alternative — though it’s quite the rare breed that is able to do so.
Look at this way, many of the best films of today either get released straight to VOD, or have a near simultaneous theatrical release, while the only thing noticed or viewed at the cinema are the overblown, overwrought, remade, rebooted, pop culture vehicles; i.e. movies. Combined with the rise of television, which has transformed from throwaway escapism to adult and complex atmospheric drama; audiences now know that they can get their kicks at home. They know that they don’t need to venture out for the highest quality content. Between TV and film – or at least what has become of it – there is now a place that can not only compete with the Marvel and DCs of the world, but potentially land a coup de grace to the blockbuster format. The only problem is that it has to kill the cinema going experience to do so.
And while this all sounds rather morose, perhaps at this point it is a necessary evil. Movies are at their nadir, and theatres no longer provide the function they once did. These cathedrals to talking pictures only cater to one type of audience, and one type of entertainment. And of course the genuinely substantive and ambitious movies that exist will be sorely missed; this trend towards VOD seems to be the only way to preserve the smaller scale experiences that have brought so much joy to so many people. The irony is that if VOD wasn’t around, if the internet never existed, this problem wouldn’t be present in the first place, and films would still be watched on a large scale at cinemas. But because it does, it has in fact become the last protector of the experience. On-demand services are film’s last stand.
Can cinemas survive with just nonsensical action escapism and Disney animations? Perhaps, but there is no doubt VOD and online streaming are sucking up audiences, and that they will win the battle eventually. And once they do, when sadly the time comes that we no longer funnel into lavish palaces with a group of strangers to consume motion pictures, will these goliath movies be able to survive? Don’t be so sure about that. The world of on-demand entertainment is so massive, but at the same time so incredibly small. Many of us are now watching our content on laptops, tablets, and even phones. Will this smaller window with which to view the biggest movies force them to shrink down? And will the further increase in folks just watching a plethora of YouTube videos suck away the money afforded to such mammoth experiences? The answer is probably yes.
It’s truly a bitter sweet type of deal. On one hand, there is nothing like experiencing an incredible film at the cinema; it provides a feeling that the couch and laptop combination just can’t match. Though, if TV and on-demand film services are where the substance is, if this is where adults can indulge in the highest quality entertainment with the world’s best actors – which is more and more the case – perhaps instead of something we mourn, it should be something we just accept.
VOD isn’t killing film, but it is hurting movies. And while cinema will likely never reach the high point in our culture that it once did, such as back in the 70’s, it at least has a space with which to survive. The perfect world would offer us more than this; the perfect world would allow us all options. But the perfect world doesn’t exist, the utopia isn’t possible. It never will be. Life is what it is, and this is what we’ve got. The truth is that there’s a bevy of high quality drama merely a few clicks away, so perhaps the death of movies is something that just has to happen. And like it or not, VOD will probably be the culprit.