Friday, June 10, 2011

Freeze Frame: The WSW Roundtable

This is the first of what I hope will become a semi-regular feature here. There are all sorts of things going on in the film world that have an impact on the way we think about, watch, and talk about movies, and in a further attempt to gauge this impact, I've recruited some of my fellow film bloggers from The LAMB to have a virtual sit-down and discuss them. The plan is to do this every other month.

Assembled here for your enlightenment an edification are the following:

Clara from Just Chick Flicks
Univarn from A Life in Equinox

Meredith from M. Carter @ The Movies was supposed to be the fourth member of this roundtable, but was unable to make it due to personal circumstances. So we'll start with three for now.

1. 3D films have become more and more commonplace as studios try to take advantage of the new technology. How do you feel about 3D? Have you had any problems with picture brightness on 2d films as a result of 3D lenses? Are we starting to see a backlash in 3d from audiences, and if so, how do you think the studios will respond? 

Clara: When Avatar came out, everyone was enthralled by the 3-D effects. With the huge box office of that movie, Hollywood, of course jumped on the bandwagon and started making one 3-D movie after another without any regard for the story, good film-making or the need for that special effect. Kung Fu Panda 2 in 3-D? Who needs that? The studios rushed to release 3-D movies and proceeded to charge $3-5 extra on top of their every growing theater admissions. 

Personally, I dislike 3-D movies because they make me a bit nauseous and give me a headache. Also because I wear glasses, I have to wear 2 pairs of glasses while watching 3-D movies, which is very uncomfortable.

Last week, while buying my ticket for X-Men: First Class, I overheard the people behind me saying that they hoped the 2-D version of X-Men wasn't sold out because they really didn't want to see it in 3-D. [There is no 3D version of X-Men: First Class. – RW] I think (hope) we will see less and less 3-D movies as audience get over the novelty and the sticker shock of paying extra for a few special effects.

Univarn: Personally, I've always felt that 3D is like the topping of a cake. Not all cakes need toppings, and not all toppings are right for all cakes. The real issue I've always had with 3D is the studio’s efforts to try and squeeze it into movies where it just doesn't belong. A great example from a couple of weeks ago was Thor. It did nothing for the movie, and nothing in the movie utilized it. There was simply no point for it. Yet I still had to fork over three extra bucks per person for what basically boiled down to a glossier looking version of the same film I would have had in 3D.

I don't think anyone minds forking over a couple extra bucks maybe once or twice a year for a movie they're really anticipating – especially if the movie takes full advantage of that format (read Avatar, How to Train Your Dragon) - but Hollywood has gone to the other extreme entirely. Of course it doesn't help that the glasses feel like someone is staking your nostrils with tiny toothpicks for two hours. The least charming anyone will ever look is one second after taking those off, as they try to realign their nose to its proper position and size.

Andrew: I’m really indifferent to the entire 3D experience. I understand, and agree, that cinema is a visual medium but as much as it is that I don’t think that the added 3 dimensionality of films makes them any better. I know Avatar forever remains as a proof of the good use of 3D but, I saw that in 2D and I still loved it. Maybe some audiences prefer to have that feeling of being in the movie, but I can’t say it affects me either way. 3D wouldn’t make a bad film better and 2D won’t make a good film worse, so I’m apathetic.

[Regarding picture brightness], I mentioned Avatar before, it was the only film I saw in 3D (and I saw it in 2D) and I can’t remember any problems, so I guess no. From a Guyanese perspective, [a 3D backlash] won’t have much impact, but considering American studios I think studio execs will be willing to just cut their losses. Sure, it’s a business and everything and 3D glasses add money to their pockets but I think (and, maybe I’m giving them too much credit) they’ll know to just cut their losses.

2. Hollywood has recently initiated a new video on demand program in which first run releases go to VOD only 60 days from their initial release. Have your movie viewing habits changed within the past few years as a result of online streaming, Netflix and VOD, and if so, how? Do you still believe watching movies in a theater has value, and if so, what can be done to keep it alive?

Clara: My habits haven't changed much. There are some movies that are best seen on a big screen. You miss the whole effect of movies - Inception, Star Trek and anything else with incredible cinematography - when you watch it on television. 

But with more people investing in home theater systems and large flat screen TVs becoming more affordable, I think people will take advantage of VOD.

Univarn: My viewing habits have always been DVD first, Theather second, in order of preference. There's no doubt in my mind that most films give a better overall experience in the theater, but that's very dependent on if you have the right audience. In the past I've sat in dramas with people who couldn't sit still, high brow political humor with people who obviously didn't get the references, and action blockbusters with some of the most annoying people you'd ever meet (PLEASE stop taking your new-born to R-Rated films!). They detract, but I'm not certain they're prevalent enough for me to say they're a bane on the entirety of theatrical experiences. If given the opportunity between the ideal theater environment and the ideal DVD viewing environment for any movie (excluding monetary motivation), I would choose theater every time… but because there’s that loss of control with theater viewings, I tend to always side with DVD.

Andrew: I wish I had Netflix over here, but online streaming has made it possible to see some films which would never go to wide release over here (along with screener copies, of course). I understand the value of the cinematic experience, but for someone like me if I can’t see a film in theatres I appreciate chance of seeing it somewhere instead of not seeing it at all. I’m not sure about how much value I think the theater has. The thing about the theater is that you’re not as distracted so your entire focus is on the film, which makes it better for you – especially if you’re a critic. That ability to be cut off from the entire world is priceless. But, if you’re committed enough to prevent interruptions when you’re watching a DVD at home, I suppose the value of the actual theater dwindles. I mean, just like with 3D a big screen versus a small screen doesn’t affect the movie’s quality – for me, at least.

3. Cable television and video games are currently producing mature, challenging work comparable to film at its best, yet Hollywood seems disinclined to cater to an adult audience as much as they used to. Do you agree or disagree with this statement, and why? If you agree, do you see any signs that this will change anytime soon?

Clara: Hollywood is generally slow to adapt new ideas, therefore new movies. Ground-breaking television shows, like Mad Men and Lost were created by writers and directors that want to do and say something new. These shows can be produced for relatively little money per episode. And with each week's ratings, they can tell what works and what doesn't and make adjustments.

But a major Hollywood movie takes years from green light to theatrical release. With millions of dollars for stars salaries and everything else it takes to make a movie, Hollywood executives are reluctant to gamble on new ideas. Thus the sequel – if it worked before, it will work again. 

Theater box office is geared to appeal to teenagers who go to a movie multiple times, who will download the game and buy the CD soundtrack. Most adults will go see a movie at the theater once. If they love it, they will wait for the DVD release to see it again. As long as this is called "show business" I think movies will continue to be geared to the younger market.

Univarn: I've noticed a growing trend in children's animated films to cater to adults without trying to seem like it. They do it with blatant references to adult oriented classics (Die Hard one-liner re-workings always seems popular), and sneak in sly references to more mature 'acts.' As for the mainstay of Hollywood, I think for years they've become more and more inclined towards the teenage audience, for males especially. This is why so many of their films are hormone driven explosive adventures to nowhere. Even their R-Rated blockbusters, which one would assume to be adult friendly, carry those same motivations.

As far as women are concerned, Hollywood's just settled. Toss out the odd romantic comedy written via Mad-Lib as a bit of counter-programming in summer, and of course on the biggie lovey-dovey holidays, and that's that. They’re simple, and don’t carry much in the way of age restriction – same formula works for a fifteen year old as a fifty year old. No real commitment to try and make them grand or worthy of the film’s theatrical status – except the cost for the acting pool that is. If anything, I would say - in the long run - films targeted towards women face the greatest danger of being completely usurped by television and online viewing.

Andrew: I’m always tentative about blaming Hollywood completely for issues like this, because I’m never sure if the material they provide is because the audiences want or if because they produce it audiences’ interests become swayed. It’s an unfortunate situation either way, of course. If pushed I’d blame the audiences more, although the word blame is a bit too harsh. People keep going to the movies more and more to be lied to, in the sense that they don’t want harsh truths and realities and Hollywood is unfortunately indulging them. I don’t expect, or think, that films should be literal slices of life, but audiences – to some extent – have gotten lazy and disinclined to think, and it’s easier (I presume) for Hollywood to churn out a film which doesn’t incite too many brain cells so it’s a win-win situation for lazy Hollywood and the lazy audiences (but a lose situation for people like us).


  1. Now the comments work! It was something wrong earlier. Great idea for a discussion Rich!

  2. I loved reading this! Great discussion.

  3. There is a lot of risk taking in TV and video games that is missing in Hollywood filmmaking. Whether it's due to declining attendance and the recession is questionable.

  4. Joel, I checked the settings and I didn't see a problem with the comments, but I'm glad you're able to use it now!

    Castor, I personally think it's more due to the better opportunities to be found in TV and (yikes!) even video games. The interviews I've read on the subject with many film directors bear this out.

  5. This is a really cool idea, Rich! Interesting questions and discussion. I found myself agreeing with pretty much everything Clara said, though I of course enjoyed Univarn's and Andrew's comments as well.

  6. Thanks. I consider this my version of a podcast discussion without an actual podcast.

  7. I could have sworn I'd commented, but oh well - here goes. I think all the questions are quite provocative but I especially love the final one. With the mention of shows like MAD MEN thought it only makes me think how unfortunate that television and film execs only think about the money. Sure, MAD MEN continues to continue strong but good shows like PUSHING DAISIES for example never got the chance to thrive and that's because audiences aren't watching. At what point do we start blaming them for their own laziness?

  8. I dunno. It seems like the competition on television is fiercer than ever these days. There's always gonna be some shows that don't get the audience they deserve.

  9. "I consider this my version of a podcast discussion without an actual podcast."

    Haha - that's what I was thinking. It's a very cool idea.

    Clarifying question for everyone: when we say "Hollywood," are we excluding indies (and so-called indies made by the big studios' smaller production houses)? Because it's very general and convenient to blame Hollywood for this or that or claim how dumb all of the movies are, but if the entire field theatrical releases is to be included, aren't adults served just as much as - if not more than - kiddies?

  10. Well, regarding the questions I posed, I was absolutely referring to the majors. But even when material is available for an adult audience, sometimes the response still isn't there. Look at this article on how an art house theater has had to deal with audience backlash against 'Tree of Life':

    And don't forget that adult movies often times play fewer theaters and are harder to reach if you're not in a major market like NY or LA.


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