Movies are Dead, Long Live Movies

Last week a card playing companion of mine had occasion to, in the guise of asking my professional opinion, pontificate at great length on how the film industry is on it's last legs and will shortly be a cultural dinosaur like disco and ice cream socials. His argument for this rested primarily on the assertion that advances in home theatre technology will, in a few short years, make actually attending a movie unnecessary.

I had to answer that, despite his protestations, this is simply not the case.

I'm going to tell all of you something that it seems the big distributors don't want anyone to know. Our industry isn't hurting. Are we loosing revenue to piracy, yes, but it's not as big a deal as the studios would have you believe. Beyond that, everything is five by five.

Home viewership is not going to supplant the theatre-going experience anytime soon. Yes, there is some really killer technology on the market for the people who want it but those toys, no matter how fancy, are not going to doom movie theaters.

Why? Because going to the movies isn't so much about the movie as it is about going to the movie, getting out of the house, making an event out of viewership and having, what the great media theorist Walter Benjamin called, presence, the thrill of actually being there. There is a cultural and social aspect to the cineplex that cannot be replicated in the living room. The standard first date will remain dinner and a movie. Taking children to see the next animated or family film will remain a quintessential weekend outing. Geeks and fanboys of all sorts (and I proudly count myself among them) will continue to show up in droves for the midnight release of the next fantasy blockbuster.

We often forget that so much of human behavior is not simply about utility but also about culture and personal interaction. Packaged alcohol is cheaper, but we still go to bars. There's nothing you can't buy online but people still go shopping. It would be cheaper and easier to do push ups in the garage but people still join gyms. Recorded music didn't put an end to live shows. The fact that baseball is on television does not stop fans from actually attending the games because there is something important in the social aspect of these things, of being there, then, with other people. Yes, in a few years home theaters will be so impressive as to rival the best equipped movie houses and eventually that hardware will become cheap enough for just about everyone to own. That won't stop people from going to the movies because, like I said, it's not about the movie; it's about the going.

If people went to the movies just for the content, we'd have been out of business long ago.


Jod{i} said...

Oh I agree! It is the social aspect of it. Watching a great movie at home is good, for that mood, going out and watching a movie with 100 other people, is just a feeling one can replicate at home.
ANd Yes you are forgiven, no foul here. The post(or repost)was a result of a conversation with some one, and well reposted as I was feeling a tad bit lazy.
For the person it was written 'about' it had a positive edge to it.

Anne Johnson said...

They thought TV would put an end to movies.

Not only is it fun to go out to a movie and pay a fool's ransom for popcorn, it's also an audience interaction within the theatre. Granted, it's not as wild as a live rock concert, but when people all around you are cheering, you tend to cheer too.

My daughter and I went to a midnight showing of "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle." The theatre was packed with rowdy stoners. Their presence enhanced that film by a significant factor. We had a blast.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to see Harry Potter! Luuuuuuv him.