Monday, August 15, 2011

The Big Changeover

Remember the 1990s when home theater was all the rage? Surround sound, laserdisc or VHS and a big screen setup was thought to be a nifty way of replicating the theatrical experience and it was all in your living room. Well it seems to me that the opposite is occurring. The home theater experience, for lack of a better phrase, seems to be creeping into the multiplex. Though this is not news, 35mm is quickly being phased out so digital projection can take it's place. Add to it the prevalence of 3-D and IMAX, a revolution is taking place at the cost of an entertainment experience that has always been costly, but has never been duplicated anywhere else.

If you've read my blog before, you'll know I'm no fan of 3-D. Aside from it being a lame bell and whistle, it is really a desperate marketing bonanza badly disguised as an enhancement of filmmaking and film viewing. IMAX, which used to be an exclusive experience at museums equipped to project 70mm, is now a mass market feature at major theater chains. But it is a downgraded version that is nowhere near the scope of the real thing.

The point is, the so called revolution or innovation of movie exhibition, in my opinion, is a cheapening of the experience. There's nothing like being in a dark auditorium with strangers watching shadows and light at 24 frames per second. Digital can't match that. The richness, texture and dimension of celluloid seems to be dying off and the flat and dim presentation of digital is moving in quick. Major studios are taking their 35mm prints and dumping them into the trash heap like yesterday's newspapers. Distributors are pressuring movie theatres to switch over to the state of the art video projectors, even if it means serious debt.

I don't hate video. I own over 600 DVDs. But I put the emphasis on home video. However, as much as I enjoy collecting videos, the truth is watching movies at home is a real pain in the ass. The ambiance of a movie theatre is the major missing ingredient that cannot be recreated at home, no matter how great your plasma or LCD is. One of the things I love about being at the movies is that I make myself feel trapped there, in a good way. I can't pause or rewind the movie, if my cell phone vibrates, tough shit, call me later. I'm there to not only watch a movie but feel it happen to me, emotionally as well as viscerally. Home video lacks that effect and despite the rapid it's rapid evoultion from basic tape to hi def disc, it will never have that special effect.

We will soon pay $10.50 to attend a movie presented in a medium that is levels below celluloid. Most people won't care or notice. As long as it's in focus and watchable, those cigarette burns that signify the next reel is coming will be long gone.

I'm an optimistic person when it comes to cinema. But my optimism is being strongly challenged. Film is slightly over a 100 years old and it's basic function has never changed, despite some enhancements like Cinemascope. I'm a firm believer in not fixing things when they're not broken, but that's what the studios are pimping aggressively. If I'm paying a hefty ticket price, gimme film and not an above average blu ray.

This also brings into question piracy. Won't video projection make it easier for video pirates to flourish?

Alas, I'm probably preaching to the movie geek choir. But I feel it's necessary since I hold film dear to my heart. I accept mediocrity existing all over the place, but I don't wanna pay for a thin hamburger at the price of steak.

There's nothing like a food analogy to sum up my point about the purity of 35mm!

Please, chime in with your thoughts below!

Playing catchup...belated review of RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

With medium expectations I went into RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES and afterwards came out with the gut feeling that I just saw one of the best genre films of the year. What could have been a pedestrian sci-fi blockbuster is instead a riveting and quite horrific horror story of what happens when the persecuted race get their revenge after years of exploitation. Apes are the lab rats for a new drug that an ambitious scientist (James Franco) believes will cure Alzheimer's, which has crippled his once genius father (John Lithgow). But when one ape escapes from lab and wreaks havoc all the way to the board room, the operation is shut down, and Franco is left to care for a young test subject, whom he names Caesar. Caesar is domesticated and becomes an affectionate pet who is a fast learner of sign language. Franco tests his wonder drug on his father and when the results prove fast and miraculous, he convinces his superiors to reopen his experiments, but with every movie wonder drug, the side effects will soon prove toxic.

Meanwhile, Caesar quickly goes from cute pet to volatile protector of the vulnerable Lithgow. A hot tempered neighbour (David Hewlett) doesn't take kindly to the animal and he also has no patience for the senile old man who accidentally damages his car thinking it is his own. Caesar in turn doesn't take kindly nor gently to the prickly neighbour. This sets up the second act in which the apes have taken their years as keen observers of human behaviour into action and then into gradual revolt against their captors.

APES has a rapid sense of pacing and foreboding tension which is palpable. There is potent terror in this film that compliments and elevates the expected sci-fi action and CGI. Andy Serkis' motion captured performance as Caesar is Oscar worthy and even reminiscent of Howard Sherman's memorable performance as the learned zombie Bub in George Romero's DAY OF THE DEAD.

If the film has any weaknesses it might be in the characterization department. Supporting players Freida Pinto (as Franco's love interest, a skeptical primatologist) and the excellent Brian Cox as a cold hearted animal shelter keeper, aren't given much to do by the script but they do their best with what they're given.

Several steps above Tim Burton's stale remake of the original film, this prequel is a surprisingly powerful startup to a possible new franchise that will hopefully maintain it's masterful and exciting execution of frightening science fiction and horror.