Friday, 4 February 2011

The problem with 3d films

It's been a week since I went to see Disney's 50th animated feature Tangled. However, I won't spend this post discussing it (it's a girl's film that seems desperate to make it on to the stage...). This post is about 3d. A media that privileges melons being thrown at the camera rather than any form of character development or inspiring narratives.

True, Tangled did encourage me to get a haircut but, to be fair, I was going to get one anyway - and it had very little to do with the main character's golden locks hitting me in the face every time she twirled around.

But back to 3d. My one and only question - what's the point? What does 3d actually add to the cinema experience. Ignoring the fact that that is two questions I think it adds very little to the cinema experience except to the price. A visit to my local underused, underloved and, at best, rotting Odeon at 2.30pm in the afternoon resulted in me paying £8.60 for a ticket plus £1.00 for the glasses! That's a tenner to go to the cinema in the afternoon - no sweets, drinks, nowt! Of course, you can reuse the glasses next time you go but, at £8.60 a ticket for a matinee performance, I don't think I'll be returning too often.

So other than receiving a fleecing, rarely experienced outside of the west end of London, what do I, the regular cinema goer, get from a 3d film? Very little as far as I can tell. Toy Story 3 - one of my films last year - was not improved in any way by having a toy thrown at the screen every twenty minutes or so (punctuated in this way to remind you it's in 3d). The brilliant story was no better, the characters no more round or developed and, more tellingly, the film loses nothing when shown on one of those old fashioned, rusty and redundant plasma tellys bought way back in 2009...

So who wins with 3d?

I don't think it's the viewer. I continue to find 3d little more than a gimmick, a parlour trick that amuses and pleases a couple of times before the novelty wears off. By and large the majority of 3d tricky does little more than separate the foreground from the background - in much the same way pop up books do. Way to go cutting edge Hollywood.

The filmmaker? Except for James Cameron no one director has made a success out of 3d - and Cameron has only done it once (the success I am talking about here is the box office take - not critical reception). To say James Cameron is a successful 3d filmmaker would be like saying Joe Dolce is a successful recording artist. One hit is a curious wonder not a revolution.

The industry, ah now it becomes interesting. Firstly, you cannot copy/bootleg a 3d film. This makes it very attractive to the studio as films are being 'cammed' and uploaded to the internet on their day of release - the studio believes this hits box office and in turn jeopardises future film production. I don't buy this, there are only two people I hear talking about bootlegging films off the net.

The first is the ardent film fan who really wants to see the new release by a certain filmmaker or actor and is forced to go online to see it because their local cinema is only playing the latest 3d films or something with Seth Rogan in it. These are the same film lovers who will travel 50, 60 miles to watch films - who own the DVDs and blu rays - the very people the industry should be cherishing not threatening with law suits.

The second group are the people who never ever go to the cinema! The people who may go and see the latest Bond film very couple of years but little else. This is hardly taking away from box office receipts if these people never contributed in the first place!

The other important factor to bear in mind about 3d and digital films in general is that they are much cheaper to transport to the cinemas than conventional prints. The cost of shipping 35mm prints around America is between 2 and 3billion dollars every year. This will be cut considerably by the mass uptake of digital projection where shipping hard drives will be a couple of quid rather than the thirty-plus currently charged.

This is before you consider the actual cost of making (striking) the prints. The average price of a conventional 35mm print is about £1000. A digital hard drive version of the same film will cost about £100 and this is before the films are beamed down via satellite like the the one off screenings of opera and gigs that are currently burning up the local multiplex. The other advantage to the film companies of a digital print is that they never wear out - the 100th screening is as bright and clear as the first - something you cannot say about an old print that is scratchy and becomes unwatchable at the reel changes.

So prints are cheaper to make and distribute than ever before and yet I am still charged considerably more to watch a 3d (and by default a digital) film.

This isn't the feel good Hollywood happy ending I paid (over the odds) for.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Digital Economy Bill

This blog is in response to Digital Economy Bill. Arguably one of the biggest wastes of time I have ever encountered. Before each election, the main parties offer to introduce nonsensical bills that privilege the few over the masses. The Poll Tax springs to mind, the Video Nasties Act was another – both aimed at appeasing the wealthy and threatening the poor.

The Poll tax is obvious – but the Video Nasties Act is not. Videos were, and mainly are, enjoyed by the working classes – those who enjoy kicking back after a week’s work. But some of the videos being watched (it has be said by a miniscule proportion of the nation) were these so-called nasties. Low budget horror films that were, at best, laughable and, at worst, offensive that some idiot in Westminster felt that I needed to be protected from them. What was important was that it was the working class that were penalised – no one else. Ask yourself, in the early days of the video rental market who watched videos? Who did the Poll Tax hit hardest? Those with smallish houses and families – not the old duffers rattling around country manors. That will be the working classes then. I am generalising but it is general true.

So how does this get me to the horrendous Digital Economy Bill? Well, who really benefits from owning copyright? The young creatives desperate to make their name or the ageing and established rock star who doesn’t live in this country? Any aspiring artist will tell you they will give away their words, images and songs for free initially in order to become established. Interest in your work is payment enough at this stage. Yes, everyone should be paid for their work. But who really makes the money? The record label or the artist? The filmmaker or the studio? If you are successful you are underwriting everyone else. Six out of 10 films in Hollywood lose money – who pays for them? The successful ones! Last time I checked, these industries were not charities and yet they behave like them when it suits.

Be warned persistent offenders – they will cut off, or at least slow down, your Internet connection. Remember this is likely to be an Internet connection that has never come close to the speeds they promised! Only in this country, while everywhere else is speeding up their Internet connections would we be slowing it down. It indicates that all people use their Internet for is for illegal activities. I am pleased that the politicians I voted into power think so highly of me.

Everyone I know downloads something – I am running an advertising module at the moment – so I downloaded some ads – which are copyrighted – which I infringed – so could be cut off. Excellent, cheers for that Lord Mandelson. That’s right, Peter Mandelson who has resigned from Parliament not once but twice (his first was over an interest free loan of £373,000 to buy a house in trendy Notting Hill. His second was following accusations of using his position to influence a passport application). He’s now worried that I’ll break the law by watching episodes of Dexter 18 months before they come here! Again, it has much to do with protecting the elite as much as punishing the poor. I wish I had a friend who would lend me £373,000 interest free so I could buy a house. I would install wifi, leave it unlocked and you could all download as much as you liked!

Yes you can download legally but digital is way too expensive for what you get. The first season of 30 Rock is £7.48 on Amazon – it’s £9.99 on iTunes. I can also sell on the box set – something you cannot do with a download. Yes, that’s right – it’s yours but you can’t sell it on. EBay pull listings of mp3s.

What I find baffling about this is that newspapers can give away films and music with their Sunday supplements, music magazines can strap them to their front cover but none seem willingly to accept responsibility for the undervaluing of music – nope, that is the fault of a 15 year old in Dundee. Spotify doesn’t help either – so music can be free – depending on the context? No wonder people are confused – this music is illegal and free – this film is legal and free. It’s like going into a supermarket where half the products are free and other half are being charged for. The thing is – you don’t know which is which until you have left the shop and consumed it. I buy a lot of music but like to try before I buy. Why can’t I try an album for a month? If don’t like it I won’t listen to – I PROMISE! But, if I do like it – chances are I’ll buy it – and the follow up, maybe even the live album. Go and see them on tour and, you know what? I might even buy a t-shirt. You make a lot more money from t-shirts than you do selling CDs. Have you ever been to the merchandise stand after a gig?

When I was young and had no money, I used to tape music off the radio. When I got a paper round, half of my money went on records. And so on and so on. So don’t cut me off, slow me down or treat me like a criminal. I am an arts lover – I consume film and music all day every day. You should be trying to make it easier for me – not harder. Get your own house in order before starting with mine.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

The delights of Blu-ray and Buzz and Woody . . .

At last – Toy Story 1 and 2 has been released on blu ray.

I know there are people who will tell you that blu ray doesn’t make that much difference – well, frankly, those people are loons. Visually, blu ray is as good a step up as DVD was from VHS. I’m not a techie geek – I don’t feel the need to rave about textures and shadows – I will, but only if they add something to the film’s narrative.

Toy Story 2 is a rare thing – a sequel that is better than its predecessor. That’s right – not as good or on par. Toy Story 2 is streets ahead of the first one. But let’s be clear here, Toy Story 1 is a classic. It’s not like they knocked out a rubbishy first one to make the second one stand out. Oh no, the first one is full of warmth and derring do – alongside groundbreaking animation and a story that zips along at a fair old pace.

But Toy Story 2 is better! Like Godfather 2 and Aliens, it’s a film that outweighs the might of the original – not an allegation you could ever aim at Smokey and the Bandit 2 or Death Wish 3 . . .

Why do I insist on this? The film is one is one of the few sequels to have more story in the sequel! Well, look at the evidence – the story is a nice reappraisal of the original where Buzz fully accepts his toy role but where a toy store full of Buzz’s don’t! The animation outranks the original in depth, warmth and charm. Woody’s nightmare sequence of being dropped in the bin along with abandoned arms from other toys would not have been out of place in Hitchcock’s Vertigo. The characters age in real time! Not the toys, but Andy, his sister, his mum – even the dog have aged since the original six years earlier. Name me another animation that credits the audience with so much intelligence? Even the smartest animation of its generation, The Simpsons, doesn’t have characters ageing in real time.

Finally, and for any gentlemen of my age, (and this is closing ‘your witness’ statement) it has Jessie singing that song! I can only excuse myself from the room at this point in time during every screening before it becomes suspicious! I cry at movies anyway – I break my bloody heart over this one.

So, like the other two greats mentioned above - Godfather 2 and Aliens, Toy Story is attempting to enter the ring one more time. The odds are stacked against it – has anyone ever praised George Hamilton’s gritty performance or, honestly, stated that Alien3 is the best of the bunch? And I know it was Fincher but it’s still rubbish compared to the rest.

But, right now, everything looks good for Toy Story 3. Andy continues to grow older (he’s off to university) and there is bound to be a song or two along the way. True, ‘Pain in the’ Jessie is back and Buzz looks like a copy of Puss in Boots from Shrek but, whatever happens, due to the brilliance of the first two they will always have a friend in me . . .