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Movies and the tiny future

Posted at 4:29 AM on September 14, 2006 by Euan Kerr

Apple's announcement that it's going to make movies available for download came as no surprise. It makes for the industry as the rapidly changing media world means customers are demanding more choice and flexibility. There is money to be made in downloads.

Yet does it make sense for the artform?

It's hard to see how it does. Steve Jobs talks about allowing people to download films to their iPods and computers so they can have the movies they want, when they want them. Apple says it doesn't expect people will watch the films on their iPods, but will use their computers and the new iTV device to play the downloaded material on the family TV.

It seems like a lot of fuss and gadgets, and you know that kids are bound to skip the middle device and just watch on their hand-held machine. Remember the theory going around when the video iPods came out that is you held the iPod close enough to your face it was equivalent to watching the image on a large screen?

It just doesn't wash though. Anyone who has seen a film on a big screen can attest to how superior the experience is to watching a film on a TV, much less a 2x3 inch LCD screen. And then there is the community aspect too: sitting in a theater with a group others enjoying the same experience is important from a societal point of view.

People complain about how other people don't know how to behave in theaters any more, but movie houses have done a good job of hammering home the cellphone and other noise issue, and while it's not perfect, it's more than tolerable.

Of course this is all whistling in the wind. Change is inevitable. The estimable folks at Chasing Windmills talk about shooting a drama for a vlog has to be different than for a TV or film, as you only have so much space to play with. Yet if Hollywood begins producing with the iPod in mind the great dramatic flourishes of the past will disappear. Can you imagine the great funeral scene from "Gandhi" on a tiny screen, or "2001: A Space Odyssey?"

So what to do? Go see a movie in a movie theater. Take your kids and grandkids. Experience the great films as they were meant to be seen. Pick theaters with the largest screens you can.

The time may be coming when it will all be just a memory.

September 2006
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