Cinemas need to exploit their unique advantages

 Among digital filmmaking technology, online movie distribution and rapidly evolving home media, the world of moviemaking has had a trying decade and it doesn’t look like things will cool down anytime soon. This year, Napster co-founder and former Facebook president Sean Parker introduced a new movie-distribution service called the Screening Room.

The Screening Room presents an alternative to the movie-theater experience by allowing consumers to pay an arm and a leg to view movies in the comfort of their own home once the movies are premiered in theaters.

While the Screening Room isn’t yet exactly economically enticing (each movie will be made available for $50 a pop), it still indicates a fundamental, long-anticipated shift in movie viewership: people are, by and large, over going to the movies. The future of cinema is no longer in the big, dark multiplex; it’s in living rooms across the country and around the world.

As can be expected, film purists are digging their heels in this. The voices of opposition include the likes of Christopher Nolan and James Cameron. Granting such an option to viewers, they say, will doom cinema.

And, in a way, they’re right. But might that be a reflection on the cinema rather than the viewers? Clearly, whatever the cinema is offering these days isn’t enough to make folks want to leave their houses to go check it out. Home-theater experiences are growing rapidly in their quality (to be entirely frank, my own home-viewing environment is both far more comfortable and far less prone to unwanted disruption), and theaters are stagnating in the types of experiences they have to offer.

Unfortunately, this most likely ties back to how art relates to market. The needs of the consumer evolve faster than artists and creatives are willing to adapt. For the most part, the theater experience offers few uniquely desirable experiences; it’s just a bigger, louder version of whatever people have at home. The cinema is an outdated medium of distribution and it needs to transform rapidly, or it will die.

Perhaps the cinema should die, or maybe simply diminish a bit. The audience couldn’t be clearer: not all movies merit leaving the house. Maybe the role of the cinema should be relegated to the art house and the IMAX, specialty contexts for viewers who want to go the extra mile and who really care about the work. Perhaps this would reinstate some of the cinema’s former dignity, as opposed to a grimy, under-maintained hovel it has become, where bored 20-somethings go to kill time and text their friends under the flickering lights of poorly projected, instantly forgettable action fare.

Today’s cinema has proven that it no longer possesses a monopoly on the cinematic experience. It must either discover how to capitalize on its unique virtues, or it will perish under the weight of the Screening Room and other similar services. And I, for one, hope it opts for the former. Yet I also hope it flourishes in the home-media market. Telling stories through the lens of a camera has a bright future ahead of it, whether in the home or in an IMAX. The fate of the multiplex is not the fate of filmmaking as a whole.

Andrew Allen is a junior majoring in communications. Upon Further Review runs alternate Thursdays.

Featured image courtesy Pixabay user annca