The State of Cinema in 2016
At Cinemacon 2016, Sony and Warner Bros. announced a slew of sequels, prequels, reboots, mashups, and franchise movies inspired by emoji faces and apps like Angry Birds. Most studios are now owned by massive corporations. There’s a disturbing trend of studios pushing movies as products, or worse, promotional vehicles to sell merchandise and other products on behalf of their parent companies. They aren’t looking for original ideas that ask the audience questions or break new ground. Instead, they’re chasing the almighty dollar.
The thing is, people have always criticized the latest releases while celebrating older films as classics. It happened in the Golden Age, the New Hollywood era, and we’re now even starting to see the “popcorn” movies of the 1980s join the list of classic, watershed cinema. And while criticizing franchise films may have some merit, it’s important to remember that The Smurfs 3 (2017) isn’t the only option available to you. Independent film continues to hold filmmakers and their stories to high standards. With the Internet, you have films from across the globe at your fingertips. Ever heard of Fandor? It’s similar to Netflix, except it features independent and foreign language films exclusively.
Filmmakers make decisions (and tough ones at that) according to what the audience wants. So if you want The Angry Birds Movie or Pixels 2, the studios will deliver them. If you want an art film, there are many independent filmmakers creating engaging works each year. It really comes down to personal taste. Movies, after all, are both entertainment and art. Some filmmakers focus on providing entertainment, while others focus on creating art. Who can really say which is more important?
Cinema in 2016 is interesting for a few reasons. Today’s filmmaking climate is the culmination of all the cinematic history we’ve learned about in previous episodes of this course. We have brainless blockbusters and groundbreaking indie films. We can watch movies made in Israel and Sri Lanka and Colombia and Kenya. We have teenagers with smartphones making movies and releasing them online for anyone to watch for free. Film piracy is rampant, and disruptive technology poses new challenges to both the people who make films and the theatres that exhibit them. In some aspects, the movies have never been better. From another perspective, the increasing glut of media and that hated word “content” (shudders) are threatening to drag cinema down to being just another product to consume and discard.
Good movies suck audiences into the story. Virtual reality represents the ultimate audience immersion. While the technology is often considered part of the next stage of video gaming, some pioneers are also using VR in filmmaking. Each technical advance represents an opportunity for filmmakers to produce more engaging movies. In our lifetime, we very well may witness a schism in cinema. Some filmmakers and fans will seek to protect traditional cinema: 2D, analog film, or basic digital film, and the shared experience of going to the movies. Others will push the boundaries by using advanced technology to blur the line between films and video games to be enjoyed by a single at-home user.
For myself, I understand that cinema owes its existence to science, technology, and yes, even big business. Going forward, people will tinker and toy with new processes to create worlds and stories we have not yet dreamed of. The movies, like everything else in our current era, are becoming more digitized, customized, and individualized. And yet, I think I’ll always prefer that feeling of crowding into a dark theater and watching a movie “the old-fashioned way.”
What’s next? Who knows. Thanks for joining me on this quick journey through film history. I hope you learned something and are inspired to check out some new films. If you’d like to help produce a new movie, please visit my Kickstarter campaign here:
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