Tuesday 10 June 2014

Alien Anniversary

It is truly remarkable how much the industry of cinema has changed not only since the 1890s but even as recently as the past 10 to 15 years. Today, every movie has CGI in it somewhere and they even have to have credits for programming now. Not only that, but every aspect of the business side is radically different from what it used to be. For example, the international box office often exceeds the domestic these days. The latest Tom Cruise film (Edge of Tomorrow) picked up $82 million outside of the USA including $25 million in China and $16 million in South Korea. It only grossed $28 million at home, but worldwide it is sitting at almost $140 million for its opening weekend. The worldwide gross for Godzilla, so far, is double the domestic and Captain America: The Winter Soldier has almost tripled the domestic. Frozen did triple the domestic as well ($400 vs $1200 million).

What is also remarkable is that up until the 1990s, the studios did not allow us to actually purchase copies of their films. We could only rent them. Until then, there was no way they would let us possess personal copies of their product. They wanted us to pay just to look at their stuff. It was like going to the museum. You could look, but you were not allowed to purchase a copy of the Rosetta Stone or a dinosaur skeleton or a Sumerian vase. None of it was for sale . . . and neither was Terminator 2. You could rent it, but you couldn't own it.

The attitude did eventually change, but at first we could only get VHS video versions and we all know now how crappy that was. It was like selling us cheap imitation plastic replicas Ming Dynasty china or vinyl Chanel fashion accessories. It was OK at first, but it wasn't great. By the time we got to DVDs, however, the studios we're really in being torn apart. There was so much money available for digital product, but it meant throwing away all the bars and walls of their secure vaults. If they let us buy a disc, it was almost like owning the original. In fact, the idea of "original" kind of goes away once it gets remastered into digital form. It wasn't until June 1999 that Twentieth Century Fox finally opened it's doors and let us buy Alien on DVD. That was 15 years ago this month. Happy Anniversary!

It's so funny, because it seems like we've been able to own our favourite films forever. That's simply not true. Maybe it's because we used to watch old films on late night TV and then cable, but now we have Netflix and TiVo and Blu-ray discs. Although, when you think about it, the idea of "film" itself is actually going away. Film projectors may soon be extinct too. We still have the theatres, but they are all going digital and those enormous, grand old film cameras are being replaced by ultra high definition digital devices. The 3-film camera they used to shoot The Wizard of Oz was the size of a refrigerator and weighed as much. No one will miss that monster.

If you made a relative temporal transition timeline comparison of cinema to the evolution of species on the Gal├ípagos Islands and Darwin's Origin of Species (1859), what took amphibians and reptiles millions of years to adapt through natural selection, the current state of cinema went from silent black and white Charlie Chaplin shorts to computer genereated Disney animated 3D full length features . . .  in the blink of an eye. 

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