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Is Television taking over the Cinema?

TelevisionSet.jpgCinema attendance is dropping we're led to believe, and the fault is firmly placed at the door of piracy by Hollywood. People are more likely to download a movie for free and watch it on their PC than go out for the evening and enjoy a movie at the cinema.

Is that true though, is it the fault of you home PC when not everyone has one and people still use dialup services (or so my stats tell me). Something that's more common in every home is the television and in the last few years we've seen the rise of the television series of movie scale.

Could 24, Lost, Desperate Housewives, The Shield, Alias, Commander in Chief and The West Wing be the real culprits? Is that expanding box in our living room the real cause of cinemas decline?

Series are becoming bigger, bigger budgets, bigger actors and bigger scale. The plot lines are spanning series and they tackle larger, much more movie themed tales.

Before this rise entertainment was lighter and episodic. It wouldn't matter if you missed episode 12 because you knew where everyone was at the start of episode 13. They all began at the same point as they always had, encountered some incident, placed characters in peril and at a decision point, resolved this, saved the day, and returned to normal life.

I saw all that start to change with Babylon 5. The programme required that you invested time to follow each episode and each series. Getting the emotional involvement in the large cast of characters, understanding much more complex storylines, the politics of the plot and the three dimensional characters themselves. Characters, their decisions and storylines were no longer black and white, two dimensional and pulled from the standard stock, they were real people.

Love or hate Babylon 5, that was one of the first series to really attempt that kind of programming, and now our television is rife with it. Even standard soap type television is turning this way with Desperate Housewives or Six Feet Under.

How can the cinema compete? They are limited to plot and character development for a mere two hours, sometimes three if your cinema is comfy, whereas these series have fifty minute slots spread across twenty episodes and perhaps multiple series.

Over that length of time the budget and cast can rival that of a movie, and delivered in people friendly chunks direct to their homes for the price of a television license that they already pay for.

Add to that the growing trend of larger televisions in the home, the average size now being twenty eight inches, with more complex picture and sound systems and you'll find the previous strengths of the cinema being slowly encroached upon.

However, the two medium are still very different, a serialised movie over twelve, fifty minute episodes is entirely different watching to a two hour movie. Can the two really be compared are these series merely fitting into a captive audiences viewing schedule rather than taking over from a trip out to the cinema?

A scriptwriter told me that everything is specifically written for the small screen, in that lulls are incorporated into the story to allow people to miss a few minutes and still retain the story. These are out with the normal advertising breaks and are to ensure that viewers can pop off and make a cup of tea.

On film there's not the same focus. You have a captive audience, and as he said to me, you have to continually hit them with snowballs in the face, snowballs with stones in them. Okay, so not all the movies we see meet those criteria, but it certainly shows that the two types of entertainment are very different.

Is there a place for both types of entertainment, or are these serialised movie, high budget television shows with rich and more complex storylines and characters, beginning to take away from the cinemas? Is it not just pirating at fault but the rise of quality, feature length television series?





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I think it's down to several factors. The arrival of affordable "big screen" TVs and DVDs has had a huge impact on my personl trips to the cinema. Who wants to travel, pay almost the cost of a DVD (at least in London) to see some scratchy, out-of-focus or faded print with mobile phones, continual late arrivals and kids talking for accompaniment when you can sit at home in front of a 50" plasma, watching a picture perfect copy of the movie which you can pause, rewind and find more information about with surround sound perfectly placed around you?

That's the biggest issue for me personally and I really noticed it watching "Brokeback Mountain" on DVD - it was like watching something in 3D compared to the faded, blurry sepia print I'd had to witness at the movie theatre (before it went on general release so 'an over-used print' is a poor excuse).

But the quality of TV drama (or, more accurately, American TV drama - there's something seriously wrong when the hammily acted, poorly plotted Doctor Who gets a BAFTA award for Best Drama programme over here!) is another factor. Nip/Tuck, West Wing, Battlestar Gallactaca, The Sopranos, Prison Break, Lost, Huff, Rescue Me... the list is almost endless and all better quality drama than the "average" movie.

TV has zero effect on my movie watching habits, if anything I rarely watch it other than the after work stuff on Sky1 like Malcolm in the middle and the Simpson’s. I love Battlestar Gallactica and do think American Drama’s are now leagues ahead of anything produced in the UK. In fact I maybe remember I have terrestrial TV channels about once a month. I flick through them, see that they are filled with reality TV garbage, house make over shows and grim UK soaps and then don’t look at them for another month. The only things I now rate as “Best in the world” in terms of TV produced in the UK is our fairly unbiased news and brilliant wildlife documentaries other than that it’s a myth we produce the best TV.

Even with shows like Battlestar Gallactica which I really like, I miss episodes all the time, I just can’t dedicate time to following TV shows and have never recorded anything from TV, I just figure if I missed it, it was not that important in the first place. For me my PC has replaced TV in terms of home entertainment over the last few years. But if anything the internet has increased my movie viewing as you chat to other film fans with similar interests and then pick up DVD’s on their recommendation.

The cinema is just uncomfortable and expensive; sitting through long films begins to feel like a chore rather than a joy. For me the main thing that killed cinema was the closing of the gap between format release dates, when I was a kid if you missed the big film at the cinema it would be a very long wait till you saw it on another format, now it’s such a short gap its no problem to wait till its available to rent or buy. So why spend two uncomfortable hours in the cinema when you can watch it in comfort at home and pause to go to the toilet, rewind a good bit etc. etc.

Also most of the films I like never play at the cinema and if they do its in a tiny art house cinema, which offers an audiovisual experience below that of most home viewing set ups.

I have been thinking though it’s also a change in society, we have grown extremely intolerant of other people. Where once the cinema was noisy with people enjoying themselves, we now loathe hearing anyone else make a sound. What is the point in having a communal experience if we can’t stand to notice other people? Maybe it’s not the young teens that make noise who are wrong, maybe it’s those of us in our late twenties, thirties and beyond who are wrong to go to a communal experience and then expect to enjoy a solo experience. Maybe if we can’t tolerate, their eating, talking and laughing we should be watching stuff on our own at home, where we can have the silence to immerse ourselves in the way we want. The fact for me at least is the cinema was a lot more fun when I was a noisy popcorn munching 13 year old, than it is now as a silent, uncomfortable, intolerant adult.

As I do not own a television set which is really a choice of mine, I doubt if anything will take me away from going to the cinema. I am sure that even if I get to own those huge 50" plasma screen tv's I will still do my pilgrimage to the cinema. Why?

The thrill of going to the cinema is because of the experience of it all, you check the screening times, get there just before, you queue for your ticket, and if you have anough dough, fork out a couple more for a popcorn and them large Cokes, choose your seats and wait till the lights go dim, adverts roll and the trailers begin. I just love all of that. My best memories being when I watch the Star Wars movies, I will not go to that in detail but I am sure you know what I mean. Have you ever been to these midnight screenings of any film? I love it! I love seeing people impatient to see their most anticipated film. When I went to see Da Vinci Code a few weeks ago now, the cinema was buzzing with energy, tickets were sold out for the earlier screenings and in my moment of madness, I bought the last full show ticket and to effectively kill time, decided to watch 2 other films prior to DVC. So I was there waiting in line with the others for the 22.50 screening and it just felt different. I got to chat with several people who were just there for the hype of it all, some read the books but didnt really like it and were hoping that the film was better. I can never get that kind of buzz watching a television show, well for one thing, I will watch it on my own. But no, I personally have never had that attachment to a tv show since Seinfeld and X-Files.

I would prefer to go the movies, I own so many DVDs that I could watch on my PC but still havent gotten around to them, tells much about my preference really.

P.S. How much are you selling that tv for Rich? Just my style of HD-ready tv! Cute, very cute! ;-)

I should have mentioned that all those American TV shows I raved about in my posts above are all shows I watched on DVD. I rarely watch "TV" these days, but DVDs are another matter and one of the unexpected bonuses of the success of home cinema has been the TV companies releasing their best material (with additional commentaries and 'Making of's) on DVD too.

History repeats herself again. In the 60s, the classic cinema era decayed and died due to many factors, amongst them the rise of the Golden Age of Television (The Twilight Zone, The Prisoner, The Unbtouchables, Band Wagon and so many other shows).

Now, it´s undeniable: the quality of television shows is better than that of movies, as an average. The point is exactly stated: Babylon 5 is an outstandin show, made with an amazing amount of resources (the Fx are far less expensive than they seem), and it´s superbly written.

The same can be said about the X-Files. An average episode in that series was deeper and more spectacular than most movies made. In the 90s, the Silver Age of Television began, starting with Twin Peaks and the Simpsons.

Now there are many shows who surpass cinema at every level. The most prominent are, from my point of view, 24 and Six Feet Under. We can add to that that, with the DVDs at hand, we can watch TV series when we want and without ads.

What commedy is remotely close to the wit and brilliance of Frasier or Seinfeld? None. What action film can claim to be more suspenseful and brilliant than the outstanding one-day Jack Bauer adventures? None. Which movie dealed with AIDS better than Angels in America?

Even the mafia movies were repeating schemes and poor imitations of the Godfather until The Sopranos arrived. Millenium, by Chris Carter, is the best treatment of psychopath minds ever made since Seven.

Cinema is passing through a bad stage, no doubt. We need incentives to go to the cinema. Things that only in the frame of a movie can be done. Brilliant ideas, amazingly brought to screen with bold pictures and images. Until that arrives, we have superhero flicks and that´s almost all.

Or TV and cinema can engage in a fruitful relationship. Spielberg began his career in TV. Many renowned filmmakers started making TV ads, tons of them. As a matter of fact, many of these new great shows are made by people attached to cinema, who merely needed freedom to express themselves, a freedom not easy to find when you have to render a quick box office gain.

I myself find cinema not as appealing as it was to me... a long time ago.


Another great feature,

Not to put a dampener on difference of opinion but I think that the answer lies somewhere in between everything discussed here.

I think most people could agree that there has been a clear decline in the film industry, at least in Hollywood, over the past number of years. Release schedules are much more packed, but with what could be described as quantity over quality. I can safely say I would be much much happier with half the number of weekly releases if that equated to double the production value. I just don't trust the industry the way I did 5/6 years ago. And that's not even taking into account any competition.

To then couple this with the rise in quality Television pioneered by entities such as HBO, (Band Of Brothers, Sopranos, Deadwood, Lost) its safe to say that movies don't hold the estemed position they once did in the entertainment industry/media. Movies aren't simply untouchable.

As Ian says, the affordability of Home Entertainment now offers what is to some people a more convenient experience altogether. I know that when I spent €1000 on my flatscreen I was certainly more willing to stay home and either watch TV DVDs in 5.1 DTS or play brand spanking new games in a pin sharp picture than putting up the money to find out which one of this weeks ten releases is the good one.

But there is always going to be a market for the cinematic experience. It may lose some of it's popularity but it is nonetheless, an essential part of entertainment.

A parallel could be drawn to the Music Industry. People are always going to be interested in music, and even though they may have inexpensive, high quality esoteric systems at home, there will always be an interest in going to see one's favourite band play a good venue, even if the experience is (as has been said of said of movies) uncomfortable and irritating. There is simply no substitute.

The two media are simply too different to be directly compared or pitted against each other, and until that changes I think both can not only co-exist but compliment each other in many ways. What about films like Starsky & Hutch,The Saint and even now "Get Smart" going going into production. Even talk of Deadwood being made into a film. And what about Blade the series/La Femme Nikita.

Let's not forget that both media are primarily controlled by the same people and any potentially harmful competition can easily be circumvented by creative marketing or crossover tie-ins. These companys are going to have their fingers in both pies whether we like it or not.

It's certain, TV has had a detrimental affect on peoples willingness to get out of their chairs and go to the theatre, but it has not and will not supersede or replace it.

This just in...........

Rynndar Speaks Before He Thinks!

Just read that a Deadwood movie has been scrapped after the writers/producers made amends in the wake of the shows cancellation.

They've now agreed to a four hour finale after Series 3.

We now return you to your regular programming.

I think the two can easily co exist side by side. The problem with declining cinema attendance could be more to do with the amount of remakes and comic book adaptations doing the rounds these days. I go and see films in the cinema that I want to see on a huge screen with proper sound, for example the Star Wars of the world. If it was a choice between the cinema or watching it on a PC I'd choose the cinema everytime.

There are loads of films though that I would quite happily wait for on DVD and watch in the comfort of my own home. If cinema wants to keep with the times then the films that are available have to offer something drastically different than what you can access from your home or from TV.

Viewing habits are also definitely changing, I watch 24, Lost and a few other series, however I find myself unable to watch it on TV every week. For one thing the adverts drive me nuts and another I don't want to wait a week for what could be a disappointing episode. I always wait for the boxset and then watch them when I want, 2 or 3 in one sitting usually.

I think cinema is safe as long as it produces quality original films. TV however could find it is more effected by changing habits.

For me, the quality of television has nothing to do with decreased movie attendance. While I enjoy going to a quality theater, the fact is that most theaters around here are garbage. V for Vendetta was a huge disappointment at the local multiplex. They had scratched the entire movie in the center of the screen so there were big green blobs flashing on top of the entire movie...not so bad for bright scenes, but then again, V was a dark movie. Then, of course, you have the blown speakers and/or lack of surround sound. Many theaters around here only do surround in their 2 to 4 large rooms. The smaller rooms don't seem to have it, and a movie like Star Wars tends to blow the subs at the Carmike in the town where I grew up. At home, I can have 5.1 digital on a 42" LCD powered by my computer running at 1280x1024 resolution. GXine gives me a picture to rival the best scalers I've seen. The only thing I miss is screen size, but quality of picture and sound make up for that. And, did I mention I can pause at home and go to a restroom that doesn't require a hazmat suit?

I was thinking about this fact just the other day while watching LOST: production values on tv dramas have risen considerably since the vaccume known as "reality tv" hit the airwaves. for a drama or other tv show to succeed, if it has a script, it MUST have the same production value as a movie or it WILL sink.

you hit the nail on the head with this...and I think its' a good thing. Stories like Lost, Alias and 24 would never exist if cinema still reigned totally supreme. you simply could not pack the quality and depth these shows posess into a single 2 hour movie.

can I get a horay for Xfiles, which I say started this whole "larger than life" phase? I remember a spell there after the x files movie where they raised the bar for the tv show, making it bigger and better, and it was simply the ONLY thing watchable on tv...and was bigger than anything at its' time...

J.J. Abrams is a paradoxal example of what the trend maybe. The guy began in TV, as everyone knows, and his leap to movies is about Mission Impossible, and Star Trek, both based in legendary TV series.

Personally, I still love the whole movie-going experience for the most-part. Because that's what it is, an EXPERIENCE.

Even as a kid when we used to get a crisp £5 note from our mothers and we'd shuffle along to the bus stop, pay our fare and next stop was cinema central... I loved it. It was an adventure. Away from the restraints of house and home. We were "free" to go and escape our world completely and be immersed into a ficticious world portrayed on the big screen. Majestically enough, that £5 would cover the cost of return bus fare, admission to the cinema, a bag of popcorn and a can of Coca-Cola.

But I'd be a fool to say that since those days of innocence, my movie-going experience has not been altered. Now instead of the £5 covering a day out, €5 barely covers bus fare for 2 people.

Nowadays, it can be a bit of a chore to get up and go see a movie. If I break down the cost of going to the cinema with my girlfriend, it is no longer a cheap night out. For admission to the film alone, you will see scant change from a €20. Add onto that transport, food and drink..... your €50 is suddenly an awful lot less. And for what? A sub-standard, well-below-par excuse of a movie? With little to no plot and poor acting?! Not to mention the rise of the "scumbag" attending the picture house with their constant chatter, mobile phones ringing, "checking" their phones for messages/calls which is just as effective as having a LIGHTHOUSE sitting near you as you are blinded by the backlight.... and suddenly the movie-going experience isn't looking very appealing at all.

It is now at the stage that I will carefully select what movies I decide to go and view in the theatre. It is no longer a case of "sure, let's go for the hell of it".... but we are paying SERIOUS money for some seriously poor standard products. If you bought a a series of new cars (same maker) and they were rubbish, would you continue to buy from that specific car manufacturer? I didn't think so. Although you would get the occassional gem, which would be the exception to the rule - so you'd go and buy it. It's exactly the same for movies. Having been burned with so many poor movies in recent years, I am now very selective about what I go to see.

Yes, we all have nights where we will decide that we can't be bothered to go to the movie theatre, we'll stay home and watch 24 instead. But there are still the movies which almost have to be seen on the big screen.

If the Hollywood product was consistently good, we'd all be flocking to the theatres because of that whole experience. Nothing beats the rush of being in a packed auditorium with 400+ strangers, all buzzing in anticipation of a big movie.

But simply put, the product isn't good enough and it's nothing to do with the quality of TV shows.

Don't get me wrong, The Sopranos is my favourite TV show of all-time. It is one of the finest pieces of production (TV or movie) in my opinion, and Band Of Brothers absolutely blew me away!

But regardless of TV show quality, it is the waining quality of movies in general which is turning people off.

I am glad you agree with me on the experience side of it spidey and I am with you on the escalating cost of this movie experience. I'm very fortunate that here in the UK through Cineworld, I can get an unlimited card which I pay £10.99 monthly, and that gives me access to ALL films released in any Cineworld cinemas around the country (except Ireland). I have only been a member close to 2 years now but a truky satisfied customer. But prior to that I would gladly pay a cinema ticket that will cost me £8.60, as I have seen "The Two Towers" 9 times in the cinema during its run, do the maths but then I didnt care. Now with this card, I can watch a sub-standard film and not feel any regrets.

"But there are still the movies which almost have to be seen on the big screen."

The point of it all exactly! Mind you, I will definitely watch a film that deserves to be seen on a big screen, and probably even end up buying the DVD when it gets released, but then again thanks to my unlimited card, because I also wouldnt mind watching a film I might not end up liking because then there is no need to rent or buy that DVD in the future, either way I win. ;-)

Don't have any cable or satelite TV myself, but I do tend to catch some of the more interesting shows after they show up on DVD so I can watch them at my leisure, episode to episode. (No commercials, and whenever-I-Choose are the selling points here).

Over the past 2-3 years, I've sat down and watched "Firefly," "Deadwood", "Carnivale", "Veronica Mars" "Little Britian" "The Office (BBC)" and "SPACED" and I have no doubts in my mind that there is some damn fine TV programming being made. But it is just the top-cut. There is a wasteland of junk out there too.

World Cinema is no different. For every 20 remakes, sequels, and garbage comedies churned out by Hollywood, there are still great films made. If you just bother with the 'top' cut of TV or Cinema, you are going to do just fine, both from an entertainment and an artistic standpoint. I Can't ask for anything more really, I just have to do some homework before making my viewing choices.

Television these days is simply doing what it's done since the 1950s, which is to take over the function of the old cinema serial. Instead of going to the movies each week for the next installment of the ongoing story, you watch it on TV instead. It now just costs an awful lot more to make it. Otherwise there's no real substantial change, not really. I'm more interested in the question of what DVD might do to TV ratings, given that instead of watching a show from week to week you can now watch the whole thing in chunks whenever you like if you've got the series box set. Certainly I know I have no patience any more for being tied down to a fixed weekly TV schedule where X program is on at Y hour each week, which is why I frankly no longer watch series television, and I suspect I can't be the only one out there who feels like this.

As for the moviegoing experience, well, I now do media previews much more often than I used to, so when I do have to go to the cinema like everyone else I'm reminded of how little I like it and how little I've always liked it. The ridiculous expense of the ticket is part of the issue; the clowns you often find yourself sharing an auditorium with are another part. If I didn't have to keep up to date with new releases for my radio show I would pretty much not go at all (except for the really big event films, and even then I'd be selective). Ever since I got my widescreen TV I've totally understood why people these days are content to just wait for the DVD to come out; I don't even have a high-end home theatre set-up like some people and I could still settle happily for the small screen experience. So the moviegoing experience can frankly go and hang itself.

Great quote I see below:

Why should people go out and pay money to see bad films, when they can stay home and see bad television and pay nothing?
- Samuel Goldwyn

By the way, once mentioned, if there is anyone here who hasn´t seen Babylon 5, watch it.

It´s worth the effort, really.

If you have money, buy this:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000B7KXEU/qid=1149905931/sr=8-1/ref=pd_ka_1/202-3621982-7941465

If you have time, read this:

http://midwinter.com/lurk/lurker.html

or this:

http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Babylon_5

It´s one of my best science fiction series ever made. I quote one of the sad dialogues in this cosmic tragedy:

"Where did it all go wrong, Mollari? Where did we lose it all?" asks Lord Kiro

"I don´t know" answers a deppressed Londo, smiling, "I don´t know", a sad glance in the eyes.

Oh Peter, a B5 fan. I have the series on DVD and I have to revisit it again, it was superb and just went from strength to strength.

Oh...and someone reads the quotes! I must get new ones put up now...

I purchased the whole series on DVD but gave up on it somewhere around the Series 3 mark. Too many weak "worst of Star Trek" -like episodes and the show is really dated in many ways. I have to say that overall, given all the hype, I was very disappointed with it. Even the acting, with the exception of one or two of the alien characters, was very hokey.

Dear Film Producer,

My screen name, Headstone Frollo, is taken from surnames of two men in different literature ('Notre Dame of Paris' and 'Our Mutual Friend') - both men who went after women... only to be completely rejected.

I stand for men who have been totally rejected by women - and therefore consider any sex-scene, on telly or cinema, as a dangerous tease.

Along with male peer-pressure, telling even sexually unattractive men to think about women - the way women certainly don't want me thinking about them - and sex-scenes...
they have the same effect on me - as looking at a nude woman would affect Norman Bates - or any male version of 'Jack the Ripper'.

Sex-scenes and men's talk are certainly a real peephole for anybody like Norman Bates.

As it is, I don't socialise much with men, because of men's talk - and I will not have a telly, and will never (if I can help it) ever go to any cinema show that has anything unsuitable for children...
by the way, porno mags and films do seem to find their way into the eyes and hands of children - I was young, once.

Still, you, the film producer, have the power to decide what the public see or don't see...

You have enough power - you do what you like.

Yours sincerely,

Headstone Frollo

Yeah Rich, *we* love your quotes. But lately you are also driving me crazy with the images, keep it up, its an entertainment in itself!

Headstone, thanks for making me smile with that post of yours. :D


Babylon 5 is very important to me, Richard, no kidding. I have learned so many things in that series about fate, friendship, loss, travels... everything. I am glad to have made the effort to see it at times hard to believe. I always felt identified with Londo Mollari. Well... enough.

Ian, I take umbridge with your comments - B5 is nothing like the episodic pulp of Star Trek series (pre them hiring all the B5 writers of course!).

Sure there are low production values, the show struggled every series to get made because the networks kept pumping them around the schedules - the way they kill every series and then blame it on the audience.

Peter, I'm totally there with you. Some of the characters really got to me. I'm a G'Kar without a doubt, and I don't mean that in some geeky convention wearing outfits type way, the character was so identifiable. Oh, and Garibaldi.

The football season is killing UK cinema this month.

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...and if one does what God does enough times, one will become as God is.
- Doctor Hannibal Lecktor, Manhunter