Film, like the railways, is one of those industries that a few years ago nobody would have predicted would get a new lease of life, and how! through technological evolution.
Up to digital, film had reached the limits of what it was capable. The movie 2001: A Space Odyssey still seems quite effective today, but the end of film effects are limited and seem like something out of the ark.
I was talking to a young person recently about how wonderful it was when self-recording was first available. We could record a TV programme or film on TV and watch it again and again at our leisure. A revolution! To pause live recordings and replay while recording something seemed like complete fantasy.
How We Watch
Those old enough to remember queuing at the cinema to see the latest film that was only on for a week and sitting in smokey theatres watching, or waiting for years till it was released for TV, will know how far things have come.
When you could buy a film on VHS cassette and play it on your videoplayer, and then video-recorder, the new possibilities seemed endless. Home entertainment as a concept was born. It is now in its early school years.
Film in cinemas has rarely been so popular. Blockbusters costing millions to produce, often through their amazing effects, pull in millions at the box offices. Many are released to DVD very near cinema showing, so can be bought or rented very quickly. There are whole TV channels now devoted entirely to showing movies. The game shifts constantly.
While people still illegally download pirated films, the fact is that legal downloads to devices are rising and will continue to become mainstream. People watch film on TV, tablet and smartphone, at home and on the move.
The choices are dizzyingly varied and as broadband speeds accelerate and whatever follows the internet and high-definition become commonplace, so the film industry will change yet again. What is certain is that consumers will continue to want more choice all of the time.
How Films Are Made
Computer generated imagery (CGI) has been part of our entertainment lives now so long that nobody bats an eyelid, merely expects it to reach evermore spectacular heights. Films like Westworld (1973) was pretty clever in its images of the robot-human interface, but small beer now. Star Wars, Jurassic Park and then the Matrix movies each pushed effects boundaries a little further.
Then followed digital animation, and digital animation with CGI and another old idea given a fresh impetus – 3D films, of which Avatar remains the most incredible.
Chris Nixon, writing on A Technology Society (January 2013) suggested that people will not tell the difference between CGI and reality in a few years, when watched in HD. He described how streaming channels in real time puts the computer (in all its forms) at the heart of the home entertainment industry now.
He showed how the rapid transmission of large amounts of data have made realistic things like video sharing and music downloads a matter of course. He said, ‘we are entertained by the internet itself, sampling videos on YouTube, playing games, surfing, shopping in ways that were unimaginable just 20 years ago. We rely on our computers not only to perform tasks, but also for entertainment. We download for later, instant message and chat, and fill up our free time online.’
‘On the move’ has taken on a whole new meaning, as literally people access it all anywhere and everywhere. Personalised music is like drawing breath. Playing games online is food and drink to swathes of the population. Computer processing speed and capacity is still not yet reached total potential.
So That’s the History Lesson, What’s Next?
All the previous in this post was to describe an exciting new artform being developed as entertainment, premiered at the English National Opera in April 13. Sunken Garden is described as a new ‘occult-mystery-film-opera’ composed by Michel van der Aa, from the Netherlands, and British fiction writer David Mitchell.
It is a ‘dark fantasy about a garden hungry for human souls’. Mitchell is also responsible for ‘postmodern’ works including Ghostwritten (1999) and Cloud Atlas (2004), about chance, time and space, which has been made into a movie (2012).
The garden idea seemed suited to a musical and visual treatment, and so it became an opera. Not so much perhaps for the trad opera buff but the fan of experiment in music, arts and technology. The garden is a portal between worlds, inspired by CS Lewis’ Narnia book The Magician’s Nephew. Avatar’s 3D work also had an influence.
Sameer Rahim, reviewing the work in the Sunday Telegraph (7 April 2013) quoted Mitchell, ‘in fiction it’s my job to describe the vertical pond. In libretto (the opera story line) you just write that a vertical pond appears and thousands are spent making that real.’
That’s what film does, makes things seem so real they might as well be real. In a way, it’s what it has always done. It’s just that now we really can’t tell the differences. Does it matter if it’s all good entertainment?
Finally, whether all that will trigger the Wow! moment, may depend on your age.
Available, related things:
A Technology Society, Chris Nickson, Technology & Films, January 2013
Forward to the Past as Polaroids Make a Comeback, 25 March 2013
The Benefits of Seeing Transparency Clearly in the Digital Age, 6 November 2012
How Technology Serves the Past, Present and Future, 14 September 2012
Could Computer Over-Reliance Be the Death of Us All? 30 July 2012
Image: Vera de Kok