Oscar Hates Technology.

Was I the only one who noticed the scolding the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences gave to those of us who enjoy films on DVD in our home theater instead of going to the multiplex?

The president of the AMPAS took a convoluted side track from his empassioned speech about movies and the art of storytelling in order to remind everyone that going to the movie theater is different than watching a DVD at home. Well, duh. He even said, “I know that none of the artists nominated tonight finish shooting a scene and say ‘That’s gonna look great on the DVD.'” Don’t tell that to someone like Peter Jackson, who knows that DVD is a perfect opportunity to tell your story in a more robust and expanded form than what can be toelrated in the theater.

And then Jake Gyllenhaal presented the Oscar for Cinematography (I believe) by joking that none of these movies look great on Portable DVD players; the gyst being that the most satisfying experience comes at the movie theater.

I don’t disagree, but I was struck by the irony that I was watching the Oscars at my friend Mikey’s, in High Definition, projected on the wall with probably a 12 or 15 foot diagonal size, surround sound, with 8 other people. And the president of the Academy is telling me that the only place to get the true movie-going experience is at my local Regal Cinemas.

It was such an insecure plea, a response to this year’s dismal box-office turnout. And they blame it on piracy (there were some funny jokes about illegal downloading), and they blame it on DVDs (don’t they make money on those, too?)… Did you ever think that maybe, just maybe, those of us who are enjoying our media more and more at home just might be on to something?

Look, I know that going to the theater is a radically different experience than watching a movie at home. The communal ritual of being entranced by the flicker of the projection screen with a crowd of strangers. I still love that experience. But, especially after reading an excerpt from Peter-Paul Verbeek’s What Things Do, I’m struck by how we tend to think that just because an experience is different because of the introduction of a new technology, it is somehow less valid, or less important.

Verbeek is responding to Albert Borgmann’s argument that as new technology makes our lives easier, that we somehow lose the greater fulfillment that arises from the hard work that we previously performed to achieve those same goals. Verbeek astutely notes the new opportunities that arise from these technological innovations. Instead of the microwave simply reducing cooking to a push-button food factory (as Borgmann might argue), it actually alters and enables our ability to create more complex meals, for example, using the time saved to create many specific dishes suited to individual tastes, instead of one-meal-fits-all (meatloaf again?!).

Instead of admonishing your audience, your customers, for their propensity to enjoy your content within the context of new technologies like DVDs (not that new anymore), or portable media devices, or whatever the next big thing is, why not embrace it, and find ways to complement it with your storytelling? Peter Jackson and others are happily doing this with extended versions of their films. Smaller art films like Steven Soderbergh’s Bubble have seen simultaneous release in art house cinema and DVD, recongizing that there’s money to be made in the home, where people can have a more controlled experience.

I’m also thinking about the research project I’m involved in, and noting that the communal experience of the theater — enjoying a story with strangers — is comparable to the dialog that can occur on the network; when people begin to discuss the media they consume, the sense of community is envigorated, and the ritual of shared but passive engagement is replaced with a new sense of belonging, but this time, with an empowered audience’s voice.

The reality is that the movies are an incredibly young art form, and one that was born of tecnological innovation. And sure, something was lost as storytelling was transferred from the theatre to the movies, but new things were found. The wise artists and producers will embrace these technology shifts as much as possible, instead of pointing fingers and attempting to invalidate them merely because they threaten the existing market. No market is permanent.

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