God, I love my iPod. This is one of those culturally-paradigm-shifting inventions, like the automobile and toaster, that gets you thinking that life must have been a bleak and meaningless wasteland before it came along. It's enough for me to take pity upon the forgotten portable CD player nestled, alone and forlorn, in a drawer in my bedroom. Don't be sad, little fella. You done good. But it's a new day. For you to do the job my Pod does, I'd have to hump around my entire CD cabinet everywhere I go on a dolly. So enjoy your rest. You've earned it.
Now along comes the new video-playing model, and I'm like, damn. Will have to add that to the want list now. And its existence seems to be bearing out what I and the rest of the world have been predicting: it's only a matter of time — months, perhaps — before someone figures out a workable model for distributing feature films online. And I bet Steve Jobs will lead the pack.
Now as a cinephile, I must say I'll be sad if the theatrical experience ever goes away entirely. And to be truthful, I don't think it will. There's nothing that can compare to seeing movies the way they were meant to be seen: on a whopping great screen in an auditorium.
But, believing that, why don't I go more often? I read the polls conducted by the panicked industry and I hear many of the same concerns I have. It's too pricey (although it isn't pricey for me, as I never allow myself to be robbed at the concession stand; eating and drinking in a movie invariably has me running to the men's room just as the third act is kicking in). Other patrons are pricks. The movies mostly just suck.
People are getting used to a more personal entertainment/information experience. Big screen home theaters are more affordable, and will get more affordable still. More and more people have laptops, iPods, and PSP's; pretty much everyone has a cell phone now, perhaps even some homeless people. Are we forsaking communal experiences for individual or family-centric ones? And is that really a bad thing?
It's inevitable that the internet will become a huge distribution outlet for feature films. While I don't see much benefit in watching something genuinely epic, like The Return of the King or Kingdom of Heaven on an iPod's 2-inch screen, there is something to be said for film distribution following the iTunes model for music distribution. Imagine paying about what you'd pay, if not less, for a movie ticket these days to legally download a first-run feature film in DVD-burnable, high-definition quality. Hell, with extras, even. I'd be interested, and I bet lots of other folks would, too, though of course there will always be that contingent of cheap bastards who don't want what they can't have for free. (Hey, I've been one myself.) And I think theatrical exhibition could be saved, too, made attractive again in the eyes of filmgoers, if a few technological (as well as attitude) changes were made by the industry. In my next post I'll go into some ideas I've been chewing on for both enriching the theatrical experience as well as enlarging the share of the pie that poor, also-ran indie films usually get. It's utopian stuff, and it'll never be implemented because the industry would never do anything either a) so sensible or b) designed to get anything seen by the public that isn't their homogenized, generic crap.
But hey, this is my perfect world we're talking about here, so here, it would work!