So I've been keeping tabs — somewhat — on the HD-DVD rollout that has begun tentatively this week. I have no imminent plans to buy. I've been thinking, like a lot of folks, that I'm just going to wait and see how the dust in the format war settles. But I would like to see some of the units in action. There was nothing at my neighborhood Best Buy this week, and I refuse to darken the door of Wal-Mart. So maybe later in the week I'll trek out to one of our fine city's specialty retailers like the Home Theater Store, where I'm sure the sales staff is sick of guys like me wandering in and gawking at all the glorious high-end tech toys we can't hope to afford.
But tonight, I was reading a few articles on the rollout, and initial sales reports, while not exactly orgasmically glowing, are favorable. Still, when it came to the part of one article on Video Business Online discussing the bells and whistles that studios plan to include on future releases, I stopped cold at the following:
Among the examples of new features the studio is considering are, for example, allowing a user to connect to the Internet and trick out a car and then insert that car back into the film so the movie would include their creation.... [Universal Studios Home Entertainment president Craig] Kornblau called DVD bonus features “yesterday” and said HD DVD will change how consumers watch movies by allowing them to personalize objects in the film and connect online with friends to share opinions while watching the film—and, he emphasized, it will do it by the end of this year.... That connectivity also could open up new promotional opportunities for studios, which could allow users to click on a car or pair of shoes or any other item on the screen and connect online to a Web site for more information and to make purchases.
What. The. Fuck!?
Okay, let's stop a minute here.
What is a movie? Is it simply a product? In the eyes of the studios, I imagine that answer must be "yes". But is it also an art form, a medium that storytellers use to tell stories? If it is — to any teeny tiny minute degree — the latter, then what in the holy hell are these asshats at Universal thinking by getting all excited by the idea of people "personalizing" movies? Sure, the example given was for an upcoming release of one of the Fast and the Furious movies, which I suppose no one in his right mind would call art and everyone would agree are clearly nothing more than cash-cow products to shore up Universal's bottom line in the summer season.
But where do we stop with this? Can you imagine the lunacy if people were allowed to "personalize", say, Peter Jackson's The Return of the King, by, say, putting their kids in the middle of the Battle of the Pelennor Fields? There we are, right in the middle of one of the movie's sweeping crane shots, with a hundred thousand men and orcs going at it in hot-blooded combat...and suddenly, right in the middle of it, two warriors stop fighting, take off their helmets, smile, and wave at the camera! Look, everybody! It's the kids!
I mean, how fucked is that?
All this hype about "changing how consumers watch movies" and "personalizing" films reflects a masturbatory love of the technology for its own sake that loses sight of what the movies themselves were actually meant to be: self-contained entertainment experiences, assembled by teams of creative people under the guidance of a director following a vision, with a goal towards telling a story!
And did you notice the flack's use of the word "consumers" in the preceding quote, instead of "fans" or "audiences" or even "people." That's right. To the studios, watching movies isn't about sitting back and winding down at the end of the day with a good and compelling story. It's all about generating more consumerism. Buy buy buy! Hell, everything is a revenue stream. Who gives a shit about the whole notion that if a director or a screenwriter wanted a particular style of tricked-out car or pair of shoes or whatever to be in their movie, they'd have put it there in the first goddamn place? Nah, do it yourself! It's the high-definition experience! After all, why should Peter Jackson or Ridley Scott be the only guys to decide what goes into making a Peter Jackson or Ridley Scott movie? Why shouldn't the almighty consumer have a say? Democracy is good, right?
And let's not stop there. Let's move on to e-books. Don't like the way Stephen King's new novel ends? Rewrite your own ending and edit it back into the book, then go online and chat live with your friends about it. Hell, respect for artistic integrity and creative vision are so "yesterday." Everything's just a product, so if you can switch around and match other products to your taste, like your clothing and accessories and food and home decor, why not change your favorite movies and books to your taste too? Welcome to the HD future, where movie studios are like Burger King: have it your way!
You know, I think a better idea would be that if Joe Blow thinks he can make a better movie than Peter Jackson, then Universal ought to just give him the money to make his own fucking movie rather than giving him the opportunity to fuck with PJ's using his fancy HD-DVD remote. In the meantime, this whole fantasy the studios have of reducing the movie experience to that of video games or online shopping seems to have given me all the reason I need to not by HD-DVD anytime soon...or later. It should also give every director pause...and a sense of urgency to make sure any contracts they sign include a clause preventing such "personalizing" of the films they make. Assuming they are filmmakers of integrity and not hacks. I fully expect the Brett Ratners and McG's of the world to be right there in the HD circle-jerk with Universal.