Horror at the cinema

It was with genuine excitement and anticipation that I attended a 9pm screening of Hereditary in Cardiff Cineworld this week. The film was almost universally praised by critics when it premiered at Sundance 2018 in January, and six months later it’s been massively hyped in nearly every media outlet, with frequent comparisons to horror classics, The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby, and reviews proclaiming it “a disorientating cocktail”, “nightmarish”, “a brilliant fear machine”, and “emotional agony…so raw” you will “see things you can never un-see and feel pain you can never un-feel”; acclaim that’s all the more impressive given it’s writer-director Ari Aster’s debut.

Clearly, I wasn’t the only cinema-goer intrigued by the promise of “pure evil”, and as I tapped away at the self-service screen to purchase tickets, I saw with dismay that the auditorium was nearly full. Even as I selected two seats near the front, they were snatched up before I could reach the checkout. This was concerning. I don’t hold a high opinion of the general public. I wouldn’t invite strangers into my lounge to watch a film, I wouldn’t gather with them around an iPad at a bus stop, and I’m no more keen to sit with them anywhere else. But I was here now, I would give viewers the benefit of the doubt, try a bit of trust in humanity.

Nonetheless, a few minutes later as I settled into my seat for the pre-film trailers, I was still anxious. I hoped the spirit of the genre would be honoured by its audience, that they would sit silently with phones off and allow the promised “crawling dread” to get under my skin. After all, the success and enjoyment of any good horror movie hinges on its “profoundly disturbing” atmosphere, on the audience’s suspension of disbelief, on a willingness to be absorbed, drawn in, and emotionally battered. If that’s spoiled, the film is spoiled.

This isn’t a review, but in truth, Hereditary was fairly horrifying (albeit not quite a “terrifying masterpiece”). Watching at the cinema though, I was reminded that the real horror is not dished out on screen. It’s in the crackle and crunch of wrappers during a moment of silent suspense, the inapt raucous laughter following a stomach-turning image, the distracting white blaze of phones in peripheral vision, the buzz of notifications, the endless masticating and whispering, the contagion of coughing and sniffing. It’s weak bladders, and late entries, and changing seats. It’s people with sledge hammers on their shoes and the dexterity of lego hands. On that note, do people become more clumsy at the cinema? Are they struggling to hold things in the dark? Why are they holding anything? And if they must, why can’t they put it down gently? Around an hour into the showing, somebody kicked a bottle over. Twenty minutes later there was a clatter as if someone had dropped a tray full of tools. The immediate disruption on both occasions was followed by cursing and giggling, as well as being seen as an opportunity to open new packets of munchies and unzip sweaty items of clothing with about as much subtlety and discretion as kids stomping bubblewrap or Gordon Ramsay berating his trainee chefs. But we’re not watching this in an effing kitchen! For some reason, people have paid money to sit in a specialised darkened room to do all this.

By the end, I’d concluded that the perfect cinema would ban phones outright. To identify social media addicts hoping to smuggle in contraband, spectators would be frisked while passing through a series of metal detectors with more vigorous inspections than Heathrow Airport. Entry would be prohibited after a missed start and tickets voided. Food and drink would not be sold on premises or permitted for consumption anywhere on site except by intravenous drip. Offenders would be expelled. Repeat offenders would be shot. People needing toilet breaks would have a choice to hold it in, leave and forfeit reentry, or use a urinary catheter or Shewee. A screening is 2-3 hours people, you can’t all be incontinent or diabetic!

Hereditary may be a “modern horror classic”. It may be the “most terrifying horror film in years”. I won’t know until I watch it again, in the perfect solitude of my living room, with the lights out and edibles banned. Sadly, this time it’ll be devoid of surprises and twists and its capacity to scare will be diluted. The cinematic experience it offers has been irrevocably neutered for me. Seconds into the film I knew it was ruined. I wanted to stand up and shout ‘Fine! I’ll wait for it to come out on DVD and watch it by myself!’ but much to my girlfriend’s relief, I didn’t.

I won’t watch horror at the cinema again, though, I’ll get my “pure emotional terrorism” at home. The sooner films go straight to Netflix and Amazon Prime, the better.

Hunger Games: Catching Fire epitomises the potent draw of cinema for pre-film advertisers.

There was a time when turning up to a film late guaranteed that you would be fumbling in the dark for a seat. These days, you can whack an extra hour on your parking ticket, because pre-film adverts, trailers and infomercials will extend the screening time by at least another thirty minutes.

Blazing dramatically in to cinemas, in the US alone, The Hunger Games grossed over $161 million on its opening weekend, the highest November box office, and the fourth highest of all time [1]. That’s a lot of bums on seats, and an unrivalled captive audience for advertisers. According to Digital Cinema Media (DCM), research shows that 89% of cinemagoers watch cinema on-screen advertising [2] – an unsurprising figure, given that the entire audience is sat gazing at the screen in expectation for their film to start, the same film that, in all probability, they just paid an extortionate entry fee to view.

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The all new 3D silence: an indication the third dimension has at last been welcomed by audiences, or merely tacit resignation?

Once upon a time, not so long ago, almost every visit to a film site would have you clicking through endless diatribes of the hotly debated views surrounding 3D cinema. Albeit hovering uncertainly in cinemas on and off since the 50s, it was Avatar in 2009 that essentially detonated the 3D explosion, with director James Cameron bragging that the film had been built from the ground up for over a decade with 3D in mind, and heralding new 3D technology to boot. It smashed box office records and wowed audiences the world over, breathing new life in to a cash cow that would soon have industry executives rubbing their hands with glee. But even after the initial hysteria around the new wave of so-called ‘RealD’ technology, the web remained awash with naysayers. In fact, by the end of 2010, following Avatar’s triumphant release only a year earlier, critics and pundits were already harbingering the decline and inexorable doom of 3D [1][2][3][4], and by the fall of 2012, 3D was widely regarded a dying format [5][6][7][8][9]. Yet here we are, at the close of another year replete with 3D releases, and there is an unsettling, ominous silence. The detractors are mute, the fever has subsided – is it resignation or acceptance?

Back in October 2012, a reader poll in SFX found that 42.25% of respondents “hate” 3D, with a further 28% saying that they “can’t see 3D” or it causes them problems. Only 13.75% responded positively [10]. Albeit a very specific sample and a year ago, the response still seems to bear true now:

Continue reading “The all new 3D silence: an indication the third dimension has at last been welcomed by audiences, or merely tacit resignation?”

Why piracy is still the most attractive option available to consumers (…in most cases…)

Why piracy is still the most attractive option, even for those who actively WANT and are HAPPY to pay for the content on offer. In each scenario, I give the honest, law-abiding version, and the ‘dishonest/ illegal’ version. See which you find more appealing:

CINEMA

You pay to go to the cinema.

PROS: You get to see the film on the day of it’s release in the country of release. The film is (hopefully) good visual quality and on the big screen. If you have a rare, attentive and quiet audience, it’s enjoyable to share the ‘big screen experience’ with other people.

CONS: You have to pay. You are bombarded with anti-piracy adverts, ordinary adverts and trailers for films you may or may not want to see – some of which, if you pay to go to the cinema regularly, you will have already seen several times before. You face extraordinary prices for mundane things, and I’m talking a mark up of often several 100% over normal street prices. You are usually faced with an annoying, talking, rustling, popcorn munching audience with whom there is nothing enjoyable about sharing the ‘big screen experience’. The film may be already released over seas whilst it is still unwatchable in your country so you could be waiting an agonising amount of time whilst others are already reviewing, blogging and posting spoilers about it elsewhere in the world.

You pirate the movie.

PROS: It’s free. No ads of any kind, watch it when you want, share it with whoever you like, watch it on any device, usually a smallish digital file size, watch it as soon as it’s pirated – no ocean divides #nooceans, watch it with whoever you want with food that you’ve purchased yourself at reasonable prices, in a sociable environment if you so choose…

CONS: A smaller screen. Potentially fractionally lower quality, both audio and video – if you download a ‘cam’ then you’re looking at substantially lower quality, although why anyone would debase film like that in this day and age is a mystery to me…

BLU-RAY and DVD

You buy a DVD or Blu ray disc.

PROS: The best quality available. You can watch it at your leisure. It’s neatly boxed and packaged. You can lend the disc to a friend and they can watch it.

CONS: You have to pay. You are forcibly bombarded with anti-piracy adverts. These screens are nine times out of ten unskippable and frustratingly delay your viewing. Occasionally you have to put up with ordinary adverts too, despite having paid. You have to wait until the film is released on DVD/ Blu-ray, usually several weeks or months after it has been released in cinemas. As with cinema releases, discs are released at different times around the world, so others can be buying the film abroad whilst you’re still waiting. Studios release and re-release and re-re-release discs again and again in the hope of sponging more money from you. You might think you have the ‘Uncut’ version, but what about the ‘Directors Cut’ and the ‘Collectors Edition’ and the ‘Super Directors Uncut Collectors Edition’? A prime example of this was the Lord of the Rings Extended Edition blu-rays which were calculatedly released months after the theatrical version blu-rays. It’s not usually equipped with a digital copy, so you can only watch it with the right auxilliary hardware (ie. a blu ray/ dvd player).

You pirate the movie.

PROS: As before… It’s free. No ads of any kind, watch it when you want, share it with whoever you like, watch it on any device, usually a smallish digital file size, watch it as soon as it’s pirated – no ocean divides #nooceans

CONS: Potentially substantially lower quality, both audio and video.

BOOKS

You buy an eBook

PROS: Assuming you read it on the device it was purchased for; good quality, legitamate (so customer services to solve any quality issues) You can read it right away as soon as it’s downloaded.

CONS: You have to pay, and often pay exorbitantly given that there are no distribution costs (printing, transport etc.) If you lose the digital copy (considerably easier to do than losing a book) then you may have to buy another. It is incompatible with other e-readers other than the device it was purchased for (eg. Amazon – Kindle, Kobo store – Kobo reader etc.)

You pirate an eBook.

PROS: It is free. It is DRM-free. You can read it on any device (once converted to the appropriate file format). You can share it with whoever you like and redownload it as many times as you like.

CONS: It may need to be converted for your e-reader, athough usually it doesn’t need to. As a result of this, it may have formatting issues. If DRM-free content is detected on your device, some companies can and will remote wipe your device (including books you have legally purchased) – Amazon, I’m looking at you.

What is especially frustrating in the example of books, is that if you own a book, if it is on your shelf at home (ie. after you have paid good, hard earned cash for it), then you can trade it, share it, sell it on, give it away to charity, whatever you like. It’s yours. If you buy the eBook, despite paying the same amount (or in some instances more), you are bound by DRM and obstructed from sharing it, reading it on multiple devices, deleting and redownloading it. You are effectively paying to BORROW a book. That sucks. It shouldn’t even be legal, that’s what libraries are for.

SO HERE’S THE THING

When all of the PROS of honest, legal consumerism far outweigh the CONS, then you can expect a decline in piracy. Right now, in the two industries above (film and books) it seems nobody is making any effort to rectify the unbalance. Whilst that’s the case, why should the consumer go out of their way, to be inconvenienced and charged for an inferior product than they can get elsewhere for free?

You’ll notice that music is not one of the industries listed above. That’s because the music industry has slowly but surely tackled their piracy problem, at least to some degree. How? Through online shopping, streaming, and music on demand services, and through stripping tracks of Digital Rights Management (DRM) ie. DRM-free.

Almost all of the music I own these days is bought and paid for legitamately, through iTunes, or Google Play or Amazon MP3. I have spent more money on music since these online, music on demand services have launched than I ever did at any time in my life before that. Music in the cloud means that I can listen across all of my devices. It means if I lose a song I can redownload it. Most importantly, it means that once I have paid for a tune, it belongs to me. People are willing to pay for content, it just has to be worth paying for.

So here is the message, and hell, how it’s heart felt:

Studios, distributors, publishers – if you fuck with the consumer, the consumer will fuck you right back. Instead of attacking consumers, labelling them as criminals, trying to frighten and intimidate them through legal tactics and law suits, how about you just offer a fucking service that people are happy to pay for?

We don’t go to Burlington’s. Or, why there is a fine line between hairdressers and con artists.

I got conned today. It wasn’t a conventional con – that is to say, I wasn’t actually ripped off of any money, it was more of a psychological scam. I was preyed upon for my good nature.

Let me pitch you the scenario.

I was having a bad day anyway. It’s raining heavily, I have a headache and my bus to the cinema was not only running late by about twenty-five minutes, it was actually so slow that I ended up jumping off and walking. Needless to say, I beat the bus to town on foot, a small victory, albeit I got very wet.

I nipped in to Sainsbury’s for an expensive sandwich to see if I could abate my headache, but due to their astonishing lack of anything enveloped in bread, I ended up perusing the salads and buying a Caesar Salad (what am I, post pregnancy?)

The rain hadn’t let up, and as I left the shop I was practically running to reach the cinema for three different reasons:

1) I was late for The Next Three Days. Never be late for Russell Crowe.

2) It was raining, and despite a fair grasp of the bit of physics that dictates running through rain is equal to walking through it (your body displaces the same amount of water), I wasn’t thinking rationally.

3) I was trying to avoid the people in umbrellas and charity printed t-shirts who persist in hassling passers-by even in the rain. Don’t get me wrong, some of them are doing a great job raising money for good causes (others are just twats flogging hair cuts), but it reaches a point where you can’t walk down the street without being harangued. It’s tiresome.

Anyway, I was mid-run across the street, when a girl, she had an umbrella but was devoid of a charity Tee (how could I have known?!!), addressed me politely:

“Excuse me, do you know the way to Burlingtons?”

I paused. I was late, it was wet, but honestly, the poor girl was looking for somewhere in this rain, the least I could do was respond.

“Sorry, never heard of it.” I turned to go, but it was too late.

“That’s great!”, she said, “that means I can give you one of these!” She shoved something in my hand and proceeded to espouse some Hair salon or other, enthusing that my girlfriend, mum or sister would love it and that Burlington’s were doing a great deal of 90% off a full make-over, normally worth £500 but offered today for just £60. “How great is that?!” She exclaimed.

I had several problems with her sales patter. Firstly, she doesn’t know the girls in my life. None of them would want that (except perhaps my girlfriend, and she’d like the idea of it more than the actual thing), and even if they did, why would I be the one willing to shell out £60 in the street to buy it for them?

Secondly, something irritated me about her suggestion of the price. “Worth £500!” I took her up on it.

“Hang on a minute, I only know it’s worth £500 because you’re telling me it is, and you work for them so you’re not an entirely reliable source. Additionally, 90% off £500 doesn’t leave the price at £60, it leaves it at £50, so that’s just not true (your credibility is dropping like a stone), and finally – even if I was carrying 60 (or 50) quid on me, I’m a bloke, and that remains an extortionate price for a God forsaken haircut!”

There was a pause.

“Do you want to know what comes with it?”

It was at this point that I asserted that I really was running late, and that there was no way I was prepared to pay £60 for it. She wished me a fine day, ironically, given that she’d just added to a growing list of reasons why it was most definitely anything but ‘fine’, and I darted off through the scatter of rain drops and bus shelters to watch me a ‘fine’ film. (In all fairness, the film was much better than I anticipated. Flawed on numerous levels, but still entertaining, and probably the highlight of my day.)

So where was the con? You are thinking. The con, is that this girl, who was chubby but otherwise perfectly pleasant, used my own good nature (stopping to help with directions) to try to take my money. It was dishonest. If you are the type of person who pays through the nose to momentarily make yourself feel better about your dwindling looks, don’t go to Burlingtons – Unless you go in to tell them that you know exactly where they’re located and you still don’t want the shit they’re flogging.

Let’s talk 3D. Because we have to.

3D has been labelled all sorts of things in it’s relatively brief stint at the forefront of cinema. But is it groundbreaking, futuristic, or just a gimmick? Well, I couldn’t possibly answer that in such simplistic terms. But here’s the thing:

In a recent article about Clash of the Titans 2 (I didn’t dig it out, just stumbled upon it while browsing – in fact, I still haven’t seen the first one), I read that the  studios approach to the film would be to make 3D integral, “rather than just slapping it on at the end”. This set off alarm bells.

It’s one thing to offer an alternative viewing solution for audiences in the form of 3D, but there are a great many people, perhaps even a majority, who actually still prefer watching films in their original 2D aspect. Are those people to be spurned in favour of 3D exclusivity?

No doubt studios and directors will deny the suggestion, but if 3D is described as “integral” to the film, doesn’t that by definition mean that to watch it in 2D would be equivalent to somehow watching a lesser product?

There are numerous issues I have with 3D. Not least, I fail to understand why the technology is possible without glasses and yet cinemas still require them. Further, that cinemas charge more for a 3D film and in some venues additionally charge for the glasses to then view that film (Shrewsbury Cineworld for example). Finally, personally I’ve found focusing in 3D to be really difficult with blurring seemingly unavoidable. And it’s been known to give me a headache too.

Given that there has been so much emphasis on crisp, true HD recently one would think that a clear image would be a minimum requirement in a cinema. In fact, while I’m on the topic, is ordinary 2D cinema really showing as pristine an image as could be achieved? I feel sure that in a world where the illusion of another dimension can be created, at least some of the fuzziness could be cleaned up.

Plus, is 3D really 3D or are you essentially just watching layers of 2D with subtle image alterations? ie. Flat images aligned to give the impression of perspective.

Surely somebody else has noticed that while you’re focussing on the objects trying to appear nearby, objects in the distance are out of focus. When I watch a film I want to be able to observe what is going on in the background just as clearly as what is going on in the foreground – it all helps draw me in to the fictional world I’m watching. 3D denies me that option, and if films begin being created with 3D “integral” to their production and viewing, it’s not long before audiences and films will be split in to factions. Those that watch anything, and those that won’t watch 3D. Do studios really want to slim the already dwindling cinema market even more?