I recently came across an episode of The Jetsons where Elroy was watching The Flintstones on his wristwatch.
Back then, this was obviously something everyone believed was far off in the future, much like Ralph Cramden told Alice on The Honeymooners he wouldn’t buy a TV set until there was 3D television. Now of course we have 3D TV, you can finally splurge for a set Ralph, and like Elroy on the Jetsons, we’re watching TV and movies on increasingly small screens.
In fact, when I talk to people in Hollywood about what they think the next big thing will be, many of them believe it will be something smaller you can watch on YouTube instead of the theaters. As Randall Stross of the New York Times writes (invoking the famous line from Sunset Boulevard) “I am still big, it’s the pictures that got small!”
As Stross reminds us, there weren’t even screens when film began, you looked into a Kinetoscope, then came theaters and the big screens. “Today, we’re reached the acme of technical sophistication,” he explained. “Movie watching is, again, a solitary experience, involving small images on a laptop, a tablet and, tinier still, a cellphone.”
And it is indeed a tradeoff, because we’re losing “the immersive cinematic experience,” but we also don’t have the shared experience of the movies, where we all laugh, scream, and cry together.
As many Hollywood denizens tell me, today’s generation want access. They want to watch a movie exactly when they want to watch it, and seeing it on a small screen isn’t that big a deal to younger people these days.
And as the Times reports, “Americans will pay to watch 3.4 billion movies online this year, more than double the number for 2010,” and much of it will be on smartphones, “a screen whose size is not much larger than the image seen through the Kinetoscope’s peephole,” Stross continues.
With the recession, it’s been hard to get audiences to go out and go to the movies, and with this kind of technology, it could get even more difficult, but some movies look great no matter where you watch them. Like John Milius, screenwriter of Apocalypse Now, once said, he loved Lawrence of Arabia in the theaters, and he liked it on TV too. But there’s still movies I believe should be seen in theaters, and I personally enjoy the collective experience of watching a movie with an audience.