The cinema has always been something special to me. I would have to say that as I’ve grown into a man boy, the experience has lost some of its lustre, but I would write this off to the aging process and the various experiences that come with it. I’ll say this much though, my formative years were shaped by the cinema. Going to the movies was probably my favourite pastime as a boy and looking back now, it’s something my father was solely responsible for nurturing. He used to take me most weekends and it was with him that I saw big block busters that have continued to resonate with me such as 1989’s Batman, 1991’s Kindergarten Cop and 1993’s Jurassic Park.
These were the years of VCR machines and I was lucky that my old man never judged my choices at the video shop. I think he would have drawn the line at Basic Instinct, but outside of the erotic movies, he gave me free reign to hire whatever I wanted and this allowed me to see movies I usually wouldn’t be allowed to see in the cinema. I remember hiring the original Robocop a year after its release. This movie was notoriously violent in its day and the old man didn’t flinch. In fact, he pulled out all the stops by the time its sequel rolled around in 1990 by procuring tickets for me and two of my friends and then accompanying us to see the movie.
In those days, the cinema we most frequented was located in a somewhat low-key mall and one of the things I loved most about going to this cinema was the fact that it was never full. You could always get a ticket. I would only realise much later that this was detrimental to the cinema’s profits and its ability to go on operating. This was way back in the late 80s and early 90s, a time in which the profitability of a cinema was still driven by incredible diversity in terms of films to showcase. Things were nowhere near where they are today, whereby we have much lesser cinema chains as a result of a number of variables.
The Decline of Cinema & the Rise of the Internet
I believe it’s safe to assume that the decline in the number of people going to the cinema has a lot to do with the rise of the internet and associated technologies. There are other factors too at play that I’ll address as we go along. A problem always has a number of contributing factors and in the case of cinema, it was the internet combined with re-production technologies like CD burners. The piracy and/or copying of intellectual property goes back hundreds of years, right back to when the first book was published. All that’s happened since is that as technology has gotten more advanced, it’s become more widespread and better in quality.
I’ve often questioned why we’ve always had the means available to copy intellectual property? When we had video machines, we had RF cables to connect one machine to another and create duplicate copies, and when he had DVD’s we got CD/DVD burners. Let’s not forget that the same set of technologies wreaked havoc on the music industry. As the internet began to shoot into astronomical speeds, films became available on pirate websites from which a user could download a copy. All these factors, in the opinion of this humble writer, contributed to the declining number of people attending the movies.
But I’m pointing no fingers at the cinema chains themselves, when in fact I should. Higher ticket prices were also to blame and even right now as I speak, cinema prices are not affordable, nor are many cinemas within range of economically challenged areas. Thus it can also be assumed that rising ticket costs also played a part in the decline of attendees. Coupled with standard cinema edibles like coke, popcorn and chocolates, which for the longest time have come at an astronomical price, is it any wonder that the cinema is not the first line of defence when it comes to a family outing?
Finally we have recently emerged internet streaming websites such have Netflix, which unlike the traditional film studios, have embraced the trappings of the internet and have moved to exploit online technologies and thus capitalise on them. The result has been the creation of a new industry that uses the internet to present its films to a movie-craving audience. Convenience combined with certain cost-saving efforts have seen companies like Netflix come to dominate a very decent sized segment of the market.
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Big Screens & Big Special Effects to the Rescue
All is not lost for cinema and the few companies that own the chains that dominate the market. Help, it appears, has come from two sources. The first source is not so much a source as it is a fact and even an asset, which is the size. The cinema’s greatest appeal has been its ability to give the audience a movie on a massive screen. The ‘big screen’ as it’s often been known has always been able to engulf the viewer more effectively and deliver a larger than life experience. The cinema-going public has also changed and no more dramatically than by the mega budget block buster, which as it turns out, is the one thing people will still come out for.
Special effects laden block busters have come to dominate the scene, providing the film going public with a reason to leave their homes. The reason is quite simple – the cinema screen dimensions provide the perfect home for movies of this nature. It’s why staple franchises like Star Wars and Transformers will always get a massive audience and why the Marvel Cinematic Universe creams it at the box office. Superhero films specifically have become the bread and butter of the Hollywood machine, providing studios with opportunity after opportunity to make films based on popular comics. Modern 3D effects and conversion techniques have only added more coals to the barbecue.
People aren’t idiots though, they’re not going to flock in herds to see big budget effects films if they aren’t good, and by good the implication is that the movie isn’t just good to look at. No boys and girls, people demand that these films deliver on a cerebral and/or emotional level as well, and if they don’t, they fail. The industry has thus become narrower and more specialised. Whether the superhero movie will eventually go the way of the western remains to be seen.
The current movie goer has lots and little to contend with. On the lots to contend with side of things there’s the high ticket prices combined with the expensive typical cinema food items. From a monetary perspective, it’s not great and it deters single parents and even whole families from bringing the kids and possibly their friends in tow to see a movie. On the little to contend with of things the range of movies has lessened. One generally finds that old Hollywood heavyweights of the past have become straight to video or streaming regulars while the independent cinemas have also suffered from the greater focus on big franchises instead of smaller specialised films. Maybe one day when the dust has settled and we’re through with all the remakes, sequels and superhero films, we’ll return to form and diversity.