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The short-term future of the movie industry may be bleak, but, as director Christopher Nolan argued in a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece published earlier this week, the same technology that threatens to downgrade films into genericized “content” will also create brand-new possibilities for the medium.
In the piece, the director of Interstellar and the Dark Knight trilogy suggested that digital technology has been “co-opted by the very establishment it sought to challenge,” citing moves toward digital projection and satellite distribution as being signs of a corporate shift toward the homogenization of cinema.
“As streams of data, movies would be thrown in with other endeavors under the reductive term ‘content,’ jargon that pretends to elevate the creative, but actually trivializes differences of form that have been important to creators and audiences alike,” Nolan wrote, likening movie theaters of the future to large-scale televisions. “The distributor or theater owner (depending on the vital question of who controls the remote) would be able to change the content being played, instantly,” he explained. “This process could even be automated based on ticket sales in the interests of ‘fairness.’ “
However, even if that future came to pass, it would only be temporary, he went on to argue. “Once movies can no longer be defined by technology, you unmask powerful fundamentals — the timelessness, the otherworldliness, the shared experience of these narratives,” Nolan wrote, adding that audiences will “lay down their money to those studios, theaters and filmmakers who value the theatrical experience and create a new distinction from home entertainment that will enthrall — just as movies fought back with widescreen and multitrack sound when television first nipped at its heels.”
Likening the movie theater experience to concertgoing — “No one goes to a concert to be played an MP3 on a bare stage,” he reasons — Nolan pushed for filmmakers to create movies worthy of the scale of the movie theater. “The cinema of the future will depend not just on grander presentation, but on the emergence of filmmakers inventive enough to command the focused attention of a crowd for hours,” he wrote. “It’s unthinkable that extraordinary new work won’t emerge from such an open structure.”
Part doomsaying, part optimism about the future, Nolan’s op-ed is entirely in tune with his own at-times-contrary career to date, which has seen him embrace Imax while preferring film to digital and shying away from 3D. Whether his commentary will be fully engaged with by those he criticizes or wishes to engage, however, remains to be seen.
Interstellar, Nolan’s next movie, will be released Nov. 7.
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