Monday, April 14, 2008

A Necessary Correction: Affirming the Need for the Uwe Boll Petition

"So bad, it's good" has been a significant draw for audiences all over the globe. It seems like audiences like to watch the worst of filmmaking, almost as a sort of cleansing of the palate. However, audiences do not like to watch offensive, senseless, and useless filmmaking - that has only resulted in lost revenue and lost credibility. One of the most outstanding examples of this "style" is that of German director Uwe Boll, who, over the years, has made some of the worst-reviewed movies, almost all of which are video game adaptations, such as In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale (right). Unsurprisingly, his name has become an insult in the video game community. Boll's films comprise the majority of video game film adaptations, and this has been instrumental in creating the public image that the video game is an unintelligent, immature medium that is incapable of any real storytelling.
While Boll is usually only referred to in asides and jokes, there has been a storm of activity due to a petition to permanently stop Uwe Boll's filmmaking career. The petition collects signatures as a sign of community-wide discontent with the director's filmmaking, and asks Boll to permanently retire his camera. Normally, petitions carry nearly no weight. Petitions for everything from political misnomers to cartoon DVD releases have floated through the internet, and have had a history of getting absolutely nothing done. However, the stakes are different on this one - in an interview, Uwe Boll personally stated if a million signatures landed on the "Stop Dr. Uwe Boll" petition, he would stop making movies. As soon as he made the declaration, sites for both video game and film aficionados all over the internet jumped at the news, posting it in an attempt to get as many signatures as possible. As of today, nearly 200,000 signatures grace the petition, which is almost a fifth of the requirement. However, Boll has shown early signs of not making good on his word, challenging the legitimacy of the petition. He claims that the petition is signed by a very small group of people, only twenty or thirty times per person. Of course, while that is possible, it would require twenty or thirty computers per person, as, according to slashfilm, the petition records the IP addresses of the voters. Any real debate over the petition is pointless, however: A filmmaker made a verbal, nonlegal agreement to stop his career when a virtual piece of paper had a million signatures on it. The entire deal has no legal backing, and is more a representation of a community hope to squash a terrible filmmaker. In other words, there's no guarantee that anything happen when the petition eventually reaches the one-million voter mark.
So, since there is no real reason to believe that this petition will go anywhere, is there a reason to continue it? Absolutely. In championing this cause, I have decided to look back at two blog posts written before the petition became such a championed cause. The first one, written by freelancer writer Dave White, a writer that seems to have made a name for himself discussing the worst that Hollywood has to offer. His article on MSNBC did not have a space for commentary, so I went to his website and commented on his blog post regarding the article. I responded to his favorable review of Uwe Boll's filmmaking, arguing that reading into his films for genius is a dead end. The second, by Dave McAvoy of film blog Whimsical F-Bomb, ("Film" being the four-letter word), questions the elitism of attempting to wipe a percieved bad taste from the film world. My responses are provided below.

Uwe Boll: Bad Filmmaker or Trash Visionary?
Mr. White, I have to say that I enjoyed reading your article on the liveliness of director Uwe Boll. In doing research for a blog post on Dr. Boll in the wake of the famous petition, I have to say that your article, as the only article respecting Boll's creativity, was a surprise. That said, I have to strongly disagree with your opinions on Mr. Boll's films.
Boll's films don't 'dismantle filmmaking,' even in his attempted lampooning. The ca
mp that is derived from this is little more than a sinking desperation and a willingness to smear the lines of taste in order to make a profit. If these movies had been as bland as "Are We There Yet," as you pointed out, then the movie would have made next to no money at all - something we saw with "In the Name of the King." Instead, his movies belay an attempt to be a video game version of Micheal Moore - throwing controversy at the audience in the hopes of achieving success. Without the video game footage (a move probably made to milk the video-games-as-art controversy) and decapitated zombie, would anyone have gone to see "House of the Dead?"
I would argue that instead of a lovably off-the-wall screwball filmmaker, Boll represents a liability - in using the names of video games to sell his films, he has hurt the video game community. He has made fools of the German government by exploiting a loophole that allows him to write off his production costs. He may be no Spielberg, but he is certainly no Ed Wood, either.

Uwe Boll, Anti-Fan Activism, and the Tensions of Convergence Culture
I really appreciated your analysis of the psychological response to Uwe Boll. I have to admit that I have not read Hume and Kant, but your quotes very directly related to the topic at hand.
I do, however, take issue with your implication that this petition amounts to a "final solution," as you say, to what would be the Uwe Boll problem. Attacking something that one considers tasteless is not the same as attempting to eradicate anything under a certain standard of taste. This isn't a form of censorship; rather, it's an expression of outrage, in the same vein as Al Sharpton protesting misogynist stereotypes in rap music. The communities that have dedicated themselves to the promotion of this petition do so because of the very same capitalism that allows Boll films to exist. While Boll's films exist as part of a loophole in the idea of capitalism, their continued production is a sign of something that simply needs change, not something that should stand to be studied. It is an expression of fierce hatred, and one that, even if ignored by Boll himself, serves as a warning to potential investors and distributors. Attempting to make what amounts to a million negative reviews is not much different from any other protest - Boll's actions hurt the video game community, and as a community, they have chosen to create awareness and make a change. I don't think this is any more elitist than calling for micheal moore to make more truthful documentaries, or challenging the racism in the Resident Evil 5 trailer.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

The 5-Year Lapse: Hollywood and the Iraq War

It is often said that Hollywood is five years behind the times. That is, whatever happens today will be explored in a film five years from now. While this has much to do with the long development cycle that a movie (especially a big-budget movie) requires, it speaks more to the desire to avoid turmoil. Controversy can certainly bring a movie into the spotlight, it can also cripple a movie's chances of doing well. Last weekend, MTV films' Stop-Loss (right) opened in theaters nationwide. It garnered generally positive reviews, but nevertheless did poorly on its opening weekend. As of this weekend, the movie is in a limited amount of theaters - a search for the movie in downtown Los Angeles this weekend shows only four theaters playing Stop-Loss, as opposed to the 7-10 theaters for movies like The Ruins. When it comes to Iraq, it seems, the five years since the invasion isn't enough time at all.

But is this necessarily unexpected? For years after the 9/11 tragedy, movies shied away from the event - even video games had to remove any mention of the towers. The rationale was that the subject was just too sensitive. Similarly, as soldiers are dying in a war zone there may not be much of an audience wanting to watch them die onscreen. In a broader sense, war movies are often an incredible litmus test when it comes to public perception of a war. Before American involvement in World War II, Isolationism was policy, so when Warner Bros. put out films decrying the Nazi's Anti-Semitism, they had to testify before congress. Once Americans started fighting the war, films tended to be standard escapist fare, or rabble-rousing propaganda films. However, It was only after the war that classics like Tora! Tora! Tora! and Bridge on the River Kwai, films that imagined battles through Hollywood eyes, came to be - and many were made quite a few years after the war itself. Once the threat of the enemy to American soil and American sons was no longer tangible Hollywood started to comment on the social changes and situations that had happened due to the war, such as women in the workplace.

Though not all may believe it, however, the Iraq War is quite different from World War II. Its biggest difference is in public opinion -- most citizens recognized the need for action after Pearl Harbor, but even before that, there was growing resentment against the Nazi war machine. The public opinion during this war is more similar to the one during the Viet Nam war. In that era, there were two staunchly opposite sides - the youth and "hippie" movements against the war, and the "silent majority" that supported the war as a fight to Communism. This divisive split was the battleground from which movie makers could draw their revenue.

The path of Viet Nam movies, therefore, can serve as a guide to the very similarly sculpted landscape of the current populace. Few can deny that great and piercing films were made about the Viet Nam war. In fact, most of the Iraq-themed movies are born out of attempts to capture the feeling of films such as Platoon or Born on the Fourth of July. However, the first successful Vietnam film was not known for its artistic purpose. It was The Green Berets (left), which came out nearly ten years after the conflict had started. Even at this point, the only movie that had any success was a brawny action movie that celebrated a conservative, anti-communist, pro-military stance. In fact, the first fifteen minutes of the film shows a group of Green Berets fending off a liberal news media, arguing many of the points that this "silent majority" wanted to hear. When a housewife asks why she never heard many of the soldier's accounts in the newspapers, he replies, "Well, that's newspapers for you, ma'am. You can fill volumes with what you don't read in them."At one point, the prodding of an anti-war journalist prompts a soldier to point out the weapons they captured from the Viet Cong, and he notes that the weapons are made by Chinese communists, Russian communists, and Czech communists. It seems obvious to him, he says, that this is a communist takeover of the world.

Why did this film do so well in the box office? It came out in 1968, America's most tumultuous year. Amidst all the shouts of the hippie movement and the political protests, conservative Americans wanted something that affirmed their view of the war. John Wayne and his Green Berets provided just that. Looking at comments being made today in regards to Stop-Loss, it is obvious that the the situation still stands. One commentor wrote that "The reason no Iraq war movie has done well is because they have all been anti-American themed, with the exception of The Kingdom (which tried to be somewhat neutral)." While this is quite far from true (The Kingdom seemed rooted in the same soil as 24, while Stop-Loss is strongly sympathetic to the American Soldier). Drowning in protests against the war and in media that sings to the choirs of those against the war, the conservatives that believe in the war are aching to see an obviously pro-soldier, pro-military stance. In fact, that is likely a large part of why The Kingdom did so well in the box office. If the Battle of Fallujah, for instance, were to be turned into a movie like, say, Black Hawk Down, with soldiers "just fighting for the man next to him," it would tap straight into that frustrated conservative audience.

But the key here is not to look at time lapses, or key points in the war. The most important thing to note is public opinion. In many ways, the current opinion on the war is divided just as it was back in 2003. The left still claims that this is an unwanted, unjust and illegal war, and the right still claim that it is a war for freedom, and an essential leg of the War on Terror - basically, the same rhetoric that was tossed around when Michael Moore lambasted President Bush in his acceptance speech for Bowling for Columbine. The majority of the Iraq war movies being presented today (such as In the Valley of Elah or Redacted) preach to a certain demographic that already knows this to be the truth. Young filmmakers, who grew up with the mythos presented by films such as Platoon, probably wanted to make films in the same vein. But in this case, five years is certainly too soon.

So what has to change for this sort of atmosphere to shift? First of all, the war needs to end, one way or another. Once that happens, and American men and women are not in danger, audiences will be more responsive to seeing these images on film. But what is needed most is time. The safest time for a critical look at the war would be years after the effects of the war on the international political scene are played out. World Trade Center capitalized on this - the two largest audiences for the film were conservatives and teenagers. The conservative angle is obvious, but the teens are a little more elusive. The reason? Those who were teens at the time of the film were too young to understand the situation in 2001. Thus, they went to see World Trade Center to tap into the feeling that they missed. Eight or nine years after this war, films that show this war as a tragedy may well be accepted as great films, possibly as great as Platoon. Even Platoon was made more than ten years after the war was over.

But what should filmmakers push now? Something that addresses both sides of the war, and looks at soldiers as currently fighting, not relics of a distant war. A spy thriller that leads viewers on a chase to hunt down a terrorist. A movie that doesn't remind Americans of the war's worst, but relays its complexity. While public opinion is still divided by the same lines as the ones at the war's onset, films should open a dialog with those opinions. As good as it may be, Stop-Loss doesn't present itself as part of either view, and that proved to be its downfall.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Across the Internet: A Collection of the Internet's Effect on Film

As with a few weeks ago, I have decided to peruse the internet looking for a collection of websites that a reader could look to for useful insight into the film world. Using the Webby and IMSA criteria that serve as guidelines to a well-made website, I have added ten links to the Linkroll of this blog, this time with emphasis on more peripheral parts of the internet's relationship to film, such as technology sites and interactive games. First up is the oddly addicting Fantasy Moguls, a movie mogul's twist on the Fantasy Sports idea. The aspiring movie maker invests fantasy money into upcoming theater releases, in the hopes of getting the best returns based on box office profits. An ingenious idea, Fantasy Moguls is arguably the internet's best tool for an aspiring moviemaker, because it puts all of one's instinct and theory into motion. For research into movies and to look at the buzz surrounding a movie (usually a prime indicator of how well a movie does), the blog First Showing comments mostly on trailers and ads, but also on casting and marketing. While it can be a solid resource, it tends to be overly positive towards what it covers. For those seeking out the next big thing in movies, Director's Notes showcases directors and films from film festivals all over the world. While the movies may be hit or miss, many of these films would not be available to anyone outside of these festivals. The internet has also been a major center for numerous subcultures, and that is nowhere more apparent than the Anime News Network. By far, the absolute most extensive site about anime on the internet, ANN contains reviews (anime reviews, for some reason, are rare in most other review sites) and coverage of conventions and news in the Anime world. For anyone looking into this subculture, (such as, say, the Wachowski brothers) ANN is a must. Similarly, prides itself on representing the horror film community, sporting interviews with filmmakers and insights into new horror films. As this type of film is wildly popular in the United States, can be an effective tool to read into this world. A solid tool for anyone looking into marketing in general, Advertising Age is a sharply critical look at marketing ploys and ads on television and the internet. It often spotlights movie advertising, like the Dark Knight's ad campaign. For residents of the Los Angeles area, LA Weekly is an offbeat resource for everything from the best underground food to the latest concerts. Their "Film + TV" guide explores a counterculture-esque view into the film world, though that may not be for everyone. CampusCircle provides a listing of advanced screenings from movie studios. Given that studios screen these films in order to get buzz and feedback, a one-stop listing of these screenings is a welcome idea for both the excited consumer and the movie executive alike.
Movie executives and consumers don't always agree, however, and nowhere is this more evident than in the context of movie downloads. The MPAA's website has scores of information about how piracy, as they call it, is destroying the film industry. For anyone looking for the complete view on the issue, that stalwart, official position is always posted on their website first, even if it is found to be incredibly factually inaccurate. On the other hand, the Electronic Frontier Foundation specializes in free speech and intellectual property rights in the internet's domain, and sits in direct contrast to the MPAA and its sister association, the RIAA. While informative, the site has an obvious anti-corporate leaning, and as such, must be taken with a grain of salt.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Five-Year Checkmate: The IFC's Myopic Deal with Blockbuster

The Independent Film Channel has made a name for itself as a premiere source of independent and foreign films for more than a decade. Its film wing, IFC Films, has distributed movies as diverse and critically acclaimed as Transamerica and The Wind that Shakes the Barley. As such, when indie film enthusiasts learn that IFC Films has decided to release a movie under its label, there is usually quite a bit of support. After all, the movies in question are actively looking for any distribution, be it from IFC or from the independent wings of major companies such as Fox Searchlight or Sony Pictures Classics. However, due to a deal made this weekend, support for IFC film may become drastically muted.

IFC signed a two-year deal with Blockbuster, allowing Blockbuster a surprising amount of exclusivity on IFC titles. Upon a film's release, Blockbuster will have exclusive distribution for 60 days, in every possible format -- digital distribution, rentals, purchase, etc. After these sixty days, the movie can be purchased outside of a blockbuster store, but remains exclusive for the purpose of rentals for three years. Considering the time frame of the agreement, this means that some films distributed by IFC Films will not be available for rent outside of Blockbuster until the year 2013. This, of course, is an incredible deal for Blockbuster, since the company has now secured sole rental rights from a highly respected film distributor. This simultaneously strikes a blow to online competitors such as Netflix and brick-and-mortar rental chains such as Hollywood Video. Unfortunately, the deal is exceedingly short-sighted for IFC Films.

For the filmmaker, wide audience accessibility is a must. While Blockbuster may tout the fact that it has 6,000 retail stores and a vast online distribution service, these numbers do not paint the whole story. Blockbuster only plans to open an "indie films" section in 1,000 of their 6,000 stores, and it is unknown if the other 5,000 will have any IFC films at all. And though they are an incredibly large and recognizable name, they are not the only rental source in the United States, and are certainly not the majority. Audiences that subscribe to Netflix or prefer to go to small business movie rental stores (both staples of independent film enthusiasts) now have no access to the rental of these films, unless they go out of their way to go to a local Blockbuster, subscribe to their online service, or wait for an entire three years. In film terms, that time frame is an eternity. Crash, for instance, is three years old. Had that film not been widely available on video, it's unlikely that audiences would start to watch the film now, had it been suddenly unleashed on the indifferent public. Simply put, this decision will likely result in a large reduction in the potential audience for a film.

In addition, Blockbuster follows a philosophy of "family-friendly" that can amount to purchasing "edited" versions of films or refusing to stock the films outright. For independent filmmakers, this amounts to little more than an absolute betrayal. Many times, objectionable content is instrumental in the proving of a film's point. (Ang Lee's Lust, Caution is a prime
example) It can also be the used as a method of censoring a film. This Film is Not Yet Rated, a documentary distributed by IFC, is a strong critique of the MPAA, the association that gives films their ratings. The very same MPAA rated the film NC-17, citing "objectionable content," and since Blockbuster does not carry films above an R rating, this means that the film is unavailable at any Blockbuster. Unfortunately, with this agreement between IFC and Blockbuster, if this film were to be released today, it would not see rental distribution for an entire three years.

What does this deal mean, then, for parties other than Blockbuster? For IFC Films, it can only mean a loss of respect. The film company will most likely be seen as a way to reach a drastically limited audience, and one that may force the filmmaker to limit what Blockbuster would deem "objectionable content." Through most other outlets, filmmakers will have access to powerhouse rental sites like Netflix and GreenCine, whose audiences easily comprise a large part of the rental population. What's more, both Netflix and GreenCine stock NC-17 films, which is a great bonus to the independent filmmaker. Given the alternatives, IFC films will look, at best, like a losing option.

For consumers, this deal is equally unfortunate. Moviegoers may have to wait years to rent films they want to see. And while it is true that they can buy the films and see them, that is of limited comfort. This is effectively limits the consumer to a single rental company or a $20 purchase. In the end, chances are that the consumers will end up pirating the films they want to see, rather than going through the far more inconvenient route of changing from the rental service they are comfortable with. This, of course, would be a setback for all parties, Blockbuster, IFC Films and filmmakers alike, though, when faced with a three-year wait or a $20 'rental,' piracy may, ironically, be the most convenient option for the consumer.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Drinking from a Hose: A small collection of the Internet's Best

While I enjoy the ability to use this blog as a way to express my views and arguments about the film world, I must recognize that the internet itself has much more information than I could possibly hope to convey. As such, I have provided, in my linkroll, a list of websites that I have found useful in my traversal of the internet. Some of these are more useful than others, due to varying levels of professionalism (while the internet may have a very wild-west appeal, guidelines such as IMSA criteria and awards such as the Webby Awards do signify the usefulness of professionalism on one's website) and, of course, because of their aims.

Blogs, for instance, are often more useful as insights to public opinion, as many of them (in fact, most of the sites at the Large Association of Movie Blogs) are simply reviews of films, and while I applaud their attempts at critiquing what Hollywood has to offer, the blogs themselves offer little insight outside of that of an aspiring critic. Still others are blatantly biased, and really offer little to no insight other than what is obvious from a static viewpoint. That said, there are a few insightful blogs that offer more than film reviews, such as the popular /film, which often contains well-researched looks into licensing and artwork relating to films. Furthermore, while it thinks that it is cooler than it really is, Ain't It Cool News is often a resourceful site for previews of many nerd-based film happenings (anything about Star Wars, Aliens, or by J.J. Abrams, for example.)

On the other hand, websites of newspapers dedicated to film tend to have a broader depth of information, and, though they tend to have reviews as well, these reviews are also almost always well-researched, if not always on the mark. For instance, the New York Time's section on movies chiefly looks at movie reviews by renowned critic A.O. Scott, but also looks at film's effects on the world, as well as how the world affects film. As the film world's biggest newspaper, Variety is a constant source of reliable coverage of nearly all of the film world's news. It also gives reviews of films released in theaters and film festivals, reviews that also analyze the film's marketability and reach. In my mind, however, the film world's most famous critic is also the best. Roger Ebert's website contains an incredibly extensive collection not only of movies, but editorials and insights into film festivals, the nature of films, and reflections on past film's influence. Numerous editors affiliated with his site also provide extensive commentary on all parts of the film world.

For a comprehensive listing of reviews, however, the best way to look is aggregate review sites, such as Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic. Both sites don't review films, but rather collect other reviews and create an average review based on these numbers.While Metacritic may have a larger collection of reviews to base its numbers on, Rotten Tomatoes also has information on box office numbers and interviews with people of the industry, making it a valuable site for more than the reviews. Don't make the mistake of many moviegoers (see picture) and base your decision on these aggregates, however - low scores can mean a movie is 'love-it-or-hate-it' as often as it can mean that it is poor.

Some of the provided websites stand as more encyclopedic resources. The darling of the internet movie enthusiast, IMDb is a community-run listing of movies, along with their casts, and technical aspects such as running times, languages and taglines. And, of a special note is Kids in Mind, which rates movies according to three categories - sexuality, violence, and language, and methodically details every instance of these potentially harmful effects on the youthful mind ("a husband and wife hug" is regularly counted in 'sexuality.') However, the website has another inadvertent use - the detailed descriptions of what is seen, what is heard, and what is implied allow for detailed research into controversial materials, giving readers a reliable way to critique sensationalizing reviews. These websites can be a substantial resource for a blogger to base arguments on, for market researchers to analyze audience reactions, or to gauge critical response to everything in the film world.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The After-Action Report: Responses to the End of the HD Format Wars

Over the last few weeks, blogs and news sites have been reporting on the loss of industry support for HD-DVD. Such a change is quite stunning, as the so-called format war had been raging on for quite a while, and the victory for Blu-ray was rather immediate. But, nevertheless, it did happen.
The format war had reached a sort of stalemate a few months ago, with some companies releasing their films in HD-DVD format, and others in Blu-Ray. This left consumers with a difficult decision, as most of today's moviegoers do not go to see a movie based on what studio releases them. Even now, some excellent films remain only on HD-DVD format (Children of Men, Transformers). But the move that started the downfall was made by Time Warner. Time Warner used to release films on both HD-DVD and Blu-Ray, but then decided in January to back Blu-Ray exclusively. Once this happened, a variety of stores decided to withdraw support for the HD-DVD format, including America's largest DVD seller, Wal-Mart. It's unclear whether their decision was based on Time Warner's, but it largely doesn't matter - the end result is that Toshiba, the maker of HD-DVDs itself, is planning to stop making HD-DVDs, making Blu-Ray the undisputed winner.
Since this occasion marked a large change in both the film and tech industry, the blogosphere at large had quite a bit to say about it. So, instead of chiming in with my own post about it, I chose to reply to posts online, responding to views on both the cause of HD-DVD's demise, and the future of Blu-Ray. The first post I replied to is by Rob Enderle, an analyst and leader of the Enderle Group, a tech analysis firm. He also sits on advisory boards for companies such as Dell, Toshiba and HP, and is a regular writer on Digital Trends via his Talk Backs blog. He analyzed the reasons why HD-DVD failed. The second is by Paul Glazowski by way of Mashable, a social networking news site. Glazowski regularly writes for Mashable, and has written for as well. His article claims that Blu-Ray's victory, while momentous, will amount to little when faced with the future of digital downloads. For ease of access, the responses are posted below.

"How Blu-Ray won the Fight and Why it Probably Won't Matter"
quite enjoyed your post on the format wars. Yours was one of the few I found that analyzed the demise of HD-DVD, instead of solely forecasting the future. I especially liked your argument about the Nintendo Wii. As much as insiders and tech aficionados may not want to believe it, what drives sales is the average consumer, generally clueless but looking for a good buy. Sony's brightest idea was using the average consumers in the video game market as a fulcrum for Blu-Ray sales. The average consumer is generally unsure of which direction to go (especially in a format war), so when they saw one item bundled with a complete game console, the advantage was obvious.
In fact, I would argue that the real clincher in the format war was definitely the PS3, because it had the lowest barrier to entry. If you looked at either format, you had steep requirements to get anything out of it - an HDTV, an HDMI cable, and the unit itself. Two of those units costed at least 800 to a thousand dollars. For any average consumer, the price was ridiculous. However, the PS3 doubled as a game console, and one which had multitudes of fans. They may not have had an HDTV, but it was okay, because the blu-ray player they were using also happened to be enjoyable without an HDTV, because of the gaming ability. Right there, one of the barriers to entry was lowered. Obviously, to get the full experience, upgrading to an HDTV was necessary, but not immediately. The Playstation 3 was also the cheapest blu-ray player around (much cheaper than a good HDTV), so it had a definite advantage.
Sony, of course, used this to its full advantage. It always touted the number of players, claiming it had its format in a million and a half homes. Of course, 1.4 million of those were PS3s. (
And while the North American adoption of the ps3 may not have been huge, it was rather large in Europe and Japan, where the rival Xbox 360 was unpopular, and where the Wii was nowhere to be found, as you stated.
In fact, it this could be best illustrated by looking at the shifting allegiances of a very lucrative industry: Adult videos. Say what you want about the adult industry, it is a perfect litmus test for a format. In the beginning, Blu-Ray tried to adopt a family-friendly stance, and banned pornography from its film repertoire. The porn industry responded by going to HD-DVD. However, companies were bombarded with requests for HD adult content on the shiny new Blu-Ray player that they got when they bought their PS3. Since there was such a market for Blu-Ray pornography, and since Sony desperately needed a way to pull ahead of HD-DVD, a compromise was found, and adult films were made in Blu-Ray HD. The point here is that once an industry which cares very little about the technical advantage of HD media decides to adopt a format, it has become desired by the mainstream. And, since Sony had spent an arm and a leg getting Blu-Ray players into the PS3s and into homes, the momentum for mainstream demand rested solely in the camp of Blu-Ray. ( I think that, while Time Warner's decision may have capitulated the change, the real underlying reason that the format war was won by Blu-Ray rested solely in the lowest barrier of entry that the PS3 represented.

"Blu-Ray Wins HD Disc Format Battle; Will Lose War to Downloads"

Your article on the future of Blu-Ray is informative and well-researched. Respectfully, however, I would have to disagree.

Digital downloads for movies simply will not enjoy the prominence that music downloads have. Simply put, the time and space requirements for full length films (and especially HD-level films) are just too much to be convenient. I am writing from a computer on a fast university internet connection, and I recently downloaded a 2GB demo of a computer game. The download took me 2 hours. A Blu-Ray disk is a 25 or 50GB download. I understand the idea of streaming as one downloads, but at such a size, the film could not possibly be streamed without an hour-long buffer beforehand. Added to that, even at 25GB per movie, a program box would have to have a 500 GB hard drive to even allow for enough movies to rival a small library of discs. If movie companies want to foster ease of purchasing, it would be way too counterproductive to have the user always deleting movies to make space for new ones, especially if, like iTunes, the user could not download them again. Even if they could, the time needed to download 25GB all over again would be quite annoying, especially when compared to the ease of popping in a disc into a player.
Let's not forget about DRM and the fact that one would not be able to "bring" the movie to a friend's house to watch it (few, if any, DRM'ed media outlets allow for transferability between machines. See the Xbox Live service, for instance). Despite the best of the RIAA's intentions, an official disk will still play in any player that reads the format.
Finally, one has to question, as a commenter has above, the difference between future downloads and Pay-Per-View. PPV already has HD broadcasts of movies in its repertoire, and that hasn't stopped people from renting or purchasing discs of the movie. If they are any indication, digital downloads will at best just be treated like PPV - an easy way to rent, at most, assuming that it's not immensely inconvenient and time consuming. And, until media storage and bandwith capabilities makes movie downloads as comparably small and downloadable as individual songs are now, that's not likely to happen any time soon.

Friday, February 8, 2008

The Video Game Movie: An Untapped Resource

Although some of the best film screenplays have come straight from the mind of the screenwriters, adapted screenplays have an equally long history, and are no less successful. The source that the story is adapted from can be any of a variety of mediums. The brilliant "Children of Men" was adapted from a book, "Across the Universe" from a collection of songs by the Beatles, and the wildly popular "300" from a comic book. Most famously, the "Pirates of the Carribean" Trilogy was based on the Disneyland ride of the same name.

But out of all mediums recently mined, the video game has been the most unsuccessful. For years, the industry rarely strayed past the notion of using video games as an accessory to market a film. By making an "officially licensed game" that would make interactive the experiences of the movie, companies can cash in on a film's success, or a game could serve as advertising for a film. This has been done for years, with everything from Disney movies to blockbuster action films. Recently, however, the opposite has happened - film companies have been releasing movies based on the video games themselves. However, they have been almost exceptionally terrible - many are not even screened for critics before wide release, a move studios only make if they know that the reviews will be almost universally poor.

The debate rages on, however, as to which side of the creative process is responsible for the apparently poor quality of video game releases. Is it the source material, a young form of entertainment media that is without artistic merit, or the adapters, treating a fully-formed art form with out the proper care and respect to translate it to another medium? To be fair, it is equal parts of both. For instance, the latest video game translation, Hitman, is based on an intriguing premise that, as a game, was quite unique: a hitman is genetically engineered, and scours the world killing the worst the world has to offer. While the idea of an engineered vigilante had premise, the story of the game never really went past that.

But what film producers fail to grasp is that there is an ultimate purpose in a video game that is completely different from any pre-recorded medium -- The interactive experience. In any game that is well-received, the emphasis is on the player enjoying the game, and not the sound or story. Therefore, these qualities are necessarily secondary when a game is created. Since many games are inspired by film genres themselves, their storylines tend to follow the outlines of thousands of Hollywood movies before them. It should be no wonder, therefore, that when a movie translation sticks to the plot, they only seem like mediocre action films at best. This means that games will work mostly to establish a particular mood or setting, create a shell of a story, plug in a thematically attractive character, and then focus on the gameplay from there.

If producers would understand this fundamental difference, then translations would be handled much differently. Rather than looking to capture the specific storyline, producers should look to capture the soul of the game's story and themes. In these details, games are prolific in what they have to offer. Games usually contain backgrounds and levels that are akin to fully realized sets, and the characters are often constructed simply to get an image across (the Loyal American Soldier, or Amoral Con Man, for instance).

In fact, if this is kept in mind, games that have a near-complete lack of story could translate to an excellent film. One of the most successful games of the 2007 holiday season was Rock Band, a game created entirely around the idea that even the most musically challenged consumer has had visions of emulating their favorite rock stars. The game itself has little story, but the players that indulgein it can create any style of band they desire, and grow their band from indie sensation to rock legend throughout the game's story mode. If a film were to be made strictly following this, it would be quite poor. However, if it followed the idea, casted up-and-coming but everyday-esque actors, and turned them into phenomenons (something akin to HBO's Entourage, but for a music band instead of an actor), then that film could have the creative prowess to translate into a successful video game movie.
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