TV Killed The Movie Star

Written by Chris Winterbottom 
THE DYING RACE OF CINEMAGOERS

From the beginning of the 20th century, the film industry has fascinated, surprised and thrilled audiences with revolutionary technology which allowed talented storytellers to tell their tales, through the miracle of sight. Early classics, such as ‘Metropolis’ helped ignite the worlds imagination, allowing both filmmakers and audiences alike to wonder at what was possible in the way we tell stories. The film industry has had few competitors over its existence, and despite some rough periods in its history, no other medium of storytelling has evolved, re-evolved and revolutionised itself as much as the Hollywood film industry has. Stories told through moving images, sound and colour was a reality few could ponder in the early 1900’s. Yet here we are, about a century later taking for granted the very thing that inspired so many before.

Why do we take it for granted? It’s a big question. I have never lost my love for cinema. Not even after watching great movies and being disturbed by the inconsiderate, or even after watching The Godfatherterrible movies, praying the inconsiderate would chirp up to provide a welcome distraction. Cinema was my first true love and I shall never betray her beauty, wonder and magic – even if they did another series of ‘Breaking Bad’. However, I understand that not everyone feels this way about films; and certainly not about the cinematic experience. I get it. It’s expensive, and more often than not, the film is not worth the price of admission. But cinema has been the go-to medium of storytelling for decades. Books have always been considered the intellectual’s pursuit, but I defy anyone who would claim that ‘The Godfather’ is not as profound as ‘Great Expectations’. 

Cinema attendances have fallen over the last decade or so, and you don’t have to be a genius to figure out why. In 2002, 176 million people visited the cinema. In 2014, the same statistic read 157 million. 19 million people fewer in a decade. That might not seem like much, but for cinema to lose that level of audience sets a frightening precedent for the future. There are many aspects to blame for this fall, but none more culpable than the notoriously high ticket prices for the average filmgoer, which is why the big budget films do so well. Audiences find a certain necessity to see ‘Avengers: Age Of Ultron’ on the big screen rather than at home, because it is an event movie. The same cannot be said for smaller films like the recent ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’. Clearly, audiences reserve a cinema trip for special occasions. Cinemas are forced into charging these astronomical prices due to the one-sided agreement in place with many film distribution companies, where theatres, on occasion, take as little as 10% away from ticket sales. Film distribution companies are literally holding theatres to ransom. But the domino effect of this short profit margin is that families, and more importantly children, the future audience for cinema, are being priced out of visiting. The proof is in the popcorn; the theatre favourite is the most profitable commodity in the world. A truly terrifying and revealing fact. And adverts? That half an hour you’re sat there waiting for the movie to start – the key to a theatre’s success. I don’t have the heart to tell you just how much EE pay to get those Kevin Bacon adverts up on the silver screen every time.

THE THRIVING RACE OF COUCH POTATOES

A lot of industry voices have attributed this decline in film attendance on film piracy, and while this is obviously a problem for cinema in general, it does not cut to the core of what the real issue is. The real, indisputable cause behind the slow death of cinema, is the rise of a competitor; a competitor half the age of cinema and yet now, undoubtedly outshining it. For a long time, it was the shadowy pretender to film’s throne. Now it is arguably the king of storytelling. I am talking, of course, about television. Ever since ‘The Sopranos’ first aired in 1999, TV has had a rapid rise in popularity. The latest ‘Avengers’ movie was recently released, yet all I hear being talked about is the new series of ‘Game Of Thrones’. Game Of ThronesThere are still people today who are only just committing themselves to their first ‘Breaking Bad’ binge watch. Television has never been so popular, and I say “congratulations”.

So why is TV taking over as the preferred medium of storytelling? The first reason is that it is addictive. TV shows are written in such a way that each episode creeps under your skin and grabs you before you realise it. I am a long-term fan of ‘Entourage’, a rather lightweight series in comparison to something like ‘The Wire’. Yet, at 30 minute an episode, I can fly through a series; no problem. Also, the simple time frame to a TV series, the infinite number of episodes; it all allows characters to breathe and develop, which allows the audience to form bonds with their on screen heroes (or bad guys, your call). The rise of legal streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime have afforded story seekers an alternative and, let’s be honest, preferable way of watching both TV and film. The key is a combination of convenience and cost. A Netflix subscription gives you a month of unlimited viewing of anything you want (from their selection), for the measly sum of just £7 a month. If you watch a movie in IMAX and 3D, you may have just blown two months’ worth of Netflix.

Audiences are getting more for their money, and don’t need to leave the house to get it. Hell, they don’t even have to get dressed. This sort of viewing is revolutionising the way TV studios, and now film studios are targeting their audience. Some TV shows are made in house; Amazon Prime have produced their own shows like ‘Extant’, and Netflix have produced ‘House Of Cards’ and ‘Orange Is The New Black’. You only have to whisper the name Frank Underwood, and you will be drawn into a deep discussion on the malignant politician. Even if you don’t immediately pick one of these winners, with home streaming, the viewer can quickly choose something else at no extra cost.

THE WINNER TAKES IT ALL

Hollywood is afraid. Film studios are afraid of losing that golden crown that once sat unchallenged on the head of the silver screen. As a result, they do not take risks. On the other hand, almost every TV show made these days is littered with risky gambles – not least those coming out of America. ‘Game Of Thrones’ is a great example of this. HBO have taken a rich and intricate series of fantasy books, and adapted it for the small screen. There is nothing small about its budget, nor the level of violence and sex in its episodes. On paper this could easily have been a monumental failure, and yet it is now one of the most talked about and loved franchises out there.

Cinema is caught in a vicious cycle of quick-fixes and sure fire sellers; releasing content with a built-in fan base who are guaranteed to invest the first time, who won’t enjoy the experience (either because of the film’s lack of quality, or someone else has spoiled the experience) and then choose to stay at home next time. From time to time, you get great films released like the works of Christopher Nolan, films which capture the imaginations of audiences, even in this fastidious age. It is films like ‘Inception’ which prove that audiences still respond to challenging and entertaining films. The problem is that there are simply not enough of them made.

The Marvel cinematic universe is another example of how some projects have developed an increasingly popular product for the masses. DaredevilIn the same way the ‘Harry Potter’ books encouraged the young to read again, Marvel Studios have brought back some sort of audience to cinemas. But even now, I can feel the gentle tug of boredom looming in the distance, as Marvel start to run out of ideas and scrape the barrel for their most niche character’s origin story. Marvel is in danger of recruiting an overwhelming amount of heroes to their world and turn it stagnant. The studios most exciting prospect right now is none other than ‘Daredevil’, and where can you find him? Netflix of course, and you get the whole first series available to you right away.

Regardless, more needs to be done in Hollywood. They have to take a leaf out of television’s hefty tome and take more risks. They have to try and find more mavericks like Christopher Nolan, and stop worrying about fact and figures. There is nothing more important than quality, create something great and the audiences will find it. More can be done at cinemas too, where the focus needs to shift from retail products and go back to basics; showing movies. Ultimately, a conversation needs to be had between the cinemas and film studios, to renegotiate ticket price percentages. That way, the movie theatre might find more breathing room in their wallets and begin to fix what has put people off for so long. For now, I live in hope.

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Avengers: Age Of Ultron

Written by Jakob Lewis Barnes

In 2012, Joss Whedon brought together the band of Marvel superheroes known as The Avengers, for the hugely successful ‘Avengers Assemble’. Financially, there are very few films to match the success of ‘Avengers Assemble’, grossing $1.5 billion to make it the third highest grossing film of all time (behind Titanic and Avatar). With a budget of $220 million, that’s a pretty nice little profit. Critically, the film has garnered 31 awards and 65 nominations, as well as ranking in the top 200 films of all time on IMDB. Marvel and Disney’s partnership has produced an incredibly successful, lucrative global phenomenon which has seen the superhero genre dominate the box-office in recent years. With both Marvel and DC boasting a hectic schedule slate over the next five years, the power of the superhero movie shows no signs of stalling. But is it all getting a little too much?

What is it about superheroes which very rarely allows us to leave the obsession behind with our childhood? My own love of superheroes started as early as I can remember, with my favourite, Batman. I wanted to be a hero just like him, I had the outfits and the toys, I watched the cartoons and the films religiously, I was hooked. Far from neglecting this addiction, it has thrived as I have grown older and discovered more and more superheroes. I always harboured a certain reluctance, even ignorance, to the world of Marvel, aside from The X-Men and the detestable Spider-Man movies of the early  2000s. But then, in 2008, along came Robert Downey Jr. and Iron-Man to save the day, inspiring me to delve deeper into Marvel’s rapidly expanding cinematic universe, to find Captain America and Thor.

With the world adequately educated on the stories of these three heroes, the Avengers were ready to assemble. Throw in The Hulk, Hawkeye, Black Widow and Director Nick Fury and you’ve got yourself a formidable team. For me, there is something about a super-team joining forces which really excites me. ‘Avengers Assemble’ was a truly amazing film; it’s exciting, fun, full of action and more importantly, it was NEW. A truly groundbreaking film, in terms of visual effects of course, but also a pioneer in the genre of superhero movies itself. To give the world a live-action film, featuring all the best characters Marvel has to offer, this was something special. Even with the resounding success of Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dark Knight’ trilogy, it is hard to deny that ‘Avengers Assemble’ took the superhero movie to the next level and placed itself firmly at the heart of a thriving market.

Three years later, and the world is dying for more from The Avengers. The sequel, ‘Age Of Ultron’, arrives in UK cinemas on April 23rd, with the USA having to wait another week on top of that. We have been treated to three pretty special trailers, to tantalise our excitement for the grand spectacle, but what exactly do we know about ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’? Taking its title from a 2013 comic-book story arc, the film seemingly diverts from the graphic novel plot in many ways, in which the villainous Ultron has already ravaged planet Earth and New York City in particular. Ultron is created by Tony Stark, as the final step towards artificial intelligence, but his creation turns rogue and targets humanity for annihilation. In the comic-book, Ultron is portrayed as being exceptionally powerful, and whilst it seems he will still have a devastating effect on NYC, Joss Whedon has admitted that he had to tone down the robot’s powers for the movie.

Everyone is back for this one, even the dastardly Loki, plus Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver, Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch and an appearance from The Vision. The multiple trailers for ‘Age Of Ultron’ depict an army of AI robots, led by Ultron ravaging New York City and causing a lot of trouble for the Avengers, in scenes which resonate with the Sentinels from ‘X-Men: Days Of Future Past’. The aspect of the trailers which has caused most excitement though, is the appearance of The Hulkbuster, another of Stark’s controversial creations. The Hulkbuster is Stark’s way of saying “I don’t trust you man” and it seems The Hulk doesn’t take too kindly to such a precaution, with the two pitted against each other in a destructive battle. There are clear tensions amongst the Avengers, and the Hulkbuster underlines this, tensions which Ultron is delighted to manipulate and exacerbate, whilst enjoying a reign of mass-destruction. But the good guys will win in the end, right?

If Marvel’s upcoming schedule slate is anything to go by, then yes, the good guys will prevail. The post-Ultron schedule is headed by ‘Captain America: Civil War’, which will place Captain America against Iron-Man in another internal battle within the troubled Avengers team. With Hawkeye, Black Widow, Nick Fury and more set to return for the Captain America sequel, we are left with no uncertainty as to the survivors of ‘Age Of Ultron’. By providing us with details of this film, before we have even had the chance to enjoy the Avengers sequel, Marvel have removed all elements of surprise and suspense from the experience. Only The Hulk, with no standalone film to come and no cast list released for 2018’s ‘Avengers: Infinity War’, is at risk of being killed off in ‘Age Of Ultron’. Unfortunately, the financial benefits of Marvel’s marketing campaigns means that we can no longer enjoy a little mystery and ambiguity surrounding our favourite films, but then again, we hardly expect the good guys to lose.

Ultimately, all of the upcoming films in Marvel’s cinematic universe SHOULD be incredible and I am personally very excited for ‘Age Of Ultron’ in particular. Indeed, I can’t recall being this excited for any film before. Maybe it’s a good thing that we know what is in the pipeline, I mean, the more the merrier when it comes to the superhero movies. This may be Joss Whedon’s farewell to the franchise, but ‘Age Of Ultron’ is set to be even better than its predecessor, an unfathomable thought. Long live the superhero movie!