This is how Netflix is killing cinema

In 2018 the streaming service plans to releases 80 original films sans a conventional theatrical run.

 |  4-minute read |   14-02-2018
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Netflix is killing movies. Literally. With plans to "release" 80 original films in 2018 that will not have a theatrical release, Netflix is inching closer to changing the traditional definition of films. This is also perhaps the first time since its advent that cinema would probably undergo a transition in the truest sense of the word.

Up until now every change that movies underwent in terms of how the viewer consumed it was about giving them an alternative platform to view — television in the 1950s, the VHS in the 1970s and 1980s, the LaserDisc, the Video CD and the DVD in the 1990s and 2000s — but with what Netflix has lined-up this is the first time that the big screen experience would elude the viewer on a mass scale.

Testing waters

In December 2017 Netflix released the $90-million (Rs 578 crore) Bright and despite the presence of one of the most popular film stars in the universe, Will Smith, it never focused on making an impact as far as the film’s theatrical run was concerned. Even though there was a limited theatrical release, no stone was left unturned to let people know that the film would "premiere" in the cosy confines of their living room. In a day and age when the opening weekend collections are the primary tools to gauge a film’s success, Netflix’s experiment had no yardstick to be measured by — no one knew how many people saw the film or what the collection was.

The reviews were insipid but before the dust could settle on Bright, Netflix announced its sequel. The online streaming giant has been testing waters for a while now where a complex algorithm deciphers what its 100 million-plus subscribers love to see; what else can justify Netflix inking a multi-picture deal with Adam Sandler? The Internet-video service then used this data to hit bull’s eye with its original content like House of Cards that generated a phenomenal global response. Simultaneously, Netflix was also picking up indie films at festivals such as Sundance and ushered in a new era of exhibition where it beamed films that might have never got a theatrical release to audiences across the world.

It was a matter of time before Netflix got into film production and when it did with Bright the intention was very clear.

The theatrical collections did not matter to Netflix and therefore it never bothered about that vertical. Now, in 2018 when it releases 80 original films (read six films every month or one new film every week) sans a conventional theatrical run it’s not shocking or even surprising for a majority of Netflix’s viewers.

What’s more is the manner in which, for the want of a better word, this "philosophy" that Netflix seems to be operating upon has had an effect on the way films are being made. Younger filmmakers hardly have the same lure of saying it on film or telling their story on the big screens. For them, distribution for long has been the biggest lacuna, which, needless to say, thanks to Netflix and ilk is now a thing of the past. With Netflix also purchasing the rights to the upcoming films of classical filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese and his $100 million (Rs 642 crore) The Irishman featuring Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, and Joe Pesci, one wonders if these might just have a limited theatrical run too.


New experience

The question that really needs to be answered is how much the movie-viewing experience changes if films are viewed on a relatively smaller, more intimate screen? In 1997, this writer had the opportunity to see K Asif’s Mughale-Azam (1960) on the big screen for the first time and it was an unrivalled experience. The magic has never left the conscious mind and no high-definition screen has come close to replicate it.

Similarly, having witnessed the grandeur of David Lean’s The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Kamaal Amrohi’s Pakeezah (1972) or Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) on the big screen it would be a tad difficult to imagine these films, or for that matter future masterpieces, evoking the same emotions within the viewer if viewed in the living room.

All about pixels

Back in the day cinema was largely an experience to be lived on the big screen but today, it’s all about the pixels, the screen resolution and such. The American baseball great Jackie Robinson, who was also the first ever African-American to play in Major League Baseball, once said, “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” In that sense, to watch a film such as Lawrence of Arabia or Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi (1982) on the big screen is also a transformative emotion for the viewer. Would the immaculate 4K resolution, the immersive home theatre sound, and the likes ever have the same impact on a viewer?

(Courtesy of Mail Today)


Gautam Chintamani Gautam Chintamani @gchintamani

Cinephile, observer of society and technology and author of the of Dark Star: The Loneliness of Being Rajesh Khanna.

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