The future of movie theaters is uncertain. Right now, the industry is in a shut down, and even when things open back up and we, as a society, inch back towards normal, it will take some time before we get back to a standard that was set prior to the world going on hold. But if you listen to the warnings of filmmaker James Mangold, whose films include Logan and Ford v Ferrari, things weren’t so great to begin with at movie theaters in the current age of distribution.
Mangold is a fierce proponent of the theatrical experience, and he went to great lengths to make sure that Ford v Ferrari played well in the multiplex. (His sound mix was incredible, with the roar of the race cars making your theater seat shake.) During a recent conversation with Discussing Film, the two-time Oscar nominee opened up about the sad state of affairs he was seeing in movie theaters. He said:
You know I had an experience just on Ford v Ferrari where I went to a landmark theater in New York for kind of an Academy Q&A. Major theater in Central Manhattan, major screens for prestige screenings. They had left their… one of the things that’ll happen is that there are different lenses for 3D films and standard films. The 3D lenses split up prisms that split the light, cut the light level in half basically. Lazy theater owners will just keep the 3D lenses in all the time, which color the movies blue and make them dim on the screen – even when it’s a non-3D film. It’s just strictly either financial or physical laziness to send someone up and put a different lens in the projection system.
This is one of the main issues that we used to confront in our regular To 3D or Not To 3D reviews. The presentation of 3D films requires specific technology, especially lenses and lightbulbs. Any minor change affects the presentation, and it’s to the detriment of the filmmaker’s film… even when it’s out of their hands.
If I were James Mangold, this would drive me crazy. His movie’s not in 3D, so why would a theater – one that was set up to screen his movie for awards conversations – not be shown in optimal conditions? He went on to say:
I discovered both screenings were happening through 3D lenses with a non-3D movie. This again is at a studio-booked, landmark screening at a fancy major owned theater in New York. My point really is just that theatrical is a wasteland right now of a lot of shitty delivery of movies to audiences who are paying a premium to see them on a big screen. That’s something that needs to be solved in the future. I don’t think theatrical is dead. I’m sure there’s going to be casualties from all this and the theater chains, but I think that people wanting to go out and have a special experience on a big, big screen with great presentation of a movie that isn’t available anywhere else… is something that will continue. But I do think the kind of glory period that I came up during the 90s, when there was really thriving independent cinema on screens in major cities, is already gone. It was gone before this virus arrived. In many ways, you could see streaming as the chicken or the egg – either the killer or the savior of more interesting voices in movies.
That final nod, towards streaming potentially being the savior is an interesting concept. We are in a reality where Judd Apatow, the director of Knocked Up and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, sends his latest movie to paid VOD. Will other storytellers like him, and even Mangold, follow his lead, even when movie theaters are back open and fully functional?