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EXCUSES AND SUSPICIONS

June 2005


First off, my sincerest apologies for not having something new in the past few months. I've been very busy, particularly since the new urchin decided to come into the world almost two weeks before we expected. I've been having a lot of fun preparing for that. (Not.) But (to quote Monty Pyton) “enough gay banter”...

Are we staying home more often?

Obviously, this site is dedicated to the proper presentation of movies and, more recently, TV shows now that more and more TV programming in moving to 16:9. That brings DVD into the circle of discussion. I don't discuss things like Tivo because that's more for the home theatre web sites that deal with equipment and recording technology. Tivo doesn't really fall into my realm. Besides, I don't have (or want) any kind of PVR/DVR, so I really can't talk about them.

However, I just read an article that bothered me. The New York Times ran an article stating that DVD and Tivo are keeping movie fans away from the theatres. Video games and Internet availability are also mentioned as factors.

Long-time visitors know that I am a computer geek as well as a hard-core gamer. I have no love at all for unjustified accusations that technology is somehow hurting this industry or that industry, particularly because the technology is always portrayed in absolutes (as though the potential for illegal use means that the whole technology is designed to be used illegally). Of course, the fault always falls on the availability of the technology in such accusations. By that thinking, all cars should be illegal because you can intentionally run someone over, all forks should be illegal because you can shove one into someone's eye, and water should be illegal because you can drown someone in it.

Some points in the article are valid. Video games are becoming more and more popular (and our kids are getting larger and larger because of it, but that's a different topic); the Internet means that there's more entertainment available to us on-line; video on-demand makes it easier to see movies at home (even though I have never seen a VOD movies in its proper aspect ratio); NetFlix; and so on. So, there is definitely a lot of competition to the movies.

Maybe I'm in the minority on this thinking, but as far as I'm concerned the movie theatre is still where most movies need to be seen. Movies are shown in their correct aspect ratio, for one. Film stock still has higher definition and finer granularity than high-definition TV. The movie screen is larger than any home theatre TV, particularly in newer theatres. Orville Reddenbacher's (a popular microwaveable popcorn, for those outside of the U.S.) just doesn't taste the same as theatre popcorn. (Of course, this is good or bad depending on the theatre. Some have awesome popcorn; others have popcorn that tastes like stale bread.)

Personally, I have my own reasons as to why theatres are having problems drawing people away from home. I know that these are certainly reasons why I have not been going to theatres as much.

  • commercials / product advertising within the movie

  • far, far too many movies that are not worth watching

  • arrogant jerks who refuse to shut off their cell phones like they're so much more important than anyone else

  • parents who don't shut their kids up

  • parents who don't shut themselves up

  • tickets that cost double-digits

  • ridiculous statements right before the movie by the MPAA about how piracy is evil (which is really stupid considering that we just PAID to see the movie!)

  • far, far too many previews before the movie even starts

  • people yelling at the screen like it's "The Rocky Horror Picture Show"

  • sticky floors

  • commercials / product advertising within the movie

  • far, far too many movies that are not worth watching

  • commercials / product advertising within the movie

  • far, far too many movies that are not worth watching

  • commercials / product advertising within the movie

  • far, far too many movies that are not worth watching

Did I forget to mention too many commercials before the movie, too much product advertisement within the movie, and too many movies that are not worth watching?

(Note that I didn't mention concession costs. That's only because food and drinks are the primary means by which theatres stay in business. They get very little if any money from ticket sales. So, the next time that you go the local, independent or family-owned, second-run theatre, make sure to buy a larger box of popcorn to show your support.)

I'm sure that some of you are ready to reply with statements such as screen size only being based on perception given the size of and distance from the screen, product advertising will be on the DVD as well, and so forth. I understand that, so kindly don't bother completing that e-mail.

To me it's still the experience that a standard home theatre just can't give, and that a low-quality download off the Internet most certainly can't give. Fortunately, newer theatres are trying to enhance the theatre experience with wider seats, stadium seating, and better sound systems. One theatre that I went to in Virginia even offered leather recliners at eye-level with the screen for $5 more. I didn't take that option, but I can't say that I wasn't intrigued.

Personally, I say that they need to bring back 3D movies en masse! No red/blue, though. Polarized or alternating LED glasses only! With today's computer technology, there is no reason why 3D can't become the norm! Star Wars in true 3D ... I'm drooling just thinking about it.

What caused that leak?

As long as we're on the topic of Star Wars and theatrical movies, I'm more than suspicious about the “leak” of Revenge of the Sith onto the Internet.

For those not in the know, a work print of RotS was released to the Internet within 24 hours of the release of the movie itself. As expected, BitTorrent, the primary method of its distribution, was further targeted immediately by the Motion Picture Associate of America. They insisted (as always) that the “problem” of peer-to-peer services is causing the movie industry to lose billions of dollars per year, and of course they made another call for the shutting down of P2P while offering no proof of their claims of financial loss.

I have a real problem with the whole scenario for many reasons.

Yes, I saw the work print that was released. Was it better than seeing it in the theatre? Absolutely not. I finally saw the movie where it belongs in a local theatre now that the fervor has started to die down a bit. As I said above, movies are not meant to be seen on TVs. They're meant to be seen in theatres. Apparently, millions of other people agreed. Look at the records that RotS has broken regarding ticket sales and tell me again how the leak of that work print is going to cause financial devastation to Fox and LucasFilm, Ltd.

As to the download itself, it's appallingly bad at least the version that I saw is. It's completely anamorphic with a 2.35:1 frame fitted into a 1.33:1 display; it's highly pixelated during high-action scenes due to massive compression and a low bit rate; it has a very obvious time counter in the upper 1/4 of the screen; it's at best Dolby ProLogic; and it's a work print, which means that it might not even be the final movie! Anyone who takes this work print and uses it as an excuse to not go to the theatre had no intention of seeing it in the theatre anyway. I'm convinced of that. Needless to say, I don't have this file and I'm not bothering to look for a better version. I'll wait for the DVD to finish my collection widescreen, of course.

I'm very suspicious as to the release of the work print itself. There are a limited number of people who would have had access to it or at least to the digital copies of it. I'm sure that the movie industry and certainly LucasFilm wanted to keep a tight grip on it before its release. So, anyone who had access to the work print has a bull's eye on them. Who in his (or her) right mind would possibly release something like this knowing that the evidence itself would point right to its origin? It's almost like being one of three people in the world to have a bright pink Aston Martin with fuzzy dice and neon license plates, then going and committing a crime in such a vehicle! Such a conspicuous transport certainly would knock down the list of suspects, wouldn't it? So, the fact that this work print was even released is highly suspicious - or else the person who released it is mind-numbingly stupid.

I also find it suspicious that it ended up on BitTorrent, which is currently the big offender that the RIAA and MPAA are pursuing. BitTorrent is big don't get me wrong but why not the other distribution methods? Why not Gnutella or Kazaa, both of which are bigger than BitTorrent? Why not newsgroups? Why was this originally offered exclusively through BitTorrent particularly during a time when BitTorrent is in the “copyright infringement” gunsights all over the world?

Am I a conspiracy theorist? Generally, no. But there are too many unusual circumstances here that when viewed collectively scream foul play. The modus operandi of both the RIAA and MPAA is to find excuses and place blame rather than utilize value-add or modify their distribution methodology to bring them into the 21st century. They love to blame downloads for lost sales but then say nothing when movies like RotS and the Lord of the Rings trilogy make hundreds of millions. I have to wonder if the leak of the RotS work print was actually planned so that BitTorrent and P2P could yet again be put in the evil spotlight.

(If you can get past the awful, romance dialog and the often wooden acting, RotS is still a very good movie. Anakin becomes Darth Vader by the way. I hope I didn't spoil the whole movie for you.)

Until next time...!