When’s the last time you went out to see a movie? Right, not for-fucking-ever. But I’ll bet you’ve binged on three series within the last month. Word on the street is that attention spans are going down, but that doesn’t paint the full picture: we’re consuming more content than ever before, and it’s a good thing too, because that content is coming thick and fast on Netflix, Stan, HBO and now Amazon Prime Video muscling in to claim its share of the loot. Ever noticed you don’t get to see all the credits on a streamed show before it jumps to the next episode? That’s called ‘friction negation’ and it has your attention by the short and curlies for the next three hours. No, there’s more at play here regarding our unlikeliness to watch big movies than goldfish brain.
So, what’s the deal? Are we bored of blockbuster films? Is a good old night out at the pictures with a bucket of popcorn, hot dogs and (hopefully) arm candy no longer appealing? Are we really so lazy that we can’t even step out for a night on the town, rather than giving into JOMO (Joy Of Missing Out, keep up) and curling up on the couch for another season of Westworld or Game of Thrones?
The cynic would have you believe it’s pure convenience, and without a doubt, that’s partially true. But the true cultural value of the re-commodified home viewing experience provided by these services is that it returns the sense of scope to the cinematic experience. The epicness. I’m not talking about Michael Bay-style Earth-shattering explosions. I’m referring to the character depth and plot complexity that can only be built up over multiple hours, days even, of viewing content. Streaming content gives us the capacity to not only experience a show’s universe but to practically inhabit and explore it, not unlike a great work of literary fiction. You’re given free rein to wallow in the fantasy. Suspend disbelief? You can pitch a damn hammock with your disbelief!
Of course, canny producers are getting somewhat hip to this concept: the scope of something like the Marvel Cinematic Universe would have been laughed off the soundstage in the 90s. Nineteen movies and counting in the space of 12 years? Are you insane? You’re going to coddle your audience through their adolescence into their mid-20s? But the gambit has paid off with the films scoring a box office gross of US$17 billion and counting. The key difference between this and, say, the Bond franchise is that this is an identical universe with all the characters – and crucially, actors – remaining the same. This allows them time to develop, for their foibles to come to the fore, for in-jokes to gestate and re-emerge years later.
So are films a dead art? Don’t be stupid. A medium can be superseded without being totally killed off. It just means that there will be less of a focus going forward on mid-sized one-off films like La La Land and producers are more likely to put all their eggs into a few big franchisable baskets. It’s capitalism at its finest. I’m just saying, you may need to get used to slogging through nine hours of content for the hero to get the girl. At least we’ll always have Die Hard.