Mid-Week M.E.L.A.: Cinema, Art and the Future has been edited by Riya Jhala.
Lately, we have been able to experience movies that can arguably be called art, and inarguably be called cinema. One of these movies, coming from director Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins, is Blade Runner 2049, a sequel to the original Blade Runner movie from 1982. The movie looks wonderful, sounds amazing, and is perhaps the best movie so far to be screened worldwide this year. It is what you would call a proper cinematic experience, so good that watching it on anything less than a theatre screen is practically a sin.
It is also most likely the last we will see of the Blade Runner franchise. While that decision may work favourably for the studios, it falls into one of many cases where moviegoers end up the worse for it.
Today marks the end of the third week of Blade Runner’s theatre run. It holds an IMDb rating of 8.5/10, a RottenTomatoes rating of 88% fresh, and 81% of the Google users that voted, liked it. But earning only $164.5 million on a budget of $150 million, it is a financial flop. Not unlike the original Blade Runner of 1982 ($33.8 million on $28 million budget). The franchise’s future is as bleak as the world it showed us.
Tron, another flop sci-fi movie from 1982 ($33 million on $16 million budget) also had a sequel. Tron: Legacy, released in 2010, earned $400.1 million on a $170 million budget. While critics noted the lack of weight in the plot and characters, they praised in equal measure the visual and audio experience. Daft Punk was brought in to compose the soundtrack. It still makes a great listen for the electronic-house-orchestra fans, and makes for one hell of a time motorcycling. The movie raised enormous hype while in production. It was visually stunning, had great 3D effects, and is generally one of the better pop sci-fi movies this side of Y2K. Disney, who owns Tron, mothballed a follow-up movie in order to “play safe” (whatever that means) after teasing production for around five years.
After all of this messing around with potentially great sci-fi properties that have been going on, as a part of the intended audience, I personally am a bit chuffed. What the heck, Disney?
In contrast, television and streaming are surging to record highs year-on-year. Streaming service Netflix announced a budget of $8 billion for its in-house productions. Amazon has not disclosed its Prime Video budget yet, but given its 2017 count of $4.5 billion against Netflix’s $6 billion, it seems unlikely to decrease. HBO’s now-flagship Game of Thrones alone has a budget close to $100 million for season 8. With other properties in production, it may well exceed 2017’s claimed “couple of billion dollars”. And it’s barely the beginning of the streaming era.
HBO’s True Detective has not been cancelled after a relatively lousy second season. Instead, it has been renewed with more faith, hope, and Mahershala Ali. FX’s Fargo recently wrapped up season 3. HBO’s Westworld will likely run for 6 seasons in total. USA Network’s Mr Robot is in its third season. Douglas Adams’ (or rather Eoin Colfer’s) Hitchhiker’s saga is getting a radio adaption (and it honestly feels like that came out of nowhere). Amazon Prime Video has The Grand Tour team crashing hypercars around the world and getting its fifty-year-old hosts hospitalized.
Television has taken a turn for the wild. And while the large canvas of IMAX screens and the like practically exist for works like Blade Runner or Tron or even TV shows like Westworld (for its grand vistas) and Game of Thrones (for its sheer epicness), it seems less likely than ever that we will ever be able to see anything of the sort happen. Maybe all we will be left with are comic-book adaptions and pieces by more popular, highbrow, popularly-highbrow auteurs and creators (like the Nolan brothers or Tarantino, you know what I mean). Not that any of those are poor choices for a Friday evening alone or an outing with friends. But the full potential of the cinematic experience will never be what it was.
Yes, there are still movies being made that will be epic in every single sense of the word. I know those movies. They will be a part of the real cinema. Ready Player One. Star Wars Episode IX. Solo. Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers 4. Sure. But these again are “proven”, with only gradual experimenting that takes massive audience encouragement in the first place.
Deadpool was greenlit because of a viral trailer leak, which paved the way for an R-rated Logan. We only got Wonder Woman after around 20 superhero movies overall. And we likely will not have a Black Widow movie until the 2020’s, if at all.
The appeal of cinema has always been a larger-than-life experience. A closed room in which the creator of the movie dictates what you see, hear, and feel. The picture dominating your vision, the sound dominating your hearing, compelling you to focus on nothing but the movie. And that medium is slipping out of creators’ hands, with movie studios wanting to play safe, and, ironically, TV studios ready to take risks.
Honestly, though, moviemakers and moviegoers both have dark days ahead if a proper cinematic experience like Blade Runner is thought to be risky, while Power Ranger and Emoji movies are not.
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