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5 9 WALL-TO-WALL COLOR Moviegoing in the Age of Digital Projection 3 During the March 2006 Academy Awards broadcast, Oscar nominee Jake Gyllenhaal offered what seemed like an innocuous introduction to one of the show’s notorious film montages, commenting that “there’s no place to see [movies] but the big screen.” The montage featured epic scenes from widescreen masterpieces such as Ben-Hur and 2001, in order to remind viewers of cinema’s ability to present scenes of vast scope and scale. Because 2005 had been widely recognized as a difficult year financially for the film industry, Gyllenhaal’s remarks amounted to a desperate attempt to lure audiences away from their home systems and back into movie theaters, or, more likely, to discourage younger audience members from pirating movies. Of course, these carefully scripted comments, which were directed less at the audience attending the Oscars than the audience watching at home on television, were undercut by the fact that those viewers were watching the Oscar telecast on the very home theater systems that were now seen as the latest rivals for movie theaters. And while 2005’s low box office has proved to be a slight aberration, as the sequel-laden summers of 2007 and 2008 illustrated, the image of imperiled movie theaters continues to shape discourse about contemporary screen culture. As I argued in the chapter on DVDs, Hollywood films often depicted these home theater systems as promoting social isolation and encouraging the fragmentation of the movie audience. The emphasis on Hollywood epics also invokes the aesthetics of watching on a big screen, the desire to be over- 6 0 R E I N V E N T I N G C I N E M A whelmed by the cinematic image, something that watching films on home systems or, especially, on personal computers could not match. Gyllenhaal’s comments were caught up in a larger debate about the transition from film projection to digital projection in theaters. Long anticipated as a means of making movie distribution simpler, faster, and cheaper, digital projection finally seemed like a viable alternative to film projection at the very moment when studios worried that audiences were abandoning the multiplexes for other entertainment options. In order to combat fears about anticipated declines in theatrical attendance, digital projection has been presented, at least in part, as a means of offering moviegoers newer and better experiences. If digital effects were marketed via what Mackenzie Wark refers to as a cyberhype that would produce “niftier” images, digital projection was marketed both in terms of providing images that were better in quality than celluloid and more capable of offering new modes of storytelling, including 3-D movies and interactive narratives. At the same time, digital projection was promoted as means of making movie distribution more flexible. Instead of being tied down to the weighty materiality of film canisters, digital copies of movies could be transported much more easily across greater distances; some critics and filmmakers, however, feared that this transition would come at the price of potentially ushering in the end of cinema itself, or at the very least the end of the social role of movies. This chapter focuses on arguments about the transition to digital projection and the related discussions of the rise of portable media technologies such as the video iPod in order to trace out how narratives of decline or transformation formed around these technologies. In many cases, these accounts go as far as imagining the end of cinema itself. Proponents of digital projection also relied upon a number of myths associated with cyberspace in general and digital cinema in particular . While many critics worried that digital cinema could never match the richness in color associated with film, new media entrepreneurs touted the ability of digital cinema projectors to provide an image that would never degrade or that film projection could never match, especially when it came to such revived novelties as 3-D. More important , promoters of digital cinema have emphasized the possibility that digital projection would also lead to an increased diversity for audiences because the costs of delivering a digital file would be far cheaper than converting to a film print. At the same time, digital cinema was touted as providing theaters and their audiences with greater flexibility in choosing the movies they wanted to see. Meanwhile, portable media allowed consumers to download and watch movies wherever they WA L L - T O - WA L L...


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