As the Oscar season begins to heat up, there are always a few winter blockbusters thrown into the mix to help relieve some of the public’s apprehension of going to a movie with the fear of seeing something “too smart,” aka boring. This season is no different, with James Cameron’s new special effects epic Avatar. To some, such films are a welcome release, for the audience can sit back in a theater chair and just watch without thinking too much about the plot, but rather enjoy the action. But what are we really watching? Simply this: blue pixilated aliens interacting with other blue pixilated aliens, being chased around a pixilated forest by a pixilated alien dinosaur. This is not what cinema should be about, but in a lot of cases, it’s what it has become.
Today’s movies rely on Michael Bay-style explosions and special effects, which, although are expensive to produce, only serve to provide the audience with cheap thrills rather than actual substance. This is because even so-called “ground-breaking” films like Avatar choose eye candy over plot, character development, and just plain old good storytelling. Instead of special effects, filmmakers would use hundreds of live actors to create a grand sense of things. It was more engaging for an audience. Back in its classic days, audiences would get seriously invested in and connect with a movie. It was a great experience going to the movies, and people kept that with them for a long time, whereas today’s audiences are bombarded with such a barrage of endless filler that they pay $9 to see a movie one night, only to forget it in a week when something shinier and newer comes along. To truly respect the art of cinema, one must see and appreciate what has come before now. If it were not for the classics of the past, there would surely be no contemporary classics.
This is not to say that new technology is a bad thing. On the contrary, new, innovative cinematic technology is vital to cinema. There used to be a day when filmmaking evolved from just being able to shoot a moving picture, with the likes of the Lumière Brothers’ Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat, or Thomas Edison’s many “Black Maria” shows. After the technology moved from being able to just capture a moving picture, ideas from filmmakers began to focus on the actual narrative of films. This led to the Classical Hollywood era, where studios ran Hollywood, and it would be common for the likes of Charlie Chaplin or Shirley Temple to be seen in up to ten films a year, because the studios knew they could make money off of these stars. This era came to an end in 1939, arguably cinema’s finest year, when Poland fell in three days and the world’s focus shifted into another direction.
During the time of WWII, studios scrambled to make whatever films they could. This led to the darkest era of film up to that point, but at the same time, some of the absolute greatest films as well. Citizen Kane, Double Indemnity, The Maltese Falcon, and Sunset Boulevard are just a few to come out of this period. However, as we look at the present and the newest form of technology that is dominating Hollywood, the innovation of Hi-Definition home viewing and Blu-ray films, the question arises: why are some of these iconic films not available on the new format? And it’s not just limited to noir pieces of cinema, but all films of the 1940s-60s.
One of the main problems with reminding audiences and Hollywood alike of what film was once like and could still be is that most of the classic films are still relegated to outdated formats. The fact is that there is a divide in the spectrum of movie watching, in which some people still watch videotapes, while others are constantly striving to find the next best thing. When an older film appears in DVD format, it looks grainy, which takes away from the overall viewing. Seeing classic films in an innovative new technological format brings out the beauty that cinema has lost recently, and the beauty that audiences can be reminded of when they see these essential films on Blu-ray.
At the same time, not all great films have been forgotten; Carol Reed’s brilliant The Third Man, Michael Curtiz’s timeless Casablanca, and even the masterful Gene Kelly’s An American in Paris have all seen beautiful and vibrant transfers. Even Errol Flynn’s classic incarnation of Robin Hood has never seemed as colorful as it does today on Blu-ray.
Now we have to question why certain films are being left out of this dazzling new format. Citizen Kane will always be found at the head of many of “Top Movie” lists, and for good reason; yet amazingly it’s not on Blu-ray. An American in Paris is a pure delight to view, but while watching it, one begins to question, where is Kelly’s best known film, Singin’ in the Rain? This is a question that has most filmgoers scratching their heads. Listening to Orson Welles’s monologue in the Ferris Wheel in The Third Man will always be captivating, but afterwards, some minds will wonder as to why this film noir has been transferred, but something like Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity is still only available on regular DVD.
One issue is that the technology is slow in finding its way into American homes; some people still use VCRs after all. We in the cinematic community must be patient. Someday we will see our most beloved films on Blu-ray. Indeed we must. For if the only Blu-ray experience modern audiences are exposed to are pixilated fighting giant robots, then some of the greatest works of art will be lost to the next generation of film lovers.