a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Sunday, January 22, 2006

On the Bubble

There is a lot of talk about the implications of Steven Soderbergh's new movie "Bubble", which opens on Friday in theaters, as well as simultaneously on cable TV; it then debuts on DVD on Tuesday.

Soderbergh believes that consumers should have the choice about how to see their movies. Critics point to this as one more thing that is going to put the dagger into movie theaters.

The problem is that, as a test case, "Bubble" isn't a very good one at all.

It's a very low budget movie, that Soderbergh shot with non-actors, and it's only 71 minutes long. It's only opening in 6 arthouse theaters across the country. Though one assumes that Blockbuster might stock a few copies, if you want to buy it, it lists at $29.99. The cable TV network that it will be airing on is HD-Net, which not that many people get (and who are bankrolling this and 5 other Soderbergh low-budget films, apparently trying to get people to subscribe).

So, in terms of choices, there really aren't all that many in regards to this movie. Though early reviews seem to be very good, and I'd be interested in seeing it, I'm not going to drive all the way down the 405 to do so (particularly when there are so many other movies closer that I haven't seen yet). I'm not going to subscribe to HD-Net. I generally don't rent movies, so that's probably out too, though obviously that's where the largest percentage of people will probably "choose" to see it.

Essentially though, the theatrical release of this movie is just to give it a little higher profile; otherwise, this is a straight-to-DVD movie all the way. The true test will come when someone tries to do this with a bigger-scale movie that people would tend to rather see on the big screen -- or even with a smaller movie with big stars, a la "In Her Shoes", that people might just be content renting rather than seeing in the theater.

But though eventually the shrinking window between theatrical release and DVD/cable is something that is going to have to be addressed (particularly with the question of piracy as well), "Bubble" is really not the movie that is going to prove anything one way or the other.


At 2:52 PM, Blogger Anonymous said...

I managed to see this at TIFF a few months ago. I was fairly impressed overall - normally I hate anything that is shot on HD, but this generally looked quite good (the new digital Christie projector helped.) But it definitely won't appeal to the general public because it doesn't even bother trying. I'd be surprised if it gets much attention from anywhere other than the critics.

At 5:45 PM, Blogger taZ said...

It's a DEATH to the Industry!

I like it, but there are people out there that will take huge advantage of it.
Read my post "Pirates Ahead!" and you will understand why...

At 8:27 PM, Anonymous Dave R. said...

This is the worst idea I've heard since digitial projection! If you take away from the theatrical experience you devalue the product.

Smaller release windows, ugly digital projection, commercials in front of movies?? Keep chipping away at the audiences enjoyment, see what happens.

At 5:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's about time that Theatre industry, not the movie industry, receives a wake up call. They need to focus on making a trip to the movies a real experience again that is something special that a modern home theatre can't provide.

Gold class, iMax, even that new 4D theatre are all good examples of where the theatre industry should be heading to.

At 6:20 AM, Blogger The Hopper said...

That last comment is right on. I love seeing movies in the theater. I do not love: traffic on the way there, a long line, the 20, expensive popcorn, the dirty floor, smelly people next to me, loud children in front of me, and most importantly--paying more for 2 tickets than it costs to buy the DVD.

For years, the theaters have continued to move downhill and so have their profits. When I can spend 30 bucks a month for unlimited rentals at blockbuster, why would I bother going to the movies?

It's sad to see the theater industry slowly kill itself, but we live in an era of on-demand programming. Until the studios get their acts together and realize this and take the necessary steps (putting their vaults online for downloading, simultaneous dvd/internet release) I'm wondering if our jobs will even exist in 10 years.

At 7:15 AM, Blogger Thomas Crymes said...

I'm sorry, but Digital Projection is the future, and it should be. I worked in a theater as a projectionist for a few years. The moment I saw my first digital movie (Phantom Menace) I knew I had seen the future.

The screen is rock solid. There are no scratches. There are no dirt marks. There is no fading. The focus was sharp from corner to corner.

The average Joe who goes to see a movie at the multiplex gets almost none of this. Seeing a movie after opening night is a crap shoot, and even then you have to worry about focus, image steadiness problems.

Digital is just better. Theoretically, film might be better, but common practice, it just can't cut it.

And before you criticize that my theater just had bad equipment. I've seen movies at countless theaters. Every single one has one or more of the above problems.

At 10:46 AM, Blogger Fun Joel said...

Points well made, Scott.

At 3:41 PM, Anonymous Peter said...

I agree with Scott 100%. This movie is meaningless as an example of the new "business model" of simultaneous releasing strategy.

And since I personally am offended by the very notion of releasing HD "movies" (not films, obviously) in theaters, anyway, I consider "Bubble" to be yet another HD "home movie" which really belongs on DVD anyway.


At 4:02 PM, Anonymous Dave R. said...

Thomas. I think you might have your facts mixed up. "The Phantom Menace" was the first film to be projected using digital projectors, but at the time of the release only a handful of theaters in America, (I believe it was less then 6) had this capability. The odds of you working at one of these theaters is pretty slim. Did you see them installing a new projectiosn system?

Even if you were correct about the projectors that particular movie was not shot on digital video. Most people forget that "TPM" was shot in 35mm film. At the time Lucas was not satisfied with the quality of the video cameras.

Your example has some holes in it.

At 10:07 PM, Blogger Patrick J. Rodio said...

I gotta have Tommy Crymes back, he wasn't working at a movie theater when Phantom Menace came out, he was long gone from that United Artist theater by the time Menace shit all over the screen.

However, he was referring to the release of Menace and seeing it projected digitally, I believe he took a road trip to NY to do so. Only he can confirm or deny this. I only know this cause he was at my wedding!

BUT I love FILM, I agree that digital has its place, it can be a good alternative. But I think sometimes its TOO CLEAN. With film, I love the grain, the scratches, the LOOK, etc. You can't beat film, in my book. Would you want to see Lawrence of Arabia shot on Digital? Nah.

At 6:15 AM, Blogger Thomas Crymes said...

I sought out the digital presentation, because I wanted to see it. I also sought out digital showings of Attack of the Clones, Finding Nemo, and Terminator 3. Finding Nemo was unbelievable and T3 and ATOC (which was shot digitally) were leagues better than anything you can see in a standard theater. It's like looking through a window.

Film has to move through a gate, and unless you have a perfectly calibrated projector, the image is going to waver, if only slightly, on a screen.

Oh, and I would agree that HD quality movies would suck. The digital projection in theaters is beyond HD resolution.

The bottom line is that you really can't comment on the difference until you've actually seen the difference. Knowing how much a typical film degrades over the life of a film in a theater, and knowing that the last showing of a digitally projected movie is the same as the first, is really all you need to know to make a sound judgement that digitally project movies benefit the average movie goer more than film ever will.

At 9:25 AM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

I seem to remember someone (Roger Ebert?) once wondering about the difference in how the mind processed movies projected the old way and digitally; apparently it's not the same.

I have no idea about the science; it's just something that stuck in my head. Anyone know anything about this?

At 10:02 AM, Blogger Thomas Crymes said...

I'd be curious to see an article on that, cuz I can't fathom how it could be different.

At 3:56 PM, Anonymous Dave R. said...

Scott I read that same article. I think Roger made some great points. He is a big supporter of film projection. He even offered up the Maxivision48 system as an alternative to digital projection.

I too was once a projectionist and from my expereince, as of right now, digital projection on a BIG screen can not touch film.

At 8:55 PM, Blogger Patrick J. Rodio said...

I do agree.

Look, I know digital is crystal clear. "like through a window."

That's my problem with it. It's too clear. Now are all the theaters the greatest when it comes to sending film through? Hell, no. But film is a richer medium.

As for Star Wars? Well, it could have used more grit, that's for sure.

When it comes to digital sound and all that, I'm all for digital.

Lucas is all rah-rah for digital. Spielberg is not (well, he still enjoys FILM). I think that says it all right there.

What you guys are saying is so great about digital (clearness, no grain, etc) is what I don't like about it.

At 1:16 AM, Anonymous christopher said...

i agree with thomas wholeheartedly (as patrick will see since i also posted on his blog!). digital can add grain. if it's not being done quite perfectly yet, it will be soon. film can't get rid of it's scratches and movement in the gate.

i've yet to hear any argument for film that isn't either argumentum ad antiquitatem or argumentum ad verecundiam. meaning all the arguments seem to fall into "film has always been better, therefore it still is" or "famous person says film is better."

spielberg grew up with film. just because he's a good storyteller and successfull filmmaker doesn't mean celluloid is better than digital. it's just what he's comfortable with and likes. believe me, he could shoot a good digital film - and i predict he will eventually. he's already fully adopted most other digital practices.

like i said in response to patrick's blog, we've not begun to see digital's potential. for most applications it's already a match, but there are things digital will enable us to do that film can't begin to accomplish.

and digital projection - tho still evincing aliasing, is far far superior to anything less than pefect film projection. and that won't remain that way.

the bottom line is - eventually digital will be able to do everything film does and more. you want grain? add it. you want motion blur - pick it. and so much more.

and face it - much of what we love about film is nostalgic. kids growing up seeing perfect digital images won't share that predilection.


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