Control, Access, Delete: How Digital Streaming Turned Us All Into Editors

control-access-delete-header

An interesting development is occurring in the minds of moviegoers as Hollywood increasingly falls back upon remakes, sequels, and franchises. We’ve accepted with open arms the ability to consume content at a massive rate but are (largely) complaining that Hollywood is rarely original.

There are many factors that have contributed towards this – from the fact that Hollywood has built an idea that novels and plays receive a certain cache when a film is adapted from it, to the straight-forward idea that franchises can become secure sources of box office revenue. But considering the way we digest media at this moment in time, why would Hollywood choose now to seek a greater amount of originality?

Through digital streaming services, everyone who pays a nominal fee has an abundant library of content available in their own home. We marathon TV seasons in weekends and dedicate days to entire franchises of films.

Should Hollywood create new movies in an attempt to lure you away from this content?

No. It should create new movies that belong with this content because it opens up a more interesting relationship between the consumer and the films that they watch.

Give Us More Content…

At the forefront of online streaming services, we have Netflix. Launching in the US in 2007, and finally hitting the UK in early 2012, the impact Netflix has had is mind-boggling. Its subscribers rack up an incredible 100 million hours of content watched every day, meaning they pay an average of just 20 cents per hour for the media they watch. For around 20 cents an hour, you have access to more than 2,000 movies, and that’s if you don’t also have an Amazon Prime or Sky TV account, meaning your online library could balloon ever further.

This wealth of access weakens the sense of ownership that was brought in with the release of home video and almost entirely removes the inconvenience that physical rental services were burdened with. Why would you ever go to a store to rent a film when you can do it from the comfort of your own home instantly? And with a rolling, monthly subscription, you aren’t being charged for each movie you watch, meaning you’re more likely to forgive substandard content. Me and my friends streamed Clue, and I wasn’t a fan. But let me tell you, I was perfectly fine taking a punt on it using a subscription service considering the other option is paying almost £20 for it on DVD. That kind of investment would have left a sour taste in my mouth once the credits rolled.

Streaming services put the ease of the consumer first, bundling their content together for smoother browsing. This can be by genre, actor, director, franchise, essentially any way to syphon off some media from the rest so that you can concentrate on it. They also use this idea to make marathoning easier:

Coming towards the end of a season of Mad Men? Well, the next episode is already queued up for you and will start in ten seconds. Like that Michael Fassbender movie? We’ve got another one of his right here!

Therefore, the best way for Hollywood to get your attention is to look at the collections that consumers have available to them and make them incomplete. Make a movie that belongs in a series, but can’t be accessed at the same time and people have to go to the theatre to complete their experience. In the build-up to new instalments, you’re even compelled to revisit previous films to build your anticipation better than any trailer can. The more familiar you are with the readily available content, the more exciting it is when you experience the new.

It’s no secret that sequels and reboots are often met with a certain level of backlash and this is because everyone places a certain layer of protection on the films that they enjoy most. This is why the better examples from Hollywood have been those that acknowledge and accept the previous material while providing new content. The X-Men series (in an occasionally mind-bending way) has altered timelines and revamped characters far more successfully that The Terminator franchise and the top prize for textbook rebooting perhaps goes to JJ Abrams’ Star Trek (2009). All those years of the original TV series and ten feature films still count, yet the film is able to start new adventures that are enjoyed by fans with no prior knowledge of the franchise.

It’s a difficult balance, but it’s essential to create a franchise that people, in the long-term, will enjoy. We don’t want one movie. We want five. We want a series. We want ups and downs, director changes, call-back jokes, and cameos because we’ve become more adept at experiencing films in large collections, comparing them to one another, and deciding for ourselves which ones are ‘accepted’.

And what do I mean by that?

…And We’ll Decide If It Counts

How many Rocky movies are there?

How many Matrix movies?

How many Alien movies?

There are factual answers to these questions, but you’ll rarely find them matching up with your individual answers. The Rocky series is one of the most recognisable in modern cinema, though some people disregard Rocky V. Alien and Aliens are science fiction classics. So much so that news of Neil Blomkamp’s upcoming film set to overwriting the canon provided by Alien 3 was met with cries of approval. And you don’t have to look very hard to find someone who will maintain that there is only one Matrix movie, with its sequels being green-hazed fever dreams that couldn’t possibly have happened.

We’ve become more selective in our intertextual reading of movies and sometimes that means editing out of our minds what we don’t enjoy. We consume everything and spit back what we don’t like. We have to, or else everything we watch will make a dozen reference-filled lightbulbs go off in our heads.

The best aspect of this is that everyone draws their own lines, and this encourages discussion. The internet has a strange way of tearing down or appropriating just about everything under the sun, with movies being a prime target. The Star Wars prequels are the source of absolute ridicule, although the Darth Jar Jar theory took a great shot at trying to legitimise perhaps the biggest blight on the franchise.

The Halloween films are a prime example of texts that have a range of relationships to one-another and no core story that is followed throughout. You can choose to see that fact as a disaster, or evidence that franchises can be squeezed for all the money they’re worth, or (more optimistically) you can view it as a jigsaw puzzle. Empire magazine writer Owen Williams, in his suggestions for Halloween movie marathons, offers up Halloween (1979), Halloween II (2009) and then Halloween H20 (1998) to create his personally recommend way to approach the series.

Franchises help build lasting communities which, coupled with more accessible technology such as HD cameras and editing software, are finding new ways to re-contextualise theatrical material. You only need to look to the Tolkien Edit of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit movies or any of the edits of the Star Wars prequels to see how meaningful texts can be created through a little bit of patience, a willingness to learn, and an ambition to make all of a franchise’s material as enjoyable as possible.

This mass of analysis and transformation means you search for numerous ways for a film to be appropriated (or damned), and then you decide if it’s worth accepting or not. In the process, sometimes even bad movies end up finding a place to belong. The truth of the matter is that we’ll disregard any qualms we have about a movie being remade, recast, or rebooted so long as the film is actually good. We’ll, rightly, take anything that’s good. Our relationship with sequels, reboots, and franchises is best explored in the average movies and even the bad ones. Because, for the most part, bad sequels live on through conversation, manipulation, and even ridicule, but bad original movies are left by the wayside.

So let’s not get too bitter when news of a sequel or remake comes along. The social media landscape will have its share of gut-reactions but let’s not forget where this appetite came from. It came from people watching more, wanting more, and, for better or worse, engaging more. While there’s definitely some mistakes along the way, you can’t blame Hollywood for trying to cater to it.

 

Marathon Maker: What the Hell Am I Doing Driving in LA?

With glamorous lifestyles, beautiful beaches, and the home of Hollywood itself, Los Angeles is the setting of some film’s all-time greats. From action greats like Die Hard and Speed to Hollywood love letters in the form of Singin’ in the Rain and The Artist, the LA landscape has been given the spotlight in ever-changing ways ever since becoming the backdrop for film noir.

For this marathon, we’ll be looking at a very particular facet of LA: its night-life. Which, of course, is full of terrible people doing terrible things. Because LA is a living dream by day and a cesspool by night. The following movies trawl the streets finding everything from neon clubs to murder and drugs. Let’s see how each one tours the city, and see if I can make it so you never trust a stranger trying to lend you a ride ever again.

Collateral (2004)

Collateral

Let’s start with Michael Mann’s Collateral, the second of his own LA two-punch, with Heat. While the latter is a brooding crime thriller that saw De Niro and Pacino finally meet, the former is a more intimate affair that offers almost the exact opposite. Cab driver Max (Jamie Foxx) is toyed with by hitman Vincent (Tom Cruise), who share the bulk of the movie together as Max unknowingly ferries Vincent from job to job. Often forgotten are surprising offerings from Mark Ruffalo, a detective trying to catch up with Vincent’s devastation, and a pre-No Country breakout Javier Bardem, the crime lord who hires Vincent. Everything is captured with typical Mann flair, though the true joy is Vincent’s calm control mixed with Max’s civilian panic. the further into the city the two go, the more things start spiralling out of control, as things oddly reflect the binary level of success one can obtain in LA. Vincent is the star, with (in a twisted sense) a glamours job and a wealth of success. Max is the nobody, shuffling while dreaming of something more and, when terrible circumstances thrust him into the limelight, he’s given a chance to shine by stopping the carnage Vincent brings to the streets.

Drive (2011)

Drive 2

Let’s flip the script on the LA civilian, from Jamie Foxx’s Max to Ryan Gosling’s unnamed driver in Nicolas Winding Refn’s gorgeously rendered Drive. The driver is, strangely, the ultimate nobody – capable and trustworthy but extremely isolated. He drives getaway cars, he performs stunts for Hollywood, he works in a garage. Cars are this man’s life, and there really is little else. Giant, sweeping shots of LA show his vehicle in a sea of others, but we know he’s far from ordinary. There are two perceptions of the driver in the course of the film. One is the ‘white knight’ who falls in love with a waitress (Carey Mulligan’s Irene) and wants to protect her and her son. The other is a psychopath willing to do whatever it takes to set things straight. These two men are only ever shown together in a breathtaking elevator scene that sees both the extreme passion and violence possible and we’re left to make what we want of him. By the film’s close, the city has chewed him up and spat him out, though we’re unsure if there’s anywhere else for him to run to.

Nightcrawler (2014)

Nightcrawler

Nightcrawler is, in many ways, an unsettling film. Pioneered by some of Jake Gyllenhaal’s best work, it turns a critical eye on the media landscape that Los Angeles epitomises, as well as the unfortunate job culture that many young people are thrust into. Gyllenhaal’s Louis Bloom can’t stop talking – or, rather, legitimising everything else he says and does. He is an always-on job interviewee, with answers that cover all possible bases and an irritating diplomacy only found in those that want, in no uncertain terms, for things to turn out their way. And for things to go Bloom’s way, more accident need to happen on the roads and in the homes of the public, and he needs to capture it all on film. Everything from LA is here, in one perverted way or another. Bloom’s video technology grows, though he’s capturing human tragedy to earn his keep. The camera-work of Hollywood is twisted into a peeping tom, seeking out wounds, bones and blood under the belief of ‘if it bleeds, it leads’. Fame is there to be had, in the form of the welcoming smiles of morning news reporters who comfort their audience while showing images of brutality. And the brutality is everywhere. Highways and mountain trails. Neighbourhoods of both scarcity and affluence. No-one is safe, especially when Bloom takes it upon himself to start making the news just so he can get a good shot.

Blade Runner (1982)

Blade Runner

Now, I don’t think it’s strange to admit that I’m one of those people that doesn’t need much of an excuse to talk about Blade Runner. Everyone, whether they agree with it or not, knows the legacy that it has left behind for the science fiction genre, but I promise not to gush too much. Fresh out of scaring the hell out of us with Alien, Ridley Scott brought his retro-fitted technological landscape back down to earth as Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) seeks out to retire a rogue batch of replicant androids. And thank goodness he did. So much of Blade Runner is focussed on discerning what is real. Replicants believe themselves to be human, until there are confronted by their terrifying limitations and seek to extend their lives. J. F. Sebastian (William Sanderson) creates life-like toys, animals are artificially created and seen as exotic commodities and advertisements dominate the streets and skyscrapers all around the city. Is there any way this story couldn’t be told in Los Angeles?

Marathon Schedule

Run-time:
Collateral – 2 hours
Drive – 1 hour 40 mins
Nightcrawler – 1 hour 57 mins
Blade Runner – 1 hour 57 mins

Total – 7 hours 34 mins

With our marathon focus of Los Angeles after dark, there’s no way you’re starting this one with daylight outside. Prepare this one for a Winter month, ideally, or be prepared to take it in the early hours. Either way, you’re grabbing takeout. Because there’s no way you’re not watching psychopaths and hitmen drive around town without trusting someone to drive by to deliver your food. Just make sure to tip the guy. He does knows where you live.

Let me know if you try out ‘What the Hell Am I Doing Driving in LA?’ in the comment section below!

Treasure Planet (2002)

Treasure Planet

“spirit of adventure”

Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brian Murray, Emma Thompsons and David Hyde Pierce

The space pirate landscape of Treasure Planet makes for a grand adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale. Everything has a touch of futuristic-old-fashioned and the scale is naturally massive. Buried treasure pales in comparison to an entire planet worth of riches and galaxies sparkle like glistening oceans to portray an environment well-travelled yet difficult to traverse. Besides aesthetically, it doesn’t venture too far from other retellings and a mid-movie sidekick addition is occasionally grating. Overpowering everything, however, is a contagious sense of wide-eyed ambition. I can only wonder what grand adventures we could have seen if this wasn’t an adaptation.

John Silver: Look at you! Glowing like a solar fire. You’re something special, Jim. You’re gonna rattle the stars, you are!

Further Reading:
Tom Robinson et al. “The portrayal of older characters in Disney animated films.” Journal of aging studies 21.3 (2007): 203-213. available from Research Gate here

Chris Pallant “Neo-Disney: Recent developments in Disney feature animation.” New Cinemas: Journal of Contemporary Film 8.2 (2010): 103-117 available here

What do you think of Treasure Planet? Leave a comment below!

Hobo with a Shotgun (2011)

Hobo with a Shotgun

“neon nightmare”

Directed by Jason Eisener
Starring: Rutger Hauer, Molly Dunsworth, Brian Downey and Gregory Smith

Hobo with a Shotgun is far from my usual tastes. Low-budget and large violence seldom grips me and characters feel like rag dolls being messily flung around. However, what is undebatable is the film’s wonderful 80’s vibe, topped with an angry but not uncontrollable performance from Hauer. Music is electronic, colours are over-saturated and it does a damn fine job of replicating a style that many other movies fail to pass off as authentic. It’s clearly a movie made with care and of surprising heart, even if that heart ends up getting ripped out and set on fire.

Drake: When life gives you razor blades, you make a baseball bat… covered in razor blades.

Further Reading:
Film School Rejects’ SXSW review available here

Clark Collis’ article for Entertainment Weekly ‘Hobo With a Shotgun: How a $150 fake trailer became the year’s maddest movie’ available here

What do you think of Hobo with a Shotgun? Leave a comment below!

Lost In Translation (2003)

Lost in Translation

“moment of weakness”

Directed by Sophia Coppola
Starring: Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Giovanni Ribisi and Anna Faris

There’s a very special kind of love on display in Lost in Translation. Tokyo transforms into a bizarre version of Rick and Ilsa’s Paris, where landmarks stir no emotion and translations remove detail from the world. It’s a movie concerned with trying to understand the unknown as Charlotte (Johansson) is paralysed by her future and Bob (Murray) is broken by his past. Though there’s a fair share of moping, between them, in Tokyo (and perhaps only for a week or so) they help tell each other that everything’s going to be okay. And that moment trumps any soppy, grandiose gesture.

Charlotte: Let’s never come here again because it would never be as much fun.

Further Reading:
Eduardo Urios-Aparisi’s ‘Dramatizing Intercultural Communication: Metaphors of City and Identity in Film‘ from Intercultural Communication Studies XXII: 3 (2013) available here

Tessa Dwyer’s ‘Universally speaking: Lost in Translation and polyglot cinema’ from Linguistica Antverpiensia, New Series–Themes in Translation Studies 4 (2005) available here

What do you think of Lost in Translation? Leave a comment below!

Tomorrowland: A World Beyond (2015)

Tomorrowland pin

“counter-counter-culture”

Directed by Brad Bird
Starring: Britt Robertson, George Clooney, Raffey Cassidy and Hugh Laurie

With vibrant colours, globe-trotting chases and brilliant visual effects, Tomorrowland is a healthy injection of optimism ready to reinvigorate a generation of young people in the information age. Resting in the middle of this light-hearted, family romp is a legitimate, critical jab at our apocalyptic media landscape. Tomorrowland is not somewhere our characters can escape to; instead a call for bygone ingenuity. The perfect analogy is found in Frank’s (Clooney) childhood makeshift jetpack. Does it do anything revolutionary? No, but the sheer excitement and spirit raised by its sights and sounds are too captivating for that to matter.

Jenny Newton: It’ll take a long time. A real long time. What if you get all the way up there and there’s nothing?

Casey Newton: What if there’s everything?

Further Reading:
Michael Goldman’s ‘Picturing Tomorrow’ available from The American Society of Cinematographers here

Tomorrowland Analysis: There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow, Just a Dream Away post from TheLovePirate.net, available here

What do you think of Tomorrowland: A World Beyond? Leave a comment below!

Episode 9: Stream If You Want To Go Faster

ELM Ep 9 Title

Story and Ben return in a new ELM episode, this time looking at the impact of streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video have on our movie watching habits. Does streaming change the way we buy movies? How much stock do we still put in physical media? And how does original content from streaming services change we way we look at long-form storytelling? There’s only one way to find out, give us a listen!

Other highlights include looking into the WWE Network, how streaming service catalogues rotate and Story’s incorrect opinion of Batman films.

Click the player to give us a listen and get in touch at elmshow@hotmail.com!

Download this episode (right click and save)