2020, cinema and 2021…

So we’ve made it everyone – it’s nearly 2021, and this hellscape of a year is behind us. At this point, the more realistic among us know that 2021 is likely to continue to be weird, odd and not really what we want it to be, but there is now tangible hope for a return to a more normal world. This all feels too big a deal to be associating with film and cinema, but that’s what this blog is about and it’s a huge global industry that we’ve all been relying on to get us through the mundanity and/or grimness of continuous lockdowns.

The last time I blogged, I discussed the grim prospects for cinemas in a post COVID world, as while my experiences at the cinema in the world of COVID-19 were positive, the fact that my local cinema has been shut since October and now all are closed again thanks to the huge rise in cases were concern enough without the movie studios trying their level best to kill off the cinematic experience.

I was a little dramatic in predicting we could be seeing the beginning of the end of cinemas in the way we know them now – or at least I thought I was at the time. Turns out that Warner Brothers were just waiting to confirm for me what I had feared – the studio chose to release ALL of its 2021 or delayed 2020 blockbusters onto its streaming platform HBO Max AT THE SAME TIME as they are released in cinemas next year, a move that has gone down like a bucket of cold sick for filmmakers including Christopher Nolan and Denis Villeneuve.

Not only were the directors not consulted about this decision, but most have reacted furiously to the move. However, Warner hasn’t changed its mind about this at all – which means that, in the US at least, next year will see huge films including Dune and The Matrix 4 launched for streaming at the same time as they’re available to see in cinemas.

I must stress that there’s nothing to suggest this will be the case in the UK, especially as we don’t have HBO Max (a blessing in disguise, given how bad the Americans think it is – no less than Christopher Nolan himself called it “the worst streaming service”). However, even with vaccines and the prospect of cinemas opening again, the proverbial genie is out of the bottle. If the other studios perceive Warners have made the right choice, this could be the way forward for cinemas and film in future.

After Universal’s shock move with, of all things, Trolls World Tour – which made the studio so much money that it declared it would release films at the same time digitally as in cinemas – Disney accelerated a move towards considering films going to streaming instead of the cinemas at all (see here) – taking its latest Pixar film Soul from cinemas and putting it on Disney+ for free.

Unsurprisingly, Odeon’s parent company AMC (the biggest US cinema chain) lost its shit at the first of those two developments, saying it would not show any Universal films unless they backtracked. The two companies then signed a deal, but this cut the window between a Universal film being shown in a cinema and releasing online/to disc by a fair amount – something that’s been happening slowly but surely for a while (you may have noticed this if you buy DVDs or blurays – the time between the two has shrunk to about three or four months).

As I said before, if you can’t have people attend a cinema, then nobody makes any money from attendance, despite the film being shown. With every studio on its way towards or already having a streaming service, how long will they wait if they can make more money for themselves/make budgets back by releasing something digitally, rather than at a cinema where they’ll make less money? When will they take the plunge for good?

It’s hard to know what the future of film will be, and how quickly we might see it happen. The cinematic experience is what people pay for – if it’s a great film, you remember being wowed or shaken by the movie and the visuals, as well as the booming sound. Equally, if it’s shit you still remember the audience reacting, and it remains an experience to remember that you’ve shared with others.

I still hope that studios help the cinema chains out, and that this doesn’t go the way it could. I would rather be able to blog that I’d seen No Time To Die at my local Cineworld next spring than to have to watch it at home – yes, it might be more convenient and will still be safer, but as with anything we’ve taken for granted that involves going somewhere to watch something, it just will not be the same.

Looking back

Despite not having been to the cinema much, I’ve certainly taken advantage of the streaming services available to me and watched a fair amount of films this year. I’ve updated my Netflix and Amazon posts with short reviews of the films watched, and you can find them at the links highlighted.

I would usually have done a list discussing what films I’ve seen and rated them, but I didn’t feel that was sensible given I’ve essentially done that for the films I’ve streamed anyway! Instead, below are the reviews of films I had seen in the cinema this year – you can judge for yourselves which of those are worth a watch (all are now available either on streaming or DVD/bluray). I’d say that even if I didn’t like some as much as I did others, give any or all of them a chance – turn your TV or surround sound up loud and turn the lights off, and pretend you’re at the cinema anyway!

Hope as always that these blogs are actually interesting to read or useful to anyone who does read them – hopefully I’ll have some proper reviews of films from the cinema at some point in 2021. Happy New Year, and let’s hope it’s a much better one.

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