The tube versus the big screen
With ticket prices going up and studios churning out factory products, movies are starting to lose some of their luster in the digital age when competing against a caravan of hit television shows. From "The Walking Dead" to "Breaking Bad," television is undergoing a renaissance that can range from the grand and fantastic to finely-tuned miniseries.
In the 1970s, cinema was an innovative force that penetrated the culture and showed a lot of creative daring. Think "Apocalypse Now." Today, it chugs along like a bloated creature, too full of computer-generated imagery.
The films most touted this summer were big, loud behemoths like "Man Of Steel" — which essentially was a fancy video game where "Superman" was a bland, wooden-buffed guy — and "World War Z," a film which endlessly repeated its opening scene of zombie crowds wrecking havoc.
Is television taking over and delegating movies to the back bench? In a sense, yes.
No film this year garnered the kind of popular madness that surrounded the show "Breaking Bad." This series about a high school chemistry teacher turned meth dealer is now ranked by the Guinness World Records as the highest-rated TV show of all time and has raked in major awards.
Film titan Anthony Hopkins recently made waves when he wrote a letter to the show's star Bryan Cranston, calling his acting "the best acting I have seen — ever." Can we imagine Hopkins saying that about any of this year's performances on the big screen?
A key reason why television is becoming such a force might lie in the way both mediums are telling their stories. Drama will always depend on storytelling above spectacle, and this is why Shakespeare is still the most adapted guy in the business.
But the rise of television is an indicator that mainstream movies are losing their ability to simply spin a good yarn.
"I haven't been to the movies in one or two months," said Ali Khan, an SMC student. "There's just nothing interesting anymore. Even the movies you think might be cool end up being lame."
While this year saw some very good art-house movies with good narratives like "The Hunt" and "Before Midnight" in small venues, the films that made the big bucks were mostly sequels like "Iron Man 3" (the year's top grosser), and "Despicable Me 2."
Other big budget behemoths like "Star Trek: Into Darkness" made money but not what was expected, and the bloating of ticket prices because of 3-D helped raise box office results. What these movies have in common is that they are more like carnival rides or roller coasters; you are entertained during the ride, but where is the substance?
"World War Z" is another example of this trend. While the original novel by Max Brooks was a fun yet sharp allegory of our post-9/11 world and its apocalyptic fever dreams, the movie was stripped of most, if not all, of the political subtext and just tore along as a series of sequences involving Brad Pitt facing hordes of zombies.
The film was a loud ride, nothing more. Even the cinematography and directing were less than stellar. Ethridge II summed up his reaction to "WWZ" with the simple comment of "very commercialized."
Now ask yourself, would you watch this movie over and over again? Does it call you back during lonely hours? "Star Wars" certainly has this effect on thousands of people because, above all, it tells a great story. I doubt many readers could recite "World War Z's" storyline or character backgrounds by heart, but try it with "Breaking Bad" or "The Walking Dead."
While today's movies offer a two-hour high, quality shows like "Mad Men," "Breaking Bad" and even less-than-sharp offerings like "Dexter" and "The Walking Dead" have provided storylines on lower budgets that viewers feel they have to follow on a weekly basis.
They actually want to see what happens, and Internet chatter on these shows doesn't focus on the massive visual effects. Instead they focus on who did what, or who was killed off, and how the storyline is affected.
"I think it's a combination of good writing and great acting," Khan said about television's sudden rise. "There are a lot of good TV actors, especially in more dramatic things. Also, with shows, you can develop more. Shows can expand for weeks and weeks."
Before the "Breaking Bad" finale, a storm of chatter erupted over the recent season finale of HBO's fantasy series "Game of Thrones." The episode "The Red Wedding" climaxed with a bloodbath where major characters were killed off. This left the jaws of fans and casual viewers dropped. Not a single moment in any of this summer's blockbusters caused as much sensational debate.
The allure of cinema will never die off, and when great films like "The Godfather" or "Forrest Gump" are made, they embed itself in the culture.
While as a medium, cinema is still the dominant art form of our time, television is having its moment right now and is outdoing its big brother when it comes to sharing a good tale.