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‘Spectacle and presentation’

By Vincent D. Scebbi
On November 4, 2010

The following is the third part of a four-part series on the cinema industry. The series will conclude by discussing how movie theaters provide an escape for its patrons, especially in economically difficult times.

Hollywood executives' decisions to produce more 3-D films have caused some to feel moviemakers are jeopardizing the artistic quality of films.

Assistant Professor of Film at the University of Toledo Matt Yockey said over the past 35 years, the movie industry has been shifting away from originality and going to the "least common denominator," an example of which is the film industry's reliance on already-popular stories.

"Hollywood studios reorganized itself around this: mentally focusing on big blockbuster films," he said. "It just seems that we've continued into this trend over the past few decades to big-budget spectacle at the expense of story and character."

Because of this trend, Yockey said the artistic films are having more difficulty finding investors.

"If we consider Europe, which has been traditionally the fountainhead of art film since the 1950s, filmmakers are finding it extremely difficult to get funding to make their movies and increasingly difficult to make their films and get distribution to the U.S.," Yockey said.

He added that the idea of Hollywood relying on sequels is not a new concept, but its dependency has increased in the past 10 years.

"There's this increasing reliance on sequels and adaptations of already established properties, TV shows, popular books that leave little room for actual individual artistic expression, perhaps even original ideas," Yockey said.

With the newest trend in the cinema industry being digital and three-dimensional cinema, the West coast has embraced this fad more than the Midwest, according to Jake Cline, a sophomore business administration major at UT and manager at Franklin Park 16.

"In California, people are willing to pay for [3-D]. People on the West coast are more excited for technology and more willing to pay for it," Cline said.

In a non-scientific study of 103 University of Toledo students performed by the Independent Collegian, 60 said 3-D film is a passing fad.

Josh Bates, a manager at Rave Cinema at Levis Commons in Perrysburg, Ohio said he can understand why college students view the new technology as a fad because there are a many producers making 3-D movies just for the extra money they can make from the increased ticket cost.

"I can see [that decisions are driven by money], in a point where a lot of movies are putting 3-D," Bates said. "I think if there were only a select few who made 3-D movies so it would be an experience, then it wouldn't be such of a fad. And I can see why students think so many movies are coming out with that."

Yockey declined to go on record about whether he believes 3-D is just a passing fad, but he said the technology adds to the visual experience of going to the movie theater, and that portion of the cinematic experience is becoming more important in recent years.

"There are films we go to because we're more invested in story and character than we are in terms of spectacle," he said. "That seems to be the minority increasingly as we get these big spectacles that make more money. But it's hard to say if most films will go 3-D, because what's the appeal inherence spectacle of seeing two characters talking over dinner. But then, they said similar things about sound when sound came in 1920."

The fad of 3-D and digital cinema can be forced upon its customers, according to Yockey. He compared the possibilities to what occurred in the music industry in the 1980s with compact discs replacing vinyl records.

The CD was a new way to sell the same product - music - as well as rejuvenate the sales of a record company's back-catalog. Yockey said this forced vinyl records off the market artificially and gave the consumer no choice between a CD or a record.

Yockey said digital cinema is on the move to doing something similar by replacing and making 35 millimeter film obsolete.

Bates said Levis Commons just transitioned to digital projectors, and Cline said that at Franklin Park some of the 35 mm projectors are "paperweights."

According to Yockey, Hollywood rates its fiscal year according to how much money is brought in compared to the year before. If a company brings in less money than the previous year, then that year is considered a failure.

Because movie theaters are driven to increase profits from their movies, then they will continue to "squeeze more money out of [3-D]," Yockey said. The problem with this is that there still has to be a finished product at the end of shooting and post-production.

"I don't think that we're inclined to see every movie in 3-D or on an IMAX screen and to pay that higher ticket price every single time," he said.

The move toward a blockbuster-centered industry started back in 1975 with Jaws, which according to Yockey, was the first summer blockbuster. Since its release and the 1977 premier of Star Wars, there was an increase in "spectacle and merchandising." Since then Yockey said this trend of spectacle and merchandising sacrifices the quality of the movie.

Yockey advises that people should wean themselves "off that tit of evolutionary thinking," because the film industry has never been improved upon. For example, Yockey said some silent films are considered some of the greatest of all time and adding things such as sound, color and 3-D are not necessary improvements to the cinema experience.

"We're attracted to them because they give us the promise of something new and fresh and something different on the level of spectacle and presentation," he said. "If it's reduced to that then we lose the innovation of the art form itself, the innovation of storytelling."

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