The Future Is Now

Stephen Spielberg and George Lucas predicted the future of movies. With the aid of a Ouija board and Kreskin’s autobiography, Adam Clarke predicts a less drastic future.

Every month I march up to my local car dealership and demand to buy a flying car. This results in the set response of “Sir, we have no flying cars” before the dealer contacts the local authorities.

I was distinctly promised a flying car and a robot butler by old movies. These things were supposed to be in our future, the movies told me so.

But look around you. We have no flying cars. We have no robot butlers.

Some people are even saying that filmmakers of the 50s and 60s got it wrong.

Fortune-telling has improved considerably since those days, however, and anyone can see into the future providing they are rich enough. That’s why Stephen Spielberg and George Lucas—once-maverick directors who became exactly what they were rebelling against in the 70s—stepped up as authorities on the future of cinema.

At the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts earlier this summer, Spielberg and Lucas dropped bombshell predictions during their panel on film. Staring at the attendees with their cold, dead, shark-like eyes, the two men promised that high-end movie theatres are the future of movies, and that cinema-going will soon resemble going to a concert or going to the opera.

“What you’re going to end up with is fewer theatres. Bigger theatres, with a lot of nice things,” Lucas said. “Going to the movies is going to cost you 50 bucks, maybe 100. Maybe 150.”

“You’re gonna have to pay $25 for the next Iron Man,” Spielberg said.

Pricey cinema, he explained, demands the huge price-gouging required for studios to recoup their budgets. Otherwise there’s no way movies like Avatar, Man Of Steel and The Avengers could see a profit, right?

The idea of film as an opera-like experience made me laugh. Never say never… but that’s never gonna happen. Lucas and Spielberg are spewing the same kind of nonsense that the movie dinosaurs of the 80s were saying when Beta, VHS and Laserdisc came on the scene. Industry types predicted radical changes after the advent of television too.

But there is no radical future for cinema culture. That future is now, and, in many respects, it’s the same as ever.

Recently I hosted the Nickel Film Festival horror night, and as I sat to watch a night of films I’d largely already seen, I found myself enjoying them much more in a darkened room with a crowd. Movie-going gives us a perfect communal experience, and that experience is something streaming services and downloading will never kill. As cinemas grow more expensive, there will always be matinees and discount nights. There’s always going to be film festivals and outdoor film screenings in the summer.

Take a look at The Alamo Drafthouse, for example, a successful speciality cinema in Texas. It caters to hardcore cinephiles with films that are mainstream, arthouse, grindhouse and everything in between. Tickets range from $10-$15. They’re not going anywhere. And neither is your standard movie theatre. That’s the power of community experience.

Film is popular entertainment and will never become a status symbol. Hollywood will continue investing money in brand-name films like Star Trek Into Darkness because they get that money back not just in ticket sales, DVDs, iTunes and Netflix licensing, but also the landfills of merchandise that follow in their wake. As film studios are snapped up as entertainment wings for huge corporations, merchandising will be part of their investment in film.

Despite the occasional high-profile losses incurred by some would-be blockbusters, it’s not going to kill film studios. It never has. Otherwise film would’ve ended after Ishtar, Waterworld, Howard The Duck and/or The Adventures Of Pluto Nash.

No one in their right minds would pay $150 to see Transformers 4: Come Fortress Maximus. We’re going to see convicts fighting for their freedom in a Thunderdome before we see this Lucas-Spielberg imaginary future.

The confusion here is not that film’s changing, but TV is changing. That’s because there’s little difference between Netflix, DVR, iTunes and network TV. As series become more lavish—like Breaking Bad and Mad Men—digital providers will become TV’s scrappier, less-polished cousin, just like TV used to be to film. Amazon’s recent funding of TV series based on pilots upvoted by the public was an excellent idea and a signal of the changes to come. The wave of shows debuting on Netflix and on YouTube indicate interesting changes as well. Film might not change much, but this is an exciting time for scripted series as they develop in a freer realm. If this results in weirder things finding audiences, I’m all for it.

But first thing’s first: Dude, where’s my flying car?

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