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Archive for March 5th, 2019

Following its release on Netflix I held off watching Roma for several weeks in the hope it would find its way to a cinema near me.  I live in a city covered by most major cinema chains as well as lots of great independents (including “The UK’s Oldest Working Cinema”), I therefore thought I had a pretty good chance.  Sadly it didn’t appear, so in the dark days between Christmas and New Year, I bit the bullet and watched Alfonso Cuarón’s latest on TV at home.Roma

Following an online search I soon discovered why it hadn’t appeared at a cinema.  It appears Netflix set the bar pretty high for any cinema wishing to show the movie.  It suggested they needed the capability to project 70mm film or 4k digital, and have Dolby Atmos sound.  This excluded most independent cinemas across the country; many will have one of these capabilities few have both.Roma

After watching the film my first reaction was that I could understand the restrictions as the films sound design was nothing short of spectacular.  I have a reasonable home setup with 7.1 sound, this was by far the best sounding film I have watched at home, I’m sure a full Dolby Atmos would have sounded even better.  My impression was further galvanised by a friend who had watched the film the same night as me who commented that he hadn’t noticed the great sound.  The irony of this, the person in question was partly responsible for convincing me to upgrade my system, but doesn’t himself have surround sound having recently moved house, and not set up his surround speakers yet.ROMA

However, it suddenly hit me; there was a chink in the Netflix criteria.  A cinema with a really good, but not Dolby Atmos setup could not show the film, but anyone with a Netflix account could watch it on a mobile phone with a 2 inch screen and a single speaker.  Accepted, it is unlikely that anyone who would have paid to watch the film in the cinema, when they could have watched it at home at no extra cost (if they have Netflix) is unlikely to then watch it on a mobile phone! Nevertheless, even the best home set-up is going to be inferior to most cinema’s even if they are not Atmos.  Therefore there must be more to it than simply showing the film in the best way.roma 3

Whether you think it is the death of cinema or an exciting time, we are certainly at a tipping point in not just how we view films, but how they are funded and made.  Steven Spielberg has joined the debate suggesting that films should not be eligible for the Oscars if they are predominantly streamed and receive just a token release.  Film critic Mark Kermode has long been an advocate of simultaneous release across multiple platforms, I tend to agree with him.  But the Roma model (and many other Netflix releases in 2018) goes a long way past the idea of a simultaneous release and into what Spielberg calls a “token” release, where films are shown in a very small number of cinema’s for a very short time.  Netflix have responded on Twitter “We love cinema. Here are some things we also love: Access for people who can’t always afford, or live in towns without, theaters – Letting everyone, everywhere enjoy releases at the same time.” While a measured response, they don’t seem to have taken account of people who don’t have the capability to stream movies, for example if they live in a rural area with low bandwidth.  Also from a cost point of view, many people may not be able to afford the cost of high-speed internet, and Netflix subscriptions, but can afford the odd treat of a trip to the cinema.  For at least the last half century the cheapest way of watching movies has been free to air TV, at this time, it isn’t clear if Netflix movies ever find their way to TV.roma4

There are more questions than answers, and they are sure to be asked again later this year with the release of Martin Scorsese’s much anticipated return to the gangster genre The Irishman.  I will be watching with interest. 

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