There’s been a lot of talk recently about how TV is “killing” movies these days, as cinema quality experiences are now appearing on the small screen with shows like Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad and True Detective.
While I think the quality of programs like those can’t be disputed, I think this “war” argument is misguided, to say the least. I watched the Oscars this weekend and was reminded that there are still incredible movies released year in and year out, and I think the only real difference is the increase quality of other forms of media, not necessarily a decrease in the quality of film.
In the old days, it was simply no contest. In the 70s, 80s and most of the 90s, television was mostly a collection of sitcoms and murder mysteries. Video games had only the barest bones of plot, if any. Movies were far and away the best visual medium to tell a story, and it was how they were cemented as the “dominant” form of media around the world.
Now, things are different. While movies have stayed relatively the same outside of more refined CGI and 3D infusion, television has spiked in quality as actors see it as a great way to tell longform stories that simply wouldn’t work on film.
I would argue that video games are following a similar arc, though no one is writing articles that games are killing TV and movies yet. The kinds of stories being told and the sorts of worlds being built in games like The Last of Us, BioShock Infinite and Mass Effect is unlike anything in the other two genres, in my opinion, but perhaps that’s an article for another day.
But I think there’s room for all three, and it’s nothing but good news that the quality of all of these forms of media are going up. And as good as TV is, just like Game of Thrones would never have worked as a standalone movie, films like Her or Dallas Buyers Club likely wouldn’t have been any better as a 10 episode miniseries, or an AMC drama that spanned five seasons. We still need film to tell many stories effectively.
I think the main issue here isn’t one of quality, but convenience. Both games and TV shows allow a quality entertainment experience without viewers/players need to leave their house, while movies require a trip to a crowded theater. Similarly, there’s a cost factor as well. Movies can easily be $30 for a pair of tickets for two hours of entertainment, while a Netflix subscription is $8 a month with access to thousands of hours of television. Hell, even cable bills can seem cheap by comparison to constantly inflating movie ticket prices. And even video games with their $60 price tags can produce more bang for their buck as players can sink anywhere from 10 to 100 or more hours into an engrossing experience.
Quality is not the issue here. It’s like you were in a classroom with a group of smart kids who usually get As, and have been comparing them to B, C and D students for years. But now those kids are getting higher grades and though the smart kids aren’t any less smart, they just don’t seem as special any more, and everyone is ooo-ing and ahh-ing over the “most improved” portion of the class.
Rather, movies need to address their central problem of convenience above all else. Either a theater experience has to be dramatically cheaper than what it is, or there needs to be more options like in-home streaming of new movies. The Veronica Mars movie is dropping in theaters and on demand the same day. It’s an outlier to be sure, but it’s a start, and I doubt it will be the last major release to do so.
In the past year, I’ve been moved and entertained by movies, TV shows, video games, comics, books and everything in between. A rising tide lifts all boats, and I think there’s plenty of room in pop culture for quality entries across every form of media.