Multi-platform movie releases – good or bad?

I’ve been hearing more and more recently about simultaneous releases into theatres and on cable/the internet.  It sounds like that strategy is doing good things for independent movies, which otherwise would have a limited opening audience because they are carried on few screens.  I wonder, though, about the effect that that would have on movies.

I’m specifically thinking of What Dreams May Come, which I re-watched last night on my television.  For those who don’t recall, What Dreams May Come is a Robin Williams/Cuba Gooding, Jr. flick about a dead man who goes to great lengths to save his wife from hell after she commits suicide.  One of the best parts of the movie is the stellar special effects.  This movie’s version of heaven has everyone creating their own small world; for example, Robin Williams’ character’s heaven is a painting his wife made – literally a painting, if you run your hand along it you can smear it.  This painting-heaven is full of flowers of all sorts of shades, which is where I think multi-platform releases might run into trouble.  Seen on a big screen, this painting-heaven is immersive, the flowers large enough to be distinct from one another.  Yet on a television screen the small flowers run together like Pointilist dots to form a smear of purplish colour with some yellow highlights.  The glorious world of the movie theatre is at once reduced.

Other movies do similar things; the new Speed Racer came closer than any other 2-D movie I’ve seen to looking three-dimensional, yet it too would be reduced on a television or computer screen in a way that I can’t quite figure out how to articulate.  On the other hand, both of these examples rely on special effects, which tend to be a hallmark of the big studio movies more than the indies.  Still, the effect should be seen.  If a movie seen in a theatre shows a still figure in one corner of a long, empty set the effect of loneliness would be greater than the same shot from the same movie seen on a tiny television with an aspect ratio that cuts off part of the empty set.  When you open movies on multiple platforms at the same time, when you start to value the television viewers as much as the theatre-goers, you must, as a creator, tailor your work to please both audiences.  That, in some ways, leads to avoiding some of the best benefits of a theatre show.  Consequently I’m a bit worried about multi-platform openings even as I am happy about the benefits they are offering independent filmmakers.

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