The times, they are a-changing. Technology is becoming ever-smaller, and so we now have completely different ways of viewing movies. Nowadays, a blockbuster can be watched at the cinema; it's then enjoyed at home on DVD, on a tablet, and perhaps even on a mobile phone. In fact, while it's impossible to get reliable figures for how many people are watching on a phone, we do know that 23% of Netflix subscribers have reported watching Netflix on one. It's also commonplace to spot someone on your train watching a film or TV series...
J. J. Abrams isn't happy. He told a seminar at South by Southwest Film Festival in Australia:
“Anyone who makes movies will say: ‘Please don’t watch my movies on that.' It is the nightmare of every storyteller that people are going to watch something you made on something so small."
He's not the first to bemoan this trend; one film critic described using a phone to watch a film as a "desecration of cinema"! Ironically enough, in an interview last year, George Lucas expressed a very different view:
"I make movies for the big screen. That's what I do. If you want the full experience, see it in a good theater with a good sound system, a lot of people, and it works the best. If you want to see it on a small phone, fine with me. You can't sort of tell people where to watch movies, especially in the future, so you just have to accept the fact people are going to look at it.
"If you want to see it really well, and have a full experience, you've got to see it in a theater, but you can buy the DVD. You can do it that way. That's fine. It's just not the same."
On the whole, I think George Lucas is closer to the truth on this one. J. J. Abrams can plead all he wants for people not to watch a movie on their phone; he's too late. That horse has bolted, and the use of phones to watch films is now commonplace. Lucas' attitude is a far better one. Lucas accepts that there will be a range of devices, and views the cinema screen as the "full experience". Every other device, to Lucas, is a lesser experience.
That said, Lucas doesn't quite have it right either. The reality is that we're now in a position where every film is experienced in different ways. The cinema is one experience; a family time watching a film together while sat on the sofa is another; and, dare I say it, commuting on a train while using your phone is yet another. We're now at a place where studios, producers and directors purposefully market their movies for DVD as well as for the cinema. Take Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice - an R-rated 'Ultimate edition' is being released straight to DVD, avoiding the cinema altogether. What's more, the wealth of special features you'll find on most DVDs - such as actor commentaries - are designed to create experiences that are unique to the DVD, and could never be replicated in the cinema. Smart studios (like Lucasfilm under George Lucas) release DVDs in waves, with more and more features added.
The point is, for these studios, DVD isn't a 'lesser' experience - it's simply a different one. I'd argue that watching a movie on your smartphone is also simply a different experience. The most common criticism of this experience is that the screen-size is too small; but technology critic David Pogue has a good (if uncomfortable) response to that:
"A four-inch screen, 15 inches from your face, is effectively as large as a cinema screen if you’re sitting in the back row. Close, anyway. It fills the same amount of your vision. And earbuds or headphones do a great job with the sound."
Studios have learned a lesson that J. J. Abrams hasn't; that people will watch their films on whatever technology takes their fancy. Just as they've created and marketed products towards the DVD channel, studios will do the same towards the mobile channel. The sad reality is that a film is only out at the cinema for a certain length of time; once that time-slot has gone, the cinema experience is lost in the mists of time and memory. People will be watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens on DVD - and on smartphone - just before watching Star Wars Episode VIII or Episode IX. Because those experiences are cheaper, and more available, those will become the real experience for them.
There'll even come to be a generation who never watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and yet know every word in the script, and discuss it avidly on whatever social media platform we're on by then. Just as, today, there are countless men, women and children who weren't alive to experience Star Wars: A New Hope in the cinema, and yet know and love it so fervently. In this way - granted, in Abrams' and Lucas' view, a lesser way - their film is immortalised, and a form of the experience lives on.
Maybe technological change isn't so bad after all.