Fascinating bit of news from the weekend: fancy techniques and nuclear-launch-code-type secrecy kept “The Dark Knight” out of the hands of internet pirates for 38 hours after the movie’s release, which is considered a huge success for Warner Brothers. Apparently they staggered the release of the film’s reels to theaters, so that the entire movie was never in one place for long. They also got infrared goggles for movie theater owners in Australia (where the film opened two days before the US) so camcorders could be spotted.
It all seems like shoveling snow in a blizzard, but it’s proof that if you have a big enough shovel, you can do anything temporarily. The first copy of “The Dark Knight” available on a decent file-sharing site didn’t appear until two whole days after the premiere.
If you look at the endless credits of a huge blockbuster like this one, you can see every possible weak link in the chain. Hell, if you really wanted to see a film a month or two before schedule, you could find out which movie-trailer house was making the previews, bribe a mid-level PA, and get a rough edit all to yourself. Far simpler, I’d think, is to befriend some manager at a googleplex in Fayetteville NC, have a private screening of “The Dark Knight” at 3am with a camcorder, then split the proceeds on the black market.
Movie studios aren’t worried about a bootleg copy robbing them of opening-weekend revenue; they’re worried that the small, mean-spirited, froth-mouthed fanboys who download the movie two weeks early will start a negative word-of-mouth campaign. That’s the sort of rumor that eventually filters up the food chain to you and me, and translates into millions of lost revenue.
Of course, the unspoken admission here is this: the studios know the movie sucks, they just want to get as much money out of it before YOU know it sucks. Even box office bombs can make 3/4ths of their money back before the audience knows they’ve been had, and if you factor in overseas sales, notoriously shitty movies turn a tidy profit.
There are a lot of experiences no longer available to most of the American public: drive-in theaters, high diving boards, public hangings and worry-free sun exposure. Lately there’s been much grousing that the movie theater itself will be extinct. I could be wrong, certainly, but the reason most American habits disappear is because they can be replicated more conveniently – and there is simply nothing available to the American consumer that can replicate seeing a movie like “The Dark Knight” on a giant screen.
But there’s something even more important. Going to a movie with strangers offers a Shared Experience with Unpredictable Company, meaning, simply, that you’re opting to share a cultural event with hundreds of other people you’ve never met. By not knowing who they are, you have placed yourself – subconsciously – into the collective mindset of your culture.
You can’t do it at home – you know when your friends or family are going to laugh, how they react, and you possess an innate safety that lessens any possible magic. You’re also “timeshifting”, or watching your entertainment whenever the hell you want, thus handicapping its emotional importance. At the theater, all of you are experiencing something in real time, it took effort to get there, and the fact that your row is populated with strangers makes a huge difference.
There are times when I can’t be fucking bothered, and I really do just want to download a movie like “The Wackness” or “Hancock” and to hell with America’s collective entertainment unconscious. And god knows I have friends, two in particular, who are positively allergic to paying for entertainment, choosing instead to game the system at every possible turn. They’d rather spend 18 hours downloading a shitty dub of “Pineapple Express” than 2 hours watching it.
But if there’s anything to remember from this era, when strangers still went to the movies together, it’s this: transcendence and magic only reveal themselves to those who dared venture out of their comfort zone.