Monday, August 06, 2007

Breach of Protocol

I wonder how cinema's are going to survive long term beyond the 'Blockbuster of the Week' release schedule that the film companies seem to have imposed on them.

This year has seen release dates for the shiny disc versions of films getting even closer to the theatrical release date, such that there's little incentive for anyone to venture to the latest multiplex when you know that a few weeks later you can have a screening of the film that's free of wailing children, ringing mobile phones, grubby popcorn-strewn carpets and endless natter and slurping noises. And with West End cinema ticket prices being what they are, waiting a few weeks is not just cheaper, but adds extra value too. When was the last time you got a personal commentary from the director, or behind the scenes glimpses at your local fleapit?

I'm glad I'm not in the cinema business!

This weekend I got to see two highly rated American films that don't officially get released here until later this month. To be honest I'd rather have been out enjoying the sun but we live in a world where paying £25 surcharge for 'Saturday delivery' means sitting in a flat for three days waiting for something that's never going to arrive, but at least gives you the opportunity to watch some shiny discs!

Disturbia is a film that's already made its way into HD-DVD owner's hands, even before its British release (cinema's are running trailers for it now so presumably it's due here soon) and today (a Bank Holiday in Ireland, which is why I'm still in London) I watched Breach which hits the cinemas on August 31st.

Breach HD-DVD

It may be that the British release has been purposefully delayed to avoid clashing with The Good Shepherd (Robert de Niro's similarly themed piece about the CIA which was released earlier this year), but such delaying tactics have proven time and time again to be a disaster in financial terms for the makers, so one has to wonder what the distributors are playing at. Hollywood only has itself to blame of course - it seems obsessed with finding a subject and then launching rival films on that subject at the same time.

Capote, a film about Truman Capote and his writing of the book 'In Cold Blood' may have won all the oscars and ticket sales, but it was Infamous, released a few months later that was the better film. It had bigger stars too, yet inexplicably, despite showing at film festivals BEFORE its rival, it arrived in cinema's so late after Capote that nobody wanted to go and see it. This is hardly surprising - who wants to pay money to go and see something they think they've already seen?!

Something similar seems to have happened with The Illusionist, a period film about a feuding magician that premiered at festivals before The Prestige but was then left languishing on shelves for so long that The Prestige, by much more hip directore Christopher Nolan, stole all its thunder. When distributors did finally get around to releasing the wretched thing what few reviews did appear were of the 'Oh look another film about magicians. How many do we need?' variety which doomed sales, even on shiny disc. Which is a shame, as it's a rather good movie.

I have a horrid feeling that Breach may suffer a similar fate, despite names like Chris Cooper, Ryan Phillippe and Laura Linney being cast as the leads. Spy movies need to be full of action set pieces to survive, and I can see the 'Oh dear. They've tried to copy The Good Shepherd' reviews when the film finally limps onto British screens already! Which would be a shame because although Breach has a lot in common with that longer offering (this time based on the real life spy caught by the FBI rather than the world of the CIA), particular in its almost monochromatic look, I think Breach has more tension and intrigue and, as such, is the more mainstream movie of the two.

Those of us who've bought into the new high-definition formats can rejoice at the opportunity to see films in high definition, with a host of extra's, before the cinema-going public I guess. But part of me wonders what this subtle shift in release strategies by the different film companies means for the long-term survival of the local fleapit.

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