The Zero Hour

Reviews, rants and oddities on video game and film culture.

Category Archives: Mouthing Off!

Hollywood into Darkness: Star Trek, 3D and the potential default shift in cinema viewing

Today, I found out my local, erm.. “big corporate multiplex cinema chain” isn’t going to be showing the 2D print (oh, how archaic) of Star Trek into Darkness when it’s released in a couple of weeks and that 3D will be the only option they’re providing. I’d heard about other cinemas doing this a couple of weeks back, but I assumed “as release gets closer, more 2D showings will appear, Paramount just want to prioritise the 3D version for advance sales” Now, I’m finding this isn’t the case, and that priority has left any other version lost in the mud. Now, this worries me because there is absolutely no reason for them to do this.

See, Star Trek is a big name franchise, JJ Abrams is a big name director, and whilst the cast aren’t exactly “Tom Cruise” in terms of household names, they have at least some power in getting the audience to see it based on that, (esp. w/ the casting of Cumberbatch who is the actor of the moment). it’s impossible to predict the success of a movie, but Star Trek follows the “Hollywood formula” pretty closely that it’s a safe bet, so why are they essentially jeopardising their own movie?

So, what’s the problem with only doing 3D showings? Sure, they cost more to go see, therefore giving the studios a slightly bigger return, but Avatar aside, they are still not as popular 2D showings, which remain the default since that film of the train parking at a station that scared half the room of patrons in the 1800s (and ironically did a better job at showing depth then most 3D movies). Most movies still predominantely get their money from 2D screenings, although obviously 3D is still relatively popular and accesible to the casual cinema goer.

Which is fine, but there is still a large amount of people who find 3D uncomfortable, can’t see 3D, dislike or find the effect distracting or have to wear two pairs of glasses to watch the movie, which not only looks silly, but stops them fitting on your face and you have to constantly be distracted from the action by sliding them back up. Not to mention that most 3D movies are converted in post production gives it less of feeling of immersion and more of a feeling of a cash cow gimmick.

And allowing that cash cow gimmick be the default option is therefore alienating a good chunk of your potential audience. Star Trek is a film that inevitably will make money, but it will make considerably less because it’s not as accessible. Maybe that’s the plan though, and they’re hoping for a resurgence through home release in 5 or so months time.

A similar thing happened to Dredd, one of the more surprisingly solid movies of last year. Both movies were made with the ultimatum of “This has to be in 3D” (assuming because of the increased ticket prices?) and both movies have very limited 2D screenings (at least in Britain)  Dredd did not do well at the box office, performing lower than expected. It did make a lot more money on DVD/Blu-Ray though, and I think partly down to it being more accesible to people. I never saw it at the cinema because I have trouble with 3D movies, but I bought the DVD the day of release because I wanted to see it.

And Star Trek is doing a similar thing, as I’ve said a few times, it’s going to be successful in some capacity (whether it’ll be “Hollywood succesful” is anyones guess), but this is a huge gamble and one that could either kill the series, or shift the default towards 3D for films in the future, which as a fan of cinema, I do not think would be a positive move. 3D will make them money on opening weekend, but without the big 2D release to steady it, will it be enough?

It’s possible that this is just early worrying and by release date 2D screenings pop up all over the shop, but it just makes me think this is a trend that’s just going to get worse. I’m fortunate in that I’ve a cinema that is showing a 2D version (at double price to my usual haunt though??) but some won’t have that luxury and will be forced to wait till DVD release day, which to me, isn’t really fair.


Do DVD’s…kind of suck?

So I was just watching the Nostalgia Chick’s look at the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy and at one point, she brings up the Extended editions and how they were a great addition extending (duh) the story and fleshing out minor characters and contained many in-depth features on how the movies were made. This suddenly made me realise two things.

1.) I think the Extended Editions maybe my favourite DVD’s ever
2.) DVDs and Blu-ray’s are kind of terrible.

See, here’s the thing. The actual movie on any disc is for the most part fine no qualms about that unless you’ve been screwed over quality wise with a dodgy copy, I distinctly remember Warner Bros. made a hodge podge of Inception DVDs when it was first released that I had to get my copy replaced and there are obivously exceptions, but it’s more of a fault of a scratched disc or a general shoddy manufacturing error. It’s the stuff that goes around it; the cover, the menus, the extras, it’s all part of the presentation. It’s 2013, the Lord of the Rings extended editions came out about 10 years ago and this is the standard that we should be at by this point, and it’s at least the standard I judge all DVD and Blu-ray (especially Blu-ray considering you’re already paying more) formats, high standards? Maybe, because very little has actually reached that level. It’s not uncommon still to have DVD (we’ll refer to Blu-rays as this too unless specified) sets rushed out with very little than the movie poster as cover art, a blank disc with the movie name, and special features that are limited only to “deleted scenes”.

So why is this? Well, it’s most likely in most cases to be a lack of funds to do an audio commentary, going back to the original footage (or in some cases negatives, which then cost even more to develop into digital blahdy blahdy tech babble) to find “hilarious” bloopers, cast interviews and making of documenatries. But whilst with smaller films this is understandable, huge blockbusters (you know the films most people will buy) will pull this trick and give you the consumer a bare bones copy of the movie with little effort put into it. A good example of this is the Blu-ray of Marvel’s The Avengers (Nope, not calling it the UK name because no-one else does and it’s stupid), which is the third biggest movie of all time, and was clearly rushed out to capitalise on that fact. we get a rubbish cover art (One that for a big ensemble movie goes for the three most popular characters, leading to those unaware to think there are no women in the movie), no audio commentary (It’s on the US release though), deleted scenes and a one shot short film, which admittedly was nice, but felt out of place considering its little relevance.

It’s become increasingly common for studios to roll out the DVD release in a considerably shorter time frame than they used to, Skyfall comes out DVD in about 2-3 weeks (18th Feburary) and it’s cinema release was only 3 months prior to that. And this is why these releases are so barren with extras, the companies have to get everything done within a tight deadline in order to allow manufacturing and shipping, which is getting considerably smaller because studios are scared of a little something called The Internet

Movie companies are often pretty quick to demonise the internet, they regularly hound YouTube stopping any unauthorised use of their content and many were keen on SOPA when it was around, but most of all, they think piracy on the internet is killing their profits. (The fact that the second and third highest grossing movies ever were released within the last 3 years tells us that’s not true) and if they don’t officially release the movie soon after the end of the theatrical run, people will head to The Pirate Bay and download it. And whilst that is probably true, it’s still a minority.

Of course maybe this just leads us to consider the future, which is already out there; downloading through services like iTunes and streaming with Netflix/LoveFilm. Obviously there are benefits to this, you pay as much as you would for a DVD once a month and you get a large selection of movies that you can watch anywhere,  or you download a from iTunes for a lower price than a hard copy and again, watch anywhere.

But if this is the case, surely a DVD needs to do that extra something, like the Lord of the Rings extended edition, with their decorated art, tome style aesthetic and hours of extras on how they made Hobbit feel in order to sway people to spend that little bit extra on something that ultimately gives the product a bit of personality and charm and shows that they actually cared and put the effort into a product. Now, obviously what that extra something is depends on the movie and it really does suit big blockbuster movies better (I really can’t see something like This is 40 with steelbook packaging) and although it sounds like it, I’m not asking for every movie to have an hour of deleted scenes put back in (because that would ruin pacing, flow etc blahdy blah filmy stuff), or enough special features to keep you till your DVD player breaks of over-use. Films are an artform and I just want our DVD packaging and extras to reflect that and to stand out on your shelves. A good comparison to make is that of CD’s/Vinyl and downloads, sure you can download a copy of, say, Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs for £7.99, but buying a copy on CD/Vinyl for a couple pounds more (The Vinyl cost me double that) gives you not only it’s wonderful artwork (AND A CHOICE OF BACKGROUNDS!!) but you get the liner notes with the lyrics and it’s just an extra bit of warmth and luxury that a download can’t provide (Some give you digital booklets, but it’s not the same). You don’t buy an album and expect nothing else but the record itself, why are DVD’s any different?

But this could all just be nostalgia and if people didn’t go out their way for this ten years ago, it’s not going to happen now. It was a good way of getting DVD owners to buy Blu-Ray copies, now it’s an excuse to just download/stream films (which no doubt costs movie companies less so more chance of profit to them), but with The Hobbit films expected to have extended editions, I can at least expect those to look fantastic on my shelf and filled with every teeny tiny detail in regards to the making of them, and if it’s the last hurrah for craft and care before the DVD dies to Netflix, least I’ll get my money’s worth.

Star Wars Episode 7 is announced, internet melts down and I try to make sense of my conflicted feelings towards it.

(I’m aware I haven’t really posted much here for a long while, but I kind of just wanted to get this out there)

Ok, so like everyone else on the internet tonight, I’m aware that Disney are buying Lucasfilm and pretty swiftly announced Star Wars Episode 7 (and 8 & 9 and possibly more, I’ll get to that later). Naturally I turned into a child and got all excited about the prospect because the idea of new films being only vaguely linked to the original trilogy (the actors are obviously to old/won’t want to reprise their roles to a degree that can make these direct sequels, plus Vaders dead) but set in that giant universe is kind of really, well limitless potential for story fodder. Also (this may change though) the fact that Lucas isn’t writing/directing will give different talent their take on  the universe (I’m sending in my application now). Lucas knows better than nearly anyone the effectiveness of film auteurship, having basically been at the forefront of that movement in the 70’s with Scorse and Coppola, so letting someone else loose in his playpen is a really interesting prospect.

The thing I’ve seen the most of in terms of negative response is that Disney are going to ruin it (lol) by making it more for a Jar Jar audience and less of an Empire Strikes Back situation, I don’t blame them, but I really can’t see them handling the material any differently to the live action movies they’ve already under their belt. I imagine Disney will handle more of the distribution end and production will still be predominately LucasFilms ballpit. Also, I’m pretty sure Pirates 3 began with a hanging, that sounds kid friendy…

I think it’s something to keep an eye on, Everyone has the right to be cynical, it’s a cash cow franchise that’s essentially not really relevant and is being wheeled out because it will make a ton of money even if it’s the worst thing under the sun (which it has been) andOf course I’m irritated that they’ve basically confirmed that it’ll be further milked beyond a new trilogy, but at the same time this is a franchise that has an Angry Birds spin-off, so like, there’s that…. Honestly, I would really like to see Disney and Lucasfilm (and pretty much every major Hollywood studio) work on finding the NEXT Star Wars and not rely on existing franchises, reboots and sequels. But then if we keep flocking to them in our millions then they keep happening, so I guess we have ourself to blame and the reaction to this news kind of ensures that the further movies beyond this trilogy will probably be made.

But then, if it’s the new lease of life this series desperately needs and it’s great, there’ll be a new generation of kids who’ll want to become film-makers because of Star Wars, and having been one of those kids, that’s a pretty cool thing to aspire to.

But you know, I guess if it’s really terrible, we can always, I dunno, not watch it.

Keep the internet free.…

I’m aware that this is still early and there is a very real chance this could nor happen, but equally there’s a chance it could and getting people aware is my main intention here. Even if (like me) you’re not American, it will affect everyone in the world, as America is still a large source of output on the internet. Besides, when one of the most powerful nations in the world backs something like this, it’s inevitable to snowball into the EU and other parts of the world.

The US Government is currently discussing 2 bills, that will allow copyright holders to block any website that they believe infringes copyright. Not only would this break any kind of net neutrality and the entire www. concept, but it would also mean the end of youtube, twitter, tumblr, 4chan and many other sites, maybe even cause the loss of jobs for some internet reviewers (such as myself) It’s also a direct violation of free speech and the American constitution. Please sign the petitions, talk to your congressmen and keep the internet free.

On a personal note, if this happens and spreads, I will lose any chance of becoming a video reviewer, and there’s a chance this site will even be shut down. I do not want this to happen.

The Next Generation

If you’ve paid attention to any mainstream game site over the past week, I’m sure you’ve caught your eye on one thing. The Wii 2. News started to leak about its successor last Thursday on Kotaku and since then we’ve been drip fed information from various anonymous sources claiming “confirmation” that the console will focus on the hardcore gamer, the controller will have a HD screen built containing a fully customisable interface and that its development name is Project Café (fingers crossed for a built in espresso machine).
Now, before you get all excited about this, I must disappoint you with the fact that despite all the confirmations, none of the sources are actually named and more importantly, none of those sources are Nintendo themselves. What’s happened is we’ve effectively just become involved in a big worldwide game of Chinese whispers, where this whole situation is being escalated out of hand and will no doubt lead to disappointment if Nintendo announce it and it’s just a Wii with prettier graphics. I think we need to file everything we’ve read about Project Café into rumours and speculation file till then, then when E3 rolls around, if its everything that’s been rumoured, you can be smug about being right then. Being smug about being right now isn’t worth it.

Of course, with that in mind, The Xbox 360 is 6 years old this year and the other consoles are nearly pushing 5 years, which is old age in console years and, sadly this means it’s that time again where we have to start thinking about the day they get put down and replaced with a younger sexier model. Of course, now it’s not that simple. Whilst when the Xbox 360 and Wii launched, there were games on mobile phones and on the internet, they were seen as small insignificant time-wasters. Flash games on the likes of can be very well made, but they were only seen as something to do in your lunch break or when you were bored in your ICT class. But over the past 2 years, mobile and social gaming, as evidenced through the phenomenal success of Angry Birds and Farmville, have come leaps and bounds and are very nearly at the stage where cheap apps and mobile games can take on consoles at their own game. The acceleration of technology and the turnaround of games consoles means that fairly soon, your mobile phone will be as powerful as your Xbox and will probably eclipse it fairly rapidly and once that happens and peripherals designed exclusively for games are released, it’s very likely that bigger name developers will begin to defect over to mobile platforms, due to cheaper development costs and greater chance of profit. Gamers will benefit from lower prices and instant accessibility due to it simply being a one click download, and the social aspect will enable online play that will no doubt be developed to rival the experience of an Xbox live game from anywhere in the world.

So how can Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo get round this? Well, it’s going to be a tough battle. The fact is, consoles are beginning to run out of steam and with the exception of more powerful graphics, (even this is beginning to reach its limits) there’s not much more they can innovate on. Microsoft made it their intention to make the Xbox 360 “the centre of the living room” and in doing so, they seem to have painted themselves into a corner. Games consoles now can play DVD’s and Blu-rays, stream and rent TV shows and films, hold conversations and socialise with others, browse the internet, download new content for their games and even download new games themselves. I joked at the start of this article that the new Nintendo console should contain a coffee machine, now I realise it’s the only thing that it probably won’t have. Now, there are several aspects that could be developed further, but the big question is “Is this the direction they’re going to go?”

Obviously, the PS3 already had 3D capabilities, but I can’t see 3D on home consoles catching on, mostly due to the expensive nature of the technology (3D development must cost a small fortune in itself and then you’ve still got to shell out even more for a 3D TV). Nintendo have also already denied any plans to continue 3D for their next home console, despite the success of the 3DS, due to no interest in the technology if it requires the use of 3D glasses.

Motion gaming seems to be fizzling out as well within a single generation with 1:1 motion already accomplished with WiiMotionPlus, Sony Move and Kinect’s sensors and whilst this is a shame, motion controls never managed to fully immerse players into the game in the same way as button controls have. However, they have been successful in capturing the imaginations of both developers and the public, it is impossible to deny that Super Mario Galaxy was a triumph in its use of controls.

Having said all that, maybe if and when the mobile phone or the tablet become the primary source of gaming, maybe consoles will do the impossible and innovate, giving us an experience that can’t be gotten on whatever device we’re using in a few years’ time. Similar to how arcade machines have been since the late ‘90’s and those have done pretty well.

Now, of course a good chunk of this is just my opinion and it’s all clearly speculative, so don’t start flipping out because “gaming is dead” because it’s not, it’s full of life more than ever. As far as I know, Nintendo, Sony or Microsoft could easily take to the stage at E3 and change everything and revitalise the market in ways we never saw possible, the whole social gaming movement could be a fad and die out. It’s a cliché phrase, but the future isn’t set in stone, whilst most generations prior have pretty much followed a standard pattern, we’re currently in the midst of an exciting transition period for gaming and if we keep our heads, I think it’ll be more similar than you expect…