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Christopher Nolan Wants to Tell You About the Future of Movies

Thompson on Hollywood By Nick Newman | Thompson on Hollywood July 9, 2014 at 11:45AM

In his Wall Street Journal op-ed, "Interstellar" writer-director Christopher Nolan offered a double-sided solution to what he considers the modern movie malaise
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Christopher Nolan
Christopher Nolan

After elders Steven Spielberg and George Lucas issued a doom-filled prognostication of where their business was headed, Christopher Nolan is offering more optimism.

But it's going to take a lot of work on both creative and business sides of the aisle, suggests Nolan, who's reportedly heading into Spielberg territory with this fall's "Interstellar."

In his Wall Street Journal op-ed (subscription only, here's a takeoff) the writer-director offered a double-sided solution to what he considers the modern movie malaise: the first will require theater owners to make an audience member’s theatrical experience "a new distinction from home entertainment that will enthrall." While you could compare this to the impact Cinemascope and more-dynamic sound systems had in decades past, Nolan is hardly keen to find solutions via digital projection or the likes of 3D, which he calls a "gimmickry aimed at justifying variable ticket pricing." 

The theaters of the future will be bigger and more beautiful than ever before. They will employ expensive presentation formats that cannot be accessed or reproduced in the home (such as, ironically, film prints). And they will still enjoy exclusivity, as studios relearn the tremendous economic value of the staggered release of their products.

The projects that most obviously lend themselves to such distinctions are spectacles. But if history is any guide, all genres, all budgets will follow. Because the cinema of the future will depend not just on grander presentation, but on the emergence of filmmakers inventive enough to command the focused attention of a crowd for hours.

These new voices will emerge just as we despair that there is nothing left to be discovered. As in the early '90s, when years of bad multiplexing had soured the public on movies, and a young director named Quentin Tarantino ripped through theaters with a profound sense of cinema's past and an instinct for reclaiming cinema's rightful place at the head of popular culture.

Never before has a system so willingly embraced the radical teardown of its own formal standards. But no standards means no rules. Whether photochemical or video-based, a film can now look or sound like anything. 

It's unthinkable that extraordinary new work won't emerge from such an open structure. That's the part I can't wait for...

These developments will require innovation, experimentation and expense, not cost-cutting exercises disguised as digital "upgrades" or gimmickry aimed at justifying variable ticket pricing. The theatrical window is to the movie business what live concerts are to the music business—and no one goes to a concert to be played an MP3 on a bare stage.


He says salvation will come from improved technical systems, larger spaces for exhibition (let’s not forget his love of IMAX), and fresh artistic voices to get people talking about the cinema all over again.

Nolan praises Lars von Trier, champ of 90s minimalist film movement Dogme 95, and Quentin Tarantino for their own galvanization of the industry. His piece begins by noting Dogme's impact on complacent moviegoers, which is something we ought to return to. The “open structure” of our current systems, where seemingly everyone can make a film, make it “unthinkable” that a similar kind of small-scale movie reinvention couldn't possibly be around the corner.

But who’s the person to step up and actually make them?

Let's hope Nolan, himself a former indie wunderkind a la "Memento," isn’t resigned to the business of crafting half-personal, half-studio-mandated projects. Nolan at the age of 43 (soon 44) should have plenty of vital enthralling work ahead of him. 

This article is related to: Christopher Nolan, Christopher Nolan, Interstellar, Steven Spielberg, Lars von Trier, Quentin Tarantino


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.