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Christopher Nolan Wants to Tell You About the Future of Movies

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by Nick Newman
July 9, 2014 11:45 AM
3 Comments
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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. 

3 Comments

  • rgm | July 9, 2014 8:13 PMReply

    That Nolan WSJ "take-off" is hysterically funny.... ! A must read.

  • Brian | July 9, 2014 1:25 PMReply

    I can't read Nolan's op-ed piece because the Wall Street Journal won't allow access unless one subscribes. And I'm not going to.
    What kind of movies will bring audiences back to theaters? The last movie I went to see multiple times in theaters was Tarantino's KILL BILL VOL. 1 back in 2003. It was a film I really wanted to see in theaters. It took me back to the years when theater owners used to book older movies during slow periods so you could see THE WILD BUNCH, BUTCH CASSIDY, VANISHING POINT, PLANET OF THE APES, WEST SIDE STORY, the James Bond movies and the Sergio Leone "Dollars" trilogy multiple times at neighborhood and grindhouse theaters.

    I wanted to see Tarantino's last two movies a second time in theaters but they were so long it was hard to set up a second time for each. And movies don't last very long in theaters these days unless they're super hits like AVATAR. I saw Nolan's THE DARK KNIGHT in a poor theater (now closed) and would like to have seen it again in a decent place, but the timing was never right. And these days, films become available on other screens pretty quickly (or on bootleg sites--I have a co-worker who regularly finds copies of new films on-line and shares them with younger co-workers who don't want to spend $ on the high cost of a theater ticket) so people don't bother to see them on the big screen unless they're spectacles of the superhero type. So much is available on YouTube or DVD these days, it's hard to rouse oneself to go to theaters. And people are doing so much "binge-watching" of recent cable series like "Breaking Bad," "Game of Thrones," "House of Cards" and "Boardwalk Empire" that they don't bother with new theatrical movies. In Japan, they do regular movie spin-offs of popular TV series all the time and those films tend to be big hits. I haven't seen any episodes of three of the four series I just mentioned, but I wouldn't mind seeing a feature film spin-off of each of them on the big screen.

  • Skeptic_A | July 9, 2014 12:15 PMReply

    But of course Dogme 95 wasn't a "revolution" -- it was a marketing gimmick. The films may have been shot with cheap camcorders, but they featured national stars and had 7-figure budgets and routinely ignored Dogme rules.

    Nolan, Spielberg, Lucas, et al. seem to want the industry to save itself from the kind of industry Nolan, Spielberg and Lucas created. Where were the cries for revolution when they're popcorn movies were making billions?

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