future of theaters

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has gone on for nearly a year now, and movie theaters and exhibition chains have been closed for almost as long. And though everything has been spelling doom for theaters since Day 1 of the pandemic, many have managed to stick around — while the same discussion over their survival is made over and over again. The latest filmmakers to chime in on the future of theaters are Paul Greengrass and Ang Lee, both of whom have wildly differing perspectives on whether exhibition as we know it can survive.

In an interview with BBC’s Today Programme on Radio 4, Greengrass — whose recent historical drama News of the World received a VOD release in the face of closed exhibition markets — expressed hope that audiences can safely return to cinemas in six months:

“I think we’ll be back in cinemas sooner than we think, in six months I think we’ll start to go back. “…Cinema will survive this dark time and hope for better days to come, and I do believe they will come.”

But Gemini Man director Ang Lee is a bit more realistic. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, in honor of the 20th anniversary of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Lee said he believes that the only way for theaters to survive this pandemic is to give audiences something they can’t get at home:

“I believe we always need [the movie theater]. It’s our church, our temple. It’s a ceremony. It’s in our nature, the congregation. But now television’s so convenient. You have to come up with something you cannot experience at home. Not only the crowd, not only the size, but the ceremonial effect. It has to upgrade. I think the next step, logically, is the immersiveness which you cannot do with a TV screen. But how do you get [audiences] to participate, rather than just viewing? How do you engage? That’s something we should work on to get them to the theater.”

“People want to go to the theater,” Lee concluded. “That’s the thing. They want to be on our side.”

Lee has been no stranger to experimenting with technology that pushes the envelope for the theatrical experience. He played with high-frame rate filmmaking in Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk and with HFR and 3D technology in 2019’s Gemini Man, both to mixed results. And we all know how the 3D craze came and went with theaters, which filmmakers admittedly never employed it as effectively as they could have (with the exception of James Cameron’s Avatar). But maybe Lee has a point, especially with audiences used to the convenience and easily-available 4K technology of home.

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