Originally published in January 2021

It’s probably fair enough to suggest that over the last five years or so – and particularly during these prolonged periods of ongoing lockdown – our reliance on visual entertainment has sky-rocketed; on par with that of the 1980s and 1990s.

Mind you, back in those days, we still had other things to keep us entertained. Going outside being one.

Amid all the binge-culture we’ve fallen into though, it’s easy to see that not only movies and television shows are changing, but also how we, as an audience, watch them.

In 2017, Anthony Mackie spoke very openly (and often comically) about how the movie experience has changed so dramatically since the eighties. I’ve no plans to simply regurgitate everything the man said that day but the crux of it was “back in those days, going to the movies was an experience … a family thing … but not anymore.”

He alluded to how a summer blockbuster would come out and “everyone wanted to see the new Stallone movie or the new Schwarzenegger movie.” The shiny silver screen provided a wonderful source of escapism for those few hours and memories of the pre-screening trailers or perhaps the aroma of popcorn came flooding back to so many.

I tend to imagine that when movies were in production back in those days, the only public backlash they feared was either a bad review in Variety magazine or a grilling from tv critics like Siskel and Ebert or Barry Norman. The very notion of keyboard warriors tearing a film to pieces for its use of cultural appropriation and political correctness was still a long way off yet.

The era that brought us so many longlasting spectacles such as Back to the Future, The Breakfast Club, Ghostbusters – the one true version – and Dirty Dancing (more so for the ladies) were an absolute trip to watch.

It was also the beginning of a time when Hollywood cast much younger actors in lead roles and the use of soundtrack grew in equal importance to the narrative itself.

Now I don’t profess to be any sort of a science-fiction geek. I can take or leave Star Wars and had it not been for the sheer hotness of Vanessa Angel in the tv adaptation of Weird Science, I doubt I’d have ever snuck a sneak-peek when nobody else was around.

Having said that, even I can appreciate just how truly magnificent some of these movies must’ve first looked to an awe-struck audience in cinemas all across the world. And to their immense credit, I believe the CGI-images of Jurassic Park, Toy Story and others like the ones mentioned earlier, still hold up handsomely on screen all these years later. 

Popping back to Mackie for a moment, he also told in that particular press conference that so many movies from back then just wouldn’t get the green light from studios to go ahead today. I know what you’re thinking. ‘It’s all because of that bloody PC-Brigade!’ Truth is, that’s part of it, but not the main reason.

It boils down to the fact that movies are now tailored to the tastes of cinema-goers in Asia more so than they are for Western audiences. The dominant genre in box office sales over the last decade or so has been that of the superhero and this is evidenced by the coinage of terms such as the ‘Marvel Universe’ and ‘DCEU’ amongst their fans online.

Heroes assembling to fight off the giant foe while city landscapes get crumbled to pieces has always been a fan-favourite in the likes of China and Japan. It’s no secret either that Hollywood movies are carefully re-edited before being sent to the far east and that’s nothing new either.

If anything, this all echoes back to the days when 1962’s King Kong vs Godzilla (which doesn’t hold up well with regard to advanced filming technologies) had entirely different endings over who won the final battle. It just depended on whether you watched the movie at a screening in the likes New York or Tokyo.

Long before Covid though, the days of family movie trips for a Saturday matinee or a midnight viewing already seemed to be dwindling and rapidly becoming a thing of the past.

Ticket prices and combis have risen considerably in price and because we now live in a time where we have our own big screens and sound systems at home, why bother paying out anymore than you need to?

We also live in a consumer culture of series watching. Even Channel 4’s streaming service often promotes their own content as ‘binge-worthy.’

Water cooler and staff room talk will often veer to the question about a given Netflix or Amazon Prime series; where one has to be careful not to let too many spoilers out because others may not have had a chance to binge as much just yet. And when a movie leaves the cinema, chances are it’ll appear on your IPTV Firestick before too long.

Be that as it may, I’m certainly not opposed to an aul series fest myself – Cobra Kai being the latest – but from past experience, I always feel that, even a great series, will nearly always let you down in the end. It was said of Game of Thrones, Lost and The Sopranos in the last fifteen years alone. 

I mean seriously, Tony Soprano, a hardline kick-ass mob boss running the show in New Jersey becoming a buffoon of a man who has dream sequences about talking cartoon-like fish heads? And then him riding horseback through houses? Good God! Do me a favour!

Nonetheless, it’s all somewhat sad to know that the cinema experience is not what it used to be and that it’s unlikely that it ever will be again. In my own hometown of Letterkenny, I admit that Joker (2019) was the last film I saw in there but yet I’m totally oblivious as to which film – or even which year – was my visit before that.

And the cinema where I used to frequent more regularly on Saturday afternoons throughout the nineties on the Port Road is now an used building where the renovations would have you believe there was never even a theatre there at all.

The days of gaping out the school bus window when we drove past it on a Friday morning just to see the staff put up the new billboards and screening times is a memory that lives with me.

Even though it did take me three desperate attempts to blag my way in to see Dumb and Dumber back in 1995. I was 10 and a half in the real world, but while I was in those queues, I’d somehow jumped to 12!

Movies are still great entertainment (well, some of them) but in these heady days, don’t be surprised to see their quality decline and a preference for nostalgia-based viewing to go up.

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