Today’s television is better than today’s movies. Context is everything. If you want to know how good something is, then ask how good it is compared to something else. Give the person a measuring stick. For example, a friend of mine recently asked me what I thought about Man of Steel, and I told him I thought it was really good. Then he followed up with “but what about compared to the first Batman or Ironman movies?” Immediately, I had to cede that it was not up to par with those two movies. The truth lies in the comparison.
Recently there has been discussion about whether TV is in its second Golden Age. I wasn’t around for the first golden age, but I can’t think of any period in my life where there were more TV series that were “can’t miss television.” There is so much can’t miss television right now that it would be impossible to not miss a good portion of it and not be a hermit. There is Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Dexter, Homeland, and the list goes on and on.
I am inherently a horrible movie critic. I tend to find the good in almost anything that I see; especially when I invest $10.50 to see it. I have given good reviews to friends for pretty much every movie I have seen this summer. If you asked me to assess cinema, standing on its merits alone, overall I would give a very satisfactory assessment.
However, if I was asked a slightly different question, “how would I rate cinema in comparison to what television has to offer?” then I am forced to give a drastically different answer. You cannot replace the movie going experience, but as far as what is being produced and shown in theaters these days, it is not as compelling as what is on television. Almost all of the great storytelling is happening on TV. They are different mediums with varying strengths and weaknesses, so the task of explicitly drawing comparisons is a task beyond my knowledge and understanding. Obviously, a television series has the ability to tackle character building in a more well rounded and comprehensive way than a 200 minute film can. Then again, the Godfather movies pulled it off masterly with Michael and Vito Corleone. Then again, if Godfather were made today it would probably be a cable series rather than a movie.
One thing I have noticed in most of the movies as of late is drawing out of action sequences, especially in the latter half of the movies. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy rollercoasters, but I’m glad they only last a couple of minutes. Television, on the other hand, has mastered the art of balancing great cliffhangers and mind blowing conclusions. Fans are either angry they have to wait a week to find out what happens, or can’t wait to start texting, facebooking, or tweeting about what just happened.
I will concede that it is entirely possible that my tastes have changed, or I am simply doing a poor job selecting the movies I see. One thing that is not debatable is the fact that Hollywood has been struggling to, or deciding not to, produce original material. We live in the era of reboots and remakes. When it comes to producing classic original material, television is about to lap cinema, if it hasn’t already. Reboots can be great, but rarely do you hear a reboot talked about with the same reverence as a great original story. The younger generation’s Scarface posters are either still going to be a Scarface posters, or characters from TV.
What does the future hold for these two great mediums? Perhaps, this is as permanent a shift as football overtaking baseball as America’s sport. Maybe Hollywood will settle in and figure out how to better deliver what it does best. Maybe consumers tastes will simply change in a direction I cannot even begin to predict. An intriguing possibility is a hybrid format where movies become the series’ equivalents of WWE and UFC pay per view events. (Be on the look out for Ron Howard’s and Stephen King’s attempt to pull of something similar with King’s Dark Tower magnum opus). Nevertheless, they are both great mediums and I’m glad we have both, but with a limited budget this weekend and facing the decision of whether to go see Elysium or buy the first season of Breaking Bad, guess which one I chose?