“Avatar” can’t solve the dilemma of the global film industry
“Avatar” cannot solve the dilemma of the global film industry
After 11 years, James Cameron’s ” “Avatar” re-released
After 11 years, James Cameron’s “Avatar” was re-released in my country. For the global film industry that has been deeply affected by the new crown pneumonia epidemic, the re-screening/re-screening of important films has once become a means of “self-help” for the industry. Starting from July 2020, “King Kong River”, “Mermaid”, “Nezha’s Devil Boy” Domestic and overseas blockbusters such as “Arrival”, “Inception”, “Interstellar”, “Crazy Zoo” and “Big Hero 6” have been re-screened in China, becoming the first batch of movies after the theater resumed work and production.
Of course, we can understand “Avatar” and other films that have been or planned to be re-screened in 2021 in this sense-such as “Avengers 4” which was re-screened in North America and other places in early March. Think of them as the necessary driving force to promote the recovery of the global film market. But as a topic that is difficult to bypass in the history of film technology, the re-screening of “Avatar” has its special significance: it is the most famous 3D digital film, and Cameron used this film to promote the “3Dization of theaters worldwide.” “The story of Inspur, which indirectly established the technical standards of today’s mainstream commercial cinemas, has been told so far; and today, 11 years later, when global cinemas continue to face the challenges of streaming media and the impact of the new crown pneumonia epidemic, it has reiterated it again. The audio-visual advantages of the digital cinema system. However, can the re-screened “Avatar” really answer the dilemma faced by movie theaters today?
Cameron’s “Success Studies” obscures the complex historical motivations and industrial structure
In 2009, James Cameron developed a set in the filming of “Avatar” The servo system composed of motion capture, virtual camera and synchronized analog camera creates a unique digital 3D visual experience-a continuous and perceptual holistic world, and is closely connected with the new round of technological innovations in the global cinema system Together. Soon after, 3D movies and IMAX screens became the worldwide industry standard as expected by its production company Fox. Nowadays, on many occasions, the image of 3D glasses has replaced cameras or films, and has become a symbol of movies.
Ten years later, before Ang Lee’s 3D/120fps high frame rate movie “Gemini Killer” was released, many people believed that it would once again promote the systematic upgrade of commercial theaters. Make the next “Avatar”, but the film’s poor box office performance and split word-of-mouth make Ang Lee’s plan to transcend digital 3D movies as a whole had to slow down. In fact, in the “The Hobbit” series that began in 2011, Peter Jackson took the lead in using the high frame rate format of 60fps, but the producer Warner has difficulty promoting mainstream cinemas to upgrade the system for high frame rate screening; In 2015, Ang Lee’s “Billy Lynn’s Midfield Battle” already used the 120fps format, but until “Gemini Killer” was released in North America, there were still only 14 AMC theaters capable of playing 4K/ The technical conditions of the 3D/120fps version.
“Avatar” once promoted 3D movies and IMAX screens to become world-wide technical standards, but Peter Jackson and Ang Lee failed to achieve this. It seems that the popularity of high frame rates is still lacking. The advent of the “Avatar”. In 2005, when Cameron was making “Avatar”, the visual effects director Eric Brevig was ordered to verify certain technical aspects of digital 3D shooting, so he was able to try out the mount designed for “Avatar” in advance. The Pace FUSION shooting system of two F950S cameras produced the 3D movie “Journey to the Center of the Earth”. “The Adventures of the Center of the Earth” became the first all-digital 3D movie to be introduced to mainland China, but its naive story and unrestrained visual effects caused the film’s reputation and box office to be coldly received. The mediocre Brevig further highlighted the importance of “Avatar”, and finally closely linked the popularization of 3D production and broadcasting and digital cinema systems with personalized genius behavior.
In this successful learning story, Cameron, a “technologist”, used “Avatar” to leverage the historical process of the movie’s evolution from 2D to 3D, bringing new ideas to the global film industry at that time. Vitality. Success stories are the most popular narratives of monopolistic industries. They always lead people to focus on individual geniuses and make people believe that their achievements can be understood and recognized in a general sense, but ignores more complicated historical motivations and industrial structure issues. .
“Avatar” and digital 3D obscured the core interest alliance of the film industry
It is obviously naive to regard “Avatar” as a perspective that promotes the 3Dization of movies overnight. Since the Lumiere brothers and Edison, the exploration of 3D effects in movies has never stopped, and Griffith also regards it as “the most powerful medium of expression.” For a long time, 3D movie effects were mainly composed of red and blue lenses and chromatic aberration system of left and right eye red and blue glasses. This technical structure can be traced back to the beginning of the 19th century before the film was born. Have used 3D effects based on chromatic aberration. By the 1930s, 3D movie effects had become a very common visual presentation technique. In 1952, the adventure film “The Devil of Bowana” used a dual-camera shooting and dual-screen projection system, which set off another round of 3D movie production and broadcasting. trend.
However, the real commercial popularization of 3D movies is still in the new century, which is inseparable from the digital transformation of the film industry. In 2003, the Digital Cinema Association (DCI), composed of production companies such as Disney, 20th Century Fox, Paramount, Sony Pictures, and Warner Bros., took the lead in formulating the norms and standards for the open architecture of digital cinema, and the Digital Cinema Package (DCP) ) Is determined as the standard format for global digital film screening. The production company’s attitude is very firm: Compared with the bulky and expensive 35mm film, digital storage is flexible, portable and low-cost, and it has long been destined to be the main trend of the future industry. For them, compared to the reluctance of film creators and audiences on film formats, the most difficult part is how to promote the technical reform of theaters to cooperate with digital projection.
This can understand why after the new century, the exploration of digital 3D movies has suddenly accelerated. In 2005, Disney reproduced the animated film “Little Chicken Run” based on Real D technology, and started a mature digital 3D movie screening; in 2009, in addition to “Avatar”, it also included “A Flying House” and “A Christmas Carol”. Many mainstream commercial films such as “Ice Age 3” began to experiment with 3D production.
This trend of making digital 3D movies eventually forced mainstream cinemas to turn to digital projections as a whole. Once mainstream cinemas have invested in technological innovation, they will be able to meet their audiovisual effects. The digital movies produced by 3D have generated greater market demand, so that the digital special effects blockbuster produced and broadcasted by 3D has dominated the global film market in the past ten years: since 2010, the proportion of digital production and broadcasting movies in the top-selling movies in the United States has risen sharply. , And achieved the surpassing of film production and broadcasting in 2012; in 2010, the Chinese film market achieved a breakthrough of 10 billion yuan, and a total of 27 films exceeded 100 million yuan throughout the year. In addition to the 1.35 billion box office champion “Avatar”, there are 3D movies such as “Alice in Wonderland”, “Harry Potter 7” and “War of the Gods”, as well as digital IMAX movies such as “Inception” and “Iron Man 2”.
It can be said that it is a wave of digitization of production and broadcasting led by mainstream Hollywood studios, bringing the global film market into a new development cycle. However, in this wave of cinema digitalization and screen 3Dization, the box office success of “Avatar” is so dazzling that it is difficult to connect it with the production company’s calculations of cost and efficiency, which obscures the film. The industry’s core interest alliance is the driving force to promote the digital transformation of the global film industry.
Digital special effects blockbusters obscure the changes that are taking place in cinemas
This also reminds us that, obviously, the technological innovation of film cannot be ahead of the overall interests of monopoly industries. Cameron proposed the aesthetic value of high frame rate format as a “future format” in 2012, but this technological innovation has only been hovering in the stage of market experiment because of the lack of support from film merchants.
However, today’s film industry is facing more troublesome problems. On the one hand, since the rapid growth of Netflix’s online movie sales in 2011, the impact of streaming media on the film industry has always been an important crisis in the industry. In 2020, the new crown pneumonia epidemic has concentrated this crisis on the heads of movie theaters. , There has even been a discussion about whether physical theaters still have value; on the other hand, the movie industry’s biggest loss in the epidemic is also theaters. The world’s largest chain of theaters in the United States almost went bankrupt under the impact of the epidemic.
In this context, the re-screened “Avatar” has a new meaning. It reiterates a point of view established with the digital 3D movie system: cinemas have home entertainment systems and mobile Internet The audio-visual advantage that the terminal can’t match. But what we must realize is that it itself is a concept constructed in the face of the trend of digital production and broadcasting in the film and television industry, so it will also be questioned by a new round of technological changes.
Therefore, a more current issue than “defending the cinema” is to explore the “future of the cinema”. Today’s theaters have inherited the structure of digital multi-hall theaters since the new century in terms of technology and space, but in terms of cultural functions and consumption methods, they are mainly linked with new media technologies such as streaming media and social media. Therefore, we cannot simply use digital audiovisual systems to understand the characteristics of today’s cinemas, nor can we simply recognize that the future of cinemas lies in broadcasting “blockbuster films” that meet digital audiovisual effects.
Today’s film and television content flows on various media platforms including theaters. Film marketing and communication have long been closely linked with the mobile Internet and social media. Therefore, we must have a new understanding of theaters. In order to explain the changes that are taking place. The appearance of the Spring Festival movie “Hello, Li Huanying” is a deconstruction of the principles of digital commercial theaters: it is obviously not a movie based on the audiovisual advantages of digital cinema systems, but created in a new movie market environment affected by the epidemic The spectacle of consumption. The decisive factor in the box office of a theater is no longer the audiovisual effect, but the emotional effect. It is not that audio-visual effects are no longer important, because as long as the basic structure of digital multi-hall theaters, audio-visual effects have their market value. But at the same time, we must also be aware that when discussing issues such as “theatre survival” and “the future of movies” today, we must have an understanding beyond digital multi-hall theater, and overcome the creation of “suitable for big screen movies” based on this understanding. , Production and dissemination of thinking.
“Avatar” did lead a trend, but what we are facing today is a completely different industrial cultural reality. If we are still trying to draw momentum from Cameron’s story, use digital special effects blockbusters to respond to today’s movie theater problems, and try to push the Chinese film industry into Hollywood-style industrialization logic, we will use the perspective of looking back instead. A future-oriented direction.
(The author is an associate professor of the School of Film and Television Media, Shanghai Normal University)