The Dark Age of Film

If you're like me you probably always imagined that the projection booth at a movie theatre would be full of, well, film.

To be fair, until about a year ago the only projector booths that I'd ever seen were on the screen, not in real life. I was surprised, therefore, to discover that the projection booth at your local chain cinema (in my case a Marcus Cinema) is actually a long room full of rows of projectors and server stacks. Yes: just like you see in the IT department at an office.

It turns out that even movies that are shot on film in our modern era are generally digitized and arrive to the theatres in the form of a hard drive, not a case full of reels. The hard drive is plugged into the server stack and an access code is typed in and voila, your summer blockbuster is projected onto the big screen. For the most part this is a great step forward into the technology of filmmaking: it allows a filmmaker a great deal more control over the quality of picture and sound that can be presented in any given theatre and even allows for security measures to quietly protect the films from piracy. (A digital projector can project more images onto the screen in a second than the human eye can pick up. Some of these unseen frames include a watermark from the studio which only becomes visible when a camera tries to record it.)

But for all our advances into this brighter, clearer, richer age of image and sound quality what does that mean for the future? What happens to all of our bright, clear, rich films when we no longer have digital equipment to screen them with? Think, for example, of the last time you used a cassette player. Or an eight track. CDs evolved to DVDs evolved to BluRay Discs which are evolving to purely digital media: Streaming. Remarkably our entertainment 'content' is no longer contained in anything physical.

Luckily for us there will always be some enterprising individual who will figure out that they can re-sell the same music/movie/game on whatever new format comes out. If you own 'Star Wars' on VHS you can now buy it on DVD. Then you can buy it again on BluRay. But this only holds true for the films that there is actually a demand for. Who is going to transfer the films of all these budding filmmakers onto each new media as it develops? Who is going to keep all those historic films from throughout cinematic history up to date? And in the end, when all of our entertainment exists only as information on a computer, what will we really be leaving behind for our descendants who no longer have use for a computer in the same way that we no longer have use for a gramophone?


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