Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Great Movie Hunting Grounds in the Sky

That DirecTV is still trying to bill me months after I cancelled the service should tell you something about why I quit. DirecTV is nothing more than a monstrous money-eating machine that’s determined to pick your pocket no matter how little you use it. For my part, $65 a month just so that I could watch Doctor Who for three months out of the year, and have something mindless playing during the hour in which I make my dinner and do my evening chores, was in no way “worth it” — especially with money getting tighter.

On the other hand, I did miss my one connection to the outer world: I filled the gap as best I could with DVD and weather apps, but sometimes you just want to “see what’s on,” if you know what I mean.

So my Christmas present to myself was a refurbished Apple TV device. For $75 and no basic monthly fee, this little box pulls TV in through your home internet connection, and while it’s not perfect (AirPlay doesn’t work for shit) my sense is that it will be a better televisual solution for me than DirecTV ever was.

It will be a while before I know for sure. There’s quite a lot to explore in the basics of what Apple TV provides by way of free content, but I am currently distracted from exploring those basics because it comes with a one-month free trial of Netflix.

I would never pay money for what Netflix offers (strictly temporary access to someone else’s movie library, most of it crap), but in no way am I above mining that free month for all it’s worth. 

In the mining, something has happened to me. I have become ruthless in my TV-watching. There’s so much out there that I can’t waste my time on the less-than-worthy. If it doesn’t grab me in five minutes, if it doesn’t answer the question “Why should I care?” in the first ten minutes, it’s history.

Ralph Bakshi’s Cool World? I’ve wanted to see this for some time. The animated sequences are indeed cool, pumped with jazz-age style, but the human characters are puerile at best, and the whole thing seems to be the product of a person with lots of talent but very little brain. I gave it ten minutes, then waved goodbye. 

Fritz Lang’s The Woman in the Moon didn’t even last that long. I had such high hopes for it: here’s another SF film from the guy who gave us Metropolis, it’s got to be fantastic, right? Oh my god. Dismal is more the word. My heart fell through the floor in the first minute and a half. I fast-forwarded through the rest and still felt that my time was wasted.

I tried a mini-series called Tin Man, based on the Oz books by L. Frank Baum. The minute I saw the words “Sci-Fi Network presents” I knew that I was in trouble. Whilst still of customer of DirecTV I tuned in to SyFy for a mini-series based on Peter Pan. After ten minutes I shut it off, went to my computer, found the contact info for SyFy and shot them an email that read, in its entirety: “What does it feel like to fuck Peter Pan?”

Tin Man was no damn different. 

Did you know that they’re still making Red Dwarf? I didn’t. I consider Red Dwarf to be a beloved series. At least, I did before I saw the new episodes. It’s not just that the cast are all. like me, getting notably long in the tooth: but they’ve lost their juice, their sense of comic timing, and series writer and co-creator Doug Naylor has 100 percent forgotten how to write comedy dialogue. I switched it off: I have enough sadness in my life.

I was glad to have the opportunity to see the movie based on Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane: but despite a great cast and a great look, I ended up wishing that the movie had been more Howard and less by-the-book overused modern Hollywood tropes.

It was after these and other misfires that I began to wonder why I missed broadcast TV in any form. Thankfully, the good has far outweighed the bad: but that’s a subject for another post.

I’ve been genuinely and pleasantly surprised by the technology. Not only does it do what it says it does, but it promises to completely rewire my life, to completely reset the way I use media, the way I watch films, the way I listen to music. Until now, I have been buying physical CDs or burning my digital downloads to physical CDs, because this was the only way to get my music onto the main player and speakers. That’s now changed: Apple TV essentially transforms my entertainment system into a giant iPod. In the same way and for the same reasons, DVD is about to receive its only serious challenge since I bought my first DVD player — how many years ago now?

I think back to the early ‘80s and the rise of the VCR.

This was Radical technology at the time, boys and girls. The VCR changed everything. It gave us media-hungry young people control over our own viewing, turned us all into Programming Directors, and initiated the Quest for Content that can never be completely sated. The VCR was a really, truly magical device.

DVD was just the next logical step, a refinement that was too good to resist; Blu-Ray was not even a pebble on the road. 

I am now feeling what people younger than myself may have already been feeling for some time: that film and music no longer have any kind of physical component in their make up: that art and film and music can be plucked out of the air, stored in the air, available anytime, anywhere, everywhere: my favorite films constantly at my side, they can be projected onto the palm of my hand or a screen as large as the sky; I have but to wave my magic wand to free King Kong from the ether, or to send him back into rest. If I wish to revisit my old friends Steed and Mrs. Peel, I can have them beside me at will. This is real magic. 

Of course life still has its limitations. I cannot pluck my friend Howard out of the air, or my mother, or my Pandy Bear pussyquat: only their images. Magic still has a long way to go.

— Freder

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