24 December 2020

Maxed Out

I have officially allowed my Disney+ subscription to lapse following the closing of The Mandalorian's second season, and cashed in a free 30-day trial of HBO Max via my cell provider. Jury's out on if this was a good move, but there's no loss in either case. I'll renew my subscription to Disney+ when the new Star Wars content rolls out, but as far as keeping HBO Max past the trial period, that's less and less likely. For starters, HBO Max is about twice the monthly cost of Disney+. This puts it closer in the Netflix realm of streaming services, but despite having the Warner Bros. shield hovering over the operation, the amount of content present is simply nowhere near Netflix, and even Disney+ offered a pretty decent bang for the buck. To be fair, not all content on Disney's linear/terrestrial television channels like XD are simultaneously available on D+, namely the newer seasons of ongoing shows like The Owl House. I believe Ducktales had a similar arrangement as well, not unlike a movie having a theatrical run before coming to home media. It's intriguing that a show on basic cable can still make more money than a dedicated streaming platform. It's like that supposed paradox about food courts in malls, that while the leasing costs can almost surpass that of a standalone restaurant, the returns more than make up for it because of the location. 

Speaking of movie theaters and restaurants, I think the YouTuber ADoseofBuckley put it best when he said of the lockdowns, "I miss movies the most, and movie theaters the least." Don't get me wrong, nobody loves movie theaters more than me, but you can love something and still not miss it. In fact, although there was a time when I was going to the movie theater literally once a week with my roommate, I would hardly consider our venue of choice to be a movie theater. Rather, it was a restaurant that just so happened to show movies. Actually, that's a slight exaggeration as only two of their screening rooms had the full dine-in experience, whereas all the others were more in the self-service vein. Couple the restaurant experience with the fact that we took advantage of a promotional offer that meant movie tickets for new releases were only 5 dollars due to seeing them on an "off-day" like Tuesday, and this was on the whole a pretty sweet arrangement. We may have to deal with the occasional annoying patron, the kind who use their speakerphone for all their calls no matter the location. Yes, they put their phone away by the time the movie started, but the "call" still continued if that makes sense. Maybe it's a cultural shift or I simply have less patience for people lacking basic self-awareness, but the social experience of movie theaters has become painfully overrated. 

To go off on a minor tangent, let me tell you about the relationship between malice and ignorance. Thinking you're the most important person in the world and nobody else matters is obviously malice, while thinking you're the only person in the world is ignorance. I was on a return flight from visiting family when, as we were about to take off, I heard sounds from the seat behind me. At first, I didn't think anything of it. I figured someone just got messaged a short video or clicked on some ad and in the next 30 seconds or less, all would be quiet in time for the jet engines to kick in. However, it kept going. I realized someone was sitting behind me, laptop out and open, and was watching a movie or TV show using only the built-in speakers of their device. Ironically, if this guy was simply talking to the person next to him, even if a little loudly, I wouldn't think anything of it. You're in a small, enclosed space with people. You're going to talk to them, moreso if you already know each other. I guess it's because of the expectation. I expect people to talk to each other, hopefully at a reasonable volume that most other people aren't bothered by it, but effectively turning your seat and all those seats in a given radius around you into your own personal living room is not what I expect when I take a flight. Much like the previous notion of him simply watching something super-quick before putting his phone away or switching to another activity, I kept trying to give him the benefit of the doubt until the seconds became minutes. The reason I didn't say anything beyond the paranoid possibility of creating an uncomfortable atmosphere I'd be on the receiving end of for the entirety of the flight was because I couldn't find the right vocabulary to arm myself with. I don't mean I couldn't think of how to diplomatically inform this gentleman that I had no interest in hearing his favorite episode of Fargo. What I mean is I was having trouble processing the situation to begin with, much less coming up with a way to solve the problem in a way that wouldn't invite worse ones. The flight attendant came to my rescue, as well as that of everyone in that aforementioned radius. 

She asked, not said, but asked, "Sir, do you have headphones?" 

I love this woman. All these years later, and despite knowing her only through this small exchange within earshot of me on an airplane, I love her. Furthering my fortune was the revelation this one-man living room was firmly in the ignorant category rather than the malicious one. He didn't get uppity or haughty or stubborn. Whether he dug out his headphones or simply stopped the episode, I know not and care as little. I did however remain more than a little baffled at how it would never possibly occur to him that watching a movie on your laptop in the presence of strangers is more than a little bit... off-putting. Again, I don't feel this comes from a place of, "I am entitled to this!" but that's such a small sliver of daylight to navigate and I wish more people could understand that as nobody can read your mind nor travel in time to learn potentially redeeming context about your circumstances, all we have to go by are the results. When you do something that arrogant people do, you'll be seen as arrogant. It's that simple. It's hardly fair, but that's the price we pay for our agency, autonomy, and privacy. 

Going back to the social experience of watching movies, whether it's in a theater/restaurant or on a laptop perched on an airplane's tray table, I was legitimately intrigued to go all in on a full year or even six months (per their upsell that follows signing up for the 30-day trial) of HBO Max despite the cost. The Old Worm recently made headlines by announcing a bold experiment of releasing movies in theaters the same day as on their HBO Max platform. 

Behold, the Conqueror Worm

This sort of "simulcast" has been done before on more than a few occasions, though usually for smaller, independent productions that likely weren't banking on a return for the theatrical portion of their run. The results of these past efforts are largely inconclusive, as most theaters are either unwilling to sign up for this experiment, or are more likely not interested in the small, budget-friendly personal pieces given the deluge of blockbusters they've got to pick from. What's different about this run, besides the fact it was completely unplanned by anyone and everyone outside of the Water Tower's private conference rooms, is simply the scale of the operation. Wonder Woman 1984 is not a small movie. It’s one of their major blockbusters, the kind of blockbuster that needs a theatrical run to make back its exorbitant budget. The same goes for the other pictures on the list, including a fourth Matrix, a third Suicide Squad film (assuming you count Birds of Prey/Harley Quinn as number two), a second Space Jam, and a rebooted Mortal Kombat. That said, a big budget does not equate to a big welcome. 

I've already talked at length my reservations about the third attempt at Dune, so the ability to stream it in the comfort of my own home doesn't sweeten the deal very much. Most of the other films listed in the Dubba-Bee's 2021 vision net a similar reaction from me, with the sole exception of King Kong vs. Godzilla (and maybe The Suicide Squad, if only for a morbid fascination with the first film). However, that release date falls outside of the 6-month window by a few weeks, which I can't help but assume is by design. In fact, even Dune has been pushed back to later in the year. Its first delay was due to the Coronavirus lockdowns, so a delay of a few months was understandable. That's exactly what happened with WW84, previously slated for the summer of 2020. However, with it now being delayed by over a full year, coupled with Home Box Office's push for the 6-month plan, and it's looking like the service may not have as much confidence in their bold experiment as previously believed. 

It's an adequate concern for theaters to be nervous about protecting their investments. At the same time, the promise of an early release and a large screen is simply not enough for many people anymore. The dine-in add-on is a step in the right direction, and its only apparent shortcoming is the unexpected circumstance of a global pandemic. 

I'd say it's high time drive-ins made their best move for a comeback. 

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