I’m usually hesitant to agree with those who claim that television has overtaken film as the more quality medium, if only for the fact that each year hundreds of movies are produced and the cinematic field is generally capacious for innovation. But honestly, 2013 wasn’t a great year for film and 2014 is looking pretty underwhelming itself. 2012 was good for heavy-duty, billion dollar blockbusters and nothing more. It’s been a while since we’ve had an abundance of truly original, great independent and commercial films.
85% of what we’re given now is recycled and its like film is somehow contingent to television; people like continuity, they like repetition. The medium, in a subtle way, is trying to mimic TV. Five Pirates films, 80 Marvel films, a new Paranormal Activity every year. We’re being beaten over the head, commercially, with the same products every single year—with the occasional ‘original’ blockbuster that plays it safe and is reminiscent to every other film ever made.
Indie films, generally, are mixed. Anyone with ten-thousand dollars in their back pocket can make a movie now and that has paved the way for a lot of originality (what’s left of it in this business), but also many derivative works. How many times have you logged onto Netflix and come across a low-budget movie that is trying too hard to push a message or be like another film in its genre? I suppose that depends on your willingness to give indie films a shot, but in my case it has happened all too often.
Television, however, seems to be pushing in the opposite direction. While there are still remnants of ‘Old TV’ and its cringe-worthy comedic (The Big Bang Theory, Two and a Half Men) and dramatic (CSI, Criminal Minds) programming that has no intended end in sight, the last five years have ushered in big game-changers.
Television shows are beginning to take on a novelistic approach. From prestigious innovators like House of Cards to teen-network dramas such as Arrow, individual seasons have started becoming their own lengthy stories. Most recently True Detective has taken that to a whole other level by having creator Nic Pizzolatto state that this first season will be self-contained and that season two will introduce a new storyline and cast of characters.
I wish I could credit this trend to Breaking Bad, which was the first show to truly be novel-esque in its approach, but I think J.J. Abrams’s Lost is what caused this sudden shift. Abrams outright said at the start of his series that he had mapped out the entire saga of the show, and had a definite ending in mind—which later turned out to be bullshit, but hey, he said it and others took note.
While elements of some television shows are still fairly formulaic, and many series simply aren’t good, when was the last time you were excited or spellbound by a movie as much as you were an episode of television? Nobody goes to an Iron Man movie and expects Tony Stark to lose, but watch even the worst cop drama on television and you might sweat a little for your protagonist and his friends.
As TV advances forward, to where cinema once was, the question is now posed—what will happen to film? Where is this medium going as a whole?
There will always be quality movies hidden beneath the scraps of commercial blockbusters, but when will we be truly wowed again? Will it be when Disney finally has had enough of their princes, princesses, and fairy-tales and decides to end an animated movie by having the entire cast eaten by lions? Will it be when Captain America takes a bullet to the head? Will it be Bad Boys III, when Michael Bay decides to make Will Smith and Martin Lawrence gay lovers?
The thing is, too, that a change that drastic wouldn’t even have to be made to make the movies interesting again. The fact of the matter is—we need something new. And for durable characters like Bond, Iron Man, Batman, and the sort, we need big change-ups—despite fans’ conservative protests. Some franchises are on the border of experimental, but most aren’t. Nobody wants to be the trailblazer, they’d rather hang back and collect the money that drifts down afterward.
Purely due to a numeric advantage, I would say that film stills holds some quality over television. However it will not be long before the opposite affirms itself to be true. Filmmakers, writers, and studios need to get dicey if they want to stay afloat.