Thursday, March 10, 2011

High Definition is ruining entertainment

Movie making has always been an illusion. We sit in our seats and watch the lives of people that don't exist, played by people that we know are faking it and doing things that nobody is stupid enough to do (i.e. go into a dark room when a killer is on the loose). The line between this immersion and reality has always been blurry. We realize that there is no such thing as Star Wars, but we still go along for the ride. That line is being destroyed though. That blurry line is now in focus, thanks to new higher definition pictures, and it's taking the magic out of entertainment.

I'm sorry, I meant illusion.

I figured I'd take the easy route for this argument and talk about the silver screen days of Hollywood. Those movies weren't polished, they were lucky if they had color. They were still some of the greatest movies of all time though. The people that complained about the picture quality were just shallow. One could make the argument that HD is just a new wave of innovation, similar to sound and color. However, while sound allowed for an extension in story telling ability, HD adds nothing of merit. It was about the production, not the camera. Charlie Chaplin's movies are fading away on film but they are just as funny now as when they were first made.


And all those good movies made during the 70s? The auteur didn't worry so much about the film quality as much as they cared about what would be seen on screen. I support remastering restoration as much as the next person in order to make the picture clearer on old films, but the length some go to make the picture look real is counterproductive. To use a lame example: records are not nearly as clear as compact discs yet many audiophobes and snobs prefer them over cds.

It's a very shallow person who cares more about the picture quality than what's in the picture. All these new HD channels and DVDs seem like nothing more than gimmicks to make you spend more money. Watching these cleaned up pictures is odd though. The picture is so good that you can tell it's fake. With the image so clear it's not so much that the camera is an eye for the false world being credited, so much as it's an eye of a person on set watching the production. You no longer believe that the castaways on Lost are really on an island, all you can think about is how island like their set is.

I already forget the ending. Did they turn out to be on an island at all?

Watching TNT in HD, even a movie with such high production values as The Dark Knight looks fake with the high end visuals. It just completely ruins the immersion and I can't get past it. Maybe some people made the same gripes when DVD liberated viewers from VCR tracking lines but I doubt the tracking lines were as distracting as a distractingly clear picture. HD isn't making the production seem realer, all it's doing is showing the man behind the curtain.

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain...

I'm no pop culture Luddite. I understand the importance of progress and invention. HD does have a place, but only for real life products. Sports in HD allows you to have that courtside seat without having to sit next to Jack Nicholson. Watching Food Network in HD allows you to watch Iron Chef with greater appreciate of the gourmet. I have never been one to care about the red carpet, but all those E! fans can watch pimply movie stars the red carpet in HD and feel better about themselves.

I never want to share a room with Mario Batali and his matching ginger Crocs.

There is one experience I can thank HD for. Plant Earth, the BBC/Discovery Channel miniseries has to be one of the greatest things ever played on my friends television. I rarely use this word, but it really is beautiful and having it in HD only makes a person appreciate the majesty more. For every cute animal you become attached to and for every alligator that will later eat that cute animal, you can now watch it in glorious HD while David Attenborough narrates it with his heavenly voice. So I am thankful for the technology. I just wish that they used it right instead of abusing it. I am not against the technology, just against some of its implementation.

Watching Plant Earth on Blu-ray saves a real trip to Victoria Falls.

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