I'll always be a believer in the value of cinema as a shared experience — movies are better when watched on a big screen in a room full of people — but it often feels like we are witnessing the final death throes of the established cinema system as we know it.
As home screens become bigger and on-demand films, both mainstream and independent, become more readily and conveniently available, it's highly probable that paying big money for a night out at the theatres will soon feel as archaic and ass-backwards as scheduled cable television does. Especially if Hollywood keeps bankrolling shit like Mall Cop 2 or Hot Pursuit and expecting audiences to stay the course.
Traditionally there are two ways to solve a problem within the major studio system: get creative or throw money at it. Amidst a proliferation of bigger, louder and more expensive remakes, re-imaginings and sequels (Who really feels like we need another Fantastic Four reboot this summer?), it's clear which road the studios are heading down.
Of course, all is not lost. There are still those rare instances where someone will throw money at a film and get creative. Exhibit A: Mad Max: Fury Road which opened last week at the Whistler Village 8 and is a clear front-runner for best film of 2015.
Director George Miller, who created the original Mad Max trilogy, returns 30 years after Thunderdome with a sequel that can best be described as a ridiculously underdogged war film hung onto a white-knuckle car chase to the death, with stakes as high as stakes get. It's two hours of cinematic salvation.
The trick to good sci-fi/dystopian flicks is to portray the future in a way that has enough of the present that it seems not only likely, but inevitable. Miller's latest Mad Max does that: from religious zealotry and the idiotic concept of martyrdom to the ever depleting reserves of petroleum and the new appreciation of fresh water, there are plenty of social concepts to be discussed in this one. Add in the fact that the basic premise hasn't really changed in the 30 years since the last Mad Max but the real world has almost caught up and this one has all the makings of a classic.
The key to a good sequel is how it builds on that which came before. The details in Fury Road are perfect — they feel both fresh and nostalgic at the same time. Every piece of every road warrior vehicle and costume seems like a natural evolution of the films we remember and love, but everything is so stepped up.
The non-stop action is what the market dictates, but the intelligence behind every other aspect of the movie is what elevates Fury Road into the type of transcendent cinematic experience that comes around once a year, if that.
This is death by cinema and it's unlikely the future will hold many more films that can barrage the senses so perfectly. Hollywood will keep throwing money at their problems (they have enough to last a while yet and audiences are stupider than ever) but the only thing that will save cinema, or art or humanity, is creativity.
And Fury Road has that. It's a cinematic experience, especially in 3D. I happened to watch this one in Vancouver and with parking ($15) matinee ticket ($10.50) and gourmet popcorn ($7.25 gets you enough "all dressed" flavouring to chemical burn your tongue) the experience was close to $35. It was worth every penny, but how many times a year can you truthfully say that? How many $35 excursions does it take to pay off a giant flatscreen with a decent sound system and Apple TV where you can stay home and smoke your medicine and pause it when you need to take a piss? Cinema is doomed.
In theatres this week, a reboot of Poltergeist opens at the Village 8. According to the previews this one comes from one-time horror master Sam Raimi (Evil Dead, Spider-Man) and stars Sam Rockwell (Moon, Choke). But Raimi doesn't direct — it's a trick. Instead some cat name Gil Kenan is steering the ship. Yeah, you remember Gil Kenan... he made that animated kid's movie Monster House... did I mention this new Poltergeist is rated PG?
To be fair, there looks to be some fairly startling moments in there, but the faux-marketing and kiddie-rating leads me to suspect this is horror pablum that will feed the hunger for a while but leave you feeling empty in the end.
Tomorrowland also opens. It's a Disney magic realism kind of gig starring Clooney and directed by Brad Bird (Incredibles, Ratatouille, The Iron Giant). It looks like Panic Room meets strong acid but Bird has skills and can deliver solid family entertainment. Go for it; take your kids to the movies while you can.