"The movie industry is dyingggg!" has been the wailing, despondent cry of industry insiders, journalists, and commentators for years. And they've got the numbers to prove it: the box office sales for the top 12 grossing films fell to the lowest they've been in over a decade during one weekend in September this year, bringing in a scary $51.9 million. Yet, the cultural significance of movies seems hardly diminished—we remain just as obsessed with talking, thinking, and tweeting about them as ever.
It's clear that the industry is simply adapting, shifting towards two polar points: higher-quality visual and sensorial experiences in the theater that aim to blow audiences' brains out, and increasingly personal, high-tech and decentralized movie experiences at home.
Here, we highlight nine influential technologies that are—or are poised to—shake up the film industry. Although, on second thought, we should probably stop calling it "film"…
Coming in late 2013: better and brighter IMAX movies, thanks to… LASERS! In addition to making raves and popping popcorn more awesome, lasers are also able to produce deeper black colors, which means better color and image quality all around—solidifying the commonly-held belief that IMAX is the future of movies.
Laser projection systems promise to fix the washed-out, eye-straining quality of 3D movies that everyone hates, and since lasers don't burn out the way bulbs do, struggling movie theaters will be able to save a lot of money.
Big wigs at major film companies like Sony recently got to test out a prototype, and gave their big, booming stamps of approval during CinemaCon 2012. Chances are, you will too.
Digital Cameras You Can Run Around The Jungle With
The film vs. digital debate rages on, with top directors like Chris Nolan refusing to abandon the traditional medium, claiming that "It's cheaper to work on film, it's far better looking, it's the technology that's been known and understood for 100 years, and it's extremely reliable."
On the other hand, Steven Soderbergh has been a huge fan of the digital format, particularly with lightweight digital cameras like the Red One, which he used to shoot the 2008 biopic, Che. Soderbergh shot with the camera guerilla-style in humid South American jungles, and emerged a total convert. He's been praising it as a "game changer" ever since for its quality, affordability, and portability.
Red has since gone on to produce even smaller, "pocket-sized" cameras. In the same way that lightweight film cameras let New Wave pioneers like Truffaut capture the spontaneity of city life in the 50s, this new breed of digital cameras will have an equally revolutionary effect on the way movies are filmed and the kind of storytelling that drives them.
Watching Movies on Your Phone or Tablet—And Filming On Them Too
A lot of noise has been made about how the newest iPad has a higher resolution screen than an HD TV. So… get ready to see a lot more people shuffling around nose-deep in their tablets! While watching a movie on your iPad when you're on a bus (and trying not to punch the screaming baby behind you) certainly doesn't rival the immersive experience a theater offers, it's obvious that the mobility of this option is extremely attractive to viewers.
Increasingly often, indie films that don't have the luxury of wide distribution are being released on YouTube and Hulu on-demand the same day they come out in theaters. Some are even going the straight-to-iPhone route: a UK soap opera called Persona was exclusively available for download on smartphones and tablets.
Directors are also shooting entire movies on their phones. In 2011, Hooman Khalili was the first to shoot his feature-length film Olive with a Nokia smartphone. As for iPads, a British guy made a movie called The Silver Fox that claims to be the first one made specifically for iPads. Its description as a "dark, romantic drama" will probably trigger alarm bells in your head though, so check out some stellar iPhone movies at the iPhone Film Festival instead.
Projecting Movies From Your Phone Onto Any Surface (Including Your Archenemy's Forehead)
You can now project movies on any surface (including ceilings, airplane food trays and foreheads) from your phone—via an affordable, pocket-sized pico projector like 3M's MPro120. Plus, high-quality 3D projectors have hit the market, with Epson offering systems that deliver super high-quality, 1080-pixel resolutions at prices that won't blow (too big of) a hole in your pocket.
3D Without The Clunky Glasses
People won't shut up about how 3D is the "next big thing," yet it never really seems to happen—probably because no one wants to put up with annoying, clunky glasses that make you look like a space nerd from the 80s (not a good look for a date, amirite ladies?). But it looks like we'll be able trash those clunky things soon thanks to "lenticular lens technology," bumpy screens that redirect light to each eye—allowing us to process two different images at the same time (the way we do in real life), which gives the perception of depth.
A second solution with an equally science fiction-y name is the "parallax barrier," when a very fine grating is placed in front of an LCD screen so that slots block out different parts, and again, allows us to perceive in 3D.
Toshiba, Nintendo, and Sony have already started working on these two technologies, but no one has been able to produce a perfect 3D TV just yet, with some critics complaining about how you have to hold your head in a perfect position to get the desired effect. Stay tuned for this one.
Insanely Realistic Audio Experiences
Dolby's new Atmos sounds system
The sound of a killer's footsteps creeping up a flight of stairs is about to get a whole lot creepier, thanks to Dolby's new Atmos sound system, which was introduced in April 2012 and will be used at upcoming Hobbit screenings.
By adding a rig of speakers to the ceiling and adding more speaker feeds/audio inputs all around, the system pushes sound out from even more directions—making auditory effects almost alarmingly naturalistic.
"4D" (Korean Style)
OK. This one's a little silly: 4D movies incorporate actual physical effects, like drops of water for rain, special smells, and blowing winds. It's pretty gimmicky, and most of the theaters that do this stateside are places like Madame Tussaud's. Korea, however, is killing it—they've adapted blockbusters like Avatar into 4D, so that audiences experienced the breezes of Pandora in their hair, and smells of smoke and foliage. Even better, Kung Fu Panda came with massage chairs that literally beat you up during fight scenes. Someone needs to start a Kickstarter to bring that stuff over here.
Interactive Movie Screens
This is choose-your-own-adventure books… in movie form. While still in early stages, interactive movies use technologies like WebGL (a web-based tool that brings low-level 3D graphics to compatible browsers) to bring audiences deeper into the narrative.
Some let you guide characters through physical actions, like the Run Lola Run-influenced movie Turbulence, which lets you affect the plot at key points—for example, if you decide it's a good idea for someone to send a text, tapping their glowing cellphone would accomplish that.
Others, like filmmaker Vincent Morisset's BLA BLA project at a museum in Paris, completely rethinks the traditional narrative stream of storytelling, by transforming a web-based film into an interactive installation, where surround sound, motion detectors, cameras, and sensors quietly worked behind the scenes to create a living world that awestruck visitors could walk through.
In conclusion, someone needs to make a Goosebumps interactive movie… ASAP.
Second Screen Experience Apps
The Avengers' second-screen app received rave reviews. Everyone already fiddles with their phones when watching a movie. Now, developers are taking advantage of that by creating apps that go along with movies—letting you scroll through trivia, photos, and even videos synced to what's happening on the big screen. It's even better than watching the director's commentary simultaneously, and a fun feature for our ADD generation.