|English: Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt at the Cannes film festival (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
Dueling critics at the Guardian newspaper
Stuart Heritage: Why TV is better
• Long-form storytelling - When applied correctly, the elongated storytelling opportunities afforded by television trump cinema's frayed reliance on the drudgery of 90-minute three-act plots.
• TV is (currently) less franchise fixated - Hollywood is increasingly reliant on brand recognition, churning out endless sequels and spinoffs and reboots because it's easier than marketing an original idea.
• TV still has the power to surprise - At its best, a TV show can be freeform, veering from comedy to thriller to horror and back again. Films, with their desperate need to be marketed properly, tend to simplify to sell.
• Word of mouth - Again, look at Breaking Bad. That show started small and, thanks to new distribution methods as well as near-rabid word-of-mouth from evangelists who'd seen it and loved it, it ended up a juggernaut. What's the last film you can say that about?
• Actors do their best work on TV - Because television is increasingly becoming a writer's medium, it is attracting the best acting talent. Actors who would have run from television a decade ago are now embracing it precisely because the quality is so high. Now the letdown comes when actors move from TV to film.
• The biggest stars of tomorrow are on TV now - Bruce Willis started on TV. Alec Baldwin started on TV. Will Smith started on TV. Robin Williams and George Clooney and Eddie Murphy and Tom Hanks got their big breaks on TV. And this is how it'll always be – television's lower budgets and faster turnaround times make it a brilliant breeding ground for future movie stars.
• The bond with characters - Because television is increasingly becoming a writer's medium, it is attracting the best acting talent. Actors who would have run from television a decade ago are now embracing it precisely because the quality is so high. Now the letdown comes when actors move from TV to film.
David Cox: Why film is better
• Tell me a story - At the heart of cinema's failure was said to have been the straitjacket of the story arc: the movies' fraught timespan supposedly forced them into pat formulae requiring over-neat plot resolution but allowing no space for character development. Only the big-ticket TV series, it was argued, had space to develop intricate stories and convincing personalities. However, done right, resolution becomes a bonus, not a liability.
• The power of the word – (My paraphrase) When movies don’t scrimp on script and add great writing to the visual opportunities offered by film, film wins
• Unsqueezing the squeezed middle - Nowadays, Hollywood studios are supposedly interested only in vast projects guaranteed to bring vast returns: these have to be action-packed, effects-heavy sequels and prequels of familiar material easily grasped by global audiences. This, we were warned, would mean that though the microbudget sector might survive, mid-range stuff would disappear. Wrong.
• Stealing TV’s clothes - Television's unique selling point used to be the intimacy of the living room. Now film is finding that small can look even better on the big screen, and it's daring to jettison its trappings to focus in on human relationships.
• Cooking TV’s goose - At the same time, other films are veering off in the opposite direction, boldly going where TV cannot possibly follow. The pursuit of mindless spectacle may have yielded disappointment; intelligent spectacle, it turns out, is another matter. Eschewing CGI, Captain Phillips mobilises a 500-ft container ship, several destroyers, two amphibious assault ships and an aircraft carrier to deliver one of the most thrilling films yet made. Gravity makes you feel what it's really like to be lost in space. As television tries to scale up with bigger-budget ventures like Boardwalk Empire, cinema is showing it where it gets off.
• Milking the assets - Film is also making the most of its secondary advantages. Intricate production design remains a big-screen speciality. Music from your sound bar can't quite match theatrical surround sound. Movie stars were supposed to have lost their allure, but George Clooney, Sandra Bullock, Christian Bale, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, Matt Damon, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling and Cate Blanchett seem to be burning brightly enough, while TV scions such as Benedict Cumberbatch and Julia Louis-Dreyfus continue to rush to join their ranks.
• Making it mean something - If films used to be vacuous pap, they aren't any more. 12 Years a Slave forces audiences to confront afresh man's inhumanity to both men and women. Captain Phillips may be a classic thriller, but it addresses the political context in which it's set.
Some obvious points, some original, some borrowed:
• The screen looms, framed by darkness and silence. All else is peripheral.
• That enormous screen is a huge canvas that gives aesthetic advantages.
• Film is the older platform and has more classics.
• TV viewing has been “rendered monotonous.” Movies are still events.
• Old TV looks terrible, which robs us of history.
• Sexism and racism still a problem but TV has more niches and thus more diversity. “What’s happened, in the years of “Empire” and “Jane the Virgin” and “black-ish” and “The Mindy Project,” is a change of both business and culture. TV audiences for everything are smaller now, which means networks aren’t programming each show for an imagined audience of tens of millions of white people. On top of that, there are younger viewers for whom diversity — racial, religious, sexual — is their world. That audience wants authenticity; advertisers want that audience.” (James Poniewozik)
• Topicality – “3.5 million viewers watched the "Mad Men" premiere two weeks ago; in many parts of the country, a fraction of that could see a limited-release movie on its opening weekend. In terms of what's more likely to be talked about at the office on Monday, the show is king. Regardless of content, in terms of consumption television's coming out ahead, because it presents more of an opportunity for large groups of people to watch at the same time and share a viewing experience, even if that experience is spread out in thousands of living rooms or laptop or iPad screens. It's providing a compelling alternative to the uniting feeling of sitting together, alone, in the dark in a theater to watch something. Is it better? I don't know that I'd say that. But it's definitely winning.” (Alison Willmore)
• Cultural habit – “Movies still occupy an Olympian position in the pop-culture landscape. They are bigger than television, grander than video games, more important than viral Internet videos — even if those things can often be more interesting, more profitable or more fun.” (A.O Scott)
• It Doesn’t Matter. It’s just business – “The traditional relationship between film and television has reversed, as American movies have become conservative and cautious, while scripted series, on both broadcast networks and cable, are often more daring, topical and willing to risk giving offense.
“This may represent not an aesthetic fault line, but rather a corporate division of labor, since the television networks and the movie studios belong to the same conglomerates, and there is frequent crossover among executive and producers as as well as directors, actors and writers. And looked at from another angle – from your couch to the living room wall, say, or from your armchair to the laptop or other mobile electronic device in your hand – the distinction between movies and television grows more tenuous every day. The most interesting, provocative and surprising movies of the coming season may well reach you through video on demand or Internet streaming, playing in only a handful of theaters so that critics can have a chance to spread the word about them.” (A.O. Scott)
* Yes it does matter. It’s all about “cinematic language.” “How many times have you or I seen a big screen adaptation of a novel and thought, this would work better as a miniseries? But happily, there are superb exceptions to the rule. A&E’s six-hour “Pride and Prejudice” may still be the definitive adaptation for Jane Austen completists and Colin Firth devotees, but there’s no denying that Joe Wright’s 2005 film version is superior filmmaking — the mise-en-scene is richer, the cinematography earthier and more tactile, with long, luxuriant tracking shots (a Wright signature) that masterfully articulate the characters’ unspoken desires and motivations. The BBC’s seven-part adaptation of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” remains one of television’s crowning achievements, but whatever Tomas Alfredson’s 2011 film lacked in narrative intricacy, it more than made up for in moldering production design and enveloping atmosphere. You walked out of the theater after that movie and felt like you’d visited another time and place.” (Justin Chang)