Say That Again

by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
gadgets, movies, ridley scott

Ridley Scott Warns That Gadgets Are Ruining The Movies

from the you-may-have-that-backwards,-actually dept

Two years ago Italian writer and director Roberto Benigni was so upset by plans to offer full-length movies on mobile phones, that he called the idea blasphemous. That seemed like a bit of an overreaction, to be sure. However, he seems to have some company. Famed director Ridley Scott has apparently stated that watching films on mobile phones and computers is killing cinema. Unfortunately, it seems that he has it backwards. He's blaming the wrong thing when he says things like: "We try to do films which are in support of cinema, in a large room with good sound and a big picture. But we're fighting technology." As we've pointed out time and time again, people want to go out to the theater, but they want the experience to be enjoyable. They don't want to be treated as if they're criminals. So, the problem isn't that people can watch movies on gadgets like mobile phones and computers -- but that the theater industry has done its best to drive people away from actually wanting to go to the theaters. Despite Scott's claims, the massive success of home theater systems lately shows that people really do want to see films on big screens with good sound systems. The problem isn't that the movies are available on tiny screens, but that the theater industry has completely given up in giving people what they want.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Pieter Hulshoff, Sep 4th, 2007 @ 11:02pm

    Is that truly what he meant?

    Perhaps I'm reading things wrong here, but it seems to me like he's not blaming video on tiny screens for people not going to the theater, but he's blaming video on tiny screens for the commercialicing and dumbing of the movie industry. As far as I read it, he feels that most movies these days are pure crap since they have to make as much money as possible, which in turn implies that they still have to look good on small screens since that's where a large part of the market is. Am I just reading things into his words or ... ?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Blatant Coward, Sep 4th, 2007 @ 11:14pm

    Careful of the kneejerk there Mike...

    "I think movies are getting dumber, actually. Where it used to be 50/50, now it's 3% good, 97% stupid."

    I've been saying that for years, but being just a guy no one has quoted me. Personally I really only feel like there has been only one good movie a year-at most-for several years even though I go to the movies with my wife once a month or so.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Proctor, Sep 4th, 2007 @ 11:22pm

    dont forget. it takes only a few moments to plug that computer to your tv and play it on a large screen with a good sound system. You can even turn the lights off if you want.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    James W., Sep 4th, 2007 @ 11:43pm

    Ridley sort of has a point

    While he's somewhat right in the fact that watching movies on a mobile phone is a bit stupid -- really, who wants to? -- but he's far off the mark as far as computers go. I'd rather watch a movie on my widescreen computer monitor than on my own TV. The quality is so much better and that's how a lot of people watch movies. Not everyone can afford a $2000USD+ TV with a nice sound system but we can afford nice monitors and headphones.

    However, Mike, you too have a point. The MPAA gave up on pleasing its customers a long time ago, movie theaters too. With the cost of going to see a movie rising every year to make up for bloated budgets on every "must see" movie (which they all are touted to be, doesn't matter what it is) and everyone being thought of as a pirate, it's financially more feasible to rent the DVD in 3-6 months and watch the same movie for about $5USD. Big studios only want to produce big flashy movies that appeal to the lowest common denominator instead of making movies that are actually watchable like they used to do. They see no money in making intelligent movies or movies with a plot, everyone wants explosions and choreographed kung fu.

    If Scott thinks the things that makes making most movies possible (computers, technology in general) are killing the industry, why doesn't he just make more movies worth watching to balance out the technophobia?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Morgan, Sep 4th, 2007 @ 11:45pm


    Not on the level of Elton John stupid, but stupid nonetheless. A trend like movies on phones need not affect anyone's films not interested in pursuing that market.

    Also, is there any evidence that small screens are a large, or even significant part of the market?

    I can't stand people like this, blaming what they see as a bunch of unsophisticated yokels for weak movies coming out of Hollywood, and then extending that to encompass their own feelings of why their movies are stinking up the box office. Fortunately there are a million other places producing good movies.

    Eventually Hollywood might also actually make some basic changes in the process, so films don't cost hundreds of millions to produce. Then maybe Ridley will be freed to make that masterwork we're keeping him from with our pedestrian tastes.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 5th, 2007 @ 12:04am

    By the look of the title of this article, I thought he was blaming the use of gimmicks to make films (like Transformers, a film made after little toys, not that I think the film is bad.... or good). Misleading (in a sens) title I say. Also it's not as bad as it is, I mean it's not like every movie out IS Snake on a plane

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    jc, Sep 5th, 2007 @ 1:17am

    Can't say I agree. I enjoy going to see a good movie at a theater. Thankfully, we have a local chain that does movies right by serving dinner as well as drinks (Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, btw.) If there's a movie I want to see and it's good (black snake moan, grindhouse were the last 2 I think I saw), I'll go to the theater. That doesn't mean I'm not going to rip 'Office Space' from dvd and convert it to watch on my phone, for occasional viewing away from home. I do think that, as previously stated, hollywood needs to seriously consider some of the dumb mistakes (ie, invasion, perhaps? How many damn times can the same movie be remade!?) it's been making in recent years and start looking for actual original story ideas.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    me.g33k, Sep 5th, 2007 @ 2:54am

    Sort of Agree

    My family and I watch a lot of films in the theatres as well as at home. Our movie collection is around 600 titles on DVD right now. We tend to go to the theatre for shows as a family event usually accompanied by dinner afterwards or before. Unfortunately this is also a HUGE drain on discretionary dollars. For our family of five, it's usually on the order of $150-175 for such outings if you take all of the ancilliary expenses into account.

    Another factor in movie going is the actual company that you're forced to endure. I generally preffer to see things at home on my HD/BluRay theatre than going to the big screen as I can control the viewing environment. No such luck when you're stuck in a theatre with jerk-off teenies who want to spend more time goofing off than watching. The really annoying thing is that these rude people deprive the rest of us (who have also paid no small sum) the pleasure of enjoying the movie.

    At home the only thing that approaches this is when my girls get into a fight over something and then, I can simply pause the movie and settle the matter.

    So the joy and experience of seeing things on the big screen are still there, just tempered by today's social realities.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anon, Sep 5th, 2007 @ 2:58am


    A lot of people seem to ingore the fact that the movie industry is saturated. How many films were released per week 10 years ago compared to now?

    Also "home cinemas" are probably more to blame than anything else.

    Movies in the past weren't any better or worse than they are now. There was just much less choice.

    I saw The Terminator a little while back, wow that movie sucks. If that was released now it would flop so bad yet it was a huge hit in it's day.

    Oh and one more thing to note, cinemas are best for big action movies filled with special effects. Anything and I mean ANYTHING else is just as good to watch on any media.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    BTR1701, Sep 5th, 2007 @ 3:14am

    Re: Sort of Agree

    I agree that it's not Hollywood or the theaters themselves that are driving a lot of people away from going to the movies. It's my fellow customers that are the single largest reason I have not seen a movie in a theater in over a year.

    I broke that streak last Friday night and went to see the new "Halloween" in downtown Washington, DC, and I have to say, there's a reason that stereotype exists. Nearly everyone else (and I mean everyone) was talking, yelling at the characters on screen and jabbering away on their cell phones to the point that we literally couldn't hear the dialogue in the movie. After several attempts to ask people around me to be quiet and being met with either indifference or outright hostility and racial epithets**, we got up and I asked for my money back. The theater manager was reluctant to give it to me. He actually told me in a condescending manner that it was "a part of the culture" to act like that in movies and I should just accept it. I guess being white, I was presumed to just not "get" this kind of behavior or something equally obnoxious and offensive. I told him it's part of my culture to actually be able to hear the movie in order to enjoy it and if he didn't refund my money, I'd just take it up with the theater chain's corporate headquarters and mention his name prominently in my complaint.

    Problem solved. Money returned. I'll just watch "Halloween" when it comes out on DVD in the quiet of my own home.

    That experience just reinforced to me why it is I almost never go to the movies any more. (The only reason I went this time was because the girl I was with really wanted to see it.) With a giant plasma screen, Dolby Surround and a subscription to Netflix, my home movie experience is superior to anything I get at the theater and I don't have to deal with someone else's disruptive "culture", mortgage my home for a Coke, listen to screaming babies, or deal with cellphones as they either ring in the middle of the movie or constantly pop up and glow like fireflies all throughout the theater as people incessantly text-message each other.

    **And the racism wasn't just being directed at me, either. A lot of what was being yelled at the screen could have been taken right out of a Klan meeting, just with the races reversed. Lots of cheering and shouted glee as the "white bitch got sliced" and similar lovely exhortations. It was quite disturbing. But I guess that's okay these days. I'm sure the Reverend Al Sharpton could explain why.

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  11. identicon
    Sean, Sep 5th, 2007 @ 4:42am


    In the past two years my wife and I have seen probably 5 or 6 movies in the theater. We go and during the previews we either do a thumbs up or thumbs to each other or whisper video. The majority of the movies are thumbs down. There are usually only a couple moview we even consider seeing in the theater.

    We have seen 20-30 movies in the same time on DVD. Probably a quarter of those really sucked and wasn't even worth the rental fee. We use Redbox at only $1 a night. So if it was not worth $1 it was really bad.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Wolfger, Sep 5th, 2007 @ 4:58am

    Mike and Ridley are both wrong

    It baffles me when I hear people talk about "what is ruining cinema" while at the same time we have had the biggest box office success of all time (on a not-very-good sequel to a sequel, no less), and the best summer ever in terms of box office gross.
    Oh... and just for the trifecta, can somebody go ahead and say how movie piracy is hurting the industry?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 5th, 2007 @ 5:02am

    people don't want to be treated as criminals.. obviously.. but these people ARE criminals. that's YOU... who downloads movies you don't pay for. It's against the law, it's criminal. yet another article with pro-piracy undertones...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Tod, Sep 5th, 2007 @ 5:43am

    agree with 8 and 10

    I most emphatically agree with number 8 and 10 that, aside from the political/philosophical aspects of not wishing to be treated like a criminal by the theater chain, it is the other "patrons" that keep me away from the movie theater.

    Maybe, number 9, home theaters have grown _because_ of this behavior?

    I was more fortunate in that the management had no problem with immediately refunding our money. But why would I want to go somewhere when there is a significant chance of a great evening being ruined by ill behavior?

    As for the original article, as other people have noted, there is _nothing_ keeping Mr Ridley from making any movie he wants.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    YouKnowNothing, Sep 5th, 2007 @ 5:56am

    What if the movie isn't available?

    Some time ago I wanted to see the original Japanese release of Godzilla (1954), the one WITHOUT the added Raymond Burr footage. But I couldn't rent it anywhere, nor was it available for me to purchase. So I went online, downloaded it, watched and enjoyed it tremendously, then deleted it off my hard dive.

    When it finally became available on DVD, I bought it.

    Am I still a criminal?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Pope Ratzo, Sep 5th, 2007 @ 6:48am

    Different animals

    I can understand Scott's discomfort with movies being shown on a 2" screen. I'd say that at some point, it's so different as to be a completely different art form. Maybe it doesn't make a difference to watch Dukes of Hazzard or Die Hardly on your wristwatch, but there are still directors for whom the 'scope frame is a canvas on which to paint.

    I'm not putting down the small screen. There are directors, like the Wachowski Bros, who do very well with a small frame. Maybe it's because they are TV kids.

    Personally, I'm hoping the experience of seeing the work of a great director and master cinematographer on a large screen in a wonderful, large room never dies.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Liam, Sep 5th, 2007 @ 6:54am


    Transformers was an anime series long before the toys where about.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Smorgas Boredome, Sep 5th, 2007 @ 6:57am

    What the hell is the writer talking about?

    This is a record year for movie revenues. Hollywood is giving people exactly what they want - complete crap. How the hell are you turning a quote about the director not wanting his movies seen in small, compressed format into some grandiose, flawed statement about shifts in market dynamics? Why is it that every time I read techdirt I see the same 4 hypotheses about the way the world and markets work, with links to posts you have made serving as "references"? This is the worst sort of logic I have ever seen. Precisely why blogging and the rise of the amateur are an extremely poor replacement for real journalism.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Chris, Sep 5th, 2007 @ 7:03am

    Might be time for a new movie format..?

    I think at one time, the theater provided something that you could not get at home. When common sound quality was low or television screens where small. You could not see the details that a movie theater could provide or get the same emersive sound. Even in buying the video you could not come close to the same experience unless you where uber rich.

    Now, with the quality/size of TVs and Audio equipment going up and the prices slowly sinking I think the real question still stands to be asked...

    "What does a movie theater have to offer that my living room can't provide?"

    When you think about the difference in cost for a night out with the family at the theater versus watching a recently released movie on video, even your standard screen size and medium quality sound system is still going to provide possibly better experience out of the comfort of your own couch; no crowds, no audience jabber or chair kicking, and cheap store bought popcorn.

    If I go to a movie any more its because I want to see it larger than life with sound features that can be appreciated however few movies demand either and the ones that do usually have a crap plot.

    So, maybe its time to get a new format... something that people can't experience from the comfort of their living room. How about a more reclined seat, how about a more emersive video (imax style maybe) where the action is still front and center but there is more going on in the peripheral.

    Give me something that I can not get at home and I will go to the movies more often. Hell, I would even pay more for it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Overcast, Sep 5th, 2007 @ 7:03am

    Yes, I have a camera on my phone - it's best if I just stay away from the cinema, huh?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Jasmine, Sep 5th, 2007 @ 7:14am


    Who said that a ripped movie wasn't paid for? While I've never watched a movie on my mobile or my handheld PC, if I wanted to watch a DVD that I paid for on a mobile device that I own, that is not stealing. Nobody in their right mind would watch a bootleg DVD on a three-inch tall screen!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    RandomThoughts, Sep 5th, 2007 @ 7:16am

    As for the largest box office ever, ticket prices are higher than ever also, so just because they bring in more money doesn't mean they have more customers. Kind of like when they said that Titanic passed Gone With the Wind in box office revenue. Lets see, tickets to Gone with the Wind cost what, fifty cents? A quarter?

    That being said, directors are different animals than theater owners. Why do people blame the director or studio when the theater experience sucks? Thats like blaming the flight attendant for a bumpy ride on a flight. If anyone, blame the pilot.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. icon
    chris (profile), Sep 5th, 2007 @ 7:31am

    small screens rule

    small screens let everyone enjoy their own activity while remaining in close proximity. the family can be together even though everyone is doing something different.

    my only complaint about small screen technology (phones, televisions, computers, etc.) is that everything is designed around a single screen and audio source.

    in my house, there are 3 adults and two kids, and at any given time there are is at least one screen going. either someone is watching TV, sitting at a a PC working or gaming (5 computers and desks in what should be the dining room... we call it a "geek room") or someone is playing a console game.

    my only complaint about our setup is that if you want to share your activity (get help, show off something cool, play/work together) then someone/everyone else has to stop what they are doing and go to where your screen is. we would interact more while doing our separate things if everyone's screens were close together and super easy to share. the answer is not just bigger screens, but a single giant screen that can be easily divided (in our case into 4 parts) and a sound system with multiple channels that can provide multiple individual experiences

    if we could all sit together in the living room, on the couch, and enjoy our separate screens together, and easily share our audio, plus be able to roll all the screens into a single big screen, that would be optimal. right now, the only affordable technology for achieving most of that is separate computers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    Shay, Sep 5th, 2007 @ 7:55am

    Re: Sort of Agree

    I'm with you on the expensiveness of it. I, too, have a family of 5 and going to the movies (no dinner) costs about $100:

    4x adult tickets @ $9.50 ea = $38.00
    1x child ticket @ $7.50 ea = $7.50
    total tickets = $45.50

    5x large drinks @ $4.50 ea = $22.50
    5x med popcorn @ $3.50 ea = $17.50
    5x candy @ $4.50 ea = $22.50
    total "food" = $62.50

    total for movie = $108.00

    I can go to the store, buy popcorn and candy for about $15.00. Buy a movie @ about $17 at Target so total to watch the movie at home is about $32.00.

    I'm sorry, but for a savings of $76.00 and not having to stand in multiple lines, I'll watch it at home. It doesn't even cost me $32 since I don't buy movies any more; I get them from Netflix and watch at least 20 movies a month through them so my per movie cost per month is about $2.00.

    I can wait to see the movies.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    m74k3H, Sep 5th, 2007 @ 10:31am

    Change the Target

    I understand Mr. Scott's concern, but I think he needs to change his perspective. Movie theaters came into being because it wasn't cost effective for people to have the technology in their homes in the 1920's and 1930's. Being in a larger space allowed for larger screen sizes. However now that the technology is more ubiquitous, theaters are no longer needed. The same logic applies to most technology and other things as well. I used to go to school to get access to computer time, now I own a desktop and 2 laptops. Telephones used to use party lines, now everyone has their own line. A lot of technology starts with availability at certain central points, then as it gets adopted moves to the individual family/user.

    Mr. Scott and others can be bitter, or adapt to the technology and produce content that will work in the new environments. Maybe they can use their skills to find ways to accommodate the restrictions of the new media, or discover its strengths.

    As far as the quality of movies, I don't believe this anything to do with media, but with rising movie costs, leading in a need for blockbusters, which need to appeal to as many people as possible to be blockbusters, which means they often will be water-downed to the least common denominator.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. identicon
    Jones, Sep 5th, 2007 @ 11:20am

    Re: Saturation

    #9 is the best commment on this matter...
    Movies have always been as bad (and as good) as they are now. But the amount of movies being released by the filmakers and studios worldwide are exponentially greater than before, which means an increase in the the amount of crappy movies available.

    And while it doesn't matter what size screen or sound system I watch something like Shawshank Redemption on, I'd rather watch a movie like Transformers on the big screen which I did....

    As ANON stated... There is just more choice (which is a good thing) and I say all the studios, actors, film companies, investors and movie theatre owners who complain about you and I choosing to watch movies in places other than some loud sticky overpriced theatre can pound sand.

    Make a movie worth watching in a theatre at a premium price and we'll pay to go see it. Make a movie that is just so so and I'll wait for the DVD or better I'll catch it on HBO.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. icon
    Nick (profile), Sep 5th, 2007 @ 11:28am

    You could have made the same argument when the phonograph was invented and the selling of sheet music before (and many people did and yet we can see over the last 150 years that the opposite was true) that these new mediums would kill live music. However, the only made live performances more valuable. There is no way you could have had all the fanfare for live acts such as Elvis, the Beatles, or Motown without the existence of records (payed on the radio or a record player, it does not matter).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. identicon
    Christopher J. Carlson, Sep 5th, 2007 @ 2:12pm

    Ticket Sale Percentages

    I haven't read all the comments to this article, but I'd just like to emphasize that theatres themselves are not to blame for the cost of going to see movies.

    The theatre in my town in just scraping by, with a lot of extra effort by the owners, and while keeping ticket prices cheaper than any of the larger cities in the province. The food is still crazy expensive, but that's where the theatres really make the money to stay open.

    The tiny percentage theatres get to keep from ticket sales, compared to what the studios get is what makes keeping theatres open or affordable to patrons difficult.

    Unless a movie is pretty much guaranteed to bring in a big crowd in its first week, most movies are delayed in coming here, since the theatre gets a higher percentage of ticket sales as the weeks go by.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. identicon
    Christopher J. Carlson, Sep 5th, 2007 @ 2:16pm

    Re: Transformers

    Sorry, Liam, but the Transformers toys, Sunbow cartoon AND Marvel comic all began at practically the same time. It was a multi-pronged attack on parents' wallets.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 5th, 2007 @ 5:00pm


    turn off your phone or ann richards will take your ass out!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31. identicon
    Andrew Steele, Sep 5th, 2007 @ 5:07pm

    Much ado about nothing?

    Once again, I think that the industry - and with all due respect, you Mike - are making much ado about nothing here. Did anyone else but me catch the news over the weekend that Hollywood chalked up it's FIRST EVER $4 BILLION SUMMER??? Now, maybe it's just me, but doesn't that seem to indicate that the movie - and the theater business in particular - is alive & kicking stronger than ever? Sure it stinks it's so expensive, but so far consumers have proven they're willing to pay for the theater experience. Just like we're willing to pay through the nose for sporting events and Eagles reunion tour tickets. As the most recent research covering online video has also started to show, new distribution opportunities are actually good for the business. They not only create new and innovative ways for the creative community to reach out and engage with consumers, but in the counter-intuitive irony or all ironies, also are starting to show that they actually INCREASE viewership and consumption of media through traditional channels. Well, except for music...but that industry has spent the past decade shooting itself in the foot...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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