Perpetual anticipation and modern film culture

explores modern movie audiences’ inability to focus on the present

Towards the end of last month, on 19 October, the advance ticket sales for Star Wars: The Force Awakens began. By the end of the day, multiple online movie ticket sites had crashed, Vue Cinemas had sold 450,000 tickets and a whopping 6.5 million US dollars in IMAX ticket sales had been made.

This all happened about two months before the film was actually set to enter wide release. But audiences were excited and anxious. They were anticipating this seventh film in the series. They had been anticipating it for years. In late 2014 the internet world had been thrown into a frenzy when the mere title was announced. A few months later audiences had already begun critiquing the legitimacy of the film because of emerging details about its running time.

One might just blame this on the behemoth nature of the 38 years old Star Wars franchise, but it would be a misjudgement. This is not a situation specific to tales from that galaxy far, far away. It is merely a single incident in a larger framework, indicative of something more pervasive, and curious.

That ‘something more’ is the inundation of consumers with information, memorabilia, and ‘access’ to films which have yet to be released. This inundation is matched by the voracious consumption of that information with so many movie audiences demanding more and more. Not more films, but information about the films.

Today, in the technological age, where there exists myriad methods of finding information, the modern popular movie culture is facing a crisis: instead of sitting with our focus on the films in front of us, we are sitting looking past the screen at what’s coming next.
Anticipating something is almost always more exciting than having it. Entire psychological studies have been devoted to this and the movie culture of today is a fine encapsulation.
Most people anticipate happy things and the internet has allowed fans from far and wide to feed that anticipation by consuming every bit of every information about a prospective release.

Yet even as the existence of that anticipation is not new, it calcified in key ways with the proliferation of film sites across the internet. When the newest superhero film is announced and fans of the original text take to the internet to map out who should be cast, it’s a way to feel like part of the process.

This is even greater when the company acknowledges it, as more and more savvy producers are critically inviting audience suggestions. It’s a frenzy that studios create to feed popularity and then this frenzy gets reported ad nauseum in the press. Then the fans reject the categorisation of their frenzy, and a cycle begins.

Studios release stills before a movie begins shooting. They release seven trailers for a single film, then critics see it one month in advance and publish dozens of reviews. By the time the film opens in theatres, it’s old news and we have moved on to the next thing.
It might seem curmudgeonly to say, but it bears considering the almost antithetical reality where current film  viewing is not an experience to be luxuriated in at present but something cerebral done while continuously looking forward.

When a new movie is released there are exactly 10 days to talk about it before we’re forced to look forward to what’s coming out next week, or next month, or next year or next decade.

Before Marvel’s Ant-Man was released this year, the last film of their Phase 2 of the Avengers series, the world had been taken by storm by the release of the entire slate for Phase 3 of the franchise for films spanning from 2016 to 2019.

In mid-2015, pages and pages of metaphorical ink were devoted to films which would not be released for another four years. Each cast announcement, each director rumour, every costume sketch is released for the public to weigh in on.

It provides illusory excitement, the acquisition of knowledge which is ‘new’. But the underbelly reveals a sameness, a chilling terrifying homogeneousness of information being fed to us.

As much as Marvel’s comprehensive list of the films they plan to make is easier for fans there’s something especially chilling about the way it so coldly maps out the future of their films. It’s an emphatic, prideful demarcation of their films as products.

This is not the inherent problem. Movies are products and always have been; it’s the reason it has struggled to be seen as art by implacable critics. But, the long list of planned ventures meant for audiences to keep looking forward to reminds me of a hamster running on an ever-spinning wheel. We just can’t get off.

The question must be asked: are audiences constantly looking forward because the films are never enough or do the films not seem enough because the audiences are constantly looking forward?

Who can tell?…

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