Dweebing: Philosphy, Discussion, and other Intellectual (?) stuff
By Cliff Edwards
Next-Gen DVDs' Blurry Picture
The battle between Blu-ray and HD-DVD was already tricky for consumers. But new content protection may mean buyers get even less than they might have hoped
After years of waiting, the new era of high-definition home theater has finally arrived.
In April, Toshiba plans to introduce HD-DVD, its high-definition successor to the DVD player, two months ahead of rival consumer-electronics companies who plan to sell a competing format called Blu-ray Disc.
Electronics makers hope the new gear will keep sales in the $120 billion industry humming, while Hollywood hopes the lure of interactive features and crystal-clear pictures five times the resolution of current DVDs will jump-start slumping home-video sales. EDITOR'S NOTE: IS FIVE TIMES THE RESOLUTION ENOUGH TO MAKE ME NEED THIS? (10 TIMES, AND I GET A DAY JOB?)
Here's the problem: Both camps are shooting themselves in the foot before they get to the starting line.
Consumers already were faced with the prospect of mass confusion, thanks to two next-generation DVD formats, whose disks do not work in each other's machines but look essentially the same. Remember Betamax versus VHS? At least then you could tell one tape from the other.
But that's just the tip of the iceberg.
Turns out, most of the 20 million high-definition TVs sold over the past three years aren't capable of displaying the disks in their full resolution.
Worse, at least one major studio intends to downgrade the picture even more unless consumers hook their players up through a special, pricey cable aimed at preventing piracy.
"It's crazy," says chief analyst Richard Doherty of consumer-research firm Envisioneering. "The sticker on your new player promises the equivalent of a high-performance car, but the fine print says you may be buying an Edsel instead."
The new content-protection scheme would be the first time any consumer electronics purchaser -- not just those who try to break copyright laws -- could be penalized.
In this case, even if you have a perfectly equipped TV, content providers retain the right to automatically downgrade the picture quality because of piracy concerns. Current DVD releases like Batman Begins and Walk The Line include software to prevent unauthorized duplication, but still play normally. New software included on both Blu-ray and HD-DVD releases, however, will automatically slash the image, making it only marginally better than current DVDs, unless consumers have a relatively new connector and cable called HDMI to hook up players to their televisions.
Only one in 20 HD sets sold to early adopters over the past few years has the right version of the connector. Only 15% of new sets sold this year will include it, and deliver the full 1080 resolution capable of showing such detail.
Sony execs say a majority of Blu-ray content, at least initially, will play at the highest resolution possible on a consumer’s HDTV, regardless of how the player is hooked up.
Four major studios -- Sony Pictures, 20th Century Fox , Disney , and Paramount say they initially will not use the new copy protection on their releases.
Universal execs told BusinessWeek on Mar. 21 that they, too, will forego the protection.
Execs at Warner Brothers declined to comment, but sources with knowledge of the studio's plans say "at least some" of the 20 HD-DVD releases planned through April will use the software.
"What do you have then? A very expensive DVD player," says Sony Senior Vice-President Tim Baxter.
To make matters more confusing, Sony and other consumer-electronics companies are adding features to the next-generation players that then may "upconvert" -- boost the image quality -- so the same disk may look vastly different, depending on which machine you purchase and the size of the TV.
Experts say both of the new formats shine on sets 50 inches or larger.
The confusion may be just enough for consumers to say good night, and good luck. EDITOR'S NOTE: I'M A HOME THEATER GLUTTON WITH THE BEST OF THEM. BUT YES, THIS ALL SOUNDS WAY TOO EXPENSIVE AND WAY TOO CONFUSING AND NOT NEARLY ENOUGH OF AN IMPROVEMENT TO DEAL WITH TILL ALL THE GREEDY, SHORT-SIGHTED TECH COMPANIES GET THEIR YOU-KNOW-WHAT TOGETHER.
Already, a growing number of so-called technology influencers and Web sites are recommending sitting out the first round of the new DVD wars.
Many believe the best bet for either format to gain acceptance now lies with next-generation game consoles. Sony plans a November worldwide release of its new PlayStation 3, which will include a Blu-ray player. Execs at Sony hope by then that enough new HD sets will be sold, with the right connectors, to make the player worthwhile. And Microsoft has said it may add an HD-DVD player to its Xbox 360 in coming months. Until then, the crystal ball for crystal-clear movies remains fuzzy. EDITOR'S NOTE: I DONT' THINK IT'S ALL THAT FUZZY. I THINK IT'S PRETTY CLEAR THAT THE TECH COMPANIES' AVARICE AND MUDDY THINKING IS GOING TO KEEP THIS ON THE BACK-BURNER FOR ALL BUT THE MOST COMPETITIVE FIRST-ADOPTERS.
EDITOR'S NOTE: IS TV BAD FOR KIDS? ARE KIDS BAD FOR TV VIEWING? STUFF LIKE THAT ----
the dismal science
The Benefits of BozoProof that TV doesn't harm kids.
By Austan Goolsbee
According to most experts, TV for kids is basically a no-no.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no TV at all for children under the age of 2, and for older children, one to two hours a day of educational programming at most. Various studies have linked greater amounts of television viewing to all sorts of problems, among them attention deficit disorder, violent behavior, obesity, and poor performance in school and on standardized tests. Given that kids watch an average of around four hours of TV a day, the risks would seem to be awfully high.
Most studies of the impact of television, however, are seriously flawed. They compare kids who watch TV and kids who don't, when kids in those two groups live in very different environments.
Kids who watch no TV, or only a small amount of educational programming, as a group are from much wealthier families than those who watch hours and hours. Because of their income advantage, the less-TV kids have all sorts of things going for them that have nothing to do with the impact of television. The problem with comparing them to kids who watch a lot of TV is like the problem with a study that compared, say, kids who ride to school in a Mercedes with kids who ride the bus. The data would no doubt show that Mercedes kids are more likely to score high on their SATs, go to college, and go on to high-paying jobs. None of that has anything to do with the car, but the comparison would make it look as if it did.
The only way to really know the long-term effect of TV on kids would be to run an experiment over time. But no one is going to barrage kids with TV for five years and then see if their test scores go down (though I know plenty of kids who would volunteer). EDITOR'S NOTE: AND SOME ADULTS. (PICK ME PICK ME!)
In a recent study, two economists at the University of Chicago, Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse Shapiro, came up with a different way to test the long-run impact of television on kids—by reaching back to the distant past of the information age.
When Americans first started getting television in the 1940s, the availability of the medium spread across the country unevenly. Some cities, like New York, had television by 1940. Others, like Denver and Honolulu, didn't get their first broadcasts until the early 1950s. Whenever television appeared, kids became immediate junkies: Children in households with televisions watched their boob tubes for close to four hours a day by 1950. And these programs weren't educational—no Sesame Street or Dora the Explorer. Nor were there any real restrictions on commercials during kids' shows (those came in the 1960s and '70s). There wasn't the same level of violence on television, but in terms of kids-oriented programming, Howdy Doody was about as good as it got.
The key point for Gentzkow and Shapiro's study is that depending on where you lived and when you were born, the total amount of TV you watched in your childhood could differ vastly. A kid born in 1947 who grew up in Denver, where the first TV station didn't get under way until 1952, would probably not have watched much TV at all until the age of 5. But a kid born the same year in Seattle, where TV began broadcasting in 1948, could watch from the age of 1. If TV-watching during the early years damages kids' brains, then the test scores of Denver high-school seniors in 1965 (the kids born in 1947) should be better than those of 1965 high-school seniors in Seattle.
What if you're concerned about differences between the populations of the two cities that could affect the results? Then you compare test scores within the same city for kids born at different times. Denver kids who were in sixth grade in 1965 would have spent their whole lives with television; their 12th-grade counterparts wouldn't have. If TV matters, the test scores of these two groups should differ, too. Think analogously about lead poisoning. Lead has been scientifically proven to damage kids' brains. If, hypothetically, Seattle added lead to its water in 1948 and Denver did so in 1952, you would see a difference in the test-score data when the kids got to high school—the Seattle kids would score lower than the Denver kids, and the younger Denver kids would score lower than the older Denver ones, because they would have started ingesting lead at a younger age.
From the 1966 Coleman Report, the landmark study of educational opportunity commissioned by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Gentzkow and Shapiro got 1965 test-score data for almost 300,000 kids. They looked for evidence that greater exposure to television lowered test scores.
They found none.
After controlling for socioeconomic status, there were no significant test-score differences between kids who lived in cities that got TV earlier as opposed to later, or between kids of pre- and post-TV-age cohorts. Nor did the kids differ significantly in the amount of homework they did, dropout rates, or the wages they eventually made. If anything, the data revealed a small positive uptick in test scores for kids who got to watch more television when they were young. For kids living in households in which English was a second language, or with a mother who had less than a high-school education, the study found that TV had a more sizable positive impact on test scores in reading and general knowledge. Evidently, Bozo the Clown was better than we remember.
So, sure, you may cringe when your kid knows every word of the Wiggles' tune "Fruit Salad, Yummy Yummy!" That's understandable. Watching TV has taught them many horrible songs, and for that you will suffer. But maybe you don't need to feel too guilty about it.
Austan Goolsbee is an economics professor at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business and a senior research fellow at the American Bar Foundation. EDITOR'S NOTE: THIS IS A VERY INTERESTING ARTICLE. BUT I FEEL LIKE THERE ARE 'BUTS' MISSING THAT I'M NOT THINKING OF. READERS? WHAT DID THIS STUDY LEAVE OUT? WHAT LEAPS DID THE WRITER MAKE THAT AREN'T ENTIRELY VALID? (BECAUSE I HAVE A HARD TIME BELIEVING THAT TV IS BENIGN FOR THE VERY YOUNG).
EDITOR'S NOTE: MORE ON THE MOVIE THEATER ATTENDANCE DECLINE AND WHAT ONE SEMI-FAMOUS PERSON THINKS ABOUT ALL THAT ---
GOODBYE TO ALL THAT
Moving Away From the Movie Theater
Once, great movie houses drew us together. Now they're gone -- and the decline of the big screen diminishes us all.
By Peter Bogdanovich
Peter Bogdanovich directed "The Last Picture Show," "Paper Moon," and "Mask," among other movies. His most recent book, "Who the Hell's in It," is just out in paperback.March 26,
GOING TO THE MOVIES with my parents is one of the great memories of my childhood. I remember getting strong anticipatory butterflies in my stomach long before we'd even leave the apartment.
In the late 1940s, early '50s, we lived on Manhattan's West 67th Street, three blocks from two huge "neighborhood" picture palaces: the RKO Colonial and the Loew's Lincoln. Both were spacious, elaborately decorated, very comfortable stand-alone theaters with huge screens and giant, red velvet curtains that parted before the show. Each seated more than 1,000 (with smoking in the balcony).
A typical evening or afternoon at the "nabes" meant a double feature — two recent films, usually an A-budget movie paired with a B-picture. We never checked for starting times (no one did); we went when we could or when we felt like it.
Normally, therefore, we would enter in the middle of one of the two features. Part of the fun was trying to figure out what was going on. After it ended, there would be a newsreel, a travelogue, a live-action comedy short, a cartoon and coming attractions. Then the next feature, followed by the first half of the other film until that once-proverbial moment: "This is where we came in." (All this, by the way, for 25 or 50 cents a head, often less for kids.)
On Saturdays, there was the children's matinee, complete with a white-uniformed matron who chaperoned us and made sure kids didn't put their feet on the seats in front of them.Both of my old neighborhood theaters have long since been demolished.
But recently I've been thinking about them again as I've read about the decline in theater attendance — down from 90 million tickets sold per week in the late 1940s to about a quarter of that number today — as people rent movies and watch them at home on increasingly elaborate home entertainment systems.
Now, some of the big studios are talking about closing the months-long window that has traditionally separated a movie's theatrical debut from its availability on video or DVD — a change that some say could lead to the end of the movie-theater experience altogether.
When I was a growing up, there were no ratings — all pictures being suitable for the whole family. Parents could, if they chose, take the family to serious films such as "How Green Was My Valley," "Citizen Kane" or "From Here to Eternity" without worrying that it might not be "appropriate" for the children. If a couple on screen were going to bed together, vintage movie shorthand took over and the camera panned to the fireplace or to the waterfall, or, during a passionate kiss, there'd be a discreet fade to black. I would turn to my mother and ask what was happening, and she'd say something ambiguous, such as "they like each other" or "they're talking now," which completely satisfied my curiosity.
Movies, when you used to see them on the big screen, had a mystery that they no longer have.
For one thing, they were irretrievable: Once the first and second runs were past, most films were not easy to see again. They were much, much larger than life and therefore instantly mythic (screens and theaters were a lot bigger before the multiplex arrived).
And they were inexorable; once a film had started, there was no pausing it or in any way stopping its relentless forward motion.
Also, the communal experience of seeing a picture with a large crowd of strangers was a great and irreplaceable happening — all of us, young or old (if the picture worked) palpably sharing the same emotions of sorrow or happiness. The bigger the crowd around us, the greater the impact. EDITOR'S NOTE: I STILL FEEL THIS WAY. (GRANTED, SOMETIMES THE CROWD IS MADE UP OF PEOPLE WHOSE EMOTIONS ARE OF NO INTEREST TO ME...AND READILY AVAILABLE TO ANYONE WITHIN EARSHOT OF THESE RIFFRAFF AND THEIR CELL PHONES).
On special occasions, my parents took me to the greatest movie theater in the country, Radio City Music Hall, which, for $2, would show a first-rate new film exclusively (such as "An American in Paris" or "North by Northwest") plus a live, 40-minute stage show featuring the Rockettes. That's why it meant so much to me in 1972 when my first comedy, "What's Up, Doc?" was booked to open in New York at the Music Hall.
I was so excited I called to tell Cary Grant (a friend of 10 years). "That's nice," he said casually. "I've had 28 pictures play the Hall."I tell you what you must do," he went on. "When it's playing, you go down there and stand in the back — and you listen and you watch while 6,500 people laugh at something you did. It will do your heart good!"
I went, of course, and it remains the single most memorable showing of any of my pictures: The sheer size of the reaction in that enormous theater was like a mainliner of joy. The fact is, it takes at least 100 people to get a decent laugh in a movie — smaller audiences are just not given to letting go. EDITOR'S NOTE: UNLESS THEY ARE DWEEBPALS ANDREW OR JOEL. (TRY MAKING THEM NOT LAUGH!)
On the other hand, a Michigan university student told me recently that one of the few classic Hollywood movies he'd seen was John Ford's version of John Steinbeck's novel "The Grapes of Wrath." He said he'd been looking at a "video of it" and couldn't get his "eyelids to stop drooping."
Well, of course. Not only was he alone in his living room, but he was seeing on a small screen a work that had not been created ever to be reduced so radically in size. The especially dark photography (by the legendary Gregg Toland, who the following year shot Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane") needs the large screen to convey its effect, not to mention that darkness and TV have never produced easy-to-watch results.
What's more, Ford was very much the master of the long shot. Twenty years before that famous fly-speck-on-the-desert entrance in "Lawrence of Arabia," Ford had introduced Henry Fonda in "Grapes" as a tiny figure on the horizon coming toward us. But tiny on a giant screen is not the same as tiny on a TV set. The first makes a poetic impression, the second leaves you wondering what you're looking at and causes yet more eye strain. No wonder the student's eyelids drooped.
One of my favorite movies is Howard Hawks' "Bringing Up Baby" with Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn — probably the fastest and at the same time most darkly photographed comedy of all time. When I watch it on TV, I find myself getting tired and running out of steam before the film ends.
Most young people have never even seen older films (before 1962, let's say — the end of the movies' golden age, when the original studio system finally collapsed) on the large screen for which they were solely created. So it's easy to understand why they're not interested in them. That they don't know what they're missing is a sad fact, increasingly more common, therefore sadder.
What is there to say about seeing movies of quality on an iPod? Chilling.
I was first taken at age 5 or 6 by my father to see silent movies on the big screen at the Museum of Modern Art, and it inculcated in me a lifelong interest and reverence for older films. Starting my daughters at a young age looking at classics from the '20s, '30s and '40s did the same thing for them. Wouldn't it be a great thing if all the studios pooled their resources and opened large-scale revival theaters in every major city as a way of promoting DVDs of older films, which remain difficult to move in the kind of bulk everyone would like? EDITOR'S NOTE: THIS IS ACTUALLY A GREAT IDEA!
It's hard for me to imagine that the movie-theater experience will ever completely disappear, no matter how reduced it may become. After all, the legitimate theater still exists in the age of TV and film, though of course there is nowhere near as much of it as there was even as late as the 1950s. (Remember summer stock?) In some places you can even still see opera, a very popular medium a couple of hundred years ago.
But Larry McMurtry's novel, "The Last Picture Show," and the movie version of it which I directed were both at least partly about the loss to a small Texas town of its single movie theater, a great diminishment in community and sharing. We all now live in a more insular, distanced society. And though our communication capability has never been faster or more inclusive, it does not have the ability to let us experience the silent interrelating that happens in a live theater, at church or at a movie house.
Over the years I've noticed that audiences, just before the show starts, radiate a kind of innocence. Considered person by person, that may not be the case, but as a group they share the ability to be taken wherever the film chooses to take them, either to the stars or the gutter, and their communal experience will alter them for better or worse. Let's not let all that possibility fade away further than it already has.
Better movies would help. EDITOR'S NOTE: I DISAGREE WITH THIS LAST BIT. LIKE SO MUCH OF POP CULTURE TODAY THE AUDIENCES ARE SPLINTERED. BUT THAT'S BECAUSE OF THE MICRO-TARGETING OF FILMS (AND RADIO AND TV, ETC). YES, THERE IS JUNK. BUT THERE ARE MORE GOOD FILMS THAN THERE EVER WERE. CLASSICS? THOSE WERE ALWAYS RARE. LET'S NOT GLOSS OVER ALL THE PABLUM SPEWED OUT OF HOLLYWOOD DURING THE 'GOLDEN YEARS'.
EDITOR'S NOTE: ANIMATION, THEN NEXT GENERATION ---
New York Daily News
Back to the drawing board
During a bus trip to the Alaskan set of a 1983 Disney live-action movie, I got into a conversation about the declining status of animated movies and boldly predicted to the Disney executive sitting next to me that the genre was about to become extinct.
For a while, I was a sage.
Not a single animated feature was released in the U.S. in 1984, and the five released in 1985 sold less than $50 million worth of tickets combined.
Then, in a blur of blockbusters that began with "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" (1988), we saw Disney's resuscitated animation division churn out the instant classics "The Little Mermaid" (1989), "Beauty and the Beast" (1991), "Aladdin" (1992), and "The Lion King" (1994), followed by Pixar's first soldier in the computer-animation revolution, "Toy Story."
In 2001, 10 years after "Beauty and the Beast" became the one and only animated movie ever nominated for Best Picture, the Academy decided to give the animated feature its own category.
The first winner: "Shrek."
How healthy are animated movies today?
Well, in 2004, the top five animated films sold more than $1.1 billion worth of tickets in the U.S. and Canada. The three films nominated for Best Animated Feature that year outgrossed the five live-action nominees, $858.6 million to $401.5 million.
And in 2006, 22 years after the shutout of '84, the major studios, along with the new Weinstein Co., plan the wide release of at least 14 new animated features. "Hoodwinked" and "Doogal" have already been released, and animation's first box-office sure thing - "Ice Age 2: The Meltdown" - opens Friday.
Where heads were down two decades ago, people in animation today are as cheery as investors in a bull market.
"I think people will look back at this period as the Golden Age of animation," says Yair Landau, vice chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment, whose animation division will release its first in-house computer-animated feature ("Open Season") in September. "There used to be one studio putting out animated product; now, there are multiple entities."
IDT Entertainment is one of several new independent companies dedicated to computer animation. Its first feature - "Everyone's Hero" - will be released by Fox in September.
"This is a very exciting time," says Janet Healy, IDT's president of animation. "I feel like we're at a moment where we're reinventing the medium again."
Healy has been at the forefront of every major technical breakthrough in the last 20 years. She worked for George Lucas' Industrial Light & Magic,EDITOR'S NOTE: YAY, UNCLE GEORGE! then worked on computer animation at Disney, and followed its animation guru, Jeffrey Katzenberg, to DreamWorks.
She says the big change driving the current boom in animation is the breakdown in resistance of veteran animators to the new computer technology.
"Technology is not even a discussion anymore," she says. "We have enough qualified, off-the-shelf software and fast machines to tell whatever story we want. Whatever images we imagine, we know we can make." EDITOR'S NOTE: AND IT'S STILL ALL ABOUT THE SCRIPT, RIGHT?!
While computer animation dominates the field, it's not the only medium.
None of last year's Oscar nominees were computer-animated. The Oscar winner, "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit," and Tim Burton's "Corpse Bride" were done with models and stop-motion. The third nominee, Hayao Miyazaki's "Howl's Moving Castle," was traditional hand-drawn cell animation.
This year, we'll see two movies - "Monster House" and "A Scanner Darkly" - where the computer animation is done over live-action performances, creating images that are both cartoonish and photorealistic.
But, as virtually everyone interviewed for this story agrees, the medium is not the message - the message is. EDITOR'S NOTE: EXACTLY!
"Pixar's CG is fantastic, but their movies work because they know how to tell stories," says Spaz Williams, who directed the upcoming "The Wild." "Look at 'South Park.' It's the worst animation technique in the world, but the stories are great."
One reason animated movies have a higher ratio of successes to failures than live-action features is the way they're made.
"We have a longer window to get it right," says John Davis, whose first animated feature, "Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius," was among the inaugural slate of Oscar nominees in 2001. "We sketch out scenes and can see how they work before we commit to them. And we can go back and fiddle with them." EDITOR'S NOTE: OF COURSE, THEY ALSO HAVE A LONGER WINDOW TO MISS...AND I HATE THIS WORD...THE ZEITGEIST. TO BE COMPLETELY OFF IN LEFT FIELD, TOPICALLY SPEAKING.
On a live-action film, you have actors for a certain number of days, and what you get is what you have to work with. With voice actors for animated movies, they can come back whenever they've got the time. If they can't come to you, you can go to them.
"I went to Taos [N.M.] to record Julia Roberts," says Davis of one of his voice cast for this year's "The Ant Bully."
As you scan the list of animated movies opening this year, you're struck by the star wattage of their casts.
"It's great fun for the actors," says Sandra Rabins, who heads Sony Pictures Animation. "It doesn't take a lot of time. They don't have to go through hair and makeup and sit around waiting for lighting."
And they can work in front of their kids if they want.
"Martin Lawrence has three or four kids,EDITOR'S NOTE: HE'S NOT SURE HOW MANY? and he brought them to the recording sessions for 'Open Season,'" says Rabins. "He loves playing up for his children and they love looking up to their dad as his character, this 900-pound grizzly bear named Boog."
"Debra Messing had just had a baby when we got her for 'Open Season,'" adds Sony's Landau. "She came to the studio with the baby and a nanny and didn't have to get dressed up or worry about what she looked like. That was fine for us. We wanted her for her comedic timing."
Charles Solomon, an author, journalist and animation expert, knows all the cycles of animation's history and says the only thing new today is the technology.
"I'm just old-fashioned enough to think that good stories are what makes good animation movies," he says. EDITOR'S NOTE: GOOD STORIES ARE WHAT MAKE GOOD MOVIES. PERIOD. ANIMATION OR LIVE-ACTION. "And good animated movies stay on the shelves forever."
As for Arlene Ludwig, the Disney exec to whom I foolishly predicted the end of animation all those years ago, she refuses to gloat.
"I knew you'd come around," she laughed when I called to offer a long overdue retraction.