You know how people are always talking about how someday "the movies" will disappear completely, and instead of trekking down to the megaplex we'll all be watching first-run movies at home on our giant plasma screens?
I never really believed it.
It sounded ridiculous; after all, one of the greatest things about movies is the way they play to an audience.
(Well, some movies, anyway: I suspect The Dark Knight has the same grim intensity whether you're alone or in an IMAX auditorium, but something like Iron Man becomes a different experience when seen with an enthusiastic crowd - it's like a rock concert in there.)
This week, though, two new(ish) releases offer a chance to test this theory: Seville Pictures' excellent French thriller Tell No One is opening theatrically despite having been available on DVD in Canada for nine months - my review explains why - and Paramount is rolling The Godfather back onto the big screen three days after releasing Robert A. Harris' splendid digital restoration of Francis Ford Coppola's gangster epic on DVD.
So here's the question: Where will you see them?
Do you brave the noise and stale popcorn of the AMC - which, on a crowded weekend, comes very close to hell on earth until you actually reach your designated auditorium - to see these movies in fine digital projection, without soundtrack crackles or print damage?
Or do you wander out to your finer DVD rental spot - your Queen Video, your Suspect, your Bay Street Video, your Eyesore - and pick up a disc to watch in the comfort of your own home? (Or, in the case of The Godfather, do you splurge on a Blu-ray player? It'd be reason enough for me.)
It's a tough choice. And we'll likely be faced with more of them, now that digital technology has reached a point where it can convincingly substitute for 35mm projection.
It costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $3000 to strike a 35mm print. Generating a digital file that can be screened at a digital house - like, say, the AMC Yonge & Dundas - costs virtually nothing beyond FedExing the hard drive to the theatre.
This makes the theatrical runs of Tell No One and The Godfather extremely low-risk ventures for their distributors: At best, you'll make a few bucks and engender the good will of your audience; at worst, you're running a cheap promotional campaign for the DVD release.
Back in 2006, Steven Soderbergh and producer/mogul Mark Cuban challenged the conventions of theatrical distribution, with its built-in windows for big-screen and small-screen play, by making Soderbergh's Bubble available on DVD and high-def pay-per-view just four days after its theatrical bow.
It was supposed to be a ground-breaking move, but nothing came of it - largely because Bubble turned out to be a dreary experimental drama that few people would watch in any format. The Godfather and Tell No One offer different test cases, and I'm awfully curious to see what people make of them.