Jamie Bircoll: Why you shouldn't stream Netflix's new release

Tuesday, October 20, 2015 - 5:15pm

I remember back in December when “The Interview” was released — all of the talk surrounding the controversial depiction of North Korea and Kim Jong-Un. But that didn’t bother me; I was more concerned about online streaming. Because of the threat of North Korean “retaliation,” many theaters refused to show the film, but YouTube, in an act of bravery, offered to stream the movie online so it could get a proper release. Though I was thankful YouTube — this binary Reagan — could lay waste to the Communist regimes as in the days of old, I was worried.

Was this the future of cinema? Would people resort to online streaming for their movie going needs? Would there even be a reason to leave the house anymore? Would we all end up looking like those flabby, gelatonous humans that “Wall-E” so prophesized? 

My fears were unfounded: “The Interview” took a major hit at the box office, raking in less than a third of its budget (though Sony contends it recouped its losses through the online rentals), and cinema would go on to have one of its most lucrative summers ever in 2015. I overreact sometimes.

But as of this last Friday, cinema faces a similar development: Netflix released its first feature length film, “Beasts of No Nation.” This film, unlike “The Interview” isn’t slapstick satire about daddy issues and poop jokes and general racism. This is a film with award season aspirations, and, based on early reviews, might actually get them. What’s interesting here is Netflix is streaming the film online and releasing it in theaters at a later date. And I am deeply curious what exactly happens here: will “Beasts” prove a box office dud? Will it garner the awards attention Netflix thinks it deserves? And how do you measure the success of a film that’s being distributed through an online service that most people already own?

These thoughts I had about the future of cinema started to come back. “Beasts of No Nation” isn’t B-movie popcorn trash/a Saturday night time-killer like “The Interview.” The people who watch it aren’t looking for entertainment, they’re curious about what the movie has to say, they want to see what Cary Fukunaga can do as a director with a full length feature, they want to find the substance at the heart of the feature and they want to see Idris Elba continue to be one of the best working actors in the game.

“Beasts of No Nation” is a game changer — this is real cinema, coming to you in the comfort of your own home. I can’t say I approve.

Moviegoing is an experience, and is something that takes commitment. You have to want it because, when you think about it, moviegoing is kind of ridiculous — it is the act of deliberately going out of your way to pay to stare at a giant screen in a dark room, with the assumption that you will shut yourself off from all contact for a minimum of 90 but upwards of 325 minutes (for at least some films, like Lars Von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac”). Further, for nourishment, you will pay exorbitant prices for foodstuffs that lack any nutritional value. Should you need to relieve yourself, the screening that you have paid for will not stop for you; rather, every second spent outside of the theater is a second you are literally flushing down the toilet. And upon your return, when you inquire of your movie going brethren what transpired events you may have missed, you will be promptly hushed (by me, for example) for daring to speak over the sounds of film. In short, moviegoing requires unspoken rules that absolutely run counter to the freedoms one experiences when watching film at home.

But that’s the beauty of the thing. The movie is the be-all and end-all of the excursion: the darkness prevents you from seeing the few extraneous details of the theater; the chairs (especially if they’re the reclining ones many theaters are implementing) force you to look directly at a screen the size of a wall; there is no pause button; you will be publicly shamed when you decide Tinder is a better use of your time. There is, simply, nothing but the movie. It’s immersive — a full-on experience.

When you watch a movie at home, at least when it’s your first viewing of that movie, you’ve really missed an important element of its full force — something is lost on your television. And I get that sometimes you can’t make it to the theater, or you just didn’t care enough to go. But urgency or convenience shouldn’t outweigh the complete experience of movie going.

What I’m trying to say is this: don’t watch “Beasts of No Nation” on Netflix, wait for the theatrical release. Don’t give studios the idea that convenience is more important than the movie itself. Believe it or not, the consumer does have power in this business.

I understand that streaming new releases won’t singlehandedly kill the business, but it is symptomatic of a shift in what we as a movie-going culture care about. I get that accessibility and speed and “move or die” is what matters today. But they got something very right in 1905 when the Nickelodeon opened in Pittsburgh, and it’s something worth preserving and continuing.

Bircoll is busy surfing the binary Reagan like the true American he is. To ask for advice on how to be a real patriot, email your open carry permit to jbircoll@umich.edu.