It’s fair to say that J.J. Abrams, more than most, makes massive movies. His “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is the biggest domestic hit of all time, and of the five films he’s made to date, the two smallest in scope and scale were a “Mission: Impossible” sequel and “Super 8,” an autobiographical movie about a giant monster. Love him or hate him, Abrams makes the kind of spectacle that draws audiences into movie theaters these days.
So it’s always been surprising that Abrams, along with Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg and a number of other A-list helmers, has been a supporter of the idea of Premium VOD, more specifically The Screening Room, a start-up from Napster founder/Justin Timberlake surrogate Sean Parker that intends to release major movies day-and-date at home for a $50 price. While other filmmakers like Christopher Nolan remain adamantly opposed, Abrams has always been very much pro the idea, and as Variety reported, gave a talk last night that helped to explain in part why.
At a dinner at the Milken Institute Global Conference last night, Abrams talked about his experience seeing a movie at a multiplex near his wife’s hometown in Maine. “There is a theater chain that I’m convinced hates movies. You go there. They’re angry with you. It’s cold. There’s no music. The lights go out when the movie starts — there’s no ceremony. It’s the most uncomfortable seats…You’re convinced there’s something in front of the projector. Meanwhile, most people in that audience have better TVs at home than the image you’re seeing.”
Abrams is coming from something of a position of privilege here — it’s quite possible that, even in Maine, most people in the audience DON’T have better TVs at home. But he sort of acknowledged that. “I understand the economic realities of it, and it’s tough. At the same time, if they don’t make it worth people’s time, you better not call people to the theater and give them that kind of experience. People do want to see movies, and can’t always get to the theater. It seems like an inevitable thing that movies become available at a premium.”
We’re all familiar with the sort of thing that Abrams is talking about: crappy theater experiences are a frequent menace these days, and we’ve all had to suffer texting, talking neighbors, crappy projection or bad facilities. But why the A-list helmer wants to draw fewer people to movie theaters and reduce what makes the medium special rather than improve that experience is a bit puzzling. The Screening Room remains a bit of a pipe dream for now; we’ll see if it ever takes off, but in the meantime, Abrams is returning to the small screen with miniseries “The Nix.”