The State or Fate of Film: Bottom of the Ninth

In the most precise definition, a movie is a motion picture or “a series of projected on a screen in rapid succession” to create the illusion of movement, often to tell a story, according to Miriam Webster.

General understanding of the subheadings of movies include: feature film, short film, narrative film, documentary film, experimental film and so on, all of which are different ways of categorizing the movie picture image.  When most people refer to a movie, they refer to the two hour narrative feature film screened in theaters then made available on DVD.  Most, but a declining number of these are shot on celluloid film.

In the past ten years, the state of film, excuse me, movie technology has rapidly changed.  When Kodak announced chapter 11 in January, it really didn’t come as a surprise.  “Film” is no longer an accurate description of everything you see at the movie theater, and even fewer things watched on DVD.

By contrast, the types of stories being told as major motion pictures has only varied.  Among this summer’s list of remakes, franchise installments, an reboots are: Snow White and the Huntsman, Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted, Prometheus (maybe…), The Amazing Spider Man, Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Witness Protection, Ice Age:Continental Drift, The Dark Knight Rises, Step Up: Revolution, Total Recall, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days, The Bourne Legacy, and The Expendables 2. Countless other films rehash similar situations, characters, plots, or settings.  While there certainly is some original content out there, it is not the norm in mainstream film–excuse me–movie making.

This isn’t a surprise.  Mainstream movies are targeted at a mass audience and need to have mass appeal.  So production companies go with what sells.  Franchises also point to the increasingly blurry line between traditional Television content, and movies.  I haven’t watch a broadcast of a Television show in it’s original show time in at least two years.  I watch TV on DVD, Hulu, Netflix, and YouTube.  That means, in the most precise definition, I am not watching Television.  Television, by M-W’s three definitions, is either a system (of transferring images), an object (the receiving set), or a broadcast industry.

Because the Industry referred to is owned largely by conglomerates that produce all kinds of media, it does not delineate a difference between TV and movies.  TV is moving pictures.  “Made for TV movies” have existed since the inception of Television.

So how do I categorize the episode of Wings I watch on YouTube?  It is delivered the same way home videos of a cat attacking a box are delivered.  The content on Hulu is paid for by advertising, like broadcast Television.  But Netflix is TV on DVD, or instantly through the same software that brings me movies.  There are countless cable TV channels dedicated to movies.

We watch feature length motion pictures the same way we watch TV, home videos, short videos, funny videos, mashups, reality television and re-edited video clip tributes with sappy music soundtracks.  The motion picture is no longer just one type of thing.  Videos–well, movies, really- are everywhere.

What is changing is not content.  We watch home movies still, just like we watch old stories presented in new ways.  The change is in form.

At the birth of the moving image, gimmick overruled story.  As it became a more sophisticated medium, narrative overruled gimmick (see Birth of a Nation.  On second thought, don’t see Birth of a Nation.  It’s racist bent is impossible to stomach. At least it should be) and in time, complex use of the medium blended with narrative in what’s called the Classic Hollywood form.

With the birth of new mediums, form will and is shifting again.  The best example of this is a new app made available in May called Bottom of the Ninth.  Developed by animator Ryan Woodward, Bottom of the Ninthis a graphic novel about a female pitcher in a futuristic urbanscape, fighting to become a star new baseball player.  It is, as far as he knows,  “the first animated graphic novel.”

A page from the graphic novel. Note the play symbol (l>) in the bottom of two frames. When tapped, the frame animates.

But it’s not a video.  You don’t push play, you tap symbols on the screen that animate a comic frame, speak the bubble dialog, or add a  soundtrack.  The pages flip, like in a paperback graphic novel.  But some of the pictures, or some parts of the pictures move.  It is a seamless combination of animated movie and comic book.  And it’s the future of movies.

Like live theater, the experience of seeing a motion picture projected onto a large screen wont go away any time soon (it happens frequently in my living room). We will still go to the movies.  But that’s not how we’ll watch the vast majority of movies. Electronic tablets are the latest medium for delivery, and their specific attributes have made a new form of movie possible. My iPad makes me feel like Penny from “Inspector Gadget” (the TV show), solving problems on her computer disguised as a book.

Penny and her computer book. I made a Bible cover into a toy computer book when I was a kid. Electronic tablets are the reality inspired by this fantasy.

Any new technology, and new form, changes the medium.  The story of Bottom of the Ninth is promising so far in the first installment.  It’s a classic kind of story with a new setting and some twists, beautifully rendered in still and moving images. The art of the comic is great.  Woodward’s earlier work like Osmosis Jones denotes his visual style.  The content is only going to shift over time.  Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, which was based on a Greek story of ill fated lovers, has been made into several films and been depicted live and in moving pictures since it was written.  We will be telling the same stories forever.  The way we tell them is about to significantly change.  Bottom of the Ninth heralds a new age in movies by redefining what a movie is, and what it can be.

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About jenletherer

BA, Theater and Speech Communication; English:Creative Writing. Siena Heights University, 2002. MFA, Film Production. Boston University, 2005
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