2018 may go down in history as one of the years where things changed in the movie world, because the best film of the year is, for the first time, available to watch almost everywhere in the world at the same time.
Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma, a hugely moving, exquisitely shot love letter to the woman who helped raise him, has repeatedly blown audiences away since it was released this month (read our review here) – and one particular refrain you will have seen on social media is people telling you to see the movie on the big screen.
Cinemas are a magical place to experience a movie; there’s a communal chemistry that brings out the comedy, terror and warmth of a story when you’re sitting in a darkened room with strangers, and that’s without even mentioning the overall viewing experience, from the gigantic screen to the booming sound system. Cuaron’s Roma is a technical marvel that has certainly earned that scale and quality of presentation; its use of Dolby Atmos sound is one of the most immersive pieces of audio design you’ll ever encounter, placing you in the middle of Mexican cafes and streets with the hubbub and noise of everyday life on all sides.
But cinemas, although they should be, aren’t for everyone. People have kids to look after, other practical obstacles to overcome, or they simply may not live anywhere near a cinema. Most crucial of all, people may not be able to afford the cinema. Ticket prices have risen from an average of £4.40 in 2000 to £7.49 in 2017, with prices in London theatres particularly expensive – one notable extreme is the newly launched Odeon Luxe in Leicester Square, where tickets can reach up to £40 in the premium seats at peak times. Of course, that’s an outlier targeting a certain type of audience, and there are cheaper screens around in the capital, plus specific deals on certain days of the week and other ways to make a cinema trip more affordable – indeed, average ticket prices may well drop this year for the first time since 2001. But access to cinema is something that’s all too easy to take for granted, and just because something is screening in one cinema, that doesn’t mean that film lovers living anywhere else should have to embark on a pricey pilgrimage to see it.
Of course, the relationship between cinemas and streaming services is one fraught with tension, as exhibitors fear that closing the traditional theatrical window to allow for earlier digital releases could see them lose footfall and revenue. That’s a symptom of many other factors, though, including rowdy audience behaviour in multiplexes, short-staffed chains where carefully monitored project has become a dying art, as well as the cost of any notable expense in an economy where people are increasingly feeling the pinch. The pressure is on cinemas to make themselves not only an accessible experience, but a superior and desirable one too.
The pressure is also on Netflix to provide choice for those who do want to experience films such as Roma on the big screen. The streaming giant has so far been restricted in what it hails as a theatrical release. Roma, at its widest point, will be available in 600 cinemas worldwide, compared to a 1,000+ release for a mainstream release in the USA alone, and this is Netflix’s biggest cinema push to date. In the UK, only a limited number of screens in the UK are selected for distribution – typically comprising the (excellent) Curzon chain of cinemas. There are signs of this expanding to other indie chains, including cinemas in Scotland and Ireland (but sadly not Wales yet), but there’s a way to go for this to improve, let alone the complicated negotiations ongoing in Hollywood to work out a compromise for digital releases that will satisfy studios and multiplexes. Netflix, though, isn’t the enemy in this scenario. Recent research by Ampere Analysis suggests that there is “no obvious negative impact of Netflix growth on box office takings” based on markets in North America and Western Europe. Rather, it’s a response to, and part of the impetus for, a change that has been a long time coming, as the industry has to evolve to stay up-to-date with culture, technology and consumers. You may recall that back in 2013, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg predicted that the movie-going landscape would shift, with bigger cinemas offering major blockbusters at higher prices and everything else finding a home in living rooms.
As things stand in 2018, choice is important, but you can’t have choice without access, and that’s what Netflix – and streaming in general – provides. Roma can currently be seen anywhere on almost device, which means you can currently experience one of the most powerful pieces of art from the last 12 months on a tablet in the bath if you so want. That level of access is unprecedented, and is something to celebrate not lambaste.
Those excitedly proclaiming you should see Roma in the cinema probably don’t mean that those who can’t afford to, or can’t make it, should be excluded altogether, but in the current marketplace, that’s what could have happened – a traditional route would likely see Roma receive a limited theatrical push, with many people missing it altogether and left waiting for an eventual DVD or VOD release. Right now, Netflix’s release of Roma means that no audiences are left out (and won’t be for years to come, as the film remains available to stream). Films are, after all, made to be seen by people – preferably, as many people as possible.
At VODzilla.co, we’re fans of the way that VOD can offer platforms to new voices and provide support for filmmakers who wouldn’t otherwise get to share their stories. We’re also fans of Netflix, Amazon and others releasing their films on the big screen – you can see our guide of where to see Roma in UK cinemas here. But most of all, we love the way that VOD opens doors to anyone, anywhere, whether it’s your parents, your work colleagues, your friends or that randomer you recommended the film to on the bus. Yes, there are layers of additional artistry in Roma that you can appreciate in the cinema, but the emotional impact of Alfonso Cuaron’s masterpiece translates to any screen. How you see Roma doesn’t matter – what matters is that you do.
Roma is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.