The season premiere of Game of Thrones (Season Five) airs on April 12 and there is more excitement and anticipation surrounding the HBO show than any film coming down the immediate pike. Has the state of cinema become so dismal that the smaller screen at home (or computer screen or iPad) beckons more strongly than the big screen? It’s getting close, when long-form TV shows like Game of Thrones are giving audiences what certain kinds of films increasingly are not: majestic sweep, epic scope, unpredictability and faces they haven’t seen a hundred times before. HBO itself is largely to thank for this, going back to The Sopranos, that elongated opera of conflicted mobsters that was engrossing, amusing and disturbing. Adjectives that once upon a time described films like Seven Sarmurai or The Godfather or Kill Bill Vol. 2 and are now used to promote the interchangeable entries in the X-Men franchise.
Even as its limited budget occasionally shows its seams (the meager giants in Season Four), Game of Thrones has a certain and undeniable take-no-prisoners authenticity that remains true to tone, from the Season One shocker of Ned Stark (Sean Bean) getting beheaded to the Red Wedding in Season Three, when you could practically hear a collective gasp in the atmosphere outside your living room. When was the last time you heard a collective gasp in the cinema? Perhaps during last year’s powerful Ida, (directed by Pawel Pawlikowsk ) when Wanda (Agata Kulesza jumped out the window. And to be sure there are smaller films that can pack surprises (Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night comes to mind). This is not intended as a slam against the current state of film but more a note on the evolving nature of long-form television. With more advanced TV sets being developed, movie ticket prices climbing, and a paucity of truly stunning films making it through the financially-dependent development process, what many of us used to seek out in movie theaters can increasingly be found in the comfort of our homes. Perhaps we even need a new name for this long-form television, which is perilously close to replacing the film experience in theaters. Filmovision? Kidding. Still, when was the last time you walked out of a movie theater shaking your head and saying “Wow”? I’m willing to bet that lots of people will be doing just that come 10:00pm this Sunday night. Comments welcome.