Locus Online
November 2006

Readers respond to Cory Doctorow's essay How High-Definition Is Bad News for SF Flicks

Sunday 19 November 2006

Dear Locus,

I don't see what HDTV has to do with motion picture special effects. An HDTV with a 1080P(rogressive scan) picture still isn't as sharp or as high a resolution as a film at 24fps.

Anamorphic DVDs played with a progressive scan player is only 640P -- One has to buy expensive Blue Ray/HDTV disks to even get close to the full potential of HDTV out of pre-recorded content, and frankly, this isn't a mainstream technology yet, and the amount of pre-recorded HDTV content can currently be counted on one hand.

All the flaws that didn't show up on the 12 inch NTSC screen? They sure as hell showed up in the theater. There's nothing new here with HDTV screens.

The only thing that suffers on an HDTV screen is SF television shows, as their special effects were created for NTSC quality displays. So Bab5 and STTNG look like TV shows from the era that they were created. No big loss, and certainly not the death of Special effects, or Science fiction movies.

Frankly this argument seems as silly as the one put forth about cult horror movies when DVDs first came out. People argued that their favorite low budget horror films looked "Good" in their grainy VHS pirate bootleg editions, but when they are on DVD, all their low budget production values are there on screen, clearly visible, thereby somehow making the movie not as enjoyable. Which is dumb as rocks. Good movies, and good TV shows are good, no matter what the display, or special effects or lack there of. This is why classic movies from the '30s, '40s, '50s and '60s.... Yes, even Special effects dependent genre ones can still be enjoyed today.

The points about special effects tools making it into the hands of indy producers is nearer the mark, but misses the bigger point: It's not the special effects tools that will yield great works of art. It's the right creative people with access to inexpensive/quality video cameras, and inexpensive/quality video editing and animation software. Hell, it's making things like Robert Rodriguez's Troublemaker studios possible. The next George Lucas or Steven Spielberg isn't going to come out of Hollywood, he's going to come out of a garage studio like Troublemaker's, in Austin. (In fact, if the next Steven Spielberg wants to contact me, I've got a project I'm producing, and I need a writer/director to work for a percentage of the back end. :)

And maybe this indeed was the point, but it seemingly has little or nothing to do with HDTV screens, or the FCC's proclivity for demanding digital content. I for one LOVE my HDTV and wouldn't trade it for all the IPOD screens in the Universe.

But this love doesn't preclude me from enjoying the many microbuget video releases and YouTube epics that I see on my computer screen every day. Incidentally, my 2 year old laptop screen has a higher resolution, and sharper screen image then my HDTV, and it doesn't prevent me from enjoying these things at all.


Jeremy Lassen

Wednesday 15 November 2006

Dear Locus,

Where does one start when presented with a farrago of nonsense by someone who has no first-hand experience with that on which he pontificates?

Cory Doctorow does not know the movie business, or why HD will never make anyone blink twice at less than state of the art special effects.

Very few, vanishing small the number watch old sci-fi movies for the special effects. We watch them for the memories, the "Madeleine soaked in tea" experience of remembering the sense of wonder we felt at first viewing and experiencing the images and ideas of a classic old SF film. The story is not the special effects, the medium is not the message. The ideas, the stories are what brings us back to them. Even young people coming to a classic for the first time know this and just ignore the cheesy old effects.

Then there's the "Lucas Technique": Got a classic SF flick with less than state of the art effects? Voila, just wave your hefty checkbook at the problem, and release the "Special Edition" with new updated state of the art effects. You can do this every few years, and the money just rolls in.

As for all of this small screen hoo-haw making Hollywood treat creators better: Hollywood has always had a rep for not treating creators well. All I can say is, Hollywood paid me more for my first ever screenplay, which took me all of a hundred hours to write, than anyone had ever been paid for a first SF novel at that time (1998). I would have had to spend a thousand hours writing two or three novels to make the same money in New York publishing. The next big fight between the Writers Guild and "Hollywood", by the way, is over the payments to creators for those very small screen markets Doctorow touts as being the source of new types of work from "internet native" artists. We heard the same talk when home video came out, and before that when super-16 cameras came out in the '70s, and before that when cheap 16mm cameras became available in the '40s. In each and every case there was a flurry of new talent, new attempts to reinvent the wheel, and then guess what happened? It all settled down to the same old same old big money movies. It's the business model that works.

Doctorow knows a bit about copyright and related issues (though I differ from his "Thieves Guild" approach to copyright), but he is severely ill-informed on film and television.

Kim Owen Smith

Dear Locus,


"Forbidden Planet" is glorious on a 55-inch TV. Yes, when I watch "Star Trek" I see the matte lines move with the spaceships, but even a standard-definition 27-inch set shows most of the spacecraft in "2001" are nothing but 2-dimensional paper cutouts. Often bigger works better than smaller, allowing the viewer to be overwhelmed by the image, rather than nitpick the details. I, too, hold out on HD-DVD vs. Blu-Ray, but only because I refuse to be burned the way Beta-owning people were burned. The industry must either choose one, or Toshiba (& others) needs to market HD-DVD + Blu-Ray hardware. And the prices need to drop through mass marketing... but as long as there are competing formats, the market will remain very small.

Remember that these films were seen on screens much larger than anyone's typical living room, and they must (as all films older than a few months) be seen in historical context. Do we complain that "Citizen Kane", "Things to Come", "Plan Nine from Outer Space" are black and white and not widescreen? I don't.

Cliff Adams

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