“It was a shame how he carried on”

Ordinarily, Netflix requires that you remain indoors, slumped all over the couch and binge-watch all their TV shows and films which took forever and a day to make, only to be consumed in mere hours.

This Saturday (and Bank Holiday Monday), Netflix is making me (well, they’re not – but the tickets are free) take the train up to London’s South Bank to attend a limited exhibition of art, scenery and puppets from their forthcoming series: The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance.

I’ve been a huge fan of Jim Henson since I can remember, and The Dark Crystal (along with Labyrinth) was a major departure from the craziness of The Muppets. Featuring state of the art puppetry for the time, The Dark Crystal featured absolutely no humans – only spectacularly crafted puppets. It was also dark in tone. I remember when the emperor Skeksis dies – not only did it feature a jump scare, but the crumbling away of his flesh terrified me as a kid. There was nothing quite like it. And although the film floundered at the box office originally, it’s become a cult favourite since its release on home platforms.

There was the talk of a sequel for many years, but nothing ever materialised in the form of a TV or film. Ultimately the sequel became a graphic novel. But the talk of producing something relating to The Dark Crystal carried on. And now we have a prequel which tells the story of the Gelfling uprising against the evil Skeksis in a mini-series which will be airing on Netflix on the 30th August.

So I had to jump at the chance at being able to see the artwork and puppets. On Bank Holiday Monday, Louise Gold, one of the original members of The Muppet Show, a talented puppeteer, actress and singer, will be giving a talk during the screening of the first episode of Age of Resistance.

I’ll be filing my report as soon as I can. Hoping to come away with plenty of photos (and possibly video).


 (*) With apologies to Boney M.

Netflix has confirmed that it is removing AirPlay support from its iOS application due to ‘technical limitations’.

My concern with this is that it’s taking away one very useful feature – the ability to stream Netflix shows on TVs that have built-in AirPlay (and subsequently AirPlay 2) support. If you’re doing a lot of travelling – whether for business or pleasure – this can be extremely useful.

You could argue that a lot of TVs have a built-in Netflix app already? Yes, this is true. But many hotel TVs don’t. Will Netflix look to make up for potential connectivity problems by attempting to sell dongles or TVs with Netflix built to hoteliers?

I don’t want to have to provide credentials for my Netflix account to completely strange TV setups. AirPlay ensures that my credentials stay secure on my phone (though I’d use a VPN if I was on a hotel Wi-Fi – which could cause problems with Netflix’s policy of using VPNs – another problem Netflix has got to sort out because using a VPN has legitimate uses).

What next, Netflix? The ability to output content from Netflix via Lightning/USB-C to HDMI (which would enable you to hook up Netflix from an iPhone or iPad to a TV or monitor)?

Netflix is becoming awkward on the iOS platform because its app doesn’t support the interactive features that are present in the Black Mirror special, Bandersnatch. And this means other planned titles are unlikely to work either.

The Netflix app on Sky Q is becoming a big problem too. I frequently find that the app on the Sky Q box keeps crapping out, forcing me to switch over to the Apple TV 4K. The Netflix app on the Sky Q can handle interactive features but given that I consider the Sky Q app to be unstable, it’s not

Is the once durable and available everywhere Netflix app becoming a liability and non-consumer friendly? It certainly looks like it. And if Netflix continues on this path, and increases the subscription price, it will be a streaming/cable service like any other and I’m going to stop subscribing.

The recent BAFTA and Oscars have stirred up a hornet’s nest of trouble from the likes of Steven Spielberg, Vue and Cineworld cinemas who have objected to the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime Video winning awards for movies that have debuted on their streaming services.

Vue and Cineworld have been spitting feathers at BAFTA because, they claim, the eligibility for films being nominated aren’t fair because Netflix and Amazon streamed films aren’t available on the big screen. Or if they are, they’re not in cinemas long enough.

I get it. They’re cinemas and want bums on seats and their sole business is to show films. Though these days, some cinemas also specialise in live theatre performances which are broadcast live. Or some even show TV shows on the odd occasion (Doctor Who springs to mind). Their bread and butter is to show things on the largest screen possible.

ALAS!

Spider-man, spider-man, shown on the smallest cinema screen..

Cinemas these days are fighting a losing battle. Have you been recently? I went last Sunday to watch the Oscar-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse which was absolutely incredible. Very worthy of its win, and should have won Best Picture as well. Loved it. But:

  • It was shown on the smallest screen in the cinema.
  • The seats were filthy and worn-out. And this particular chain, even in with bigger screens, the seats are uncomfortable.
  • What was once a mighty foyer with snacks and drinks galore is a mere shadow of its former self. The nachos I had weren’t fantastic. The choice of drinks and snacks are abysmal. And costly.

And my general complaint about most cinemas are:

  • Trailers and adverts are not shown in the correct aspect ratio – you have black bars (like you do on TV) for everything.
  • You’re constantly made to feel like a criminal by numerous reminders about not recording the soundtrack or video of the cinema screen.
  • Ticket prices are expensive.
  • The quality of the cinema and presentation vary enormously between different cinema chains and towns.
  • Costs of time and travelling to the cinema and back again.
  • People playing with their bloody mobile phones.
  • People walking in after the film starts.
  • People talking throughout the film.
  • Seat quality. You often pay extra for this, and I don’t mind that too much, but there should be more expensive seats on offer.

Cinema is a shared experienced – especially with family and friends. I get it. But now with the same technology being made for the living room (Dolby in particularly are doing well with their Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos systems), you can experience the same thing at home with a large(ish) TV and decent sound system. Nobody is ever going to have the kind of screen and sound system that IMAX offers, but it’s still pretty damn good – home entertainment has improved leaps and bounds over the years.

As has the ability to finance films. It’s a whole different ball game with theatrical releases versus streaming (effectively you’ve already bought a ticket), and theatrical releases are far more risk averse as a result (and to the consumer too – you spend over £40 for a family day out to the cinema for a film nobody likes, you bet you’re going to be upset).

I watched Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma (which rightly won in the categories it was nominated for at the BAFTA and Oscars), and it’s truly an excellent film. He’s done extraordinarily well with it – as writer, director and cinematographer. I watched it on a 60″ TV in 4K (without HDR) and thought it was visually stunning (my former employers, MPC, were responsible for the visual effects and there is one sequence that knocked my socks off – my brain trying to figure out how it was done – and I was wrong!). Roma deserves to be nominated (and to win) as much as everybody else, regardless of how it was financed and distributed.

Imagine the fuss if a YouTube film won an Oscar or BAFTA. The old school and the cinema chains would spontaneously combust.

Spielberg’s complaint is that he wants to preserve the theatrical experience. I get it. I really do. When I was much younger it was a treat to go the cinema. Prices were reasonable. The seats were enormous and comfortable. The big screen was the big screen. And there were very many more cinemas around. Very happy memories of watching the likes of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi and Back to the Future (at the Empire Leicester Square no less). I’ve been on a few dates to the cinema, been to the cinema with my mates, and all sorts. But over the past 5 or 6 years, things have slowed down a lot. Cinemas have been closing down. Television has become more interesting.

Some films I’ve had real problems getting to see due the very limited theatrical run. I can only seen them via physical disk purchase, iTunes (or similar) or via one of the streaming service. Should those films still be eligible for Oscars or BAFTA? And what of screeners and VOD that the Academy hands out to members? I’m told it’s a last resort, but even civilians like me don’t have the time (or inclination) to go to the cinema or the time.

Films are films regardless of however they’re made. This is the 21st century. We have the technology. But people want their films to be wherever they are. Whether that be in the cinema, on TV, on their mobile devices. It’s high time that the old school (I include Cannes in this) wake up and smell the coffee.