Screen writer


DONALD CLARKEon asliding scale for going to the moies

HERE’S SOMETHING annoying. You may have read that Peter Jackson’s upcoming The Hobbit is being rendered in a higher frame rate than is usual for feature films. Following advance screening of footage at some awful industry event, the internet was alive with complaints that the hyper-sharp snippet looked like an episode of General Hospital focusing on an outbreak of Orc Syndrome.

That’s not the irritating bit. A story in the Hollywood Reporter suggests that any exhibitor wishing to screen the sharper print will have to pay a premium – and that the extra cost may then be passed on to the consumer. An upgrade is, apparently, required to handle the more rapid stream of images.

Hang on a moment. Are we now getting into a situation where the punter is expected to pay for the film-maker’s extravagance? Not quite. In this instance it is the extra cost incurred by the exhibitor, not the studio or distributor, that could require Hobbit fans to delve a little deeper into their drawstring purses.

A similar excuse was put forward to explain the surcharge on 3D films: the unfortunate cinema owner had, you see, been forced to install expensive digital projection systems.

Still, the notion of introducing a sliding scale for ticket prices is an interesting one. Take poor old Michael Bay. He spends billions of dollars making his emetic Transformers films, but, on release, he is allowed to charge no more than the bloke who made that camera-phone movie about the disabled girl in the woolly hat.

It’s not really fair on the cinemagoer, either. Buy a ticket for Transformers and you get to see robots the size of Mont Blanc flinging small islands at one another. Spend the same amount on Kurt Overdraft’s Introspection Junction and you are presented with somebody who might be Zooey Deschanel (but isn’t) moping fuzzily after somebody who looks a bit like Zach Braff (but isn’t) for 78 low-fi minutes.

We demand value for money. When the Café du Posh stuffs its rare Tasmanian larks with gold leaf and human retinas, the owners charge for it. Meanwhile, down the road, fast-food nuts pay a pittance to poison themselves with rendered cow sludge stuffed between wads of flour-based matting.

It’s only fair. If the producers of the latest superhero makeweight are forced to pay that aging boy-faced superstar $45 million to stand before a green screen, then they should be allowed to extract a bit extra from the customer. That Hungarian film about the dying horse cost less than Biff Buffton’s on-set homeopath. Why not charge accordingly?

Yeah, all right. Capitalism being what it is, you could, despite an increase in some ticket sales, be perfectly justified in arguing that more interesting films shouldn’t be penalised for not wasting vulgar sums of money.

It is, in fact, a dreadful idea. Though not as silly as charging extra for 3D.