Sunday, December 08, 2019

The Aeronauts

First things first - The Aeronauts isn't perfect, but it's kind of my thing in a way that a certain movie last week wasn't, and with the Coolidge only having so many 70mm showtimes, with a few being preempted to show something else in the big room, I'd recommend trying to catch it there (or at your local place with 70mm projection) this week if possible. It's a throwback to the kind of movies that are often the most fun at the Somerville's 70mm festival - the type meant to impress you on the big screen first and foremost - and pretty family-friendly to boot (I'm not sure, how exactly, it got a PG-13 despite being chaste, non-violent, and having fairly mild language used).

It won't be in theaters long, since Amazon at some point looked at it (and their general strategy of playing nice with theater chains' demands for a three-month window) and decided they'd be better off with a small release and quick move to Prime. I can't necessarily blame them; a lot of people probably look at a trailer with the Amazon or Netflix logo and think "no need to bother, I'll stream it soon enough", and while shipping DCP drives to theaters isn't as costly as shipping reels of 35mm film, it's not nothing, either. So while I lament this big-screen movie not getting the sort of exposure it deserves, I get it. Amazon/Netflix/Hulu/etc. productions are undeniable gambles for exhibitors.

Something else I read on social media got me interested, though, that we're all having conversations of The Irishman and Marriage Story because they were able to hit the country at mostly the same time. In truth, I think it's kind of the next evolution of the platform release - they play bigger cities for a month, and then drop on the service - but it got me thinking: What's the ideal roll-out strategy in this age, to both make it easy for everyone to see something without being left behind and not necessarily hurt cinemas? So I made this:

It covers the Boston area, and it's kind of a weird graph. You can really drop everything to the left of the zero line because it's a preview of Uncut Gems messing things up, for starters, and the first weekend of December is a weird outlier in many cases because studios just don't do anything here; in most cases you would probably see zero be the high point. That spike at two weeks represents Frozen II being a monster with A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood boosting it further. That bump around eight weeks is driven by Korean movie Parasite, of all things, with Jojo Rabbit at seven and The Joker (which got a few extra times this week on Imax) at nine, and I wonder to what extent their being indies and maybe offering theaters better terms than major studio productions has them hanging around.

That zero at six weeks is telling, though - you can pretty much expect a movie to run its course in a month and a half. We can lament the loss of multi-month runs, but they're not coming back. Still, it seems like six weeks is about when things are just gone from theaters and there shouldn't be any harm in putting them on streaming services then, especially if the goal is cultural relevance. Of course, that would effectively shorten the window more, as people decide that it's really easy to wait. No big deal for the likes of Amazon and Netflix, who probably see the theatrical screenings as just advertising and prestige-building, but rough for other studios and exhibitors.

I wonder, though, if it might make sense to realign some things as other studios become more like the streamers, though, with Disney+ already here, Peacock and HBO Max coming next year (although, don't get me started on them being named after the TV side rather than the film side), and Hulu and CBS All Access probably effectively becoming Fox+ and Paramount+. I could very easily see the windows change so that corporate-cousin streaming happens at six weeks and other streaming/home video happens much further down the road than the current three months (six? twelve?). Probably not great for theaters unless studios start taking a smaller percentage of ticket sales, or make peace with theaters dropping ticket prices so they can get more people in to buy popcorn and soda.

The trouble there is that's really a model only the huge studios can afford, and probably locks us into not having new studios arise unless they can get their hands on some sort of library. Which feels a lot like "there is no good answer" to actually getting these movies seen on the big screen and how they'll be handled in the future.

The Aeronauts

* * * (out of four)
Seen 7 December 2019 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (first-run, 70mm)

The Aeronauts is not going to be quite so impressive when you see it on a small screen (which most will, given Amazon will have it streaming two weeks after its North American theatrical release), and there are bits that don't totally fit together, but this is such a treat visually that I'll cut out some slack. On top of that, it's the exact sort of thing I'm always looking to find for my nieces, full of discovery and adventure but not violence.

It's framed by an ascent in a hot-air balloon in 1862, which will incidentally attempt to break the altitude record of the time - which is how it has been sold to the assembled crowd - but whose true purpose is for scientist James Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne) to record air pressure, temperature, and the like at various altitudes. The pilot is Amelia Rennes (Felicity Jones), and they both consider the path that led them there as they fly to the clouds: For him, it's fighting the scientific establishment's belief that Glaisher's dreams of predicting the weather is folly; for her, it involves the memory of her aeronaut husband Pierre (Vincent Perez) plunging to earth while she was in the basket during their last ascent.

Neither of those flashback threads is terribly interesting, even if we hadn't already seen that they were in the balloon five minutes into the movie, and they seem to be interspersed throughout from sheer structural necessity, because otherwise the audience would just be the flight in real time, and an hour of meticulous note-taking will probably not be to all tastes. I'd be curious to see if there's a more chronological cut of the film that does a better job of using all of these things to build to the final flight, or missing scenes that make the lead-up less choppy, because there is a fair amount that seems to be missing, from how they got financing to how there's just one scene in the massive hangar where they build the balloon to the fact that there's a missing space between Amelia saying she can't go up in a balloon again to her embracing the showmanship of her first scene.

Full review at EFilmCritic

No comments: