Imagine the scene… You’re at the cinema watching a movie you’ve looked forward to for months. You’re 90 minutes in and the big cliffhanger moment looms: Bond goes in for the kill, the drama reaches fever pitch, guy gets girl, the villain of Star Wars Episode VII is revealed, a priceless Will Ferrell slapstick set piece kicks in… And then a “bullet screen” pops up alongside the movie emblazoned with the words, “OMG totes amaze!”
Sounds crazy, right? But it’s already happening and could be on its way to a multiplex near you. The idea is being tested in Chinese movie theatres where audiences have been able to text their thoughts about the movie they’re watching on to the screen next to the action. “Kick ass Mark Wahlberg!”
Inspired by Japanese movie streaming websites like Bilibili where users can comment on what they’re seeing and share their views, it’s no surprise that in a culture where most people watch films on mobile devices it’s the inevitable next step. You might argue it’s no different to watching TV while tweeting but would you want to pay for this dubious privilege? We already get distracted by mobiles going off in brightly-lit auditoriums (in case anyone falls over and sues the cinema chain), and the crunch and slurp of people grazing over buckets of popcorn… So do we really need more distraction? Surely we go to the flicks to escape reality not let it creep into our down time?
Some might say it’s simply meeting the audience’s demands led by technology. Well, I suppose if you get dragged along to a Transformers film it might let you vent and, marginally, improve the experience but for truly immersive viewing a film demands our full attention. Kate Bush has politely asked fans not to use mobile phones to take pictures at her comeback gigs this autumn. Maybe film directors should do the same. Would it be fair to judge a film when it’s augmented by distraction? What’s next? Dolby surround sound and 3D can enhance a film but running texts alongside it is just giving a platform for the kind of moronic insight offered by your average Twitter troll.
You don’t wear earphones when you go to a gig and listen to something else if you’re not into the song a band is playing do you? Using your phone in the cinema is like arguing in a library. Save it for later, yeah? They say we get the culture we deserve. No one deserves this. But maybe they can run dual screens of the same film and the home button happy mobile bods can get their text on and all the cinema fans can watch the film in peace. Here’s hoping…