Thought today: it would be so nice to watch a movie instead of catching up on TV, since that would be over in a few hours, and done. A diversion.

Wait, what? A movie would be a diversion from… entertainment?

There has been a large shift in visual entertainment over the last 10 years. Maybe it’s just my tastes. More likely, a combination of both. There is still the big budget movie experience. But it’s mostly irrelevant now. I rarely go to a movie, and when I do, I do not expect to experience anything but sheer entertainment. A movie, even with a huge budget, the greatest actors, writers, and director, just cannot have the same emotional impact as a long form work. The classic saying epitomizes this: the book was better.


There are three factors to graph here: emotion, time, and effectiveness, for lack of a better word. I posit that the ratio of time to emotion is roughly equal to the effectiveness of the affectation of the audience. First, let’s talk about a movie.

A movie is a relatively short form of entertainment. Because of this, it is emotionally compressed. Look at Avatar, which is a great example of… something. Anyway, Avatar was supposed to be intense and emotionally connective, peering into what you know to be true but couldn’t ever admit to yourself… eeesh, Avatar is not a good example for this. Let’s talk about Titanic instead. Titanic is a relatively long movie, with numerous intense moments. Highs, lows, middles, great. Awesome. Sad. Death. Life. Etc. Let’s give it a 12,345 on the audience impact scale (AIS: the movie’s impact on the audience, not the other way around). It is a 3 hour movie. 3 / 12,345 = 0.00024. Great.

Have you ever watched the anime Trigun? It’s 24 episodes, each a half hour long. Yep, it’s about a gunslinger named Vash with tall blond hair, who is something a level above human. His brother believes humanity doesn’t deserve to exist, while he believes otherwise. Gee, that sure sounds like something that was recently on tv… black vs white, good vs evil… Jack vs… John Locke? Anyway, Trigun asks the audience some tough questions, like who has the right to decide that another living thing should die? Is there a greater good? Are there shades of gray in terms of morality? Watching the entire show, especially the last half, in a short period of time is emotionally draining. Let’s say it gets an even 9,000 on the AIS. Do the math… 12 / 9000 = 0.0013.

Regardless of how the math actually works, notice how, with less intensity but sustained over a longer period of time, the TV show comes out on top in terms of effectiveness. For the space folk in the audience, it’s the difference between an ion engine and a rocket engine. Sure, the rocket engine gets things going quickly, especially to overcome that initial obstacle called the Earth’s gravity, but the ion engine gets the payload going much faster in the long run, with a lot less expenditure of fuel.

A movie, due to its short form, just cannot have the same impact as a TV series. Look at Lost. Imagine it as a movie. It would be horrible (worse than it already is). It’s not really the ending that matters, it’s that it took so long to get there.

Where in the past, the emotional fix of the people was maintained by hopping from one movie event to another, today it has shifted to the television. This is best reflected in the proliferation of long-running serials, such as The Wire (or so I’ve heard), Lost, and Battlestar Galactica.

Very rarely do I see, “Hey audience, here’s a swift recap in the form of dialog from a main character so that the next thing I say won’t go completely over your head.” It still exists as a “previously, on __”, which is fine. But there is a large sense that the writers are saying, “We don’t care if you don’t remember, because this is the story, and we’re doing what’s best for it, not you.” It’s the Apple mentality: we know best. They want to tell a story, but there will be no handholding.

But back to my initial thought. All of this means that the roles have reversed. Where once a person might prefer a movie as their big experience, their commitment, their quick hit, they now go for the serial for a sustained high that ultimately is more rewarding, yet a lot more effort on the part of the audience. And sometimes, I just want to relax. Who knew staying entertained was so much work these days.

P.S. Points to anyone who got that the title referenced this amazing moment.