Television and cinema technology developed in parallel. Historically, some TV footage would be filmed and converted for television – watch an old episode of Fawlty Towers and look for the difference between indoor (video) and outdoor (film) scenes.
CGI has become more advanced, increasing the range of things which can be depicted on TV – without throwing the whole series budget away in episode one. Also, watch any episode of the revived Doctor Who (a great example is the episode “42”) and you’ll see constant use of two-tone lighting or reduced colour palettes, and a shallow depth of field, creating a cinematic look which is now found in a lot of the more upmarket TV dramas. Compare to episodes from the old series - the differences are striking. In particular you’ll see much more colourful sets and costumes in older episodes.
Ever since the VCR first reared it’s magnetic head, people have been predicting the demise of the big screen. It hasn’t happened so far. So what are the crucial differences between the two?
One is location: you watch TV in your living room, on your own furniture in your own house. You have the lights on and your familiar life continues around you: a washing machine in the background, family members enter and leave, there’s a squeak from the hamster wheel. Telephones ring. You might eat while you watch, it's a matter of personal preference. The image is small (even now) and you can still see the rest of the room at the edges of your vision. So television is part of your everyday life.
Cinema is a seat in a darkened room far away from home – real life is put on hold, and the noises of the outside world are either blocked by heavy duty soundproofing or drowned out by waves of Dolby Digital. The image is massive - the widescreen cinema format is not arbitrary. It’s exactly the right shape and size to max out your visual cortex and completely engage you in the movie. Everything you see on the screen is larger than life, and the extreme close-up is used to exaggerate this even further: a cutaway to just the actress’s eyes can encompass the whole field of vision for a few seconds.
To be continued…