Monday, 4 October 2010

Augmented Reality Part II: Imagine Greater

As well as the settings there are also differences in the history of the two media: Cinema was invented and popularized by conjurors and showmen and has always been about the spectacle. In the first ever public showing of the Lumière Brothers’ Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat, audiences were thrilled and terrified by the image of a steam train heading towards them. Fans of all the recent 3D films should agree that little has changed since those days. Special effects have been a crucial part of the cinema experience since its origins in the 1890s.

Please put on your 2D goggles now...

Scottish inventer John Logie Baird, who built the first working television system, was a scientist and humanitarian and was said to believe that if viewers could see how their fellow humans lived in other countries and societies, war between them would no longer be possible. The biblical quotation “Nation shall speak unto nation” remains a catchphrase at the BBC. Television has since been driven forward by governments and a wide range of commercial interests, and has been as much about the news agenda, documentaries and public service broadcasting as it has been about drama and the arts.

So you could argue that television is more about reality or realism and cinema is about hyper-reality or augmented reality. This is why "reality TV" makes sense as a trend - love it or hate it, it's a logical evolution of the TV medium and takes it in the opposite direction to cinema.

Documentaries are made for TV and cinema but differently. Cinema documentaries are often driven by strong beliefs and provocative agendas. Take Morgan Spurlock, Michael Moore and Al Gore’s work as examples. Television documentaries often seek to appear (sometimes misleadingly) neutral either by presenting balanced, opposing views or through reality TV.

Movements in cinema to reject augmented reality have arguably failed to do so: instead reality becomes augmented in new and exciting ways. Gritty reality films such as Fish Tank tend to expand into exaggerated, gritty hyper-reality. The camcorder viewpoint and mockumentary styles have led to a fresh way of making fantasy films, as seen in The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, Cloverfield and District 9. And if you can’t see that dogme films are the most augmented realities of all then I’m sorry but I can’t help you anymore.

My point is, far from converging, these differences between cinema and television are still very valid - in some ways they're actually moving further apart. And perhaps this is something to accept, encourage or even celebrate.


Monkey Migraine said...

Interesting analysis. I never thought about the differences between documentaries on TV and movies. Something like "Survivor" or " American Idol" would never work as movies.

Sci-Fi Gene said...

I agree MonkeyMigraine - I think the tools these shows use to create a false sense of reality, such as live phone ins and performances, or the way the events are presented and spun out over several weeks, are unique to TV. The opportunity to place adverts in the middle of a show right before final results are revealed might also be a factor in their success.