I was perusing the pages of my second favourite publication, Vanity Fair, recently and came across an interesting article regarding the rise of television and the fall of film. The writer proclaimed that in the past, film went where the money was—adult audiences with disposable income. Today, however, with big screen TVs and PVRs, adults are staying home in droves and movie theatres have become the domain of youth. And what’s on screen reflects that change. I began thinking about my own preferences and realized that, more and more, I enjoy the low, long-term simmer of a good televised drama over the quick boil of a two-hour action movie. I decided to compare my most recently watched blockbuster, The Hunger Games, with a favourite TV show, The Good Wife, to see who came out on top.
I held off on watching The Hunger Games until I had a chance to read the novel on which the film’s based. It didn’t take me long—a five hour airline flight was just enough time to devour the 300 pages of teen-lit. I was very excited to see how director Gary Ross (Pleasantville, Seabiscuit) would bring the story and characters to life on screen. Would we see how torn Katniss, the story’s heroine, felt about her role in the Hunger Games story? Would her hesitation about her romance with Peeta come across to the audience? When the credits finally rolled, I felt a bit cheated. Even though the film clocked in at two hours and 22 minutes, and was very true to the book, the character development that made the novel so meaty was missing from the on-screen story. Like other books-turned-movies where the bulk of the story is told through the main character’s inner monologue (consider The DaVinci Code), this film version couldn’t portray the character’s silent musings and personal debates. And because the whole story has to evolve in under three hours, I walked away feeling less than satisfied, like I had shown up for a roast beef buffet only to be fed a few slices of bread.
Now, contrast that with my latest TV obsession (closely followed by GCB, Game of Thrones and Downtown Abbey, among others) The Good Wife. This show has everything: a knockout cast—Juliana Marguelies, Archie Panjabi, Josh Charles, Christine Baranski, Chris Noth, and Alan Cumming to name just a few of my favourites, a twisty, deep, delicious plot with multiple storylines that weave together seamlessly, fabulous dialogue, meaningful silences, intrigue, office sex . . . It may be cliché, but what is there not to love? And unlike those 1950s TV shows aimed at youthful audiences, today’s television takes the long view when it comes to story arc. Plots play out in weeks, months and even over multiple seasons, rather than in the designated 42 minutes of an episode. In three seasons, Marguelies’ Alicia Florrick has developed immensely as a character, evolving from her uncertain beginnings into a powerhouse lawyer in charge of her own future. Unlike the whirlwind evolution you witness in film (if you’re lucky, that is), the slow development of TV characters seems more organic, giving audiences more time to buy in. It’s no wonder that television is the new frontier for adult audiences.
So, does this mean I’m going to stop going to movies? Not a chance. Even though the blockbuster market is saturated with big screen adaptations of teen novels and much loved comic books, there are still plenty of great performances happening on the silver screen. Besides, when I make popcorn at home, I can’t get that theatre smell quite right.