Whether we like it or not, we need to come to terms with today’s changing ways of viewing a film . - BLOOMBERG FILE PIC
Whether we like it or not, we need to come to terms with today’s changing ways of viewing a film . - BLOOMBERG FILE PIC

The transformations brought about by digital technologies have given rise to media convergences, resulting in film becoming accessible across multiple platforms and settings.

This has significantly impacted its exhibition and viewing. The Covid-19 pandemic has contributed further to the changing ways in which films are viewed, particularly when cinemas are closed and new releases postponed.

For example, streaming media like Netflix, Amazon, Disney Plus and Mubi have made major strides in becoming preferred platforms for film lovers.

On a positive note, streaming platforms have enabled a handful of local films to be released globally, increasing circulation and the reception for such small, independent productions as Roh (Emir Ezwan, 2020) and Geran (Areel Abu Bakar, 2019).

Roh, which garnered the best film accolade at the recent 31st Malaysian Film Festival, has generally received rave reviews, including from The New York Times and Variety, for evoking an atmospheric sense of existential dread.

In addition, Film Movement, a New York-based distributor of independent and foreign films, has acquired North American rights to Roh for a theatrical and virtual cinema release.

Geran was released in the US under the title Silat Warriors: Deed of Death after winning an award at the Asian New York Film Festival. The critical reception in North America generally praised its well-choreographed action scenes that highlight silat and the film's spiritual dimension.

It should be noted that contemporary films are now regularly viewed privately on video screens, ranging from domestic television (TV) sets to hand-held devices.

Streaming may show up in the form of "home cinema" — an attempt to reproduce near cinema-quality sight and sound at home.

Digital technology offers high definition, video projectors and surround sound speaker systems. And, at affordable prices.

On the one hand, the domestic consumption of films via streaming platforms may detach the viewer from the interpersonal bonds and sense of socialisation in a cinema environment.

On the other, engaged home viewing of a film via streaming (or other platforms) with family and friends may reflect a more robust social experience than, say, a multiplex screening attended by a handful of viewers.

Therefore, watching a film in the theatre is still the best way to feel the total cinema experience because the viewer will be immersed in the film for its duration without any interruptions.

Film platforms and technologies like TV, VHS, DVD, LaserDisc, Blu-ray and streaming make it possible to change the viewing in terms of content and time, thereby segmenting and fracturing the whole experience.

Digitisation and media convergence have heralded in an era in which cinema has been devalued and made synonymous with "content".

In fact, digital technology is often seen as having the potential to destroy the art of cinema by promoting "content" as the be-all and end-all. It's not surprising if the "look" of many Malaysian films today has become somewhat similar to that of TV dramas.

Cinema is not just about storytelling, but how the stories are told. What makes the cinema unique are the cinematography, editing and sound, which help shape a film's idea and story.

These formal components may guide and enrich viewers understanding and overall experience, introducing them to a wide range of details and insights which can rarely be encountered elsewhere.

One of the reasons for going to cinemas is to immerse ourselves in the collective experience of the darkened hall.

Watching films on small screens like a laptop or smartphone is a second-rate experience that undermines much of the film's potential.

Nevertheless, whether we like it or not, we need to come to terms with today's changing ways of viewing a film, some of which transcend the traditional environment and space, by shifting the viewer into more mobile and flexible situations.

Previous technological innovations, including pre-digital technologies such as TV, VCR and cable television, which allegedly served as potential rivals to the cinema, have not totally replaced the traditional forms of theatrical screening and viewing.

The cinema, to date, has survived the predictions of its downfall while becoming more adaptable and sophisticated.

On that note, let us hope that old and new modes of film consumption will continue to co-exist in mutual harmony with one enriching and complementing the other.

The writer is a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Film, Theatre and Animation, Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM)

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the New Straits Times