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TV Killed The Movie Theater

By Joanna Robinson | TV Reviews | April 16, 2013 | Comments ()


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Over on HitFix this week, TV critic extraordinaire Alan Sepinwall wrote a sterling piece called "How much good TV is too much?" Much of it is some insider TV baseball that can be summed up in one sentence: there's more good TV now than there ever has been before. Sure you can point and sneer at the popularity of "Honey Boo" and "Duck Dynasty" but you can't argue with the fact of "Justified," "Mad Men," "Breaking Bad," "Game Of Thrones," "Shameless," etc. etc. I mention those particular cable beauties because they are, in a sea of choices, some of the most filmic options going.

The cinematic calibre of certain television shows are at the forefront of my thoughts this week as we witnessed both the beginning and ending of two of the most gorgeously rendered TV shows in recent memory. Though it's only in its third week and it's way too early to call it a masterpiece, there's no denying that NBC's "Hannibal" is an absolute visual stunner. The show's creator Bryan Fuller ("Pushing Daisies," "Wonderfall") is certainly no stranger to impressively framed and executed shots. But he's imbued his newest take on the police procedural with such a stunningly, grisly beauty you'll find yourself gasping in delight while simultaneously cringing at the subject matter. (If you missed last week's episode and you have a cast-iron stomach, this indelible image is one of the most incredible things I've ever seen.) For those with a weaker constitution, I'll include a less repugnant, but no less arresting visual below. (H/T Cindy)

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But, with apologies to "Justified" and "Mad Men," the most impressively beautiful piece of television I've seen this year is The Sundance Channel's original mini-series "Top Of The Lake." The seven episode show ended its run last night with a two-hour stunner that was worthy of the five hours of slow burning dramatic ecstasy that lead up to it. The bad news is that the show is over. The fantastic news is that it's available as of today on Netflix Instant Watch. The series, written and produced by Academy Award-winner Jane Campion (The Piano, Bright Star), tells the story of a cop (Elisabeth Moss) who returns to her home in a lakeside community in New Zealand to be with her dying mother. While she's there she gets embroiled in the case of a young missing girl and is drawn back into the criminal and social drama of her past. In a stellar piece advocating for the criminally under watched series, Uproxx's Josh Kurp wrote:

If "The Killing," another slow moving detective series that's as much about atmosphere as it is action, had lasted only seven episodes, we might have considered it a modern TV classic. Instead, it's a laughingstock, slowly trudging through the mud into its unnecessary season three. Top on the Lake, on the other hand, seems destined to spend just the right amount of time on its subject matter, before going away for good. Also, the missing girl on Top of the Lake isn't an age-appropriate, attractive female, like on The Killing, a formula we've seen a million times before; it's a 12-year-old girl who's been raped and is now seven months pregnant. Sh*t's dark.

He's right. Sh*t is dark. Drastically so. But like "Hannibal," "Top Of The Lake" is one of the most staggeringly gorgeous things I've ever seen. Filmed entirely on location in Queenstown and Glenorchy in New Zealand, the sweeping vistas of the spare hills and frigid lake are enough to give Peter Jackson a run for his money. The various shots of the lost and frightened characters bobbing along the vast Moke Lake are worth the price of admission alone. (What price?) Moss is joined by a stellar cast including her too-slick sergeant (David Wenham, Lord Of The Rings), the missing girl's terrifying father (Scottish character actor Peter Mullan) and a gray-haired Holly Hunter as the enigmatic leader of a lakeside commune of women. The way in which Mullan's wolf pack of men continuously squares off against Hunter's she-wolves makes for delightful dramatic fodder. The writing's impeccable, Moss's acting astonishing and, as I mentioned, the location should, by rights, have second billing.

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So with this hitherto unknown embarrassment of TV riches, what on earth is left to compel us to go to the movie theater? I used to hit up the cinema every weekend with a pack of friends. In high school? Every Friday night, rain or shine. Maybe it's a by-product of my ever-advancing age. Many of my friends are married or they have kids. Sitters would have to be got, arrangements would have to be made. Maybe it's a decline in quality of what's available in the theaters. (I very much doubt that.) More likely it's the hermit-encouraging convenience of OnDemand and Netflix Instant Watch that's making us all a bit more disinclined to line up at the multi-plex. With the exception of certain tentpole summer blockbusters (The Avengers, Iron Man 3), you don't even need to be overly concerned with missing out on the cultural zeitgeist. The zeitgeist itself is on some sort of convenient time-delay. I reviewed Pitch Perfect for Pajiba right when it came out, of course, but wasn't able to geekily enthuse with anyone about it until the movie hit Netflix. That's the sort of second-wave popular reaction to film that makes many of us reviewers drum our fingers with impatience and frustration.

But hermit-y convenience aside, there's also the ways in which TV can, of course, be a more enriching way to experience a story. The seven hours of "Top Of The Lake" or the five seasons of "Breaking Bad," mean we travel with these characters over time. Our emotional investment of living with them week in and week out (or in one gluttonous spree on Netflix) makes the emotional pay-off all the more poignant. You can't quite get there in two hours. Even with light-as-air sitcoms like "New Girl" and "Parks & Recreation" where we essentially see a classic rom-com plot spun out over several seasons, there is a surprisingly profound emotional connection with the characters. You can't possibly hope to achieve that with a 90 minute Jennifer Aniston vehicle. And, thus, the wedding of Ben Wyatt and Leslie Knope hits us harder than any "you had me at hello"s or boomboxes in the rain. So what's my point? My point is this. If you're going to be a Netflix hermit this weekend, at least spend it with something worth your time? Move "Top Of The Lake" to the top of your queue. You won't regret it.







Are you following Pajiba on Facebook or Twitter? Every time you do, Bill Murray crashes a wedding.


Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • reanalyst

    I'm three episodes into Top of the Lake, thanks to your recommendation, and it is very good, and beautiful. I have a question: How can Robin Griffin (Eliz Moss' character) be a cop in New Zealand, where the series is set, if she's a cop in Sydney? Australia is a different country. Maybe I missed something (and I do miss a lot of the dialogue in the New Zealand accents, sometimes mumbled), but wouldn't that be like a Canadian cop coming in and giving orders at a police department in Virginia? Do the governments of New Zealand and Australia have a special arrangement giving cops jurisdiction in both countries?

  • dizzylucy

    I still have to watch the finale, but agree that Top of the Lake is visually stunning, and the story is very gripping. I watched based on the podcast recommendation (along with Orphan Black which I'm also enjoying). I haven't had a chance to see Hannibal yet, but want to and am glad to hear it's good. I want networks to put up good shows too, not just cable.

    I still love movies. I still go to the movies, and there are some that are without a doubt better experienced in the theater. But if I had to choose, I'd go with TV. I've always loved TV, from the 80s sitcoms to the amazing dramas on now. I look forward to a new episode of Justified or Breaking Bad so much more than any film. Following a great story for years (hopefully), going on that journey and discussing it with other fans, knowing the characters all happens on TV in a way just doesn't happen in films, at least not for me.

  • ,

    The death of the movie theater will be a suicide. A long, slow, painful suicide.

  • F'mal DeHyde

    I haven't enjoyed movie theaters in years and I can't remember the last one I've been to. Sticky floors and arm rests, uncomfortable chairs that hurt my back after ten minutes, the moron behind me either kicking the chair back or having his feet up on the back of the seat and the goo from the floor on his shoes sticking to my hair, people eating with their mouths open, cellophane crinkling through the whole movie which leads me to assume they bought five pounds of twizzlers, my aging bladder needing to be emptied every 40 minutes... the list is seemingly endless.

    On a positive note, thanks for the netflix recommendation. Those are always appreciated.

  • e jerry powell

    How hasn't Top of the Lake been screened on BBC (not BBC America) yet?

    I'm still putting of VODing it, though. I had to steel myself for Central Park Five on PBS. Damn, that was a painful watch. It actually made me hate all of humanity in a way that usually only Do The Right Thing does.

  • logan

    Excuse me but I love movies. Always have always will. I like movies better than TV because movies are a spectacle. A big bright screen with excellent sound that for 2 hours takes me away to places i can never visit. Some of my best memories are movies. Taking my son to see the original Star Wars movies let me be a kid again. I watched him munch popcorn and get lost in a great romantic adventure. I remember seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark and people stood up and clapped! They cheered on a movie because it was just that awesome. I had never seen that before or since and I will never see it in my living room. A great movie is like a great meal. A special event that you remember forever. You eat every day but you only remember a few meals.
    A tv series even a great one still has bad episodes, still has filler, still has bad characters and bad writing. But a great movie is perfect because it is only 2 hours all the fat has been trimmed away until only the best is left.
    A tv series is like a comic book some issues are excellent some are bad and some are ok. A movie can be good all the way through.
    I like TV just fine, and it is better, but I love movies and I always will.

  • snrp

    Peripherally related: I'm watching Top of the Lake (Netflix Streaming! Right this second!), and I need to talk to someone about what it meeeeeeeans. Please???

  • Haystacks

    Hmm....$11.50 for one movie or watch seasons of my favorite TV shows on Netflix for $7.99 a month?

  • I'll admit my theater-going has slowed waaaayyy down, and in part my calculation is one of whether seeing it on a gigantic screen with dolby sound really matters. Sometimes, yes, and not just for the tentpole eye/ear candy. Otherwise, why travel to pay those prices for crappy nourishment to sit next to people I don't know or want to know, half of whom are annoying with their damn mobile technology or simply cannot shut up.

    Ironically, it may be that so-called 'event TV' represents a future play for theaters, so they can continue to stay open for movies. Smaller screens and seating areas, better quality ingredients for food/drink (and alcohol!), and the ability to self-select. Living Room Theaters, in Portland, is a great example. They should be taking reservations for GoT, Top of the Lake, Hannibal, so friends can gather, perhaps with a slightly extended social circle of friends of friends. All of a sudden, it's a way to build community again. Just like it once was. But the gigantic-is-better-than-huge-is-better-than-large business model has left a giant niche for a public venue to support smaller groups of people. Value > size, and I'll gladly drop the cash for that with craft brews and good eats.

  • F'mal DeHyde

    I like the way you think.

  • Top of the Lake is moody and brilliant and beautiful, and it made me never want to visit New Zealand if everyone down there is that messed up.

  • NZ is one of my dream vacations.

  • Arran

    I'm from New Zealand and I'm fine!

    the angel of death has come to us he is risen a cleansing rain shall come

  • Buck Forty

    I'm sure they'll be pleased to read that, given one of their key industries is tourism!

  • BWeaves

    TV killed the movie theater about 60 years ago. But TVs themselves are finally up to the point that they are probably better than the actual big silver screen experience because I can have my own chair and stop and start and rewind or put on subtitles, or whatever I want without dealing with other people around me. Also, besides renting movies, I agree, TV programs themselves are getting better, but you have to search them out.

    There is a thing that I find disappointing is watching a movie I found funny in the theater, at home. For some reason, other people laughing, helps prompt me to laugh. At home, I might not laugh out loud, or as long, and that makes the timing of the pause after the joke seem weird and too long. Whereas, that pause in the action seemed just right in the theater.

    TV shows have the advantage of being as long as they need to be to tell a story, and develop the characters. The Brits are good at not making a miniseries too long. Americans tend to drag everything out too long or for extra seasons.

  • dizzylucy

    I agree, especially with comedy films. I've laughed at many that seem pretty humorless at home.

  • I agree about the theater experience too. Some movies are made to be viewed with others in the theater. The only movies I see on a consistent basis now are the classic series at Cinemark. They always pick great movies and many are sweeping epics. There is just something about seeing them on the big screen.

  • Jerce

    I have to agree about the audience experience in a theater. We re-watched The Avengers at home and I was more than a little disappointed--it just wasn't as thrilling and many of the jokes seemed flat, at home. Being part of a big audience really is an enhancement for certain experiences.

  • clatie

    Well, let's see...
    Last weekend I thought "hey, let's go to a movie", searched up what was out and came to the conclusion that I'd rather stay home and tuck into a couple of eps of something actually good. Plus, I didn't have to pay the babysitter or wear outside clothes! It was a bit of a no-brainer.

  • Love the argument against outside clothes! Your in my head!

  • Jerce

    Everything you say about the quality of modern TV is true.
    However, I believe that what is really killing the movie theater is high-quality big-ass home televisions.
    We have a 56" motherfucker with surround sound; every cracker's dream. Nowadays, we only go to the movies for a) a true eye-candy blockbuster that we wanna see two stories high or b) something we want to see so much we won't wait for it to come out on DVD/stream.
    One antidote is theaters with an improved atmosphere. Here in San Antonio we have the Alamo Drafthouse, the movie theater of my dreams. I never want to go anywhere else for a movie again. And theaters of this type are springing up all over the US--do yourselves a huge favor and have a look around your area for one.

  • ,

    Alamo Drafthouse

    *weeps*

    Fuck you, Carmike.

    You too, Hollywood.

  • Buck Forty

    seeing Rosaria Dawson's vagina two stories high in 'Trance' was it's only saving grace.

  • JoannaRobinson

    ::bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz::

  • JoannaRobinson

    (That's not what you think it is, peeps.)

  • Not sure anyone's thinking at this point.

  • John G.

    I can think whatever I want.

  • toblerone

    A lack of Originality "Killed the Movie Theater" I.M.O. Add the high ticket prices (extra cost for 3-D), concessions, etc, and then multiply that by all the mouth-breathing, talking, cell phone checking rude people avoiding theaters should be expected.

    So far there are only three movies I'm willing to pay to watch in a movie theater this year: Star Trek, Superman, and Only God Forgives all of which I feel will require a theater to get the full effect intended by the directors. Don't get me wrong, movies are meant to be shared experience but when you add up all of the factors above it's not surprising people stay at home.

    TV isn't and never will be a bastion for original thought but it does allow producers greater latitude.

    *Bob's Burger's did the same bathroom scene from "The Shining" in "Crawl Space".

    **Additional Random Rant on Television: HBO, Showtime, etc have a huge advantage over networks because they don't have to deal with commercials. I will download a show (such as Hannibal or Doctor Who) just to watch it uninterrupted or start watching it 10 to 30 minutes late so I can skip the commercials (which is still annoying as hell and not as good as downloading). I would even be willing to pay a premium to networks if they had the option of commercial free programming. Imagine watching G.O.T with commercials?

    Cable also has the another advantage because they do shorter runs (6 to 13 episodes) and I think NBC, ABC, and CBS and other networks should do the same. More shows, year round with short runs. Shorter runs also usually allow for better storytelling.

  • Siege

    It doesn't help that theaters are unbearably expensive and full of uncomfortable chairs and noisy jerks. Plus, I can't pause the movie theater if I have to pee.

  • John W

    I had to skip over most of your post because I haven't seen the finale for Top of the Lake yet but, your absolutely right there really is no reason to go to a theater these days. there's so much good stuff on TV it's amazing (unfortunately there's also a lot of crap too).

    I think Grantland had an article a couple of years ago talking about how the Sopranos ushered in a golden age of television and they're right.

    I haven't even watched three of the best shows on TV right now: Breaking Bad (although I finally plowed through season 1 last weekend), Justified, and Sons of Anarchy.

  • I was literally just discussing this yesterday with a friend. I was reading the summer preview edition of Entertainment Weekly and almost all of the movies looked like absolute shit. There were probably only 3 or 4 that I want to see and I'll probably only see 1 in theaters. I'd pick modern television over modern movies any day of the week.

  • Less Lee Moore

    That's because you're reading Entertainment Weekly and not movie blogs that cater to more quality fare. There are a LOT of smaller-budget films out there worth seeing, trust me. Look at articles about film festivals for a start.

    Granted, it will be harder if not impossible to see these films in theaters, but there are new and upcoming films worth seeing at home.

  • koko temur

    I finished 5th episode only an hour ago, no words of how "this!" this is. Stellar.
    i seeked it solely because of your reccomendation, and boy am i grateful.

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