A very significant event in the evolution of the American lifestyle occurred this past Saturday.
The much-awaited movie Nomadland opened simultaneously in theaters and streamed on Hulu.
Why significant? I think it’s the beginning of the end of the in-cinema habit, or at least a signal that places such as Consolidated and Regal will not be where the money flows any more. They’ll have to pivot to something else.
My wife and I watched it in our home for $5.99 total — not the $9 per person we’d have paid at the theater. There’s a “pause” function, so you can go to the bathroom or refill your bowl of La Gelateria gelato.
I doubt I’ll use a theater again. I might buy a bigger TV set with bigger sound to imitate the theater experience.
But let me tell you about that movie.
Nomadland is really a documentary masquerading as a movie. Yes, those are mostly amateur actors, led by the talented Frances McDormand and David Strathairn, some of them real nomads — mostly elderly folks who live off Social Security and live in RVs, either parked on vacant land in Nevada or in RV parks spread across America.
The setting, Empire, is real. Now a ghost town north of Reno without even a zip code (89405) any more. The gypsum plant closed and everyone moved out. McDormand is Fern, who is widowed, hurt by that status, and hits the road as a nomad.
The movie is slow, like One Night In Miami and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, but as I said it’s really a documentary about some not-so-skilled Americans who work part-time at low-lying jobs and wander from place to place, unsettled, not homeless but houseless.
I don’t see it as a Best Bicture winner. Ma Rainey, The Trial of the Chicago 7, and Promising Young Woman already are on the front burner. But it could win for McDormand because she’s just so damn good at her profession and excels in this performance.
Mainly, it will be historically notable for being among the first theater-streaming simultaneous release. WarnerMedia had announced that it will co-release all of this year’s movies on HBOMax. On Saturday it was Judas & The Black Messiah and coming is Matrix 4. WarnerMedia is making HBOMax 22 percent cheaper for people who sign up for six months. The $69.99 price is just under $12 a month instead of $15. Hulu is $12 a month. Netflix in high definition is $14. Amazon Prime is $10 a month but it charges about $4 extra for relatively new movies and $20 for ultra-popular newbies. But you’re also getting Prime membership for purchases with free shipping included.
Streaming is a balance game: there needs to be a consistent addition of new titles to attract subscribers, with a full library of TV shows and movies to keep people hooked. You likely won’t sign up for HBO Max just to watch Friends, but you might sign up to watch Wonder Woman 1984 and then stick around to watch Friends. But competitors are doing the same thing, often with big franchise rights (Disney) or top acting and directing talent for original works (Netflix, Amazon).
The Verge, a technology news website, says about movie theater outlook now that streaming is everywhere:
“2020 has been one of the most devastating years for the theater industry. It’s tougher than ever to convince people to risk their lives in a theater when studios are making films available to them to watch at home. Theater chains have pointed to studios moving their titles to streaming platforms as a big part of the problem, but the theater industry has struggled for decades.
“In 2019, people, on average, visited a movie theater less than four times, a record low since 2002.”