Coronavirus: How Disney Plus could help change the way we view movies

Mia Goth and Anya Taylor-Joy in the latest version of Jane Austen's Emma.which has now transferred f

Mia Goth and Anya Taylor-Joy in the latest version of Jane Austen's Emma.which has now transferred from cinemas to online Photo: Focus Features/IMDB - Credit: Archant

With the nation shuttered away in our homes, Disney have chosen the right moment to launch Disney Plus, their new streaming service, which may help signal the end of the traditional cinema experience

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker provides the final chapter of the Star Wars saga and is going onlin

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker provides the final chapter of the Star Wars saga and is going online earlier than planned to help Disney Plus combat the effects of Coronavirus isolation Photo: LucasFilm - Credit: Archant

In normal times, Easter would be looming on the horizon, the first of the summer blockbusters would be prepped to land during the school holidays and the Cannes Film Festival would be gearing up to deliver the next 12 months worth of award-winners.

But, these are not normal times. The first of the year’s big blockbusters, Disney’s live-action remake of Mulan has been pulled from the schedules and is currently awaiting a new date. Similarly, Daniel Craig’s swan song as James Bond, No Time To Die, has been moved from April to November 12.

Cinemas are closed, social distancing is being enforced, in an attempt to stem or slow the Coronavirus outbreak, so you would think that film fans would be, by now, howling at the moon in frustration, struggling to cope with the lack of new films, grabbling with the feeling that they are missing out on seeing the new Black Widow movie or some other big screen attention-grabber.

But, thankfully in the 21st century technology is at hand to turn disaster into salvation. When Elizabethan theatres were closed during plague scares, there was no recourse. Theatres stayed shut, the acting companies were forced to flee London and perform outside inns and taverns away from London.

Today, anyone’s front room can become your bespoke cinema thanks to large screen TVs, sophisticated sound systems, streaming services and even libraries of good, old-fashioned DVDs.

In the past, movie studios have jealously guarded their 12 week window but now that buffer zone has all but been abolished. Disney Plus has been launched just as the UK enters lockdown, which must be perfect timing as far as they are concerned, and while they are not offering big screen releases just yet, it may just be a matter of time.

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Disney Plus has been much heralded, especially since it took over 20th Century Fox brought together under one roof the not only the Fox back catalogue of movie hits from the previous 80 years but also amalgamated the current big franchises of Star Wars, Marvel and Disney – along with Pixar, of course.

Disney have seized the Coronavirus initiative by announcing that they are planning to release Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker and Frozen 2 on digital channels much earlier than originally planned, all part of their promotion of Disney Plus.

Although, Warner Brothers have denied that they are releasing the Wonder Woman sequel online, rivals Universal have announced that they do not have such qualms and have already moved some of the cinema releases onto streaming services.

Rather than release new films, they have moved films that were playing in cinemas when the lockdown struck, onto streaming services months ahead of schedule which means you can see new films like the remake of Jane Austen’s Emma, the action/horror flick The Hunt and Leigh Whannell’s acclaimed, if slightly translucent, take on The Invisible Man right now.

Although purists, such as myself, recoil in horror at the thought that a big screen movie, would be presented to audiences on TV first, I fear that the mood of the nation is against us. Big spectacle movies (ie the summer blockbusters) may well still secure a big screen release but smaller films will, from now on, routinely debut on streaming platforms.

The way that thoughtful thrillers and comedy-dramas have moved out of the cinema and into the world of big budget, long-form television has proved that this is not always a bad thing. And to be fair, cinema distributors themselves have performed a poacher-turned-gamekeeper transformation act.

Art-house circuit and distributors Curzon along with the bastion of British cinema heritage the BFI both have launched day and date streaming services in the last two years which allow members to screen films on release rather than go to a cinema to see them.

It is clear that when our period of isolation is over the cinematic landscape will be very different indeed.

Increasingly your sofa will be considered to be your multiplex or your art-house den. Your fibre-broadband enabled, smart-screen TV will be able to supply any number of films from any number of screening services or archives, for the payment of what may appear to be a modest fee but they all add up.

Big screen entertainment will still exist but it will merely be to showcase, big screen spectacle. Those quirky Oscar films, those independent movies shot for effect in black and white and all foreign language films will probably end up on screening services, yearning for a collective audience reaction – a laugh or a gasp.

The most lasting effect of the Coronavirus will be how we interact with our fellow human beings. I fear that we will become more wary of physical contact, more nervous of social interaction. Working from home may become the norm and as a result it will be only too easy to slide from the office to the lounge and lose yourself in the latest trending movie ‘event’ without having to leave the house.

I hope I am wrong but big screen cinema looks destined to be the preserve of the summer and Christmas blockbuster and independent cinemas will have to attract customers by offering a more curated programme – mini-festivals and special events – aimed at the true cinephile, offering niche movies and Q&As, things which would be difficult to replicate at home.

Netflix, not wanting to be left behind, have launched an add-on app called Netflix Party which allows family and friends spread across the country to watch the same movie at the same time and stay in contact with one another.

For cinema-purists, who despise talking through films, this would be a nightmare but for many people this would be a way to bond and share their love of a particular movie or movie star but again, if you get a director, actor and screenwriter on board, this technology would be great to provide a commentary track for a classic revival.

Cinema is resourceful, it will survive, but the landscape will be different once our isolation is over.

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