5. The Cell Phone: This isn’t really a technology that was directly made for the cinema but it changed the way movies were written. No longer are characters tied to desks, telephone booths, or home phones. All conversations can take place anywhere at anytime and are untraceable. Stop and think about how many movies in the last 10-15 years could not have been made without a cell phone. Almost every modern crime, action, and horror film completely relies on them. Also, cell phones have to be accounted for somewhere in the story. A character will almost always show that they can’t retrieve signal on their cell phone, lose it, or damage it in order for the plot to progress where they are helpless and alone or the audience’s first question is, “Why don’t they just call for help on their cell phone?”
4. Panaglide: I’m sure some of you are saying, “What the hell is Panaglide?” Well, Panaglide was a steadicam that attached by harness to a cinematographer to allow them to have isolation between the movement of the camera and the movement of the operator. This allowed them to get shots that were previously considered impossible. In the past, sets had to be created to allow for fluid movement of the camera and space for dolly tracking and cranes so that it wasn’t done handheld with the “shaky cam” effect. Panaglide solved that problem by creating smooth motion with one operator in cramped spaces. A great example of Panaglide is the opening sequence of the horror classic “Halloween”. The technology allowed the Director of Photography (Dean Cundey) to smoothly move from outside the house, inside and through it, have a murder scene, and then exit the house in one continuous shot in cramped space on location without dolly track on a very limited budget. Remember that great shot in Goodfellas where we are introduced to all the mob characters in one shot? Panaglide. Remember that great shot in Boogie Nights at the pool party that kept going for almost three minutes and underwater? Panaglide. It changed how films were made forever.
3. Surround Sound: I remember like it was yesterday the first movie I heard in full Dolby Digital surround sound. It was the terrific film Star Trek: First Contact. I was sitting in the theater and the moment the opening credits started I got goosebumps. The theater was completely alive with sound coming from all directions with crystal clear clarity. Unlike the days of stereo, when a spaceship flew by it felt like it went right over your head and through the theater. It immersed you in the experience of the story in a more complete way. Surround sound also changed the way directors and sound engineers created their movies. Effects and sounds had to be thought of in a 360 degree environment where the audience was just as invested with their ears as their eyes.
2. CGI: Love it or hate it, CGI changed movies forever. A lot of movies in the past were considered unfilmable. The ideas of large creatures, otherworldly locations, or sheer volume of fictional characters on screen at one time required such a huge financial commitment from film financers that many scripts were thrown away. CGI changed all that. For example, Steven Spielberg has said that without CGI, he would have never made Jurassic Park. After George Lucas saw what the technology could do, he decided it was time to start making new Star Wars films. And, James Cameron sat on his Avatar film for years because he knew that he needed CGI in order to achieve his vision. The technology had an even greater effect on the world of animation. The majority of films today are made through the process of computer animation. Pixar, Dreamworks, and Sony are just 3 of the many studios that are computer generated only. It has resulted in billions of dollars of revenue and been a driving force for creative flexibility.
1. Home Video: There is no single technology other than film itself that has changed cinema more than the ability for us to have movie playback in our home. It has gone through several advancements over the years: Beta to VHS to laserdisc to DVD to blu-ray and streaming. But, no matter the method of playback, the technology created new businesses through the home video rental market, movie collectors to buy and own their favorite films, and opened up a second way to get revenue for studios besides box office numbers. But, the most important thing it gave us by far is for us as film lovers to see movies we never got to see before. In the past, films would get re-released in theaters for short periods of time so that we could see films that we missed during their initial theatrical run. But, you would never know which films would come back and for how long. Today, we are so lucky to be able to see almost any film we want through services like Blockbuster, Netflix, Cable on-demand, or streaming boxes like Apple TV. It’s a great age to live in if you’re a film buff and it’s the most important technology added to movies ever!