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APAR's WORKING WEEKEND: Just Watch Me Watch a PC

6 Apr, 2001 By: Bruce Apar

Those folks fond of telling the rest of us that “nobody wants to watch movies on a PC” should stick to their nitpicking, and leave lollygagging to others more free spirited. In the time of wireless and digital and miniaturization, why shouldn’t we be able to watch a video anywhere we so choose? No doubt our naysayers a few years back were muttering to anyone who would listen, “Nobody wants to talk on a phone while walking along the street.” Wonder how their telephony stocks are doing.

I’m not exactly the kind of guy you’d find in the crosshairs of some marketer’s target demo for new media behaviors (by the way, when did that word abruptly get pluralized – I missed that Constitutional amendment). But like many others, I’m a creature of comfort. If in the den working, even if it’s on my laptop on a desktop (the old fashioned, four-legged kind), it’s tempting to slip into something DVDish to keep me company. How different is it, in a time of visual saturation, than putting on a CD for sensory stimulation. Since the newfangled desktop is sitting right there, not doing anything else at the moment, why not amortize its exorbitant cost by putting it to work. After all, the monitor is a TV screen anyhow, and it’s nearly a crime in this country to let a TV screen look at you blankly while in you’re in the same room as it is.

Lately, for instance, I’ve seen Elmer Gantry ((MGM), Demetrius & The Gladiators (Fox) and Nurse Betty (USA Films) this way. Though it’s not the same as watching a movie with attention undivided, in some ways it’s a great equalizer, since how many movies mandate that they be watched without distraction anyhow. Conversely, many movies would benefit from a little distraction on the part of the audience, no offense to the great majority of filmmakers. (Gee, I hope the teacher likes this term paper, which is what it’s beginning to sound like. Time to shift gears, I guess, stylistically speaking.)

In the process, I discovered what a great film is Elmer Gantry, the story of a fiery traveling conman in the person of a mercurial Burt Lancaster (who justly won Best Actor) that ends in an extraordinarily fiery sequence that is terrifying to watch, even on a computer.

Now it’s true that I made sure my Dell Dimension was equipped with a surround-speaker system, including two rears and a subwoofer, but think about it. If computer sellers like Dell are moving a goodly number of these boxes with surround-sound capability, what on earth are people using them for if not movies – environmental-sound CDs?

It’s also true that some computers, including my Dell, don’t seem to take easily to some DVDs. On Elmer Gantry, I couldn’t click on the chapter buttons past the first button of Chapters 1 to 4. Instead of going directly to chapter 9, I had to first go to 4, then use the right-click function of my mouse to jump to a later chapter. So all is not perfect in movie-on-a-PC-land, but such cavils are well worth the overall convenience and entertainment experience.

Being a sucker for epics with lavish sets, The Robe sequel Demetrius & The Gladiators was a lot of fun too, yes, even on a PC. But somebody needs to tell Fox that calling its own DVD trailers and language options “Special Features” on a DVD is like a restaurant featuring bottled water on its wine list.

Nurse Betty was one weird movie, but it offers further proof of my theory that Miss Renee Zellweger is a star for the ages, the thinking man’s Julia Roberts. Not unlike the ineffable effect her character has on Morgan Freeman in the off-center film by Neil LaBute, Zellweger herself has a wondrous, ethereal quality that transcends any other actress extant. The coolest thing about the DVD, in some ways, is the inclusion of several mini-episodes of the soap opera featured in the plot, "A Reason to Love." The segments are glimpsed here and there in the movie, mostly on a TV set, but are presented on the disk in their full glory.

In fact, I’d say Nurse Betty is an ideal match for PC-watching. No special effects, visually or sonically, that have to be seen larger than life. Now, it’s on to some music DVDs. You just watch. PC movies will be a new genre of entertainment. Just don’t tell anyone who gives quotes for a living.

Comments? Contact Bruce directly at:bapar@advanstar.com

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