I sat down in the movie theatre. The lights went dim, the curtains parted, and the projector fired up. The big white screen in front of me, the very same one I'd sat before a hundred times, suddenly turned into a clear glass window. The film was Baraka, the format was 70mm, and the picture on that screen was so perfect, so detailed, that I couldn't believe my eyes. No film I'd ever seen in this theater looked like this one. I could step right through the screen.
I'd like to think that you've had this experience, too. But you probably haven't. Seventy millimeter filmmaking is dead, killed by the ubiquity of multiplexes. When the corporate gods behind AMC Theatres, Cineplex Odeon, Regal Entertainment, and all the rest rolled out their massive assault on American suburbs in the 1990s, they decided that buying 70mm projectors and building theatres that would do them justice was just not part of the spreadsheet. They wanted the lowest common denominator of technology, and that meant good old 35mm, the same middling format we've been staring at for decades.
Until the multiplexes rolled out, 70mm wasn't just a curiosity. Big films were shot in this format, including Lawrence of Arabia, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet, and even the Tom Cruise historical epic Far and Away. But about ten years ago, all that dried up and died. Hollywood got out of the 70mm film business because not enough theatres had the projectors to make it worthwhile. The explosion of screens demanded standardization, and suddenly the movie business couldn't justify the expense of working with 70mm cameras. Why bother, when you were just going to shrink it down to 35mm and pump out prints by the thousands to ensure that 98% of the population could watch Shrek on opening weekend.
Ubiquity is a funny thing. It turned movies into a sporting event, with the weekend box offices as scoreboards and people rooting for their team. The entire industry changed, compressing their marketing efforts to nail that crucial first weekend. It's made more films available to more people, which is a fine thing.
But ubiquity only works when it's married to standardization. Species evolve to the point where they reach a plateau of ubiquity, at which point all members of the species are pretty much the same. Humans have the same number of fingers, the same number of eyes. Ubiquity plus standardization equals success. Mutants arise and, for the most part, die off.
When gamers talk about how gaming is everywhere, how game culture has permeated everything, they miss this lesson. The success of our hobby is the jackboot sheathing the downward-driving foot of global commerce, and the snapping neck beneath its heel is innovation.
This is why Nintendo is doomed.
Okay, not entirely. Nintendo's hardware is doomed. The Game Boy? Drowning. Gamecube? Buried. Revolution? Dead on arrival. Sony and Microsoft have begun the process of cleaning their clock, and there's just a bit of dust on the minute hand still left to go.
The thing about Nintendo that keeps me awake at night is that they've always innovated. When they made the leap to 3D with Mario 64, they designed the controller to fit the game. Shigeru Miyamoto understood that camera control was the single biggest challenge of 3D gaming, and he wanted a controller that would support his camera solution. He was spot on: nine years later, games still routinely ship with crappy camera controls. It's not because the developers are lazy; it's because cameras are hard. Miyamoto and his colleagues at Nintendo realized this and they didn't screw around. They built the platform to support the game.