Destroy All Monsters: Go Big, GAME OF THRONES, Before You Go Home

Columnist; Toronto, Canada (@tederick)
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Destroy All Monsters: Go Big, GAME OF THRONES, Before You Go Home

Quietly over the weekend, several IMAX theatres played two episodes of HBO's Game of Thrones on their very big screens - and grossed $1.5 million.

It's not a huge amount of money. It doesn't even fractionally compare to American Sniper's gargantuan tally on its third weekend, nor did the Game of Thrones event make any media noise on par with the Super Bowl. (And no, it's not the first time someone's put a TV show on a big screen. Doctor Who's been day-and-dating its significant episodes at local multiplexes for years.)

In spite of all this, the Game of Thrones: The IMAX Experience experiment is a unique bellwether of where we are right now in our relationship to filmed entertainment.

For one, it demonstrates categorically what we've all been saying instinctively since around the first season of Breaking Bad: cinema went to television. When the "middle class" of motion pictures was gutted in favour of a wide schism between low-budget "serious" films and ultra-high-end comic book movies, the mid-brow pictures went to TV.

Necessarily, perhaps, it brought the artistry with it. TV shows look like movies now; more importantly, TV directors cannily and expertly use the language of cinema to enrich and layer what are otherwise necessarily small-focus, character-driven stories with an in-built tendency towards boilerplating.

That Game of Thrones could withstand the big-screen experience is a testament to the visual evolution of the show, a series whose first season seemed to barely be able to frame four knights in a single shot before running out of budget.

Admittedly, the episodes screened included "The Watchers on the Wall," the episode from this past season directed by Neil Marshall that featured, for all intents and purposes, a Lord of the Rings-scale siege battle led by heroic sad-sack Jon Snow. Game of Thrones has not, to date, put forth a more spectacular visual event, so the episode lent itself to a big-screen treatment all along. (The heat is on them, now, to up the stakes in Seasons Five and Six.)

Second point: The IMAX Experience demonstrates what Gone Girl reminded us of in the fall. The middle class may be out of the cinemas, but that doesn't mean the market for it isn't still there.

In a desert landscape bereft of those middle movies - movies neither as high-minded as Selma nor as youth-skewing as Guardians of the Galaxy - Gone Girl made a fortune, for being lurid and entertaining in a fashion where being alive for thirty or more years was an enhancement to one's ability to enjoy the story, not a detraction. At home, Game of Thrones is arguably the entertainment mega-property right now for those same middle-class, just-below-middle-age adults.

That the series could do well on the big screen should come as no surprise; if anything, the big screen experience was exactly what was missing from Game of Thrones all along. We were content to watch it in our living rooms, but unconsciously, perhaps we always saw it as a movie.

On minimal marketing and based on two episodes that (imaginably) every single person who attended The IMAX Experience on the weekend had already seen, this experiment drew a million and a half dollars. That's fascinating, and combined with cinematic television's potential interchangeability with traditional filmmaking, suggests a further breakdown of the walls between media.

With Amazon and Netflix both in the game to produce and license traditional motion pictures while still retaining their potential day-and-date streaming opportunities, and with the original television networks all but expired under the weight of the boutique cable outfits, the question of who produces media is changing rapidly.

Now that signature cable outfit HBO is cramming itself into the streaming media space while simultaneously experimenting with big-screen distribution for "TV" content, the lines aren't just blurred; they're gone.

Third and final point, and personal advice time: if HBO knows what they're doing, they'll immediately do away with the notion of concluding Game of Thrones' storyline in the series' seventh and final (televised) season. The groundwork isn't there for anything other than an abbreviated finale, and George R.R. Martin is still wandering around his creative wilderness trying to figure out how to reel back his one thousand speaking characters into something resembling a workable climax. (Martin's publisher confirmed this week that there will be no Book Six in 2015.)

The advice is this: wrap Game of Thrones on television at the end of Season Seven with a gargantuan, audience-strangling cliffhanger, and then move immediately into production on a trilogy of Game of Thrones motion pictures developed at just under the Lord of the Rings scale and marketed for adults. I suspect by the time they're ready for release, they're going to earn a hell of a lot more than $1.5M.


Destroy All Monsters is a weekly column on Hollywood and pop culture. Matt Brown is in Toronto and on Twitter.

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Sonny HooperFebruary 4, 2015 11:46 AM

Strange to be advocating for continuing a TV show on the big screen for the purpose of... making money? You've certainly given no creative reason for taking it to the movies (other than it's not possible to wrap up the series in a satisfying fashion in seven seasons, as if a eighth season is not an possibility). Why not just let the TV show be the TV show? Why does it have to become a movie - and a trilogy, at that? Enough with the trilogies already. The only precedent that I can think of for this is the X-Files, and those two films didn't exactly perform to expectations (either creatively or financially). Just because a show can be a movie (or a movie can be a TV show) doesn't mean it should. And certainly not for the reasons you give.

William Thomas SmallwoodFebruary 4, 2015 4:58 PM

I agree with Sonny. This trilogy would probably not even surpass the running time of one season. If anything the films would be the "abbreviated finale" just like LOTR. I feel Lord of the Rings would have been better as an HBO series. A season for each book would have meant thirty hours to work with instead of eleven.

KurtFebruary 4, 2015 10:20 PM

Firefly to Serenity. Things worked out fine with that one, even if it didn't make money. Always leave making them wanting more!

But Lord of the Rings is the opposite, I kind of want less, particularly in the case of THE HOBBIT.

StuFebruary 5, 2015 2:19 PM

All in good time. As long as the Tolkien Estate holds onto the rights for everything else JRRT ever wrote I suspect that LOTR and Hobbit remakes are an inevitability. Hopefully the would consider a novel form of adaptation to offer something new, and a series would be an interesting prospect.

StuFebruary 5, 2015 2:37 PM

Since when is business a "strange" reason? It is THE reason behind most films ever getting funded, especially those that intend to make it onto the collective conscience radar.

I have for some time thought this conclusion to the GoT experience to almost be an inevitability. The show becomes more cinematic with each season, and when it doesn't hire feature film directors (Neil Marhsall) to shoot an hour-long movie-episode it's episode directors (Alan Taylor) go on to shoot feature films based on their GoT cred. I hadn't really considered the trilogy notion, but I have little doubt that a GoT movie is in our future. It's almost necessary if they hope to offer a crescendo conclusion worthy of the stakes, though I admit the prospect of trying to wrap up so complex a world, populated by such a panoply of characters, would be a profound challenge for cinema. This may only be feasible at the trilogy scale, much like it was with LOTR.

It's worth adding that this notion of blended TV/cinema stories has been in the air for a while. Ron Howard proposed 4 seasons and 3 feature films in his pitch for a Dark Tower adaptation (Stephen King's 7-book fantasy/sci-fi/horror/western/autobiography/masterpiece). It doesn't seem like this will ever actually happen, be it Dark Tower or something else, without some evidence that it could work, and a cinematic GoT conclusion could be just the precedent needed.

Also, great title this week Matt!

StuFebruary 5, 2015 3:22 PM

I still don't buy that The Hobbit could have worked as a single film. Two, yes… though in that case likely with substantially less enrichment of the link between TH and LOTR.

I have a suspicion that the general sentiment that less would have been more is borne from the fact that TH films just aren't as good as the LOTR films, and that somehow this is because a "short" book was "stretched out" into 3 movies. The book is short in pages, but absolutely not in content, and I would argue that the adaptation didn't so much stretch the book out as it did append additional material not in the book itself. The value of those emendations can be justifiably argued, but I like that we got the full context of the story of the TH (i.e. that incorporating LOTR appendix material is cool), and I'm at peace with characters and story lines they added.

That being said, TH films do not reach the quality of the LOTR films, and we all wish they did. In my opinion, why they didn't has less to do with the film-making choices and everything to do with the source material. TH book cannot hold a candle to the LOTR books, and paucity of material to adapt in the former, versus the overabundance in the latter, is the difference between PJ & Co. having gold to mold, vs having silver to plate. For all their writing prowess, PJ & Walsh & Boyens could never turn TH into LOTR. Neither could Tolkien himself; he tried - hard - and ultimately chose to let sleeping dogs lie, and simply recontextualized TH in LOTR's appendices.

Perhaps PJ should have done the same thing. That is a fair point of criticism. But I'm still not convinced that a shorter TH film would have made for a better TH film; not when considered in the inextricable light of expectations that the LOTR films left us with.

Sonny HooperFebruary 5, 2015 4:03 PM

Strange for a pop culture writer - or for a any moviegoer - to advocate for a movie based on whether it can make money (unless they're also a studio shareholder). The reasons should be creative, not financial, and while I'm sure a GoT movie would look fantastic, is that reason enough to say it should become a movie, or a series of movies? And frankly, given the expense of of a possible GoT movie, and the relatively limited audience, I don't see the studio taking the risk. Yes, GoT is a huge pop culture phenomenon, but its actual viewership is not large - 18.6 gross viewers in the fourth season; certainly not enough to warrant spending $200 million on a movie, especially considering only people who watch the show would be enticed to see it, for the most part. Again though, that's looking at a financial motivation, which isn't my concern (although it is the Matt Brown's. I just don't see a creative need to continue the story outside of television. The show does the big spectacle moments wonderfully but isn't reliant on them (as any feature film would be). As for Dark Tower, the idea of having to watch a TV series in order to watch a movie in order to then watch more of the TV series is financial suicide.