My iPhone obsession, part 3: My experience of watching movies on my iPhone (and my tiny Nokia before that)
So now, an adventure into the land of hypocrisy, from where I am likely to emerge bruised and battered. For here I am, writing a blog whose primary function is to advocate that people go to cinemas to see movies, as that’s the best possible way to see them, talking about watching movies on a device with a screen that measures just 3.5 inches on the diagonal. Note to self, this better be good.
And it seems that the debate is raging as hard as it ever has over whether using a mobile is right for watching movies. Roger Ebert tweeted on the subject this very week, and then there’s some good blogs here and here arguing for both sides. So let me explain – I’m in the “it’s OK” camp, but that comes with a few heavy caveats.
Back to me, then, and a little bit of history. I’ve owned a mobile phone for around 10 years now, and every couple of years it’s evolved. 10 years ago, my first mobile was a black brick, a Nokia 6150 (pictured left) which made calls, allowed you to play Snake and jabbed you in the ribs if you put it in most of your pockets, thanks to the pointy-up antenna. But at the time, it felt cutting edge, mobiles were no longer bricks and you could even put slightly customised ring tones onto them. Woo-hoo!
Fast forward seven years. And my phones evolved, through many different handsets, all but one of them a Nokia, getting progressively smaller and smaller, until one day I got a chunky one again. The Nokia N80 (pictured below right) was now a revolution for me. Video calling, wi-fi, proper games and an mp3 player, and with a 2GB SD card inserted, it could even soak up a movie or two.
You may have noticed I’m somewhat obsessed with technical detail. (You may have noticed I’m somewhat obsessed in general.) There is actually a point to that – that the idea of what was possible then became a technical challenge. Could I get a movie onto my phone?
Well, in the end I got seven at once. Monty Python and the Holy Grail, The Prestige, Starship Troopers, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Empire Strikes Back, Grosse Pointe Blank and Trainspotting. And because I am both obsessed with technical detail and somewhat anal, they were all transferred onto my phone in their original aspect ratio. So for three of those, which are in the proper widescreen, still-get-black-bars-on-a-widescreen-TV ratio of 2.35 to 1, almost half of the 2.1 inch screen didn’t actually have any film on it.
And while it felt good to have the freedom to take a sample of movies wherever I went, I’d be the first to admit that the experience was a little disappointing. More like having an audiobook with occasional pictures than watching an actual film, I felt the sense of technical achievement – but that was about it.
Then my iPhone 3G came along. And the love affair started when I first picked one up at the Apple store, went to the iPod and saw that they’d loaded a few music videos, including the Madonna / Justin Timberlake / someone else probably track 4 Minutes. Despite this being four minutes of a slightly confused looking prostitute and her bearded eunuch (I’m not a fan, sorry), the picture and sound quality were amazing, and it made my current phone look out of date in comparison.
So I do watch movies on my iPhone. I have eight on it right now, a combination of things I have seen and things I haven’t. And there’s separate reasons for each as to why I think that works. First off, for something I have seen, like Star Trek (2009). Got the movie on Blu-ray the day it came out, and as with many others these days, it comes with a digital copy. Simplicity itself to transfer onto my iPhone, the fact that it’s about 1.8GB and at full resolution means that the detail stands out clearly and the soundtrack comes over with a wonderful level of detail. I can now watch this wherever and whenever, and as someone who commutes a lot on the train for work, that’s invaluable. (It’s also why I’m looking forward to the iPhone 4’s sharper screen, to get even more of that detail.)
But I also watch movies that I haven’t seen, because this device is just big enough to allow that, and because I pack a lot into my life. I have a job which demands 45-50 hours from me on a quiet week, my main hobby and passion (singing, not films, unbelievably), takes up another 6 – 8 hours a week, and with all else life has to offer, there’s not a lot of spare time in my week. So the chances to sit down in front of the TV tend to be taken up with catching up on the best that TV has to offer – I rarely watch anything at the time of transmission these days, and thankfully I don’t have to.
And there are some things, no matter how obsessive I am, that I just don’t get round to watching at the cinema, for one reason or another. The prime example here is the Romanian film 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days. Having watched the movie, I am in no doubt that it would have been more powerful to have seen it in the cinema, but after two attempts to find the time when it was on in Cambridge, and then one failed attempt to get to the only screening in Bury St. Edmunds a few weeks later, it just didn’t happen. So I got the DVD and transferred it onto my iDevice, and then at the end of last year was having a catch-up, so watched it in four or five sittings.
The phone does make it much easier to pick up and put down – I saw some while on a train commuting to a work meeting, some while waiting for my wife to get ready for bed, and finished it off when I just had a spare moment. When it’s happened (and by it, I mean the event that the characters are working towards – if you’ve seen it, you’ll know exactly what I mean), I was in no doubt that I was glad to have had chance to see the film in some format (9/10 on my scoring scale), and that seeing it this way was most likely the only way I would have seen it.
The debate will still rage, I’m sure, but for me it’s clear, mainly thanks to the quality of the shiny black thing in my pocket. See it at the cinema if you can, see it on Blu-ray if you can sit still for two hours at home, see it on your iPhone if you have a life outside movies.
Also in this series: