Thursday, 7 July 2011

IMDB and Empire Magazine, The Internet vs Paper

“The internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow”

The speed the internet moves at can be proven using this quote. Bill Gates, multi-billionare CEO of Microsoft said this in 2005, and already, it could be seen as outdated, as many would argue the global village now longer exists in an abstract 'tomorrow', and is instead here, and internet has been at the centre of that for some time.

Whether it be current affairs, television, every hobby in the world, information is stepping from print, onto the internet. Just about every newspaper in Britain has an online version, containing the best stories, sometimes going as far as to have online-exclusive stories that are more likely to interest an online reader than someone holding the paper in front of them. The world of film is no exception to this. People all over the world want up to date information on the upcoming releases, and the quickest way to keep your information fresh and constantly updated is on the internet.

With over seventeen million members, as well as approximately fifty million guest users, the Internet Movie Database (imdb.com) is the most visited movie website on the internet. It's main use is to inform visitors of a film's release details, and cast and crew lists.

Empire magazine is Britain's most popular movie magazine, released monthly since 1989, presents itself with a comedic edge, not taking itself seriously, and encouraging readers to write in should they disagree with anything said.

I have chosen to use these two movie resources to compare print an online journalism, analysing them on their delivery of information; the speed the information is delivered; input from the reader; accessibility; price to access the information; and use of advertising, amongst other factors.

In 1989, Barry McIlheney, who was previously editor for 'Smash Hits', became launch editor for Empire Magazine. The magazine fast became Britain's best-selling movie magazine, producing special issues devoted to certain film, a 'Top 500' film countdown, recently an issue guest-edited by Stephen Spielberg, and every year, the magazine hosts the 'Empire Awards'.
The style of the magazine is very light-hearted. The writing is very witty, based more on comment than information. The main focus is on new releases, or upcoming releases which are updated monthly. There are also a number of special features. Each issue contains a 'Classic Scene', where the transcript to a great moment in film is printed, as well as a piece entitled 'Masterpieces', a two page essay about a great movie, which have ranged between 'On The Waterfront' to 'Die Hard'.

Empire are often lauded for their involvement with the readers. As well as a letters page, readers can enter competitions, are invited to write their own reviews, write questions to be asked to upcoming interviewees, and choosing their favourite films and directors for various polls.
On a few occasions, special issues are released. A 'Star Wars' one was released in July of 2007, containing reviews of every film, interviews with cast and with George Lucas and lots of trivia. As already mentioned, Stephen Spielberg guest-edited May 2009's edition to celebrate the magazine's 20th anniversary, where he wrote about all his films and interviewed the stars of those films. Each issue offers something new, and the reader can take great enjoyment reading its often 150 or more pages.

On October 17, 1990, only just over a year after 'Empire' began, Col Needham posted a collection of Unix shell scripts online that could search through four lists he and two fellow engineers, Andy Kreig and Dave Knight, had compiled (actors, actresses, directors and films/televisions shows) thus creating the world's first, and arguably best, online film resource. At first it was rather methodically called "rec.arts.movies movie database", but by 1996, as the internet, and itself, was constantly gaining popularity, the website constantly expanding to incorporate different categories of film-makers, plot summaries, full cast and crew lists and trivia, the name was changed to the Internet Movie Database (IMDB).

Although people who work for IMDB add new titles and cast and crew, virtually all other information is supplied by the general public. The only rule for adding to the site is that you must be a member, and anything you add will be checked by a member of staff before being added for everyone to see. Members are invited to at plot summaries, full plot synopses, pieces of trivia, or any 'goof' one may have noticed, like a microphone in shot, or, for example, a car from the 1960s appearing in a film set in the 1940s.

In September 2008, a feature called 'instant viewing' was added to the site, allowing people to view films made by independent film-makers, but as of yet, due to licensing restrictions, this service is only available in the USA.

Empire and IMDB are both invaluable resources for film fans, but one may be more invaluable than the other, depending on what one is looking for. Because Empire is written by professionals, you can trust their judgement on films, as they have has a lot of practice, but then again, there is the chance that your opinions could differ to theirs, whereas on IMDB, although the individual reviews may not be as well-written, the voted rating will be a good estimate as to how good the film is. This is because, unlike Empire Magazine that base their star rating on one person's view, IMDB, actually use a fairly complex technique to rate and rank films, pictured and explained below.

Rv+Cm
w= ____________
c+m

In the diagram, W is the whole overall rating, 'R' is the rating between one and ten given by visitors, 'v' is the number of votes the movie has received, 'C' is the mean vote across the whole report, and 'm' is the minimum votes required to appear in the IMDB top 250. This allows the viewer to see a much more accurate rating than even the best critic can give.

Of course, because IMDB is on the internet, the speed at which it can deliver information is much higher than that of Empire Magazine (it is worth mentioning that, along with newspapers, Empire has realised this and now have a website acting as an online magazine and film resource). IMDB's homepage shows up-to-date movie and television news, a constantly updated top 5 movies in cinemas and top 5 DVD sales, as well as a 'quote of the day' and some pieces of movie trivia. This is kept constantly updated, and should anything very important happen, like the death of a film star, this will appear in a large box on the front page. Their ability to show multimedia like behind-the-scenes videos and trailers also allow the viewer to judge the film for themselves, instead of soley having to rely on a critic.

Empire Magazine, although considered by many to be worth the money, it does cost five pounds, whereas access to IMDB is completely free. Normally this would mean that the wesbite has to make up for a lack of revenue from the reader by containing a lot more advertising than the magazine, but actually, IMDB is fairly advert free. Short of a couple of banners and adverts at the start of trailers, I would go as far as to say that IMDB contains less advertising than Empire, and it is less intrusive.

In conclusion, choosing a 'better' out of the magazine and the website is difficult, as they do not strive to achieve the same goal. While I would definitely say that IMDB is the best resource for information, Empire Magazine is much more enjoyable to read for pleasure. In the future, IMDB will, I think, continue to grow, as it has already began to, incorporating film from all over the world, television shows, and even video games.
Empire Magazine will continue to hold its role as the most popular movie magazine in the country, and increase it's online capabilities. Personally I would imagine it is only a matter of time before the whole magazine appears online, but that brings in the messy business as to whether anyone would be willing to pay for a subscription to it online, which could, in turn, lead to it being online exclusively. This has never really worked out for magazines in the past, but perhaps this could prove to be the exception.

Signs and Symbols In Video Games (A Teabagging Article)

“The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth - it is the truth which conceals that there is none. The simulacrum is true”
Baudrillard explains in 'Selected Writings' that Simulacra refers to signs and symbols in culture and media that society have become so reliant upon, that we do not realise their existence. A simple example of this is washing one's hands. Experiments have taken place in which people are told to wash their hands, and when approaching the hand basin, both taps are clearly plumbed into the same pipe, and yet nearly everyone tested naturally chose the tap on which was a red ring, rather than the blue ring.
The letters S,W,N,E may mean nothing, but a simple arrangement to N,S,E,W begins to look more familiar, and when arranged into the shape of a plus sign,it becomes obvious to anyone over five years old that this is a compass.
In this article, I plan to use Simulacra and Simulation to demonstrate the societies, subcultures and language surrounding the world of online console-based video games.

In 1947, Thomas T. Goldsmith Jr. and Estle Ray made the world's first interactive electronic game, on a cathode ray tube, in which the player launches 'missiles' at on-screen targets. Many games were designed this way until 1961, when electronic games moved from analogue to digital displays, with 'Spacewar!' being programmed on a DEC PDP-1 computer. This led to more games being created using a raster-scan display so they could be displayed through an average computer or television screen, as this was cheaper and more efficient than previous designs. As the systems became easier to build en mass, gaming moved out of the arcades and into the household, with the first home video game console, the Magnavox Odyssey, being released in May 1972.
Arguably the first truly successful games console, one could argue that was revolutionary, was the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System). It sold 60 million units worldwide, the 5th best-selling system of all time.
It was cheaper than anything else on the market at the time, and it's "sequel", the SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System) led the way practically unchallenged until 1994, when Sony released the Playstation. Gaming had jumped from 8 and 16-bit processing, in which all images are completely two dimensional, with a maximum of 24 simultaneous colours on-screen at one time, and totally monophonic sound, to 64-bit, which could play stereo recordings of real voices, and began the race for total realism in gaming.

During this time, games were still very much single-player entertainment. Occasionally a game would include a second player, but it would be very rare to get any more than two players.
By this point in technological history, the internet was constantly gaining popularity, and by the mid-1990's, desktop computer-based games were starting to be played by connecting to servers, usually amongst around a dozen friends in the same university, or living in the same house. It wasn't until shortly before the Millennium that games were being specifically made to play over external servers with other gamers across the continents.
As the 'MMOFPS and MMORPG' (massive multiplayer online first-person shooter and massive multiplayer online role-playing game) market became more popular on computers, console game-makers were paying attention. Of course, at this point, computers were much faster, and more powerful than consoles, but this was soon to change at the dawn of the millennium. In 2000 and 2001, the 6th generation of games consoles came on the market, all of which featured online play. The Playstation 2, the Xbox and the Gamecube all had the ability to connect, through a modem, to the internet, and play games with anyone else with a connection.
The final generation, considered to be the 7th, came in 2005 and 2006, with the Wii, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. An interesting side-note is that the Wii, manufactured by Nintendo, uses a motion-sensitive control system, rather than the standard button-based controllers, which allows it much more accessibility outside of normal gaming culture, and so is less affected by an online gaming sociological hierarchy.
This 7th generation of games consoles have been more successful regarding online gaming than the past incarnations, because the consoles are much easier to connect, needing only to plug a cable into the wall, without needing to route the connection through a modem and proceed with a fairly advanced setup. This in itself has led to a subculture in online gaming circles, referred to as 'Christmas Kiddies'. This comes from a nickname to newcomers to BBS (Bulletin board systems) in the late 1980s, caused by the fact that many people would get a modem as a Christmas gift, and so after Christmas, the boards would receive a surge of new members, who did not have the experience of older members.
In the modern online console gaming culture, these 'Christmas Kiddies' are also given the name 'n00bs', a derogative form of the slang 'newbie'. Not only does it mean someone who is inexperienced, but more specifically, someone who doesn't realise that their lack of experience affects them, and so pretends to be incredibly good at the game they are playing, and then throw abuse at competitors when they are beaten.
This abusive temperament leads on to a 'buzzword' around video games at this moment in time, violence. Concerned parents the world over are worrying that violent video games will lead their children to violence themselves. This brings in the main simulacrum surrounding video games at the moment, the sense of reality. Video games have not become more violent. 'Frogger' was released in 1981 and shows a frog being run over by a truck. In 1985's 'Super Mario Bros.', your means of attack is to jump up, and use your body weight to crush your opponent! Games have contained guns, crime and death since their conception, remember, the first game ever, as already mentioned, was about launching missiles. The only difference between then and now is that now, after more than 60 years, the deaths on-screen are beginning to look real. When we shoot someone, they no longer dissolve or vanish, instead blood runs down their body, and they slump realistically to the floor. What must be remembered is that this is not death. It is a representation of death, it is a symbol of death. No matter how accurate the representation is, it is no more than that.

Online gaming society deals with 'death' in different ways, depending on the game. Arguably the most popular online multiplayer console game ever, Halo, has developed its own, fairly unique, way of celebrating the slaying of a fellow player. Obviously the characters you portray in the game have been created by a team of designers, and then programmed by a team working on the game, and so, no matter how realistic the game is made, the characters only have a set amount of movements and responses to anything that happens, and so without a microphone or text input, it is very difficult to celebrate victory. In Halo, if you 'kill' another player who has been alive for a long time, and so is very skilled, a l33t or in English, elite player, (the gaming equivalent of a pawn taking a queen) or perhaps the player has been obnoxious, or rude, a payback has been introduced that has become very popular in nearly every online FPS (first person shooter) since. This is called 'teabagging'.
When playing a shooting game, it is beneficial to have a button which makes your sprite (on-screen character) duck, so as less likely to be shot. This has been utilised when playing online so as when you successfully take down the player, you run over to their 'corpse', stand roughly over their head, and then press the 'duck' button repeatedly. This action, on-screen, resembles your character pressing their crotch over and over into the dying opponent's face. This is not mature, this is not clever, but it is a very powerful symbol of defeat, being 'pwn3d' (owned, thoroughly beaten) an online gamer might say. It is the 21st century online equivalent of biting one's thumb at an opponent, simply with a heavier involvement of the testicles.

My conclusion is simple. The more technologically advanced and realistic online games become, the more involved simulacra becomes. The game being played becomes the reality, as, to an extent, it is the reality. The player is playing, the character is following the players commands, there is nothing fake about it. You become the person on-screen, playing other real people. It is a society, and so open to its own symbols, and even its own language.

Article written for The Guardian website

TELECOMS PACKAGE THREATENS OPEN EU INTERNET


On the 5th of May, EU Parliament will be voting to give ISPs (Internet Service Providers) the right to legally limit the number of sites a person could access, and stop them accessing certain sites altogether.

The ISPs would offer packages similar to satellite television packages, in which the customer can receive a basic selection of channels (or in this case, websites), and for an extra charge, choose to add a sports package, music package, and so on. This may not sound like much of a threat, but if the basic package only included 1 million websites, it would be blocking an estimated 195 million. A restriction on a person’s internet access could affect their ability to communicate with people, it could affect their job, and, indeed, their life.

Monica Horten, who belongs to the Communications and Media Research Institute (CAMRI) at The University of Westminster, wrote on her website (www.iptegrity.com) “News agencies this evening (28th April) are reporting a back-room deal in which the European Parliament has sold Internet users rights in favour of a bad law that the UK and French governments want. It will also suit the large telecommunications companies, but smaller operators and other industries stand to lose out.”

If you ran a small internet business, but your site was not accessible through an ISP’s most basic package, you could be losing literally millions of potential customers, as if they tried to access your website, they would get nothing more than an error message.

Anti-internet limitation website www.blackouteurope.eu are calling for all EU citizens to write to their Member of European Parliament (MEP) in a campaign to stop this vote going through. They even include a pre-prepared letter on their site, stating “The changes in the law that the European Parliament is proposing will permit my broadband provider to offer me a limited, restricted or conditional service. My concern is that such changes will kill the life of the Internet as we know it, and could have serious, detrimental economic impact on Europe’s economy.”

This issue bring up the question, ‘who owns the internet?’ and unfortunately, the answer is not an easy one. No single person or organisation can lay claim to it, rather just many various organisations, schools, and individuals who own pieces of the infrastructure that connects networks to each other.

So, does the EU Parliament have the right to allow a limitation on our internet access? Can we really be told what we can and can’t see without problems arising? And in the current economic crisis, can we really afford to have small e-businesses literally blocked from our view altogether? I may not be able to answer those questions, but I will certainly be sending the pre-prepared letter to my MEP, or in a few months time, you may no longer be able to read this without paying.

Death Of Cinema - An Interview With Mike Nelson

Jean-Luc Goddard once said "We're in a time now, when movies, and more generally art, have been lost, do not exist. And must somehow be re-invented." and do you know what? He was right.

Gone are the days of Casablanca, replaced with god awful franchises like the '….... Movie' series (Date Movie, Disaster Movie etc.). IMDB, the internet's number one film rating site, shows how movies have got consistently worse in recent years. The IMDB 'Bottom 100' contains a total of 54 films all made since the millennium. Just think about that for a moment, in 105 years of film, over half of the worst ones are 9 years old or less. Add to this that another 19 of them are from the late 1990s and we can see a pattern forming, can't we boys and girls?

Now, I like to think I know a little bit about cinema. Wait, I take that back. I am a fully fledged film nerd.
I was once asked my favourite film, and then argued vehemently that if you have one favourite, then you haven't seen enough movies. I argued this for around an hour, after which I broke movies down into ten genres, and chose five films for each. That's right. When asked for ONE film, I managed to narrow my decision down to fifty.
Now, surely this would mean I am justified to take an educated guess at what film is going to be a success, and what one isn't, and yet when I look at an Oscar® short-list, I tend to have very little interest in the majority of the films. Could it be that this is the case with most people, to the extent that they have accepted poorer quality films as enjoyable?

Of course, there is a very large sub-genre often referred to as 'so bad it's good'. So many people will list films they consider guilty pleasures. In recent years, popularity has lead to special edition releases of terrible old B-movies like 'Plan 9 From Outer Space'.
The combination of a rising popularity of hilariously terrible films, and the cheap cost of broadcasting rights, led to the making of 'Mystery Science Theater 3000' (mst3k), a comedy series that ran in the States for eleven series, spawning a feature film. In the show, Mike Nelson, a comedian and musician, was blasted into space with two wise-cracking robots and forced to watch awful old sci-fi films. I got a chance to ask Mike about the decline in cinematic quality, a man surely an expert on the subject!



“Bad cinema is the deflation of the expectation, I think: "You are about to be entertained by experts" is what they're saying, and so seeing that go wrong is fun and surprising.” says Mike, laughing to himself, explaining the difference between an enjoyable bad film, like the B-movies he riffed, and the more disliked modern bad movie, “Fail spectacularly and it's fun, fail by not trying to do enough and it's just boring. Bad dialogue can be funny - flat dialogue is a snoozer.”.
But the fact that people don't seem to enjoy a trip to the cinema any more isn't just the fault of the film-makers, “I can't enjoy it because of the other patrons, texting, talking on the phone, just flat out talking” He put this down to the fact that trips to the cinema aren't as important as they used to be, and so people relax too much, showing little consideration for fellow movie-goers. “It's because of the dizzying array of entertainment choices available now. When I was a kid there was 4 channels of TV and you had movies.”

There is some good that comes from this 'cinematic mediocracy', insomuch that it adds to the quality of a good movie, something that during Mike Nelson's time on MST3K he learned a lot about. “You really do appreciate good movies more because you see how easy it is to fail. It is a very, very difficult thing to make a good movie, so bravo to those who do.”.

So, there is definitely a decline in cinematic prolificness, or, in layman's terms “films ain't what they used to be”, but what causes it? Are film-makers creating these lower quality films because that's what the general public wants, or do we watch them, because that's all that's on offer? We have to remember that the movie business is a business. “I think the studios will do anything they can to make money - that is their job, after all, and I have nothing against that.”

And that's when the most important fact hit me, and Mike could tell that it had. Yes, all these films released recently based around stupid fart jokes and the occasional breast shot are terrible movies, but they keep making profits! People keep going back to them, and might say at the time that it was average at best, but will be back to the cinema when the sequel is released!

So, I am very sorry society, but films are bad because it seems that's what you want. If for any reason this isn't the case for you, then I will gladly lead you in a revolution, but until then, I am afraid you will have to manage with the occasional gem, like Slumdog Millionaire, The Dark Knight, The Wrestler...wait a minute...cinema is fantastic!