As has been pointed out on a regular basis in our magazine, the landscape of film distribution is undergoing constant change. While the act of going to the cinema has change very little, apart from the cost and the excessive number of 3D movies (the two go hand-in-hand), it is still a collective experience of sitting in a large, dark room. However, once a film breaks out of the confines of the cinema, that is where the options have changed. Shelves creaking under the weight of physical media is becoming a thing of the past with subscription services such as Netflix and LoveFilm, and on-demand options such as iTunes, Blinkbox or those tied into to your satellite/cable provider. New releases that went direct to video/DVD are now now going straight to video-on-demand and downloads, which from an environmental point of view has to be seen as a good thing.
With cinema screens getting smaller, HDTVs getting bigger, and all manner of networked, handheld devices having HD screens there is no shortage of ways to watch movies nowadays. For example, Film4 have decided to cover all bases with the release of their next film A Field in England, which will be released simultaneously in cinemas, on VoD, DVD as well as being broadcast. You will be able to watch it on any size screen you choose on day of release. Of course this is something of an exception.
Apart from the competition from major studio blockbusters, independent filmmakers and distributors are also facing stiff competition from television such as HBO, and the aforementioned Netflix, which are producing drama to match that of cinema, which means there are plenty of movies being released that are struggling to find an audience that they otherwise would have.
Take the case of The Numbers Station, an espionage thriller starring John Cusack, who is again cast as an assassin with a conscience, however without the sunny disposition of Grosse Point Blank. When he fails to fully complete a mission that goes wrong, he is sent to England to act as security for a civilian cryptologist (Malin Ackerman), who works at one of the secret numbers stations based around the world. These stations broadcast coded messages to agents and assassins as numbers on shortwave radios. It is old analogue technology that is supposed to be untraceable, and have never been compromised. Until now. He is called upon to use all his skills to stop the breach and reverse the potential damage.
This is a good taut drama, with a small but excellent cast, in the confined, dark setting of a secret bunker. It doesn’t particularly break new ground, but it is a good example of the genre, with interesting characters and which doesn’t rely on the overused Russian or Arab villains (or English ones for that matter). It is more believable and engaging than recent cinema releases like Taken 2. Even though the story is self-contained and has a satisfactory resolution, it does look and feel like the pilot to a TV series. It could be argued that with all the sequels being turned out by Hollywood they are imitating TV, but with bigger budgets and longer production cycles.
The Numbers Station is available now on video on demand and download.