Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Netflix offers online viewing; The Shape of the Future

Netflix has recently started offering some of its films for online “play,” apparently without extra charge to subscribers.

I tried this facility, which requires Internet Explorer (at least IE 6) and a high speed Internet connection. The film that I would watch was “The Shape of the Future,” directed by J. Allen Schneid, written by John Marks, in two 48-minute parts first aired on UDC Cable in July 2005. The DVD distributor is Cinema Libre, which normally also distributes its politically-oriented films for art-house theatrical exhibits in larger cities.

Nineteen minutes into the film, the software told me that my Internet connection (from Comcast) was two slow and that it would reset the playback in two minutes. But it sat there in the reset, accumulating only to 3% in 15 minutes. So I gave up and ordered the conventional DVD, which arrived from Netflix the next day.

I think what happens is that many residential cable high speed connections just are not quite stable enough for this to work. They slow down during heavy use periods because cable companies keep adding more customers without extra capacity. This many be all right for ordinary surfing, but not for an application that must work at 100% for two solid hours.

I've never tried P2P (peer to peer) although I might as a way to distribute my own work later. This is the closest I have come yet to viewing movies this way. But that will change, as more distributors are looking at direct Internet distribution of their movies (with careful piracy controls and DRM, of course). This may even "encroach" upon the successful business models of Netflix and Blockbuster for DVD rental (Blockbuster offers an in-store option which I haven't tried yet.)

The movie, which I also discuss the political details of here, is a straightforward documentary. What comes through from a psychological perspective is the collective identity of peoples in the Middle East. Many people on the Israeli side of the debate emphasized the need for a Jewish state since their people had been driven out of Europe (the Holocaust) and other lands, but that the state should be compatible with democracy. The Palestinian people are faced with the shame of having their individual homes and lands (even olive groves) taken from them without compensation. The general consensus was that Israel would have to spend billions of dollars to remove West Bank and Gaza settlers in order to allow Palestine to have a contiguous state and to treat everyone “fairly” by more modern ideas of individualism – something that the Muslim world especially needs. The quick escalation of terror, and tendency to blame civilians as guilty of acquiring “tainted fruits” (almost as original sin) is quite striking in the interviews.

Netflix offers a number of films this way. One curious entry was the curious drama about the Catholic Church and the papacy (including the election of the fictitious first Russian pope), “The Shoes of the Fisherman”, 1968, MGM, dir. Michael Anderson, novel by Morris West. I saw this shortly after finishing basic training with a graduate student friend and devout Catholic, in the old L’Enfant Plaza in Washington, and I remember my friend thought that the Papacy would never “give in” this way. History may have surprised us. (The book actually had a closeted gay cardinal as a major character.)(Review).

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