Is Altered Carbon the Future in more ways than one?

I just finished binge-watching Netflix’s Altered Carbon. After 10 episodes of dark, sexy, violent and bloody television, I find myself in a state of awe for the following reasons:

  1. This is a high concept show about a future where people have learned to digitize their life. This makes people immortal as when their bodies die they can just download to another body. It’s a fascinating concept and the show does a great job of exploring it.
  2. It was a really good show and well worth a watch. (However, be warned, it really earns that 18 rating. If lots of swearing, violence, blood and nudity isn’t for you, then I’d steer clear of this.)
  3. This was one of the most beautiful sci-fi’s I have ever seen… both on the small screen and the big screen.
  4. I’m starting to think that this is the future of visual storytelling.

As great as the show was, this isn’t a review of it. Instead, I’m more interested in the last two points and what they mean for the future.


Visual Effects

Shows like Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead and Westworld, to name just a few, have shown us that the small screen is fast catching up to the silver screen when it comes to visual effects. As CGI gets better and better with every passing year, the gap between cinema and TV is shrinking all the time. I maintain that the dragons on Game of Thrones look better than any other Dragons I have ever seen. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of effects that brings Game of Thrones to life.

As I finished watching Altered Carbon, I have to amend my argument about the shrinking gap between TV and cinema to there being no gap between the two mediums. This show looked every bit as good as anything I saw on the big screen in 2017, if not better. From the cityscapes to the future technology and even the action scenes, this show was just one visual masterpiece after another.

I couldn’t help but compare it to 2017s Ghost in the Shell. That movie was strikingly similar in aesthetics. While I was not a fan of the movie overall, the visuals were well worth the admission price alone. Altered Carbon was easily on par with what I saw there. That means that this TV show was holding its own with a Hollywood blockbuster that had a $110,000,000 budget to play with. More than that, the graphics were consistent over all 10 episodes (nearly an hour long each) where the movie only had about 2 hours to worry about.

With graphics like this on the small screen, one of the advantages that movies had over TV has just vanished. With the ability to realise almost any story on the small screen in such a stunning way, it lets the benefits of TV shine all the brighter. One such benefit is…


Long Form Story Telling

Some stories are just too big to be told in two-hour chapters. Fantasy and Sci-Fi especially need that extra length in order to grow accustomed to the world and to play with some of the really big themes of those genres. This has meant that in order to tell these stories in the past, there would always have to be compromise. Either show it in a movie where you get the spectacle but not the deeper meaning, or show it on TV where you get the meaning without the visuals to back it up.

Now you get both. It’s hard for movies to compete with that.


Cheaper for the Consumer, Better for the Studio

Altered Carbon was part of my £7.99 per month Netflix subscription. That’s a lot better value than paying over £10 to go see a single movie in the average cinema. Even my £17.99 per month cinema subscription doesn’t come close to the same kind of value, so it’s obviously a lot better for the consumer.

However, it’s also better for the studio. When we hear about the millions if not billions that Hollywood makes at the cinema, it’s easy to think they are money-making machines. However, not all of that goes to the studio. Cinemas get a big chunk of that box office, usually at least half if not more. With the Netflix model though, there is nothing standing between Netflix and the consumer. Without that middleman, all of the money that Netflix earns goes straight into their pockets.

Now, I am not sure how that works entirely being as Netflix uses a subscription model and I’m not sure how that breaks down. But I have to think that in the long run as Netflix and other streaming services keep offering TV and films of such quality, then more and more people will subscribe and that can only be good for the studio.


What does this mean for the Future?

God’s honest truth, I think that this is the herald of a big change in the visual storytelling landscape. Going to the cinema will remain to be one of my favourite things to do for the foreseeable future. I don’t think there’s any comparison to the big screen experience. However, I have to admit that if I had to choose between watching TV shows like Altered Carbon, Game of Thrones and Westworld, or watching any one movie, then those shows win hands down each time. There’s just no comparison when the quality is this high and you get that much more of it.

So what do you think? Do shows like these spell the end for cinemas, and maybe even Hollywood? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.