What’s Wrong With This Picture: ‘Annie Hall’ and the endless quest for the perfect Home Cinema experience.
You don’t have to be a died-in-the-wool Luddite to recognise that technology can be a two-edged sword. In fact, if you were seeking to plot a course through the last millennium or so of technological innovation, marking only those special milestones that are unanimously, uncontroversially recognised as wholly positive developments, you would end up with quite a short list, one which would probably look something like this: printing press; telescope; refrigerator; Concorde; the Draught Guinness ‘floating’ widget; rear parking sensors.
In the home cinema universe, the ‘Big Bang’ moment came with the introduction of the Video Cassette Recorder (VCR) in the late 1970s. The next big leap forward occurred when the DVD, which had gradually superseded the clunky, unglamorous VHS cassette, was combined with the widescreen TV. That vast expanse of flat, matt, glare-free screen, coupled with the crystalline clarity of DVD, allowed us to enjoy our favourite films all over again, with a richness of detail that can seem almost hallucinatory. As The Sopranos’ Paulie Walnuts poetically put it, having recently seen ‘On The Waterfront’ on a widescreen: “Karl Malden’s nose hairs looked like fuckin’ BX cables.”
But there’s always a down side. For every pro, there’s a corresponding con. Or, to put it another way, for every revelatory glimpse of Karl Malden’s nasal hair, there’s an infuriatingly unintuitive, bafflingly circuitous DVD menu system, seemingly designed by MC Escher during a bad LSD experience. (To add insult to injury, many DVDs force you to endure an excruciatingly loud jingle or dialogue snippet every time you return – however inadvertently – to the man menu screen.)