By Laurence Lerman / New York City
“The world is changed.”
So said Cate Blanchett’s Elvin queen Galadriel at the beginning of 2001’s The Fellowship of the Ring, the first film of Peter Jackson’s magnificent Lord of the Rings trilogy.
It’s what I was thinking when The Insider’s founder and editor-in-chief Andrea Sachs announced she was shuttering the publication she founded back in March of 2020, and for which I have penned 130 Reel Streaming columns.
I wrote about Fellowship and its companion movies for one of my first Insider columns back then, one month into New York City’s COVID-19 quarantine. Earthshaking permutations aside, it was also the time when the first substantial “Movies to Watch During the Pandemic” lists began to roll out. I say “substantial,” because it was a point where everyone began realizing that the virus was here to stay and that movie-watching lists were quickly expanding beyond the obvious picks (The Godfather and Star Wars, anyone?).
With Andrea very kindly informing me that I should “write what I know,” my very Reel Streaming bounced all over the streaming spectrum. I chose a “streaming” of consciousness curatorial approach that included write-ups on an outlandishly diverse collection of titles that included the 1954 Bob Hope costume comedy Casanova’s Big Night, the 1985 Dan Ackroyd-Chevy Chase stinker Spies Like Us, the behind-the-scenes of The Wizard of Oz little people epic Under the Rainbow (1981), a pair of Ingmar Bergman dramas from the Sixties and a Suzanne Somers TV flick from ’78.
And so it went for the next year—genre listicles, round-ups revolving around specific holidays (French films on Bastille Day, for instance), targeted examinations of great filmmakers (like Fellini’s costume epics of the ’70s) and lots of looks at new movies that were originally slated to open in theaters but were relegated to premiering on streaming platforms. (Everything from the Groundhog Day-ish comedy Palm Springs with Andy Samberg and the irrepressible Cristin Milioti to Soul, Pixar’s silky-smooth “jazz-is-life” fable.)
But by late spring, 2021, the world was changing yet again.
Movies slowly began to open in theaters, and over the four-day Memorial Day weekend, North American cinemas pulled in nearly $100 million in ticket sales, the best weekend performance for theaters since the start of the pandemic.
It was a hopeful sign for the film industry. For everyone. Eighteen new feature films opened exclusively in theaters in June 2021, and another 18 premiered on streaming platforms. Hybrid movie viewing had begun, with a pair of high-end franchise action flicks leading the return to theaters: F9, an installment in the Fast & Furious series, and Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard with Salma Hayek and Ryan Reynolds. The first one was a hit; the second one most definitely was not.
The slow return of audiences to theaters took its first significant leap forward with the wide of release of No Time to Die, star Daniel Craig’s fifth and final entry in the James Bond franchise, which opened on 4,400 North American screens in October 2021, following a nearly two-year delay. It ultimately grossed $775 million around the world, $15 of it coming from me in what would be my first time attending a movie in a theater since January, 2020.
My review for No Time to Die and my experience in returning to a mostly-empty theater (I saw the film two months into its run) was and still is my favorite Reel Streaming column, the micro and the macro of movies in the time of Covid.
As the virus twisted and turn around us and the world continued to change—medically, politically, psychologically and environmentally—the next year-and-a-half found me continuing to contribute weekly Reel Streaming columns, along with a handful of pieces on the media’s coverage of various newsworthy political events (like the overturning of Roe v. Wade in June 2022), a slew of obituaries and tributes (which I like to refer to as “tribituaries”) and cover stories about the last three Academy Award ceremonies. And as Covid slowly retreated, I began covering a larger number of theatrical premieres, serving as a good old-fashioned movie critic, more than I ever had in my previous hundred or so columns.
The world had changed—people were now regularly leaving their homes—and it continues to change.
The technology of streaming and its role in the production and compensation of the entertainment industry’s writers and performers played a major part in igniting Hollywood’s current SAG-AFTRA and WGA labor strikes. True, one of the key issues pertains more to revenues generated by multipart programs than those earned by feature films, but there’s no getting around the perception that Hollywood’s colossal streaming industry is currently considered to be one of the bad guys.
But the movies continue—I’ll soon be heading to the theater for the latest Indiana Jones movie (no, I still haven’t seen it!) and the just-arrived box-office behemoths Barbie, directed by Greta Gerwig, and Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer—and that’s reason to smile.
I’ll be sad, though, not to have the same forum to offer my opinions on what I’m seeing, be it at home or on the big screen.
I sincerely thank Andrea for giving me the chance to tell you all what I’ve been thinking about this past three years and, hopefully, given you an idea or two for a title you considered checking out—as the world was changing.
Laurence Lerman is a film journalist, former editor of Video Business--Variety's DVD trade publication--and husband to The Insider's own Gwen Cooper. Over the course of his career he has conducted one-on-one interviews with just about every major director working today, including Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Clint Eastwood, Kathryn Bigelow, Ridley Scott, Walter Hill, Spike Lee, and Werner Herzog, among numerous others. Once James Cameron specifically requested an interview with Laurence by name, which his wife still likes to brag about. Most recently, he is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the online review site DiscDish.com.