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The Decade On-Screen 

We watched TVs become more like theaters and computer screens become more like TVs. Nobody watched commercials …

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For movies, TV and, especially, videogames, no decade has been more awesome than this one. Part of that’s because the very fabric on entertainment — the way we watch and play — has been rewoven. Does anyone even remember what it was like schlepping around the world of video and filmic arts in 2000? Here’s a refresher:

Early 2000 | Netflix adopts a flat-fee, unlimited mail-in DVD rental system. The combination of paying a monthly membership to select movies online — and the ability to return them through the mail without incurring a late fee — made the struggling Internet company a hit. Netflix quickly took over 50 percent of the movie-rental market, shuttering brick-andmortar rental stores and forcing the industry to move online or into red boxes. By 2003, film studio revenues from the DVD market outpaced theatrical box-office returns — until DVD sales began declining in late 2007. Nevertheless, Net-flix continued to grow, reaching 10 million subscribers by 2009, increasing its profits and popularity even during the recession.

2000 | The sword-dancing atop-treetops martial arts film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon becomes the first foreign-language film to gross over $100 million at the box office.

The film is nominated for 10 Academy Awards and wins four. Kung fu gets respectable. Subtitles get commercially viable.

May 2001 | Bejeweled, an online, casual videogame in which players construct rows of colored “jewels,” is launched by PopCap software. Requiring a minimal Internet connection, low-grade hardware and very little time or skill, the game captivated millions of otherwise non-gamers, serving as a gateway drug to the videogame world. Bejeweled itself has since been downloaded more than 150 million times for systems ranging from the PC to the iPhone, serving as a model for the evolving “app industry,” and making casual gaming a substantial market within the videogame industry.

2001 | With 24 (2001), The Wire, (2002) and Lost (2004) the decade sees the rise, pinnacle, and — at least on the networks — end of serial television.

In the ’90s, the networks often followed the X-Files/Buffy model — most were standalone episodes, but a few contributed to a larger “mythology.” But none of the 24 episodes in a season of 24 stand alone. Every episode’s a cliffhanger. Wanna know if Jack Bauer is really dead? Tune in next week.

Alone, an episode of The Wire is confusing or boring. It’s only the full season’s tapestry that makes it the “great American novel of television.” When Lost finishes its last season this spring, it will complete a magnum opus of serial storytelling: One continuous 98-hour tale. Thanks in part to the explosion of broadband Internet and TiVo, serial television worked. And then, thanks in part to broadband Internet and TiVo, it quickly stopped making money.

October 2001 | Grand Theft Auto III debuts to critical and commercial success, making interactive, subjective violence and sexuality standard features in videogaming. Bolstered by controversy and seriously good game play, the game became the year’s bestselling game and launched a slew of equally popularsequels.

November 2002 | Xbox Live launches, bringing online multiplayer gaming to home consoles — a move that will steadily build revenues for the videogame industry during the coming decade by giving rise to micro-transactions and a more unified gamer community.

It also prompted gamers to install broadband connections near their TVs and freed game publishers to release buggy, unfinished games that needed to be updated (and repaired) online before they could be played. By the end of the decade, most successful videogames prominently featured online game play.

2004 | With the launch of Half Life 2 — sequel to a game-changer of the last decade — Bellevue-based video game company Valve creates Steam, an easy-to-use digital distribution program for PC videogames. With that, Valve eliminates the greatest barrier for the gamer buying more games — leaving the house.

Other services, like Direct 2 Drive and Good Old Games, follow suit.

With Steam came regular incredible deals for both consumer and developer. A 75 percent reduction in a game’s price during the Steam’s holiday sales, for example, led to a 1,470 percent increase in that game’s sales revenue.

In turn, small indie developers had whole new way to publish games cheaply and effectively. Ten years ago, nobody would have bought Jenga-meets-Flubber puzzler World of Goo. A hilarious point-and-click adventure comedy game like Time Gentlemen, Please (where you use a severed arm to plunge a toilet clogged with Hitler’s bloody feces) would never have become so widespread. And we, as a culture, would be a little less fulfi lled.

2005 | The last VHS videotape from a major studio, David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence, is released. (Hey guys, remember, “rewinding”?) DVD, with its bevy of special features, scene selection and lengthy animated menus, fi nally killed the video star. But even in DVD’s moment of triumph, a new threat looms on the horizon: Blu-ray, with an even deeper picture and even more storage.

2005 | Horror films Saw II, Hostel, Wolf Creek and The Devil’s Rejects are served to theatergoers. Movie fans and grisly torture fans alike flock to see the slew of arms being hacked, heads being chopped and barbed wire being used in increasingly creative ways. This is “torture-porn,” disgusted critics call the trend. This is “incredibly lucrative,” movie executives counter.

Grisly industrial warehouse sets are cheap to rent. And for both horror movie villains and horror movies franchise, dead is never dead. You can always churn out another Hostel (there have been two) or Saw (there have been six). There’s always another sensitive body part to sever, mash, mangle, twist, burn, poison, slash, poke, grind or waterboard.

2006 | In its first full year, more than 100 million videos are viewed on YouTube daily. Suddenly, the gatekeepers of entertainment — the movie studios, the TV network — had been overthrown by a mob, and our screens are deluged with the true faces of humanity: its genius, its stupidity, its grammatical chaos, its tendency toward awkward lightsaber battles.

The barbarians bash down the gates of content control:

Full-length movies and TV shows stream free with a single click. At the same time, legal methods of acquiring movies, like iTunes, On Demand, Netflix, and Hulu also rise and, occasionally, flourish.

November 2006 | The Nintendo Wii debuts, featuring a motion-sensitive controller that made gaming a full-body activity. With onscreen avatars mimicking the actions of their real-world commanders, the Wii became a family-friendly phenomenon. Suddenly, videogaming wasn’t just about twiddling thumbs — everyone could see how well grandma was snowboarding and judge for themselves just how inept Dad’s golf swing really was. One year later, with the addition of the weight-sensitive Wii Balance Board, players were required not only to move, but also to lose weight, gain strength and generally adapt their bodies into organic videogame controllers.

2006 | A report states that 70 percent of teens say they get their information about sex from the media — mostly from movies. Yes, that’s an entire generation that likely believes sex is all about starting in soft-focus, fading to black and then waking up with perfect hair and sheets strategically covering the naughty parts.

November 2007 | The Kindle turns the printed page into the printed screen. Digital publications had been attempted plenty of times before, but with the marketing savvy (and substantial catalogue) of Amazon.com behind the Kindle, people finally cared. A wave of Kindle-like e-readers quickly appeared, along with complicated copyright lawsuits and intense worry from the book industry, which saw new releases plunge from $25-plus for a hardcover book to $10 for a download of the same title.

April 2008 | Grand Theft Auto IV made approximately $310 million worldwide during its first day of release, outselling the Harry Potter novels, ‘N Sync albums and The Dark Knight to become the most profitable work of entertainment in a 24-hour period. Grand Theft Auto’s mainstream success confirmed videogaming as an entertainment juggernaut, and game companies quickly began attempting to recapture the series’ popularity and profit. In November 2009, Modern Warfare 2 broke Grand Theft Auto IV’s record by generating more than $310 million in sales its first day in just the U.S. and U.K.

2009 | James Cameron (Titanic, Terminator) spends the entire decade (and a chunk of the previous one) creating Avatar, a two-and-a-half hour tech demo for new 3D technology that he created with Sony (and then lobbied for, and then convinced a ton of theaters to install). Industry figures declare it as big a milestone in the history of film as sound and color were. Crossing their fingers, they hope it could also possibly — just possibly — be the salvation of the cinema business. The story? The dialogue? The leaden clichés? I think you didn’t hear us: It’s in THREE-DEE (and selling like extraterrestrial hot cakes).
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