A glitch, or the future? One writer sat down to watch a movie on streaming, and found the opening credits kept auto-skipping – some thoughts here.

A funny thing happened when I sat down to watch the film Happiest Season.

The movie was initially intended to be released in cinemas across the world until a certain pandemic forced it to premiere instead on Hulu in the US and on VOD in the UK just before Christmas. On the day of its release, we decided to rent the movie, and used Amazon to do so.

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We dimmed the lights and pressed play on our rental, and the movie began… with an establishing shot of a Father Christmas decoration. Not a company logo in sight, which was a little strange. Slightly confused, we hit pause to discover that we were somehow already over two minutes into the movie, Amazon had skipped the entirety of the opening credits.

No ‘skip intro’ button, no warning, we were just thrown right into the action of the movie. Was the assumption that perhaps we wouldn’t be interested in spending two minutes reading a bunch of names with no dialogue to entertain us? We skipped back to the beginning of the movie.

On watching what we missed, we found out that the opening credits of Happiest Season weren’t just a collection of names, but contained the story of the first year of Harper (Mackenzie Davis) and Abby’s (Kristen Stewart) relationship, from the time they first meet at a party, to the opening scene one Christmas later (with birthdays, holidays and everything else you’d expect to find in a relationship in between).

When the credits end, you find that you’re already somewhat familiar with the characters, thanks to the short hand character establishment provided by these titles. The story of the movie very much begins with these opening credits.

How could this have been skipped? We’ve grown accustomed to seeing the ‘skip intro’ button over whatever new streaming show we’re watching, but this is the first time that I’ve encountered this in the world of film.

Streaming services have long been experimenting with new features before rolling them out to the general public (take Netflix’s Playback Speed feature, for example, which allows you to watch its service at 0.5 or 1.5 speed if you so wish), so I was concerned that this was another trial that was being tested on a limited number of viewers to see whether it would be worth rolling out to everyone.

I messaged Amazon’s Support, and it assured me that the ability to skip intros is only something that it allows for TV shows, and not movies. The support rep suggested that I may have started watching the movie, watched two minutes, stopped, and came back later to ‘resume viewing’. We rented it on the day of its release, and there was no time between hitting ‘rent’ and hitting ‘play’ to do what was suggested, so I know this isn’t what happened. But this is the only explanation Amazon support could come up with.

So we either witnessed a glitch that coincidentally happened to start the movie on the first non-credits shot, or we are witnessing the first signs of a grim and terrible future.

Imagine, if you will, sitting down to watch No Time To Die (NTTD, date TBC). You’re watching it at home for reasons of safety, or maybe convenience/accessibility. Maybe you were able to watch it in a cinema, and this is the first time you’re watching it at home.

The movie starts with 5-10 minutes of Daniel Craig being cool/tired, and then we cut to the opening credits, arguably one of the best parts of any James Bond movie. Maybe the movie skips right ahead to the next scene, like with Happiest Season. Or maybe, the credit sequence actually plays, but in the bottom right corner, a little button appears: ‘skip intro’.

It’s difficult to get rid of the button without exiting the whole movie, and so you watch the entirety of the intro with it just sitting there, constantly asking you if you should really be wasting your time watching whatever music video nonsense this is when you could be seeing actual humans talking, blowing things up and moving the plot forward.

It’s difficult to know who to blame for this terrifying future. Audiences demanded that they have the ability to skip the intro sequences for their favourite TV shows, often because they’ve been binging episodes for hours, and don’t want to sit through the opening titles for the umpteenth time in one day.

Maybe they’d want to sit through it if we hadn’t been inundated with intros that last one and a half minutes, feature generic CGI images, and unmemorable string music that isn’t much of a theme song. Maybe HBO is to blame for implanting the idea in our heads that a 90 second introduction sequence is short hand for ‘prestige TV’. Maybe it’s the streaming companies that dump entire seasons of a show on their platforms while encouraging viewers to get through it all in as short a time as possible (see also: watching Netflix at 1.5 speed).

It doesn’t take much analysis to realise that film is going through a bit of an odd time right now. Prior to 2020, the line between TV and Film had already been getting blurry, but events of the last year have made them even more so. Is Small Axe a series or five movies? Steve McQueen refers to the productions as the latter, even when some run at less than 70 minutes. What about Death To 2020? Rotten Tomatoes lists it as a movie, while IMDB calls it a TV special.

And then of course there’s the global pandemic.

Movies that were filmed with the big screen in mind are being released to our streaming devices. While plenty of people have decent setups at home, it’s still a little sad to see movies be reduced to ‘streaming content’. It’s coming up close to a year since I set foot in a cinema, and one of the things I miss the most is the feeling that a trip to the movies is a special event. When every day starts to feel the same as the one before, we have tried to create events to look forward to when we can.

Being largely unable to leave the house, this gives us limited options, but watching a new movie on the day of its premiere certainly felt pretty special. Something to distinguish this evening of movie watching from the other ones of browsing the various streaming services until we find one we’re both in the mood for. So, glitch or not, it was pretty disappointing to feel like Happiest Season was being treated as if it’s just another episode of a bingeable show, to be watched as quickly as possible and forgotten about soon after.

It may be we encountered a glitch. It may be something’s being tested. But it’s the first – and hopefully last – time a ‘skip intro’ option is offered for a movie.

And finally I really want to thank Plucky, the company responsible for creating the opening credits for Happiest Season. I’m glad that I was able to see what it put together. How do I know that it made the titles? Because I saw its name in the closing credits, after refusing to let them be minimised by the auto-play feature, of course…

Lead image: BigStock

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