Monster launch for digital movies

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The Independent Online

The era of flickering films delivered in dusty, battered boxes may be over. In the future, movies will be sent to cinemas by satellite and high-speed phone lines, screened with digital projectors and could even allow audiences to choose the endings.

The first serious steps towards replacing celluloid in Britain will begin this spring with a series of projects involving film directors such as Jim Sheridan, musicians such as Dave Stewart, MPs, the National Film Theatre, the UCI cinema chain and mobile phone company Ericsson.

Their initiatives come as Hollywood studios begin to release major films in digital format. Cinema advertising firms such as Pearl & Dean and Carlton are also experimenting with digital advertisements – ending the era of the scratched Indian restaurant ads still shown in some British cinemas.

After small trials involving mainstream movies such as Toy Story 2, the studios are releasing digital versions of films such as Monsters, Inc this year for general cinema screenings using digital projectors.

UCI will beam digital movie clips from Italy to Manchester this week using a European Space Agency satellite to test the satellite delivery of movies. Over the summer, UCI also plans to stage its first digital events, potentially involving live screenings of sports events or pop concerts.

The most ambitious project involves a consortium including Dave Stewart, the producer Quincy Jones and directors Shekhar Kapur and Jim Sheridan. They are opening a national digital test centre at London's National Film Theatre, with £500,000 from the Department of Trade and Industry, over the next few months. The NFT project will run low-budget digital films by new directors and test new technologies which put multi-player computer games and interactive websites on the big screen.

Mr Stewart's consortium will also test Ericsson's latest mobile phone and computer technologies at the NFT to allow customers to buy movies and play games in cinemas using their mobiles. "It's creating something that can be revolutionary in the way it is produced and distributed," he said.

Gerald Buckle from UCI predicted that digital technology, driven by escalating use of DVD players and home computers, could see an end to traditional cinemas. "They will be entertainment complexes. You will go to a cinema on a Saturday night to see a concert, a movie or sports events. That will be on offer in the next five years, if not sooner. We could do it tomorrow," he said.

In another development, the DTI has launched a new pan-European initiative with France and Sweden called the European Digital Cinema Forum and has appointed a DTI official as Britain's representative. Douglas Alexander, the DTI minister for e-commerce, said the Government wanted to bolster Britain's reputation as a world leader in digital entertainment, particularly in the movie industry.