Coming Attractions

This piece was written in 1994 for a space industry magazine. Some of my then imaginary gee-whiz technology is now ho-hum fact. But I didn’t imagine the movie business.
It hasn’t changed a bit.

Coming Attractions

By Russell Cawthorne

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
~ Arthur C. Clarke, “Profiles of The Future”, 1961 (Clarke’s third law)

Broadcast Satellite BSAT-2

Changrai, Thailand, 23 July, 20:00 hrs (local time):

Poonchai Manoon entered his operator password, switched the console of the Quantoscope MkIV to manual and pressed “RUN”.

He didn’t really need to do anything at all but this was a special event and Manoon wanted to feel he was contributing something.

In fact, every detail of the week’s operation had been programmed into the system since the middle of March. Even before that, the master plan from CyberFox headquarters in Los Angeles had gone on line to the six world regional centres who reviewed it and discussed their regional adjustments and global co-ordination in teleconference meetings over the previous weeks.

The final program was now locked into the compact sealed equipment modules in Manoon’s operations room that also served as his office. Going to manual was sticking his neck out. It would be logged but he knew it would be overlooked provided he stayed with the schedule. Only if he selected “LOCAL OVERRIDE” would he be in real trouble. This would trigger an immediate alert in the regional operations room in Penang and have the global operations duty officer in L.A. asking questions. The same thing would happen if the routine status interrogation sequence that went through every node in global network every sixty seconds produced an out-of-range response. Only failure of the primary or fully-redundant backup equipment or a response that indicated an attempted break-in would signal a higher level of alert.

But tonight everything was routine and Manoon turned his attention to the sub-system status display. Business was good. A hundred percent in all three audience modules. The box-office smartcard machines in the lobby module had logged advance sales for days ahead — as did on-line bookings from the Cyberfox’s web site. Not unexpected, Manoon thought to himself. A simultaneous global premiere of Casablanca III: The Musical with Ingrid Schwartzenegger, Humphrey Bergman and Claude Chan didn’t happen every day.

The screen told Manoon the DVD pressing/vending machine had dispensed 273 disks of the surround-sound soundtrack with karaoke options and video clips. The “Postagraph” machine had issued 347 copies of 60 x 80 cm, suitable-for-framing holograph poster. The “GameMaster” vendor had programmed 194 64-bit smartcards for FoxTendo game machines. The “Mr. T” unit had printed 306 blank T-shirts with personalized artwork signed by the cast attesting that “your name” was a member of the Casablanca III production crew and the “Durian Delight” unit of the refreshment vending array was low on durian concentrate.

Manoon was about to key “durian” on the auxiliary supplies replenishment order menu but thought better of it. They knew that already. He switched the console back to “AUTO”.

On Monday the container with a fourth prefabricated audience module would arrive. He clicked the menu item to open the installation manual instead.


Geostationary Earth Orbit, 147.0° E, 019.4° N, 22 July, 12:00 hrs Zulu:

OB1-97 felt refreshed after its solar panels had enjoyed their morning bath of sunshine.

It had been a busy night.

Not all the exhibition units (EUs) in OB1’s area of responsibility had been upgraded to deal with the new RACE (Resident-Auto-Color-Encoding) compression. This meant it had taken almost four hours to transpond Casablanca’s encrypted two-hours screen time with standard compression — along with the twelve additional language dialogue tracks and their mix code, subtitles for on-screen text and all the code for the concession vending machines. The Quantoscope MkIV’s with 4,000 lines resolution and 200:1 contrast really chew data, but that and the 25,000 lumen output, sure beat anything that the old film flea pits in the region could produce in the ‘90s. The photopolymer screen coatings were a further enhancement of perceived image quality, especially with the back projection audience modules that the type B units used. This also made it difficult to copy with a concealed video camera — not that it mattered. The magnetic fields at the exits would wipe any tape that passed through them.

Reciprocal traffic had been high as well. Along with the order for Manoon’s durian concentrate, the system interrogation routine updated the reports from every box office machine in OB1’s area. These triggered electronic credit transfers to the producer’s bank account — after the usual deductions for the CyberFox distribution organisation, profit participants, communications utilities and so on. A fraction even trickled back to Manoon’s local operating account and hundreds like it.

Casablanca III was safely in the tamper-proof digital memories of all the Quantoscope units in the area and would stay there until it was automatically erased at the end of its run. A copy was also in the system’s secure regional databanks for later supply to high-definition cable heads, regional direct-to-home satellite networks, telephone companies for their video-on-demand service and fourth-tier terrestrial broadcasters.

This did not concern OB1-97.


Changrai, Thailand, 28 July, 19:00 hrs Zulu:

But it did concern Printip Chulalonkorn. It seemed her husband has invited every family member in the compound over to watch Casablanca III. She dialled the number for movies and responded to the electronic voice by pressing the sequence of five numbers on the phone to select the film. The familiar fanfare started even before she put down the phone. She joined the others around the TV set. The picture was nothing like as big and bright and sharp as Khun Manoon’s video theatre in town — and it cost more, but not when compared with taking the whole family and the added cost of the saamlor fare and rice and tofu snacks. She couldn’t dial up the shirts and posters but the kids could program their game machine and download the songs — and certainly she could make Durian Delight better than those darn machines.


Los Angeles, California, 23 July, 09:30 hrs (Pacific Time)

Jerry Curtitz, the new VP Operations was feeling good. The first 24 hours of data from OB1-97 and the other satellites was sheer textbook. Some twit somewhere in Thailand had made a blip on his otherwise pristine report. But that would be fixed.

He scanned the global summary: attendance, advance sales, vending systems. Not for the first time he wondered if there was some way around actually having to make the movies. They were expensive and it was all the other stuff that churned out the profits.

Copyright © 1994 Russell Cawthorne.

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