“You need to see this on the big screen!” It’s a recurring phrase you hear when it comes to movies – particularly the big budget movies that populate the upcoming blockbuster season. I myself didn’t get to watch Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar a year after release at home. The movie doesn’t entirely work for me (for starters, it has the wrong ending) but I couldn’t help but think about the images being shown on a big screen instead of the comfort of my own home. Then the thought also sank in that it’s a nearly three hour movie that I got to watch from the comfort of my own home.
Let me tell you, I may have disliked this movie a whole lot if I had to watch it in a theater with uncomfortable seating (And trust me, I’ve had my fair share of uncomfortable theater seating). It might sound weird to you but a huge part of me is thankful for being able to watch this movie in a private setting.
Obviously I’m not here to bash theatrical experiences and I’m certainly not shy about sharing emotions in a public setting – I led my theater in a hearty cry session during Star Wars: The Force Awakens – but there’s just as much enjoyment be found in watching a film by myself as there is in a crowded theater.
There is no singular way to watch movies. There are some movies that are best suited for theatrical experiences and even designed specifically for theatrical experiences. Remember how everyone loved Avatar for a few months when it was in theaters? This is why. I haven’t seen Gravity since it was released in theaters and it remains one of my favorite movies and theatrical experiences. Does it hold up in a home theater setting? I might never know But that doesn’t matter. It held up as I was watching it and that’s more than enough to warrant the praise I give it.
I’ve come into contact with plenty of film purists who frown upon watching movies on laptops or cell phones. Admittedly, I myself don’t watch movies on a cell phone because it takes up data and I’d rather watch two minute long videos of cats being tickled. But on the flip side, I wouldn’t watch a two hour long version of the same video on the big screen. I’ll watch the shit out of a movie on my laptop though and I’ll defend everyone’s right to watch a movie on whatever device they want to watch.
As movies and creative minds continue exploring different approaches to movie making and storytelling, it becomes vital to find new ways of presenting movies to the masses.
When it comes to immersion, theaters have an edge due to dim lighting and bombastic sound design. But that’s assuming the individual movie in question has been given proper presentation treatment by the theater or the editors behind the scenes in production. At home, you hold the power to adjust image and audio quality in the palm of your hand (or on your television if you lost your remote).
All art is different because people are different. There are common threads of entertainment that we cling on to because of of familiarity with genres and cinematic language. Another approach to presentation is simply another form of dialogue between us and the screen. We have an obligation to understand this discussion and determine whether or not there are merits to the approach.
The communal experience of watching a movie on the big screen is something special and cannot be replicated. Watching Richard Linklater’s Waking Life with just one other person in a small room also happened to greatly impact me in a manner I still have trouble describing (seriously, watch Waking Life). Would I have had the same reaction if I watched it in a theater?
Again, this isn’t slander towards theatrical experiences. I drove to the heart of Los Angeles just to watch Spider-Man 2 in 35 mm at the New Beverly a few weekends ago (ICYMI: It’s still a masterpiece).
All I’m asking here is to acknowledge the differing presentations and potential for storytelling. It’s not about film vs digital, it’s not theater vs home, it’s about embracing change and all the possibilities that come along with it.
Featured Image: Warner Bros. Pictures