At Review Geek, we’re big fans of 4K TVs and with good reason: home media has never looked better. But do you know what’s better again than watching things at home on your 4K TV? Going to the cinema. Don’t believe me? Read on.
When Christopher Nolan sits down to plan his next movie, he thinks theaters. Sure, he knows that some people will eventually watch his films at home, but he’s making them for the theatrical experience. He literally said, “The only platform I’m interested in talking about is theatrical exhibition” last year when he was promoting Dunkirk.
And Nolan isn’t alone. Aside from a handful of directors like Bong Joon-ho and David Ayer who are working with Netflix on streaming-only movies, pretty much every director is making their film with the biggest screen possible in mind. It doesn’t matter whether the movie you’re watching is from the 1920s or the 1990s, it still holds true. Movies came first; small screen experiences like TV shows and YouTube videos came much much later. There’s a reason that even a “cheap” movie costs more than most TV series to produce. What all this means is that unless you’ve got a monster home cinema set up (if you do, can we be friends?), you’re going to get a watered down experience that’s less than the director intends you to have (and less than most movies are worthy of) when you watch a movie at home.
This point holds doubly true if you’re watching movies on a tiny screen like an iPad or “acquiring” questionable quality downloads. Yes, you’re technically watching the film, but you’re not really experiencing the director’s vision.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love movies and watch at least a few a week at home, some even on an iPad, but the experience just doesn’t compare to the theater. One of the best moments of my life was when I got to see Top Gun in the cinema. The atmosphere was electric when the opening riff to Danger Zone kicked in. I’d watched the opening a dozen times, but seeing the planes take off from the carrier on the big screen was different. It was special.
Talking about sound, that’s another major factor in the cinema experience. Again, if you’ve invested a few thousand dollars in a 7.1 surround sound home theater system that you keep in a soundproof room, you’re excluded from this point, but if you’re watching movies and only hearing sound from your (shudder) TVs built-in speakers, we need to talk.
Sound is one of the understated things that makes a good movie. The sound design is a huge part of how movies make people feel and react. Try watching a horror movie with the sound muted; there’s absolutely no tension. You couldn’t scare a three year old. But with the sound on… with the tight, tension building score, with the subtle vaguely heard bumps, with the character on-screen’s agonized breathing… oh god.
Even if you’ve dropped the price of a used car on a sound system for your house, the absolute best you’ll get is parity with the cinema. (And only until your neighbors complain. Home theater audio standards have just been chasing the features cinemas have had for years. You could strap a home theater subwoofer to your chest, and I still reckon you’d feel more of a kick when the explosions come on from the one in my local theater, even if you’re sitting at the back.
I find it hard to watch a movie at home. I really want to do it, and just as I’m getting into it, Facebook messenger beeps. Or I can’t remember the name of the actor playing a secondary character and I have an overwhelming urge to find out there and then who the hell they are. Or I just feel like checking out if Justin Pot has posted anything on Facebook. And it’s not just me; it’s all of you. A study a few years back found that 87% of people used a second device while watching TV. That’s insane. Apps are now so certain that you’ll have your phone out when you’re watching TV, they’ve started listening to what you’re watching so they can built a profile on you to serve you ads.
In a theater you’re forced to pay a lot more attention to the movie. Your phone is on silent and you can’t really use it without everyone noticing. There’s social pressure keeping your phone in your pocket (unless you’re a selfish asshole). You might get away with quickly checking your texts, but a sustained Reddit session isn’t likely to fly.
It’s the same with other kinds of distractions. When you’re in the theater your partner can’t ask you questions every 43 seconds, you definitely can’t stop midway through to do laundry, and you can’t pause the film to raid your fridge. You’re in your seat—toilet emergencies aside—from the opening credits to the closing ones. Who needs self control when you’ve got a hoard of angry movie fans nearby?
Going to the cinema is an event. You’ve got to get to the place, buy tickets and popcorn, fight over where to sit, drop your popcorn, watch the trailers, forget to put your phone on silent, remember to put your phone on silent, complain about the non-trailer ads, and finish your popcorn all before the movie even starts. While this can sometimes be a downside, for the big films you want to see, the fact it’s an event makes the whole experience much more meaningful.
Movies developed out of live theater and vaudeville. They were (are!) events that drew crowds from all walks of life. People gathered together to experience something together. Comedy films are funnier in the cinema because everyone is feeding off the same energy. Horror movies are scarier for the same reason. Even simple things like the emotional kicker in Marvel movies are infinitely improved by watching it with a load of other people who are all feeling the same, oh so human, emotions as you.
And it’s not just a group event. It can be a small, deeply personal event as well. I met a taxi driver in Dublin at Christmas. We talked about the movies and he told me that his favourite thing was to take his granddaughter to the cinema. It was the time the two of them got alone, to do something together. Sure, they could watch movies on the couch, but it’s just not the same. They will both always remember the moments they had together, watching movies in the cinema.
If you like a particular director, actor or franchise, the absolute best thing you can do to support them is see their films in the theater, preferably on the opening weekend. Following someone on Twitter or rewatching their DVDs, just doesn’t cut it. You need to vote with your wallet.
For movies, the biggest measure of success or failure is how much they make at the domestic box office. A bigger opening weekend is also better too. Hollywood accounting is pretty opaque, confusing, and kept under wraps (Return of the Jedi is yet to turn a profit!) but there are some general rules. When a movie is shown in the theater, the studio and exhibitor split the revenue from the ticket sales. Over the opening week or two, the studio gets the larger share of the revenue and it tapers off so, in the later weeks, the theater gets the bigger chunk.
Other revenue sources like Blu-ray sales, online streaming, and TV deals just don’t bring in the same raw cash for most movies—at least not initially. Over a decade, a movie may eventually make more from them, but that doesn’t help the director who’s fighting to get a sequel greenlit.
And lets not even talk about other ways of watching a movie. While piracy has definitely not killed the movie industry, illegally downloading a film you would have otherwise paid to see is depriving the creators of revenue.
So what this means for you is that, if you’re voting with your wallet, you’ve got to vote early (and preferably often!) if you want to show studios the kind of movies you want made. There are some incredible original films being made that a lot of people just don’t bother to see. Don’t complain about too many superhero films and sequels if you’re not getting off your ass to go and see great original films like Get Out and Baby Driver. I know it’s tempting to wait until it’s out on Netflix, but that doesn’t help the creators get their next project off the ground.
Russell Crowe has been fighting for a decade to get a sequel made to Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. Most people who saw the Peter Weir directed film, including the critics, loved it. It just didn’t pull in enough money at the box office to greenlight a second. Now, after ten years as a cult success, slowly building revenue, another film might just happen but it’s not guaranteed yet. If more people had just watched the film in the cinema, maybe we’d have seen Crowe in more epic movies, rather than badly singing in Les Miserables and doing whatever the hell it was he was doing in The Mummy.
In case it’s not obvious, I’m a big fan of the cinema. It’s by far the best way to watch movies. Obviously you won’t be able to see every film you want in the theater, but for the ones you can, you should. I couldn’t imagine waiting until Star Wars: The Last Jedi (it’s awesome by the way) was out on Blu-Ray to watch it, and nor would the experience have been the same.