I’m sure it’s hard to believe, but movie fans haven’t always had the choice between seeing a movie at a theater or waiting to watch it on video. Much has already been made of Disney’s decision to limit its forthcoming Alice in Wonderland to just thirteen weeks of theatrical exhibition, before releasing it on Blu-ray and DVD. Young fans might not know it, but there was indeed a time when you could entirely forget about a movie between its theatrical debut and its home video release. (Then again, knowing the attention spans of some, this is probably still true.)
I bring this up because the choice continues to evolve for most movie fans: Go to the theater or wait and see it at home? I’m not going to explore the pros or cons of either environment, but rather I’m interested this time in exploring how where we see a movie impacts our feelings about that movie.
For many of us, it’s pretty much a given that the genre films (think Star Wars, Batman, Harry Potter) are releases that must be seen on a big screen. Not only that, but we prefer opening night – or even the earliest 12:01 showing – if it’s offered to us. Why? Partly because we’re desperate to see the film before anyone has had a chance to spoil any of it for us, which today isn’t easy. Even if you avoid the plethora of websites devoted to leaked information, many mainstream reviews shamelessly flaunt spoilers. Pass on reading anything about the film in question, and you still have to hope that some boneheaded marketing twit hasn’t seen fit to include everything in the trailer. More importantly though, there’s the shared communal aspect of seeing those kinds of movies with other dedicated fans.
When you wait to rent a movie, you miss the thrill of being surrounded by passionate fans. More seriously, you risk spending months hearing about how disappointing it is. When you see a movie before all that poisons you against it, it’s a matter of being innocent until proven guilty. The moment you become conscious of public consensus against a film, the movie is guilty and must try to prove its innocence to you. We may not even be aware of it, but it does change our expectations. It changes how willing we are to laugh at the little jokes, to suspend our disbelief early in the film, or to invest ourselves in the characters.
I’m sure I laughed harder at Superbad because I saw it in a theater full of people who kept laughing from start to end. Laughter is infectious, and comedies benefit strongly from being seen with a crowd who is willing to laugh. Go see a comedy on a weekday afternoon sometime. The elderly are hard to impress and less vocal in their reactions to movies. It becomes awkward to watch a comedy with only pockets of light chuckles, which can make the entire experience uncomfortable.
I’m also certain I enjoyed Paranormal Activity more because I saw it at a theater full of enthusiastic fans. The audience squirmed together, gasped together, shrieked together, jumped in their seat together… and several of us laughed together at everyone else squirming, shrieking, and jumping in their seats. It was fun. I’ve read countless reviews from fans that waited to watch it at home and have been disappointed. I can’t say for sure, but I’m willing to bet I would have been one of them had I waited… and they might have enjoyed the movie more had they decided to see it during its theatrical run.
Then there are the intimate dramas. I think I enjoyed Lost in Translation more at home than I would have in a theater. I watched it on a lazy, drizzling afternoon with nothing to do and nowhere to go. It was perfect for that movie because the lead characters meet one another during a lazy, drizzling point of their lives. I felt like familiar friends had stopped by to while away the afternoon with me, and it endeared me to the film.
I hated Eyes Wide Shut when I saw it during its theatrical run, but have come to love it in subsequent viewings at home. Granted, Kubrick films are notorious for requiring several viewings to enjoy, but I really feel that I benefited from seeing the movie without being overwhelmed by the size of the images. I was more able to concentrate on the rich visuals of the film, and as a result, more of the subtle nuances register with me each time I see it.
How about you? Can you think of a time when you know that the enthusiasm of an auditorium full of people rubbed off on you and boosted your enjoyment of a movie? Can you think of a film that you’re sure you appreciated more because you saw it in the comfort of your own home – without anyone else around? How does this influence your ranking of these movies when they come up for you on Flickchart?
This post is part of our User Showcase series. You can find Travis as minlshaw on Flickchart. If you’re interested to submit your own story or article describing your thoughts about movies and Flickchart, read our original post for how to become a guest writer here on the Flickchart Blog.