Hello namesake, I am wondering what your opinion is on the future of movie theaters? My wife and I gave up going to the movies this year. We now relax at home with our 60 inch hdtv, blu-ray, and surround sound. Nexflix is our new movie house. We now enjoy better film and sound quality at home. I can see that some people might enjoy the experience of going out to the movies but to us it is just a big hassle and not a very good value for the money anymore. — Rob Mapes
Thanks for the question, Mr. Mapes, and thanks for letting me hijack it.
Reports of My Death are Premature
I don’t expect movie theaters will ever go away, and for several reasons. Firstly, teenagers need a place to get away from their parents. (I stole this thought from film critics David Ansen and Bob Denerstein.) Teens will see movies on opening weekend, and they don’t read reviews. The fact that quickly-produced, disposable films like Meet the Spartans do well proves that it doesn’t even matter what’s showing. What matters is that the movie theater is a good enough place for young people to get out, whether on dates or in groups. It’s a social focus, and that demand will always be there.
I also think there will always be — if less frequently — “spectacle” movies that are worth the hassle of going to a theater. I usually don’t drive the 45 minutes to Denver these days, even for press screenings, because of my new day job. But my wife and I drove to Denver on a Saturday to see U23D at the nearest IMAX.
And finally, as long as there is a gap between a movie’s theatrical release and its DVD release, people will go see a movie that they don’t want to wait for. I’ve lately gone to see a few movies after I missed the press screening such as In Bruges, and I hope to see Persepolis soon. That gap to DVD has been getting narrower, and if it ever closes completely, then I think theaters will become more of a novelty than a mainstream habit. But the couple of films that were released simultaneously on DVD and a theaters have mostly been failed experiments so far, so if the gap is going to close, it won’t be soon.
No Place Like Home
However, I have to agree with you. I find myself more and more comfortable in my home theater. We have a good TV and comfortable seating. We live within biking distance of a video store with more choices than Netflix (thank you Video Station). And with excellent TV series available on DVD (The Wire, Flight of the Conchords, Lost, Scrubs), we can watch something short, rather than a whole movie, depending on how much time is available that evening. I am grateful for the convenience of home video, and more and more grateful that I don’t have to sacrifice picture quality as the technology gets better and better.
When I do go to a theater, I sometimes have to try very hard not to be distracted by the clod in the front row who checks his cell phone, brightness set to full, or the mother of the little girl behind won’t shush her little angel.
Get Out! Tune In!
But there are still reasons that audiences should still go to the movies. For one, 35mm film offers higher resolution than even Blu-Ray DVDs. And because the resolution is better, the picture can be bigger — much bigger. Even if you sit closer at home, such that the TV takes up the same field of view as a movie screen, you’re missing some of the details you’d see in the theater.
Also, because the screen is so big (and the room is so dark, and the multi-thousand-dollar, multi-speaker, surround sound system has been professionally calibrated), a movie theater gives you a much more immersive experience. That can be worth a lot. A movie that captivates and engrosses you in the theater loses some of its luster on your TV.
Just as important, you’re on someone else’s territory. Your doorbell isn’t going to ring. Your dog won’t hop on your lap. You can’t press pause to go to your refrigerator and get your favorite snack. You’re not in control, so you have to pay attention the first time, and that can make you more engaged.
The most important factor, though, is that at a theater, you’re in an audience. This is especially important for comedy — I’ve never seen anything funnier than There’s Something About Mary, and that’s partly because I saw it in a full theater. But an audience can also be important for suspense and drama. I was recently on a film festival’s jury, and they specifically asked us to see the films, at the festival, with an audience, so that we could truly say we had experienced the movie (and I wouldn’t have had it any other way). In fact, one of the first submissions was a film I had happened to have seen before the festival, on a TV set. I didn’t particularly like the movie, or even “get” it. But the audience loved it, and even informed me on how to appreciate it.
That’s a long answer to “what’s the future of movie theaters,” but it’s been on my mind. I’ve been staying home more and going to the theaters less, in part because of the demands of my new day job, and in part because of the quality of our home theater. I feel guilty about it. Every time I go to a movie, I am pleasantly surprised at how immersed I am, and I’m never sorry that I went out rather than stayed in.