I saw Mission Impossible in IMAX last week and I’ve been mulling two things over ever since. The first is that I’m going to try not italicizing movie titles in blog posts anymore. Because it’s annoying to do and you know when I’m talking about a movie right? Can we agree to let that slide for the time being? Good. Thing two, though, is an issue that keeps coming up on this blog/podcast: the “theater experience.” Mainly, how it differs from the experience of just watching a movie at home, and whether it’s actually all that necessary anymore now that we’ve all got reasonably nice televisions, easy access to new movies, and addictions to texting during the slow bits.
Obviously, Hollywood’s been chewing on this topic too, as evidenced by the gimmicks they’ve been pulling out to get people into the theaters. 3D’s been the big one, and as Logan and I have said before, it’s not doing it for me. I like gimmicky 3D like in Piranha or My Bloody Valentine. There it’s fun. But in most other cases it feels tacked on and unnecessary. Theater chains have also tried offering big cushy seats for premium prices. But you know what? I’ve got a whole couch at home, and it doesn’t cost me 10 bucks extra to sit on it.
Which brings us to IMAX. “Okay,” Hollywood implores us, “you may think movies are just as good at home, but does your home have a 70 FOOT SCREEN?!?!” “No,” I reply, speaking for all of us, “no it does not, that would be ridiculous.” But I do have a reasonably large TV. And I’ve got friends with even bigger TVs. TVs that take up entire walls of their homes. And I’ve noticed that the universal truth about the size of a screen is this: after about 10 minutes you stop noticing it.
Yes, Mission Impossible looked great in IMAX. And there were times when I felt more immersed and part of the action. Brad Bird used that space wisely. But because I’m crazy, I also went to see Mission Impossible in a regular theater. And let me remind you folks, a regular movie screen is still pretty damn big. The difference made by IMAX isn’t worth the higher ticket price. And I argue that seeing the movie at home would have been equally enjoyable.
So 3D, fancy seats, IMAX, none of these are motivating me to leave the house. But a couple days ago I had another experience. An old theater was showing Vertigo and I got to see a Hitchcock film in theaters for the first time. I loved it. Not because I love the movie Vertigo. It’s pretty good, but it’s not a goto of mine. In fact the print was kind of muddy and the sound wasn’t great. What I loved was just being in a theater filled with people who wanted to watch Vertigo. It’s that community kind of feel that I so rarely get with new movies. I love laughing along with an audience at a great comedy, or hearing screams in a horror movie. That’s the heart of the theater experience for me. Sharing a movie with other people.
Maybe as movie theaters become marginalized and your TV becomes the default spot for new movies, then the only people who bother to go to the theaters will be people who feel like I do. And if that’s the case, as Logan has theorized before, theaters will be forced to cater to those people like the Alamo Drafthouse does: by taking a hard stance against talking and texting and bringing the love of enjoying a movie with others back to the movie theater.
Or they could just make everything holograms. I’d go to that.