In recent years, we have been consistently reminded of the many hassles with attending movie theaters. Ticket prices are extremely high, people are exceedingly rude and, on average, a small popcorn will run you about ten dollars. Alright, point taken. There are several problems associated with going to the movies. So why do we still attend? With all of the technological advances in home theaters and in light of the FCC’s decision to allow the streaming of new theatrical releases directly to our home televisions, why would we continue to subject our nerves and wallets to the constant onslaught of the theater going experience? Simple: because there’s nothing else like it— and we know it.
It’s the atmosphere...
Walking into a movie theater, we are instilled with a sort of exhilaration that only an actual theater can provide. Whether it be of classic décor, with silk curtains draping the walls, conjuring up images of golden age Hollywood glamour, or of contemporary design with stadium seating and leg room to spare, movie theaters illicit a feeling of wonder and anticipation. Before the film even begins, many of us feel privileged just to be there.
the sights and sounds…
No matter how much time and money we spend obtaining the finest quality, high-tech equipment for our homes, the effect will never come close to matching that of a genuine theater. Unless we are wealthy enough to contain an actual movie screen within the walls of our homes, the size of our televisions will never match the magnitude of a theater screen. Because of the sheer size of the screen, all distractions immediately surrounding the film have been removed, allowing it to completely engage your vision and mind, (unlike the experience we get at home). Add to this the vast, specially designed space of the theater, which allows for the advanced surround sound system to play off of its acoustics, and we have got a truly engaging experience. All of this enables the observer to see and hear everything mixed and mastered the way the moviemakers intended, completing the final masterpiece that is film. The unified intensity of sights and sounds so deeply immerses us in the experience that a heightened sense of awareness often sends us into a state of suspended reality. This feeling often grabs hold of us so strongly that it does not let go of us for hours afterward— long after the movie has ended. No matter how great the film, I have never walked away from my television feeling like that.
Do you remember how special it was before the time of home recording devices, when we would have to wait for our favorite movies to be played on television, since that was the only way we were going to see them? We would wait with anticipation for those few wonderful hours, knowing that we may not see this film again for a very long time. However, when these devices came out, allowing us to watch a movie anytime we pleased, the event was somehow not as remarkable. Not only were we now able to view movies anytime we pleased, but also anyway we pleased. We could now press stop at anytime, walk away, and just pick it up later; if we missed something, we could simply rewind. Other great events cannot be suspended in this way— a sunset, a storm— but now you can pause a great adventure or a terrible tragedy. This somehow takes away from the greatness of a film.
It is the same idea with watching movies at the theater compared to in our homes. At the theater, we make sure that everything is set ahead of time, because there is no pausing and walking away like we do at home. No taking a break to get up for snacks, no stopping to clean the living room, and heaven forbid you should have to go to the bathroom. Some people find this an inconvenience, but others consider this is one of the great joys of attending the show- to be transported to another world, completely. The focus of our attention is centered on the screen, and there is no stopping to deal with phone calls, kids, and the like. For those couple of hours, our world is that movie, and we cannot just pause it and walk away. If we do, even just for a moment, we will miss something - and that makes it all the more special.
and the friends we meet along the way…
One of the few occasions where people are comfortable planting themselves in the middle of a crowd for a few hours is during a movie. Not before the show starts, (when you’re hoping that your strategically placed coat will maintain a minimum five foot, people-free radius around you at all times), but during the actual movie. Let’s not get into all of the complaints we have about the people that often surround us, because we’ve heard it and personally encountered it hundreds of times. Instead, let’s focus on how wondrous it can be when a group of people experience something as one. Someone’s hysterics from across the room makes you laugh even harder at the comedy you’re watching, someone’s scream from behind you frightens you more than the horror movie itself, and the uncontrollable weeping two rows ahead of you emotionally links you to that person, and assures that you that you are not "alone" in the theater. Yes, we know that people have always been and will continue to be ignorant, obnoxious and rude. However, they may also be the key to our movie going experience. When all of us come together, simultaneously feeling and exhibiting the same emotions, a collective consciousness pervades the theater and at the end, it’s as if you’ve experienced a magnificent adventure alongside a close group of friends— and the journey would never have been the same without them.
…that create this magical experience.
So, no matter how much we spend on our home systems and how much we kid ourselves into believing that it’s the same experience as attending an actual theater, we know it isn’t. Movies are larger than life and they require a space of equal magnitude in which to exhibit them.
In the end, it is not the ambiance, the size of the screen, or the people that surround us— it is all of these things. It is a unique combination of factors whose likeness cannot be replicated by any other means, each part that makes up the whole of the “theater experience”.
There will never be a substitute for our theaters. They are a part of our history and a part of movie making itself. Hopefully our tendency toward instant gratification and our intolerance for one another will not allow this great institution to fade away. I, for one, would find this a great tragedy.