The Myth of the Movie-Going Experience
by Rusty W. Spell

People claim that most of the fun of going out to the movies is the whole "movie-going experience." The more I think about it, the more this seems silly to me. The movie-going experience is usually a bad experience, especially if it's a movie you actually want to see. I'll go ahead and make the following statement before giving my arguments, just so I can achieve the biggest sacrilegious resonance: I would rather new movies come out on DVD rather than in theaters.

Here are some aspects about the movie-going "experience" that people like, and my retorts:

  • The Big Screen -- "You gotta see this one on the big screen!" What's so big about it once you sit back far enough so that you can actually see? If you sit too close, you get to see some actor's giant nose, and if you sit at the proper distance, you're just as well off watching your television set. Perspective-wise, it's exactly the same. In the olden days, you might want to see it on the big screen for the proper aspect ratio (since video releases traditionally showed movies in "pan and scan"), but almost all DVDs are shown in the correct format. Also, at home you can have a clear view of the picture and not worry about someone with a big head sitting in front of you. Or with a medium-size head. Even with stadium seating, there's almost always an obstruction problem. Finally, compare the quality of a DVD picture to the grain and dust on a movie screen.

  • Popcorn and Other Refreshments -- "Part of the movie-going experience is that big tub of popcorn!" Can people not go two hours without eating? And it's not like you're eating anything good: crappy popcorn which doesn't taste as good as microwave popcorn, some junk candy, sticky drinks? And everyone knows how expensive they are. The reason they can get away with being so expensive is because everyone thinks part of this so-called "movie-going experience" is popcorn. Even if I don't get my point across about theaters, I hope people will consider that they can indeed live without eating while watching a movie. It's also distracting both for the eater and people sitting around the eaters. Of course, if you're at home, you can eat whatever you like.

  • Good Going Out Place -- "Nothing like getting a group of friends or a date and going to the movies!" Actually, movies are like the worst place to be with friends or to go on a date. The people you're with aren't even able to talk to each other, only sit in the dark together. Find someplace else. The only way to really have fun with your friends at a theater is to be loud with each other, and that's distracting for everyone else. And movies might be a make-out place, but again I'm talking about the best way to actually watch a movie, not to make out. Watching movies at home with friends is sometimes fun, where you're free to talk as much as you'd like (if you're watching the movie in a different sort of way than a 100% concentration on movie kind of way).

  • Sound System -- "Those explosions sounded cool!" This is a semi-legit reason for wanting to see something in the theater. THX or DTS just isn't the same on TV speakers. But if you have a home theater system, things sound perhaps better than movie theaters. My own system sounds better than the theaters I go to, which are either too loud or too soft or where I'm never able to sit in the "sweet spot" for proper listening. At home, you can set things up exactly the way you like them. I know everyone's not going to go out and buy a home theater system, but you easily could with the money you save from movie tickets. Besides, even TV speakers these days are pretty good, and especially when listening to DVD sound.

  • Release Dates -- "Um, it's the only way I get to see it right now!" This is the only real case right now for theater-going, that you have to. Movies aren't released to DVD until months or years later (or never), so if you want to see it when it comes out, it's your only option. Which makes me restate my opinion that I'd rather have movies come out on DVD first than at theaters.

And here are the things about theaters that no one likes, even the ones who buy into the "experience" myth:

  • Outrageous Prices -- An average movie ticket is close to ten dollars for one person. Even a matinee or discount ticket for one person will cost more than a DVD rental which can be played for any number of people in the room. If about three people chip in the cost of what their movie tickets would have been, you can even buy the DVD.

  • Loud People -- No matter how many times the gloved hand on the screen tells them to be quiet, people are going to talk. I've had entire movies absolutely ruined by loudmouths. Add to this screaming babies. Even the quietest murmuring audiences are problems. (Note: I realize some households have this problem too, and that it's a problem to watch movies in those houses, in which case I offer my condolences because I grew up in a house like this.)

  • Cell Phones -- People are idiots. Not only can they not go two hours without eating, they can't go two hours without talking on the telephone. Feel free to leave your phone off the hook while watching movies at home.

  • Uncomfortable Seats -- Even the most luxurious of theater seats become uncomfortable after a while. Compare them to your couch, recliner, or bed.

  • Previews and Other Commercials -- Okay, some people like watching the previews -- I kind of do too -- but it's nice to have the option to skip past them, especially when they all seem to go on for at least ten minutes. What's completely uncalled for are the non-movie commercials. We've paid money to see the movie, so why are we being advertised at? We don't pay enough money to warrant zero ads?

  • Limited Releases -- Sure, we can see Shrek and A Beautiful Mind all we want at the theater for an extended period of time. But what about the movies that are actually better? I still haven't seen Todd Solondz' Storytelling and I had to drive three hours to see David Lynch's Mulholland Drive. For most of the movies really worth watching, we have to wait months for DVD anyway, especially if we don't live in New York or Los Angeles.

Furthermore and most important...

Who sits around with a group of strangers listening to recorded music? Who would tolerate having to show up at 7:30 at a central location and pay ten dollars to listen to the new Britney Spears album just one time? We only do this for movies because we've had to, before video came out. And now that DVD is available, which is so much better than VHS, there is no reason for this theater dictatorship.

DVDs have the physical trappings that everyone seems to crave, allowing them to be owned, carried around, touched, etc. When the MP3 broo-ha-ha blew up, one of the arguments against them was that people wanted "music they could hold." People even said LPs were better than CDs because of the bigger album covers.

Our movies should be as personal as our music. They're important and important to us. We've believed these stupid myths about the movie-going experience long enough. Do I think theaters will go away? Probably not, and I don't even necessarily want them to, but what I do want is same-as-theater-release-day movies on DVD. Do I think this will happen? Not anytime soon perhaps, but I have a hope that people will wise up. Otherwise, let's all go out to the movies and have yet another unpleasant experience.

Copyright 13 May 2002 We Like Media.
You may email Rusty W. Spell.
You should certainly email him if you have any arguments against or for this article that Rusty has forgotten.