Daily Archives: July 28, 2011

Movie Theater vs. Home Theater (part 2)

To review: I’m talking about an article on ZDNet that tries to make the case for streaming first-run movies to a home theater. In the first part, I laid out the argument they made, and then took a look at the ‘why I hate theaters’ portion.

This time I’m moving on to their ‘why my home is awesome’ portion.

But first, let me address a point a forgot to address last time. They argued that theaters used to be plush and served real popcorn with real butter and good candy. Really? Is pre-popped popcorn really an issue? Where is this stuff being served? I don’t think I’ve ever been to a movie theater that served pre-popped popcorn (well, except for second-run, but those aren’t in this discussion). Yeah, there are other snacks as well now, and they’re not all good, but the classics are always there that I can remember. Is anybody else getting the same shoddy snack options as these guys?

As to plush theaters: yeah, the old converted theaters were cool and ornate, and I miss them, but more often than not they also had ripped, squeaky, dirty seats, and they weren’t stadium seating so visibility could be a problem. I’d love to see the best of both worlds, but if I had to choose, I’d go with what we’ve got now.

Okay… moving on.

Their argument for replacing movie theater with home theater:

  • I have an HDTV and good sound.
  • Snacks at home are cheaper.
  • I like my house.
  • I can pause the film, and nobody is rude.

I’m going to take these out of order, easy ones first.

I’m glad you’re comfortable in your house and it’s clean. That’s awesome. You win this one.

The expense of snacks. You know what? You’re right. Snacks are cheaper at home. You’ve gotta do some work to prepare them and do the clean-up, but I’m with you.

Nobody is rude and you can pause the film whenever you want. Okay. Obviously you live alone and don’t have a phone. For most people, the odds of being interrupted are actually pretty high at home, if only because the stupid phone won’t stop ringing. Then you’ve got kids who have to go to the bathroom, or don’t want to go to bed, or get confused by the plot and are constantly asking what’s going on. Or maybe that’s your wife. Or your roommate. If there’s more than one person in your house, the odds are they’re going to interrupt you somehow in the course of a two hour film.

And guess what… if you pause the film because you need to go to the bathroom or get a drink or whatever, you’re the one who’s being rude. You’re wrecking the flow of the story and taking me out of the film, just like that guy in the theater who distracts you with his texting or talking. Movies are meant to be immersive (the good ones anyway); they should be continuously grabbing your attention, not broken up into segments. If you’re exhausted with the effort by the end, that’s a good thing. Don’t pause my film.

You’ve got a 72″ HDTV with surround sound? Awesome! I envy you. Also, it’s still way inferior to the theater experience. I’m sorry, but unless you have a system like I’ve never seen before at your house, buried in a virtually light free room with speakers everywhere, you’re not replicating the full audio/video experience that I get at the theater. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking your system. I seriously envy you. Your system is light years ahead of mine, and I want it badly. I’d much rather watch stuff at your house than mine, but you don’t have what I need for the first-run, big movies experience. And if you have kids or neighbors, you can’t turn up the sound as loudly as I want it, either. I want to live inside the screen (metaphorically, obviously…).

And let’s talk for a second about what you don’t get when you stay at home. A community experience. If you want to be a hermit, that’s your thing. Fine with me. I actually like the shared experience of seeing a movie with a group of people who are looking to be entertained – especially when they’re succeeding. I love the experience of hearing 100 people gasp or cheer along with me as the film takes us through its roller coaster of emotions. That can make a mediocre movie seem really good to me.  It can make an excellent film even more visceral. The risk is that someone in the group will do something that’s incongruous with the film (that she is breaking the unspoken “social contract” with everyone is part of why it’s so damaging to the experience), but for me that risk is well worth the payoff when it comes together.

I also don’t get to leave my own life behind quite as completely if I stay at home. That’s part of what I want to do with a movie: leave my life behind for a while. If I’m at home, as soon as the film is over I’m right back in my life again, distractions everywhere. If I’m at a theater, the experience takes a little longer to fade.

I like going to the theater. You can’t replicate that at home.

The final point in the article deals with what price point would be viable for streaming first run movies to the house, and touches on some other hurdles. I’ll tackle that in the next post.