It’s no accident that so much of my writing at GameSpite has been focused on issues related to home theaters. I’ve grown to prefer the home theater experience to actual theaters, and I’m certainly not alone in that.
[[image:vs090108_theater.jpg:Movie Theater Lights:center:0]]
This is probably a side effect of the fact that my local movie theater is shockingly bad. When I saw 300 there, the film was badly out-of-focus. Everything was so fuzzy that I felt like I was going blind. This is the same theater where I saw Anchorman, during which the projectionist badly misframed the movie. The cinematographer of Anchorman apparently decided not to block off the unused vertical areas of the frame, and consequently objects like boom microphones were visible on the print itself yet shouldn’t have been visible to audiences when projected properly. When I saw it, though, the boom mikes were frequently visible. Having not seen the film before, I thought it was some kind of bad joke. It wasn’t until close the end of the film, when only the barest top of the subtitles could be seen, that I realized what was wrong. Those are only two examples, as I could go on and on; the most recent travesty being when I took my wife to see Twilight a few days after the film’s release and the print they were showing was already badly damaged.
Despite these bad experiences, the main reason I prefer my home theater is that it gives me the ability to control the experience. Even when I make the long drive to a theater in a more civilized area of the world for big event pictures, I still end up having a bad experience most of the time. If it’s not the constant illumination of everyone around me using their phones throughout the whole movie, I’m inevitably seated next to a bored and energetic small child, or else someone incapable of comprehending on-screen events, prompting them to ask, “Who is that? Where did he come from? Why are they going there?” every few minutes.
Why bother with these distractions when the home experience has advanced so much? When I was a kid watching my bootleg Star Wars tapes (on Betamax, no less), I never imagined that I’d grow up to have theater-style surround sound in my living room. That the picture quality on my display would be as good as (if not better than) a movie being traditionally projected. I know there is some controversy about the innate qualities of traditional film projection over digital images, but if the choice is paying an obscene price to see a badly-weathered print splashed across a huge screen or staying home to watch a perfect digital transfer, the better option is easy to guess.
[[image:vs090108_batman.jpg:Just the… kitty… I’ve been looking for.:center:0]]
This does make me a bit melancholy, though. Some of my best memories growing up involve movie theaters. I remember my cousin surprising me by taking me to the opening night of Batman Returns. As a kid, I didn’t get to see many movies in the theater (being the first of five children made a movie theater outing very expensive for my family). It was in a majestic theater in Southern California, and the lines were incredible. Being there for that spectacle is something I’ll treasure forever, and the kindness my cousin showed me that day will never be forgotten. Instead of going to the movies, my mom would buy me the movie tie-in novelizations of all the movies I wanted to see. I was a big bookworm as a kid, and reading was how I first experienced Gremlins 2, a movie I was looking forward to so much that I wrote my own script for it.
More recently, being a part of the hype for Star Wars: Episode One is an experience I don’t regret in the slightest. I waited in line overnight for the tickets, and again for the seating. It was the first time I realized that there was a whole community of nerds out there, and that I wasn’t the only person in the world who not only knew who Mitth’raw’nuruodo was, but who could in these heady days before Wikipedia recite facts about the Chiss and the services he performed for the Empire.
[[image:vs090108_phantom.jpg:This image gave me chills the first time I saw it:center:0]]
So it is with some regret that I now rarely venture out of my cave to see films in a theater. The combination of high prices and the rudeness of other people has made the movie theater experience worse than I can recall it being when I was younger, and the convenience and quality of watching a Blu-ray on an HD set in surround sound negates any advantages that movie theaters used to have. The movie theater industry might scramble for gimmicks like 3D projection to try and give people something they can’t get at home, but I’d rather they figure out a way to deliver consistent quality in a quiet environment.
Movie Theater Image courtesy of Steve Rhodes