By Sean Gardner
Motion pictures have been an art form for over one hundred years. Since their inception in the late 19th century, they have provided a way for the artistic to express themselves, and have become one of the most popular forms of escapism, social commentary, and leisurely activity. Innovations in special effects, new methods of acting and artful cinematography are appearing all the time. These things have all contributed to the advancement of what acclaimed film critic Roger Ebert calls “the most important art form ever devised by the human race.”
Because motion picture represent such a unique way of looking at the world we live in, they need to be experienced by everyone. However, for most of their history access to movies was highly limited, and the only way to see films was to attend a showing at the theatre. However, with technological advancements such as television sets, VHS tapes, DVDs, and Blu-Ray, motion pictures are becoming easier to access. With the rapidly expanding popularity of the Internet came on-demand services like Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and Red Box. These home entertainment services have allowed movies to invade the televisions, personal computers, tablets, and cell phones of millions of movie goers across the globe. No longer do we have to spend our Friday nights waiting in line to see a movie. No longer do we have to pay $10 a person to sit next to a stranger that won’t ever stop talking or kicking our chairs. No longer do we have to feel guilty for spending all that money on a huge disappointment of a movie. The average 15 year old American girl with a laptop, tablet, or smart phone has a seemingly unlimited ability to watch movies whenever they want and virtually wherever they want.
Because of these technological advancements the temptation to stay home and watch movies using any number of on demand services rather than going to the theatre is greater than ever before. Award winning director Martin Scorsese has even stated: “In the future, (we’ll) probably see less and less of what we recognize as cinema on multiplex screens and more and more of it in smaller theaters, online, and, I suppose, in spaces and circumstances that I can’t predict.”
The state of today’s non-stop society might be a factor in the increasing popularity of on demand services. Many people just do not have enough time to dedicate to going out to see a movie. Between work responsibilities and school assignments, it is hard for us to take time out of our schedules to go to the movies.
Another factor is that, quite frankly people are lazy. Why would you take all that time to get dressed real nice and spend money on gas and popcorn when you could just stay home in your comfortable pajamas, click a few icons or push a few buttons to watch the same thing you could see in the theatre?
It is also not always practical or convenient to go to the theatre. It is much cheaper and easier to rent a movie on Red Box than it is for a group of friends to spend $10 a piece to see a movie at the theatre. Furthermore, it is more socially acceptable to go to movies with friends. However, if you just want to watch a movie by yourself then it is more acceptable and easier to do if you just stay home and rent a movie or watch one online. You will not feel as bad watching a movie at home alone, than you would by going to the movie theatre by yourself.
The ever rising ticket prices might also contribute to the hoards of people who wait for a movie to be released on DVD and digital formats. The average ticket price in the United States for an adult is $8.38 for one movie. On the other hand the average price per movie for an on demand service such as Netflix is five cents per movie to stream to a game console such as an Xbox 360 or about half that to stream it to a personal computer (Rayburn). This price gap can make a huge difference for poor college students, or a large family. Sometimes, however, it is worth paying a little extra to experience a film in the theatre.
No matter how a movie is watched, we can still develop emotional attachments to them. I am sure almost every one of us at one point in our lives has fallen in love with a movie. We know the characters. We know the story. We know (and could probably recite) the lines. The movie that I fell in love with the most was Christopher Nolan’s second installment in his Batman series, The Dark Knight. I admired it not only because of the engaging story, or the archetypal characters, or the infinitely quotable Joker lines, but also because it was the first time I attended the midnight premier of a movie.
I can remember every detail of that summer night. As a 17 year old male having grown up reading the Batman comics and watching the cartoons every Saturday morning, I had never been more exited about anything else in my life. I went with my older brother who is also a Batman fan. Both of us had seen every previous cinematic incarnation of the Caped Crusader, and we were curious to see if Christopher Nolan would continue with the success that he had in the first installment.
My excitement increased as my brother and I approached the local theatre. We arrived over an hour early and the line already extended out the door. People were chattering with excitement as we waited to enter the theatre. We saw some of our friends that were just as excited as we were to witness one of the most anticipated sequels in movie history.
When the theatre staff finally began letting people take their seats the anxious crowd outside belted out cheers accompanied by thunderous applause. As I walked in the smell of popcorn filled my nostrils as I crossed the threshold, entering the lobby. The anticipation filled conversations now moved from the streets to the seats. Everyone was waiting with bated breath for that glorious moment when the house lights would dim, signifying the start of the picture. When that moment arrived the crowd of avid movie goers fell eerily silent. As the film opened with a flaming blue Batman symbol, my heart raced.
Throughout the entire two and a half hour film the audience was transfixed with what was happening on screen. We jumped and cowered together at the frightening images of the villainous Joker. We cheered in unison as Batman narrowly escaped death on multiple occasions. We laughed as one cohesive unit at the jokes. The audience shared in the experience as one group. We all witnessed greatness. It was the most amazing cinematic experience of my life.
The midnight showing of The Dark Knight taught me a very valuable lesson. There is something deeply satisfying about seeing a movie at the theatre the way that it was intended. When a group of a hundred or so strangers enter a dark room to look at the same pictures and hear the same sounds, something amazing takes place. Each individual has their own personal experience, yet at the same time everyone that is there is having the same group experience. Everyone is seeing the same images on the same screen and hearing the same dialogue and laughing at the same jokes and enjoying the same music. People can begin a movie as strangers and walk out as comrades having shared in empathizing with the characters in the movie. This kind of experience can only happen when we attend the theatre.
Going to the theatre is the way that movies are intended to be seen. There are some benefits to going to the movies over waiting for it to show up on Red Box or Netflix. First, going to the theatre is the way the filmmakers intended for their movies to be seen. The way motion pictures are filmed and the way that they are edited is made specifically for it to be shown through a projector and thrown up onto a silver screen. Only after it is shown in theatres, is it converted into a digital format and placed online or on a disc. This conversion process somewhat dilutes the film’s true form into something less exciting. I have seen The Dark Knight several times since that first midnight showing and the experience is never the same. There is something deeply satisfying about seeing a movie the way that it was intended.
No matter how hard we try, it is impossible to recreate the same feeling that we get when we see a movie in the movie theatre. First of all the atmosphere is different. The feel of a movie theatre is unique. The smell of the popcorn, the buzz of anticipation from the audience, the friendliness of the staff can only be experienced in the theatre.
Secondly, Roger Ebert said that the experience of going to the theatre to see good movies can have a profound influence on our lives. He said, “When we go to the theatre and empathize with those people (the characters in the movie) who are not ourselves it makes us better people; more broad minded, more able to understand what’s right with the world and what’s wrong with the world.”
Movies will be around “for people to see for as long as there are people who want to see them.” However, the increasing popularity of Red Box and other on demand video services has tainted and diluted the art of filmmaking. Although on demand videos and movies may be more convenient and less expensive, the experience that you have when you go to a theatre outweighs anything else. Filmmaking is the art form of our generation. It is our responsibility to appreciate it and make sure it continues as an art form.