How are you watching your movies?

If you’re not watching movies in the cinema, you’re not watching them the way the filmmaker intended.  Or at least that’s what Ridley Scott says:

In my view, the only way to see a film remains the way the filmmaker intended: inside a large movie theater with great sound and pristine picture. Music and dialogue that doesn’t fully reproduce the soundtrack of the original loses an essential element for its appreciation. Simply put, the film loses its power.

This is an interesting perspective, and increasingly Western audiences are able to replicate, or at least approach, movie theater quality picture and sound at home.  At least, that’s the potential.  But how do we really watch our movies?

Most often, I’m watching a movie after work late at night in a small room next to my bedroom.  I have a Visio 32 inch TV with built-in speakers, hooked up to an LG streaming blu-ray player.  Down in my basement I have a home theater — a 50 inch DLP and 5.1 surround system — but it’s not even connected.  Just the TV and an HD-DVD player.  Why?  Because the LG upstairs is the one that streams Netflix, it’s the one I use the most, so why would I put it way down in the basement when I never watch stuff down there?  As a matter of pixels, it’s unlikely that I will even notice a difference on my little TV between DVD and blu-ray, so the LG player’s peak functionality is never harnessed.  I’d be just as well off with a Coby DVD player and a Roku box.  The harsh reality is that most of my viewing is done in an impromptu manner and in terrible circumstances.  The additional pain of schlepping way downstairs simply isn’t worth it (and who will listen for the kids?).  I suspect that this is the case for many Americans.  Heck, lots of us are watching movies on iPads, for crying out loud.

How do you watch your movies?  Do you watch movies under different circumstances than TV?  The worst of it is that I agree with Ridley Scott entirely — there is added magic when you watch a movie under theater circumstances.  Perhaps this has something to do with taking entertainment seriously; when your content is immediately accessible anywhere, you just don’t respect it as much.  But when you take time to prepare yourself for a movie watching experience, you walk into the theater with a set of expectations as well as a level of commitment to the event that you don’t give at home.

25 thoughts on “How are you watching your movies?

  1. I have a HD-DVD player that upconverts regular DVDs, on a big flat screen tv with surround sound speakers. That’s usually where I watch a movie on DVD, in the livingroom, but sometimes I’ll watch in bed on a decent-sized tv.

    You do lose something by not viewing in a movie theater, but IMO very few movies are worth the cost of the big screen.

  2. Susan’s right. Who cares if a romantic comedy is on the big screen or not? If I’m watching Avatar, for example, or even something close to it, sure, I’ll go downstairs and watch it on my blu-ray player on the 52 inch screen with surround sound. But I watch a lot of comedies in bed on a laptop because it just doesn’t make that much difference to me.

  3. It’s about more than the picture quality and the sound, though — there’s an element here of an act of devotion or sacrifice. Think of the difference between listening to all your songs on shuffle through iTunes or Spotify vs. paying to see a band in concert.

  4. For the most part I can’t relate to that. Seeing a movie in a theater isn’t that much different for me. Unless it’s something that looks really incredible, like the Lord of the Rings.

  5. It seems to me the typical theatre has horrible light bulbs. So seeing it in the theatre isn’t always a good experience. More often than not it’s dark.

    On the other hand a reasonably sized TV and viewing distance combined with a good speaker system gives you everything the theatre does.

    The one thing that can make a difference is having a crowd – especially in comedies and action films. Watching it alone in your living room or even with your spouse is never quite the same.

  6. We watch everything on Netflix, Apple TV or dvd. We have a pretty good tv, but the sound is whatever is pumped out of the built-in speakers.

    I can understand Scott’s point, but rarely is the theater experience what he describes. People are chewing loud candy, bringing their babies, checking their texts, describing what is going on in the movie, etc.

    I could possibly get the theater experience if the theaters didn’t sell food, didn’t allow anyone under the age of thirty, and confiscated cell phones.

  7. Clark you should watch action movies with my sons sometime. They make it hilarious by poking fun the entire time. Battle Los Angeles was a blast, haha. Even The Tree of Life was entertaining.

  8. I agree with Ridley Scott, and yet, even he must admit there is a spectrum of viewing environments with an impossible ideal on one side that even the best, most expensive theater experience will not necessarily provide.

    What filmmakers need to realize, I think, is that today’s audiences have access to view more films, more places, and on more devices than ever before. This is a good thing for film and filmmakers overall. It simply means more of their work is being seen by more people.

    If filmmakers really feel strongly that there films be seen in a cinema than they better make films worthy of that price and effort, and although Scott has a decent track record in that regard, many Hollywood films that pour money into the kind of spectacle that merits a big screen come up way short in terms of the elements that matter most, like story and character.

  9. “The one thing that can make a difference is having a crowd” This may be the one benefit to having a crowd, but I’m with Jeremy – there are many negatives. Because of the distraction factor, I despise going to the movie theater. Besides 2 trips to the dollar theater to reward my young children, I’ve been to one movie in the last 18 months. It’s just so much easier to enjoy at home.

  10. I have an old CRT tv, but just to play Wii or watch netflix via Wii on. Otherwise, I’m watching movies on my laptop in bed, or in the theater.

  11. >I’d be just as well off with a Coby DVD player

    You’re making me cry with nostalgia-blues, Steve.

    We’re old school here: Netflix-type DVDs by mail and a membership at the local cinema which means we get free tickets every week. Our cinema is kind of boutique-y: one screen and usually only get one film a week, shared between blockbusters and stuff like Studio Ghibli. I love going to the cinema especially one like ours where some Higher Power decides what we will watch.

  12. Susan sometimes I don’t mind doing the ridiculous MST3K send up of a movie. However when it’s a movie I really want to watch any inappropriate noise just drives me bonkers. The most angry I’ve ever been was trying to watch the second Spiderman in the theatre when someone gets a call and answers it in the theatre and continued to talk for 5 minutes. They couldn’t understand why I got so mad. Man – I still think back and fume.

  13. In our little Brooklyn apartment, we watch on our 27 inch iMac with some decent computer speakers. It’s sufficient for now. Sometimes when traveling, on a 13″ Air with headphones.

  14. I saw a movie in a dollar theater once where they forgot to put the frame around the projector that cuts out stuff you’re not supposed to see, like boom mics in the shot. It was a serious movie, one Tom Cruise did about Nazis? And man, seeing the boom mic follow him across a big room shot was hilarious.

  15. Steve, the comparison to seeing a band in concert is not applicable here, in my opinion. When you see a band live, you’re there for more than just listening to their music. It’s a completely different experience. I wish going to a movie in the theater was more like that, but it’s not. It’s a lot like watching it in my basement, but with more inconvenience. sometimes, that inconvenience is worth it, because you want to see it now, or in 3D, or in an Imax theater. But except for those things, going to the theater is not an exponential leap over watching on a big screen, and even watching on a big screen isn’t important to me sometimes.

  16. I think the thing that you miss most by seeing a film at home, or on a device like a tablet, computer, or phone is not the spectacle but the interaction with your fellow viewers–the communal experience is what I believe Steve was getting at when he used his concert analogy.

    For my money forget 3D, Imax, big screens, etc. but certain films, like comedies, horror films, edge-of-your seat suspense, sports films, etc. work way better in a group. It’s the laughing together and screaming together that you really miss out on when you see it alone.

    I think as a society it’s no secret we’re getting more asocial. That was the message of “The Social Network,” wasn’t it? We have all this technology that allegedly brings us together in great new ways, but ironically it seems to be driving us apart.

  17. I don’t think we’re more anti-social. It depends upon what you’re comparing it with. After all for many people the choice is between sitting on a couch watching network TV, as used to be common, versus at least interacting with people on Facebook. Most people I know who use Facebook use it to arrange meetings and stay in touch so that more face to face meetings happen. (I’m not a Facebook fan, mind you) I think especially for people who can’t get out like they want it’s quite helpful.

    I just can’t see sitting in the dark watching a movie as really being social. Maybe if you go out to dinner afterwards and talk about the movie. But if anything going to a movie is to me the opposite of social.

  18. Yeah, you really don’t interact with anyone at a movie generally speaking, but there is the audience reaction, which you don’t have at home. Hearing what the audience laughs at or whatever can add to the experience, I suppose, but I don’t think that’s a huge part of the experience of watching a movie. The only movies where I remember the audience reactions are the Twilight movies, and that was only because the reactions were kinda creepy, like women whistling and cheering when Taylor Lautner took his shirt off.

  19. I saw an Austin Powers movie in the hood. That was a hoot. I saw TalIadega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby in a jam packed theater in a hick town in Wyoming. I’m sure that the environment enhanced my enjoyment of the film. If all movies were that fun I’d go to movies all the time.

    All movies are not that fun. In fact, it is often nicer to watch at home.

    But in my house there are some limitations. For one, volume. If it is loud after 8 pm the kids will wake up. So even if we had better speakers we couldn’t really use them.

    Secondly I don’t even have a BRD player. I would love to have a picture so sharp that it cuts my eyeballs, but I see it as a dead end technology that I don’t care to invest in. So we have an upconverting DVD player and the Apple TV is worse than BRD but better than DVD. I can see artifacts and a bit of fuzz but nobody else in the house seems to notice.

    The worst part of DVDs and BRDs is that many have parts that you can’t fast forward. Such as piracy warnings that make you want to pirate on media that you purchased but can’t watch as you would like. At least with streaming video I get to watch the movie when I want to.

  20. MCQ, I agree that seeing many movies with an audience is much, much better. I just think that far less “being social” than even Facebook is.

  21. It’s not that seeing films with an audience of live people is social in the way having a face-to-face conversation, or playing a board game, or going to a dinner party, or what have you. But it is social in another completely valid sense, in that you are acting and reacting as a group, a community of people.

    It’s not that different from going to church, really. Arguably, all you get from a church service you can get on your own at home. It’s bad form to talk during church too, just like in a theater, but the unspoken emotion that wells up in a group is something special whether you’re worshiping or following a story. There is a group empathy that forms.

  22. At home I have two hdtv’s, a newer 47″ LG in the living room w/ Netflix streaming and a blu-ray player hooked up to a soundbar. We’ve never actually watched a blu-ray disc, but our old dvd broke and it was only like $60 for the blu-ray.

    The other tv is a 37″ Vizio hdtv w/ an Xbox for watching dvd’s and Netflix streaming. I also have an Apple TV G1 with Boxee on it. I use it to stream dvd iso files from my server (I have a ton of dvd rips thanks to Netflix, DVDFab and 2TB HDD’s under $100). I really like the convenience of streaming to the Apple TV and it cuts down on the clutter of physical media. I’ve even ripped most of the dvd’s I own rather than watching the actual discs, and the quality is not much worse than a dvd.

    I think that the experience of watching movies at home is a lot better thanks to technology than it used to be, but I still love going to theaters and go as often as I reasonably can (not too frequently since I have two younger children). For whatever reason I find movies much more enjoyable at the theater. I think it’s partly the communal experience, partly ritual, and partly the giant screen and nice soundsystem. But I think a lot of it is that I’m not distracted at the theater and can focus on the movie. At home I’m always tempted to surf the internet on my laptop or read a magazine while watching a movie, which is actually kind of annoying to me.

  23. I just got my home theater in the media room of my new house configured a couple of months ago, and I have to disagree with Mr. Scott. I’ve got an HD projector that creates up to a 135″ image, with a decent surround sound system that sounds pretty great to my non-audiophile ears. And with Blu-Ray, I’d be willing to call the picture “pristine,” or at least as good as my local ciniplex.

    Of course, Scott doesn’t make as much money when I see movies at home as when I go to the theater.

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