MCN Columnists
Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

Home is Where My Eyes Are

The big recent news story that is sending shockwaves through the movie industry was iTunes announcing that they are partnering with many of the big studios in a deal that will allow iTunes to offer new releases for download on the same day that those films are released on DVD. A lot of people believe that this is the next wave for home viewing, that eventually we will all be watching films on our computers; except our computers and our televisions will eventually be the same thing, a one-stop entertainment device where you can watch television shows on demand or download movies whenever you want.

The theory is that eventually our televisions will work like our computers do, with the ability to download material and store it on a hard drive. With high-definition programming growing by the day, we will eventually reach a point where we can download movies or television shows, store them on our insanely large hard drives, and watch them in perfectly crisp high-definition. This is the next wave of the home theater.

The big concern for a lot of people is: what will this do to the movie theater experience?

And the really sad fact is that, for me, I don’t really care. I don’t mean to be a curmudgeon, but I haven’t enjoyed going to the movies in a really long time and it has nothing to do with the product that is put on the screen. Going to the movies has become the entertainment equivalent of flying on a commercial airline; paying a lot of money for a poor experience.

When I was in my teens, I would go to the movies every Friday night and most Saturday afternoons (during the week, I’d rent three or four movies on my walk home from school). I would see whatever big new release that was coming out on Friday and then the next afternoon, I would usually see a smaller film that was also in release. I lived in a fairly populated town, so we were able to get some independent films from time to time. The theater where I saw most of these films was a seven-screen multiplex and the size of the screens was insanely small and there were always teenagers yelling at the screen or throwing things at each other. And when I was younger I had no problem with this.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found myself less and less inclined to actually go to the theater any more. It’s not just that home viewing is much more convenient (which it is), because I live in New York City and there are lots of movie theaters. It’s that when I do go to the theater – usually at Union Square – I find myself unable to get comfortable and pay attention to the film. And if the film I’m seeing is the latest Saw film, I don’t mind this as much; but I remember going to the theater to see No Country for Old Men and the theater was about ninety degrees and packed full of people. So, I had the choice of sweating it out in the theater and having to sit in the very front row, craning my neck the whole time or I could walk out. I’m sorry to say that I saw another movie and went to see the Coens latest masterpiece at another time.

In my younger days, I might have suffered the discomfort because it was the new Coen Brothers film, but it would do both me and the film a disservice. Great films can transport you, yes, but only if you can actually focus on the film and not the fact that your neck is spasming and you’re overheating.

The front row thing has long been a bother to me: why do they even bother putting seats there? Nobody who sits in the very front row of these giant multiplexes will ever be able to really see the film. The seats are so close to the screen that you’re unable to see some of the action. So I wind up paying the same amount as someone who gets to sit several rows back, but I don’t get the same experience as that person. I don’t get to enjoy the picture in the way I want to enjoy it.

Enough has been written about cell phone use in the movies that I don’t feel the need to add anything else to it. You people who pick up your cell phones in the middle of a film know who you are and you should be ashamed of yourself. At the very least, go outside; I’m sick of hearing a stage whisper mumbling, “I’m…in…a…movie…call you back…later!”

Sometimes the problem is that you get to the theater, you’ve got a great seat, it’s not too crowded but there’s a good audience there, the movie is excellent…but the picture is screwed up. I remember I went to see Little Children downtown when it came out and I had an excellent seat and the audience was all adults and film-obsessed teens, so I was excited for the film to start. Except, the projection was just a little bit off; the top left of the screen was completely black because the projector had clearly been moved a bit to the side. I could still make out the picture, but it would bother me. So during the previews, I stepped outside and politely asked an usher if they could alert the projectionist. I sat back down, the film was starting and nothing had been fixed. I went back outside, alerted the usher again and sat back down. Once the film started, I didn’t get up again because I really got absorbed by the film; but you can bet that if I was at home watching the DVD, I wouldn’t have such an experience.

Perhaps the most depressing movie-going experience I had was when I was sixteen years old and I went to see Eyes Wide Shut on opening day with a friend. We were both Kubrick-obsessed and this was to be the first (and only) newly released Kubrick film we’d have a chance to see in the theater. We prepared for this moment for weeks, worried about whether they’d let us in, if they’d check our ID, etc. We even took the day off from school and had had a Kubrick marathon in the weeks leading up to it. This was a momentous occasion for us, one that we wanted to savor and enjoy.

It was an afternoon showing and the house was packed and when the movie started, my friend and I were shaking in our seats, unable to believe that this moment was finally here. As the film started and the first line of dialogue is spoken, an elderly woman screamed “What’d they say?” My friend and I looked at each other and shrugged, figuring that would be the lone outburst. Of course, this woman would not shut up throughout the entire picture even though we politely asked her to quiet down. We still loved the film and learned to ignore her, but it deflated it and I forever will remember that old woman every time I now watch the movie.

The point of that story is this: whether or not you like the film you’re watching or you think it is a crapfest, respect the fact that the other people in the audience might not feel the same way. Nobody could have known that my friend and I were preparing for that day, to see Eyes Wide Shut. So even when I go to see a terrible movie, I give it the same respect that I would give the latest P.T. Anderson film because you never known who might have been anticipating this flick.

I recently went to the theater to see Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which I quite enjoyed. But I was distracted multiple times by things like: the sound of contraband beer bottles being rattled against the floor, people yelling at the screen, and a guy who wandered into the theater twenty minutes before the end and decides to sit behind me, sipping his drink loudly and rustling his popcorn before leaving ten minutes later. It was great to laugh with an audience, but the vast majority of people who go to the theater have zero respect for other people.

So the bottom line is that the experience of going to the cinema has been lessened greatly and I find myself more anxious to watch movies at home. If you have a large-screen television and a good sound system, then you might even have a better set-up than some of the theaters. But the one thing the theaters have that can’t be replicated at home is the fact that they get the movies first. This is the only reason I still go to the movies, so that I can see newest releases while they are still relevant.

Of course, there is another thing that can’t be replicated at home: an audience. While I still hope that the theater is completely empty when I go to the movies, there is no greater experience than to see a comedy with an audience who gets it or to see a horror film with an audience that is terrified. A good audience can make the theater experience worth every penny and a bad one can ruin two hours of your life. The problem is that I’m finding less and less of those good audiences; that, more than anything, makes me want to just stay home and throw on a DVD – or perhaps now, a digital download.

– Noah Forrest
May 8, 2008

Noah Forrest is a 25 year old aspiring writer/filmmaker in New York City.

The opinions expressed in these columns are the writer’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Movie City News or any of its editors or other contributors.

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