Theater v. Home Theater

Disclaimer: I have not read Marshall McLuhan's Understanding Media in a long time. If I miss use his idea please point it out to me. I will be happy to go back and do the research. I am counting on remembering lessons from college. That is always good for a laugh.

I have been thinking about the difference between watching movies at the movie theater and watching them at home video or DVD. Everyone knows the obvious differences. You should always see movies with great special effects and great visuals in the theaters. It is easy to see how those experiences would be different. No matter how good your hook up is at home, you can always find a better experience at the theater.

I know many people who hate going to the theater. They always complain about the people around them. Those other people get in the way of their experience. After paying $10 a ticket, $50 for dinner, and whatever the going rate for a babysitter, they do not want to put up with other people. People being loud in the theater seems to distract them to the point of ruining the evening. I grew up seeing movies at the drive-in. That thought me how to block out all sorts of things and pay attention to the film.

Many of these people tell me that they like watching movies on home video rather then at the theater. They feel that if they can get the right home theater setup it can be just as good as a theater. I have to give it to them. I do not like video or DVD anywhere near as much as I like going to the theater. The movie experience is just so much better at the theater.

Getting back to Marshall McLuhan, he wrote that movie theaters are warm media while TV is a cool media. He is referring to how much focus to pay attention to the media. In the movie theater you have nothing to pay attention but the film. Even if some jerk answers his cell phone it does not compare to being at home. There is on door to be answered, no phone to ring (as long as you choose to turn it off), none of those everyday ideas to get in the way of your movie.

When I am watching a DVD at home I seem unable to get away from the distractions. I am still watching something on TV. I feel like I could be doing something better with my time. I start to worry about my laundry and what I am going to do once the movie is over. I get distracted if the pace of the movie starts to change. I do not get caught up in the film the same way I do at the theater.

Besides the good sound and good pictures there are other differences that are not so obvious. Unconventional movies are hit especially hard. I think that a movie that is well paced in the movie theater does may not do as well at home. I think that the director Atom Egoyan is much better in the theater then he is on video. Exotica and The Sweet Hereafter are both movies that move at an unconventional pace. If you saw them at the theater they were engrossing and embracing. It is easy to get caught up in them. On video they do not have the same feeling. It is easy to see them as poorly made if you are not seeing them in the medium they were made for.

One of the paradoxes of this era of film making is movies are made to be viewed on the big screens of movie theaters. That is the place where all movies want to make money. The problem is that they will be remember and reevaluated on video. I think it is unreasonable to expect movies to hold up well on both. The fact is that the context of movies will become even more distorted as we are watching them on cell phones and mobile devices in years to come.


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