You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Does it matter if you see a film in a cinema or at home?

The Independent logo The Independent 15/05/2018 Ben Kenigsberg, Jason Bailey

a man standing in front of a window © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited The Cannes Film Festival began last week shadowed by controversy: organisers refused to show Netflix films in competition because they weren’t getting theatrical releases. The streaming service responded by boycotting Cannes, not even showing movies out of competition.

The two organisations may resolve their differences (Netflix sounded more conciliatory this month), but moviegoers understandably want to know: What’s the big deal?

So we asked Ben Kenigsberg, who regularly reviews films for The New York Times, and Jason Bailey, who writes about streaming movies for The Times’ Watching service: Does it matter if you see a film in a theatre or at home?

This image released by Paramount Pictures shows actor-director John Krasinski on the set of "A Quiet Place," with Noah Jupe. © AP This image released by Paramount Pictures shows actor-director John Krasinski on the set of "A Quiet Place," with Noah Jupe. Ben Kenigsberg: Absolutely, seeing a movie in a theatre makes a difference, and not just for the obvious reasons (picture quality, sound, the absence of the distractions of home viewing).

I challenge anyone to explain how the fluidity Steven Spielberg brings to the action in Ready Player One holds up at home. Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here has imagery too dark and a sound design too layered for their full complexity to register on a TV, tablet or computer. And that’s to say nothing of the great screen spectacles — Lawrence of Arabia, 2001: A Space Odyssey or, more recently, Dunkirk — designed as overwhelming experiences.

At their best, movies are also a social activity, and that’s as true today as in 1895. The hush that falls over a crowd during the largely dialogue-free A Quiet Place intensifies the suspense. Watching Vertigo in a theatre for the umpteenth time last month, I heard gasps from viewers unfamiliar with its twists.

And of course, there are all sorts of other reasons that going to the movies and home viewing aren’t comparable. Spending an evening out spills over to other places, like restaurants and bars.

Jason Bailey: The immersion, camaraderie and technical advantages of theatrical viewing are clearly preferable — in theory. In practice, it’s a different beast. And too often, those who most loudly advocate for preserving the magic of the theatrical experience aren’t having the same experience as the average moviegoer; filmmakers, industry executives, and (yes) critics see movies for free, at premieres and festivals and media screenings, in spiffed-up venues, cosy private screening rooms, or even (gasp) fancy home cinemas.

Regular audiences, on the other hand, shell out top dollar for a new release (often with surcharges for 3D, Imax and other superfluous bells and whistles). They’ll see something like A Quiet Place in a packed multiplex, its spell broken by the sonic booms of Pacific Rim: Uprising bleeding in from the next auditorium.

And they may find themselves in a reserved seat next to a fellow moviegoer who chooses to spend those two hours answering texts and fave-ing pictures on Instagram.

Is this always the case? No. But it’s not uncommon. So who can blame a viewer who chooses to watch new movies, less expensively, in an environment they control?

Kenigsberg: That’s an argument for improving theatres (and moviegoers’ behaviour), not for avoiding them. Studios and major cinema owners deserve some blame for cheapening the theatrical experience.

The last decade’s shift from film projection to digital has changed the way movies feel, transforming them into what Quentin Tarantino has called “television in public.” Even if the average viewer doesn’t perceive the difference in texture, the conversion has still robbed movies of what was specific and tangible about a theatrical presentation. No, I can’t blame anyone who prefers television in private.

But well-run theatres are, as you say, still better; many of the best are independent or belong to smaller chains. Filmgoers should vote with their wallets. If you see a movie and the picture is bright, it sounds great and the staff kicks out smartphone users, go back. If the image is dim and text-messagers fiddle away with impunity, go somewhere else.

Similarly, educate yourself on which extras are worthwhile. I made a point of seeing Blade Runner 2049 in a Dolby Cinema, knowing I’d get some of the best digital projection around. By the way, my rapt viewing of A Quiet Place happened in an ordinary suburban multiplex.

71st Cannes Film Festival - Screening of the new print of the film "2001: A Space Odyssey" presented as part of Cinema Classic - Red Carpet Arrivals - Cannes, France, May 13, 2018 - Director Christopher Nolan poses with Stanley Kubrick's daughter Katharina Kubrick, Jan Harlan and Keir Dullea. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier © Reuters 71st Cannes Film Festival - Screening of the new print of the film "2001: A Space Odyssey" presented as part of Cinema Classic - Red Carpet Arrivals - Cannes, France, May 13, 2018 - Director Christopher Nolan poses with Stanley Kubrick's daughter Katharina Kubrick, Jan Harlan and Keir Dullea. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier

Bailey: You’re right that it’s on theatres and moviegoers to improve — but these aren’t exactly new complaints, and there doesn’t seem to be much urgency to course correct. And sure, there are exceptions, but all too often, those indie houses and small chains are only options for moviegoers in larger markets. (And the same goes for 35-millimeter vs. digital projection, though I agree that it’s more of a point of importance for cinephiles.)

Honestly, the question of access is key to understanding the shift to streaming over the past several years. And not just access to theatres; I spent my first 30 years in Wichita, Kansas, which is (to put it mildly) not among the first cities to get indies, documentaries or foreign films. So I would spend months hearing about those kinds of movies before they finally made their way to a theatre where I could see them, if ever — most, I would see on video, six-plus months later. Now, those movies are frequently available on demand or on Netflix at the same time as their limited theatrical release.

Netflix movies may not get to play in competition at Cannes, but my movie-crazy cousin back home can see them the same day I can. Or he can go to his multiplex, where Avengers: Infinity War is on two-thirds of the screens. I know which he prefers.

FILE - This file image released by Marvel Studios shows, from left, Tom Holland, Robert Downey Jr., Dave Bautista, Chris Pratt and Pom Klementieff in a scene from "Avengers: Infinity War." In its second weekend in theaters, “Avengers: Infinity War” continues to dominate in North America.  (Marvel Studios via AP, File) © AP FILE - This file image released by Marvel Studios shows, from left, Tom Holland, Robert Downey Jr., Dave Bautista, Chris Pratt and Pom Klementieff in a scene from "Avengers: Infinity War." In its second weekend in theaters, “Avengers: Infinity War” continues to dominate in North America. (Marvel Studios via AP, File) Kenigsberg: I hear the access argument often, but that access is at least partly a mirage. Of the 30 most acclaimed movies so far this year, according to the review aggregation site Metacritic, only three that have opened in theatres (Paddington 2; the Hungarian Oscar contender, On Body and Soul; and the Estonian folk tale November) are available to stream (as of this writing).

If we add in movies that opened in 2017 or earlier, the appropriate point of comparison is not theatres but the video stores that the streaming services replaced. Netflix’s “classics” movies section — around 30 films — might not have passed muster at a Blockbuster.

If you want to see Lean on Pete, Where Is Kyra? or any of the reputedly excellent indie films I have on my to-watch list, home viewing is not much help, at least for now. Maybe that will change, you say. But as Netflix has gained market share, it has reduced the number of movies it has offered, which doesn’t inspire confidence in it or other companies’ eagerness to bring obscure titles to the heartland. In any case, it’s not clear why that goal is incompatible with having theatres.

Bailey: There’s no doubt that the Netflix model is deeply, deeply flawed, both in terms of its laughable “classics” selection and the speed with which many contemporary independent films crawl to the service. Netflix’s priorities mostly favour its original series, but I maintain that far more viewers saw Mudbound, Okja and The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), and far more quickly, than if those movies had received more conventional releases.

And even films that still go the theatrical route are available for home viewing sooner (the delay has shrunk to 90 days or less), which means audiences end up venturing out to theatres only for movies that seem like essential “big-screen” viewing.

There’s certainly room for both. What seems clear is that at this point, studios, distributors and streaming services have to figure out a way to coexist.

The choice between a genuinely immersive outing to a theatre and an affordable, user-friendly experience at home could (and should) be a difficult one. At this particular moment, it’s usually not.

©The New York Times

Related: 44 shows to binge-watch on Netflix (GES)

For more of the most popular News, Sport, Lifestyle & Entertainment on MSN, Follow us on Facebook, and on Twitter 

AdChoices
AdChoices

More from The Independent

The Independent
The Independent
AdChoices
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon