I ‘Returned to Theatres’ And All I Got Was A Newfound Appreciation For Staying Home

I ‘Returned to Theatres’ And All I Got Was A Newfound Appreciation For Staying Home

As vaccination rates have increased, I’ve been able to do something in the past few weeks I’ve not been able to do for over a year and a half: go sit in a dark room for several hours that is not in my own house, and see a movie. Things have changed, of course — there are still masks (albeit fewer than you’d hope), buckets of popcorn, and standees flanked by hand sanitiser stations. But it’s not just the theatrical experience that has evolved — the way I’ve come to appreciate movies has, too.

Despite the simple pleasure of being able to get my fully vaccinated self out of the house for a little while, my recent forays back to cinemas here in the UK — for the first time since, of all things, Sonic the Hedgehog early in 2020 — have not been quite the messianic experience that some directors of upcoming movies would like you to imagine. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve certainly enjoyed being back in a theatre in the last month. Shang-Chi came first because seemingly, like the rest of the world, the yearning maw of Marvel’s cinematic universe still pulls people to theatres, followed most recently by No Time To Die, which has dominated British headlines as if 007 really was Britain’s final hope in light of, well, the absolute state of Britain right now.

Both were very enjoyable, the kind of bombastic, explosive action films that work well splayed out across a theatre screen. Have you lived until you watch Simu Liu ring-Kamehameha a giant Cthulhu orgy of tendrils and CGI into a dazzling explosion of light and viscera? Maybe, but it’s still pretty fun to watch on a big screen nonetheless. But even with enjoying my tentative first steps back into the popcorn-strewn carpets that are the theatrical experience, I came away from both trips not quite feeling satisfied. That is, outside of another realisation: the two films that have moved me more than anything else I’ve seen this year were ones I could only watch at home in spite of theatres opening up like it was all back to normal. And I wouldn’t have traded those experiences for anything a massive screen or nice chairs could’ve thrown at me.

The movies I mention are very far from each other in many ways — Evangelion 3.0+1.0 and The Green Knight. But only being able to engage with them from the comfort of home rather than a theatre reminded me just how vital the accessibility of hybrid releases has become. For all the romanticisation of theatres we’ve experienced over the last year, a good film’s real power doesn’t need that oft-vaunted “as big a screen as possible” to really hit you. Evangelion’s themes of acceptance, self-actualisation, and communal healing hit me as hard while watching it bleary-eyed on Amazon Prime Video as they would’ve if I’d seen it in a large public space with other people. Its bewildering visuals were still as sharp and engrossing on my computer monitor as they would’ve been sitting in front of a screen 50 times as large. Frankly, I likely wouldn’t have been able to see it at all, given the long delay between its Japanese release and its western debut, without it releasing the way it did.

The Green Knight, on the other hand, was an altogether different kind of at-home experience, even if its mood and presentation, like Evangelion, struck and inspired me just as effectively at home. Unlike Evangelion, I had a chance to see Green Knight on the big screen, in a way: here in the UK, David Lowery’s haunting fantasy film was delayed several months after its U.S. release, citing covid-19 concerns, ultimately opting for a dual streaming and theatrical debut at the end of September. I excitedly went to book my ticket a week after its arrival and… there was nothing. Nowhere within an hour’s travel of where I live was showing The Green Knight any more. Those screenings were cleared to make way for the impending arrival of No Time To Die that same weekend.

I had a choice, but it was taken from me, so I booked tickets for Bond, enjoyed that, then came home and streamed The Green Knight and enjoyed that even more. That The Green Knight was still reachable even as the demand for more wide-audience fare throttled my chances of seeing it in a theatre is an experience only made more possible by the sweeping changes the film and theatre industries have made in the past 18 months to combat a suddenly upturned world. What has quickly become one of my favourite — if not favourite full-stop — movies of 2021 would’ve been impossible to see without having to wait several months for a home release which would mean constantly avoiding articles and dodging commentary.

That these films still resonated with me in spite of being viewed in a way perhaps unintended by their creators makes every time I see another argument that some things simply must be seen within the confines of a theatrical experience ring a little more hollow than before. But if anything, it’s a reminder that easier access to movies means more chances to discover the ones you’d truly love — whether or not you’re ready to go back to theatres just yet.

Comments

  • Previously i was only ever going to theatres to see the Marvel movies up to endgame. Now i dont see the point in spending that much just to see a movie a month or so earlier. Id much rather wait and save money and stream it.

    Cinemas need to up their game and stop charging exorbitant prices for snacks if they want people to come back.

    • Theatres don’t have a choice; studios and distributors charge them so much for movies they make basically no money in ticket sales. Food and drink is the only reason theatres stay afloat.

    • You can single-handedly blame the rent for those insane prices. The owners of my local cinema happily confirmed that when I was asking how they were doing during COVID.

      • Thing is, when it comes to places like massive shopping centres, Westfield and the like, they’re custom-built with theatres in mind. Can’t help but feel that if theatre owners simply said, “Nah, that rent’s too high, we’re just going to rent and refurb a warehouse ten minutes down the road,” the shopping centres would be staring down the barrel of an expensive renovation to turn those cinemas into equally-profitable space.

  • The pandemic showed me how flawed and outdated the cinema release distribution method is.

    Why would I pay $20+ per ticket, with another $30+ In popcorn and drinks to sit in a small and uncomfortable chair, trying to watch a projected screen that hasn’t been updated since the 1980s, with people all around me making noise with their food and low talking for 2+ hours?

    Instead, I can sit at home, in my comfortable reclining lounge chair, with my partner, using my 85 inch 4K TV, 5.1 surround sound system, popcorn made in the same method and product in a $50 Kmart popcorn maker, with a $2 bottle of Cola, and pay $30 for a clear 4K streaming video.

    Why would anyone go back to such outdated and low quality settings in this day and age? The only reason I can see is that we are being forced back to those methods is Hollywood greed and profits. They make more with the cinema distribution model than the streaming model, thus they go back to what makes a profit.

    For me, I’m done with that. I’ll happily skip the cinema now and wait for streaming or 4K bluray releases.

  • I care not for cinemas, my home theatre provides a better artistic experience. My only gripe with simultaneous releases are the lack of lossless audio.

    If they released their movies with the proper features I’d happily pay for them. But they don’t, so other means become more attractive. When they finally do release it with the proper features, I can no longer justify those costs for something already seen, at least until sales time arrive.

  • For me, the cinema is about sound. No home theatre/stream/disc has been able to replicate the epic sound quality I get from going to the movies – VMax, TitanX or Xtreme! Ever since Star Wars in 77, with the iconic Doppler scream of the TIE fighters, I’ve been hooked on blockbusters at the cinema for their magnificent sound.

    I saw Shang Chi on the big screen on the first weekend and was blown away. Then I went home and watched it on Disney+ on my pretty good home theatre setup. Still undeniably a good movie, but lacking the audio impact of the cinema.

    • Dark Knight was another film that takes a hit without proper cinema sound. As much as I love watching movies at home, the sound design suffers hugely without the cinema setups.

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