Friday, June 17, 2005

Watching movies at home...

So the CBC has this story, about a recent poll of Americans which found that 73 per cent of them prefer watching movies at home, whether through DVD, VHS or pay-per-view, rather than in the theatre.

I'm sure Hollywood will get in a panic about this, and the MPAA will claim that piracy is to blame, even though only 5 per cent of those polled said they had downloaded a film.

My response to Hollywood is: can you blame people?

You're paying about $10 to go to the movies these days, just for admission (and even that's likely to get worse in Canada, when you read this about Cineplex Odeon buying Famous Players) to watch the latest crapstravaganza featuring the current flavour of the month actor who can't act their way out of a paper bag. The main character has some token development, and is surrounded by wooden characters brought to dubious life by bit actors. When will Hollywood realise the importance of casting for the small roles? Most of the Hollywood movies I've really enjoyed are the ones that people all of the roles, large or small, with quality character actors. Look at Shawshank Redemption, or even Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings, which didn't win any actors any awards, but were riddled with people who know how to act. And that makes it so much more convincing versus say, garbage like The Fast and the Furious.

So people end up staying home--why get the car out, haul the family down to the theatre, spend $40 on admission and $30 on popcorn and drinks for a feature you're pretty sure, based on track record, is going to be disappointing? Much easier to stay at home and spend a few bucks renting the DVD or watching the pay-per-view.

But appallingly bad films are not the only reason people are staying at home. Look at the difference in the viewing experience.

At the theatre, I'm stuck in a seat that allows limited shifting of body position, the floor is sticky, people beside me talk to each other about other things throughout the movie, the guy behind me is busy explaining the film to his girlfriend (or worse yet, summarising the plot of Episodes I, II, IV, V and VI of Star Wars at the same time as watching and trying to explain RotS), I'm nowhere near the center of the screen because I no longer have the inclination or energy to line up first or barge past everyone else when they open the doors to get a good seat, the picture is grainy, often out of focus, the sound is turned up so high and the sound system so poor that high-frequency noises like R2D2's beeps, are actively painful, I have to sit through 20-30 minutes of commercials and previews for films I don't want to see, I have to listen to annoying preppy teenagers giving a presentation before the show starts reminding me to turn off my (non-existant) cell phone, and not to put my feet up on the seat (guess what? The kind of cell phone owner that doesn't remember to turn off their cell phone once the movie starts [or better yet, leave it at home] isn't listening to you anyway), and trying to elicit a cheer from an audience that wants nothing more than for said preppy kid to shut up and start the movie ("Hey, are you guys ready to see The Matrix Revolutions?" "No, we all came here and paid the exorbitant fees, are currently listening to you, and prepared to sit through all the commercials and other inanity because we're not ready to see The Matrix Revolutions... of course we're ready to see it... we're here to see it."). Okay, deep breath.

Contrast that with, say, watching a DVD at home. I get the seat I want (though I can move during the film if I want, as well). I can put my feet up. My seat is right in the center of the screen. I can have the amount of ambient light I want. I can get up and go to the bathroom without missing the only meaningful line of dialogue in the film, the popcorn is cheaper and tastes better, the picture looks great. And as for the sound system (audiophile geekout coming up, you have been warned)...

I have extreme control over the volume. I can boost the center channel volume so as to hear dialogue perfectly, while keeping the rest of the speakers lower. I've got an Arcam AVR100 amp driving the rear speakers, center channel and subwoofer, and a Musical Fidelity A300 dual mono amplifier driving some Monitor Audio Silver 8 speakers on the front, and the whole experience is way better than what you get in the theatre.

My digital cable service now also includes Video-on-demand, which means I can now order a movie that isn't necessarily on the list of recently-released (unlike the pay-per-view service), and I can pause, stop, rewind while watching the movie over the course of 24 hours.

We also have the two small children, so just finding time to sit down and watch a whole movie is difficult. When I go through the effort to get out to the theatre, spend my money and then sit through a bad movie in an uncomfortable seat, in a noisy environment with poor sound and picture.... well, it only reinforces my desire to watch more DVDs.

The Hollywood industry needs to get its house in order, and start producing features that are compelling enough to help me ignore the theatre environment, if it's not quite up to snuff.

And guess what? That might even help cut down on piracy, too.

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