I have a recurring dream where I imagine myself in a movie theater. Not just any theater, but the ideal theater I created in my head. Neon lights, arcade machines blasting sound effects and music, and the welcoming posters and cardboard cutouts throughout. Movies of my choosing all available to me in this wonderland of buttery popcorn and cinema of all backgrounds and genres. I had this exact dream just the other day, and of course I woke up and found myself in the reality I’m in.
I sit around in bored isolation. I watch the world crumble before me through social media, my one and only contact with the outside world. Fortunately, lots have been happening to distract me. But unfortunately, lots have been happening to distract me. I try to ignore the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, incompetent politicians, and protestors in the streets toting guns and fear. I decide to pass the time by watching something. I watch my Blu-Ray copy of Phantom Thread. I feel weird, like something is off. What could it be? I then realize what it is.
I really fuckin’ miss going to the movies.
But just what happened? Well, in what could potentially go down in film history, the AMC Theater chain has announced that they will no longer be premiering Universal Studios motion pictures. In the ongoing debate between seeing a movie in theaters and online platforms, AMC has released a statement explaining their perspective:
“It is disappointing to us, but Jeff’s comments as to Universal’s unilateral actions and intentions have left us with no choice. Therefore, effectively immediately AMC will no longer play any Universal movies in any of our theatres in the United States, Europe or the Middle East.” AMC chair-CEO Adam Aron wrote.
Jeff Shell, CEO of NBCUniversal, claimed the digital release of “Trolls: World Tour”, the sequel to the 2016 Dreamworks-Universal animated hit “Trolls”, “exceeded their expectations”, garnering $100 million on digital releases alone. “Trolls: World Tour” released on digital platforms amidst the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, further demonstrating the raw potential of future digital releases.
Shell further commented: “As soon as theaters reopen, we expect to release movies on both formats”, meaning more future releases could be released both in theaters and on digital platforms. Movie theater chain AMC did not approve of these comments by Shell, who announced that they have cut ties with all future Universal endeavors. Seeing it as a betrayal between them and Universal, we’ll see how long this grudge against the two companies will last.
“This policy affects any and all Universal movies per se, goes into effect today and as our theatres reopen, and is not some hollow or ill-considered threat,” Aron stated. He also further commented how this is not strictly directed at Universal alone, “Incidentally, this policy is not aimed solely at Universal out of pique or to be punitive in any way, it also extends to any movie maker who unilaterally abandons current windowing practices absent good faith negotiations between us, so that they as the distributor and we as the exhibitor both benefit and neither are hurt from such changes.”
So what’s next? Well, nothing is for certain, but it’s possible that we are looking into a new generation for film. Instead of seeing a movie in theaters, we could find ourselves watching movies in the cheap comfort of our homes, provided our internet is of quality. If theater chains continue to push against these types of studio decisions, they could be left alone. If digital platforms are more profitable, why stick with the exclusivity of a movie theater? As for me, I believe there’ll always be an audience for movie theaters.
But it would seem there is a certain hive mind that resonates nowadays: Home viewing is the future. Movie theaters are archaic.
And to a certain extent, I 100% agree. At home, you have safety, comfort, and security. You watch the movie your way on a clear television with seamless sound. You’re independent and distant from the cruel world. Movie theaters have changed over the years. Ticket prices go up, as do popcorn and soda prices. In the end, you could potentially be paying up to a hundred dollars to go see the new teen cancer drama. Now it would seem big theater chains are attempting to follow independent theaters through the promise of alcohol to make your enjoyment all the better. You can make yourself the drink of your choice, happy and warm without the potential distractions you’d find in a movie theater. It’s a personalized experience.
Then we look at the escalation of streaming platforms. Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, and Amazon have libraries that grow and change monthly at mostly-reasonable prices. With the digital successes of The Irishman, Marriage Story, and Manchester by the Sea in recent years, it’s further proof you don’t need to be in a theater in order to have a good film experience. When all this is put together, it’s a movie theater in your own home! What are the downsides!? And with digital sales boosting in the billions every year and only getting bigger from there, now seems a time to move onto digital more than ever before.
But consider that hive mind for a moment. Consider the charm of seeing the movie that everyone is talking about with others around you. Consider the charm of stained carpets and ripped leather chairs. There is something spectacular about cinema. A world of wonder, a place where we explore new worlds. The theater is a haven for movie-goers, but it would appear that the success of the digital “Trolls: World Tour” could be a sign that things will change. Like cinema always has, this is but another evolution for the medium. In the end, people will vote with their wallets. If streaming is the future of cinema, then so be it. I’ll be here for it, despite my reservations.
I truly believe we’ve taken going to the movies for granted. Yes, it can be a pain to drive there on time, spend a varying amount to go see the next big subversive superhero flick rampant with CGI porn. Some movies are events, movies that ask for everyone to come together in unison and see this big spectacle unfold as one. They gather crowds and the film can be made far more entertaining and important because of that.
But, of course, movies can also be a personal experience. Go see a movie not just for entertainment, but to learn and see a one-of-a-kind experience. Movie theaters are something intimate. They can be personal. It’s a holy experience, even if the quality of the film is quite questionable. But it’s an experience like no other. Seeing movies in a theater is ingrained in our culture. From the very first blockbuster Jaws, cinema is celebrated around the globe.
But there is certainly something special about the theater experience, to witness this movie with other people. God knows I wouldn’t have forgiven myself if I hadn’t driven two hours to go see The Lighthouse. There are movies you must experience on the big screen, and I don’t want to see that feeling go away. I’m looking forward to where this will go. As we reach a new decade with already new challenges before us, what we do best: improvise and adapt in the name of adversity. To create new things and evolve as human history has.
The theater space is a veritable place of worship. Who wouldn’t weep at old Keanu’s visage on a 30 foot silver screen? The theater experience isn’t just the ambiance and the old carpeting that hasn’t been replaced since Terminator 2: Judgement Day, but the whiff of an 11.99 small popcorn too, that creates the mise en scene of the cinema paradiso.
While the comfort of one’s own home is optimal to watch god knows what Ice Age film they’re on, some theaters have capitalized on the experiences that would be nearly impossible to recreate given you aren’t the family from Parasite. The chain Studio Movie Grill doubles as not only a theater space, but a bar and full restaurant as well. You can order prior to the film starting, and then it’s delivered on the large turntables while the film begins. If it sounds slightly unbefitting to eat a quarter-pounder with cheese while a film like Uncut Gems unnerves the audience, it is. But that’s the sort of “impersonal” experience a theater like this can accomplish.
Watching the latest release at him, rather than at a theater where the experience is tailored, can feel novel, personal, and a bit like you’re in command of these high profile releases. It feels a bit rebellious, like the societal rules of how to enjoy Sonic the Hedgehog have just crumbled and now you own these films far ahead of their intended release. However, I implore you to examine the theater experience in an “impersonal” sense, though not in a negative way.
A film without the jeers, the inappropriate laughs, the coughs, the tension as thick as The Hobbit’s use of CGI, it loses part of the charm for me. Sure, you could have a horror movie loaded up months beyond its physical release, but even with drawing the blinds and with lights off, it’s still not going to be the same reaction at heart. Covid-19 is a terrible experience at the moment, but I believe that we will be able to return to that scattered, impersonal sense of comradery that only a theater space can provide.