My buddy just got a 75 inch television. It is glorious. In fact, it’s so nice, I dare not watch it for fear of ruining my expectations when I have to return home. As home theater technology continues to jump ahead by leaps and bounds, many people inside and outside the motion picture industry have predicted the eventual death of movie theaters. This demise seemed to be hastened last year when the pandemic forced theaters to close and patrons to seek entertainment from the confines of their home. As streaming providers released more and more content and major films began to release direct to streaming services, the future looked bleak for theaters.
Yet, as we enter the summer of 2021, there is hope. Hope that the communal experience of the theater is not yet dead. Hope that the institutions, that in many towns serve as the only form of entertainment, will not die, but will survive and prosper. As we stand on the leading edge of a release of major summer movies, including next week’s “F9” (“Fast and the Furious 9”), allow me to challenge the narrative that movie theaters are an endangered species headed the way of the Dodo Bird or corded phones. I humbly submit three reasons I think the next generation will still be going to movies.
Pro – Focus
2021 is nothing if not a world of distraction. It’s not uncommon for a person to be on one or two additional devices while watching a movie or TV show. While that might be ok for “Everybody Loves Raymond” reruns or the latest Johnny Depp movie, the reality is that is no way to view a good film. Quality story telling, in any form, demands quality viewing. This is all the more true in an art form that might engage reading, listening, and seeing all at the same time. What the theater provides is focus. It remains one of the last places in the world where cell phone use is not only taboo, but forbidden. It forces you to pay attention to what is happening on the screen, rather than getting the gist as you crush candy or respond to Facebook posts you’d be better off ignoring.
Pro – Big screen and great smells.
No matter how big and loud TVs get, it will never quite stack up to the big screen at the movies. It’s a professional presentation delivered on professional equipment and it shows. Even the old theater that had a clear pop stain on the screen still provided an unmatched sense of magic when watching “Indiana Jones” or Neo from “The Matrix” projected up on it. Further, try as I might, I can’t replicate the fantastic smell of fresh popcorn at the theater in my house. Aldi’s microwave popcorn is good, but it’s not that good. It’s not cheap of course, but there is something magical about the snacks, the seats, the lights going out. It’s an experience, and in many places including Muscatine, there just aren’t that many experiences offered.
Pro – Excitement
The last 15 months contained a lot of lessons, but chief among them are that human beings are social creatures. We enjoy being around each other. We enjoy the energy and buzz of others, and we miss it badly when we don’t get it. Watching a great movie is awesome, but watching a great movie in the presence of friends and strangers is next level. I will never forget the energy and excitement at the conclusion of “Fast 5.” A packed theater of mostly strangers randomly came together at one time in one place, and had a shared experience that was amazing. I’ll never get that sitting on my couch, no matter how big my TV screen is.