The phrase home theater is a very sad one. 60 inch LCD 1080p televisions with massive Bose sound systems are all well and good, but they absolutely pale in comparison with the real thing. This is something I’ve always believed, but only recently have I begun to appreciate movie theaters as the absolute necessity in my life that they are.
Movies are meant to envelop people into a world that is not their own, often telling incredibly complex story in the span of two to three hours. The goal of so many motion pictures is evoke a genuine emotional response from the audience regarding people who until a few hours before were essentially complete strangers. A good film will allow a character to evolve on screen in front of you in such a way that makes you feel as if you understand that persons innermost motivations, which is a feat that many of us never accomplish even for our closest friends. Home theater setups provide an environment which simply doesn’t allow this kind of experience to happen in the same manner. First, there is something to be said to looking at a picture that often taxes your peripheral vision in order to appreciate it all. Instead of looking to the left and catching a glimpse of a coffee table, all you get in a theater is more movie or unobtrusive darkness. Even a 60 inch television will seldom will produce this effect unless you’re sitting 4 feet away. But more importantly, distractions like computers, cell phones, lights, and other such things constantly remind people that what they are watching really is just a movie, and these are simply characters and not people to invest in. A proper movie experience is different; it’s more visceral, more real. Recently, I saw Inception with fellow Stone Soup poster Josh Morrison at the Boston Common IMAX here in Boston. From the very first moment of that movie, the pure scope of the theater allowed me to experience that movie in a way that simply isn’t possible within your average residential setup. The bass of the IMAX speakers within the room roared through not only my ears, but literally shook the entire theater as it did so. When you can literally *feel* the soundtrack of the movie, that evokes a different response than were I simply to hear that same sound at home. It makes you feel like you’re there with the characters; it makes you want to know more about the world they live in. I knew when I left that theater, that no matter how many times I saw Inception over the course of my life, in many ways I was seeing it for the first and last time.
The real driving force for why I’m writing this however, is neither the sound, nor the picture… it’s the people. In the past 12 months I’ve discovered a local gem near my apartment known as the Coolidge Corner Theater. The Coolidge as its patrons affectionately call it is a small independent non-profit theater which shows the kind of independent fare that doesn’t normally make it to the AMCs of the world until months later, if at all. However, they also have a propensity as many independent theaters do for showing screenings of classic movies quite frequently. In the past few months, I’ve seen showings of both Raiders of the Lost Ark, and The Big Lebowski on the big screen and let me tell you, this experience has been awesome. The idea of viewing these films in a converted opera house does pique my interest for reasons of pure nerdyness, but more importantly, these films get the community to come out en masse. These shows sell out days in advance, and the folks who come out are true enthusiasts. At The Big Lebowski, there were several excellent Walter Sobchak look-a-likes who were often reminding people that, “This is not Nam, there are rules.” In addition to that, the crowd didn’t stop participating when the film began to roll, there was raucous laughter for every funny quip that came out, and absolutely nothing was missed by anyone. During Raiders of the Lost Ark, people cheered wildly when Indiana Jones first looked up from beneath the brow of his fedora in the opening scene, and again when he shoots the giant sword wielding goon in the square.
When you know that everyone around you is enjoying the movie in the same way that you are, that feeling of elation from can only be described as contagious. Seeing a movie with four or five friends at home is also good, but it simply isn’t the same. Admittedly, these moments certainly aren’t experienced during every movie you’d see in theaters, as most films aren’t of that quality. Nevertheless, I’ve always felt that movies are a communal experience, and the collective gasp that occurs in theaters during tense scenes in great movies is a tough thing to replicate.
Anyway, go see a movie this weekend. I will.