Recently a group of 20 well-known filmmakers spoke out against the decision made by four major film studios to allow VOD downloading of their films 60 days after their cinema release. They argue this will increase piracy and seriously hurt ticket sales. You can read the full story at The Guardian here.
Yes ticket sales would hurt as more people would probably be disposed to save their ticket and gas money and instead watch the movie in the comfort of their home (in fact, most do that now).
But I have a bigger issue with this whole concept which was clarified while I was rereading The Power of Myth, the transcript of the dialogue between Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers. Here is an excerpt:
Moyers: Movies seem to create these large figures, while television merely creates celebrities. They don’t become models as much as they do objects of gossip.
Campbell: Perhaps that’s because we see TV personalities in the home instead of in a special temple like the movie theater.
I love that comparison of a movie theater to a temple. And it’s true.
Of course even before this issue there was Netflix Instant, DVD, VHS, laserdisc but there used to be a huge gap between when a film was released in the theater and when it came out on video. Up to a whole year in some cases. This gap has increasingly gotten smaller and smaller and now seemingly culminates with this 60 day later VOD option.
I remember in the first grade that I desperately wanted to see The Nightmare Before Christmas. Just about everyone in the class had seen it and was talking about it, probably had TNBC lunchboxes and TNBC themed pencils. But my mother had deemed the film too scary for her son. “I guess I’ll have to wait until it’s on video,” I thought. But one boy had told me that they weren’t going to release it on video. Ever. He heard it somewhere. Maybe he read Variety during recess. Of course it wasn’t true but I believed him and I despaired.
The real point is that watching the movie at home should be the second time you see it. Viewing a movie for a first time should take place in a movie theater where it can demand all of your attention. With movies so easily accessible in our homes now, it won’t be long before they become just another thing in the background while we tend to the dishes, empty the trash, make the bed… kind of like TV.
I went and saw Thor opening weekend and I realized that it was the first 2011 movie I’ve seen and that kind of bummed me out. Most of that is due to rising ticket prices but I always prefer to see a movie in a theater rather than at home. It’s an exhilarating experience. There’s a murmur of chatter before the screen flickers on (and hopefully stops thereafter), a certain electricity runs through the audience.
Then the lights go down.
And we go somewhere else for a while.
We really do get transported although I know that’s a cliche. A bunch of strangers in a dark room share in the experience of being whisked away. Can’t get that at home.