Do we need to go back to cinema’s after a year of watching films at home?
When it was announced in March of 2020 that shops, pubs, restaurants, theatres, cinemas, schools and other public venues and organisations were going to have to shut down for at least three months, we all went in to a deep despair; I know I certainly did. The idea that I wouldn’t be able to go to the gym- one of my favourite things- or go to the cinema/ theatre to watch something, or be in something- probably my most favourite thing- was terrifying. It made me think about why those things are so important to me and why the thought of not being able to access them was such a horrendous thing.
We are social creatures; humans crave interaction with others. Interaction and forming friendships and relationships is what gives us a sense of ‘belonging’, and in many ways, purpose and definition. I often think we are defined by the people we choose to spend time with in our lives, or perhaps more importantly, the things we choose to spend our time doing with those people.
For me, the cinema has always been a place I feel safe and satisfied in. I can take myself to the cinema, sit in a dark room and allow any stresses or worries from the real, outside world melt away for a couple of hours. I can buy in to a different world or a different character perspective and allow myself to escape and divert my busy mind. Even thoough we don’t always necessarily know the people who are sat around us, and even though we aren’t speaking to each other- unless you’re telling people to be quiet during the film (my biggest bug bares)- we feel a sense of connection with one another, whether we realise it or not. We are all there for a shared experience. We are all discovering a story at the same time, seeing the same images flashing in front of us and listening to the same dialogue or music being delivered; It is that very experience that we simply cannot re-create at home.
No matter how hard we might try to re-create a cinema enviornment in our living rooms, we can’t. We can turn all the lights out, buy sound proof padding and stick it up on the walls, we can invest in the newest, biggest home cinema system, equipped with full surround sound and sharp 4K projection capabilities, we can make our own popcorn or buy bags of sweets and snacks to consume, we could invest in proper cinema chairs and seating, if you were so inclined, and rich. We can have a strict ‘No Phones During The Film’ policy in place and we can tell the kids to be quiet every five minutes, if they start getting restless, using the most British silencing tool we have, the dreaded “Shhh!” But, still, the experience will never and can never be the same.
So, what’s missing? What’s the difference? Well, going to the cinema is an event; it might not feel like an event at the time, but it is. The process of you getting in your car or the train, or making an on-foot journey to your nearest cinema to watch the newest release is you consciously making a decision to invest in an experience. The money you spend on petrol, parking, train fare, bus fare, or the energy you expend on making the long walk in to town or bike ride. Then you might have dinner beforehand in your favourite restaurant, or perhaps you sneakily buy some snacks in the local off-license to avoid paying the astronomical fees for a bottle of water from the cinema; seriously, £3.50 per bottle at my local Odeon! Then you have to take in to account the amount of time to get there, which ultimately means you need to make sure any other plans you have earlier in the day or later in the day fit around your cinema outing. You need to consider there might be traffic, or problems with parking, or train/ bus delays, meaning you might have to leave earlier than would be necessary for where you live in relation to the cinema. All of these components that go in to making the trip to the cinema are significant and make the whole thing an experience.
The cinema is somewhere that doesn’t discriminate when it comes to whether you’re going solo, or whether you’re with a large family. I have had many deeply pleasurable solo trips to the cinema, and in fact, I would probably say that the majority of my cinema trips are solo. It’s relaxing. You switch your phone to aeroplane mode, or cinema mode if you have an iPhone like me, and you can just sit back, relax and ingest the materiel on screen and the ear blowing, Dolby Atmos sound design being launched at you. You don’t have to dress a certain way, you don’t have to justify yourself to anyone, you don’t have to engage with other people or wear a fake expression to hide how you’re truly feeling; you can simply sit in the dark and blend in with the rest of the cinema goers, and yet you are still part of something. You are still on this collective experience.
Ever been to the cinema to see one of those ‘event’ films? You know the one’s I mean: James Bond, the next MCU film, the latest DiCaprio or Scorcesse movie. How exciting is it to be, to quote Hamilton, “in the room where it happens”? It might be the day that partcualr film has been rekeased, so you are experiencing it in all its glory on the first day. The people you are sdahring it with are all in the same boat. None of them have previously seen it. The laughs, the tears, the shocks, the fear, the heartbreak, the relief are all genuine reactions and emotions being felt within the moment. This is what can’t be re-created at home. Sure, you can sit down with your family to watch a film and you can all go through that journey together, but the big difference is the ‘event’ of it has been removed. The most journeying you’ve had to do is probably a few feet from one room to your living room. You haven’t had to plan for traffic, or decide to go out for dinner before or after, you haven’t had to quickly pop to the off-license next door to save on money for snacks, you haven’t had to make sure you’re sat in the correct seat to avoid any awkward encounters with other disgruntled patrons. You have simply sat on your sofa, turned on Netflix, or other streaming services, chosen a film and hit play.
We also need to talk about film design and filmmakers intentions when it comes to specific presentation of their work. When a director/ editor/ sound designer/ cinematographer/ writer/ composer creates, or contributes towards the creation of a film, they are constantly thinking about how they want their film to be seen and presented. Very specific and intricate choices are made about what lenses they want to shoot on, what format they want the footage to be delivered on, how loud they want the music to be in relation to the dialogue, what lighting state they want for a particular moment, where they want the sound to be coming from in relation to where the audience are sat; all of these decisions are being made to offer the audience the best possible viewing experience. If someone like Christopher Nolan, a director known for wanting to create an ‘experience’ with his films, in terms of scale and impact, you can bet that he isn’t making his films knowing that they are going to be played on a 32" HD Ready TV that has colour issues and has a tendency to switch itself off or the speakers are damaged. He is making his films with the hope and, because of his reputation, the expectation that people will go to an IMAX theatre and really get an experience of sound, colour and light; if there isn’t a global pandemic preventing people from doing so.
On the subject of Nolan, I will briefly use his latest blockbuster, “Tenet”. This film split audiences right down the middle. Some loved it, whilst others, myself included, found it far too complicated and slightly pretentious to want to see it again. I genuinely didn’t understand it. I still don’t have the answers to it, and I did actually watch it two more times to try and understand, but alas, I failed. Anyway, the point I want to make is about how that film was designed to be seen. It is extremely clear that Nolan designed it with an IMAX viewing being the most effective experience; everything from the huge set pieces, bass heavy music, poor ratio of music to dialogue, in order to create an overall “experience”, as Nolan puts it. Whilst I don’t like the film and don’t understand it, I totally agree that this film has to be seen on the big screen, and if you do happen to live near an IMAX theatre, then absolutely go and see it there! The scale of the visuals are huge. The stunt scenes and explosions along the way deserve the large scale presentation only cinema can give you; simply put, that 32" ain’t going to do the trick with this one. This is clearly why Nolan was so adamant to release the film to the cinema, even though he knew it wouldn’t make nearly as much money as you would expect from a Nolan, due to a lot of people not wanting to take the risk of going to the cinema; he realised that the film would struggle on V.O.D, probably very aware that his film vastly relies on the visual impact, compared to the dialogue and overall character development.
Another of Nolan’s films that I think is worth mentioning, would have to be “Dunkirk”. I saw this in the cinema and all I can say is, “Thank God!” It was beautiful. The full glory of the cinematography, all shot on IMAX cameras, was really able to shine forth in the cinema. The scale of everything was doubled, the sound design was entrancing and the tension and drama of watching some of those historic moments of war time was hugely elevated and pulled you in to the heart of it. When it came to watching the film on my laptop screen, with my girlfriend at the time, who hadn’t seen it at the cinema, the experience was vastly different. It was muted and numbed. The sound design didn’t hit in the same way, the images didn’t seem as impressive or soul stirring, the drama and tension was decreased significantly; luckily I had the memory of the big screen experience to revert back to, my girlfriend unfortunately didn’t. Sucks for her!
The overall point of all of this is we NEED cinemas. Of course COVID has forced us to watch all these new releases on V.O.D from our homes and the risks and dangers of visiting various public venues, like cinemas and theatres for example, have put some people off; they feel safer in their own homes and that is completely understandable. But, now that things are opening again and more and more people are getting vaccinated- I had my first dose of Pfizer yesterday, and my arm is bloody killing me, as I write this- I think it is vital that people realise the importance of the cinema ‘experience’, there’s that word again. If you want to put it to the test, find a film that is currently being shown in cinemas, but is also available to watch at home; watch the film at home and then maybe the next night you can take yourself off to the cinema and watch the film again, tell me which experience was better. Think about the sound design, the visual impact, the sound proofing of the cinema, the lack of distractions (going to the fridge for food every 5 minutes, checking your phone every 30 seconds for Twitter updates, the dogs barking because they saw a fly in the kitchen, people knocking on the door, asking for money); the cinema is an incredibly special place and we need to uphold the joy it brings by continuing to give it our business and support.
Imagine a world with no cinemas or theatres; I can guarantee it would be a very bleak one.