Why Go to Movies?

The Lion King at IMAX

I was expecting something special out of the IMAX presentation of The Lion King, but it was merely bigger than I’d ever seen it.

The six-story-tall screen and advanced sound system, I thought, might make for a more immersing experience. I did notice the directional movement of sound more than in a regular movie theater (and perhaps a little more than at home), and the image size revealed dead spots in animation meant for a smaller screen. This was not the transcendent experience I expected and (to a degree) hoped for.

But I’m glad of that. I’ve always assumed that the scale of movie theaters (compared to a home setup) gives them an advantage in terms of cinematic impact. But if watching The Lion King at an IMAX theater doesn’t feel significantly different than watching it at home, why bother? Why go to movies at all?

I can think of a half-dozen reasons to stay home:

• The average nighttime movie ticket price is $8.50 a person. In other words, a couple going to an evening movie spends almost enough on admission alone to buy that same movie on DVD a few months later. Which leads to ...

• The window between a theatrical release and DVD debut is shrinking. Movie studios recognize that the easiest way to capitalize on a movie’s popularity is to turn it around quickly for the purchase market. And the best news of all: If a movie dies a quick death at the box office, it can sometimes show up on DVD in mere weeks.

• DVDs allow you to not only see and hear a movie as its makers intended but also experience it in context, through supplements.

• Movie audiences are getting ruder (or perhaps I’m just getting more sensitive). Why would I want to sit in an auditorium in which people are talking on their cell phones when I can watch the same movie in the comfort of my home (again a few months later) with no distractions?

• Home-theater systems are now sophisticated and inexpensive enough that your living room can probably replicate the aural experience of a film as well as a movie-theater auditorium.

• Yes, the picture at home is smaller, but that difference is partially offset by three factors:

  • Movie screens are getting smaller;
  • Television screens are getting bigger; and
  • You’re much closer to your television than the movie screen.

And considering that home theater will continue to get cheaper as movie tickets get more and more expensive, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to think that movie-theater chains will find themselves in big trouble in the coming years.

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