Christmas 2020 has passed, but it leaves behind two films that will be the topics of multiple discussions before we roll into a new year: WW84 (Wonder Woman 1984) & Soul. While I felt both movies had their strong/weak points, as I said in the title – this isn’t a review. Instead, I want to focus on WHY both landed with a technical thud.
I Watch a Ton of Movies at Theaters
Under normal circumstances, I see a lot of movies by almost any standard out there. You can find sources dating back to 2014 that state “an average person” (What does that even mean?) goes to the movies about 5 times a year. And even more recently, in 2019, showing that 32% of adults typically went to theaters once a month while 2% went “Five or more” times a month (a minimum of about 60 theater visits a year) – and a whopping 46% didn’t go to the theaters at all.
On the other hand, I normally go to the theater over 150 times in a given year. (Yes, I can prove this figure.)
People may have grown more reluctant to attend movies pre-COVID because of rising ticket costs, expensive snacks, and potentially rude audience members – but I was there for all of it. That beautiful big screen – the shuffling sound of people walking in – the wondrous smell of popcorn that somehow never got old – it was all just part of a beautifully-orchestrated yet simple experience for me.
I always happily sat somewhere in the middle of a row near the front-ish of the theater. I did this so that the massive movie screen completely-filled my view, from side-to-side, so that I felt fully engrossed in whatever I was watching.
That yellow box is where I would often sit in the Dolby Theater at my local AMC (another disclosure: I am an AMC shareholder).
You get it. My local theater knew my face and I had a nice rapport with the employees there.
This brings me to what was missing for me.
Both Films Needed “More”
Just to set this up – it’s worth pointing out that my home theater rig is a beast.
On top of comfortable recliner seating, I have a Samsung QLED 4K TV paired with a 17-speaker Samsung Harman Kardon Soundbar with Dolby Atmos and surround sound speakers all from the same, fairly recent, generation. I don’t mention those details to flex by any means (frankly, there are better set-ups out there), but to illustrate that I wasn’t hurting in the multimedia department as I viewed these movies.
I get to live out some variation of that classic Maxell “Blown Away” ad every time I watch things at home.
The entire time I watched those movies, I felt like they were missing that extra oomph theaters add. WW84 had a few over-the-top visual moments (like literal military trucks flipping over) that just faltered compared to how I know they would’ve hit in a theater. And Soul‘s luscious (I said what I said) music selection and arrangement of auditory gems.
High budget movies, for the most part, are crafted to be seen… no… EXPERIENCED in movie theaters with gargantuan screens and equally massive sound systems backing up the vivid imagery put on display by the talented teams who created the production. WW84 and Soul came in with respective production budgets of $200 million and $150 million. If you include the marketing budgets, which typically aren’t disclosed – but are often estimated at half of the production budget costs, those price tags bloat to $300 million and $225 million! In what world are studios intending for movies with those kinds of costs intended to premiere on your home television?
Both WW84 and Soul needed a more traditional theater setting to be fully enjoyed. Each one is better suited to an actual theater as the delivery mechanism, and you can tell when you’re downgrading that intended impact. It was very evident for both movies as I watched them at home.
(I am aware that I could have gone and seen WW84 at a movie theater, but I haven’t come across a movie that’s worth risking my health for just yet. That won’t be until May 2021, when Godzilla vs. Kong drops. I refuse to watch that movie at home before I see it in theaters.)
As more people grow comfortable with the ability to stream everything from their living room for a multitude of reasons, movie theaters’ share of those viewing experiences is expected to shrink. In fact, it is shrinking. In a different survey, nearly half of U.S. adults go to the movie theater (once or less) per year.
I can’t put it any better than the following two outside sources…
Times are changing, and I feel like we’re collectively losing something in the shuffle. Going to see a movie in a cinema is an experience, and I just don’t think “watching at home” (no matter how many watch parties we set up) compares unless you have a REALLY impressive home theater set-up like this…
Which I don’t, so poo on that. (But, one day.)
I guess there’s always the option of broadening my horizons and watching movies in a VR headset. Ugh… We’re officially getting into the Ready Player One timeline, aren’t we? All I can say as an avid-moviegoer is that I hope theaters survive the remainder of COVID’s toll on society. I don’t know what a night at the movies will look like in the future, but I look forward to comfortably watching a movie with friends in a theater again someday.