movie theaters Tag

A Different World

A Different World

The steady drip of announcements and events that could very well signal the demise of chain movie theaters continues unabated. On the heels of Mulan going straight to Disney+, the Tenet fiasco, and the latest Bond film being held until next April, we’ve now learned that Pixar’s Soul is going to follow the same path as Mulan, earning a Christmas release on Disney+; Dune is being pushed from Christmas to October 2021; and The Batman is being banished to the incredibly distant date of March 2022. And there’s speculation Wonder Woman 1984 could be going straight to HBO Max, which would be a huge change of strategy for Warner Bros., shifting from pretty much forcing theaters to reopen so they could lose their shirts on Tenet to dumping this once-prized ode to gym memberships onto a struggling streaming service’s anemic subscriber base.

 

In another major sign of just how much things have changed, there are reports MGM tried to shop the Bond film around to Netflix et al. in lieu of a theatrical release only to find there were no takers. Is it really conceivable the latest 007 could end up 

so tarnished it could find itself in the streaming equivalent of the bargain bin?

 

It’s time for the studios to relent and take everything else they were going to hang onto until, when, Doomsday? and send it straight to the home market—something they should have done six months ago. It’s not just about the economics. In a world that bears little resemblance to the one that existed at the beginning of this year, do they really expect these movies to resonate with audiences today—let alone half a year, a year, or a year and a half down a very uncertain road? We now live in an in many ways worse and in some ways better world, but undeniably one with only a few tenuous connections to its previous incarnation.

 

The whole sad and in some ways silly tale of Tenet and the movie theaters is just another example of the kind of bass ackwards thinking that’s pretty much determined how everything has played out during the pandemic. To state what ought to be obvious (but there’s little evidence to suggest that’s so): We need to rethink our priorities. The economy isn’t some independent organism that must be fed at all costs, but a man-made and -controlled (when we want to be responsible for it) mechanism meant to serve the needs of people. In other words, it’s nothing but an artificial construct, a tool, a means to an end. Hell, at this point, I’d be happy to see us go back to the barter system—even potlatch—if it would spare us the spectacle of more human sacrifice on the mass scale.

 

Tenet has, rightly, become the poster child for everything that’s hopelessly balled up about the present moment. Something never felt right about that whole exercise in denial—even beyond the manifest irresponsibility of urging theaters to reopen in the middle of a pandemic, and Nolan’s Olympian hubris of thinking his ridiculously expensive little trifle was worth risking even a single person’s life.

 

Tenet tanked not just because releasing it was a brain-dead business decision but because it had been built up so much by Nolan, Warner Bros., and IMAX as something that had to be seen in a movie theater, that, viewed in the context of a global crisis, it ultimately felt trivial.

 

We’ve come—I believe, stupidly—to make huge emotional investments in movies, and especially franchises, when they’re almost inevitably the products of children of privilege indulging their extremely stunted emotional development.

 

Movies, honoring the hipster mantra, have become little more than diversions, distractions, one-note confections able to induce enough of a sugar high to get you to crave the next one but never able to supply enough nourishment to be in any meaningful way satisfying, elaborate yet ultimately crude devices that qualify as entertainment only in the most primitive way, and never as art.

 

I might really be dreaming here, but I’m hoping the current 

upheaval proves to be the ultimate Kryptonite or Death Star or whatever and finally frees us from the tyranny of the superhero movie. No matter how pretentious directors want to get about them, at the end of the day, they’re inherently adolescent, silly, and, worst of all, fascist (Goebbels would have loved Gal Gadot), exhibiting all the overheated excess of a form of entertainment on the verge of collapse. (Which helps to explain why they tend to lean so heavily on kitschy Late Romantic retreads for their soundtracks. Mahler, R. Strauss, and Wagner were harbingers of the imminent demise of tonality.)

 

The studios are willing to commit so much money to producing superhero movies and push them so ferociously not because they’re more entertaining than other genres, let alone because they’re more edifying and profound, but because they more readily lend themselves to merchandising and video games and they help keep the populace in an uncritical state of arrested development. At the end of the day, it’s an economic and marketing decision and never a creative one—not even close.

 

Now, I realize that decades of indoctrination have led to a culture of fantasy über alles, but I’d like to hang onto a slim hope that recent events will shake us from our stupor and get us to realize that almost every mainstream genre we’ve succumbed to since the Reagan era—and this would include action films and other heedless celebrations of war—are ultimately forms of oppression.

 

Just to be clear: The last thing I’d want to see is a world awash in earnest little dramas without flair, socially-conscious efforts that ultimately just reinforce rampant intolerance, and ambitious epics that show no understanding of the rudiments of cinema—in other words, Oscar fodder. If we’re going to reinvent the movies, let’s really strip them down and rebuild them from the ground up. And just to show that this isn’t just some vague and abstract wish, let alone an exercise in nostalgia, I’m hoping to toss out a few suggestions for reimagining in a future column.

Michael Gaughn

 

Disclaimer: My views are my own. They represent neither the general position of this website nor the opinions of any of its other contributors, who I’m pretty sure don’t much agree with me about any of this.

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review, Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs, a couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

Ep. 10: What the Hell’s Going On with the Movies?

The Cineluxe Hour logo

After a longish hiatus, The Cineluxe Hour returns with a wide-ranging, freewheeling discussion of what’s been happening with new movie releases over the past year, and what that means for the movie theaters and for people watching films at home.

 

The episode opens with Cineluxe’s Dennis Burger, Michael Gaughn, and John Sciacca laying out the chronology from how the movie studios initially reacted to the pandemic through the decision to pull movies like Bloodshot, The Invisible Man, and Onward from theaters and offer them for home viewing.

 

At 9:35, John, Dennis, and Mike recount the events that led to the disastrous release of Christopher Nolan’s Tenet in theaters, and the impact that decision has had on other movie releases.

 

At 14:45, Dennis and John discuss their recent columns about Christie’s patent to allow theaters to send first-run movies to people’s homes.

 

18:37: How the pandemic has accelerated the decline of movie theaters and the flourishing of streaming, and how the theaters might not be able to recover.

 

20:25: How the proliferation of inexpensive high-quality big-screen video displays is allowing a much larger number of people to have a better-than-movie-theater experience at home. But John raises concerns that this could signal the end of the “event” movie.

 

27:15: Dennis discusses Disney’s decision to send Pixar’s Soul straight to Disney+ and to reorganize its company to focus on streaming.

 

31:30: Michael speculates that the world has changed so much over the past eight months that movies the studios have been hanging onto, like No Time to Die, The Batman, and Wonder Woman 1984, might seem out of touch and out of date by the time the studios finally release them.

 

And, lastly, at 34:07, everyone nominates their favorite older films that look exceptional after receiving a 4K HDR upgrade.

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Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review, Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs, a couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing for such publications as Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at @SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Disney Turns Christie’s Big Announcement Into Old News

Disney Turns Christie's Big Announcement Into Old News

In his story about Christie Digital’s recently announced cinema-to-home movie-distribution technology, John Sciacca posed a simple question: Is this “a good or bad thing for commercial theaters“? Not to be completely contrarian here, but I think that’s the wrong question. What I wonder is whether it’s relevant at all.

 

And look, I don’t mean to dismiss Christie Digital’s technology out of hand here. To get a sense of what that technology is, exactly, and how it works, I downloaded the patent application and read it from beginning to end. What’s found within is an explanation of some pretty cool tech. What the patent makes clear (and Christie’s announcement doesn’t) is that this new distribution method won’t require the use of Christie hardware on both ends. From the patent:

As described below, these systems and methods provide a hardware based technological solution that enables the mirroring of movie theater content and the insertion of targeted advertisements to offsite locations and devices (e.g., a remotely situated projector, a user’s television or mobile device, etc.). 

In other words, once this new system goes live (assuming it actually does), you’ll be able to log into a website or an app on your phone or smart TV (or, one would hope, your streaming media player) and reserve a viewing of a film. According to images embedded in the patent, it should work just like buying tickets for a show at your local cineplex: You pick your movie,

pick your start time, then sit back and watch all of the attached trailers and promo spots for the concession stand that you would see if you were actually sitting in your local IMAX, along with a few additional ads targeted at home viewers.

 

The one extra step required (if my reading of the patent is correct) is that you may also have to select your playback resolution, as it says 4K streams may cost more than 2K streams (each of which, by the way, would be transcoded to Ultra HD [3,840 x 2,160] or HD [1,920 x 1,080] resolutions from 4,096 x 2,160 or 2,048 x 1,080 to account for the differences between digital cinema and home video formats).

 

While a cinema can have any number of “virtual” screenings, and while they don’t necessarily have to be tied to the start times of in-person screenings, the schedule of these streams will still be dictated by the cinema. So, hypothetically, if you want to start watching Dune at 7:45 and your local cinema is only streaming it at 6:30 and 9:00, you’re out of luck. (There is, buried in the patent, a provision that would allow cinemas to reserve an Integrated Media Block [IMB] and Secure Content Transcoder [SCT] on their end for single-ticket VOD purchases, but I hesitate to speculate what that luxury would cost. At least in terms of server and hardware commitments on the part of the cinema, that’s effectively the same as letting you rent out an entire auditorium, since you and you alone would be consuming the output of one virtual screening system.)

 

If all of this had come out a year or two ago when we were all still speculating about how day & date would work, you could have easily argued that Christie’s solution to first-run movie-viewing at home was the simplest and most likely to succeed.

 

Fast-forward to this dumpster-fire of a year, though, and it all seems too little too late. We’ve already seen day & date work, and it doesn’t require this convoluted Rube Goldberg reliance on someone at your local cinema pressing a button that allows you to start watching at their convenience. We’ve seen films like Onward hit Disney+ as well as other digital platforms like Kaleidescape and Vudu. We’ve seen Bill & Ted do the same. We’ve seen movies like Enola Holmes go from being prospective commercial cinema tentpoles to Netflix exclusives.

 

While we’ve seen so many potential blockbusters get pushed back and back and back again, we’ve seen others—like Hamilton—get moved forward in the release schedule and dropped right into our laps at home. And, of course, there’s Disney’s risky gamble with Mulan, which reportedly paid off big-time. So much so that the company is restructuring its media and entertainment divisions and doubling down on its commitment to streaming as the future of cinema.

In other words, Hollywood has proven to us that commercial cinemas don’t have to play a part in a viable film release. The fact that they continue to do so with certain films is a choice, pure and simple. And much like this country’s broken private-medical-insurance scam, it’s a choice that doesn’t benefit the end user in the slightest, instead benefiting only the racket-like middleman we’ve all been conditioned to believe is essential to the process.

 

When things finally go back to normal, or when we finally arrive at a new normal, and are able to safely attend mass gatherings, I have to wonder if audiences will return to commercial cinemas in anything approaching the same numbers as before. Sure, the pathological extroverts will flock to those sticky floors, busted speakers, and overpriced concessions like moths to a flame, since their own laughter and cheering is meaningless to them unless a few dozen of their closest strangers are there to affirm their emotional reactions. And it would be unfair to overlook people who don’t have high-performance AV systems at home. They benefit from a trip to the local megaplex, as well.

 

But the rest of us have been to the promised land, and we’ve learned from experience that the horse-and-buggy method of film distribution isn’t necessary anymore. And I just don’t see many of us tolerating the vestiges of a dying model (locked-in start times, forced commercials, etc.) when we know it doesn’t have to be that way. You can’t blame Christie for trying, since they have a vested interest in the success of commercial cinemas. But all of this seems to me to be a solution to a problem that doesn’t have to exist.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

I Rented an Entire Theater to See “Tenet”

I Rented an Entire Theater to See "Tenet"

I’ve been following the start-stop, herky-jerky release plans for Christopher Nolan’s Tenet from the get-go. Ordained as the film that was going to re-open commercial cinemas and save them from the ravages of COVID-19, Nolan and Warner Brothers were hellbent on giving Tenet a theatrical release—PVOD streaming be damned!—even when US theaters weren’t fully ready to reopen. So the film took the unusual approach of opening internationally prior to its official run here in the States

starting on September 3.

 

As a fan of Nolan’s creative time-twisting work (Memento, Inception, Dunkirk), I was eager to see if Tenet lived up to the hype, and seeing it in a commercial cinema was the natural consummation of my relationship with this film. Unfortunately, my wife just wasn’t comfortable with the idea of sitting in a movie theater for nearly three hours with a bunch of strangers, regardless of how much the theaters were touting new enhanced cleaning procedures.

 

The solution? Rent out the entire theater for my own private Tenet watch party!

 

Besides solving my dilemma of wanting to watch Tenet in the theater, the proposition of having the whole theater to myself for a tentpole film on opening weekend seemed like a baller-move just too big to pass up.

 

In actuality, it wasn’t that expensive. To entice people back to the cinema, Cinemark is offering special Private Watch Party pricing ranging from $99 to $175 based on location and movie selection. Renting out a theater to watch Tenet only cost me $163.24, including all taxes and fees. For that, you get the place to yourself and can have as many as 20 guests in your party. Seating starts 15 minutes prior to the show, and you even get special pricing on concessions. (A large popcorn is “only” $5, large fountain drinks are $3.50, and candy is $2.50.)

 

As you can imagine, after months in lockdown, getting 20 

friends together to see a movie in a commercial theater and have some sense of normality back in their lives took about as long as copying and pasting, “Hey, I rented out a movie theater to watch Tenet. You want to come see it?” into a text.

 

Once our party was all together, I showed the theater staff a QR code on my phone and they let us in. Our auditorium had about 45 loungers in it, and we were free to sit wherever we wanted.

 

Our showing started promptly at 5:15, beginning with trailers for Dune, Wonder Woman 1984, and Judas and the Black Messiah. Following that was a brief ad extolling the virtues of seeing big movies on big screens—a bit reminiscent of the 

ads on Blu-ray discs telling you how great Blu-ray discs are (I mean, I was in the theater to see this ad, so it felt a bit like preaching to the choir)—followed by a brief spot extolling all the enhanced measures Cinemark was taking to ensure that its theaters are clean, safe, and comfortable.

 

The messaging certainly suggested that Cinemark is doing what it can to make the moviegoing experience as safe as possible, but we weren’t there to see if they actually cleaned our auditorium before our seating and didn’t stick around to see whether they fully disinfected it after it was over. There were sanitizing stations around, and all employees—and moviegoers—are required to wear masks. They also really tout the new “3-point air-quality standard” with advanced circulation, filters, and ionization. But beyond the theater not having any odor—or ever
feeling stuffy—I really just have to take them at their word on this as well.

 

Honestly, besides literally having the auditorium to ourselves, the entire building felt empty. I don’t think we saw more than a half-dozen people who weren’t in our group. Another part of the safe opening is staggered showtimes, creating larger windows between people exiting and entering.

 

So, if you’re hesitant about being around crowds, that might not even be an issue right now. Another part of nearly every theater’s safe reopening includes limited seating in auditoriums, such as automatically blocking off the seats next to your

I Rented an Entire Theater to See "Tenet"

party. (Rows ahead and behind in our theaters are already separated by more than six feet, but I understand these are blocked as well when necessary.) And, of course, if you don’t want to be around others, the Private Watch Party is the perfect solution.

 

Then, trailers and messaging out of the way, it was time for Tenet!

I’m going to keep this totally spoiler-free for two reasons. One, Tenet is an experience you should be able to have unspoiled, and, two, the film is so complex and twisty and mentally fatiguing and confounding, I’m not actually sure I understood it well enough to spoil it! Just as no one could be told what The Matrix was, no one can easily explain and summarize exactly what Tenet is.

 

Apparently, Nolan has been crafting Tenet for years, saying he deliberated on the film’s central ideas for over a decade and then took more than five years to write the screenplay. With all of that time to weave the story, plot, and world of Tenet, expecting to unpack and process it all in one viewing is an overly ambitious goal, especially with sensory overload happening in many scenes and overlooking small details you aren’t aware are important. If Nolan’s desire was to get people to see his movie in a commercial cinema—preferably on an IMAX screen—he could truly be the savior of the commercial cinema, as it will take multiple viewings to fully take in and comprehend this film.

 

True to its palindromic title, Tenet plays with time, moving backwards and forwards, sometimes at the same time. I often found myself watching the action unfolding not totally sure what was happening but marveling at the time some of these scenes must have taken in editing and post-production to get just right.

 

After the film, our group stood in the lobby and parking lot for some time with lots of, “Why did this happen?” and “What was going on here?” and “What do you think this meant?” I don’t visit Reddit, but I can only imagine that Tenet is blowing up the boards there with deep fan-based discussion of what the film is all about.

 

It’s as if Tenet saw how deep and layered Inception was—with people still debating whether the top is spinning or not—and said, “Hey, Inception. You think you had a complex plot? Hold my beer.”

 

If you have that one friend who is always confused by film plots, asking what is happening, do not take them—their head will explode.

 

Ideally, Tenet would come with a detailed Wiki and walkthrough prepared by Nolan, to guide you through the layered world with tips on what to look for, key dialogue to pay attention to, and objects (or colors) in the background to be aware of. Having only seen it once, I can only speculate on what things would be noticed and understood on the second or third viewing.

 

Tenet is a cool, slick, fast-paced film that travels the globe to exotic locations. It features car chases, elaborate heists, massive gun battles, and huge set pieces. I’m not sure it is a fun film to watch, but it is definitely an interesting and deeply cerebral film. Nolan doesn’t dumb it down, spell things out for the masses, or try to offer any overly helpful exposition.

 

One thing that definitely didn’t help with understanding the film is the sound mix. Music and effects are often playing quite loud, even when characters are talking. Compounding that is the fact that characters are often wearing masks, making the dialogue exasperatingly difficult to understand. Removing the ability to understand lines of dialogue at key moments takes an already complex plot and puts it up on Legendary mode. I’m hoping they do some remixing for the home release, but if nothing else, you might get more out of Tenet by being able to watch it with subtitles turned on. 

 

Featuring a strong cast that includes John David Washington (Denzel’s son), Robert Pattinson (whose performance made me believe he can pull off Batman), Elizabeth Debicki, Kenneth Branagh, Himesh Patel, and a wonderful (but short) scene with Michael Caine, performances are solid throughout.

 

Now that it’s finally here and showing in commercial cinemas, I’m not sure Tenet fully lives up to all the hype and expectation that had been heaped upon it, or that we’ll ever fully understand all of its intricacies, subtleties, and meanings, but it is the first summer blockbuster to come to theaters, and if you have the means to safely see it, it certainly makes for an interesting two-and-a-half hours for sure. And remember, what’s happened’s happened.

John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Coming Soon to a Theater Near You

Coming Soon to a Theater Near You

Time for another little thought experiment. Two weeks ago, the Justice Department had the 70-year-old law struck down that said movie studios can’t own theater chains. With the chains currently way back on their heels and their future looking dimmer than one of their overused projector bulbs, the timing of the decision couldn’t be worse—if you own a theater franchise—or better—if you’re one of the unfortunates who has to patronize one of their theaters.

 

I think we can all agree that, while you can be eager to go to a theater to see a film, nobody ever really looks forward to going to the theater itself. We put up with them, but we don’t enjoy—let alone savor—them.

 

While chain owners, sensing their license to extort slipping away, have tried to improve the experience in recent years, all they’ve really done is attempt to adopt the virtues of a good home theater—ultimately just reinforcing the idea that you’re 

better off watching movies at home. In other words, by trying to make movie theaters more homelike, they’ve only made them seem more cold and corporate (and inconvenient and expensive) by comparison.

 

But what if, now free to pounce thanks to the recent decision, Disney decided to swoop in and snatch up one or more chains and turn the theaters into someplace you might actually want to go to, regardless of what’s playing? The company has demonstrated a kind of genius for processing great masses of people while making them feel like they’re being pampered. There’s no reason why that knowledge and experience and ruthless efficiency couldn’t be applied to bringing franchise theaters back from the dead.

 

I’m singling out Disney because, well, no other studio is really in much of a position at the moment to pull something like this off. To name just a few mitigating factors:

 

—Unable to get existing titles released or new ones into production, most major studios don’t have the cash on hand to execute something this big. Disney does.

 

—No other studio can deliver as many event movies, has enough diversity in its stable of franchises, or has a strong enough track record to single-handedly sustain box office for a large theater chain. Able to draw on its Disney, Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars titles—and whatever other franchises it gobbles up in the coming months—Disney does.

 

—Because the other studios don’t have as many event titles to offer, a theatrical run can’t deliver the same kind of promotional kick it would for Disney, which could use its theaters as a consistent springboard for building anticipation for, and actually selling, its films for home release.

 

—Sure, some of the other studios have theme parks and theme park-like attractions, but they’ve never taken them to the level Disney has. And, again, they

just don’t have the diversity of franchises and characters to drawn on. (All those decades of Imagineering have to be good for something, right?)

 

So I think we’ve firmly established that Disney is the studio best positioned to take advantage of this opportunity. But what exactly could they do to elevate theaters from depressing to desirable?

 

This is the easier part of our experiment, and an opportunity for everyone to play along at home. Imagine everything you like best about the theme parks replacing everything you hate most about going to a franchise theater.

 

—Instead of just having some bored employee standing around in a Buzz Lightyear costume because he doesn’t want to go scrub out the urinals, trained cast members could stage vignettes for the patrons waiting on line, themed to whatever’s currently playing.

 

—The food, beverages, and sweets could be unique offerings, similarly themed to the current film, instead of just some stale nachos tossed into a paper container with Darth Vader on it.

 

—A gift shop stocked with high-quality goods, again, tied into the film du jour with most of the inventory in constant rotation and staffed with people who actually know something about what they’re selling.

 

—A handful of high-end theaters are incorporating video walls into their lobbies, but what if every wall of the lobby was an 8K screen setting the mood for the evening by taking you deep into the jungle or to the bottom of the ocean or on a journey down Tom Hanks’ alimentary canal?

 

—And then there are the thousand other touches, from the signage—digital or otherwise—to the lighting to the colors to the seating to the fabrics to the attractiveness, professionalism, and basic decency of the staff—that the chains have traditionally bungled, opting for Vegas c. 1975 over anything that suggests taste, quality, or any kind of empathy for their patrons.

 

So, at a time when most people—including me—assumed the day was nigh when the theaters would be turning off the lights, padlocking the doors, and trying to sell off their digital projectors for scrap, there’s actually a possibility, however remote, that going to the movies could once again become an event as big as or bigger than whatever’s being shown and that we could be looking at a return of the local movie palace, executed with a boldness, ingenuity, and flair that would put their Golden Age forbears to shame.

 

Heresy, I know. But I can’t imagine a better time to dream.

Michael Gaughn

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs,
couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

Barry Sonnenfeld on Pause, Pt. 1

Barry Sonnenfeld on Pause, Pt. 1

Barry Sonnenfeld is the undisputed master of the puckish fairytale. Anyone who knows him mainly from Men in Black might think he specializes in effects-driven sci-fi films. But the one thread that runs through his entire body of work—from The Addams Family to Get Shorty to Wild Wild West to the first live-action Tick series to Big Trouble to Pushing Daisies to A Series of Unfortunate Events—is the sense of someone standing just off camera eager to tell you a very tall, very droll, and often surprisingly bittersweet tale. That quality lends his work a sense of both irony and intimacy that super-sized space operas usually lack.

 

It also helps to explain why you can almost always find not just the Men in Black franchise, but the Addams Family films and Get Shorty playing somewhere on cable. There’s a comfortable consistency to his work that’s allowed him to always draw an audience, whether he’s creating for movies or TV.

 

Barry in person displays the same droll and sometimes acerbic tendencies as his output. More candid in his observations about the movie industry than most mainstream directors, he’s not afraid to occasionally chomp on the hand that feeds him. And, unlike most directors, he doesn’t just talk the talk when it comes to considering how people experience his work at home but has been deeply involved in the creation of his own home theaters.

 

Knowing he’d have a unique take on how Hollywood is faring during the pandemic, I was lucky enough to catch up with Barry for a few minutes as he was settling into his new hometown of Vancouver and about to begin pre-production on a new series—which we’ll discuss in more detail in Part 2.

—Michael Gaughn

Would you agree that there’s never been another time even remotely like this in the history of film or TV production?

Well, yes, there’s never been a situation like this before. What’s interesting to me is that the downfall of feature-film product actually started several years ago when the studios decided to make mainly movies based on IPs, whether they be sequels or huge books or comic books. What happened was that marketing became so expensive that if they had to spend between $50

and $100 million to market a movie, they’d rather spend $100 to $200 million to actually make a movie. Even if you make a good movie for $20 million, it’s still going to cost $50 million to market it.

 

So the movie business became a blockbuster-only business. And what that did is it sent any interesting scripts or concepts that weren’t big-budget IP, “I can only see this in a movie theater” kinds of movies to television.

 

In addition, Netflix has become so successful and has led to all these other streaming services—Amazon Prime, Hulu, Disney+, HBO Max—so fewer and fewer movies are being made for theatrical distribution. And even in those cases, it will only be very expensive, very VFX-laden movies. You see fewer and fewer small, interesting art movies going to movie theaters. Especially when you consider that the Motion Picture Academy is now accepting movies that are on streamers to be considered for nominations as feature films as long as they’ve been on in a short window in theaters.

 

COVID obviously has exacerbated this massive shift by a factor of 10. I think AMC and all of these other theater chains are basically going to have to go into the real-estate business and find ways to sell off their properties, because I don’t see that they’ll continue to need nearly as many theaters as they presently have.

 

Did you see the recent announcement from AMC and Universal?

Yes. AMC is cutting their exclusive-release window down to 

19 days, which favors only those movies that people want to see on the big screen instead of in their homes—the ones that require them to see them immediately so they can brag to all their friends that they saw the new Star Wars or Marvel movie or whatever.

 

Now, the theater chains hadn’t done a good job for the previous 20 years of maintaining their theaters, of creating an experience worthy of getting a babysitter, going to the theater, paying for parking or paying for a subway or a cab. So, until half a dozen years ago, the theaters could be blamed for their own decline because they didn’t realize they needed to not only make it an experience based on the size and scope of the movie but also on the experience of actually being in a movie theater. They overcharged for popcorn, they didn’t clean the theater between shows. They’ve started to come around; they’ve

just been very late. But now there are those draft-house and art-house theaters that have food delivery and waiter service.

 

But theaters have been in the candy store business as much as the theatrical release business. They probably make a higher percentage of their income from selling food, water, etc. than from ticket sales, because right off the bat, the theater gives half of 

Barry on home theaters vs. movie theaters

the money back to the studio. A $10 ticket only grosses them $5. So it’s not a great business, and I think COVID is going to really change that theatrical experience for, at a minimum, the next 18 months. I don’t know how theaters stay in business with their massive real-estate investments until then.

 

Do you have any thoughts on the whole situation with Christopher Nolan and Tenet?

I haven’t been following it that much. Is it Warner Brothers?

 

And IMAX. The claim is that they’ll be able to make the film available in theaters to 80% of the U.S. population by September 3rd, even if they can’t open in California or New York.

I’ll be frank with you, I don’t understand how they think they will be releasing Tenet in three weeks to all those IMAX theaters. Second of all, unless IMAX has changed, I don’t particularly like the format. The screen seemed to be 1:66 in ratio—they’re not 1:85, although you can crop them for 1:85. Also, I never thought the IMAX sound system was particularly good. For me,

RealD—they’re high-end, premier theaters—are a better movie-going experience than IMAX. They have better sound, their screens are the right aspect ratio.

 

I think a lot of the Tenet thing is hype and perception more than reality. I don’t see how Nolan’s movie could be released to 80% of the country. But what do I know?

 

Beyond Tenet, you’ve got Wonder Woman 1984, the Fast & Furious sequel

Top Gun.

 

Right. There are probably a dozen tentpole or nearly tentpole films they may not be able to release until next spring at the earliest. Is there a risk that these will just feel over-hyped and out of date by the time they actually put them out there? Are they missing an opportunity by not just going PVOD with some of these titles?

There are several costs, including the interest costs on all these movies. The longer they hold a movie, the more they’re paying in interest on it because they’ve already laid out $200 million and they’re not getting any of that money back in. Perhaps there will be either a COVID vaccine, or rapid testing where for 15 minutes while you’re waiting on line, you do your tests and then you’re allowed into the theater. I wish there was some other venue.

 

What’s really funny is it’s bringing back drive-in movie 

Barry Sonnenfeld on Pause, Pt. 1

Barry recently published his autobiography, which describes his journey from shooting movies for
the Coen brothers, Penny Marshall, Rob Reiner,
and others to creating his own hit films

theaters. The problem with drive-ins used to be the sound more than the picture—although they never could get the image bright enough. In fact, I don’t think they could ever show The Godfather at drive-ins, or any movie shot by Gordon Willis, because they couldn’t get the print bright enough.

 

But the biggest problem used to be terrible sound, with those wired speakers that you hung on your car window. Now they’ve gone to broadcasting the sound on a narrow FM channel.

 

I don’t know how you get 400 people into a movie theater. And I do question whether or not in a year from now when Top Gun is released and everyone’s had a year to pirate it and find other ways to get copies of it, if it will have the same sort of cachet.

 

They’re going to release Tenet overseas this month before it opens here in September—if it opens in September. That means the entire planet’s going to be awash in bootlegs before it ever gets near the U.S.

Well, I don’t know what percentage of the U.S. market will want to see movies like Tenet, etc., etc. on a bootleg copy with Italians coughing in the foreground. Unless it’s good bootlegs done by projectionists or that kind of stuff. I think that’s a small problem, but, again, if the movie is already out there, it’s sort of damaged goods to a certain extent. That’s why the streamers are in a really great place right now because people don’t want to leave their homes yet, unless it’s for political reasons.

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs,
couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

Ep. 7: Theo on Theaters

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Continuing the discussion from Episode 6 of how home theaters are now definitely better
than movie theaters, Episode 7 opens with hosts Michael Gaughn & Dennis Burger
discussing Dennis’s recent post on how even streaming can be better than a movie theater.

 

At 10:14, Dennis & Michael welcome the father of home theater, Theo Kalomirakis, back to
the podcast to talk about what impact the better-than-movie-theater experience at 
home
has had on both his work and his personal love of movie-watching.

 

At 22:28, the discussion turns to the influence the superior home viewing experience is
having on filmmaking. Theo also provides a brief update on the efforts of his company,
Rayva, to offer simple-to-install luxury home theaters
.

 

Ep. 7 concludes at 32:13 with a survey of what everyone’s watched over the past week,
followed by a guest appearance by Dennis’s son, Bruno.

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RELATED EPISODES

Why Movie Theaters Still Matter

Why Movie Theaters Still Matter

I couldn’t help but chuckle when I read Dennis Burger’s piece in which he laid out 10 reasons why home theaters are better than movie theaters because I recently had a movie-going experience that reinforced pretty much all of his arguments. Technically, it was three movie-going experiences all united under one common theme: A child’s love of How to Train Your Dragon.

 

You see, my 10-year-old daughter is completely obsessed with dragons, and that obsession was born the day she watched How to Train Your Dragon for the first time—in our home theater, mind you. For over two years, she has absorbed every detail of this universe—the two films, the comic books, and the DreamWorks Dragons TV series—the same way I absorbed all things Star Wars as a kid.

 

So, as you can imagine, the theatrical release of How to Train Your Dragon 3: The Hidden World back in February was a monumental life event that evolved into our own movie-going trilogy. The epic journey began with a Fandango Early Access showing three weeks before the film’s official release date. Only one theater within 30 miles of my home was hosting a 

screening, and I was lucky to acquire four seats together before it sold out. Then we had to make the 30-minute drive to see the movie in an older but at least renovated theater. No Dolby Vision or Atmos, but, hey, the seating had been upgraded, so it wasn’t too bad. You could tell, though, that the AV system had seen a lot of use.

 

The sequel came on opening night at our local theater. (Yes, we still had to go on opening night. After all, the child had waited a quarter of her life for this moment to arrive.) Did I mention that we only have one movie theater in our town of roughly 100,000 people? It was built just a few years ago (yet, still no Dolby Vision or Atmos), and it’s a very pleasant place to see a movie. The AV equipment is still in good shape, they keep the volume within reasonable limits, the 

seating is well spaced so that it’s pretty much impossible for someone to block your view, and the big leather recliners are very comfortable. It’s reserved seating, too—and since it’s the only theater in town, you’d better reserve those seats well in advance if you want get anything decent on opening night. Luckily I did, so all was well.

 

For the final installment of the trilogy, my daughter wanted to see the movie one more time—in 3D. Only one theater in our local movie house was showing the 3D version, and for some inexplicable reason they decided to show the PG13-rated Alita in that theater all day long and the PG-rated dragon movie once a day, only on certain days, at 9:00 p.m. Now, I told the child that was too late for a 10-year-old to go see a movie, but really it’s too late for a 10-year-old’s parent to stay awake through a movie.

 

Instead, we drove 45 minutes to the next closest 3D showing, in a much older theater: A small screen, the classically awful flip-down seats, and a projector that was so dim that roughly 50 percent of the details in dark scenes were completely lost behind the 3D glasses. It you haven’t seen the standard version of The Hidden World, it’s really quite gorgeous, with rich color and exceptional detail (I can’t wait to see it in UHD!), so much of which gets lost in the 3D version if the projector is not up to par.

 

And there you have it. Three different theaters. Three different levels of quality. Lots of pre-planning and scheduling. Lots of driving. Lots of illegal smuggling of reasonably priced snack items . . . 

 

Oh, and one very happy child. Put the snark aside for a minute, and you’re left with a 10-year-old who loved every . . . single
. . . minute. She loved the surprise of the Early Access screening, of getting to see the film before all her friends. She loved

Why Movie Theaters Still Matter

the commemorative Toothless drinking cup and the Toothless-shaped popcorn holder that will remain a cherished possession for years to come. She loved opening night just as much, sharing in the laughter and tears a second time with a packed house. And she thought the 3D was “super cool.” Our epic How to Train Your Dragon journey is an experience that will stay with her for the rest of her life, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

 

As we adults wax philosophical about the technological superiority of luxury home cinema and all of its conveniences, let’s not forget the joy and wonder that a child gets from 

going to the movies. The joy and wonder that we got from going to the movies. Some of my strongest childhood memories are built around the movie theater. I dare say it doesn’t matter where you’re from, how wealthy you are, or how big and amazing your home media system is, your kid is always going to think it’s cooler to go out to the movies.

 

Don’t get me wrong—I still agree with everything Dennis said. I know that 85 to 90 percent of the movies I watch will be at home, and I absolutely want to watch them through a great AV system, on my terms. But for those “event” movies—like the upcoming Avengers: Endgame, which has me almost as giddy as my daughter was over The Hidden World—I want to go out to the movie theater. I want to share in an experience, just like I do at a great concert. I want it to feel like an event.

 

That means I want the movie theaters to get their act together and catch up to where we are now in home cinema so that we movie lovers can enjoy the best of both worlds. I want more theater chains to adapt to this new movie-watching landscape and figure out creative ways to work with companies like Netflix and Amazon instead of against them. I want theaters to survive so that my grandkids will also get to experience the joy and wonder of going to the movies. I can’t wait to see what story captures their heart and imagination.

—Adrienne Maxwell

Adrienne Maxwell has been writing about the home theater industry for longer than she’s
willing to admit. She is currently the 
AV editor at Wirecutter (but her opinions here do not
represent those of Wirecutter or its parent company, The New York Times). Adrienne lives in
Colorado, where she spends far too much time looking at the Rockies and not nearly enough
time being in them.

Ep. 6: Home Theaters are Better Than Movie Theaters

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Hosts Michael Gaughn & Dennis Burger open Episode 6 with a brief discussion of how Dennis’s favorite show, Critical Role, recently made headlines by becoming the most successful video-production Kickstarter campaign ever. Dennis & Mike talk about the impact of alternate forms of production on TV & movies.

 

At 11:28, Cineluxe contributor Andrew Robinson joins the podcast for the first time, accompanied by fellow contributor John Sciacca. Everybody discusses how a home theater with the right gear, properly installed, can easily top the performance of a typical movie theater. But it turns out the biggest contributor to a better-than-movie-theater experience at home might not be the tech.

 

The show wraps up at 39:14, with a quick survey of what everybody’s watched during the past week, which runs the gamut from They Shall Now Grow Old to Love, Death, and Robots.

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Home Theaters are Better Than Movie Theaters

Home Theaters are Better than Movie Theaters

Photo by JESHOOTS.com from Pexels

As John Sciacca points out in his recent article, “Are Home Theaters Making Movie Theaters Better?” home entertainment spent more than half a century playing a catchup game with commercial cinemas, at least in terms of technological innovation and quality of presentation. But Wabbit Season has now pretty much undeniably become Duck Season, and home entertainment reigns supreme. Yes, commercial cinemas are making some interesting technological innovations, as John points out. But most of these are limited to a handful of theaters in major metropolitan areas.

 

For most people, a well-built, well-calibrated, well-programmed home cinema system (be it in a dedicated screening room or multi-use home entertainment space), has the potential to vastly outshine the movie-watching experience at the average local cineplex. And while much of this has to do with incredible advancements in the quality of consumer electronics in the

past few years, that’s not the whole story. There’s also a story to be told here about comfort, convenience, and customization.

 

In short, here are 10 reasons why home theaters are now better than movies theaters.

 

 

1) BETTER PICTURE

These days, even a mid-level Ultra HD (or “4K”) display, when properly calibrated and positioned, can give 

you a better and more immersive image than you’re likely to find in your local movie theater. Sure, your neighborhood megaplex has bigger screens working to its advantage, but depending on how far away you sit, a 75- to 120-inch screen at home can fill up just as much of your field of view. And displays this large are pretty close to becoming the norm for better home entertainment spaces. What’s more, you’d have to look pretty far and wide to find a movie theater screen that delivers anything close to the black levels and high dynamic range delivered by a good modern home display.

 

 

2) BETTER SOUND

At least in theory. While commercial cinemas still have the advantage in terms of channel count, let’s face it—you really don’t need 128 speakers in your living room to deliver an audio experience that’s every bit as engrossing as that of a movie theater. What’s more, theater sound has to be balanced for potentially hundreds of viewers. At home, you can tune the sound for the handful of seats that matter most. And today’s advanced room correction systems can make even a somewhat compromised space sound positively cinematic.

 

 

3) BETTER QUALITY CONTROL

Have you ever been to a commercial cinema and complained about an image that was too dim or stretched, or a screen that was soda-stained, or speakers that were blown, only to be greeted with that deer-in-headlights look? The fact is that most movie theater managers don’t care about (or even understand) quality of presentation. At home, you can either

address problems when they arise or, at worst, call your local integrator for assistance.

 

 

4) THE AV EXPERIENCE CAN BE
TWEAKED TO YOUR TASTE

Whether you like your movie sound to be played at reference listening levels, or just a bit louder or quieter than industry standards would dictate, chances are slim that you’ll ever be happy with where the volume knob is set at your local movie theater. At home, you can adjust the loudness to your liking, and even tweak it based on your mood.

 

 

5) THE “WOW” FACTOR CAN BE EVEN BETTER

Back in the day, there was an undeniable theatrical element involved in going to the movies. And yes, most of that boiled down to that highly anticipated moment when the curtains opened or widened to accommodate a Cinemascope film, but still. They used to call it “going to see a show” for a reason. The movie itself was simply the centerpiece of a larger event.

 

These days? Not so much. But home theaters can make movie-watching special in a way that commercial cinemas have long since abandoned. If you have a home automation system, you can dim the lights and draw the shades and maybe even cause the screen to drop down from the ceiling at the press of a button. If you have a Kaleidescape movie server system, these automated events can even be tied to the opening and closing credits of the movie itself—or even intermission. And you can program an entire evening’s worth of entertainment—trailers, cartoons, movies, and more—that can be launched with a single click. Simply put, movie night at home can be special in a way that bopping down to the local movie theater long ago ceased to be.

 

 

6) YOU’RE ON YOUR OWN TIMETABLE

Speaking of intermission, how many times have you missed a few minutes of a movie due to a necessary potty break? That’s not a problem when you’re watching at home. Perhaps more importantly, unless you’re itching to watch

the latest Marvel movie, which is likely to be playing on half the screens at your local multiplex, you’ll likely find that your choice of viewing times is limited to 4:25 or 9:45. At home, you can start the movie when you want.

 

 

7) THE VARIETY OF ENTERTAINMENT IS SO MUCH BETTER

As I alluded to in that last point, even at a megaplex with 16 screens, half of them are likely to be playing the same movie, which greatly limits your viewing options. These days, the rise of streaming services creating their own award-winning movies means that your options are wide open for home viewing.

Want to check out something like Bird Box or Roma? Outside of a few film festivals and a limited theatrical release aimed only at Oscar contention, the only way you’d ever see these films is at home. You could easily argue that Netflix and Amazon are the most innovative and important film studios in existence today, and their works are only available in the home for most people.

8) TWO WORDS: GOURMET POPCORN

OK, it’s entirely possible that my wife and I are weirdos in this respect, but we’re total popcorn snobs. We have our own oil popper, and when it’s time to sit down for a movie we’re likely to spend five minutes simply deciding what kind of kernels to pop. On the rare occasions when we do go to the cinema, the grease-covered cardboard they sell by the bucket is an unappetizing letdown.

 

And hey, maybe gourmet popcorn isn’t your thing. Substitute your own snack of choice and you get the point. Movie theaters have done a decent job of offering more variety in their snacks in recent years, but let’s be honest here: They’re all kinda gross unless you live in a major metropolis. At home, you can snack better, snack cheaper, and snack healthier to boot.

9) YOU GET TO DEFINE “COMFORT”

My wife recently returned from a road trip, during which she went to the movies with a friend of ours who lives up north. She came home raving about the recliners in the cinema they visited, to which I replied, “Were they as comfortable as your seat on the sofa?” The answer, of course, was a resounding, “no.” Still, it’s humorous to me that the notion of comfortable seating in a movie theater is a novelty in and of itself. What’s more, these seats have to accommodate a broad range of opinions as to what constitutes “comfortable.”


Personally, I like a firm memory foam sofa that conforms to my posterior, but isn’t so cushy that I drift off during our annual 12-hour Lord of the Rings Extended Edition marathon. Maybe your tastes lean even firmer, or maybe you’d prefer to sink into the accoutering equivalent of a marshmallow. Either way, in your home theater or multi-use entertainment space, you get to pick the seats.

 

 

10) YOU GET TO PICK THE AUDIENCE

There may yet come a day when commercial cinemas once again reclaim their technological superiority over home cinema systems en masse, but even if they do, I can’t imagine going back to the movies on the regular. And that mostly boils down to the fact that the moviegoing masses are loud, obnoxious, obtrusive, self-centered jerks. When we went to see Captain Marvel a few weeks back, I nearly sprained my shushing muscles. And outside of chains like Alamo Drafthouse, most cinema operators generally couldn’t care less if kids are swinging from the rafters.


Anyone who comes to my house to watch a movie knows they’re there to watch a movie, not gab for two hours straight or check their phones every ten minutes. And you could argue that my rules for movie-watching at home are a little strict, but you know what? Friends and family who join me on my couch for a show always come to appreciate the specialness of the experience.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.