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
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 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.