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Great Debates: Are movies better in a theater or at home?

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Everett Collection

“Question Everything” opens the floor for debate of pop culture topics–serious to whimsical, sublime to ridiculous—that have no right or wrong answers but certainly elicit a wide spectrum of intense opinions. Hopefully reading these different perspectives will open minds, challenge thinking and maybe even provoke a change in what you believe. Let’s discuss!

What’s the best way to watch a movie today?

EW’s Critics Make Their Cases

Keith Staskiewicz says:

The plush seats, the squelchy-sticky floor, air conditioning that rivals a zoo’s penguin exhibit, the sweet, inviting dark… It’s hard to resist romanticizing the moviegoing experience, but if you need some help, here’s an alternate list: Chatty teens, conspicuous texters, crying babies toted to R-rated gorefests, Weimar Republic-level ticket inflation. A hundred years is a long time for a consumer experience to last and I won’t pretend that the vast majority of my cinematic education wasn’t spent in front of a TV or laptop. But it’s possible to keep these things in mind and still mourn the slow demise of the movie theater. Every time I’ve seen a film (like, say, Lawrence of Arabia or Psycho) on the big screen that I’ve previously seen only on one of those other glowing rectangles, it has been a qualitatively different, and better, experience. It turns the film into an event, and sharing that event with a crowd full of strangers transforms your own reaction to it. Drama becomes more dramatic, comedy funnier, and horror scarier.

There’s also something freeing nowadays about giving yourself and your time up to something fully and not being able to pause the movie to go switch out the laundry, or rewind because you were looking at your phone during a pivotal scene, or check to see how much time is left until the end. I’m not saying movie theaters were the cathedrals of the 20th-century—or am I?—or that going to the multiplex is always some humanist communion straight out of Sullivan’s Travels, but there is still some leftover magic to be found there if you’re looking for it.

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Melissa Maerz says:

Maybe we should let moviegoers settle this debate. According to a 2014 Harris poll, the majority of Americans prefer to watch a film at home rather than go to the theater, and it’s easy to understand why. There are no bad seats at home, and no distractions from loud talkers or smartphones. Parents don’t have to pay for a babysitter. You can eat any snacks you want, and thanks to streaming services, watch whatever you want. The old-fashioned idea that you can only experience total immersion in a theater isn’t true anymore, since home theater technology is catching up with the multiplexes, and you—not the film’s director or the theater manager—can control every aspect of your viewing at home, whether you’re creating romantic lighting for In the Mood For Love, manipulating the sound to make James Brown’s performance in The TAMI Show more dramatic, or even playing Ryan Gosling’s shirtless scenes from Crazy Stupid Love in slow motion. (Hey, no judgment!)

But there are also political reasons to stay put. Watching movies on-demand is a great way to support foreign film and micro-budgeted indies if you live in a smaller town that doesn’t have a local art-house theater. It’s also a good way to protest an industry that’s focused on recouping from last year’s 20-year box-office low by ripping off theatergoers. Remember when Disney tried to bully distributors into offering fewer discounts on Age of Ultron tickets? Doesn’t it feel good to know that you can protest corporate greed simply by being supremely lazy and refusing to move from your couch?

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