Tuesday, March 12, 2013

See it early? See it at midnight? See it on DVD? On how we see movies and how those choices affect our critical analysis.

The word leaking out from last weekend's screening of next month's Evil Dead remake is generally positive, with tepid enthusiasm blending in with absolutely insane raves and foaming-at-the-mouth excitement.  Of course, there was equal amounts of chatter that the venue for this premiere, a packed crowd of demographically perfect horror junkies on opening night of the SXSW Film Festival, had something to do with the uber-positive reception. I can't imagine a more receptive audience than the one that saw the picture in Austin last weekend and I can't imagine the frenzied anticipation and the whole 'I saw it first!' mentality didn't affect the reception. I had a chance to see Oz: The Great and Powerful at the All Media screening on Monday night but passed because I knew my kid might want to see it and I didn't want to keep her up until 10:30pm on a school night. So I waited until Friday. I bought two tickets to a 2D 7:15pm showing and picked up my kid from school acccordingly.  She liked the movie, and the packed audience went nuts for it too.  I'd be lying if the circumstances of said viewing didn't perhaps allow me to paper over the film's very obvious storytelling issues. I got to see a big event movie on opening night with a packed audience with my excited daughter in tow, which for a film nerd like myself is the very definition of having your cake and eating it too.

 I can say with certainty that I enjoyed Oz: The Great and Powerful more last night than if I had seen it at a press screening on Monday. How we see movies can affect our reception of them.  Seeing Red Eye at an uber-early test screening was a thrill, as was seeing Slumdog Millionaire at an early enough press screening to form my own opinion before the somewhat obnoxious marketing campaign kicked in (in both cases, I was fortunate to avoid the eventual spoiler-filled trailers and posters).  I've also been nicer in the past of films I saw via the convenience of DVD screeners or 'On Demand' than I might have been had I forced myself to drive out to a press screening in horrible traffic on a weeknight. And there are cases where I ended up glad that I skipped the press screening and saw a film with a regular crowd.  I think I was more into The Master than I otherwise might have been because of the opening night excitement, as the fever pitch at The Landmark was akin to the art house version of a midnight screening of a Star Wars prequel. And while I still probably would have been disappointed by Les Miserables, I'm also pretty certain that I would have enjoyed myself a bit more at the film's unofficial premiere over Thanksgiving weekend with a jam-packed group of Les Miz fanatics disguised as film critics/journalists.

It's not an either/or scenario.  And any number of my favorite films over the last few years were pictures I saw in less-than-optimal circumstances in one form or another and seeing. For work-related reasons, I saw Akeelah and the Bee on a very small television and still nearly cried at the finale. Still, I'm absolutely certain I would have enjoyed Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part II had I waited two days and just seen the film in 2D, as the muddy and ugly 3D conversion, even in IMAX, distracted from the experience. But more important is the idea, reinforced several times over the last few years, that popcorn entertainment can be noticeably improved by a high-quality viewing experience among general audiences.  2012 was a picture my wife wanted to see and I rather dreaded.  But there on opening night, in a packed audience who was completely into the film, with my daughter enjoying her first 'babysitting night' at her preschool (IE - guilt-free babysitting), and a completely energized but utterly respectful crowd, it was exactly the kind of experience that people want when they set out to the movies.  I won't pretend that an optimal viewing experience didn't contribute to my excessive enjoyment of the picture. 

On the other hand, I'm happy that I saw Rambo at home.  My appreciation for the somber and cynical action drama would have possibly been impacted by the likely hoots-and-hollers of young (or old?) men in the audience cheering as Rambo decimated the faceless enemy soldiers in the climax.  Such bloodthirsty reactions certainly negatively effected my impressions of The Hunger Games as well as the remake of The Hills Have Eyes.  Had I seen Rambo in theaters, a press screening (which I didn't generally have access to at the time) would have been the ideal situation.  I can say with certainty that I enjoyed Oz: The Great and Powerful more last night than if I had seen it at a press screening on Monday. And, as I've written elsewhere, seeing the Twilight finale was one of the more enjoyable experiences in several years, and certainly more fun than it would have been seeing it at a press screening, especially one (let's be honest) somewhat primed to hate the film on principle.  I don't have any profound thoughts on this. It probably doesn't matter for 80% of the cinematic product in a given year whether it's seen in a packed theater, a near-empty matinee, or at home on Blu Ray months later.  But for the proverbial 'big' films, would I be more likely to enjoy said movie and said movie going experience seeing it on opening night versus a formal press screening?

As much as I enjoyed The Avengers at the press screening two weeks early, and I'm certainly not going to complain about getting that kind of access, would I have enjoyed the film even more at a packed midnight showing (probably not possible with the whole kids/job thing anyway) or a jam-packed Friday night crowd?  I can't say, but I will say that even having seen the film well before its official opening there was a part of me that wished I had the time to catch a second viewing in the thick of its record-breaking opening weekend.  It's a trade-off no matter how you choose to see a movie.  You see it early in a press screening and you risk missing out on the 'fan experience'.  You wait until theaters and you risk getting a lousy movie going crowd (or no crowd at all).  You wait until DVD/Blu-Ray and, if you really like the film, you immediately kick yourself for not checking it out in theaters, either as to financially support the film or to help spread word-of-mouth when it might have mattered.  Okay, your turn to sound off on this.  What films did you think were affected, by it for good or ill, by the circumstances in which you viewed them?  What did you discover on DVD that you wish you had seen in theaters?  What did you see in theaters that you wished you had waited for Blu Ray?  Please chime in.

Scott Mendelson


David said...

I saw Superbad in a theater with some other college-age guys, in a small-town, college-town theater on a Sunday afternoon. We were the target audience. We were energizing one another with our laughter. I've watched it again since then, and I laughed. But seeing it in those circumstances was amazing.

Likewise, I saw The Dark Knight at midnight on opening night, and I was absolutely floored. Iron Man came out that same summer, and I remember thinking that Iron Man had put every other comic book movie to shame. Until I saw The Dark Knight. I loved it so much, I bought the film. But on repeat viewings, it just doesn't hold up. I'd rather watch Iron Man or Batman Begins (insert joke about how they're kind of the same movie *here*) than watch The Dark Knight. It was great in the theater, especially at midnight on opening night. Since then... well... it's alright. But it just doesn't hold up as well.

Of course, on the topic of midnight-superhero movies, I saw Spider-Man 3 at midnight, too. And I hated it the first time. I watched it again last summer, and I hated it again. So for some movies, like you said, it just doesn't matter.

James O'Leary said...

I saw Star Trek: Generations on opening weekend in a theater filled with die-hard Trekkers and it ruined the experience for me. Two seats away sat a man who responded to every mildly humorous comment with belly-shaking guffaws of delight. I'm glad he enjoyed it, but the crowd make me not like a so-so film, at best, more than I probably would have. On the other hand, I saw Beverly Hills Cop II at an advanced screening with a very appreciative audience and enjoyed the film a lot. It was only after leaving I thought about the soul-crushing misogyny of the movie and lowered my opinion of it a few, quite a few, notches. Going to the original openings of Star Wars and The Lion King with packed houses increased the movie going experience immensely. I was the only one in the theater when I saw Barcelona and came out think it was great. I saw it a second time in a theater with a handful of people and afterwards a woman came up to me and told me she enjoyed the movie more because of my responses to Whit Stillman's dry humor. I still think it is the best movie I saw in the theater during 1994.

Matt from Phoenix said...

I saw "Return of the Jedi" on opening day and the crowd applauded when Darth Vader picked up and tossed the Emperor into the power shaft. I've been a part of audiences that applaud a movie at the end, but never full applause during the movie. The audience can enhance the experience.
(I was I'm second grade when I saw "Return of the Jedi". My mom took my sister and I out of school early, wrote a note to the principal and was honest in what she was doing and signed it, "May the force be with you." Yeah. I got a cool mom.)

Fsaqib said...

Watched 27 Hours by myself in a university student cinema, with approximately 25 to 30 people; best movie going experience ever. Watched Let Me In in the same theatre with a very small group of people and my friends, who hated the film - I still loved the film but my friends hated it!
On the other hand, watched Insidious in a packed house in a proper Cinema - hated the movie, the crowd and my friends who sat next to me and were screaming like kids, but I think my dislike of the film was more to do with the utter nonsense I thought it was and the cheap thrills too.
But just to contribute my two cents, I think it also depends person to person how and when they enjoy a film and it could vary each time too. Movie buffs of any franchise can really make an entire experience bad.

Andrew said...

Theater viewing is almost always the best for first time (one big exception is when it's too hot). People usually have payed money and want to enjoy the movie and my wife might not talk the entire time since we're in public. For guys I guess you might want to watch tearjerkers at home by yourself as you mentioned.

From this question I laugh when people suggest theaters are going to die out because of large HDTVs. Nothing compares to a 70 ft IMAX screen when you watch something like the Dubai scene in MI4. Nothing compares to seeing the Hobbit in 48 FPS 3D (even though you whined about it). Nothing compares to seeing a comedy and laughing with hundreds of other people.


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