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.