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Friday, June 12, 2009

Movies on the Big Screen

Thom Wade opined about a recent Entertainment Weekly article noting dramas "tanking at the box office...And the big question is: Why? Why can’t potentially great films pull in a bigger audience?"

His conclusion? "Having a hi-def setup has honestly impacted how I see movies. With a wide screen hi-def television, Blu-Ray player and a surround sound system? I suddenly find that I judge seeing a movie based on how much I think it required a giant screen. And you know what? Few dramas (or comedies for that matter) require that big screen experience."

Well, maybe.

It is true that one-third of all Americans now own an HDTV, putting market penetration at an all-time high. The number has doubled from 2006's figures. Blu-Ray's penetration is right or nine percent, depending on the article.

Actually, I don't think Thom's conclusion about how people are deciding is wrong. Rather, I think that they might be coming to the wrong conclusion. In other words, seeing dramas and comedies on the big screen is different from seeing them on the small screen.

To be sure, I have no HDTV or Blu-Ray. But short of having a very large screen in a darkened private room, I think most people treat things they see on television like they treat television. They pause a movie to eat or go to the bathroom or take a nap. The movie experience is just...different.

Long before the new technology, I saw the movie Coming Home, a 1978 drama starring Jane Fonda and Jon Voight, in the movie theater. Then I saw it on HBO and thought it lost something. But then I saw it again on the large screen and it was almost as good as the first time.

I wonder if dramas in America are in trouble. The season finales of House and Grey's Anatomy both lost viewers compared with last season's last episodes. All the CSIs were down as well. Meanwhile most comedies are on the rise. Maybe it's a cyclical thing; it wasn't THAT long ago when the comedy was considered moribund.

And I need to consider changing audiences, for this reason: some people treat going to the movies like they treat being at home. Anyone who's been to a movie in recent years - cellphones, talking, etc. - knows what I mean.

Apparently, this audience bad behavior has spread to Broadway. In the June 6 Wall Street Journal, an article called "Are Misbehavin': No Tonys for These Performances --- Theatergoers Act Out With Phones, Bare Feet -- and Fried Chicken, Too" catalogs these misdemeanors:

Last month, an audience member at "South Pacific" took off a shoe and, complaining of an injured knee, propped her foot up on a rail in front of the stage. "Other patrons were not amused. 'The offenders' toes 'were practically in their nose...And her feet smelled.' "

Earlier this year, Patti LuPone broke character in "Gypsy" to scream at an audience member taking pictures.

One night, actor Will Swenson, who plays a hippie named Berger in "Hair", took a [recording] device from a person in the front row [during the nude scene] and threw it across the stage. "I just couldn't believe the gall of this woman who was videotaping me in my face," he says. A crew member deleted the video and returned the camera phone to its owner at intermission, he says.

During a Saturday matinee of the Holocaust drama "Irena's Vow," a man walked in late and called up to actress Tovah Feldshuh to halt her monologue until he got settled. "He shouted, 'Can you please wait a second?' and then continued on toward his seat." Ms. Feldshuh says she typically pauses when she's interrupted. She doesn't recall the incident, which she says may be evidence of the Zen attitude she's cultivated onstage."

So perhaps one needs an "event" movie to warrant going to the theater and put up with fellow humans.



Rebecca Hickman said...

We try to teach children theater manners at a young age. Hopefully the next generation of audiences will be more considerate.

Nik said...

I admit I pretty much only go to the theatres for "event movies" or ones I really really want to see sooner -- I think in the past year I've seen less than a dozen movies in the theatre, stuff like Iron Man, Star Trek or 'prestige' films like Milk and Slumdog Millionaire.

Anonymous said...

I wasn't suggesting having the HD eqipment so much as simply...I was more meaning pretty much what you said. I also think that we have hit a unique time in entertainment where television can often seem more cinematic than a lot of movies. TV use to be the lesser vision...but nw we have shows that use a cinematic approach, yet gives us every week to get to know characters in a way a two hour movie could often hope to. :)