Presentation Matters

We live in an age of entertainment wonder. Flat screens, Ultra HD, 4K, Blu Ray, Streaming…we have a plethora of devices and options for watching what we love to watch. The crispest colors and the most vibrant sound; no longer happy with stereo or 5-channel we live in a world awash in soundscapes that likely make Walter Murch explode with potential.

But then of course I got to thinking, and this time not about what was wrong with things, but in how far we’ve come technologically when it comes to this.

When I was growing up, I couldn’t have cared less about the condition of the print or the director’s preferred cut. I wanted to watch a movie, and if a movie was good then it was good, and whether or not it was framed properly didn’t matter one whit.

We had raked seating and creaky seats. Dolby sound was for the big releases.

So what tipped the balance? Sure, knowledge matters, but I’ve wondered if we’d be happier knowing a little less.

The Agent Bun Factor

My wife still doesn’t particularly care about aspect ratios or color balances. So long as she can hear the movie, she’s perfectly happy. Yet when we see films together I will often rank the presentation itself as its own thing.

She seems, if anything, consistently happier with her movie-going experiences. Meanwhile I have scaled back mine because if I’m going to shell out the time and money for it, and face a chance they’ll screw up the projection, I’d rather wait for home where I can control the conditions.

And this sucks. Seeing a movie with an audience used to be so much better than watching it at home. It was a communal moment when we all would cheer, weep, or judge together. I still remember seeing Wyatt Earp at the college theatre, and at one scene someone shouted out “Dances with Dead People!” because we were all so interminably bored by that point.

It got quite the chuckle out of the crowd. It was a painfully tasteless joke, but we laughed because something finally happened that night that was worth some sort of emotional reaction. (I will note I have a long-standing promise to go back to watch this movie again because my dad loved it. I have to figure out why.)

When I saw #F8 of the Furious, the crowd was half the fun again. But it was an exception to the rule, and still required me at one point to shift my position to avoid the glare of their phone as they checked texts every 20 minutes.

This is puzzling to me. We’re all presentation snobs, and demand the best arrangements, then blow it apart by checking our texts during the movie. It takes you, and everyone around you, out of the movie. If presentation matters, why do we do this to ourselves?

I used to be so desperate to capture the proper experience that I’d haul myself all the way out to the closest Alamo Drafthouse in the hopes, at least, that with strict audience controls and a supposed dedication to quality presentation, it was worth the effort. But I can’t tack on a two-hour round trip on every film I see, especially when the film may be something of a stinker.

I kinda miss the days of bad popcorn and creaky seats, when I didn’t focus on masking and screen brightness. I only worried over whether the story was good enough to make me forget the world for a couple of hours.

And that’s enough of yelling at that cloud.