Grasping at Straws: Movie Theaters

Welcome to Grasping at Straws, the weekly blog where the unheralded, the underappreciated, and the long forgotten get their time to shine! Each week, I will “make the case” for an unpopular opinion regarding any topic or category of culture and life. Suggestions for future topics will be taken and considered at any of Sour Power’s social media channels, but please, keep it classy.

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The Internet and the Age of Convenience has produced countless benefits for us as a society. An unprecedented level of convenience in our day-to-day lives, unsurprisingly, is one of those benefits. Instant inter-connectivity via social media has also been an often wonderful (and sometimes frightening) byproduct of technological advancements.

Our ability to watch virtually any movie or TV show we desire at the click of a mouse or touch of your finger is a miracle that surely all of us have taken advantage of at one point or another. The days of having to go to a movie theater to see a new film are long gone. The option to not leave our homes to catch the latest blockbuster has proven extremely tantalizing to many moviegoers, especially those who belong to the younger generations.

There are even plenty of people who grew up and lived most of their lives knowing only of the movie theater that have now been seduced by the ways of the stream. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and others have been undoubtedly dominant in their efforts to divert our eyeballs away from the giant screens in the theaters to the ones in our hands. It certainly seems as if the future of film-making is going to be dictated by these new viewing habits, which involve never leaving the comfort of one’s own home. Very understandably, people have come to prefer it being this way after considering the pros and cons of home-streaming vs. movie theater viewing.

As it is, the Golden State Warriors-level argument in favor of home-streaming is, “Why would I physically go somewhere else and pay exorbitant amounts of money to see a new rom-com when I can simply open the Netflix app and press ‘Play’ right now?” The latter option is going to win out much more often than not. There is almost no way to construct a rebuttal that can hold up against that.


Alas, we have reached the point in these weekly columns where I begin to unveil my case against the popular sentiment I usually spend 300 or so words building up. This one is going to be tricky, though, so grab some popcorn, sit back, and enjoy the show.

Seeing a film in a theater, surrounded by fellow eager moviegoers, who have all planned their evenings around the trip to the theater, is a special experience. One far superior to the isolating, sensory-underwhelming experience of watching a movie on your laptop at home. There’s a reason “going to the movies” is such a popular type of date; it has always been and still is an event. Similar to attending an amusement park or professional sporting event, setting time aside to participate in everything that goes along with seeing a movie in the theater is guaranteed jolt of excitement.

Especially with the rise of streaming, choosing to see a movie in the theater provides an opportunity to break from the norm. The idea of going to a movie theater may not be as glamorous and self-important as it was once made out to be, but “different” is more valued than ever before. With the ease in which entertainment is available to us all, treating the viewing of a film as a night-out is becoming one of the best ways to make people feel like they’re doing something significant.

None of that even includes the experience inside the auditorium when the lights go down and everyone is seated. Sure, the psychological aspects of movie-going are fascinating, but the experience would be all for naught if it wasn’t for the grand presentation of the film itself. When you’re facing that giant screen, with your feet up on the reclining seats that many theaters now offer, and the sound begins to blare through the system, it is truly an extraordinary feeling. You simply can’t get those sort of tingles up your arms and down your spine from a tablet speaker.

For instance, two of the best movies that have come out in the past couple years, Get Out and A Star is Born, were amplified immeasurably by seeing them in the theaters. One a thriller, one a musical drama, both propped up by exceptional sound design and cinematography. The chilling African tribal music that serves as Get Out’s de facto theme song was so much more effective in the theater setting.

Go ahead and click the link in the previous sentence. Listen to it with headphones, whether they’re the generic Apple earbuds or the most expensive pair of Beats by Dre you can find. The harmonies and rhythm are undeniably super haunting no matter how they hit your ears, but receiving them through a cinema sound system rattles your whole body down to your bones. You can feel the impending dread in your soul. Also, the introduction of Childish Gambino’s “Redbone” during the opening credits as well as all the various sound cues throughout the movie were expertly crafted by Jordan Peele and his team to strike a more powerful chord with the theater watcher as opposed to the streamer. He even admitted as much when discussing his preference for how people should watch his movie.

Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born is a more obvious beneficiary of the theater viewing due to its numerous musical scenes. Perhaps it was the uplifting nature of most of the film’s songs, but the sheer power of the guitars and drums and, most notably, Lady Gaga’s monumental vocals were all I could think about while watching this film in the theater. The much-beloved concert scene where Cooper’s Jackson Maine brings Gaga’s Ally on stage to perform “Shallow” is among the greatest sequences I have ever seen.

Once again, if you listen to that scene through whatever device you’re reading this on, it will simply not do it justice. Not only because of the magnitude of the theater’s audio capabilities, but more so due to the unmistakably celestial feeling of a crowded theater all taking it in together. This is why seeing a movie in a theater will always be better than any alternative. The collective, intangible euphoria that comes with sharing a moment like that with 200 or so other people can not be understated. It’s something that undoubtedly exists without any of us knowing exactly why or how. Try getting any of that from watching A Star is Born alone on your couch.

Streaming’s gradual takeover of the movie industry may be inevitable, but that doesn’t mean theaters will die out completely. Nor should they. In fact, the affection and reverence people have for them should only grow as this shift continues to occur. The theater will always provide the more superior movie-viewing experience, even as its ability to attract the masses becomes weaker and weaker.

I don’t expect people to attend the theater to watch movies more often as technology makes it all too easy to catch the same film at home. I watch way more movies on my laptop then I do at a theater. What I do ask is to think about your most memorable experiences watching a movie. Consider all that goes into what makes those experiences so vivid in your mind. Chances are, almost all of the experiences you’re playing back took place in a movie theater. It’s the hands-down most exhilarating, fulfilling way to watch a movie, and no amount of success by the streaming industry will ever change that.

Or maybe, I’m just grasping at straws.