This has been percolating around in my head for a while, and I don't necessarily know if I'm 100% pleased with my conclusions, but it's as close to an opinion as I'm going to get on this subject. Ramblings about movies, culture, society, and economics ahead, some thoughtful, some grossly under-researched, some original, some not. Forge ahead with me, won't you?
There's a commercial I've seen on television for a video phone, and the tagline absolutely grinds my gears:
"Cinema quality picture - in the palm of your hand."
And every time I see it I want to yell at the screen. No. No. NO. That is not possible. Unless you are holding the phone DIRECTLY IN FRONT OF YOUR EYES so that it is taking up 80% OF YOUR VISION, then it is not cinema quality. Because part of cinema quality is cinema SIZE. And the absolutely insane theater prices and the relative ease of pirating movies over the internet means that more and more people - and here I am thinking of "young people" but really people of any age - are watching movies exclusively on their television screens or smaller.
I love movies: I go to the movies at least twelve times a year, and often more. I am one of the butts in seats. One of what I think is a dying breed: the MOVIE fan. Originally I think I loved movies for the spectacle, and then I went for the story. What happened to the spectacle? If all you care about is ingesting a story, then why see the movie? Just read the screenplay. The cinematography, the set design, the lighting: that's all important, and you need to be able to SEE it.
And really, if it's just about knowing what's happened in the story, then you might as well watch your DVDs at 4x speed with subtitles on. Because that way you get the story. But you miss everything else: you miss the delivery, the timing, the acting, and the mood. If all you want is the story, go to Wikipedia. If you want the experience, you need more than just a 3 inch screen. (Or better yet: just read the summaries on Wikipedia, save yourself an hour and a half. It's the same thing, right? You know the plot points; you've basically seen the movie.)
I'm not saying you can't watch some movies on the small screen. Anchorman doesn't need the full-screen surround sound experience, particularly if, like me, you've seen it ten times or so. But you shouldn't see Inception or Fellini Satyricon or Citizen Kane for the first time on your iPod.
And yes, I know that movies are expensive, yeah, but there are ways around it. Discount theater tickets, discount theaters, etc. But I make a decent wage, and I can afford to go out to the theater more than a couple of times a year. But I think about people who are just struggling to get by, and want to have a fun experience for them and their families. What are they going to do: shill out thirty bucks for their family of four to go out on Discount Tuesdays or rent something for five bucks at Blockbuster or Netflix? Or just go to a torrent website and download something for free? I don't have a large family, it's just me and my wife. But if I had kids, and money was tight, I know what option I'd pick.
And it sucks, because the movies used to be the refuge of the working classes: you'd go to a double feature for five, ten cents, meet up with your friends or take someone out on a date and make a whole day of it. Even with inflation you can't go from five cents to twelve bucks in less than a hundred years. Movie companies are trying to recoup their losses from people who are renting or pirating, but really, they're forcing the very people away that they want to keep. Which "forces" them to drive the prices up, and now the snake head is eating itself. (And 3-D isn't the answer: people are already getting wise to that scheme. Like they did in the 50s.)
I really do feel that it's important to see movies in the THEATER every once in a while, and not just the big explosive blockbusters, because if you only patronize the mindless explosion-and-shotgun-blast movies that is all that people are going to make. Go see a comedy, or a drama. You might think that it's not going to be worth your investment, but if it's a movie you're interested in, no matter what the genre, then I truly believe it will be. Because it's not just about knowing what the story is about. It's about a social experience. A social experience that is being slowly eroded by greed and laziness. Which I think is sad. Maybe movie theaters will eventually run themselves down; maybe the death of the drive-ins was the first step towards complete extinction. And I'll be sad if that happens. And I'll keep pulling out my old favourites on DVD or watching Turner Classic Movies and watching them. But it won't be the same as being in a theater full of people gasping, laughing, or crying at what they're seeing on screen.