With rising ticket and concession prices, it makes sense to be selective as to what movies to watch in the theaters and which to wait for the DVD to be released. Making the decision can sometimes be a tricky combination of checking requirements off of a personal standards list and wading through a little movie reviewer voodoo. As this is an inherently imperfect and fallible system, it’s reasonable to take some time to review my movie selection standards and see if there are any areas that can be improved. I’ll use Tron: Legacy as a guide for outlining the criteria I use in selecting a movie to watch on the big screen since that was the last one that I saw in the theater and it covers many of the variables in my selection process.
One of the first things that I look at when picking a movie for the big screen is whether or not it will make the most of the large screen and the big sound that can only be found at the theater. I often view theatrical viewings of movies as something similar to a theme park ride—the experience itself often compensates for the high price. As a superior theatrical experience, Tron: Legacy definitely filled that criterion. The special effects were spectacular and the sound was big and booming. In many ways it was the “ride” that I could have only experienced in that venue.
Interestingly enough, I find that I’m also much more forgiving of plot and story deficiencies when a film is giving me the thrill ride experience. On closer inspection of the plot and characters in Tron, it’s easy to point out holes and shallowness, but who cares about all that when a light cycle just got shattered to pieces while battling on the grid?
I generally shun comedies or dramas in the theater for this same “theater experience” reason. Generally I see them as being more character or story centered and I regard the visuals as not being quite as important of an element. I tend to feel like I can be more patient in waiting for such movies to show up on DVD to watch on the smaller screen in my living room.
An instance where I didn’t follow this first criterion but still had an enjoyable time is when I took my wife and two daughters, 12 and 10 years old, to see the movie Diary of a Wimpy Kid. At first, I was reluctant to shell out the money because it didn’t seem like it would live up to the superior theatrical experience requirement. After the movie was over, however, I realized that there was another criteria that’s just as important in picking a movie, and that is considering who it is that I’m going to the movie with.
The consideration of who is going to the movie with me impacts many elements of the movie choice. The movie that I see with a buddy will often be different than what my wife might enjoy or what I would feel is appropriate for my daughters to see. Luckily, I have been blessed with a wife that has very similar tastes as I do and I’ve done a good job at sufficiently geekifying my daughters, so we all were very excited when Tron: Legacy was being released—and with the PG rating, I didn’t feel like I needed to preview it to see if the content was appropriate for younger viewers.
I would say that the experience we had watching Tron together was just as rewarding as when we saw Diary of a Wimpy Kid simply because we were together, and that was what we were really there for. I’ve heard the saying, “alone in the moonlight is better when you’re not.” It’s nice to have beautiful experiences, but how much better is it if you have someone to share it with. Having a group experience can often enhance the enjoyment of almost anything.
A third criterion that I use to pick a movie is my familiarity with it. The original Tron is a film that I’ve loved since I was a kid. I was excited to see a sequel to it because I loved the concept of the original. Sometimes I’ll go see a movie because of the public buzz, but more often because it’s part of a book or movie franchise that I’m already familiar with and am fairly sure that I’ll enjoy.
One instance where watching a movie because of familiarity failed me was when a friend of mine and I went to see M. Night Shyamalan’s Lady in the Water. There were so many problems with that movie, from characters, to a story without any mystery, to the director inserting himself into the plot in a way that screamed at the audience how important he felt he was to the world—this movie was totally unsatisfying. Inexplicably, the guy I saw the movie with loved it, so I felt alone in my disgust. Since I’d enjoyed all of Shyamalan’s movies in the past (I’d seen all of them except The Village), the safety of familiarity didn’t deliver.
One thing that could improve my ability to choose a rewarding theatrical experience would be to consider artistry behind it. Many dramas that I would normally write-off as not being worthy of the big screen experience have a beauty about them that would only be enhanced in a larger format. Consider the movie Pride and Prejudice starring Kiera Knightly from 2005. That film has some of the most stunning cinematography that I’ve seen and also a classical score that I enjoyed so much that I bought the CD and listen to it often. I’m sure that seeing that movie in a theater would have enhanced the overall experience and I would have not regretted the time or money invested.
Ultimately, I believe that there is much to be gained by expanding my choice of movies beyond what has brought me joy in the past. As I always tell my children when trying to get them to try new food, “you never know, this might end up being your next favorite thing!”