The Corner

The Dark of the Matinee

Zogby’s new movie viewing poll doesn’t spell good news for the theatrical experience.  The survey results suggest that skyrocketing ticket prices and dissatisfaction with the selection of films are keeping people at home with their DVDs and big screens.  As someone who spent a, ah, let’s just say “considerable” amount time in movie theaters last year, and who generally loves the theatrical experience, I have to say, the results are slightly disappointing—but also pretty accurate. 

As I noted in my year end rundown, there wasn’t a lot to love at the movies this year.  And with gigantic TVs and home theater systems dropping rapidly in price, more and more people are getting to experience the glories—and perhaps more importantly, the conveniences—of megascreen viewing at home. 

Now, I don’t think theatrical viewing is going to go the way of newsprint any time soon. There will always be, for example, teenagers who need someplace out of the home they can go on a weekend date.  Nifty technical gimmicks will also continue to be a draw (more Hollywood movies are being released in IMAX ; James Cameron’s next film will be in 3D).  But theatrical attendance is probably going to continue to decline for a while, and home viewing will continue to boom. 

In some ways this is a good thing.  The libertarian in me is all for market evolution, new technology, and greater individual choice.  But at the same time, I can’t help but be a tad hesitant to embrace the continued atomization of cultural and artistic experience.  There’s something great (is it too cheesy to say magical?) about sitting in darkened room with a bunch of strangers and sharing the same story, the same characters, images, and sounds. Being in the presence of others, especially those you don’t know, subtly changes the way you view a film. In the end, it’s probably no great loss, and I’ll certainly be thrilled to see my home viewing options continue to get bigger and better—but I still can’t help but be a little saddened by the thought that fewer and fewer people will leave their homes to see movies in the best environment (and to some extent, company) the medium has to offer. 

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

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