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Why watching movies at home pales in comparison to the theater experience

Watching new movies from the comfort of your couch is not all it's chalked up to be, at least not for a film critic. It's not the same.
Credit: Matt York/AP

ST. LOUIS — Please don't try to compare the two. It's just a waste of breath.

This weekend, I will watch at least three screeners on my couch. Those are new releases sent to me by the studio or distribution company via email with the only request being a review written on this website. It's a fair trade. Being a film critic has perks. A 500-1,000 word review in exchange for seeing something early and saving ten dollars. At first glance, a screener seems to be so convenient. In reality, it's really not. I'll explain later. First, I'll play devil's advocate within my own article.

To be honest, there are a fair portion of films that can be enjoyed inside your home theater, whether that includes a 50 inch plasma or an old school projector filling a whole wall with a flick. As long as you can hit play, it's all good.

But watching a new movie in a theater is better 98% of the time. It's so different. The screen is bigger, the sound is better, and the surroundings are just the right amount of awry. There's other people in the room with you, strangers all around with different expectations, lives, and emotions. Will those emotions line up, or will they simply not get it? Watching art for the first time in a theater is a singular experience that lives inside its own town.

Seeing most movie theaters close around my town is just sad. It's not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but like all the treasures in life, the little things aren't easy to lose. Screenings for "A Quiet Place II," "Mulan," and "Fast 9" were gone in an instant. Three movies that require a big theater to soak in all the unique offerings they had in store. Love or hate the "Fast and Furious" films, but they are guilty pleasures that are easy on the eyes and brain, which could be quite the escape right now. I don't need to say the actual name, do I? Let's just agree that it's a real drag and that Vin Diesel drank a lot of them in those movies.

I need the movies, which means I need theaters in a bad way. I need new screenings, and the round table-type gathering of critics that occurs after the lights come back on. We all stand there, volleying our opinions like Pete Sampras and Serena Williams across the floor, seeing how many raised eyebrows and shocked faces we can bring back. It's all part of the experience of seeing something new with friends and strangers. Some films elicit a definite reaction while others need a couple days to marinate.

Watching a film at home on your laptop, flat screen, or iPhone doesn't carry the same effect. There are exceptions. I didn't view my favorite film of 2019 on a big screen. I first watched "The Peanut Butter Falcon" on my phone, and it sucked me right into its old school Huckleberry Finn world. When the credits rolled, I felt like my body took a nap and my mind went for a long run. I had to snap myself out of it. It was unique, but it was also rare.

But here's the thing. "The Irishman" was ten times better on the big screen. I can almost guarantee that Jeremy Rush's debut film, "Wheelman," was ten times better on a big screen. Even "Marriage Story" plays better in a larger room than your bedroom. All the idiosyncrasies. The natural aesthetic of the film would have played better in a large auditorium. Trust me.

Watching films at home is mostly adequate, but it's not an easy job for a film critic. We have to put into words what the film meant and if it's good or bad quality. We can't just roll out of our seat and produce a 20 character review-and walk away with our night intact. I let a film hit me at 100 mph and smash me to pieces, so I need isolation for that.

It's not easy to focus on the film when the eight-year-old kid is running around all hopped up on sugar and restless anxiety. There's the five pets rolling around the house, counting their poker chips until dinner time, when they can cash them in for a meal. The phone could ring. The doorbell may ring. A fire may be starting in the kitchen. What about the laundry? Are my good jeans in there? The wife is home in 90 minutes and she'll want to eat, so good luck trying to finish this two hour French drama set on a farm in 1940.

Do you see the problem? A movie theater offers focus, isolation, and the whole pleasure of a film and its impact. The phone is off and the distractions are few and far in between. Martin Scorsese may not be right about labeling Marvel films anti-cinema, but he was right about how to properly take in a new film. A movie theater is the best place to watch a movie. Times may be changing, but taking away theaters isn't the proper route.

Here's something wild. I'd take movies in theaters back before I took back sports. If that was a choice, mine would be made in less than a minute. I need movies more. They are year round. 24/7/365. Don't get me wrong. I love sports with a fiery passion, but movies are different. I need them in my life. An escape unlike any other.

With the exception of a few, Galleria 6 being one of them, movie theaters are closing up. Too many people required to keep the doors open. With parties of ten or more being outlawed like canned marinara sauce in Italy, movie theaters can't hang around. Even the lovely Hi-Pointe Backlot will pack 30 people into that room. Too many, the CDC says.

There are many reasons to want the coronavirus to take a hike. There are many more important reasons to want it gone. Health, free will, and the general need of a city's wheel to keep turning are just a few of them.

For me, movie theaters returning is a big one. Watching flicks at home just isn't the same. 

I'll watch at least three new movies this weekend, all from the comfort of my couch. It's not the kind of comfort I'd prefer.

ST. LOUIS - Unlikely friendships healing a life or two makes for cinematic kettle corn. It's the same magic fairy dust that was sprinkled over last year's indelible hit, "The Peanut Butter Falcon." Undeniably forthright and easy to love, the plot device has a well-known success rate if done right.

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