Written by: David Chan
On: 15 June 2017
About 60 years ago, in the late Fifties, I was still at primary school. My family members were fond of going to the cinema, and they brought me along often, leading me to have fallen for the magic of the cinema from an early age.
At that time, it had already been trendy for Hollywood to use widescreen formats and 65 or 70 millimeter negatives to film tentpole movies. I still vividly remember seeing “Around the World in 80 Days” in the cinema, when I was so dazzled by the widescreen images in the cinema.
Before I went on to secondary school, other unforgettable movies that I saw in the cinema included “Friendly Persuasion”, “The Bridge on the River Kwai”, “Witness for the Prosecution”, “The Vikings”, “The Big Country”, “Green Mansions”, “Journey to the Center of the Earth”, “The Magnificent Seven”, and “Ben Hur”. I still remember the breathtaking beauty that I treasured when I saw a giant close-up of Audrey Hepburn on the big screen, and the classiness that impressed me when I saw a giant close-up of Gregory Peck on the big screen. And the above mentioned movies led me to believe that there were always people and things that I should look up to. I started to have not only more respect for, but also higher standards to seek in people and things.
In the early Nineties, I was producing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies in Hollywood. I started to look deeply into children movies in America. I found out that some Hollywood peers were very concerned about the media viewing habits of American children. For, by that time, American children had already been able to select movies to watch from tens of TV channels or VHS tapes bought or rented by their parents. There was no need for American children to go to the cinema and they could grow up without such a habit.
These Hollywood peers started to wonder if they should propose to parents about bringing children to see movies in the cinema to balance out the children’s media viewing habits. The arguments of these peers seem appealing even today:
Training in focusing: Modern teenagers like multitasking. For example, they would simultaneously watch TV, talk on mobile phones, browse the internet, read emails, listen to music, chat on social networking websites, etc. They don’t focus on things. Seeing a movie in the cinema offers good training in focusing. They only need to focus on one thing, i.e., enjoying a movie.
Training in patience: When modern teenagers watch a movie at home and run into a dull scene, they fast forward to other parts of the movie, or switch to watch another DVD, or change TV channels. Such a habit can easily lead to impatience, leading them to not faring well when they run into future obstacles that they cannot simply bypass. But if they have the habit of seeing movies in a cinema, they would be trained that there are moments of ups and downs in a movie, and if they endure the downs, the climaxes would often follow and be worth the wait.
Correction of illusions: The images of people and things on mobile phones, tablets, laptops, desktops, and TV are usually smaller than the actual sizes of these people and things as well as the size of the viewer. This can easily lead to the teenage viewer’s illusion that these people and things are lesser than the teenage viewer. And because the teenage viewer can summon or dismiss these images at will, the teenage viewer can easily have the illusion that she or he is superior to these people and things. But if the teenage viewer regularly sees in a cinema images of people and things that are much bigger than and not controlled by the teenage viewer, perhaps the above illusions can be balanced out.
Appreciation of others’ reactions: When watching a movie in a cinema, the audience is usually far larger than that at home. The teenage viewer may discover that many strangers react to the same movie moment very differently from the teenage viewer and her or his family or friends, leading to an appreciation of more varieties of attitudes.
Hollywood did not hard sell the above arguments to parents. However, it did increase production on movies that parents would be fond of and comfortable with bringing their children to see in a cinema (referred to below as “family movies”). Most of these were animation movies. But there were also live action movies (i) adapted from famous children books or fairy tales, (ii) strongly associated with toys, or (iii) suitable for watching by the whole family together. They were all rated G (General Audiences) or PG (Parental Guidance Suggested).
I did an analysis, and discovered that since 2001, there have usually been at least 3 family movies among the yearly top 10 box office hits in North America (Note 1). The only exceptions were 2011 and 2012. But in 2011, though there was only 1 family movie in the top 10 box office hits, the 15th
, and 20th
ranked hits were all family movies. And in 2012, though there were only 2 family movies in the top 10 box office hits, the 11th
ranked hits were family movies. In 2016, for example, there were 5 family movies among the top 10 box office hits, i.e., “Finding Dory”, “The Secret Life of Pets”, “Jungle Book”, “Zootopia”, and “Sing”. 2010 was a glorious year for family movies, because there were 6 among the top 10 box office hits.
Hollywood has also arranged that family movies would be released all year round. I did an analysis, and found out that from January 2016 to June 2017, usually at least 1 family movie was released every month in the U.S.A. The only exception was October 2016, but there was only a gap of 40 days between a family movie released on 23 September and another one released on 4 November. And because most of those two dozen or so movies had runs of 3 months or more, the end result was that on any one day, there was at least 1 family movie playing in the cinema.
Hollywood spent so much effort to make sure that the next generation would still have the habit of going to the cinema, and the result is arguably positive. For example, in 2010, 11% of all movie tickets sold in the U.S.A. were for moviegoers aged 2 to 11. In 2016, the figure was still 11% (Note 2). In 2010, the number of frequent moviegoers (seeing at least one movie per month) aged 2 to 11 was 3.1 million in the U.S.A. In 2016, the figure was still 3.1 million (Note 3). But during those years, it had become more and more common to see movies on mobile phones or laptops. So it is quite a feat that basically, American cinemas have not lost their next generation of moviegoers.
In respect to the advantages of watching a movie in a cinema, below please find some additional, personal thoughts of mine:
Closest to the vision of the movie’s creator: The creator of a movie spends tremendous effort, money, and time in fine-tuning the movie’s color, brightness, sound mixing, and aspect ratio to what the creator would like to see in a cinema. However, the creator does not create the movie’s DVD, TV, or computer versions. So the cinema version is the creator’s vision. Also, the calibrations of color, brightness, sound, and aspect ratio of moviegoers’ TV’s, computers, and mobile phones are not standardized. Therefore, using these devices to watch a movie may result in seeing something quite different than the creator’s vision.
Also, there is the perception of speed. When I edit a movie on a computer, I frequently have to see an edited sequence on a cinema screen to make adjustments for the speed of movements and pacing. For example, a sports car takes 1 second to travel from the left side of the screen to the right side. It takes the same 1 second to watch it on a 1 meter wide TV screen or a 20 meter wide cinema screen, but the perception of speed would be very different respectively.
React to tantalizing moments more speedily: In a cinema, because the audience is large, some moviegoers react faster and laugh immediately upon hearing funny dialog. When we hear the first fraction of a laughing sound, in one nanosecond, we enter into a more joyous mood and we laugh too. For the same token, when we watch a tearjerker and hear the first fraction of a weeping sound from the audience, in one nanosecond, we enter into a sadder mood and we weep more easily. When we watch a horror movie and hear the first fraction of a tense breath from the audience, in one nanosecond, we enter into a more tensed-up mood. I have a lot of friends who tell me that when they watch a comedy, tearjerker, or horror movie in the cinema, they are much more involved and enjoy these movies far more than when watching at home.
Deeper appreciation of love stories: Love stories frequently rely on the subtle exchange of glances between the leading woman and the leading man, their elusive lip trembling, and minute facial expressions reflecting being smitten, etc., to make a love affair more romantic. These minute details may not be seen clearly on a small monitor, but can all be caught on a cinema screen. For example, when I received the DVD screener of “La La Land”, I watched it right away on my TV screen. Two weeks later, the movie was released in Hong Kong and I went to the cinema to see it again. I found out that I could pick up far more subtle expressions of the leading lady.
Also, love stories are usually about two lovers finding it difficult to be together. Uncontrollable obstacles such as deaths and wars are usual forces of separation. When watching on a cinema screen images of people and things sizes of which are several times larger than real life, one subconsciously feels awed and less in control of destiny, and the love affair on screen is felt more deeply. So, it would feel more romantic to watch “Titanic”, “Casablanca”, and “Ghost” in the cinema.
See more in an animation movie: Modern animation movies are usually made by computers. State of the art computers manufacture many subtle facial expressions, changes of facial color, and bodily movement details to imitate live action. These elements are more apt to be caught on a cinema screen. Therefore, animation movies become livelier when watched in a cinema.
Easier to accept escapism from reality: Many movies are about chasing dreams, finding destinies, or sacrificing oneself, which are relatively not so realistic elements. When watching these elements in a dark cinema, it would be easier to be drawn into their world of escapism from reality than when watching at home which is all too realistic. For example, in a musical, the leading leady and leading man whimsically break into song and dance, a feat that is quite unrealistic. However, when watched on a big screen in a dark cinema, a feat as such does not appear that unnatural.
Easier to participate in social networking website forums: Many modern moviegoers like to share on social networking website forums their feelings about a movie soon after they have seen it in the cinema. If one has to wait to watch that movie on DVD, one would not be able to participate in such forums. One would miss the opportunity of having current and yet first hand understanding of such comments from ordinary people (who are not critics).
I sincerely hope that the information in this article would be helpful when readers need to make a choice whether or not to go to the cinema to see a particular movie.
Thank you for reading.
Data sourced from www.boxofficemojo.com
Data sourced from www.mpaa.org
Data sourced from www.mpaa.org