The first film I remember seeing is “Jurassic Park” on opening weekend during the summer of 1993, and it remains one of my most cherished memories. From the back seat of an early ’90s Honda parked at a drive-in theater on a rainy night, I watched a Tyrannosaurus rex smash through cars much sturdier than my own. The film was set to a backdrop of trees swaying in the wind — or were they swaying from a massive prehistoric lizard pushing its way through the suburban sprawl of Dayton, Ohio? In what may have been the birth of my love for film, the horror of the scene took a backseat to the majesty of the moment, the serenity of becoming lost in the monumental potential of movies.
Skip ahead 18 years and I could watch “Jurassic Park” at any time, in any place. I could — and often do — fire up my video iPod to watch “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” in an I-94 traffic jam. I’ve watched “Machete” at the gym, “Drag Me to Hell” in retail backrooms, and “Up” while walking to German class.
And each time, I feel a little guilty for it — this isn’t how movies are meant to be seen.
I was eager to adopt the same iPod mentality for film that I have for music. It’s such a nice idea to have the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy around at all times, the same way it’s nice to have every song by your favorite band at your disposal for instant gratification. But film doesn’t translate. A song can give your day a soundtrack, especially as we’re becoming more “on-the-go” daily. But films? They can’t make the transition from the silver screen to your iPod for jogging, for background noise, or for class-to-class travel. They demand your attention visually, audibly and narratively.
I won’t knock Netflix — the most direct, appropriate equivalent of iTunes to film and television — but torrenting websites have also devalued cinema’s shimmer to the status of cold product up for instant evaluation. I know, Hollywood makes products, Hollywood sells us products, everyone goes about living. But when a film is truly done well, like J.J. Abrams’s “Super 8,” which delivers a potent rush of cinematic awe, how do you expect to experience the same effect on a tiny laptop screen with tinny audio? The huge screen, the crisp projection and the room illuminated only by dim exit signs are all necessary for appreciating film as an event over a file you can swipe online.
The inauthentic direction cinema is heading is only perpetuated by Hollywood’s gimmicks. The 3-D boom of the post-“Avatar” cinema has been an attempt to cram the idea of “the event film” down the throats of moviegoers. It’s been successful thus far, giving both a new reason to buy a ticket at the theaters and making an excuse to charge more for it. Some of the success has been alarming, with such popularity that deliciously stupid films like “Piranha 3D” are getting not only sequels, but rip-offs in “Shark Night 3D” and “Bait 3D,” both horrifying omens of the holographic shark from “Jaws 19” in “Back to the Future: Part Two.” 3-D was supposed to be the next generation in filmmaking, and while 3-D films keep on coming, it’s often nothing more than a cheap gimmick that ends up not being so cheap for audiences. The same thing goes for D-BOX seating, which provides motion simulation for action films. I personally prefer it to 3-D cinema, as one can always feel where the extra money is going. It’s a fun gimmick for those who haven’t experienced it, but entirely inessential.
The event, however, isn’t about a gimmick, and that’s where Hollywood is off. There’s nothing more electric than opening night of a Tarantino or Nolan film. The first screening of “Inglourious Basterds” that I attended, probably the most European blockbuster to hit domestic screens in years, felt like being elbow to elbow with slap-happy cinephiles. “Inception” in theaters evoked some of the most universal “ooh’s” and “awe’s” I’ve ever heard from an audience. No 3-D, no D-BOX, just filmmaking at its finest. Now that we have access to so much via the Internet, it’s easy to give in to consumption and instant evaluation. I’m guilty of it, too. At least give the films you’re consuming a chance to return the favor and consume you in the world they’ve created, the way that a T-rex might do at an Ohio drive-in.