2019 was such a good year for movies. And I know, almost every year people say it was a landmark year for movies, but I swear, in 2019, it really was the truth. “Marriage Story,” “The Irishman,” “1917,” “The Lighthouse,” “Uncut Gems,” “Midsommar,” “Knives Out,” “Avengers: Endgame” and the first foreign-language film ever to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, “Parasite“: almost every type of film-lover had something to be excited about. This makes it all the more disappointing that 2020 has been almost completely barren. Delays of one or two months evolved into over a year for some films, and who knows if even these releases will come true. The more interesting result has been the slew of movies released on streaming services or for direct purchase on-demand.
Amazon Prime Video has been calling them “In-Theater Rentals” since even before movies were getting limited theatrical releases, and many other distribution platforms have been doing the same. Which begs the question, do they deserve to call these releases that? I understand that they’re attempting to portray these movies as would-be theater releases, but if so, shouldn’t they do more to enhance the experience? There’s something intangible about the act of going to the theater that putting in your credit card information and clicking “complete purchase” doesn’t quite replicate. There is so much that they could do to reimagine the rituals of going to the theater for a socially distant age.
When one goes to see a movie, they might be surrounded by over a hundred people. There’s an energy that comes with that shared experience. Hearing their laughter, their excitement or any other emotion on the spectrum is fundamental to getting the most out of your trip to the theater. What if, on the bottom corner of the screen, there were a virtual movie theater in which you could choose a seat, and send reactions in the form of icons or short phrases. For the sake of keeping it civil, there would be moderators in every “room.” These online platforms could partner with theaters like AMC or Regal to help run this program. At the same time, they could train existing staff from their theaters as moderators. This would help keep the theaters afloat until they are able to fully reopen and provide at least some of their workers with pay at the same time.
This plan would also remedy one of the main issues with at-home releases: They are simply not as much of an event. If someone can watch the movie any time they want and take breaks for whatever period they desire, it gives the consumer more freedom, but also takes away some of the fun of seeing something in the theater. There is an anticipation in watching it at a certain time, and knowing that you’ll be along for the ride with everyone else for the next two hours. As an added bonus, they can send a box of candy of the customer’s choosing if “tickets” are ordered in advance.
I really do miss going to the theater, if that can’t already be gleaned from this column. This is but a desperate attempt to bring back some of the magic that has been missing from my life and from many others’ for the last few months. It would require a significant investment into the infrastructure of these technologies, but with the uncertainty of how long COVID-19 will suppress the global box office, it might be a worthwhile one.