How Much is Lost Watching a Movie at Home? Or John Gets a New Year’s Resolution

I recently journeyed out to the Moolah Lounge here in St. Louis to check out a holiday classic, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, on the big screen. It’s a movie that I first saw in December 1989 when I was 13 years old. I have seen it countless times since on television, as it has become a December staple on multiple networks through the years. But I hadn’t seen it on the big screen since 1989. This time, I found myself enjoying it in new ways that I had never enjoyed it before, not even in 1989. It was the hap-hap-happiest viewing of that movie since Bing Crosby tap danced with Danny fuckin’ Kaye. And this led me to wonder–how much of the movie experience gets lost in translation when you’re watching at home instead of in a theater?

Sometimes if you're watching a movie at home with distractions, you might as well rev up the microwave, piss your pants, and forget who you are for half an hour or so.

The reality is that there’s such a huge gap in the experience. No matter how large your TV, no matter how dark you can make your living room, no matter how high the resolution is on your television, it’s impossible to immerse yourself into a movie in your living room the same way that you can in a theater. Most importantly, a theater eliminates any and all outside distractions. In a theater, I’m not worrying about my quarreling neighbors. If someone calls or texts me in a theater, they aren’t going to reach me because the phone is off. I’m not going to pause the movie because I forgot to do the dishes or balance my checkbook. When you’re in a theater, you’re into the movie 100% and nothing else is going to distract you. It’s an attention vacuum.

By being immersed, you also notice more things that went into the making of the movie. You can pick up on the nuances of the screenplay, noticing certain plot points and the way they echo each other. This is especially valuable with comedy. You find ways the film was edited, places where the foley artist stepped in, and generally the direction the film’s makers wanted to take the viewer. And after all, the theater was the director and studio’s intended viewing place to begin with. By seeing a movie in the theater, you’re seeing it in its ideal setting, arranged for optimal enjoyment.

A big screen showed me just how horrifying it'd be to see this dog rolling over to let me rub his belly.

Moreover, there’s so very much more to see on the much larger screen. As I said, I’ve seen Christmas Vacation tens of times. But I’d never noticed the giant pears and other large food items that adorned Clark Griswold’s office, where he works as a Food Preserver. I had never noticed the box of Nut n’ Honey sitting on their breakfast table, a cereal that I’d forgotten even existed. I never picked up on the flat front wool pants that the elderly relatives wore. I hadn’t noticed the snot matted into Snot’s (the dog) fur. I hadn’t realized that cousin Eddie was wearing the same golf shoes from the first Vacation movie while inside the Griswold home, or that Uncle Louis and Aunt Bethany made an appearance in the saccharine home video screening that Clark held while held captive in the attic.

By watching in a theater instead of at home, you also pick up on the vibe of your fellow theater patrons. It’s a lot easier to laugh when you’re in a room full of a hundred other people who are also laughing. Tension in scary movies becomes palpable when others around you are whisper quiet and glued to the screen. It’s a unified experience that you share with a room full of strangers.

I should probably clarify that I’ve always enjoyed Christmas Vacation, so it’s not as though I found myself loving a movie I’d never liked before. I just enjoyed it more this time. It was a remarkably similar experience to the one I had when I saw An American Werewolf in London on the big screen just before Halloween. I’ve been meaning to see more classic–or at least older–movies on the big screen for a year or so now. It’s the way they’re intended to be viewed and the big screen provides the best chance for maximum enjoyment. And my residence in a major metropolitan area offers me many places to see classic movies on the big screen. Since there are only a few short weeks left in 2011, I think I’m going to set my New Year’s Resolution for 2012 right now. I vow that in 2012 (and beyond), I will be watching as many older movies as I can from the comfort of a theater seat. And I will therefore enrich my movie-watching experience a great deal. I’m even going to get an early jump on it by going to see Santa Claus Conquers the Martians at the Moolah this coming weekend. Hallelujah, holy shit, where’s the Tylenol?


Filed under Movies

16 responses to “How Much is Lost Watching a Movie at Home? Or John Gets a New Year’s Resolution

  1. Phil

    Yea, I saw ‘The Big Sleep’ in the theater this year. It went from being a movie that was pretty good to one of my all-time favorite films.

    • I bet film noir on a big screen would be incredible- the dark rainy streets, shadows, etc… That’ll go on my radar. A local theater is showing a Hitchcock double feature next month and I’m sure it’ll help me get at least some of a shadowy fix.

  2. Problem is, they don’t show many classic film’s in theatres where I live. I have however seen LAWRENCE OF ARABIA on the big screen, which was fucking magnificent.

    • It’s definitely a luxury to live somewhere that it happens. There aren’t a ton o STL theaters that show classics but there should be enough to find at least a few a month that I’ll want to see.

  3. I LOVE Christmas Vacation a Holiday classic of mine and I am so jealous of you to have seen it in Theaters!!! The Greatest film I’ve seen in Theaters was Chaplin’s The Great Dictator with a laughing crowd and every emotion multiplied by ten. My dream is to open a Cine-club where I could only project classic films and revive those films before an audience! Long life to Cinema!

  4. I beg to differ.

    But then I am coming from a gifted position. I agree that you do lose yourself in the cinema, but then I have to sit next to someone I do not know who can’t stop wiggling his leg and therefore the whole row of seats, he also laughs at everything even the un funny bits. Also the person on the other side is eating nachos….ffs!!

    I prefer sitting in front of my 92″ screen with my comfy sofa, a pint of beer, and my loving (and similar film taste) wife. I have a cracking sound system and I can pause the film for a wee, rather than missing out on a bit.

    But as I say I am very lucky to have such a cinema at home

    • Ha… no doubt, sir. If I had a 92 inch screen, I imagine I’d have a different opinion as well. But then, I’d expect no less from the proprietor of “”.

      As I mentioned to Rich, the other stuff doesn’t bother me nearly as much. Or, it bugs the crap out of me when it happens, but I’ve found wayss to minimize how frequently it happens.

      (I should also probably note that I’m the guy who laughs at more stuff than most people; I’m not that different from Dr. Julius Hibbert on The Simpsons)

  5. “When you’re in a theater, you’re into the movie 100% and nothing else is going to distract you. It’s an attention vacuum.”

    So you’ve never had to put up with the glow of cellphone screens, crying babies, late arrivals struggling to find a seat, etc.? If so then how I envy you.

    • Never say never, but I honestly sit far enough up front, during matinee showings, that people are rarely in front of me. I won’t say cellphone screens wouldn’t bother me- they clearly would- but it’s not a problem because I find ways around it. The same generally applies for late arrivals. It happens and I might still hear them but they’re usually behind me. Definitely no crying babies, which is more a function of going to movies that people wouldn’t bring kids to.

      I’ve developed a routine that more or less avoids all of that stuff as much as possible. It still happens but not nearly as much.

  6. Dan

    I can see Scott’s point about distractions in the theater (and having a great home theater), but I’m still much more likely to stay focused in the theater. Even when I’m really into a movie at home, I’m likely to stop it at some point with some type of distraction. This means I’m less engaged in the story because of the breaks. I don’t get to the movie theater as much anymore, so that’s probably part of it too. It’s just a great time to watch a movie on the big screen without any of the usual interruptions. Plus, although my TV is nice, it can’t match up with a giant screen, especially for classic films.

    • Yeah, that’s the thing- my TV is mediocre at best. Even when/if I get my upgrade to a larger size/higher definition, I can’t imagine it’ll be as good as the giant theater screen.

  7. nimorphi

    I would say it depends on what the movie is. I think for movies like Bergman’s I would prefer the my tv. it is not as intimate on a big screen as on a tv. but I wish i would of seen The Tree of Life in the theater. I was bored as hell by that movie, but I think it would of been spectacular on the big screen.

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  10. I really start to care less about the place where I see a movie. At home I sit pretty close to the screen and am not distracted quickly, but I understand this is not the same for everyone.

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