The big screen

There seemed to be quite a bit of focus at the Oscars on the advantages of watching a movie on the big screen (that is, in a theater, not your big screen TV at home). There were several references to this point, including comments by the president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the host of the Oscars. We got to see a clip illustrating the importance of the big screen. The clip had scenes from various big action movies such as The Ten Commandments (Moses parts the sea) and Star Wars (some starship scene).

I certainly understand the upside of seeing movies on the big screen (and not just from the profit-oriented point-of-view, but also from the viewer’s perspective). However, I don’t understand how it helps to make this argument in a situation where most of the people watching your clips are viewing them through their TV sets at home. Was the point to show us scenes that would look particularly unimpressive on the small screen, but remind us how impressive they would be on a big one? They were well-known scenes that we know are impressive so how is this supposed to get us to run out and watch movies in theaters?

7 Responses to “The big screen”

  1. Chris Says:

    This may be a bit jaded, but I think you’re mistaking the primary audience of the Oscars. I don’t think that the primary audience is the humble folk watching at home, but instead are the Hollywood elite. Looked at in this context, it may be Hollywood trying to reassure themselves of their self worth in the age of HTDV and Marc Cuban.

    I don’t know what the point of the exhibition was exactly. (I was too busy watching “Patton” instead.) However, I find it funny that the clips shown were ones for films that will unlikely be seen in a theatre again. So who knows what they were thinking…

    As for the ultimate big screen experience, it’s not Star Wars or any Peter Jackson films. I’ve found that the one film that will keep me coming back to the theatre to see over and over is the IMAX 3D version of Tom Hanks and Roger Zemekis’s “The Polar Express”. The IMAX at the Navy Pier has shown it around Christmas for two years now, and I keep going back each year. The large screen and 3D presentation make the IMAX a necessity, and the film is just about perfect as far as seasonal holiday films go.

  2. Lois Says:

    The whole thing was weird. Not only were they showing clips of “must be seen on the big screen” movies on TV, many of the movies clips were from films that have become TV staples if not actual annual events: Ben Hur, The Ten Commandments, the Wizard of Oz, and the Sound of Music to name but a few.

  3. eszter Says:

    Chris – I think you’re wrong about this. The primary target of those comments were people (the hundreds of millions) who go out and buy movie tickets. That’s a really big source of revenue for this group (although I suspect sales of DVDs are as well) so reminding folks to go out and watch movies in theaters thereby creating blockbusters and buzz for subsequent DVD sales was likely the main the focus.

    Lois – I didn’t know lurkers commented.:) You’re right, those are definitely movies that are shown on TV all the time. I forgot The Sound of Music, but it was one of the first few frames in that clip, yup.

  4. Chris Says:

    My apologies for being unclear. I see the Oscars primarily as a Hollywood vanity event, though the comments you reference are probably targeted to those outside the industry. I can’t really imagine the MPAA pleading to George Clooney to go out and buy more movie tickets these days. :-)

    As for the revenue numbers, according to a bit of reading on Slate (http://www.slate.com/id/2123286/), theatre revenues are only about 15% of the total revenues the studios take in. Check out the chart at http://www.edwardjayepstein.com/mpa2004.htm . In short, DVD, television, and VOD are really where the studios make their money. (Also of interest in those numbers is the fact that in terms of inflation-adjusted dollars, the studios have never brought in more money than at the present.) I interpret what you saw last night as another example of content companies doing a bit of advertising in order to boost that 15% number.

  5. eszter Says:

    But there may well be a correlation between how successful a movie is on the big screen when it first comes out and how much revenue it makes later. Obviously, the two are not independent. If people like something they will like it later as well. The point I’m trying to make is that if only a few people go see a movie when it first comes out then there may not be enough (or as many as could be) people out there to buy it later on DVD. So in addition to boosting the big screen part of the revenue stream, getting people to the theaters likely also means higher profits from the other sales as well.

  6. Chris Says:

    I think that for the most part you are right. I don’t think that there’s a more effective means of advertising a DVD product than the theatrical release that preceded it. On the other hand, there are always the under-the-radar hits that are completely missed at the theatre, but hit it big on DVD. (Clerks, Office Space, Donnie Darko, etc.)

    I looked around to see if anyone’s looked into this question recently and couldn’t find much concrete. It’s obviously a bit difficult to compare the numbers because DVDs keep selling. I did take a look at Lee’s Movie Info (http://www.leesmovieinfo.net/WBOYearly.php?y=2003), and noticed that they’re using an estimate that projected DVD sales will be roughly 121%, though the DVD to-date figures ranged from 126% of the box office (Finding Nemo) to only 56% of the box office (X-Men 2). These may be outliers, but it would be interesting to see how well films do when released in both forms. New DVD releases compete with decades of back-catalog, while theatrical releases only compete with whatever’s out at the time.

    Getting back to the point of your original post (sorry for the threadjack), can you think of many movies that came out in the last year that really justified the big screen for you. For me, it would be the last “Revenge of the Sith”, “King Kong”, and “Batman Begins”. I thought that “Crash”, “40 Year Old Virgin”, and “Charlie & the Chocolate Factory” would have been better experiences at home on a DVD player.

  7. eszter Says:

    Chris, thanks for the background research.

    Yes, you’re likely right that not too many of the movies that come out require a big screen for full enjoyment.. in fact, in some cases a big screen may not make much sense at all.