Classifying a Movie as a “Rental”
by Jason Pyles
How often do I disagree with Roger Ebert? Not very often.
But in Ebert’s Oct. 23 Answer Man column, he said that recommending a movie as a rental (as opposed to seeing it in the theater) is terrible advice. Ebert said when someone tells you to “wait for the video,” that usually means don’t see it, but he thinks it should mean see the movie. After all, Ebert reasons, two hours of a person’s life are the same whether they’re spent in the theater or at home.
I submit that the deal-breaker between recommending a theater viewing and a video rental is whether a film is worth paying $8 to see, or is it only worth $3? (Yeah, yeah, I know, when considering matinee prices versus evening shows, exorbitant Blockbuster video prices, reasonable Netflix prices, etc., it all depends. Indeed, the cost of watching movies can vary wildly, but generally speaking, I hope we can agree that renting a movie is typically less expensive than seeing it in the theater, all things considered.)
Many people I know only make it out to the theater on special occasions, meaning, a few times a year. So if I encourage them to go to the theater and sit among texting, talking, seat-kicking strangers, instead of watching it in the comfort of their own homes, which also have surround sound and big-screen TVs, then it had better be worth it. My friend Andy Howell immediately comes to mind.
There are four reasons to see a film in the theater:
1.) The audio-visual experience and being part of that week’s big, pop-culture event
2.) For a date
3.) If it’s truly excellent or has big surprises that could be spoiled by overhearing too much buzz
4.) Simply because you like going to the theater
And if you’re a movie critic, 5.) Because you have to review the movie asap.
Of course, there are some films that should be seen in theaters first: The six “Star Wars” episodes are good examples, because of the spectacle, the event itself, and the monster speakers. (When I heard Jango Fett’s “depth charges” (or whatever those explosive devices were called) that he unleashed while being pursued by Obi-Wan in Episode II, it was unforgettable. In fact, I saw “Attack of the Clones” a second time in the theater, just to be enveloped again in those two overwhelming sounds.)
But there was no reason to catch “Dan in Real Life” in the theater (even though it’s a good movie), when it was cheaper and more comfortable to snuggle up with my sweetheart and watch it at home.
However, whenever going out to the theater is part of a date-night itinerary, then the theater’s a fine (albeit unsociable) choice.
I realize that box-office figures send production companies “messages” from the public, which means avoiding the theater could potentially hurt the making of future, similarly good films. But DVD rentals and sales also send a message.
And as a movie critic (or a friend giving an opinion about a movie to another friend), it seems like it’s my duty to be an advocate for my trusting inquirer’s “movie allowance.” After all, we only have so much money we can spend on seeing movies. In addition, I also realize that movie critics should also be advocates for great films, which brings me to my final point.
Besides experiencing an audio-visual extravaganza or seeing a fine flick on a date, the only other reason to invest in theater prices is because the movie is so good, you shouldn’t wait for it to hit video. A good example of this would be “The Sixth Sense,” which also has a big secret that you wouldn’t want to risk being spoiled for you in the passing months until it hits DVD.
And don’t forget the people who see movies at the theater just for the experience of going out to the movies. That’s OK, too, of course.
In my rating system — Masterpiece, Excellent, Good, OK, Mediocre, Avoid — oftentimes there’s a fine line between Excellent and Good, and Good and OK. But to be clear, when I say a film is Excellent, that means it’s worth seeing in the theater and will always be a good rental choice. But when I say a movie is a rental, that means it’s good — but not $8 good.