I must have seen Jaws dozens of times at home, be it on TV or on disc. I know it pretty much backwards and forwards, and it still works on me every single time. But as much as I can enjoy that solitary experience, there’s nothing quite like watching it work its magic on an audience. Even when the visual presentation isn’t the best — I’ve seen a Blu-ray projected on an outdoor inflatable screen and tonight what essentially amounted to a big screen broadcast from Turner Classic Movies — the cumulative effect of the scares and thrills weaves a spell that invariably brings applause at the end.
It’s that alchemy of movie and audience that keeps me convinced the theatrical experience isn’t going anywhere. For years people have been saying that the HDTV and Blu-ray are the death knell for the movie theater, that you can have motion picture quality at home without dealing with all the hassle of a theater crowd. No crying babies, no cell phone lights, no distractions. And yet here we are with Jurassic World breaking box office records, with Inside Out finishing in second place and still damn near getting to $100 million, with the very real prospect of four films grossing over a billion dollars worldwide this year.. Despite more convenient options, people still want to go to the movies.
And I think a large part of it is that communal feeling I got watching Jaws tonight. I can certainly tell you I wouldn’t have been as favorably disposed towards Jurassic World had I seen it sitting home along on a Friday night. But in a theater, with a crowd responding to the film like the filmmakers intended, I fed off that energy. Hearing the crowd reaction to Inside Out, the laughing, the genuine buzz of investment when the story took its various turns, raised that film in my estimation. And a forty-year old movie felt brand new because of a hundred or so strangers were sharing it with me.
As much as we sometimes can’t stand our fellow human beings, we still long for that sense of community. We still want to gather around the fire and hear stories being told. Even if that fire is now a beam of light projected on a screen. And even if sometimes someone just has to text in the middle of it.