As the calendar progressed through December, most people were looking forward to Christmas with joy and anticipation.
For me, as I looked at the calendar last year, I found myself looking back to a December from my childhood. The year is 2003, and I am recalling the day I saw The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King on the big screen; to this day it remains my favorite movie-going experience of all time.
I’m writing this because one of my recent reviews published in LymeLine.com was for a direct-to-Netflix release, not by some forgettable children’s movie, nor an attempt at slapstick by Rob Schneider and Adam Sandler … rather it was a film by the Coen brothers.
Years ago, we witnessed the vanishing of record stores with the digital revolution via iTunes. I was not alive when it was a social occasion to go to the record store and check out whichever new album had been introduced, but I did have a high school teacher who still raves about that to this day (I’m talking to you, Mr. Braychak.)
Going to the movies has always been magical for me. I recall that Steven Spielberg shared on Inside the Actor’s Studio that even he still takes his family to the theaters.
Years ago, I wished there were ways for me to see classic films on the big screen … how they were originally released. Lately, I’ve been able to see that wish fulfilled by catching The Big Lebowski, The Shining, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly courtesy of promotions by Regal Cinema, and the treasured Coolidge Corner Theatre (for those of you who have been in the Boston area).
And I firmly hold that catching a film on the big screen in its original run is as exciting and memorable of attending a live sports event. Both sources of entertainment you can watch at home, yes, but there’s nothing like being caught up in the energy of the moment.
A while ago, I developed the mindset of thinking that seeing a film by your favorite actor or director on the big screen is akin to seeing your favorite athlete compete. I am proud to share that I frequented Fenway Park and saw David Ortiz play. In time, I’ll talk of that in the same way that older folk today mention having seen Mickey Mantle or Ted Williams play.
Similarly, the day will come when Leonardo DiCaprio departs this world, and people will tell the younger generations about being caught up in Leo-mania with Titanic; or when George Lucas leaves us, people will recount the time they saw the unexpected sci-fi empire of Star Wars take flight at their local theater in 1977.
But as this ‘release via Netflix’ trend continues to gain momentum, I have to ask if we can really imagine replacing certain occasions that are meant for the theater to be changed to accommodate the streaming method? So many romantic relationships have begun with a date at the movies (Barack and Michelle Obama saw Do the Right Thing by Spike Lee on their first time out together).
Imagine this … “Alright! I got the computer ready … wait, the battery’s dead. Let me grab my iPad! Yeah, I heard this is supposed to be really great, didn’t you say you had a crush on … oh, come on! The Wifi is down? I thought I took care of that! Give me a couple of minutes to fix this!”
It just does not work.
Going to the movies is quite simply magic … even if the movie does not entertain you. I always loved the process of lining up for my ticket (and skimming the list of other flicks that are playing), getting the drinks and popcorn, and picking my seat during the idle pre-showing ads.
Then the lights slightly dim for the previews, and you make remarks to either your friends or self as to whether the movie looks interesting or you plan on skipping it. Then the lights dim all the way until they’re out, save the little ones in the aisle.
Then the real magic begins.
And when it’s over, you leave, and you chat with whoever you came with about what you thought of the movie. Good, bad, whatever, and you marvel about the people attached to the project, and when their next movie is coming out.
The Lord of the Rings remains one of my all-time favorite movies. My love for the trilogy is increased all-the-more whenever I recall the day I went to see the final installment on the big screen on Dec. 20, 2003 … mainly because I felt like I was on my own personal quest towards seeing this film.
From Christmas of 2002 until the day I saw The Return of the King, I was on a metaphorical journey through the trilogy, in which I waited several months for opportunities to see each installment on DVD. This was also accompanied by a move to the home in which I would spend the rest of my childhood. Granted it was from Old Lyme to Lyme, so I would not be dropped somewhere with which I had no familiarity whatsoever, but leaving the place I had spent two thirds of my life was a big deal.
Not exactly like being taken halfway across the country and plopped in a totally foreign environment, like some others experience. But I was leaving the home that I had lived in for nearly nine years — three quarters of my life. It was all I knew.
We moved from Chestnut Hill in April of that year. But we did not move into our eventual home on Hamburg Road until that November. The home’s previous resident had dozens of animals on her property (some of you may be fondly smiling as you will recognize to whom I’m referring) and her new residence was not finished.
We therefore arranged a real estate deal that involved us renting the home to her, and since we had already sold our home, we briefly rented a home on Griswold Point. It was a beautiful home right on the Lieutenant River, and my mother raves that it was her favorite house. The only downside for my brothers and me was … it had no cable. Not something kids want to hear. But no cable meant … more time for The Lord of the Rings.
When we finally moved to Hamburg Road that November, the adaptation of the journey’s end in The Lord of the Rings seemed to go hand-in-hand with the fact that my own residence journey had also ended. All I had to do was wait another month.
But lo and behold, I was never a good student, and I got in trouble academically, resulting in the loss of my media privileges for over a month, which, in turn, meant I could not see The Return of the King.
What a devastating blow to the gut!
However, my mom understood how much this movie meant to me, so she made a compromise: if I went an entire week without a teacher calling to say I was missing homework, my punishment would be lifted (how bad a student do you have to be for a compromise like that?)
Luckily for me, I made it in time, and the Saturday after the film was released, Dec. 20, I ventured off with a friend to the Marquee Cinemas in Westbrook to catch the final installment. I remember standing in the long line, fretting over whether we would find a seat with a good view, drinking all of my soda before the movie started (and subsequently suppressing my need to use the bathroom for the next three hours), and once the movie was over … clapping vigorously when the words ‘The End’ appeared on the screen.
I left the theater more than satisfied.
I left fulfilled.
But I wonder how different this story would be had Netflix started the streaming business back then, and Peter Jackson opted for this method? I could not imagine myself getting hyped up for a groundbreaking movie that I would watch at home, leaning forward on my couch at the TV, no matter how sophisticated the device is?
If this is an action/adventure movie, and special effects are supposed to be out of this world, do I really want to see it on a 50-inch TV, and miss out on the sound system the theaters have? As much as we rave about Game of Thrones and treat each new episode as a social occasion, we can tell the special effects are not of the same quality as those we enjoy in full-length features. It’s almost as if everybody in the entertainment industry understands this.
Should the next Star Wars movie have the option for watching at home, I surely would skip that and go through whatever it might take to see it on the big screen, as it deserves. My plea to Hollywood legends is to not opt for the easier option, regardless of how much profit it might generate.
I certainly pray that if Mr. Spielberg reads this (first, I would faint upon learning he decided to read LymeLine.com!), he continues to respect the importance of the social aspect of movie-going … and that the rest of movie-dom join him in that belief.
About the Author: Kevin Ganey has lived in the Lyme/Old Lyme area since he was three-years-old, attended Xavier High School in Middletown and recently graduated from Quinnipiac University with a degree in Media Studies. Prior to his involvement here at LymeLine.com, he worked for Hall Radio in Norwich, as well as interned under the Director of Communications at High Hopes Therapeutic Riding Center. Kevin has a passion for movies, literature, baseball, and all things New England-based … especially chowder.