As vaccination rates have increased, I’ve been able to do something in the past few weeks I’ve not been able to do for over a year and a half: go sit in a dark room for several hours that is not in my own house, and see a movie. Things have changed, of course—there are still masks (albeit fewer than you’d hope), buckets of popcorn, and standees flanked by hand sanitizer stations. But it’s not just the theatrical experience that has evolved—the way I’ve come to appreciate movies has, too.
Despite the simple pleasure of being able to get my fully vaccinated self out of the house for a little while, my recent forays back to cinemas here in the UK—for the first time since, of all things, Sonic the Hedgehog early in 2020—have not been quite the messianic experience that some directors of upcoming movies would like you to imagine. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve certainly enjoyed being back in a theater in the last month. Shang-Chi came first because seemingly, like the rest of the world, the yearning maw of Marvel’s cinematic universe still pulls people to theaters, followed most recently by No Time To Die, which has dominated British headlines as if 007 really was Britain’s final hope in light of, well, the absolute state of Britain right now.
Both were very enjoyable, the kind of bombastic, explosive action films that work well splayed out across a theater screen. Have you lived until you watch Simu Liu ring-Kamehameha a giant Cthulhu orgy of tendrils and CGI into a dazzling explosion of light and viscera? Maybe, but it’s still pretty fun to watch on a big screen nonetheless. But even with enjoying my tentative first steps back into the popcorn-strewn carpets that are the theatrical experience, I came away from both trips not quite feeling satisfied. That is, outside of another realization: the two films that have moved me more than anything else I’ve seen this year were ones I could only watch at home in spite of theaters opening up like it was all back to normal. And I wouldn’t have traded those experiences for anything a massive screen or nice chairs could’ve thrown at me.
The movies I mention are very far from each other in many ways—Evangelion 3.0+1.0 and The Green Knight. But only being able to engage with them from the comfort of home rather than a theater reminded me just how vital the accessibility of hybrid releases has become. For all the romanticization of theaters we’ve experienced over the last year, a good film’s real power doesn’t need that oft-vaunted “as big a screen as possible” to really hit you. Evangelion’s themes of acceptance, self-actualization, and communal healing hit me as hard while watching it bleary-eyed on Amazon Prime Video as they would’ve if I’d seen it in a large public space with other people. Its bewildering visuals were still as sharp and engrossing on my computer monitor as they would’ve been sitting in front of a screen 50 times as large. Frankly, I likely wouldn’t have been able to see it at all, given the long delay between its Japanese release and its western debut, without it releasing the way it did.
The Green Knight, on the other hand, was an altogether different kind of at-home experience, even if its mood and presentation, like Evangelion, struck and inspired me just as effectively at home. Unlike Evangelion, I had a chance to see Green Knight on the big screen, in a way: here in the UK, David Lowery’s haunting fantasy film was delayed several months after its U.S. release, citing covid-19 concerns, ultimately opting for a dual streaming and theatrical debut at the end of September. I excitedly went to book my ticket a week after its arrival and... there was nothing. Nowhere within an hour’s travel of where I live was showing The Green Knight anymore. Those screenings were cleared to make way for the impending arrival of No Time To Die that same weekend.
I had a choice, but it was taken from me, so I booked tickets for Bond, enjoyed that, then came home and streamed The Green Knight and enjoyed that even more. That The Green Knight was still reachable even as the demand for more wide-audience fare throttled my chances of seeing it in a theater is an experience only made more possible by the sweeping changes the film and theater industries have made in the past 18 months to combat a suddenly upturned world. What has quickly become one of my favorite—if not favorite full-stop—movies of 2021 would’ve been impossible to see without having to wait several months for a home release which would mean constantly avoiding articles and dodging commentary.
That these films still resonated with me in spite of being viewed in a way perhaps unintended by their creators makes every time I see another argument that some things simply must be seen within the confines of a theatrical experience ring a little more hollow than before. But if anything, it’s a reminder that easier access to movies means more chances to discover the ones you’d truly love—whether or not you’re ready to go back to theaters just yet.
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