Sunday, November 15, 2009

Why I hate the "rent it" vs. "see it" distinction

Quite often people  if such-and-such a movie is good. Then, if I give a mezzo-mezzo, "not really" answer, or sometimes even if I say I actively disliked a movie, people will then ask "So I should just wait for DVD, huh?"

I have never, ever understood the logic of people who ask that question. I want to tell those people. "Well, no, you shouldn't wait for the DVD. You shouldn't see it at ALL."

 OK, I understand that viewing in the theater and viewing at home have different sets of standards. But if I tell you a movie is mediocre or worse, why is it good enough to watch at home but not in the theater? A bad movie is a bad movie, period. Full stop. No change of screen size is magically going to make it worthwhile. Sure, maybe you'll blow less money, but you'll still have wasted your time, just like you would have in the theater. And yes, you can turn a DVD off, but you're still out your rental fee AND the time it took you to decide the movie sucked.

Consider 2012. On the one hand, that movie's reason de etre is the kind of spectacle that demands a big screen. On the other hand that overlong film also badly needs a chapter-skip button. So where does that movie fall? I say since the spectacle is the reason you see it, go to the theater anyway to get the most bang for your buck. I've yet to see a home theater that truly matches the real deal. Maybe a home theater can replicate the picture and the surround sound, but it can't duplicate the atmosphere of a theater.

It isn't just me who thinks this way. Roger Ebert's Answer Man column has a great Q&A on this very subject, and a great line of logic I had never considered before (bolded by me)

Q. I love the new "At The Movies" with Michael Phillips and A.O. Scott (good riddance to you know who), but I must say that I still don't get the "See It/Rent It" distinction. Either a movie is worth seeing, or it's not, right? I mean, I think it does work on the show as a sort of "thumbs sideways" to deal with the two-and-a-half star movies that can't quite be recommended, but still have some value that deserves to be recognized.

What I really don't understand is why our standards are supposed to be lower for rentals rather than theatrical releases. When you go out to see a current release is when you have to make compromises. Maybe the movie you really wanted to see sold out, or just finished its run, so now you have to pick the second best thing at that theater. Or you're with a large group that doesn't want to see a foreign film, so you have to settle on the most tolerable current blockbuster.

When you rent a movie, however, you have nearly the entirety of cinematic history at your disposal. That makes the competition for rentals much more fierce. Looking at Time Out New York, I see that there are 51 movies out here right now. That's a lot, but compare that to the thousands of choices available on Netflix. Why would I rent a marginal film like "New York, I Love You" when I still need to see "Killer of Sheep," "Au Hasard Balthazar," "Mishima" and "The Grey Zone"?
Rhys Southan, New York, NY

A. Amen. I've been against "rent it" from the first time I was exposed to the concept. It makes no sense. Either a film is good enough to see, or not good enough to see. Here's my theory about the invention of this ersatz category: It's an attempt to pander to those who would rather die than rent a great film like, say, Hitchcock's "North by Northwest" rather than a "rent it"-style dim bulb like "Couples Retreat." I think some editors, not mine, are terrified that readers might get the idea a critic is stuck up. If you'd rather rent "Couples Retreat" than the new restored "North by Northwest," "Bonnie and Clyde" or "Cool Hand Luke," that's what I am, stuck up, and happy to be.

Me too, Roger. What about you? What's your take on the "Wait for DVD" line of logic?


Allison Dickson said...

When I say "wait for the DVD," it's usually from a financial standpoint. I pay $9/mo for Netflix where I can see any movie I want on my very nice home theater system that honestly doesn't make me yearn for the big screen all that much. I can wear my pajamas, nosh on some ice cream, and maybe even answer a text message when it comes through without pissing off a room full of people. When I go to a theater, I have to consider giving up all those privileges as well as pay an average of $15 (matinee ticket plus a drink if the fancy strikes me). The movie in question needs to be worth it. That's why I rely on you critics so much.

Sir Critic said...

That logic I DO understand and I've applied that myself. Where I don't understand it is when it applies to recommending a film or not. Either you see it or you don't see it, be it via the theater or DVD. Why does a middling movie, like, say "17 again" suddenly become worth seeing if you watched it on DVD? It's still the same tolerable but dull movie that played in theaters. The small screen doesn't make it any better.

Allison Dickson said...

Oh I agree with that completely. You won't catch me renting 2012 on DVD. LOL!

kEnny said...

I have nothing to add, but my enthusiasm. :^)

Martha Hardcastle said...

I, too have Netflix and I, too use the financial reasoning to not go to the theater. The last time I went was for "Julie & Julia" - can't even remember what got me in prior to that.

I have another good reason. I have restless leg syndrome and sitting still in a theater for 90 minutes or so is so unpleasant that I can't enjoy the movie as much as I would at home. Thank goodness for my Panasonic Viera TV.

Kim said...

Well there are those of us that would still like to see that "middling movie" - like "17 again" - just because we love who stars in it or whatever - but we don't want to pay $10 to do it. I get that - though I am rarely a wsit for the DVD. Sometimes it's just by default - there is only a certain size window in which to see a film in the theater. For the bigger films you have some time, but some are gone before I know it and I never got there to see it. My life is incredibly hectic and I can't always find a 2 hour block to go to the movies - more's the pity. SO - I'm stuck with waiting for the DVD. And let me just say - after seeing it DOZENS of times on the TV - I finally got to see "Wizard of Oz" on the big screen. That was AWESOME! It amazes me that film was made 70 years ago! I missed it the ONE night it showed in Sept. - so I was thrilled to catch an encore performance last week!

Kevin (Ket) said...

I have to agree with you about the way movie recommendations should be: See it or Don't See it. It has definitely been the way I approached finding movies to enjoy this year. Like poster Allison Dickson says, I've been extremely reliant on critics and reviewers. And when I see a "Rent it" recommendation, as far as I'm concerned, it means "Don't see it". There are plenty of movies out there where a person who viewed it can give me an affirmative, "Yes, see it." When I make a decision to watch a DVD, it is with every intention to buy it. Hasn't failed yet this year; I've at least moderately enjoyed every movie I've bought.