Cinematic Experience, The Big and the Small: An Essay.

Watching the same film on the big screen, versus the small screen. Both can make one appreciative for their individual strengths and weaknesses by viewing the same movie on both mediums.

To best illustrate this statement, I will write about watching Avatar
(Cameron, J. 2009. 20th Century Fox. 162 min.), chosen because much of its appeal lies in its visuals, which I viewed both in the Cinema in glorious (at the time) 3D and on Mr. Weeny (yes that is how I spell it) my extremely small-screened portable DVD Player and compare the strengths and weakness of each experience and how they benefit each other in regards to the viewing of this movie as a cinematic experience overall.

Mr. Weeny is a nickname for the device that has a screen a little under half
the size of a piece of note book paper, roughly 7”, whose sound is exercised through cheap ear buds, I bought for a few bucks at a thrift store some years back. It is old, from a technological standard, and not of a high profile brand name called Mintek. Still, it was functional, and at time time i bought it, was my only means of entertainment back in the pre-laptop days.

With a small screen (whether Mr. Weeny or a television) there is a convenience of being able to adjust the sound easily, particularly if you have hearing sensitivities, a real plus side to home viewing. Still, nothing beats the bone vibrating thrum/likely booms of a movie theater surround sound, despite the convenience and possible medical issues, it adds this layer of sensory spectacle you can’t get at home unless you have a nastily good, police knocking at your door entertainment center.

The drawback of a theater experience is that it works well with something like Avatar, Godzilla, or Fast and the Furious (insert number here), but for quieter films like Forrest Gump, The Butler, and other dramas, focusing more on dramatic expression and in turn, the quieter moments in the more excitable films as well, could be detracted from the auditory spectacle, and quiet moments become less in film also as filmmakers wish to take advantage of the technical end of the presentation.

The visual experience on the other hand, To be honest when I saw Avatar on the big screen for the first time, and with the latest in 3d tech during that period splashed in the gleam of my eyeballs I was quite wowed by the experience. The 3D in the movie was tastefully done, and looked more at setting the viewer into the world of the film, 3D-ing more the setting then the actual characters. It was how 3D was supposed to be done, and still should be done it was certainly a different experience then anything so wholly aggressive as seen in the usual fare like I experienced in other 3D movies.

The drawback of 3D is again the favor of the spectacle, though the visual this time. Cinema is rife with 3D now-a-days, and their will likely be a generation where they will go in future slang style “film was two dimensional? that is so weird!” but it likely isn’t a surprise to many that sometimes again filmmakers become a little to in love with the tech in sacrifice of the story.

When I watched Avatar again sometime later on DVD in the comfort of my own home with the lights turned off, the popcorn buttery and plentiful, with Mr. Weeny balanced on my lap, I found that without the visual distraction of the 3D, as good as it was, I was able to focus more on the story.I actually found that the story was not quite as good as the experience a the theater had lead me to believe.

With the small screen, the high likelihood that viewers wont have a sick entertainment system is rather high, and those who cater to the small screen, like television and online content makers, are aware of this, so those who know what hey are doing concentrate more on the narrative with special effect eye-candy (when correctly done) only there for the purpose of the narrative, not the other way around like with a lot of cinema. So when i transferred my viewing experience between the two mediums, i found that while the special effects were still awesome, it didn’t detract from the weaker story that was somewhat more obscured by the cinematic experience.

The social application of watching a movie with friends and with larger groups in general as experienced in a theater, can lend to a greater expression or drawing in of collective emotional reaction. When i saw Avatar with a large group of people, we all wowed together, laughed together, clapped at the end of the film together. A social experience between more then a hundred strangers that you will likely never see again, strangers whose faces you will likely not remember because you never see most of them. This is a type of experience that is rarely duplicated outside of a theater.

With the small screen, its a smaller group at most that watches films, so their is more awareness of individual tastes and responses to a film, there is less of a shared group experience. With the small screen, there is a lack of the ambiguity that hundreds of faceless darkness can’t provide on a collective emotional experience of a film. The downside is that there is distraction in watching film with friends vrs. watching films with strangers. With friends, or smaller groups, your perception of the film is likely to be more influenced from your original perceptions then when you watched it in theaters. More exposed and vulnerable to your friend’s judgments and vice-versa, an individuals judgment of a film will likely change with the dominant/strongest opinion to maintain a groups collective flow outside of the couch.

Interestingly, outside of both Cinema and Television Screens which do have their own unique social based influences, a smaller viewing screen like on a tablet, phone, or a small portable DVD player like Mr. Weeny, its more of an individual experience. it is through the even smaller screens that one really has a chance to be able to get a truly unbiased judgment of a film, which is what lead me to determine that Avatar didn’t have quite as good a story filled with some unfortunate tropes, and thus not as good a movie from a narrative perspective as my post-cinema goggles lead me to believe.

In the end, the big screen, the small screen, and the really small screen have their own strengths and weaknesses. A theater’s strength lies in the immersive collective spectacle of experience. There is nothing wrong with that of course, in part the spectacle nature of film and trying to continually improve on that spectacle is part of what made cinema what it is today, sparking many of the technical innovations that we take for granted now, including the small screen. The small screen benefits from being able to more independently judge a film based on more then its visual merits in an environment that is easier to control on a more limited technological capacity.

The weaknesses of Cinema lies in that there is often a preoccupation more with the spectacle then with the story which can lead to a weaker film over all, particularly when the trappings are scaled back or taken away all together when its translated for the small screen and much more obvious (the most recent Godzilla from 2015 for example). The weakness in small screen is the lack of the spectacle, a unique experience that is regardless a part of the cinematic experience that is lost in the translation. There is also a more social pressure with those you know to fit in with the collective whole, unless you are watching it on something really small, which again has its own technical drawbacks.

Neither is better then the other. In fact, the translation between big screen and small screen of a movie benefits each other by providing both the experience of the spectacle of what is capable for cinema, an experience that is uniquely necessary, but at the same time with the small screen reminds both spectators and through them filmmakers, that a good film looks in a theater, it can only go so far if it doesn’t have good narrative to carry it through into posterity, a discernment which the small screen provides by stripping away the theater spectacle. So at the end of the day, they need each other to realize the full movie experience.

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