The movies are back — but how’s the moviegoing experience? Vin Diesel is in no doubt. “For more than 100 years, there’s one place where we all came together to be entertained, to escape, to go someplace new, in movies,” he growls in the promo for F9. “There’s nothing like that moment when the lights go down, the projector ignites, and we believe.”
Now, Mr. Diesel has a major incentive to get people back into theater seats. The ninth installment in the Fast and Furious franchise comes out at the end of June. But more than a year into the pandemic, some people might still feel uncomfortable spending hours in a dark theater with a group of strangers. Others might just prefer the ease of streaming movies at home.
Rafer Guzman film critic for Newsday has already been back to his local multiplex and shared all with New York Public Radio’s Matt Katz.
“If you’re going to a regular theater, you’re going to see the same differences you’re seeing everywhere else,” Guzman reports. “Things are a lot emptier, people are keeping their distance from each other, everyone’s got a mask.”
Concessions staff will hand you popcorn but you won’t be able to add butter or pump drinks yourself. That’ll be done for you. Other than that, according to Guzman, the experience is all positive.
So much so that he upgraded his previous review of Disney’s animation Raya and the Last Dragon, after seeing it again on the big screen.
“This is a lot better movie seeing it on the big screen,” he says. “You’re there with other people. I was there with my kids. They reacted to it a lot better, the jokes landed with them. You’ve got that big screen that just takes up your whole field of vision. It’s so much more immersive. You’re in the dark. Your phone is not ringing, no one’s walking back and forth in front of you, going back to the kitchen or doing whatever, it’s that movie feeling.”
That’s all good news for cinema-goers and exhibitors who will hope that feeling is replicated throughout the population, but with some studios also releasing big titles onto their streaming services, the worry is that small-screen streaming is a hard habit to break.
For instance, Cruella, the origin story of Cruella de Ville from 101 Dalmatians with Emma Stone, which is in theaters and on Disney+ (premium access). Warner Bros. is doing same simul-release on HBO Max with In the Heights. That said, Disney is also releasing Get Back, the new Beatles documentary from Peter Jackson (August 27), in theaters only.
For Guzman the real signpost for whether or not the movies are really back and whether they still hold that place in our hearts is Black Widow. Disney bows this superhero blockbuster starring Scarlett Johansson on July 9 in theaters and on Disney+.
“This is a huge movie,” he says. “People love [Johansson] in this role, from The Avengers. All these other Marvel heroes have had their own stand-alone movies. This has been delayed for a year. There’s a lot of pent-up demand.
“Now you’ve got a choice, are you going to stay home and pay the 30 bucks flat fee and your whole family, and maybe even your friends can all sit around and watch it in your home safely? Or do you go out to the movies, pay the $15 per person, pay that extra premium for the popcorn and the Coke and the M&M’s. Will people go out and do that?
“If people stay home or just wait for that to come on video, that’s going to be a troubling sign. If they get out and go see it, then I really feel like, hey, the movies are back.”