June 13th, 2008
12:31 PM ET

The big-screen experience

Our friends at EW.com recently put out a gallery of films that the site’s readers would like to see in all their big-screen glory. Among their choices: “Star Wars,” “Lawrence of Arabia,” “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Gone With the Wind” - excellent suggestions, all. (One person picked “Clue,” to which I can only say: It’s not going to get any better.)

The glory of "2001: A Space Odyssey" is best enjoyed on a big screen.

But the longing for seeing these classic films on the big screen makes me feel a little sad, because most of the people who wrote into EW - or, for that matter, most of the rest of us - will never get the chance to enjoy that experience.

(Warning: Old-fart nostalgia on the way.)

Nowadays, if you don’t see a movie in the three months - at the outside - it’s in a theater (and I’m being generous in calling some of those shoeboxes “theaters”), it’s on to video. And though there’s nothing wrong with a DVD, an HDTV and the comfort of your own couch, there’s always going to be something special about sitting in the dark, staring up at an image 20 feet high. Bigger, if it’s IMAX. (I won’t get into the psychological and technical differences between film and video, which are discussed here and here, among other places.)

Of course, the moviegoing experience has been changing for generations. Early films played on nickelodeons, after all; it wasn’t until the 1920s and ‘30s that the giant, “healthfully air-conditioned” movie theater became widespread. At 43, I’m old enough to remember the dawn of the multiplex, which shrunk screens to screening-room dimensions; the words “held over” (“Jaws,” I recall, ran for more than a year at one New Orleans theater); and when VHS tapes cost $89 at the mom-and-pop video store, hence the rise of rentals.

There was also something called the repertory theater, which showed classic, independent and foreign-language films in an ever-changing run. Those theaters still exist, but they’re increasingly hard to find - and, short of the occasional film festival or university, they’re about the only places you’ll see classics on the big screen.

I’m not putting down video; it’s a great boon to have an entire film library at your fingertips through Netflix and other services. And the way TVs are growing, eventually we may all get the wall-sized screens forecast in old science-fiction novels.

But seeing “2001” in full Cinerama with 1,000 equally awestruck theatergoers? Well, you had to be there.

- Todd Leopold, CNN.com Entertainment Producer

Filed under: movies
About this blog

Our daily cheat-sheet for breaking celebrity news, Hollywood buzz and your pop-culture obsessions.