Stream it or screen it? Cinema remains superior

As a champion of the immersive cinema experience, the Video On Demand (VOD) release of many of the Covid-era blockbusters is frustrating for many film-purists like me. On the one hand, we cannot know when the cinemas will reopen. VOD and streaming services picking up 2020/21 releases helps alleviate the pain of the constant postponement and re-postponement of much anticipated films such as No Time to Die (initially set to be released in April 2020, it is now tentatively rescheduled for October 2021). Yet the enjoyment of cinema is difficult to replicate at home for many. Watching the made-for-the-big-screen sci-fi blockbuster that uses cutting-edge visual effects on a laptop or small television screen does not allow for the experience the filmmakers intended. Furthermore, slow internet connections often result in constant buffering and inferior video quality. This is particularly frustrating if access to said buffering film can cost as much as £15.99 (the current cost of Wonder Woman 1984 on Amazon Prime Video). The price is perhaps not a problem for family viewing, but when a cinema ticket goes for as little as £4.99 in Edinburgh, a lone viewer is considerably out of pocket for a film viewing experience often fraught with distractions. 

This is especially challenging at the moment, with families cooped up in small spaces due to lockdown. The resultant battle between the audio of your highly-anticipated-newly-released-film, and the audio of your parent’s Zoom call, or your sibling bursting into the room at a film’s emotional climax catching you mid ugly-sob, is enough to make you beg for the blissfully distraction free conditions of the cinema.

Of course, this pessimistic view of home streaming is not always a fair assessment. Film is a many faceted art form, therefore not all films need perfect cinema conditions to be thoroughly enjoyed. Crucially, home-streaming can allow greater accessibility for new releases, especially with streaming services increasingly having subtitling and audio description options (although this is not the case for all of them, and this raises an important issue that deserves its own article). Even so, the survival of the cinema industry post-Covid is vital. 

As someone who wilfully watches even the adverts at the cinema, never mind the trailers, and can recite John Boyega’s Vue advert monologue word for word, nothing beats the experience of big screen entertainment. The very fact you cannot pause the cinema or check your phone ( it should be turned off!) makes the cinema experience perfect escapism. The cinema often feels like a liminal space; where else can you experience the surreal process of entering the cinema during daylight, being transported to another world through the magic of film in an auditorium cut-off from the outside world, and then emerging a few hours later into the darkness of the evening? It feels as if the cinema has actually transported you to a parallel world, as if you have gone through one of the temporal portals in Tenet. Frustratingly, such a form of escapism would be an ideal relief at a time like this, yet we must not forget the magic of the cinema.

Image: Jorge Royan via Wikimedia Commons