Oh, sure, it’s always better to see a movie on the big screen, right? I mean, that’s what we cinephiles always say, isn’t it? But, you know, it ain’t necessarily so. Not always.
I’m not just talking about the fact that your sofa is much more comfy than a multiplex seat, and also doesn’t feature some kid kicking the back of it every five minutes. Or the fact that the popcorn is so much better popped on the stove with real butter drizzled over it. Or even all the cool DVD extras. No, sometimes, the movie itself is actually a more enjoyable experience at home.
Take the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Now, it’s true, I wouldn’t have traded those first looks at the films on the big screen for anything; they work because they overwhelm you. But subsequent viewings? I’ll stick with DVD, thanks, especially for the finale, The Return of the King. There’s imagery in that movie that literally takes my breath away every time I see it, so much so, that I need—actually need—to rewind and watch again. Gandalf and Pippin arriving at Minas Tirith, spiraling up the city’s streets on horseback; the signal fires stretching across a mountain range, calling for Rohan’s aid; the dark gloom of Minas Morgul springing to terrible life, sending orcs on the march and launching screeching Nazgul into the air. There’s a moment in that last bit when all the air seems to be sucked out of the world, and I never tire of hearing—or perhaps not hearing?—that over and over.
Or take Children of Men, one of the best movies of 2006 and one of the most immersive science-fiction movies ever made. Its near-future world is just a brief step beyond ours, and much of the extrapolation of how the here-and-now turns into the horrifying-then comes only in the background: in tickers running under news reports on TV, in advertisements on the sides of buses that slide by before you’ve barely noticed them, on posters and fliers plastered to the sides of city buildings, in old newspapers covering up windows. If you take advantage of the freeze-frame capabilities of DVD to explore everything that’s going on in the fully realized world of this movie, it creates a far richer cinematic experience. You may have subconsciously caught some of what’s there in a movie theater, or at least gotten the sense of an authentic setting. But with DVD, you can actually experience it.
Showy performances always catch our eye, especially when we’re watching a film in a theater, which means that the non-showy ones get overlooked; you can only watch one face onscreen at a time. Forest Whitaker rightly won his Oscar for his extraordinary performance as Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland, but it was, necessarily, an extraordinarily scene-grabbing performance. Pop in this one on DVD, and make yourself watch his co-star, James McAvoy, whenever Whitaker’s Amin is hogging the spotlight. You’ll realize how Whitaker could not have done what he was doing without McAvoy’s quieter but just as intense presence giving him something to bounce off of.
Of course, that one barely got any theatrical release at all. The only way most film fans have ever or will ever get the chance to see that is on DVD—which works out just fine, actually.