Monday, April 13, 2015

Why Movies Are My Least Favorite Entertainment Delivery System: A Random Ramble Of Rambliness

I watched about half of Mockingjay, Part 1 last night before I got too sleepy to continue, and I'm now debating whether I should even bother finishing it. It's not that it's bad, exactly, but so far it consists mostly of people sitting or standing around in various places with offputting lighting, looking grim and intoning stilted Dialog of Earnest Seriousness at each other. And do I really need more of that in my life? Especially as I did read the books, so it's not like I don't know how it all comes out.

All of which is making me think of this blog post that I read a few days ago. (If you're too lazy to click, the title is, "Too Busy To Watch a Movie? Read A Book.") Reading that gave me one of those "OMG, I am not alone!" reactions, as I have been trying to explain to people for ages how it is that I can binge-watch entire seasons of TV shows or cheerfully dive into a 500-page novel that will take me days to finish, but sitting down to watch a 2-hour movie somehow feels like way too much effort. Generally, people look at me in blank incomprehension when I say that, but, wheee! Turns out it's not just me!

Mind you, I'm not sure the author has the full explanation here. Yes, I think probably a large part of it is that we all feel really busy these days, with a zillion other things we could be doing instead of watching that 2-hour movie, while TV episodes are more bite-sized and thus feel like less of a commitment, and books can be whipped out anywhere and read a few pages at a time. But for me, at least, it's more than that. It's not just that I am (or feel) busy and don't want to commit the time. It's more about committing my attention, and the issue of how much reward I get in return for what that attention costs me. Books, for me, require almost no effort. Reading is almost like breathing for me, and it's pretty much an unthinking default activity for filling any random downtime. Utterly effortless, and often done during times when I wouldn't be doing much of anything else, anyway, so it scarcely feels like an investment. Even if it turns out to be a bad book, I don't really feel frustrated or cheated out of the time it took me to read it. Much.

A TV episode requires maybe 40 minutes of sitting down and actively committing your attention to the screen (or at least, it does the way I watch it). A movie might require a couple of hours. But how does the reward compare? I think this is what makes the difference. I find I have very little patience with movies that don't completely and immediately deliver me a great viewing experience; whereas I can actually have a lot of patience with a subpar episode of TV show I'm following. Why? I think it's this: with a decent TV show, there's at least the prospect of a long-term reward for the time I'm investing. Maybe the pilot episode is rough, maybe this particular mid-season episode is mostly just annoying filler, whatever. But sitting through that episode, even if it's not great in itself, gets me somewhere. At least, it does with most modern TV shows. It's a step along the path in a much larger story, a story that I get to watch play out over time, with characters whose lives I can be a part of for a good long while and a world that my TV and I can explore together at our leisure. It's a part of a larger whole, one that can potentially provide me with days or years of entertainment, which makes it worth sitting through the boring parts and the missteps, as long as that whole seems at all worthwhile. And if the episode I'm currently watching isn't great, the next episode might be a lot better. But I have to get through the current one first, or the story won't work as well. And, hey, I can do that! It's totally worth it to me. And so I'm able to relax and enjoy myself, rather than feeling impatient and frustrated and distracted by thoughts of all the other things I could be doing with my time instead.

With a movie... Well, you watch the movie, and that's it. That's the full experience. The point of watching a movie is to enjoy the movie, and so, if my enjoyment is anything less than complete, it feels like kind of a waste of time. That's even true for movies like The Hunger Games series, where there actually is one story continued over several movies, because these things come out spaced a year or more apart, and generally by the time the next one is available, I've forgotten most of the last one and lost all sense of momentum and most of my interest. Sure, there are exceptions, exciting movies that provide extended enjoyment because afterward I spend a long time thinking about them and discussing them, and can watch them over and over and find new things in them each time. (Hello, Cabin in the Woods!) But those are very, very rare. Most of Hollywood's output is, at best... kind of OK. And two hours of my concentrated attention for the sole reward of having watched something kind of OK is mostly just not good enough.


  1. Not to mention that the books you get at thrift stores, used bookstores, library sales, and discount websites/catalogs are a he** of a lot cheaper than seeing a movie in a theater!

    1. And there's nobody sitting behind me talking through it!

      Mind you, these days when I do watch a movie, I'm much more likely to watch it on DVD than at a theater, for precisely those kinds of reasons. Well, those, and living an hour's drive from the movie theater. That's kind of a big disincentive.