Recently, I got into an argument with a friend over whether I should go to a theater to see Uncut Gems, which seemed insane to me, as I had recently received it on DVD in the mail. Her argument, I think, was that the sound design was incredible. I have a set of decent speakers, and I watched it on DVD, and I experienced no great loss. Lovely film. But since that moment, it’s come to my attention that this is an argument people are having out in the wild: Martin Scorsese thinks you should watch The Irishmen on as large of a screen as possible. (This is false: the big screen only exacerbates the fact that even CGI can’t make Robert DeNiro’s creaky body move in an even vaguely convincing middle-aged fashion.) Ryan Reynolds, obviously, thinks it’s fine to watch movies on any screen, including a phone. This is also untrue because watching a good movie on a phone by choice is nearly psychopathic.
The question of how you want to watch a movie is a little more complex than it might appear, but there are definitely rules. First, ask yourself how the weather is: Is it hot or humid enough that a long afternoon in an air-conditioned movie theater might soothe you? Secondly, do you want there to be any possibility that the people you’re with will speak to you? (I’ve had several family “discussions” cut short by a trip to the movies after a long holiday meal; this is a tactic I wholeheartedly support.) Are you the kind of person who is terrified of spooky cinema, and thus need to watch Hereditary on a screen slightly smaller than a dinner plate so as to have an ample non-screen area to avert your eyes? (If that is true for you, I’m sorry, you don’t deserve Ari Aster, or maybe any movie at all.)
Those scenarios notwithstanding, the definitive rules are as follows:
- Watch television on a small screen, iPad-mini-to-laptop size. Anything that can’t fit next to you on a couch is too big.
- Watch almost any movie on a slightly larger screen, small-television-to-projector-screen-size. If the movie is “atmospheric,” try to find some decent speakers.
- Watch big-budget action movies—think Thor or The Day After Tomorrow—in a theater, ideally on opening night right around the time the local high school gets out.
- Watch any movie that happens to be showing at a drive-in movie theater on a pleasant night.
- Watch zero movies at one of those dinner-and-a movie theaters: You’re getting the worst of both worlds, you can’t talk and the expensive-ass snacks are worse than whatever you could make for yourself at home.