One of the many things we’ve all learned to accept during the coronavirus pandemic is that watching movies at home is… fine. It’s not exciting event like going to a theater was in the before-times, but—much like getting McDonald’s delivered to you by a stranger in a mask—it’s serviceable. Going to a theater right now isn’t totally safe, and it might not be for a while, so theaters are probably going to have to do some work to convince people to come back once they are. After all, why go to a McDonald’s when it’s significantly easier to stay home and pull your McNuggets out of the same bag that your big soda was in?
The metaphor may have gone slightly awry, but the point is that theaters will need people to start coming back just as much as they did pre-pandemic if they want to survive, and director Ang Lee has an idea for how to do that. Speaking with Entertainment Weekly, Lee said that he believes we will always need theaters, but with television so much more convenient, theaters will need to “upgrade” in a way that offers an experience that you simply cannot get at home. He says he’s not talking about just the size of the screens or the audience, but also the “ceremonial effect” of seeing a movie in theater.
Lee doesn’t offer specifics on what he’s envisioning, but he says “the next step” for theaters is to offer a level of “immersiveness” that can’t be done on a TV screen. He says theaters need to find a way to get audiences to “participate” rather than just watch, and while he’s probably talking about 3D technology and high frame rates that TVs can’t handle, we have another suggestion for him: What if, instead of just sitting and watching a movie where Will Smith follows a pre-determined script, you sit in a theater and hit a button that tells Will Smith that he should jump on that turtle or grab that Super Mushroom. And maybe whoever gets the highest score in the movie can put in their initials at the end so everyone knows that they beat the movie. You can’t do that at home, certainly.