More than any other filmmaker, Steven Spielberg has come to define the present world of blockbuster cinema best viewed in theaters with movies like Jaws, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and Jurassic Park. 2020 has been the most devastating year for theaters in history. In a recent letter written for an issue of Empire, Spielberg expressed his hope and confidence that the past year has not sounded the death knell for cinema halls like some industry analysts are predicting.
"In the current health crisis, where movie theaters are shuttered or attendance is drastically limited because of the global [emergency], I still have hope bordering on certainty that when it's safe, audiences will go back to the movies. I've always devoted myself to our movie-going community - movie-going, as in leaving our homes to go to a theatre, and community, meaning a feeling of fellowship with others who have left their homes and are seated with us. In a movie theatre, you watch movies with the significant others in your life, but also in the company of strangers. That's the magic we experience when we go out to see a movie or a play or a concert or a comedy act."
If the shutting down of cinema halls had occurred in a vacuum last year, the predictions of the whole industry shutting down might not have been so dire. But the closing of cinemas was accompanied by a rise in the prominence of digital streaming. More and more viewers are expressing a preference for watching new movies on their computers. Spielberg goes on to contend in his letter that the solitary viewing habits normalized by digital content cannot replace the communal experience of watching a film together on the big screen.
"We don't know who all these people are sitting around us [in a theater hall], but when the experience makes us laugh or cry or cheer or contemplate, and then when the lights come up and we leave our seats, the people with whom we head out into the real world don't feel like complete strangers anymore."
"We've become a community, alike in heart and spirit, or at any rate alike in having shared for a couple of hours a powerful experience.That brief interval in a theatre doesn't erase the many things that divide us: race or class or belief or gender or politics. But our country and our world feel less divided, less fractured, after a congregation of strangers have laughed, cried, jumped out their seats together, all at the same time."
"Art asks us to be aware of the particular and the universal, both at once. And that's why, of all the things that have the potential to unite us, none is more powerful than the communal experience of the arts."
In 2021, cinemas are showing (faint) signs of recovery. Hopefully, the industry will be back to normal in a couple of years, and viewers will once again have the option of watching their favorite films on the big screen. This news was first reported at Empire.