AUTHOR’S NOTE: The following was part of Yo soy el cine (I Am Cinema), the pretentiously-named monthly column I wrote on U Magazine, focusing on movie culture, technology, trends and the future of film.
In these times of svelte Egyptian bovines our shared goal is not to waste money, not even while investing it in our entertainment. Few things leave us feeling cheated as much as having paid good cash on premiere weekend to watch what turns out to be big screen garbage. Although I stand by my belief that every movie should be seen with an audience in a darkened theater, my wallet has forced me to hone a sort of sixth sense on which films I can’t miss during their theatrical runs, which I should hold out for until their 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray/streaming rental release and which I would rather accidentally run into while channel surfing. Ladies and gents, I give you my ‘Big Screen or Small’ selection technique.
1. Have a Clear Idea of What You Like
Critic Gelett Burless once said: “I don’t know art, but I know what I like.” It sounds obvious, but it is rather important. Throughout life, each individual develops very specific preferences that are often refined over time and can sometimes change, but are usually constant.
If you’ve seen enough movies you should already be clear about what film genres sway you more. Action or suspense? Drama or comedy? Gory or psychological horror? Verbal humor or slapstick? Simple or complex plots? Take the time to self-analyze what you enjoy and only pay to see those movies in theaters. If you prefer young women with visible cleavage surrounded by CGI effects on IMAX 3D rather than deep, awards-worthy ruminations on the meaning of life, by all means enjoy yourself. You are totally within your rights. Everybody’s filmgoing tastes differ and nobody can impose theirs unto you. Unless it’s their treat and even then you’re entitled to your opinion. Whether it’s on the big screen or small screen, it’s always your call.
2. Memorize Names of Actors and Directors
After you’re certain what kind of movies you prefer, you start to notice similarities between the films that you like. One of the most common elements you’ll discover among them will turn out to be actors and directors. As versatile as thespians and filmmakers may be, they almost tend to stick to a very specific style that extends to all their movies.
Thus it is likely that whoever enjoyed Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump will love him in Road to Perdition and any fan of helmer Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead will enjoy his Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, despite all being very different flicks.
When you’ve just finished a movie you liked, whether on the big screen or small, take a moment as it fades to black and read the scrolling end credits. Learn the names of its stars and filmmakers, then give your priority to all future releases in which they participate.
For example, if you dug Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo (that’s Italian for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly), you’ll probably get a kick of Dirty Harry because it also stars Clint Eastwood or C’era una volta il America (Once Upon a Time in America) since it was also directed by Sergio Leone. See? It isn’t that complicated and it’ll make you feel more secure in your moviegoing decision.
3. Decode the Trailer
Film marketing is an art unto itself. Every teaser and trailer is a commercial aiming to convince you to mentally purchase a ticket before Opening Day, even if that implies “misdirection” about the final product.
Of course, if it’s any good, it’ll sell itself. High quality films, as well as those with mass appeal or predictions of large box office openings, usually resort to tease very little about themselves in their trailers, yet what they do show is impressive.
On the contrary, a project that hasn’t come out as its filmmakers hoped usually throws all its cards on their table early. By which I mean trailers for such a movie are few and outrageous, with lots of hilarious moments. This is because the marketing people filled them with all the best scenes from the flick.
Scrutinize the Internet, as well as those coming attractions ads on your DVD and Blu ray movies, both those you loved as the ones you don’t. Learn to spot the marketing tells and never lose again in the game of ‘Big Screen or Small’ Trailer Poker.
4. Expand Your Big Screen or Small “Taste Buds”
None of the previous tactics will help you develop a well-calibrate film radar if your don’t occasionally watch material that’s out of your comfort zone. There are online services (and some of the few remaining brick-and-mortar video stores) offering rental and purchase bundles. Then, of course, there’s Netflix, which offers unlimited movies for a reasonable fee. These money-saving options let you take a chance and explore genres that don’t usually appeal to your tastes.
If you’re short on cash, take advantage of the films showing on cable or local stations. This will increase your selection criteria and in the process let you discover new favorites to expand your palate. You’re entitled to your opinion on movies, like I mentioned, but opinions are better when well-informed.
That’s about it. Note that this method is a reference guide. As such, it isn’t guaranteed to help you avoid an unpleasant experience in the movie theater. However, by following these steps your mind, like a muscle after multiple workouts, will soon develop to let you better decide what merits a visit to the multiplex. More importantly, should your judgement fail you and make you pick a dud, you’ll at least be able to enjoy it for what it’s worth.
So, what’s it gonna be? Big screen or small screen? Take your pick with confidence.
The original version of this essay, titled ¿Cine o video?: Una guía práctica (Cinema or Video: A Practical Guide), first appeared on the April 2012 issue of Revista U magazine. This translated version was updated to reflect changes in digital consumer entertainment distribution, but the initial concept remains intact.Click here for the original article (in Spanish).