It’s fair to say that J.J. Abrams, more than most, makes massive movies. His “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is the biggest domestic hit of all time, and of the five films he’s made to date, the two smallest in scope and scale were a “Mission: Impossible” sequel and “Super 8,” an autobiographical movie about a giant monster. Love him or hate him, Abrams makes the kind of spectacle that draws audiences into movie theaters these days.

So it’s always been surprising that Abrams, along with Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg and a number of other A-list helmers, has been a supporter of the idea of Premium VOD, more specifically The Screening Room, a start-up from Napster founder/Justin Timberlake surrogate Sean Parker that intends to release major movies day-and-date at home for a $50 price. While other filmmakers like Christopher Nolan remain adamantly opposed, Abrams has always been very much pro the idea, and as Variety reported, gave a talk last night that helped to explain in part why.

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At a dinner at the Milken Institute Global Conference last night, Abrams talked about his experience seeing a movie at a multiplex near his wife’s hometown in Maine. “There is a theater chain that I’m convinced hates movies. You go there. They’re angry with you. It’s cold. There’s no music. The lights go out when the movie starts — there’s no ceremony. It’s the most uncomfortable seats…You’re convinced there’s something in front of the projector. Meanwhile, most people in that audience have better TVs at home than the image you’re seeing.”

Abrams is coming from something of a position of privilege here — it’s quite possible that, even in Maine, most people in the audience DON’T have better TVs at home. But he sort of acknowledged that. “I understand the economic realities of it, and it’s tough. At the same time, if they don’t make it worth people’s time, you better not call people to the theater and give them that kind of experience. People do want to see movies, and can’t always get to the theater. It seems like an inevitable thing that movies become available at a premium.”

We’re all familiar with the sort of thing that Abrams is talking about: crappy theater experiences are a frequent menace these days, and we’ve all had to suffer texting, talking neighbors, crappy projection or bad facilities. But why the A-list helmer wants to draw fewer people to movie theaters and reduce what makes the medium special rather than improve that experience is a bit puzzling. The Screening Room remains a bit of a pipe dream for now; we’ll see if it ever takes off, but in the meantime, Abrams is returning to the small screen with miniseries “The Nix.”

  • Matt

    “But why the A-list helmer wants to draw fewer people to movie theaters, and reduce what makes the medium special, rather than improve that experience is a bit puzzling.”

    I’m sorry, but this line is bullshit. Filmmakers/Producers want to make money and there are two ways of doing that: 1.) Make something people want to see (he has) and 2.) Cut out the middle man. Now the producers will do everything they can to accomplish #2, but if theaters want to have a fighting chance, they need to pick up the ball. They need to figure out how to attract casual filmgoers without alienating the dedicated filmgoers.

    I LOVE the concept and execution of Dolby Cinema. I think it’s the best step in quality that they’ve made in years. However, the last time I saw a movie in DC (Fantastic Beasts), I left infuriated that I spent the extra money to see a movie in a theater that was retrofitted to accommodate the DC-experience rather than one that had been built from scratch. The Red LEDs completely washed out the screen, completely undermining the deepest blacks they advertise.

    OLED TVs? I popped a blu-ray in to test drive one of them and I swear, I’ve never seen that movie look better, even in the theater. Even some Sony 4K TVs are doing the job for me.

    I’m glad to see the tech catching up. Theaters chains need to be put in check after how long they’ve taken advantage of customers.

  • Glorious_Cause

    “There is a theater chain that I’m convinced hates movies.”

    Gee, I don’t know JJ, maybe we should just make theaters better instead of shrinking the theatrical window? How about that for a solution? You got the money. Go out and start and theater chain that makes the experience awesome. Big home TVs will never replace the theater experience.

    • Teriek Williams

      Theaters have already shrunk the theatrical window. Try this experiment: This Friday, find as many movie theaters owned by a theater chain as possible, and list what they play. I bet you’ll find it’s this:

      – Fate of the Furious (sequel of the sequel of the sequel of the…)
      – Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (superhero sequel)
      – Beauty and the Beast (remake)
      – Kong: Skull Island (reboot)
      – The Circle (heavy-handed Christian propaganda)
      – The Boss Baby (animated film for anyone 10 and below)
      – How to Be a Latin Lover (Throwaway comedy built on lambasting stereotypes)

      To see that, it’ll cost you $18 a ticket & $15 for food. And if you want a good, book it 3 weeks in advance like it was a Broadway show. Otherwise, expect to sit in the front row, staring up at the ceiling. Its not worth the price, the hassle or the unoriginal, derivative experience.

      The theater industry relegates the better stuff to arthouse cinema with limited runs, which often goes unseen. That’s why nobody knows about the Best Picture nominees until after the ceremony, which wasn’t the case 25 years ago.

      The theatrical release is no longer conducive with screening good quality content. They’d retread Deadpool for a quick buck rather than take the risks TV and streaming are free to take. As a result, most view TV shows as being higher quality content than feature-length cinema. If that be the case, why keep the theaters open? For nostalgia’s sake? Just for the movie lovers? Good riddance to it. Give the indie films instant streaming releases so they’ll reach the wider audience that the theaters aren’t willing to expose those films to.

  • Jimmy Hauser

    He can’t solve my biggest problem with theatres: you want to get there early to get a good seat, but then you are forced to sit and listen to a group of narcissistic idiots blatherering on about the dumbest topics you can’t even imagine. I will gladly pay $50 to watch a movie at home on release day. Throw in a blu Ray Coupon and I will pay $100.

  • loudrockmusic

    Why doesn’t JJA hook up with Drafthouse and expand their theater-going experience? I suppose I’m spoiled by having them in my town for 15 years or so, but I think if everyone was exposed to their screenings, more folks would still be excited about being at the movies.