In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it.
When I was a young warthog, I went to a late night screening of Larry Fessenden’s horror trilogy (No Telling, Habit, Wendigo), with the director in attendance. After the program a Q&A was held. Fessenden answered a bunch of questions, but before closing the session he made a statement which has stuck with me forever. He said, and I misquote: Whenever you can, see movies in the theater. That’s the experience the filmmakers had in mind when they made the film. While this isn’t so much the case anymore, what with the dawn of affordable home systems and a larger contingent of films being made strictly for VOD, the sentiment still stands. The movie theater offers an experience that is unmatched, especially with things like IMAX 3D. And at a time where people are happy to wait for home release, a lot of wonderful, big-screen experiences are being missed. Yes, everyone rushed to get tickets for The Force Awakens. Yes, people went out to see Age of Ultron and Jurassic World, but there were plenty of other films this year that really should demand a viewing on the biggest format imaginable. Here are five from 2015 that should have home-viewers stewing with regret.
Crimson Peak (dir. Guillermo del Toro)
I haven’t checked the numbers, but I’d be willing to bet that this creepy romantic mystery underperformed, and it’s a shame. The titular structure provides a throwback to a time when movies started becoming movies rather than just filmed plays. Without the functionality restrictions of live theater, sets could afford to be a larger part of the art form, and Crimson Peak is next level set work. As much practical as it is rendered, the creepy house is a character all its own, and it could never come to life so much as it did in glorious IMAX. While reviews have been mixed overall (I loved it), the general consensus is that it’s a technical marvel nonetheless, one which could never fully be appreciated on an iPad screen.
Everest (dir. Baltasar Kormákur)
The mountain climbing thriller is a genre in and of itself, and despite having some entries of supremely high quality, it’s usually easy to see where the set ends and the blue screen begins. Yes, these are the breaks of not wanting to kill your actors by putting them on a real mountaintop, and audiences have thus learned to suspend their disbelief long enough to allow Sylvester Stallone to send John Lithgow to his gravity-induced death. Despite being a bit of a letdown in the character department, Everest is the only mountain-based thriller which feels like it took place on an actual mountain, and it happens to take place on the mother of all mountains (I’ll let you guess which one). Everest was released in IMAX 3D, and those of us lucky enough to have caught it during its short run got to experience one of the most breathlessly intense and realistic films of the year. I’ll never be so dumb as to think I should climb Everest, but after seeing this film, I don’t think I really need to. I’ll never forget the view from the top, because in a cinematic sense, I was there.
The Martian (dir. Ridley Scott)
Much like Everest, The Martian takes us to a wholly, ahem, alien landscape, and much like Everest, The Martian is best experienced on the biggest screen available, and in 3D (as intended — none of that post-converted garbage). When Matt Damon is lost in the storm, the impact is huge and terrifying. When he is isolated and fighting to survive, the landscape is oppressively barren. And when the action-packed final sequences unfold, there’s is no television on this planet capable of providing the tension and excitement that Scott intended. The Martian is a larger than life adventure which would serve to be softened by a less than optimal format. Sure, it’s going to be a good time in any format, but why watch a video of a roller coaster when you can ride it yourself? Why watch the concert DVD when tickets to the show are still available?
Tangerine (dir. Sean Baker)
Not every big screen experience is about spectacle, and a film like Tangerine is anything but spectacle. It was shot entirely on an iPhone with an attached widescreen lens, and it shows. By being such a lo-fi production, the film invokes that same feeling you get from watching an old, grimy film print. Even though our technology has advanced to the point where even a phone can produce a smooth, cinematic picture, it’s still amateurish looking, and creates that pane between film and viewer that is best described as “cozy.” Not only is it a simply fantastic movie, but seeing phone video blown up for a movie screen allows us to really fall in love with it, warts and all. Sure, there’s probably some novelty value in watching it on a phone, but Tangerine is meant to be in your face, not in your hand.
The Walk (dir. Robert Zemeckis)
This movie is what inspired this list. NOBODY saw this film. It was a bona fide flop. It was also the biggest visual and technological event since Avatar (and a much, much better movie to boot). While the documentary Man on Wire would seem to render a film like this entirely moot, The Walk makes a case for its existence with its final act, which takes place on a tightrope strung between the Twin Towers. Much like Everest, not an ounce of this feels fake, and in IMAX 3D it’s unlike anything you will ever see. When our protagonists first steps onto his wire, I’m not ashamed to admit that I almost lost control of my bladder. While Man on Wire allowed is to watch Philippe Petit’s famous walk from ground level, The Walk allows us to join him at the top … but would fail at doing so in any other format. I cannot stress enough how beautiful this sequence is. Zemeckis has finally found the perfect vehicle to elevate his constant toiling with technology into high art. This isn’t to say that the film leans on just this one sequence, however. For all its inherent redundancy, The Walk is a very good movie. For someone whose first personal exposure to the Twin Towers was seeing them fall on TV, The Walk cleansed that nastiness from their legacy and breathed into them a new, worthy life. It’s movie magic of the highest caliber, and it can only be experience fully from the inside of a theater. If this ever gets re-released in IMAX 3D, I’d see it again and again.