Nerd Factor: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year
Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor
Wonder Woman 1984 was the greatest thing to happen in the coronavirus curtailed movie business in a while because people were finally able to see a big superhero action movie. Wonder Woman 1984 was also the worst thing to happen in the same context because the movie simultaneously debuted on a streaming service, circumventing and therefore imperiling the movie theater business as we have come to know it.
Anything new is always a mix of excitement and always danger. What struck me about the whole affair though was the ordinary context in which it occurred. I watched a revolutionary moment for film from the comfort of a recliner in my living room.
Oh sure, this was Christmas Day. Traditionally for my family, Christmas is a very busy holiday spent frantically opening gifts while trying to see everyone else’s reactions to the gifts you got them. This particular holiday was a bit different as we chose not to travel and to limit interactions. Still, sometime before lunch, we had come down from the rush of gifting and receiving and settled into the usual subdued pace of people who had just participated in a major athletic event or an artistic performance. A calm satisfaction of a job well done where everyone seemed to have walked away happy prevailed.
Then, almost casually, there was this movie. The movie was not a surprise. We had looked forward to it all week. The planning seemed lower though. For reasons some might see as obsessive but which I see as necessary to “get us there,” I have been known to organize some. . . well, most. . . actually pretty much all trips to the movie theater like the logistical planning of the D-Day Invasion. On Christmas Day, we just sat down.
And that was the seduction of this new way of seeing debut movies. There were no ticket lines, no concession lines, no bathroom lines, and sweetest mercy of all, no other people to deal with. All for the same price that I would have paid to take my family to the theater (except that I got a year’s subscription out of the whole deal). All that comfort and ease seemed like the death knell of the movie theater business. And surely our ability to pause the movie whenever we wanted would be the stake through that business’ dying heart.
The experience was missing though. For all of Wonder Woman 1984’s beautiful imagery (particularly the verdant beauty of Themyscira, truly a Paradise Island), the film was obviously smaller. Televisions used to be boxes in our living rooms. Now they are rectangles on our walls. The rectangles are really big, but not movie theater big. And the sound was not as good. Something else was happening too though.
Ultimately the sequel was not as good as its predecessor. Do not get me wrong. I love Gal Gadot. As far as I am concerned, she is Wonder Woman. Like they got Wonder Woman to pretend to be Gal Gadot so she could be in movies about her. And Chris Pine is able to make Steve Trevor, one of the most boring love interests in all superhero comics, into an interesting and compelling character. Kristen Wiig and Pedro Pascal are reasonably entertaining antagonists too. The movie just does not gel right though. It is okay, not great. It is fun, but not exhilarating.
As this dawned on me throughout the movie, I kept wondering (unintended pun clearly intended) if the altered experience was what was dampening this film. Would I have enjoyed this movie more on the big screen? Or would I have disliked it more because of all the additional effort of my usual planning? That is the puzzle for the movie business to solve. Once we get on the other side of the pandemic, the movie studios and the movie theaters are going to have to come together and figure out how to answer that question in a way that makes us all miss the way things used to be.