What’s the best way to watch a movie?
As the theatrical release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens approaches, this question is weighing heavily on my mind. I rarely go to theaters anymore, and SW:TFA is going to be an event. So how should I watch it?
In my world, there are two mutually exclusive ways to watch a movie: as passive audience, and as director. Passive-audience style is the most popular mode of viewing for the casual moviegoer—it involves ignoring editing decisions, framing, camera movement and story flow in favor of just sitting back and letting yourself get sucked into the story. Passive-audience viewing requires little to no effort, and tends to result in a more entertaining viewing session—but you can miss so much this way!
If you want to better appreciate the decisions that went into creating a film, you’ve got to watch it like a director. Notice all the decisions you can—camera placement, transitions, editing choices, what’s been left out. This mode of viewing gives you a completely different experience, and I’ve noticed that when I watch films this way, I’m better able to remember them afterwards. However, there’s a catch—analyzing the film like a director separates you from the immediacy of the story and hampers your imagination. That means you trade enjoyment for understanding.
I’ll only have one first-time viewing of SW:TFA this December. A passive-audience approach will give me more immediate enjoyment, but may be forgettable in the long term. A director’s eye view will decrease immersion in the story, but lead to a deeper experience overall. So how should I watch it?
When all’s said and done, I’ve watched many movies that I’ve intended to analyze like a director, only to give up early on because I wanted to enjoy the story. If Abrams’ Star Wars is good—and that’s an assumption I’m willing to make—I’ll probably end up getting sucked into the story and forgetting the decision-makers that crafted every word and image on the screen.