Is it just me, or is streaming no big-screen substitute?

The Power of the Dog
(Image credit: Netflix)

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a Luddite wishing for ‘the good ol’ days’, when we only had four TV channels and movies took months to arrive on fuzzy VHS tapes. Change is good, progress is inevitable. 

And there are lots of reasons to praise streamers like Netflix, Prime Video and Apple TV+. Touch-of-a-button convenience for one. No more seeking through piles of DVDs for that copy of Top Gun you know you’ve got somewhere. Then there’s that vast array of choice. And let’s face it, when cinemas closed during the pandemic, streaming kept us sane.

You also can’t fault the tastes of these filmmaker-friendly companies. Without Netflix, Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman would not have been made. Same goes for Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog. At a time when studios are betting all their chips on event movies, auteurs are finding backing with these digital disrupters.

Yet if there’s one thing lockdown reinforced, it’s just how unique the cinema experience is. True, some movie houses leave a lot to be desired, patrons can be annoying, and it can be expensive, what with travel, babysitting, etc.

Sharing a movie in the dark with strangers is irreplaceable, though. It takes effort to leave your couch, but when you do, it’s so much more rewarding. I don’t care how good your swanky HD cinema set-up is, the inevitable distractions (doorbells, phones, pets) mean you’re never as immersed in a movie at home as you are in a cinema. 

Artistically, it’s also wrong. As Denis Villeneuve told Total Film, watching Dune on your TV is like driving a “speedboat in your bathtub”. There’s also no fanfare or anticipation surrounding an on-demand watch, right down to the end credits getting abruptly cut off.

I know streamers have introduced some viewers to films they might otherwise not see, which is a good thing. But we need to re-embrace the medium of cinema quick-sharp, and not just for Bond and Batman. Movie houses are like dining in a Michelin-star restaurant. But streaming? It’s the entertainment equivalent of a fast-food drive-through. Or is it just me?

Freelance writer

James Mottram is a freelance film journalist, author of books that dive deep into films like Die Hard and Tenet, and a regular guest on the Total Film podcast. You'll find his writings on GamesRadar+ and Total Film, and in newspapers and magazines from across the world like The Times, The Independent, The i, Metro, The National, Marie Claire, and MindFood.