The key rules of watching a movie at home properly

Many of us are familiar with the unwritten bylaws of watching a film courteously in a cinema. But what about watching a film in the home...?

Regular listeners to Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s Radio 5 Live movie review show – you can do your own Jason Isaacs gag if you want – will more than likely be aware of the code of conduct. This is a set of rules by which cinema patrons should abide, so to allow everyone in the auditorium the best possible chance of enjoying the film in question.

It’s common sense stuff, but it’s a sign of the times that it needs to be written down. No noisy sweets, no mobile phones, no smelly feet, no talking while the film is on… that sort of thing.

However, why shouldn’t watching a film at home be subject to such criteria, too? After all, the makers of a film haven’t made a movie, more often than not, that can adequately compete with the distractions of the home environment. They don’t dampen down plot points, to cope with a screaming child/the cat being sick/someone spilling red wine on the carpet.

With the obvious caveat that a home is a home, and thus there are certain things you have little to no control over, might we nonetheless present a supplementary list of requirements for getting the most out of watching a film when at home…

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1. It is perfectly acceptable to have the volume at a reasonable level

The bugbear of the modern geek who is trying to watch a film at home. Even the most straightforward contemporary television set will come with a set of speakers built in that can reach a neighbour-aggravating level of volume. We’re not about to suggest that you instantly switch the telly up to provoke complaints, but don’t too many people over-compensate for this? Furthermore, isn’t there usually someone living in a house who comes out with the infernal line, “can you turn it down a bit”?

The trick to resolve this is some kind of pre-agreement. This film is going on, it needs to play at a certain volume. It doesn’t always work, but reducing an action movie to a sound equivalent to a few mice pottering around a matchbox does few people any favours. It’s even worse if you’ve invested in surround sound speakers, with the consent of people in the house, and still get told to turn the volume down (to the point where you flick the subtitles on, just to work out what’s being said).

It’s enough to send you out to the local cinema.

2. Wherever possible, films should be watched on a television, not on an iPad/iPod/laptop

It’s not the same. It really isn’t. Again, practicalities kick in, here, and few homes are armed with a 50” screen in every room. Furthermore, scandalously, it’s the like of soap operas that seem to have priority on the main household television. Film watching, sadly, gets relegated.

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Sometimes – and we’re guilty of this ourselves – through necessity, we watch films on a computer, or portable device. And while you can’t ever imagine Kubrick framed 2001 with a screen barely as big as a finger in mind, it’s a reality that sometimes has to be faced.

The reason for the rule, though, is this.

The beauty of the television is that it can only do one thing, at least in practice. Its job is to present material for you to watch and hear, and if a film is going through a slow period, then you don’t have the option of just going online in another window, or something of that ilk. In a cinema, you give a film due respect, by sitting through it, even during its weak periods. Occasionally, this pays off. But even when it doesn’t, at least when the end credits roll, you can say you’ve given the film the best possible chance.

In the home, you can only be sure of doing this with a television set. Until they start installing Twitter in the bloody things.

3. It is not acceptable to Tweet along with a film you’ve not seen before

It’s a tough discipline sometimes to sit through a film at home, and starve yourself of distractions that you take for granted. However, one phenomenon that’s hard to wrap our heads around is the idea of Tweeting along instant thoughts on a film while you’re watching it. If you’ve watched the film before, then fair enough. But if you’re watching a movie for the first time, how can you give it your full attention, if you’re micro-blogging every minute of it?

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To give a film the best possible chance of working, it needs your attention. And that means that you have to make do without Twitter, and telling everyone what you’re thinking of the film until the end credits have rolled.

The world will find a way to cope.

4. Take the phone off the hook, and switch your mobile off

Most of us, in a cinema, have the courtesy to at least switch our mobile phones to silent, or turn them off altogether. We can generally go for two hours of our lives without checking is someone has Tweeted/texted/rung/e-mailed us. The same should be true at home. There’s an added twist, though, in that a home tends to have a landline in it. If you can, it’s worth taking it off the hook. If you can’t, then at the least switch the answerphone on or something. We can’t guarantee that it will end the distraction, but it might just minimise it.

5. If you can, turn the lights down

It actually makes a difference. There’s a reason they do it in cinemas, and it’s not just to allow fornication in the back row.

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6. Get your food and drink beforehand

The rules of watching a film at home differ from the cinema here. If you want to make loud noises eating food, while sat on your sofa in your undergarments, that’s both your right and prerogative. As long as it doesn’t impinge on anyone else’s viewing enjoyment, that’s fair game.

However, just because you’ve munched your way through a mountain of Butterkist in ten minutes flat, that does not mean that a film viewing should be punctuated by regular trips to the refrigerator, to stock up on further munchies. If you’ve not watched the film in question, how can you be certain that the key line of dialogue that explains the movie won’t be spoken while you’re out of the room? That, when you’re complaining that the film doesn’t make sense come the end credits, it’s actually your fault, because you left the room at the key moment.

And with that in mind…

7. Treat the pause button as a last resort

When you’re watching a film, you’re being told a story. You do not carry on reading a book, necessarily, when someone starts having a conversation with you, or when the dog starts dry-humping your leg. If the kids are crying, or if there’s a legitimate distraction, you stop reading the book.

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You should also stop watching the film. We’re strong believers that the pause button offers too much temptation. That you can disrupt the momentum of a film with the press of a button, simply because something else is going on.

You should treat the pause button as an emergency device. A two hour film was made with the idea that it is watched in a two hour sitting, not punctuated by four or five stops in between. The rule here is simple: only pause if you really have to. But with that in mind…

8. Remember that pausing a film is better than missing a bit of it

The practicalities of watching a film at home kick in again. Sometimes, there will be an unavoidable distraction. There will be something you can’t control, or something you have to do. If that happens, using the pause button is better than missing the film, or having it playing in the background.

Keep pause breaks as minimal as possible, but always use one if the other option is to miss some of what’s happening. Also: it’s okay to rewind a couple of minutes if you’ve had to pause for a while, just to re-contextualise yourself. In fact, we’d go further: it’s a good move.

9. These rules go out of the window if you’ve all seen the film before

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Because if everyone in the room is familiar with the movie, then everything flips. Part of the fun, then, is knowing what’s going to happen, and the inevitable group commentary track/drinking game that ensues. Bluntly, at that stage, all bets are off…

Have we missed anything off? Submit your own rules in the comments…

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