I am a part-time movie critic for the website MovieJawn. To see a movie in advance, and to write a review in anticipation of its release, the studio will send me a password-protected screener link and I can stream it through my laptop on a web browser, like Chrome or Firefox. It’s pretty standard stuff. To give a movie a fair shake, I feel like I need to experience it how a movie should be experienced. I’m not some staunch purist who believes all movies need to be seen on the big screen, but I do believe that’s the best way to do it, and simply seeing a movie on my laptop isn’t fair to the filmmakers who spent countless hours and millions of dollars on their production.
Of course, no one expects me to watch movies this way. That’s just where it starts. Any laptop made within the last, I don’t know, 10-15 years, comes equipped with an HDMI output and you can plug it into a TV and watch it there. I’m lucky in that I have a nice, quiet office, with the perfect ambience to watch these movies. I’ve got a decent soundbar for the best sound possible on my budget. I’ve got movie posters all over the walls. I even have a lava lamp, just because it looks cool.
For the past however many years, this was the way I did it. And it’s not bad. I have zero complaints about my set-up. In the age of COVID, however, you get sick of these walls. You get burnt out. You miss the theater! I still do go to the movie theaters, being triple-vaxed, masked-up, and I feel relatively safe.
A lot of the movies that I review, it’s just not feasible for me to watch them in a theater. They’re generally looking for an audience, in anticipation of getting a more widespread distribution. Maybe they’ll wind up in the theater one day, but for now, they’re trying their hand at VOD and digital rental. I still think that low-budget and no-budget movies benefit from an immersive experience and, generally speaking, I think a big cinema screen is the way to do it. Maybe not for everyone who just wants to rent a movie to watch on a Friday night with the family, but if I’m going to pass judgment as to whether or not something is worth the time to watch in the first place, I think it’s only fair to the filmmakers, and to the folks who might be reading my reviews, to really pay attention.
Over Christmas, my wife got me an Oculus Quest 2, and I wasn’t completely sure about it. For gaming, it’s not completely for me. I’ve had some fun playing Resident Evil 4, but even after reading pages and pages of tips on how to avoid motion sickness, I still get a little woozy. For me, the Quest 2 is at its best as a means of watching movies, and I can’t recommend it highly enough for what I do.
Apps like Bigscreen and Skybox are great at what they do, for hosting local files and such, but I need to stream from my laptop, since studios don’t give me a file to download — I’m given a link to stream the movie. That’s where Virtual Desktop comes in. The studio will send me a link, I’ll get everything loaded, then I would pop on my Oculus Quest headset, open up Virtual Desktop, then I change the environment I’m in to the one that looks like a darkened theater. And then I hit play.
Watching the movie on Virtual Desktop through the Quest looks like I’m watching it in a theater. I have to look up at a giant silver screen, flickering with movement. There are seats ahead of me. There are seats behind me. When multiple characters are talking, I’m looking from side to side. I’m following the movement. For all intents and purposes, I’m in the action. I’m a viewer, in an audience, in a movie theater, watching it.
Not that I was ever bored watching movies to review before, because that’s what I do and what I love, but the Oculus Quest 2 and Virtual Desktop have helped reinvigorate why it is that I love it. Specifically watching these movies I’m given access to, in advance and in anticipation of its release. It is something I’m constantly honored to have the privilege to do, and I am amazed people allow me to do. I feel humbled. Watching their movies on a big screen, with surround sound, helps me feel like I’m giving their production the best possible platform to watch for my reviews.
I’ve never been a stickler for “movies need to be watched in this way, and this way only, as the director intended.” I’ve gone out of my way to see painstaking restorations of physical film on 70mm. And I’ve gone to thrift stores to fix up a VCR so I could watch Who Framed Roger Rabbit on tape, in bed, as I fall asleep.
Part of the magic of the movies is how many ways we can watch, love and enjoy something. I love watching movies in the theater, surrounded by an audience who’s as mesmerized as I am; I love watching a movie on a cold night, with my wife and cat on our TV above the fireplace; and for reviewing movies for upcoming releases, my preferred method is through the Oculus Quest 2, using Virtual Desktop to stream.
Guest Written by Billy Russell – Thank you