When the global pandemic forced movie theater closures and distributors had to scramble to figure out what to do with their upcoming projects, it was pretty messy there for a while. However, when the dust cleared, the focus shifted to two particular films. While most movies saw their release dates pushed back several months, or even a full year, two movies wanted to be the first ones out of the gate when theaters were open again: Warner Bros. Tenet and Disney's live-action remake of Mulan. They were given dates just a couple months after they were originally set to debut, and as it became clear theaters were going to be closed longer than first anticipated, those dates just kept getting pushed back.
Now, here we are in September. Movie theaters are still closed in plenty of areas in the United States, but they are open elsewhere, and so the two films have taken slightly different approaches. Tenet is opening in theaters as planned and is simply unavailable in the places where theaters are still closed. Mulan has opened in theaters internationally where available, but domestically, the movie made itself available with a premium price tag on the Disney+ streaming service. While it is nice to have a highly anticipated movie like Mulan available to watch at all, I can't help but feel like the movie was done few favors by coming out on Disney+.
I'm not arguing here that Disney should have released Mulan in theaters right now. If Mulan had gone the Tenet route, then I likely would not have seen it yet, if for no other reason than theaters are not open where I live. Disney is making the right call by not putting Mulan in theaters at this moment. It's understandable from a business perspective why the decisions were made to release the movie now and in this way, but those decisions have consequences when it comes to the movie itself.
The Big Screen Has Value
To be clear up front, I liked Mulan overall. It was a good movie that had a lot going for it. It might be the best of the Disney live-action remakes that we've seen. Having said that, I didn't love the movie as much as either of the people who filed reviews here at CinemaBlend. I found some things lacking, but I don' think I would have felt the same way about some of them had I seen the movie in a theater.
While the reviews for Mulan are generally positive, they're far from perfect. There are a handful of issues that some critics had/ Some are minor quibbles, others are more significant flaws. However, if there's one place that all critics seem to be in agreement, it's that Mulan is a visually beautiful movie. Mandy Walker's cinematography is absolutely gorgeous. This is not something I disagree with. The pictures on the screen in the new Mulan are clearly works of art done by somebody with skill, and just imagine what they would have looked like on the big screen.
As I watched Mulan, I saw visuals that were pretty, but not stunning. There was a feeling of "epicness" that the movie was clearly trying to portray, but I mostly found the movie coming up short in that regard. Much of it is filmed to showcase the brilliant landscapes surrounding the action, as well as the action itself. On a big screen, that action would still be enough to fill your field of vision. On a much smaller screen, it just makes the characters feel tiny. When the shot is wide enough that every extra in a battle scene is visible, on the big screen, that would be almost all your eyes could take in. On TV, it just makes the villain look less imposing.
And I know just how beautiful Mulan was supposed to look. I visited the set in New Zealand, and so I walked through the training camp and watched Yifei Liu battle the Rouran army. These were real sets and locations, not CGI creations. The training camp felt huge when I stood inside it. It felt much less so on my television. This may have come through better if they were displayed on a massive screen.
You Can't Control The Home Viewing Experience
My TV is no cheap set. I've got a 65" 4K screen on which to enjoy my movies and television. Things look about as good on my TV as they are capable of looking, at least after you turn the motion smoothing off. But there's still only so much you can really experience on a television screen. The image is simply smaller, and as such, there are going to be details you're going to miss. And for those people who don't have UHD TVs or don't have the room for massive screens, the beauty of these images will be reduced by that much more.
The fact is that most of us simply don't watch movies at home the same way we watch them in the theater. It isn't just the big screen that makes the theatrical experience special; it's the massive speakers and the dim lights. Our attention is focused on a movie in a theater in a way that it simply isn't at home.
In addition to my 4K screen, I have a pretty nice audio system. My 5.1 system is a few years old, but I used to work in the audio industry. That employee discount means you can put several thousand dollars worth of speakers in your house for a lot less money, and so I did. Having said that, the only time I have to sit and watch a two-hour movie these days is at night after the three-year-old has gone to bed, and that means I certainly wasn't pumping my speakers up to their maximum capability.
More than likely, I would have felt more immersed in Mulan if I could have tuned the experience better, but the fact is this is exactly how a lot of people will watch Mulan since they're watching it at home. It's not optimum, but it is to be expected and for a lot of people there will simply be no other option. We can tune out life if we're inside the theater, but frequently it simply isn't an option for watching at home.
Mulan Deserves A Theatrical Experience
A theatrical viewing wouldn't make Mulan perfect. The movie does have some issues that a big screen and surround sound won't fix, but it would let the best parts of the film shine in a way that they simply can't on Disney+. I liked Mulan enough that if given the chance, I would watch it again in a theatrical environment. I would love to see if I have a different reaction to the same material.
Before theaters closed, my job had me inside a movie theater at least once a week for the last several years. I absolutely loved it. Going to the movies became my escape from the cares of the world. Little did I know how those cares would pile on as theaters closed. Having said that, I would never have thought I would find myself so strongly defending the theatrical experience, but watching Mulan was really the first time I've watched a new movie since March where I found myself truly wishing I was watching it somewhere else.
If you have the option, I fully recommend you give yourself the best "theater experience" you are capable of having at home. Dim the lights, turn up the speakers andsilence your cell phone just like you would if you sitting in a theater. Mulan is a movie that absolutely deserves such consideration and I think you'll enjoy the movie a great deal more than you otherwise would.