Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Why seeing a movie in the theater nowadays sucks
Rant by Sombrero Grande

It doesn’t cease to amaze me that in a time where blockbusters like Revenge of the Sith and Batman Begins are raking in dough, every week’s box office retrospect harps on the notion that movie ticket sales are stuck in a “slump.” While I’m sure there are big wigs all over Hollywood frantically trying to arrange focus groups to find out why people aren’t taking to this summer’s crop of flicks like goldfish to colorful floating food flakes, I doubt any of them, nor anyone who writes about weekend box office grosses, is considering one basic, simple fact: going to the theater to see a movie these days…sucks.

The changes have come so slowly and from so many different angles that I’m sure most of us have yet to really pick up on the fact that the experience of seeing a movie on “the big screen” has really diminished to a barely flickering shadow of its once romantic, escapist glory. Now, understand I’m not talking about the quality of the films themselves--there have always been good and bad--what I’m cheesed off about (and I think you should be too) are the mounting obstacles that threaten your and my enjoyment of catching a movie at a cinema complex, making the trip less and less “worth it” every day.

Take, for instance, the skyrocketing cost of tickets. Seriously, the little theater by my house costs $9.50 for regular admission. For my wife and I to see The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy one night costs us nearly twenty dollars. Compare that to a rental from Blockbuster. Now, Blockbuster’s fairly expensive as well at around $5 a rental, but we’d get to see the movie together for a quarter of what we’d pay to see it at the theater, plus we get to hang onto it for almost two weeks to enjoy at our leisure. Better yet, consider how much it would cost as a Netflix rental. Netflix’s 3-at-a-time program runs around $18 bucks a month, an amount just shy of the total cost for my wife and I to see one movie one showing one night at the theater by our house. If we watch 3 movies a week it averages to less than a dollar per movie. And that’s with any number of people watching it. Want to have five friends over to watch The Ring? Queue up the movie at the right time on Netflix and you’ll watch it for about a buck. Take those same five friends to go see The Ring Two at a theater and expect to shell out around $57.

Okay, is the monetary thing not working for you? You think Sombrero Grande is just a big, cheap tightwad? Well, yes I am, but consider what that extra cash is really paying for. The experience of seeing a movie “on the big screen,” right? But what else is included in the modern theater experience other than the screen itself? Well, unless you have no job and are able to catch an early 10 AM Tuesday screening, your movie-going experience is probably going to include other people and, chances are, at least a few of them are going to be total assholes. What is it about our society today that turns people into wildly inconsiderate, self-absorbed idiots? All I know is that there’s a growing threat of people forgetting they’re in a public space in movie theaters, forgetting that other people paid to see the movie too and if they’d really wanted to hear a film commentary they’d probably wait and buy the DVD. A movie experience is such a fragile thing. Ask any decent filmmaker and he/she’ll tell you about all the countless man-hours that went into staging, editing, sound design, etc. to try to pull the willing moviegoer into the time and place of the story being presented. All it takes is some unthinking boob commenting behind you to snap that connection like a twig underfoot. I can’t tell you the number of theatrical movies I’ve seen that have been totally and utterly ruined by half-witted knuckle-draggers who wouldn’t understand the concept of common courtesy if it crawled up their asses and burst out of their chests holding a sign explaining in clear, concise English exactly what the Hell it is. Some people must just not think. Period. For instance, there is no reason to answer your cell phone during a movie and say, loud enough for everyone to hear, “oh, hey, yeah I’m watching a movie right now, I’ll call you back in a half hour.” There is also no legitimate excuse for bringing an infant into a movie theater. Even if it’s a children’s movie, if the kid is young enough that it can’t go for an hour without breaking into fits of crying, there’s no way it’s going to be able to comprehend a movie enough to gain any satisfaction from seeing it. It boggles my mind trying to discern any reason why someone would bring an infant to the movies at all. Could they not get a babysitter? If not, maybe they need to realize that this probably isn’t the only screening of Revenge of the Sith that will ever be shown and perhaps they should reschedule their outing for another time? And speaking of kids’ movies, it really shows a dearth of good parenting nowadays that many parents don’t seem to care to inform their spawn that being in a movie theater actually is different than the enclosed playgrounds at a Chuck E. Cheese’s. The biggest downside to being a fan of feature animation is the fact that I occasionally have to double as both a moviegoer and a piece of jungle gym equipment for some brat being purposefully ignored by his/her parents.

But you really can’t stop these jerks from getting into theaters. I.Q. screeners are just too expensive to implement at every theater entrance. But there are certain things that actual theater chains are doing to worsen your movie-going experience. Take a look at the rapidly rising amount of in-theater advertisements. Marketers salivate like rapid dogs at the realization that moviegoers are literally a captive audience. In a time when TiVo lets television viewers speed past announcements from the folks that support the shows they want to see and advertisers on all different kinds of media are finding it harder and harder to catch the attention of the public’s eyes and ears, some brilliant, evil mind came to an epiphany about marketing in theaters. The people who come to see a movie are there BY CHOICE and probably aren’t going to get up and go home even when bombarded with several minutes worth of ads running before the movie they were determined enough to see to drive all the way out to the theater for. Now, I actually like watching movie trailers, and I know there are a lot of people out there who will agree with Sombrero Grande that sometimes the coming attraction trailers are the best part of the screening, but there’s a big difference between a preview for War of the Worlds and the same Sprite commercial I saw earlier in the week during an episode of The Simpsons. All the big theater chains have some kind of big “f**k you” to patrons before the movie now. The Regal Cinemas by my house has something called “The Twenty” which is basically a twenty-minute ad that itself contains commercial breaks! “When The Twenty returns after these messages...” At the AMC theater by my old apartment, Coca-Cola had a strangle-hold on the screen before the movie began with a non-stop bombardment of loosely movie-related Coke ads. There was also usually some innocuous short film made by some talentless sell-out whore touting it as “their movie” that Coca-Cola helped them make out of the kindness of their big business hearts. I remember when I first started going to movie theaters frequently in the early nineties, there was always some ad for The Los Angeles Times that ran before the trailers and I used to whisper jokingly to my friends afterwards, “that looks like a really good movie.” It was funny because, at that time, showing anything but a movie trailer in front of a movie was ludicrous. Then, slowly, there started appearing more extraneous material in front of movies; an ad for some charity the movie theater was supporting; slides of local businesses who wanted moviegoers to stop in for a burrito and a beer after the show. Then, suddenly--WHAM--an ad you probably saw during the Super Bowl showed up on the big screen unexpectedly. It probably was funny at first, like when a commercial accidentally wasn’t cut out of some TV-taped program shown in an elementary school classroom. But then more commercials started showing up, and more, until now, sadly, if I want to get a good seat for Revenge of the Sith I know I must endure not only “The Twenty” but a good five minutes or more of straight non-movie related advertisements after the lights dim.

"But, Sombrero Grande,” you say, “I really want to see Batman Begins!” As do I, but consider the fact that the amount of time between a movie’s theatrical release and its DVD release is rapidly shrinking and if you only wait a few months you’ll probably be able to enjoy it at your leisure in the comfort of your own home for much less. It used to be that you wouldn’t see a movie on the home video market for at least a year after its release; now, with the exception of kid-geared holiday releases like Elf and The Polar Express, you won’t find any movie that will take anywhere near that long to pop up on shelves at Blockbuster and Best Buy. Recently, Be Cool took only three months to go from its theatrical premiere to store shelves, and while the film performed tepidly at the box office, it was the number one best-selling DVD in the country its first week out. Considering you can BUY a movie nowadays for around the same price it costs for two adults to see it once in a theater, Be Cool's big DVD-purchase haul probably shouldn't be too surprising after all.

Add this all up and suddenly rushing out to see a movie in the theater really doesn’t sound like as good of an idea or as much fun as it used to be. I know that, for me, Batman won’t likely “begin” until he shows up in a little red Netflix envelope in my mailbox in a few months. There will probably still be a few movies I’ll be willing to endure the gauntlet of movie theater drawbacks for, but I’m going to be increasingly less likely to make a casual trip to the cinema for anything else unless this swelling tide of theatrical hassles begins to ebb. From looking at the growing number of DVD sales and “slumping” box office figures, I can safely assume I’m not alone in feeling this way.


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