The Death of Theaters
has undergone more mutations than an anime villain.
out as a little ditty called Why I Need To Own A Movie Theater,
and eventually it became Why I Need My Own Cable Channel. Both
began with the same anecdote, so we might as well get it out of the
The job I
was working at the time was having trouble with its power grid - too
many electricity-sucking editing devices online at one time - and
it was decided to start a night shift. As the guy who was not working
with a Big Ass Money Client, I was the one who got bumped to the 7PM
shift. Being suddenly cut loose on a Monday, with my wife and child
already on their way to Oklahoma to visit her parents, there seemed
only one logical course of action: it was time to finally go see The
thought, it's been a couple of weeks since it opened, and the theater
would not be crowded, especially at noon on a Monday. I discovered
that, as usual, Moviefone had lied to me and I arrived a half-hour
early, so I partook of about twenty minutes of Episode I's
major competition, the new version of The Mummy. I would have
been happier had I stayed in that theater, but I had to form my own
opinion about the much-lambasted Lucas film... or at least have my
own rocks to fling during conversations with fellow movie fans. So
I took my leave of Brendan Fraser (who was being a damn good action
hero), purchased my popcorn and Diet Coke, and settled in for Jar
Jar and company.
This is not
the place to talk about the movie (I would have preferred more Jedi
ass-kicking and less Ben Hur and virgin births); but I had
been correct about the crowds. I took my customary seat about a third
of the way back from the screen, in the middle of the row, and had
no real company around me. Except, of course, for the contingent of
young prats who hung around in the very front row for the first thirty
minutes, running up the stairs to the back of the house and then back
down again, seemingly at random. At some point they migrated en
masse to another theater, because there were no more young bodies
running up and down the stairs every few seconds, their overpriced
athletic shoes sounding a dull thump thump thump as they hurtled
through the dark to whine for their guardians to buy them some Chocolate
Covered Bug Nuts or whatever it is the young'uns feel is movie food
was one fellow like me, who was there alone. Middle-aged, like me,
he sat in the middle of the row, perhaps halfway up the house - possibly
dead center, for all I knew. And like me, he sat through the entire
movie - including the end credits. And after the film was well
and truly over, we both rose and carried our empty drink and popcorn
containers to the nearest trash can and disposed of them, rather than
leaving them in the seats or littering the floor. Unlike me, however,
his bladder was apparently not at the bursting point, because he did
not join me in my brisk walk to the restroom. But there was a moment
that we recognized in each other a kindred spirit, a vanishing breed.
Someone who actually respected not only the movie, but the theater.
I had already
been trying, as one of those self-aggrandizing little mental exercises,
to figure out what sort of practices I would put in place to bring
the movie-going experience more in line to what I wished; past the
obvious things, like changing the manner in which the business is
run worldwide, altering the lop-sided economics which eliminated the
sacred practice of the double feature and requires theaters to charge
exorbitant fees for refreshments simply to stay alive - past these
simple gestures, I found most of the changes I wanted to wreak required
controlling the environment within the theater itself; specifically,
the behavior of my fellow patrons.
a time at which ushers had some power. That - and the ushers - went
away when the design esthetic of the movie theater moved away from
roomy auditoriums to several shoeboxes crammed together in the same
space. Like overcrowded rat cages stacked atop each other, the mood
in these tiny theaters (where you could frequently hear the soundtrack
in the adjoining room) got ugly, and the experience lessened; at times,
it was less like watching Escape from New York than actually
being in it. At that point, too, television had been an integral
part of our home life for decades, and the movie experience became
an extension of TV-watching, along with the accompanying conversations
(at normal volume levels) and, more recently, phone calls.
I'm not even
going to get into the same behavior bleeding into the performing arts.
If you are ever at a show involving live performers and somebody in
front of you takes out a phone, hit them. Hard. Tell 'em the Doc sent
at the point where my fantasy movie house requires the employment
of armed guards empowered to rough up the clientele... well, it's
time for a more peaceful fantasy.
This is not
news to some of you, but bear with me, for the sake of the childless
among us: becoming a parent entails a dropping-off in frequency of
previously spontaneous things like going to movies; they suddenly
seem to involve the coordination of enough personnel and schedules
to warrant military aid. In my case, however, that drop-off had hit
quite some time before, and the drop-off has only become steeper in
more recent years, due largely to three little letters: D. V. D.
my house, I can act the Nazi when a movie is playing, and have done
so numerous times. Very easy equation: my house, my rules. Most willingly
abide by that. My television is large enough, and my sound system
adequate enough, that I wince when I see people watching 19 inch mono
TVs. I was an early adopter of the Laserdisc, and though I grumblingly
resisted this young upstart of a medium, I now embrace the DVD revolution
wholeheartedly, traitorous wretch that I am.
to the theatrical venue: the last time I actually paid to be admitted
to a movie that did not have Disney somewhere in its title
was Godzilla 2000. Yes, that long ago. It was opening bloody
day, again I was there in the afternoon, again sparsely attended -
and I was witness to the single worst print I have ever had the misfortune
to see in a first-run venue. There was a terrible amount of damage
running down the left side of the frame for the entire movie.
And did I mention this was opening day?
purchased the DVD of G2K - Chris and Scott are the real kaiju
fans around here - but unless a whole lot of somebodies, somewhere
in quality control were out at the local CrackMart, the transfer of
that movie is going to be pristine. Any movie made in the last
couple of years looks stunning on DVD, where the elements are not
subject to the wear and tear imposed on a physical piece of film.
Not to mention
that the cost of renting one of the blasted things is still
a fraction of the price of a theater ticket. And for that, both my
wife and I, my son (if he can coaxed away from his Digimon) and any
friends who might come over can enjoy it. As long as they keep quiet.
growing user base of DVD players out there, will this mean the death
of theaters? Not likely - theaters have withstood much, much worse
challenges, challenges that were free, like television. There
will always be a need for a communal experience like movies, always
a need for a place for innocent men to be subjected to Julia Roberts
tearjerkers. But for this lone movie fan, the enticement of the size
of the screen and the ear-gouging brilliance of a state-of-art multi-speaker
sound system is no longer enough. As the Bard said (out of context)
"The play's the thing;" and as long as I can enjoy the play
in the comfort of my own easy chair, shared or not with others of
my ilk... theaters are dead to me.
finally get those armed guards, drop me a line.