Tag Archives: movie theaters

What We Wrought

His Masters Voice
In the last quarter of the 19th century — USA-centrically, call it 139 years ago — we began to experience having the sound of strangers’ voices in our lives, even in our homes. Not just voices, but music from concert halls and clubs. And other sounds, too: the clip-clop of horse feet, the slam of a door, a gun-shot. Less than 100 years go, those sounds went electric, and we never looked back.

At the beginning of the 20th century, we started another love affair — this one with moving images on rectangular screens, a dance of light and shadow, windows to imaginary worlds. Or windows to recorded memories or news of distant places. When sound went electric, those moving images took voice and spoke and sang. No one alive in our society today remembers a time when moving images weren’t woven into our lives.

Here, now, into the 21st century, in an age of streaming video and music, from cloud to your pocket device (with its high-resolution display and built-in video camera), I can’t help but be impressed by how far we’ve come.

The iPad

A long way, indeed.


Let’s go to the movies!

Yesterday I threw down the gauntlet regarding Christopher Nolan’s new Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises. In fact, that article was a first entry into a discussion about how we’ve constantly upped the ante regarding violence in movies and television and modern life in general.  That larger discussion will evolve over time as I find things to say about it.  In this article I want to talk specifically about the Batman movie… or rather about the “going to the Batman movie” theater experience.

When it comes to going to the movie theater to see a movie, each time I do that lately I seem to find one less reason to do that ever again. Let me count the ways:

The ticket prices continue to rise.  For an adult, my local (AMC) theater charges $10.00 (USD: United States Dollars).  If you go to a 3D movie, add another $3.50 to rent those damned glasses. (3D movies… a rant for another time.)  To bring your children costs you $7.50 each.  If you go very early, a ticket might cost only $5.00 (adult and child), and during the other off-peak times adults might pay $7.50 (children $5.00).

That means a canonical family of four normally pays $35.00 just to get in the door. If they’re seeing a 3D movie, it’s $49.00, which includes $14.00 for the glasses rental. (On the other hand, I just found a rare reason to enjoy being single and childless!)  If you’re willing to go way off-peak times, you can get that down to a mere $20.00 ($34.00 for a 3D movie, in which case you’re paying almost as much to rent the damned glasses).

So already you have to be questioning whether there isn’t something else you could be doing. Say, perhaps, watching slightly older movies on your wide-screen TV in the comfort of your home. But in this me first and gotta have it right now world, people will pay for the privilege of the movie experience. And there are some movies that you do want to see on the biggest, loudest screen possible (which is why we went to see Batman; that was one of those movies).

These prices just get you in the door. I’ve always thought that an important part of the movie experience was the popcorn (and the Milk Duds and a soda).

For decades I’ve had a thing going where one night a week my buddies come over to my place, and we all drink (my) beer and chat about movies, books, physics, philosophy, science fiction and so forth.  Then some of us (who don’t have to get up too early or who don’t care much about sleep) go to see the night’s last showing of some movie.  The advantage is a reduced price ($7.50) and a severely reduced audience.  Many times we’ve seen what amounts to a private showing. There’s something kinda neat about sitting in an empty movie theater or sharing it with just a handful of others—infinitely fewer chances for annoying distractions, for one thing!

For a long time, for years, it’s been possible to break a $20.00 at the door and then exactly use the remainder purchasing the already mentioned (medium) popcorn, Milk Duds (the smaller 3 oz movie theater box) and (small) soda.  In fact, I thought it was kind of cool how they calculated it to use your entire $20.00. The popcorn, candy soda combo must be a common one.

So imagine my shock when I walk up to the counter, change in hand, order my usual … and am asked for $15.50. I don’t know about the Duds, but the markup on the popcorn and soda is truly astronomical.

We all know the cup costs much more than the soda, and my guess is the popcorn costs less than the increasingly smaller paper bag in which it comes. (In fact, a quick check on the ol’ interweb turns up a 130 oz, 500-count home theater package of popcorn bags for $80, which amounts to 16 cents per bag.) That the (small!) soda comes in a cup the size of trashcan doesn’t compensate for much of anything.

I have no idea what our canonical family spends on concessions, but I can see the bill for such a family, seeing a 3D movie, reaching $80.00 or more. For something you can nearly accomplish in your living room. And to my mind, the cons of home viewing are overwhelmed by the pros: better, far less expensive food; clean restrooms (assuming you clean yours); the ability to pause for interruptions; no distractions from obnoxious strangers… you have to ask what’s so special about going to the movies anymore.

I happen to be a fan of Disney World.  Been there many times, would go again in a heartbeat. I mention this to contrast another extremely costly enjoyment with everything I’ve just written. With Disney you pay and pay, but you get phenomenal value for your buck. To my mind, it’s one of the better ways you can spend vacation dollars (if you have kids or are a big kid). The quality of everything is top-notch, and the service is finest kind.  Really, no one does it better. The point is, I don’t mind spending money on value returned.  But, increasingly, movie theaters don’t return much value for their cost.

The other night at the movie theater, the ticket gal was upbeat and pleasant, but the concession guy was a bit of a dud. He did cram my popcorn bag pretty full, I’ll give him that.  Given the again reduced size of the thing, I’m grateful. There seems quite a variation on the attitudes of the youngsters that run movie theaters now. Some of them are charming and upbeat and have a good sense of how to interact with the public in a positive way. And then some don’t.

So, now $23.00 poorer, popcorn, Duds and soda precariously in hand, there’s one more stop. Gotta have the yellow grease to lube the popcorn! One of the two yellow grease dispensers was non-functional, so I had to walk across the lobby to the other one (which fortunately was working). Points off, AMC, for a 50% failure rate there.

And then during the movie, the projector lamp went out giving us several minutes of black screen (the audio continued). Of course, the way the projectors work these days, there’s no option to rewind so we can see what we missed. We were just lucky it was a talking scene and not an action scene.

All in all, final score on the movie theater experience: D.

I say this to the movies theaters: You’re doomed, dudes.  Doomed. Keep this up, and audiences will continue to dwindle. As home systems get better, and as release cycles get shorter, the incentive to go to the movies gets smaller and smaller.

For me, the bar on what movies are “must see in theater” movies gets higher and higher. Comedies are definitely off the list.  They play just fine on my wide-screen TV, and I’m plenty enough patient to wait for them on cable. It’s really only the mega-spectacles I would even consider seeing on the big screen anymore, and since most of those tend to be empty-headed shit, it’s going to take something really special to bring me into a theater.

I thought The Dark Knight Rises was one of those above the bar movies, but as it turns out I was wrong.  But that’s a tale for another post.

See you at the movies!  Or not.