Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Departed

A recent article in the New York Times details Hollywood's concern or, rather, their panic over the $500 million decline in box office sales in 2011 versus the year previous. Piracy is listed as a possible culprit, so is "the erosion of star power," gaming, the quality of the product being produced, the higher ticket prices, etc.
Interestingly enough, none of the articles that I have read mention the reason that I have (mostly) stopped going to the movies. Maybe I'm the only one with this reason, but, somehow, I don't think so. Sure, all of the above-mentioned reasons are probably the major factors, but I don't think that Hollywood or the cineplexes should necessarily disregard my experience.
So, Hollywood, let me tell you a story:

I used to love going to the movies. I didn't care that much when tickets jumped from $6 to
$7 to $9. Movies were my guilty pleasure. I'd get a tub of popcorn and a big soda, grab a seat in the middle of the last row (my favorite place to sit) and just get lost for 90 minutes to two hours. I always got there early to watch all of the previews. I was only mildly annoyed when car commercials started getting mixed in with my previews. Oh well. I guess the profit  margin on my $4 Coke and $5 bag of popcorn weren't quite keeping the theaters afloat. Fine, show me the truck I can't live without, and then let's just move on, shall we?
Are movies as good as they used to be? Some are. Some aren't. Some are better. Yes, Hollywood, you love your remakes, but you always have. (There are three versions of A Star is Born, all made prior to 1980, so let's not stamp our feet too loudly about modern Hollywood's apparently "sudden" lack of creativity.) Every year there are some really great movies made, and even more moderate to mediocre movies that are still quite a bit of fun.
And, for me, sitting in a dark theatre, being transported to another world, being told a moving story: that was the best kind of fun.
Until . . .
Phones started ringing in movie theaters. Then people started answering those phones. Then people started texting, and that little blue light (or several of them) immediately sucked me back away from the fantasy world and into a room occupied by an invader who apparently wasn't there to be transported with the rest of us. This person wants to take the cinematic experience and turn it into background noise for his or her very important l33t-speak discussion on who called whom a "dirty skank" behind their back. Since they paid their $9, I suppose that they think that they are entitled to spend their movie experience in whatever way they choose, but the problem is that they're ruining the experiences of the others who are there for only the movie. People like me.

Over the course of a year or so, I would complain to theater managers who would apologize and give me free passes, but apparently take no further steps to remedy the problem, because I would use the free passes and still not be able to enjoy the movie for all of the text-happy usurpers. Sure, I saw the signs and the the messages before and after the previews asking patrons to please turn off their cell phones, but, then, so did the offenders. And they just didn't care. I even tried confronting a few of these individuals myself, using a number of tactics:

Politeness: "I'm sorry, but the light from your cell phone is really distracting, would you mind not using it during the movie?"

Reason: "Um, hi. We all paid $9 to see this movie, too, and I'm sure you'd rather just turn off your phone than have to reimburse all of us."

Incredulity: "If you have a pressing conversation that cannot wait two hours, why on earth are you in a movie theater?"

Occasionally, these pleas were met with compliance. Just as often they were met with belligerence and  physical threats. Usually, however, they were met with indifference. Invariably, it was almost impossible to get back into the world of the movie, though, and the experience was spoiled. I eventually stopped confronting, stopped complaining, and just stopped going to the movies. I will still go see a film in the theater on occasion, but it is usually an art-house film that shows in a theater where the ushers take their jobs seriously and the other patrons are even more aggressive than I about confronting these backlit invaders.
Rarely in these theaters do they show "blockbusters." I end up waiting until those films become available on DVD, and I watch them at home. I'm a couple of months behind on the new movies, sure, and the home theatre experience isn't as good as the old days of watching a movie in a darkened theater that stayed dark, but I fear those days are gone. I know that there are a few privately-owned movie theaters that have taken more proactive, cinephile-friendly approaches to eliminating this text invasion, but none of them have been in any of my neighborhoods.
So, a few inconsiderate people have taken me away from the movie experience I loved, and yes, Hollywood and the multiplexes: they have taken me (and the hundreds of dollars I personally spent every year on going to the movies) away from you.
I'll confess that I don't really care for 3-D. That third dimension has a nasty habit of reminding me that I'm watching a movie, and that defeats the whole purpose. Still, if you guys were to figure out the right way to do it (this Cracked article could very well have been written by someone who overheard one of my 3-D tirades at a party), I'd shell out a few more bucks and give it a try. I don't mind the remakes as long as you find a fresh take on the story. (I've got to say, I really liked the new Arthur.)
Again, though, neither of those were the reason I stopped going to the movies.
I still enjoy the Hollywood product, but I end up having to wait for it, rent it, and watch it at home (which sucks a little for me), and I end up paying about 90% less for it (which sucks a lot for you).
The sad part is that there probably isn't a lot that you can do to get me back. If the "Martin Scorsese interrupting someone's phone call" ads aren't getting through to these knuckleheads, I don't know what will.
I just thought you deserved to know why I called it quits. It's not you, it's - well, it's not me, either, really.  It's . . . them.

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