Saturday, May 9, 2015

Watching Movies In The 21st Century

As of this writing I have not seen the new AVENGERS movie yet. It's been a long time since I've seen a blockbuster film on its opening weekend. It used to be a common thing for me to go see big-time movies as soon as I could, but there just doesn't seem to be a major reason to anymore.

A lot of it has to do with movie audiences instead of the movies themselves. A packed theater should mean a more exciting movie-going experience--there's nothing like a large group people reacting positively to a great film--but now it means dealing with more and more annoyances. People just act differently in movie theaters now.

We live in a sound-bite society where the average person can't go more than 10 seconds without checking whatever personal device they are carrying. The idea of sitting in a darkened theater and spending almost two hours paying attention to what is happening on the screen seems beyond the capabilities of many.

This means that if you go to the movies and the theater is full, you are going to have to put up with plenty of distractions. And before you call me an old fogey, I'm not just referring to young whippersnappers. Bad behavior in a movie theater knows no age limit. I've found that older moviegoers are even more inclined to drive you nuts than younger ones. My theory on that is older citizens don't actual go out to the movies very much, so they don't know how to act when they are there. When I went to see UNBROKEN there was an elderly man sitting near the front who decided to start up his own audio commentary...he started making loud comments like "THAT'S A STAFF SERGEANT" and "THAT'S A B-25". Luckily the sound of the movie started drowning him out. Whenever I do encounter someone talking loudly in a theater, it is almost always an older person.

When I do go to a movie, I try to go to a weekday matinee. One of the reasons for this is that I am cheap. Another is that there won't be many people there. In the theater I try to sit high up (I can't stand sitting down in front and tilting my head back to look up at the screen), and I try to avoid sitting close to any large groups of people.

Do I appear to be an anti-social grouch? Well, when I go to watch a movie--I actually want to watch the movie.  This is another idea that many seem to have a hard time dealing with. I'm amazed when I overhear people having a nice chat with their friends while a movie happens to be in progress. There's nothing wrong with making quiet comments about the film with the person you are with--but having a personal discussion while a film is going on? I just don't get that at all.

I honestly think those who act like a darkened movie theater is their own living room don't mean to be rude. It's the way society is now--with all the multi-tasking going on, focusing on just one thing seems quaint. I go to a lot of sporting events, and the attention level there is even worse. If you are going to pay money to see a movie--or pay even more money to attend a sporting event--wouldn't you, like, want to sit and watch what you came to see? Am I the weird one for asking this question?

Set aside for a moment the human equation of going to a movie theater. I haven't even discussed the ridiculous price of movie snacks. (Do I sneak in food to the movie theater? You're darn right I do) And what about the now common practice of showing at least 30 minutes of trailers before the movie even starts? (And the ten minutes of commercials?) If I wanted to watch trailers, I can always stay home and go on YouTube.

But what gets me about the trailer thing is...I've found that audiences respond more to the trailers than they do the actual movie. I'll give you an example. Last year when I went and saw GODZILLA, one of the trailers shown was for LET'S BE COPS or WE ARE COPS or whatever the title was for some movie about guys posing as cops. The audience went absolutely nuts over it--you'd think they were watching the Three Stooges or something. When it came to the main feature, that same audience just couldn't give anywhere near the same sort of enthusiasm. My theory on this is (yes, I have another theory), modern Americans have a very short attention span, so they enjoy trailers more than a two-hour film. I think most Americans would rather just watch trailers. If someone opened up a theater and showed nothing but trailers, they would make a lot of money.

I've gone to a lot of revival showings of older films. The audiences for those screenings act differently, right? Well, not really. You may be familiar with Cinemark's Classic Series. A couple years ago, they had a special double feature of the 1931 FRANKENSTEIN and THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. During the screening many of those in the audience laughed several times--and trust me, they weren't laughing at the sardonic wit of James Whale. I think a lot of them were laughing because they felt that this was an "old movie", and it was okay to laugh at it. But once again, I have to ask--why go to the screening in the first place if you are going to laugh at it?

The sad thing is I don't think movie theater audience behavior is going to improve. So what can be done? Well, we now have 3-D showings, and IMAX showings, and Mommies with babies about showings for people that actually want to watch the movie? I'm serious about this. The theater sets aside a showing for people that want to talk, or screw around with their cell phones, or who want to eat as loudly as possible--and then the theater sets aside a showing for people who really want to watch the movie. But you know what would be the result of that happening?

The people who actually wanted to watch the movie would be charged twice as much.

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