I am twenty-six years of age and just over two years out of college. I’m basically an old man now. If I had a lawn, I’d be telling kids to get off it. So maybe it’s just that I’m getting old and cranky but my experiences going out to the theater have steadily gotten worse and worse to the point that I’ve seriously considered never setting foot in a theater again. It’s not that tickets and snacks are overpriced. It’s not that all movies are crap now. It’s nothing corporate. It’s very personal.
Like a church, I view the movie theater as a sacred place. You pay your $10-$12 (or tithe), sit in your favorite seat (or pew), and pay attention to the screen (or preacher) for the duration of the movie (or sermon). Typically during a church service, unless they’re complete douchebags, people will,
A) Show up before the sermon begins
B) Not converse during the sermon
C) Leave their kids elsewhere or at least keep them under control
D) Not leave trash strewn everywhere
E) Keep their cell phones on silent and in their pocket
You know, common courtesy. But for some reason, all of this gets thrown right out the window at the movie theater. I have to deal with at least one of these courtesies being broken every single time I go to the theater. It’s the people who do the following things that make me hate going to the theater.
Walking in Late
Apart from being incredibly distracting when a person is trying to find a seat in the dark (why they can’t just sit in the nearest aisle seat rather than insisting on stepping over everybody to get to the middle is beyond me), I don’t understand how you walk into a movie 10 minutes late and then expect to enjoy the rest of the film. This may just be a personal thing but I cannot watch a movie if I’ve missed out on the beginning. My dad is one of those people who flips the TV over to a movie or show that’s already well underway and continues to watch it! It bugs the hell out of me. It would be like starting a book 30 pages in. You aren’t getting the story the way the filmmaker or author intended!
Talking During the Movie
“Hey, trio of girls behind me! The theater may have a state-of-the-art sound system blaring away but I can still hear your yammering. Why of all places would you come to a theater to gossip about Ginny’s latest boyfriend and how she’s making a horrible life choice dating him? There is way better drama happening on screen! Look! The protagonist is trying to land his burning spacecraft on an inhospitable planet while being chased by a dozen bounty hunters who are shooting lasers at him! How can you talk about trite idiocies at a time like this? Shut the hell up! Thank you!”
Or that’s what I would say if I wasn’t such a nice guy.
Bringing the Kids
A matinee showing of a PG rated movie aimed at kids, fine, bring the kids. Whatever. But parents who bring their preteens to anything PG-13 and over or after 7pm are just plain inconsiderate assholes. They either don’t give a crap what their kids are watching or couldn’t find a babysitter. Whatever the case is, they thought it was just fine to make you share in their suffering and misery instead of being responsible adults and staying home with their premature, out-of-control, probably unplanned progeny. I’d never lay a hand on a child but if that kid keeps kicking the back of my chair and asking mommy for more candy, daddy’s gonna get a knuckle sandwich.
Why is it that theaters seem to be the only acceptable place to leave your trash strewn everywhere? Seems there’s always at least one giant tub of popcorn spilled everywhere and ground into the carpet or a barrel of soda cascading like a system of waterfalls down to the front row ending in a fizzy, sticky lake. And they almost always never mention it, preferring to leave it as some kind of horrible surprise for the usher to deal with in the 10 minutes he has before he’s got to let the next screening in. No matter how much crap someone walked in with, they always leave empty handed. There are trashcans just outside of every single screen for your convenience. Are people seriously so lazy that they can’t be bothered to carry their empty Skittles wrapper 25 feet to the trash?
Using the Cell Phone
To me, this is an offense punishable by death. Slow, painful death. What could possibly be so important that you can’t turn off your phone for two hours? Is a nuclear power plant going to go into meltdown? Does the President need your advice on how to deal with North Korea? Is your boyfriend going to assume you’ve died and jump into bed with your best friend if you don’t reply to his text within 30 seconds? I guarantee that life will carry on just fine without you. This problem is compounded by the fact that in a dark theater, a cell phone screen shines like a stadium floodlight in a cave and your eyes, like a moth, are uncontrollably drawn to the pinpoint of glaring white light in the darkness.
On top of all the people around you being inconsiderate assholes, theater projectionists are either lazy or overworked and don’t or can’t make sure that the projection is running correctly, at proper brightness, centered, and in focus. All they have to do now is push a button and the movie starts. Glance out the little window once to make sure the previews are playing and it’s on to the next one. There was one theater in particular I used to go to where the projection was consistently and blatantly horrible no matter how many times I pointed it out to the management. It happened with such frequency that I vowed to never set foot in that theater again and I haven’t. Except for that one time when I had a free ticket BUT ONLY THAT ONCE.
And yet, in spite of all these complaints, I still go to the theater. Why, when I hate so much, do I continue to attend?
Because the theater is still the optimal way to see a film. There are two reasons for this.
First, because of the community. “What!?” you must be saying. “You just spent eight paragraphs explaining (quite eloquently, good sir) that you hate everybody!” you add. That’s only partly true. I do hate people who are rude and inconsiderate to the people around them and I do write quite eloquently. But I don’t hate everybody and every little noise they make. No, I don’t want a silent theater full of silent robots passively watching the movie. What I love, is when a room full of people of different ages, lifestyles, creeds, and experiences, are completely in sync with each other. When the entire auditorium laughs at the same joke or gasp as one when the killer reveals himself or applaud together when the hero makes the game-winning shot. There’s no other word for it but magic. This is what the theater experience is all about. Bringing people together.
Second, I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a 15 foot high screen with a premium surround sound system and 4k projector. Some films I have no trouble waiting for the home release but then there are other films that are made to be seen as big and as loud as possible and it would be a disservice to the film to see it any other way. I’ve seen 2001: A Space Odyssey numerous times but never projected on a theater screen and I feel like, until that happens, I haven’t really seen the film. Not the way Kubrick intended.
Additionally, fortunately, there are still theaters and theater owners that do care about the movie-going experience and I try to give those places all my business. In Hollywood, The Arclight is about as close to perfection as you can get. They may charge more than the average but to me, it’s worth it. And I don’t always have to pay a premium for that perfect screening. There are smaller theaters like The New Beverly and The Aero that are made for and run by film lovers like myself who value quality screenings and generally charge between $8-$10 for a double feature. They may not be as prevalent or as convenient as your local cineplex, but they actually care. They care about the movies, about the community, and about you. And that melts this cynical, bitter, theater-goer’s heart and keeps me going back to the movie theater.
Have you had any particularly horrible theater experiences? What bugs you the most? Do you have a preferred movie theater? Share these with me in the comments.
Originally published for The Alternative Chronicle – January 15, 2012 (with some minor edits)