Tuesday, August 27, 2013

21st Century Moviegoing

At a recent press conference, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg predicted the major
 studios are doomed to crash if they continue bankrolling gargantuan summer blockbusters. They see ticket prices going as high as $150!  Thus the question is raised: Why bother going at all these days?

First of all, tickets are expensive enough, but concessions are another story.  I know theaters depend on concessions to make profits, but the prices amount to outright theft. And theaters already charge higher rates for films shown in IMAX and 3D.  But if I had to choose between watching Ironman 3 or Jaws 3-D - I'll go with Jaws 3-D anytime.

Manners and politeness are another casualty of digital age.  I've witnessed some maddening behaviors in the movie house: people taking off their shoes, treating the place like they own it, cellphones and texting, pretentious commentaries from self-appointed film experts (I'm not sure who's worse 16 years olds or middle aged couples).   During Looper,  a husband spent the whole movie translating the plot to his clueless wife.  

So, why bother going?  
Who wants to brave all the rudeness and sense of entitlement? These days one can easily watch movies at home without all the distractions. I grew up during the heyday of the VHS boom when a video stores appeared on every block.  If you couldn't go you could always wait for it to come out on video. Those with the means can create their own "home theaters." 

Cultural commentators used to pontificate on the movie theater as the church of the 20th century.  In many respects, that's true.  Where all else could people of varying backgrounds come together and share a common experience for two hours?  Not many.  The power of cinema is its ability to allow a spectator to feel all sorts of things.  When you're in the theater you cannot stop the movie or hit the pause button.  Nope, you pay the money and sacrifice a few hours of your life to sit in the dark to experience something oddly familiar and new.

A NY Times article celebrated the Midnight showing as a truly unique theater experience. Fans of a franchise can gather at the midnight premier and enjoy their film with others who share their passion for a particular series.  In a midnight screening of Star Trek: Into Darkness I attended, the crowd sat in silent reverence for the entire film.  Only the die-hards will head to the theater at Midnight on a Thursday.  And what's better than being alone together with friends?

Recently, I experienced the drawbacks of home viewing.  Watching a DVD of Dr. Zhivago at home left me cold.  These days, with all the distractions around us, it's almost impossible to sit through a three hour movie. So, what happens?  You watch the film in segments.  Movies, unlike books, are designed to be experienced in one sitting. Sometime I need to make a list of films I want to see on the big screen.  Lawrence of Arabia and 2001: A Space Odyssey would top my list.

So, how can the movie going experience be salvaged?  For starters, it would be nice to see more revivals of classic films on the big screen and I don't just mean the classics, but b-movie classics as well (like Jaws 3-D).  Maybe we need another Roger Corman to gather young talent and allow them to make quality films on a limited budget (so many crucial filmmakers got their start with Corman's American International including Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Peter Bogdanovich to mention a few. Or let's see what some of the most skillful directors today can do on a limited budget.  No matter what happens theaters will endure because the experience remains truly unique.

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