I missed Fifty Shades of Grey when it came to the theater. It was our first public movie on Valentine’s Day weekend and I was working around the clock fueled by movie theater popcorn, pure adrenaline, and occasional nap like periods of sleep. I wasn’t dying to see it. I was intrigued by the controversy surrounding the film. I was obsessed with the soundtrack.
Fast forward a year. At the urging of a friend, I picked up the dvd from the local Redbox. I am not an avid Redboxer. In fact, I had only rented one other dvd in my lifetime. On a rare night off, I settled onto my couch in the comfort of my living room and I did what many do. I pressed play. A few minutes into the movie, about the time Ana falls into Christian’s office (Sorry, spoiler alert), I realized my glass of wine was empty. I stood up and walked around the corner to my kitchen. Still in eyeshot, theoretically, of the standard issue decent sized household tv.
I took the stopper out of the bottle, put it on the counter, poured my glass, and returned to my couch. I forgot to turn off the light, so I got up to flip the switch and noticed that I had left the wine on the counter. I put the stopper back in and then put the bottle in the fridge. Well. I tried to put the bottle in. My to go box from Michael’s full of Southwest eggrolls (delicious!) were in the way. So I took them out, put the wine in, and turned on the oven. While I waited for it to preheat, I went back to the couch and munched on the popcorn I had swiped from the theater a few days before. By this time, Ana was somewhere I hadn’t seen and Christian was just a message on her phone.
I’ll spare you the rest of the details, but by the end of the movie, I had accomplished approximately 32 tasks and watched approximately the same amount of minutes of the movie. I got the gist of it. I had skimmed through the book. I knew how this ended or rather didn’t end (sorry, again. Spoiler alert). Do I feel like I missed out on something spectacular? Nah.
Now. Join me in reminiscing about that day in April we had the Avengers double feature. I was dressed as Black Widow. My friends had driven down from Knoxville to watch the movie with me. They sat through the first one and saved me a seat for the second one while I helped coordinate our pizza dinner. I posed for pictures with people in the theater, chatted about what I thought would happen in Ultron, debated who was hotter: Thor or Cap, and then settled into my comfy rocking chair waiting for the movie to start. Then. I realized, I was missing popcorn. My amazing coworkers knew I was horribly ill (thank you, pollen) and brought me in a tub of hot buttery movie theater popcorn.
The movie started, a hush fell over the crowd, and in stunningly clear projection thanks to Barco (one of the top names in the biz) projectors, I watched the Avengers take on Ultron. Thanks to the impressive technology of Dolby Atmos, I heard all of the sounds, each speaker wired to its own amp, providing a balance between action sequence sound effects and low throaty dialogue between Black Widow and Bruce Banner. I didn’t have to strain to listen or cover my ears. For two and a half hours, I sat surrounded by friends…200 of them to be exact… all there for a common purpose….to experience this movie. Our phones were out of mind, our dishes in the sink were far away, our dogs weren’t asking for attention. It was just us and the film and the captivating experience of going to the movies.
We laughed together. We gasped together. We cheered together. We could tell by our neighbor’s reaction, if we were justified in being shocked or confused. When the movie ended, we excitedly shared our opinions. A couple of boys high fived me on their way out of the theater, telling me they liked my motorcycle. I exited the theater with the 200 other guests and as the lobby came into view and I saw the staff with their brooms and trash cans and heard my phone ringing on the counter, I knew I had just been given a most glorious gift: a 3 hour escape from my every day chaos.
A couple months later (the actual industry standard is 90 days, more on that in another post), I decided to watch Ultron again when presented with the opportunity. This time, I reheated my leftovers and filled my glass before sitting down. I started the movie and sat through it all. It just wasn’t the same. And it wasn’t because I had seen it before. The sound was different. The picture was darker. My laughs were not as genuine. I couldn’t feel the tension and suspense like I had in that big dark room.
There’s a difference between movie watching and movie going. Practically everyone has access to a smart phone, tablet, or other streaming capable device and a subscription to Netflix… or their friend’s account info. When I lived in Chicago, people on the subways watched movies on their commute. People on airplanes, in doctor’s offices, kids at their siblings soccer games… you can watch movies nearly everywhere.
The cinema is a place you can escape. Fade away into a dark room where your household distractions become distant memories. You get to visit places, see things, feel them.
Obviously, as my experience with Fifty Shades demonstrates, some movies can be watched on a tv or phone without losing the integrity of the film. However, no amount of home theater technology can replicate the experience of being in a movie theater. A 3D tv is not the same as a 3D movie theater. Action films are at their best when they can be felt with a sound so rich, you feel as if you’re in the film.
Many things have threatened the movie theater industry. VCRs, Cable tv, Netflix. And now we are facing a new enemy: The Screening Room. If you haven’t heard of it, the short version is that the guy that the music industry hates for his involvement with Napster is now attempting a similar attack on Hollywood. Screening Room would allow customers to purchase special equipment that would give them 2 day access to movies on the day they are released in theaters for $50.
At the National Association of Theater Owner’s annual gathering, CinemaCon, this divisive and controversial technology was rarely mentioned by name, but stood front and center as the elephant in the room.
Many filmmakers have passionately expressed their disapproval, explaining that they didn’t invest time and money into something that would be ruined by a subpar viewing experience. This is also part of the reason theaters were strong armed into going digital. Directors want to wow you. Digital effects and digitical projection allow that wow factor. Other directors stated this new technology should be explored and seemed dismissive of the effects on the exhibition industry. Not surprisingly, those few are also probably invested in the start up. (looking at you Mr. Abrams)
Whether or not Screening Room comes to a living room near you waits to be seen. However, one truth remains. There’s nothing like watching a movie in a theater.
Movie theaters give you the opportunity to create memories. I remember going on a date to see the very first Fast and Furious movie with my first love. I was 16 and excitedly drove to pick up my best friend. We were almost hit in the parking lot at American Cinema as we walked to the stairs where my boyfriend and his friend were waiting for us. I was home by 10. A couple years later, I was in Knoxville for college and rarely thought about watching movies in my hometown theater. I honestly don’t even remember when Plaza Twin closed.
When the news spread about us attempting to bring a theater back to town one of the comments I heard regularly was “Now our kids have somewhere to go.” By the time the second Fast and Furious came out, I had logged enough practice hours that I was allowed to drive to Knoxville for it. My friend and I did. For no reason other than we could. I imagine lots of kids today have more freedom than I did and can drive to Cleveland or Knoxville for a movie, but those ones that don’t? They now have a chance here to see movies with their friends.
In December, dads rushed into theaters with their sons, just as their fathers had done with them when the original Star Wars came out. Now those sons can tell this story to their sons. Ladies come with their friends for our Ladies’ Night specials, laughing and enjoying a night out together, taking selfies in the lobby.
We host a lot of field trips and many of the teachers tell me that some of their kids have never been to a real movie theater. We hear families around holidays explain that this is the first time they have been able to go to a movie as a family because it’s the only time they are all together and in a time crunched visit, they can’t drive to Knoxville.
Movie theaters have been around for so long and while they don’t have the same place in society that they once did, it is still the most affordable form of entertainment. It’s accessible and with the constant output of new movies, it’s something you can enjoy over and over. It’s something you can enjoy no matter what your place in life is. Your physical circumstances are not limiting. With room for wheelchairs and equipment for the visually/hearing impaired, movies are all inclusive. Movies are produced to appeal to all walks of life. There’s truly something for everybody.
Maybe I’m a little biased, but going to the movies is something really special.