I love movies.
I remember my early movie theater experiences well. There was a palpable excitement for everyone lined up for a matinee despite the blistering heat of summer showings. Tickets were around $4.00. “Two tickets please!” My mother held my hand as she guided me through the front doors, where a great gust of cool air welcomed the toasty movie-goers. The air was thick with scents of sugar, butter, and salt, the wide foyer dim compared to the outside glare. We passed posters on the walls heralding upcoming films that were as much art as advertising. Black and white photographs of film legends set the mood that we were about to meet old and new friends. After finding a perfect spot close to the middle, we sat and chatted quietly, as did everyone else. There seemed to be this unspoken rule of courtesy that everyone should be quiet to enhance the magic about to begin. My eyes would trace the theatric architecture of the great room. Lights dimmed, red curtains drew back, and the film screen was revealed. With a quick, excited glance to my mother, my eyes and heart became riveted to the unfolding film.
This may sound like days long past, but I am not even close to 30.
Once upon a time, my movie attendance was very regular. We never missed a Disney or Pixar show, nor any live-action film my parents deemed interesting and worthwhile. While adolescent years were also full of fascinating movie experiences, it was during this era that my theater-going desire ebbed. Though the slide was prolonged, everything about my movie theater attendance was shifting. 2010, I saw seven movies at the theater, which at the time seemed sparse. 2011, I saw two. 2012, I splurged with four, followed by nothing until a couple films just a few months ago.
While many of the features I described of younger days still remain in many a stadium theater, much has changed. The standard decibel level is cranked up so high, it has a numbing quality perfect for developing tinnitus. I remember one showing of The Dark Knight where every gunshot felt like a physical punch. Perhaps this heightened sound covers the change in audience dynamics. Patrons come for a good, social time, which often translates to boisterous chatter before and snarky commentary during a film, ala MST3K without the wit. If personal amusement and popcorn flicking is a distraction, that’s your problem not theirs. There is a sense of a cattle-car approach to entertainment: pack people in and kick them out quickly to get in the next wave.
There are fewer truly appealing films being made. Original genius and ground-breaking pieces are infrequent, as sequels and remakes and merchandising glut the film seasons. Films trying to catch the higher price for 3D tickets quite frequently slaughter the effects in post-production editing, making details blurry and more of a diorama than an experience.
Will I ever go back to the movie theater? To say never would be a lie. My husband and I are tied with many friends in the film industry, who we loyally support by going to the films they worked so hard on. Occasionally there will be a film like Gravity where you need the scope of a theater screen in the dark to physically appreciate the story. But generally, my family and a majority of friends feel no need to go to the theater beyond the rare occasion, especially due to restrictive ticket prices.
I don’t have to go to the theater to enjoy a film: I can wait for it to release on DVD or streaming services – the delay is ever shortening. The theater experience of childhood made wonderful memories. But it is time to explore other avenues to really enjoy my entertainment.