The theatrical experience sucks…there, we said it

Posted by · 11:39 am · May 11th, 2009

movie theaterTime to be perfectly honest.  I get a little irritated every time someone talks to me about the “sanctity” of a movie theater.  The “house of worship” B.S. that tends to precede a holier-than-thou, painfully romanticized assessment of seeing films on the big screen, in a packed house, it just rings a terribly false note with me.  Maybe I’m getting older and crankier.

Maybe I’ve been spoiled by years upon years of seeing films in studio screening rooms surrounded by a handful of people who know how to shut the hell up for two hours (though you’d be surprised).  Whatever the reason, one thing is for sure: if your line is that seeing a film in a movie theater with the public is the only way to see a film, I’m not buying.

This was more or less the point of Noah Forrest’s recent piece at Movie City News, and though Forrest gets smacked around from time to time for going against the grain, I’m arm-in-arm with him on this one, and I’m glad someone in his racket said it.  Here’s a taste:

My problem remains that going to the movies now doesn’t offer much of an escape. And if you’re a kid, you might not want to blow all your allowance money for a single movie ticket and then break open the piggy-bank if you want some popcorn and a soda. And if you’re an adult, you’re stuck watching movies that are either out of focus or not properly displayed on the screen amidst a sea of rude people who will gladly put their stinky shoes right next to your face while they text message their friends about how bored they are…

The problem of cell phones is not merely the nuisance of being around someone who is texting, calling or twittering constantly but the concept that people are bringing the outside world into a movie theater. For me, going to the movies was a sacred experience; again, not just watching the movie but watching the faces of the people around me and laughing with an audience or crying with an audience. Now, I find myself resenting the audience I’m around because they don’t want to immerse themselves fully in the film; they want to do business or talk to friends on their phones while the movie plays in the background. I understand bringing a cell phone with you and keeping it on silent in case of an emergency or if you might use it as a watch, but you should be in that theater to watch a movie – or to make out, which is fine with me as long as you’re not puckering too loudly.

I’d like to add to this the typical theater employee’s general lack of knowledge (practical knowledge, mind you) on the exhibition of filmed entertainment.  I still remember the disappointing (though that isn’t the point) summer blockbuster from 2001 that had apparently played for two solid weeks in the same house with the friggin’ widescreen flaps concealing the outer edges of the screen.  When I when into the lobby and told one of the employees that this was a scope film, he seemed to have no idea what I was talking about.  (This is speaking generally, mind you.  There are theaters, most especially the Arclight here in Los Angeles, that take this stuff seriously.)

Anyway, Forrest then moves into the inevitable point that the home-viewing experience is getting better and better in the face of the decline of the theatrical experience.  And this, in my opinion, is the saving grace of distribution at the moment.  I’d much rather spend money developing my home theater package than dropping 10 bucks at the movie theater.  Sacrilege, I know.  Sue me.

Read the rest of Forrest’s piece here.

→ 33 Comments Tags: , | Filed in: Daily

33 responses so far

  • 1 5-11-2009 at 12:21 pm

    BobMcBob said...

    what theaters are you two grumpy old men going to?

  • 2 5-11-2009 at 12:25 pm

    James D. said...

    I have to disagree, especially when comparing it to watching a DVD in a chaotic home.

  • 3 5-11-2009 at 12:45 pm

    Noah said...

    Bob, the interesting thing about that is that Kris lives in LA and I live in NYC, the two meccas of cinema. And if the theaters there suck, I can’t imagine how terrible they must be elsewhere.

  • 4 5-11-2009 at 12:48 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    James: Guess I’m just the lucky lone resident of a two bedroom house.

  • 5 5-11-2009 at 1:02 pm

    P-Dawg said...

    I agree that the whole movie theatre experience can often be affected by the audience present. I love to support the industry when I can but for the majority of movies, you can simply wait a couple months and rent them for a dollar from the local Red Box machine.

    I usually don’t feel robbed of the theatre experience. In fact, I feel relieved that I didn’t pay $11.50 or more to see it on the big screen (with some exceptions). The audience can often ruin a film but it can also help make the film more fun to watch, depending on what type of movie it is.

    For example, the other night I went to see “Star Trek”. Before the movie even started, they had advertisements and trivia projected on the screen. The people behind me kept running their mouths about this and that, which is fine considering the film had not started yet.

    Then one of them said something that simply irked me on a common sense level. The screen showed some image of Ashton Kutcher and gave his birthdate as something-something 1978. The person behind me said “Whoa, so that makes him 51. He looks great for his age.” Nobody in their party bothered to make the correction, perhaps because they, too, did not know. It took a lot of restraint not to turn around and jack-slap somebody. If this is the average audience going to see movies then I’d rather see the film in the comfort of my own home.

  • 6 5-11-2009 at 1:05 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    A friend and I had the odd pleasure the other day of being the sole audience members at a screening in my local cinema — if that could be the norm, I’d happily take it.

    In general, I find Londoners pretty well-behaved, but most of the theaters are pretty tatty. (The BFI is a glowing exception.) South African theaters are the best I’ve been to, hands down.

  • 7 5-11-2009 at 1:22 pm

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    I own an Unlimited Movie Pass, which means that for €18 ($24) for which I can go and see an unlimited amount of movies at the Pathé Theatre Chain. Luckily enough there’s no less than 3 of them in The Hague where I live and 3 more in Amsterdam where I go to college.
    Point is, when I go and it is spoilt I feel rotten during the show but I won’t feel that sorry afterwards since it isn’t that much money spent.

    I do however try to pick the right movies at the right times. Only idiots (eg people that behave like monkeys) go to see tentpole films on friday or saturday night, especially on opening weekends.

  • 8 5-11-2009 at 1:48 pm

    The Other Ryan said...

    Nothing is more harrowing than visiting a movie theater in suburban Rhode Island on a Friday night. Though it was close when I saw Wolverine in a town just outside of Boston. The trailer for Funny People came up, and there was one guy behind me trying to act like he knew everything and relayed to his friend the fact that Judd and Apatow are two different people, with Judd being a woman and Apatow (pronounced uh-PAY-tow, according to him) being a man.

    That being said, every movie-going experience I’ve had in a major city was just fine (with the exception of Apocalypto and Black Snake Moan at the Webster Place theater in Lincoln Park in Chicago). I don’t count Providence, because the theaters here are just awful.

  • 9 5-11-2009 at 1:59 pm

    chad said...

    Once every twenty or so visits to the theater will somebody be annoying enough to make an impact on my experience. Every other time it’s a joy to be with other people in that room.

  • 10 5-11-2009 at 2:17 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Where do you usually go, chad?

  • 11 5-11-2009 at 3:27 pm

    chad said...

    Honestly, all over. Usually the movie dictates it. Laemmle Music Hall, Pasadena 7 on Colorado, Arclight, Vista, Los Feliz 3. Even the Beverly Center as a last resort.

  • 12 5-11-2009 at 4:12 pm

    Derek 8-Track said...

    Try moving to a small town in the midwest.

  • 13 5-11-2009 at 4:16 pm

    SaltireFlower said...

    I disagree mostly based on circumstance. We didn’t live in a country with movie theaters because they had all been shut down, so now that I can watch films on a giant screen I’d rather go to a theater to watch movies. Even if the place if full of clueless morons, or worse – children, I still love it.

  • 14 5-11-2009 at 4:18 pm

    tony rock said...

    really depends on the city. if it’s a small town or you’re in suburbia, it’s going to be hell in that theatre. if it’s a big city, usually the audience is rather well-behaved.

  • 15 5-11-2009 at 4:41 pm

    seasondays said...

    i also own an unlimited monthly movie pass, but in MEXICO CITY you can buy one for less than $10dollars.

    i have been really lucky in watching films completely by myself in an empty theatre, you just have to avoid going in friday and saturday nights, and if you go early in the mornings or really late at nights most likely you will find yourself almost alone

  • 16 5-11-2009 at 4:46 pm

    M.Harris said...

    I guess I’m one who’s caught in between the theatrical experience and the non-theatrical experience.I’m an avid movie goer but at the same time I’ve seen some real good films for the first time on DVD.Now is there a certain thing that I get while watching a movie in a packed theatre that I don’t get while watching it at home? Sometimes it is.Although I form my own opinions about movies it is interesting to listen to the reactions of other movie goers.I remember watching “No Country For Old Men” in a theatre in New York and hearing a movie goer say to a friend,”that was stupid” after the movie had ended mind you(it was a well-behaved crowd during the showing.).A fan of the film(I’m assuming)responded with “shut up.” An avid movie goer who would be a little saddened but not crush if movie theatres came to an end.

  • 17 5-11-2009 at 6:01 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    “Laemmle Music Hall, Pasadena 7 on Colorado, Arclight, Vista, Los Feliz 3. Even the Beverly Center as a last resort.”

    Two of those pretty much guarantee a good crowd (Arclight demands it, Playhouse 7 is a high-brow crowd). No one’s going to be restless in the Vista, what with the unheard of legroom, but the Los Feliz 3, in addition to being technically one of the worst theaters I’ve ever been to, manages to bring in plenty of rif-raff.

    Then again, judging from the movies you “gave your $10 to,” as listed in each Sunday column, it never tends to be the sort that would attract rudeness. Try going to the Highland 3 for “Pirates 3” or the like (though I certainly know what I’m getting myself into when I do such a thing).

  • 18 5-11-2009 at 6:11 pm

    Isaac Richter said...

    I love going to the movies. I just really love that experience (also because I have to share a living space, so home viewing can be uncomfortable). The trick is to find the right time. I always go to matinees or early shows, both to avoid the crowd, and to get cheaper tickets (the most I’ve spent is $9.00 when I go to early shows), and also, in the earlier crowds you get older people, who are way better behaved (and I also don’t watch a lot of mainstream films, so that helps).

  • 19 5-11-2009 at 6:25 pm

    Chris said...

    Of course, it is annoying when you have people talk, text, eat and do whatever you can do, while you’re watching a film. However, for me there hasn’t been a dreadful audience since I went to see “Spider-Man 3” (which admittedly was an afternoon screening full of kids).

    And though I own about 300 DVDs, there’s nothing I love more than seeing a film in a cinema, even if I’ve seen it before. I went to see “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” on my 18th birthday in 2005, although I’d watched it a dozen times on DVD already. Despite how much I loved it already, on the big screen it turned into something truly magical, I couldn’t reproduce at home.

    Surely, the home-viewing experience is getting better, but better isn’t good enough for me. It’s kind of like drinking Coke – you know you’d be better of having some water, but you still want to go for the worse stuff. (Worst analogy ever, I suppose.)

  • 20 5-11-2009 at 6:31 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Perhaps I’m an old geezer now, but the opening night ritual is like a nightmare for me now. Give me a Tuesday, 3pm show and I’m good.

  • 21 5-11-2009 at 6:38 pm

    hmm said...

    It all depends on the when and where. When I lived in Austin it was always an incredible experience going to the theater. Being back in South Florida now is the worst. I went to see Sin Nombre in Miami a few weeks ago and someone in the front was smoking through the whole movie……

    I’ve also had people have full conversation throughout the movie in their regular voices. It all depends on when you go really. If you’re seeing a tentpole movie on a friday night opening night, then it’s you taking the risk of seeing it with morons. If you see a movie that’s been out a week or two on a wednesday afternoon as I usually do, then it’s a pretty good experience. Let’s not forget that certain movies are better with a huge audience regardless. I loved that I saw Observe and Report opening night where everyone in the audience had the craziest reaction to the ending. Same goes with There Will Be Blood when it first came out.

  • 22 5-11-2009 at 7:15 pm

    Bill said...

    Kris, would you prefer to watch Lawrence of Arabia on an iPod?

  • 23 5-11-2009 at 7:48 pm

    Speaking English said...

    Where are you paying $10 for a movie???

    To be honest, I haven’t had a bad movie experience (one ruined by the audience) since 2005 when I went to see “War of the Worlds.” It just doesn’t happen that frequently to me, and especially less frequently when you go see more arty films (which are mostly what I see anyway).

  • 24 5-11-2009 at 8:13 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    I live in Maine and I understand what your saying, I just rarely feeel that way, and I much prefer the cinema to my home, its a total different experience, and I wouldnt trade it

  • 25 5-11-2009 at 8:48 pm

    andrew said...

    The only bad movie experience i’ve truly had is the 2nd time I saw Sweeney Todd two years ago. There was a group of guys who would make obscene hand gestures and noises whenever Helena Bonham Carter’s pregnant enhanced endowments were on screen. How dare they do that for such a classy lady!

  • 26 5-11-2009 at 8:48 pm

    andrew said...


  • 27 5-11-2009 at 10:31 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Bill: Obviously not. But the kinds of folks who’d go to see Lawrence of Arabia in 2009 are hardly the concern here, are they?

  • 28 5-12-2009 at 2:18 am

    Derek 8-Track said...

    We have a nice restored art deco theater here in Normal Illinois that I use to watch classics I didnt grow up with in the multiplexes. I just recently watched Raiders of the Lost Ark there. I also saw Rear Window, Casablanca, and White Christmas. Just last week they were playing the Wizard of Oz. It’s a great place with knowledgeable volunteers working there. they also screen newer films. I watched I’m Not There and Into the Wild there. But it’s the classics that keep me going. plus a ticket is only 6 bucks and the pop and popcorn cost a dollar each.

  • 29 5-12-2009 at 5:33 am

    Morgan said...

    There is very little that I enjoy more than going to the movies. Usually the audience is fine (I’m sure that sometimes it is less than fine, but as I can’t actually remember any particularly bad experience — and this includes things like Coraline, which was scary and packed with children — they can’t be TOO bad) but sometimes you get a group of people who are somehow all on the same wavelength, and that group experience is what really makes it for me. I remember so vividly being at Children of Men and just FEELING the tension in the room, and being shocked when every person there gasped loudest at one single moment in the film. My friend and I saw No Country for Old Men on a Monday afternoon because we had finished an exam and were in the theater with a few young guys and several mothers and older people, and we and the guys were the only ones just howling with laughter at the funny parts, which was pretty hilarious at the time since everyone else was just lost. Most recently, I saw Milk the week after it opened (limited) and everybody was audibly reacting to the same things and all of us were crying or close to it by the end. Obviously I love to watch movies on DVD, too — I love to watch movies, period — but I will ALWAYS take the theater over the DVD. Paying upwards of $11 and $12 in NYC is a pain in the ass, yeah, and I’m not going to do it for every film I want to see, but I’m willing to shell it out fairly frequently without complaint.

  • 30 5-12-2009 at 9:30 am

    Mike_M said...

    This is a good post… I love going to the movies but once I get there I have to deal with annoying people who talk or text and cannot follow a simple movie.

    On Sunday night I saw Star Trek with the wife and people in front of us dropped a phone (or something) at least 3 times. Each time they had to use another phone to light the area up to find it. No idea what the device was out in the first place.

    I am lucky where most of the times I see movies in NYC and get good theaters but then there are other times the theaters have terrible crowds.

    Also, I am not a fan of people bringing in meals with them to eat during the movie, buy food from the theater or maybe bring snacks from home if you want, but there is no need to eat tuna casserole or burritos in the movie…

    I do still love watching a movie in a theater for the times when the audience is good and everyone is into the movie, going odd times during the week is usually my favorite and usually helps to have an optimal situation for me.

    But Kris, I agree, the worst is when the theater does not project the film correctly or the film is in poor shape. During Duplicity the projector bulb was flickering and was not framed corrected. Then Star Trek on Sun there were 3 huge scratches on the left side the whole 2nd half of the movie.

  • 31 5-12-2009 at 9:57 am

    BurmaShave said...

    New York City has some of the worst movie theaters in the world, it’s like watching a movie on a bus.

  • 32 5-12-2009 at 2:08 pm

    Derek 8-Track said...

    The best thing i’ve ever witnessed in a movie theater was for the midnight showing of Matrix Revolutions. the previews hadn’t even started yet and a baby starts crying near the middle of the audience. A pissed of dude then yells “SHUT YOUR BABY UP AND LEAVE!” The mother then stands up and turns around and says “I bet you’d feel differently if you had kids” The pissed off dude then yells back “If I had kids i wouldn’t bring them to the midnight showing of a FUCKING action movie! Be a real parent Bitch!” The mom and here baby left and the theater rose with applause. no one spoke another word after the applause. It was GREAT!

  • 33 5-13-2009 at 9:58 am

    Brendan said...

    I hear what you are saying and I agree that many theater going experiences are bad. We are lucky to have the Arclight here in LA (I saw Wolverine in Burbank and there were so many cell phones open I felt like I was at a concert). But no matter how good your home system is, it just can’t compare to the energy of sitting in an engaged crowd. In just this past week I had two theater experiences that reminded me of why going to the theater can’t ever be fully replaced by a home system. One was seeing Star Trek in the Arclight Dome filled with Trek fans and non fans seeing Trek for the first time – all were excited, cheering, laughing – sharing the movie together. The second was seeing Sam Raimi’s “Drag Me to Hell” in the Chinese theater with a packed crowd alternately shreking with fear, then laughing with releif, then screaming again as Raimi played us all like a piano. I can’t imagine how dull by comparison the experience would have been if I had seen either of those movies for the first time on my home system alone or with friends.