Every once in a while - like, once a month - someone at HTF will start a thread or resurrect one saying "I'm not going to movie theaters any more! The sound sucks, the people are rude, and it costs too much! I'm just gonna wait for the DVD from now on!" Sometimes there's a rider saying "well, maybe I'll see the big releases that have to be seen that way. But that's all!" Now, I'd argue that every film deserves to be seen in its native environment first, but whatever. Up until recently, I'd be one of the people defending the theatrical experience until it became perfectly clear that I and others who agreed with me were being totally ignored. Those threads are about people knowing that they are sacrificing an important part of the movie experience and wanting validation that they're not missing much.
Usually, I have to admit that I haven't had many bad moviegoing experiences - even though the new theaters (new in that they weren't open when I moved to Cambridge in 1999) at Fenway and Boston Common make the theaters I'd patronized previously seem inadequate in comparison, I can't say I found a whole lot of fault with the older ones. I was going there for a movie, and as long as it was competently projected, I figured I had gotten what I paid for. If the audiences weren't ideal, I must have been tuning them out except in extreme situations.
I'm not ready to join that crowd yet - heck, I just ordered 20 "Weekday Escape" tickets from the Loews discount ticket website - but the last couple of movies gave me some insight into their thoughts.
First, there was May last Thursday. Wasn't really fond of the movie, but what really shocked me was the room it was in - I counted 69 seats in Copley Square's #3 theater. Consider that, before GCC Fenway and Loews Boston Common was built, this place tucked into the Copley Square Shopping Center was one the mainstream first-run places for a city the size of Boston, and it's no wonder the city was considered seriously underscreened. But it's the design of the place that is truly aggravating - I arrived ten minutes early, and tried several different seats. There were no good ones. The room has a reverse slope, such that each row is actually lower than the one in front of it, and the screen itself is at least six feet above the floor. Which means everybody has to crane their necks up. The first row is about four feet from the wall, and the last row (actually only three seats plus spots for wheelchairs) actually sits underneath the projection booth's overhang. The projection itself was mostly all right, except for the "in the event of an emergency..." snipe, which was upside down and backwards (and thus without sound). This was on a Thursday... Did nobody in the theater really notice it all week, or did they just not care?
The lesson, of course, is not to go to Copley Place to see a movie unless that's the only place it's playing in the Greater Boston area. If you have a bunch of $4 Loews tickets and, being out of work, really can't afford the $6.50 for a matinee at Kendall Square or a book of discount tickets there, consider it incentive to get a new job fast.
Tonight I went to see 28 Days Later at Boston Common - one $4 ticket that had to be used by the end of June 2003, and Charlies Angels 2 was sold out. In contrast to Copley Place, all of Boston Common's screening rooms are stadium seating, with few bad seats. I'd say none, but there's probably not a theater on Earth where being stuck at the extreme left or right of the front row doesn't create the temptation to see if you can exchange for another show. But some jerk had a laser pointer. He or she seemed especially fond of trying to hit the irises of a character's eye, or trace the outline of his nostrils in a close shot, or something like that.
Explain to me the thought process behind doing this. If you're the only person or group in the theater and the movie's not holding your interest, I suppose it might be no big deal, but I was trying to watch the movie. I did not pay to watch 28 Days Later And A Guy With A Laser Pointer. It's just rude. Much of the movie was shot and edited in such a way that it was difficult to keep the pointer focused on anything (which I think is one of the movie's problems, from an aesthetic standpoint), but that meant that this was mainly happening during "character scenes", so to speak. I was tempted to join the person who at one point yelled to knock it off, but I wasn't about to give this doofus the attention he or she was clearly craving.
Also, someone sitting in the seats further up probably wouldn't notice it, but I certainly was able to recognize the telltale discoloration caused by soda meeting screen. Folks, movie screens aren't just white painted walls, or stretched-out bedsheets - they are made of a semi-reflective material that cannot be easily cleaned and cost over a thousand dollars to replace. If something in the movie displeases you to the point where you have to throw something, make it dry popcorn, all right? Otherwise, you're just lowering the quality of your experience next time you see a picture in that theater.
Ah, well. Ultimately, neither situation was truly bad enough to try to get theater management involved - all they really merit is a rant on a blog that nobody else reads. As much as I love home theater - aside from having movies available to watch whenever I get the urge, the secondary effect of fewer people going to a second show and thus more new movies being released is great - I do fear that being able to watch movies in their living room may have conditioned people to act like they are in their living room whenever they watch a movie.