In yesterdays post, I touched upon parking and ticket prices as the reasons that I will no longer give my business to a movie theater. Today I intend to bring two more very important and impassioned pleas to theater owners everywhere. The purpose of this 5 part blog (resulting in 12 reasons) is to voice my opinion, which I know is shared by many.
Of course the temptation to include things that are out of the theater owners hands is there, but I will save that for a letter to the studios. I could easily compose another week long list containing topics as varied as the lack of intermissions (something the great moving pictures of old are noted for), or the omission of overtures, or the superfluous credits at both the opening and closing of a film, or the editing styles that make those afflicted with ADD resemble Ambien® patients. But this is not the time, nor the place. Instead, I continue with my reasons why I’ll never pay to see another movie in a movie theater again.
Tell me any other entertainment event that requires the purchase of a ticket where seating isn’t assigned. There aren’t many. Sporting events, Theatre productions (ie. Plays), Concerts, Symphony Orchestras, Comedy shows, Circus acts, and Modeling runway shows all assign you a specific seat. In fact, all of these events feature ticket prices that are tiered according to the “section” your seat is in. This doesn’t exist in most movie theaters. Contrary to what theater owners may think, stadium style does have its drawbacks. Not all seats are created equal. It doesn’t seem right that I have to pay the same price for a seat in the front row as I would for a seat in the prime center of the theater.
What happened to the aisles? In days of yesteryear, it wasn’t abnormal to find a theater with a middle aisle (going from front to back), an aisle crossing through the middle of that aisle, an aisle in the rear of the theater, the two side aisles, and an aisle in the front of the theater. Occasionally, a theater could be found that would have two middle aisles (again, from front to back), resulting in six floor seating sections, similar to how you would still find it at an actual performance theater. This allowed for easy exits to the restroom, or visits to the concession stand. The aisles always had the small lighting at the ground level, illuminating in the faintest of ways the floor for those moving about during the film.
Handicapped seating is abysmal. A few years ago, I found myself in need of a wheelchair due to a broken leg (actually 9 breaks, but who’s counting). Being confined to the lounge chair on wheels didn’t deter from my passion for cinema. I quickly realized how horrendous the theaters have designed their stadium style auditoriums. The handicapped section (usually a seat or two has been removed, leaving an empty space amongst the rest of the seats) is usually off to the side, up near the front, or at the rear of the theater. Never have I seen a small section in the center, or off-center. If you are in a wheelchair, enjoy the exit sign glowing in your face.
In addition, what happened to the balconies. They were the best place to see a movie, and often allowed for a young boy to peer into the projection booth and see how the magic was happening. In fact, many times, the balconies allowed for less of a strained neck, and still allowed for middle of the theater experience.
So I propose that you, Mr. Theater owner, give the local architect a call. If you’ve lost the number, you can have your $14 seats, so long as you feature numbers on the rows and seats, and those costly tickets are for the chairs in the exact center of the auditorium. The back-row seats would be slightly cheaper, the end-row seats even cheaper, with the front-row seats being the cheapest, at $4 per seat. I would pay my fee, and choose from a seating chart on the website, or at the ticket counter, similar in fashion to how Ticketmaster operates. Otherwise, drop the tickets back down to a price (I told you that many of the topics are related!) that is welcoming, and you can begin to win me back.
As a young child, there were many special occasions at many of the local cinemas that left an indelible impression on me. There were many ways a theater catered to the customer in a way that doesn’t exist today. These were the “Special Events”, or the “Special Features” of movies, (A term that wouldn’t be used for movies until years after theaters stopped offering them, and then for the bonus content on DVD’s/Laserdiscs).
There were many variations of the “Special Events” that a theater offered. A spectacular “Event” that many theaters were known to partake in were the ‘freebies’. On many occasions, a theater would give away the poster for the movie to all who purchased a ticket. There were times such as the day that I went to see “E.T” and the theater was giving away free packs of Reese’s Pieces to every ticket holder. I vividly recall the time that I went to see “Return of the Jedi” and was given a free paper Yoda mask (similar to the one found on box backs of C-3PO cereal). Today I’m lucky if I get a free small popcorn (if I happen to go on a Wednesday, that is.)
Often, the “Early Bird” showings mentioned previously would be preceded by a few Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Three Stooges, or Laurel and Hardy shorts. Of course I am not referring to the days of my grandparents, but to a mere 20 years ago, give or take a few. In fact, many of the theaters still had organs up front. On Saturday mornings, they would fire up the old Wurlitzer and play music during those same cartoons and/or shorts (up until a few years ago, the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, CA would still do that, for only $5 admission! But alas, they too no longer offer that memorable escapade).
There were the regular double features that a theater would offer, usually on a Saturday afternoon. I can vividly remember the times I’ve gone to a film, paid for one ticket, and gotten to see two films. And I’m not referring to a drive-in theater, nor theater hopping. I’m speaking of the times a theater would show two films on the same bill. The double features that my brother and I attended that I can easily recall were: “Back to the Future”/”Rocky IV”, “Runaway Train”/”Rambo II”, “Empire Strikes Back”/”Weird Science”, “Cat’s Eye”/”Police Academy 2”, “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”/”Star Trek III: The Search for Spock”, and that just scratches the surface.
And lastly, theaters in every town would have curtains covering the screen. They were closed before the projector lights turned on. It gave off the impression that it was a special event, akin to being at the theatre to see the latest Andrew Loyd Webber production. It was something small, but atmospheric. It denoted that something special was about to take place. The lights would darken, the curtains would pull back, and the previews would begin. After a few minutes of previews, and nothing else, the curtain would pull back a little more, and the film would begin. Pure enjoyment.
Regarding this, I say to you Mr. Theater owner. Bring back some features that prove that you care about your customers, and want them to enjoy the movies in your venue, instead of from the comfort of their own couches. If the complaint is that people aren’t going to the theater because of personal home theaters, give us those special features that cannot be had in the latest Blu-ray Special Edition. Help us to experience events that will leave lasting impressions, and I’ll be amongst the first to pay you a visit.
Reason #5: Coming tomorrow….