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Attn: Movie Theater Owners, or Why I’ll Never Pay to See Another Movie in a Movie Theater Again – Part 3

In Parts 1 and 2 of this 5 part series, I’ve touched upon parking, ticket prices, seating, and lack of special events as reasons I’ll not give my business to the local theater.  Granted, there are always exceptions to the rule (I’ll touch on some of those in a later post).  Not every theater, thankfully, will get negative marks next to all 12 reasons.  But unfortunately, I’ve found more and more theaters in my area falling into these 12 categories.  The reason I write this isn’t because I don’t like the theater experience.  When done properly, I love it.  There is no comparison.  Seeing a film, complete with the flickering glow of the projector above, up on a 30 foot silver coated screen, is sui generis (my Latin for the day!).

Today’s topics are tough for me to write about.  As a director and editor of commercials, I tread lightly on reason #5.  However, as I’ve said before, I do believe that there is a time and place for everything.  And the movie theater is not one of them.  Let me get right to it.

Reason #5: Commercials

The major concern that I hear from theater owners (and the studios, of course) is that they need to devise a way to make the theater experience even more different from the home theater experience in order to get the crowds.  Hence the reason we’ve recently seen 7.1 Dolby, 3D, Stadium Style seating, etc.  Then why, I ask, do you reverse your progress by making the theater experience even more similar to the home theater experience by introducing commercials to it?  I recently went to a movie, where I sat through 45 minutes of commercials (a coupling of the section dubbed “The Pre-Show Entertainment with the actual made-for-tv commercials)!  45 minutes!  That’s a quarter of the length of the movie!  Of course, I point out the worst case scenario.  But it’s not uncommon to have to sit through 20 minutes of this, all before the first trailer begins.

As I wrote in yesterdays post, I am not opposed to entertainment preceding the feature film.  I used to love the shorts that were in front.  And I usually enjoy a very well made trailer.  I especially enjoy the trailers that are filmed and created specifically for that purpose.  Think the “Jurassic Park” teaser trailer that featured footage created specifically for the trailer.  Or the “Spider-man” trailer.

Let me explain.  I would not be opposed to commercials if they were entertainment.  If they were shot as a 2-3 minute dramatic short film (or comedic, or sci-fi, etc.), but obviously were advertising a product (or two or three), I wouldn’t object.  The Los Angeles times used to create theater specific ads that were mini-docs on the entertainment biz, and I always enjoyed seeing those.  If they were presented as an ongoing serial (á la the Maxwell House commercials a few years back), I’d be even more apt to enjoy them.  Of course, that seems, on the surface, to be out of the theater owners hands.  But if the theater owners currently work with the ad agencies  to secure the ads, they could lay down some rules as well.  The ad agencies would likely comply, in order to get their products noticed on the level they currently do.

As you’ll see in the posts later this week, I believe that the audience’s behavior is determined by the atmosphere in which they sit.  If the first thing they are presented with is a slew of 30 second commercials, something they get at their own home, they are likely to react in the same way they do at their home during commercials.  That is, talk, use cell phones, play a game on their Nintendo DS (why someone would bring that to a movie theater is beyond me?), and any other distracting behavior.  Of course, by the time the movie begins, they are already in that frame of mind, and it now impacts all around them.

So please do away with the commercials.  In fact, if you want to raise the price (I know, what about Reason #1 right?) in order that I do not have to sit through them, feel free.  After all, that is one reason why I love the Arclight cinema in Hollywood, CA so very much.

Reason #6:  Concessions

Many of you may be thinking that here is where I continue on about pricing.  You would be wrong.  I am not implying that the costs of concessions are outrageously cost prohibitive (they are), nor am I suggesting that the nutritional values of the snacks are worse than eating a stick of butter (they are), but I am proposing that you do away with the concession stands entirely.  This is also hard for me to say, as I have fond memories of going to the cinema and eating a hot bucket of popcorn coated in real butter with a package of peanut M&M’s on top!  (I was recently made aware that the Laemmle theaters still use real butter!)  Unfortunately, because of (reason #10), this just no longer works.

One of the many features that I enjoy about going to a private screening of a film is that there is never a snack stand at the theater.  It seems that the people in charge of industry screenings understand that the mess left behind is akin to watching a film at a recycling yard, complete with crumbs in the seats, sticky and/or wet floors, and chewing gum stuck under the arms of the chairs.  The distracting noise of a cellophane wrapper being torn during the quietest part of the film, or the sounds of the last few drops of liquid amidst the melting ice cubes in the bottom of the cup being sucked through the straw slowly and methodically is exasperating.  The Jumbo Size Cola needing to find its way out of the person seated next to you three times during the film is anything but welcome.  Times that by 10 or so, and you have 30 people reenacting the Bugs Bunny scene from “Hare Do” in your row alone.  The smell of a greasy, over-cooked, heat lamp incubated hot dog is nauseating, to say the least.  The added orchestra of crunching nacho chips throughout the film only deters from the millions spent to properly record the features soundtrack.

Instead, I propose that you open a small cafe area.  In fact, this may help contribute to the overall “event” of going to the movies.  You can sell small sandwiches, along with the other commodities typically found at the concession stand.  A couple can do a “dinner and a movie” date within the confines of your establishment, all at the benefit of your other customers.  You likely would garner more business, as some people may purchase your “Dinner Date” package, which for a higher ticket price, would get them seats in a specially reserved section, as well as their own personal usher/waiter.  Win/Win.

Or perhaps you create new seating (again, I point out how these reasons are all related!) that has a special section for those desiring to eat during the film.  I was in Austin, TX not too long ago and paid a visit to the much talked about Alamo Drafthouse.  It was a very interesting experience, in that you could order a complete meal and eat it in your seat.  If there was a special section for that, I would have no qualms.  Or another  option would be to have a specific showing for those who desire food, and another for those that do not (The Arclight cinemas do something similar.  That is, they offer a screening they’ve dubbed the “21+ screenings”, where those in attendance can have alcohol if they prefer).

Reason #7 – 3D

This is related to costs.  Let me preface this reason by giving a little backstory.  When I went to see the private screening of “Avatar”, they gave us special 3D glasses that we could take home with us.  I was excited to receive these freebies, as I knew that I would be able to carry them with me to every other 3D film from here on out.  Fast forward to the “Avatar” showing at the AMC that my wife and I went to the other day.  I have my free passes in hand, my 3D glasses in the other.  I get to the window, present my passes, and am told that the total will be $10.  Surprised, I ask the reason.  I’m quickly told that the added fee is for the 3D glasses.  I state that I am in possession of my own pair, and thus would only need to pay for the one pair.  I am then informed that I will not be allowed to bring in my own pair of glasses!  I retort that I’ll opt to not use the glasses, as I’ve already seen the film and don’t care to sit through it with the glasses this time out.  Again, I am told that I cannot enter without paying the fee for two pairs of glasses.

Now, I understand that $10 is not that big of a deal, given that I was using two free passes.  However, if I had paid for the tickets, my movie alone would have put me back $34!  And I had my own pair of glasses!

I then noticed the still on the movie screen during the “pre-show entertainment” that was intended to bamboozle the audience into thinking the reason for returning the glasses upon the completion of the film was to “stay green”.  Ok, how is having to produce another pair of plastic glasses “being green”?  If you would allow me, as well as the many other theater goers who are like-minded, to keep our glasses, the need to produce more would be drastically reduced, resulting in a truer form of “being green”.

I wouldn’t raise such a ruckus regarding this if the glasses were free.  I would happily return them as I exit the theater.  However, I’ve paid for the glasses.  I’ve not been given the choice to use my own over the use of those you are providing me.  Don’t even get me started on the fake Imax that you also asked me to pay extra for a few months ago.

So I ask, either allow those of us who have our own glasses to bring them in, just as you allow those of us who have free passes to enter your theater.  I also ask that you stop charging extra for the pair you offer.  I understand that the studio “forces” you to pay that fee.  But if you all would refuse to show their films in 3D unless they paid for it themselves, you would have the upper hand.  In fact, you already do.  They need you to show their films.  Treat it that way.

And lastly, if nothing else, I ask that you at least honor the free passes in a manner that allows me to truly see the film for free.

Reason #8Coming Tomorrow

 
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Posted by on March 17, 2010 in Music

 

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Road to Oscars – Avatar & District 9

AVATAR
2009
Directed by: James Cameron
Cast: Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, Zoe Saldana, Giovani Ribisi, CCH Pounder
Genre: Science Fiction
Rated PG-13 For intense epic battle sequences and warfare, sensuality, language and some smoking

Let me start by saying that I love science fiction/fantasy.  There is nothing like an engrossing story that pulls the reader/viewer into the fictional world created by an author/filmmaker intent on proving this other world may exist.  Over the years, such excellent works have graced both the printed page and the small screen that there is no shortage of sci-fi (not SyFy, as a certain network would have you believe) for one to escape into for months on end.  Some of my favorite novels in this escapist genre are Joe Haldeman’s “The Forever War”, George R.R. Martin’s “Song of Fire and Ice” series, Jack Finney’s “Body Snatchers”, Larry Niven’s “Ringworld”, Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game”, and Isaac Asimov’s “Robot” series.  On the motion picture side, my favorites have been Robert Wise’s “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, Franklin J. Shaffner’s “Planet of the Apes”, Duncan Jones’ “Moon”, Stanley Kubrick’s “2001”, Ridley Scott’s “Alien”, and John Carpenter’s “The Thing”.  I’d even go so far as to say video games like “Doom 3” or “Bioshock” would be amongst the top in that prospective category.  Unfortunately, Avatar will never make it into that list.  Nor would it break the top 100, if I were to create such a list.

Don’t get me wrong.  This film is beautifully shot.  The 3D is spectacular, so much so that 10 minutes into the film the viewer is likely to forget they are watching a 3D film, and focus instead on the story.  This, I’m sad to say, is where the film falls short.  The script is a very bland “vanilla-plain” story about a disabled Marine who heads to another planet on a mission to mine the rare minerals needed to continue to power Earth.  Eventually, he longs to escape into the peaceful world of the “virtual reality-hybrid” planet Pandora, where he is without the constraints of crippled legs, and able to witness the majestic creatures called Navi in their natural habitat.  He eventually falls in love with a female Navi, and wrestles with the decision to press on with his objectives, or betray his race and live and love amongst the Navi.  While sci-fi has nearly always been a morality tale disguised as fictional other-worldly tales, the message of evil Americans killing off the peace loving new-age aliens is a bit heavy-handed.  There isn’t much disguising here.

Now, anyone who has seen Werner Herzog’s “Grizzly Man”, or heard the recent news about Sea World and it’s “Killer” whales incident, knows that even though creatures may be beautiful and majestic, we are best designed to avoid residing with them.  The fact that the human falls in love with the alien is no more romantic to me than the guy working with gorillas in their natural habitat would be.  For me, the special effects, as breathtaking as they may be, no more make this a great film than the special effects in the “Transformers” films, or “Armageddon”, make them great films.  Not even the engrossing 3D could save this one.  For me, it’s the first James Cameron film that falls far short of perfection.

Rating = ** / 5


DISTRICT 9
2009
Directed by: Neill Blomkamp
Cast: Sharlto Copley, Nathalie Boltt, William Allen Young
Genre: Science Fiction
Rated R For bloody violence and pervasive language

As a fan of science fiction, I appreciate when a film attempts to break ground.  I especially appreciate when a film takes a possibly tired story and gives it new life, with clever characterizations, twists, and plot points.  The story of “District 9”  takes place in a fictional place in South Africa.  When aliens land on Earth, global business conglomerate Multi-National United forces them into rigid this place, “containment zones “, where they are compelled to labor, even as MNU commandeers their otherworldly technology for profit.  What differentiates Blomkamp’s film from similarly themed tales is when he introduces the lead character as a common worker, as opposed to a military big shot.  His initial “real-world” characterization, and believable transformation from man with a mission to man-on-the-run is further grounded in reality by the impressions that you are watching a documentary.  The fact that the lead becomes a wanted man not by choice, but by circumstance further sets this film apart from more recent films with a similar theme.

I appreciated the fact that Blomkamp never treated his aliens as a grandiose spectacle.  There never was the moment in the film where the creature slowly rises from the water, camera set to a low angle, as the lights flicker and the music crescendos, allowing the character to realize he’s in over his head.  The aliens in the is film were simply another character.  They were grounded in the grittiness of the real world, and each of the characters had multiple sides to their persona.  And each of the actors in the film were relatively unknown, which only led to the escape into this “faux-documentary.”  I sense that Blomkamp is on track to have a very lengthy career in films.  I look forward to see what this talented young filmmaker will next bring to the cineplex.

Rating = **** / 5

 
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Posted by on March 1, 2010 in Movies

 

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