Theatergoing in 2022

Last night I went to the theater for the first time since the Winter omicron surge began. I had been waiting to see the new Spider-Man picture until the crowds had died down some. The experience strengthened my resolve to earn my way into a highly paid field like software or web development just as quickly as I can, because that is the only way I will ever be able to afford the kind of home theater that will save me from the experience of going to a cinema in most cases.

For all intents and purposes, all art house theaters are excluded from whatever I have to say after this paragraph. I frequent The Neon and The Little Art Theatre, and I have, speaking sincerely, never had a bad time there. Not a bad snack. Not an inconsiderate fellow patron. Never a time when I felt I was charged too much money. Nothing of the sort. Whatever else changes in the multimedia landscape, I hope and pray we will never lose our beloved independent theaters. They are the only reliably good moviegoing experience we have left.

The chain I frequent the most is Cinemark, which features a number of locations around here. We have a Regal, but, come on…yuck. We also used to have a Danbarry Dollar Saver second-run cinema, and I really loved that place. I don’t give a rat’s ass what else my fellow patrons are doing if I only have to pay $3 to see the show. Unfortunately, it is being turned into a Lincoln dealership parking lot.

Cinemark is different, though, because it presents as a premium experience with premium prices. When I was a boy, the chain operating in all these same locations (and a few more, in fact) was called Showcase Cinemas, and while I wasn’t the one paying for the movies or the snacks back then, I never recall a bad time (though I do recall the almost plasticky way years of slushees had solidified in the carpet surrounding the concession island at the now defunct Crosspoint location).

Around the time I left high school, Showcase’s theaters in this area were bought up by another chain called Rave Cinemas. An ex-girlfriend of mine was working there when we met, and she would talk to me about the slash-and-burn cost-cutting done by Rave (even as the prices on everything went up).

Around the time of the acquisition, a new outdoor shopping space called The Greene had just been put in, with a rather large Showcase Cinema de Lux theater. It had plants in sconces and a player piano. When Rave acquired the theater, along with all the others, they replaced the plants with plastic ones which would never need watering, and removed the player piano to, I suppose, save a couple bucks a year on electric expenses. Things became barren during the Rave years.

When Cinemark came in and gobbled up Rave the way Rave had gobbled up Showcase’s operations, it seemed to have a corporate, yet still evident sense of enthusiasm for the moviegoing experience. The player piano never came back, but the feeling that you were in a place with more dignity than a gas station bathroom did, and that was good enough for me.

Years later, the absolute cultural moment of MoviePass forced Cinemark and all the other theater chains to introduce a kind of “movie pass” of their own. Cinemark’s was easily the weakest of these offerings, with the Cinemark Movie Club, which would bill you $8.99 monthly for one movie ticket (this, a steep discount from a standard $12.99 ticket), and afford you that same price on any subsequent tickets you bought, as well as a 20% discount on (the overpriced) snacks. It wasn’t much, but it did make the experience of theatergoing more approachable. I think the barrier for most people attending films is and has always been the high cost: a ticket, a drink and a popcorn will set you back over $20 under normal circumstances.

I always look forward to the experience of going to the movies. I romanticize it, think about how good it can feel to see a film with a bunch of strangers, all taking it in together in this hallowed American pastime. Then, when I leave, I am always in a big hurry to get out of the building, away from my fellow patrons, and back to the soothing isolation of my car.

Perhaps it’s an age thing. As we get older and our time becomes sparser, we value our precious, fleeting moments of diversion (particularly the expensive ones) and want them to count every time. Yet at the movie theater, the odds are quite good that something (or more likely, someone) will make it a poorer experience for you, and by extension, money less well-spent.

I went, during the MoviePass days, to see Upgrade. Sat next to me, by virtue of theaters’ new and forever policy of seat reservation, was another man who had come on his own to see the film. Throughout the movie, for an hour and a half, he repeated a tic of dragging his hand along the leather arm of his chair, lifting it up into the air limply, and then letting it slap back down under its own weight to repeat the process.

For 100 minutes.

I don’t want to sound like a 90s stand-up comic, and just go down the list of things you’ll no doubt recognize from your own trips to the movies. Like parents of small, talkative children, bringing them to R-rated films. I want to stay on-track and simply talk about my experience seeing Spider-Man. I will try to contain myself.

I had just enough time to grab a bite to eat on my way to the theater, and stopped at the Godfather’s Pizza near my chosen multiplex. I’ve never had Godfather’s–I had a limp personal boycott to wage against it for being lorded over by simpleton and former presidential candidate Herman Cain, who besides being an awful person, was also at the head of the National Restaurant Association which lobbied so effectively to keep the wages of tipped food service workers at around $2 an hour even to this very day.

But now that guy is dead, so I decided it was less ethically dubious to go grab a slice of pie.

And I should not have been surprised when I arrived that the dining room was closed because the restaurant was understaffed (meaning that people had been paid too little, been asked too much of, and rightly abandoned ship). It is for this reason that I bought a Pizza Hut-branded personal pan pizza at the movie theater for $10.75.

I believe that pizza cannot be bad. So please believe me when I tell you this pizza was very bad.

And I ate it with a good lead time before the show, occasionally checking the app to see whether anyone was going to buy a seat directly next to me. Things seemed set until about five minutes before the previews began, when I noticed in the app that the two seats directly to my right had been purchased. I committed to mean-mugging the couple on their arrival, but could not bring myself to do it. They looked nice enough. They chose the seats no doubt to have a more centered view of the screen. But we are at the new height of the coronavirus pandemic, and could they not have just fucked off over by one single seat to give me some space?

And on that subject, I must draw attention to the rattly, phlegm-laden hacks and projections of my fellow theatergoers. Both in front of, and behind me were a coughing chorus for the nearly three hours I was sat in the house. You could tell from the crunching, crinkling sounds of their snacks and the full volume of their croaking that they were not masked up for one moment after being seated.

And oh, how they talked. The couple directly next to me, and the two boys and father-type to the right of them, in particular. That guy seemed like a real ‘cool dad’ type and limited his dad jokes once the movie began to roll so the kids could enjoy the movie and do their own talking throughout. And when the movie began to end, he literally stood the boys up and marched them out, as if this were a baseball game and beating the crowds in the parking garage was of the utmost importance.

Without spoiling anything, I will say (and expand upon in my review of the film) that the climax of the new Spider-Man movie is very emotional for all its characters; and as the tears are welling in their eyes, and they begin to confess the weight of their feelings to one another…that is when this dad got the kids up and led them out. “Ope!” he may as well have said, “they got the bad guys! Movie’s as good as done, let’s go boys, it’s nothin’ but talkin’ ’til the credits roll, trust me, I’ve seen a picture or two in my day!”

The laziness! The absolute cheapening of the experience! At the movie theater, you are subjected to the minds of your public peers, and you will be reminded that they are philistines. What an absolute tragedy to bear witness to. It was something I recognized, and I can no longer recall who did that to me, but I resent it so much. Like people talking all the way through a film, or goofing around on their phone, as if they haven’t shown up and paid good money to take in an experience from start to finish.

And boy, did the woman next to me ever pull her phone out. Over and over again.

For my part, I was mortified every time my Apple Watch accidentally woke up and shone its tiny little light from my wrist. I didn’t want to negatively impact the moviegoing experience of the people around me. That dilemma was apparently not shared by this woman, who was timid and careful about her usage earlier in the movie, but eventually resorted to unapologetic long-form texting once she’d established a nice habit of it.

They chose the seats directly next to someone and then texted throughout the movie, even in the final act when you really ought to let people pay the most attention.

I got out of the theater at nearly 8pm because the actual feature took precisely 23 minutes to start. Keep that in mind next time you’re running late, by the way. You won’t miss anything in the previews except every exciting shot from the movies that are coming out.

When did that happen, by the way? Was it around the same time every movie trailer began to feature a slowed-down, minor-key, quasi-acoustic version of a liminal song from the Classic Rock station or bygone children’s films?

Did you know that in the new Uncharted movie, they use helicopters to airlift sunken pirate ships and then fly them between oceanic mountains? Seems like the sort of exciting plot point you might love to tell someone about after seeing the movie, right? The sort of thing that if you’d only heard an enthusiastic coworker go on about it you’d think, “oh I gotta see that movie!” Well, don’t bother yourself with all that excitement and chatter; it’s right there in the trailer! Just like every other interesting set piece!

There is nearly nothing about the theatergoing experience that cannot be replicated at home with some combination of dedication, money, time, and craftsmanship.

“But the big screen!” you might say. Look up a field of view calculator and then sit the recommended distance from your screen. “But the surround sound!” you protest. Buy even an entry-level surround setup. “But the first-run movies!”

I admit, you’ve got me there. But you can rent lots of new movies at home these days while they are still in the theaters. And when you can’t, you’ve got more than enough content across streaming and rental services to keep you busy while you wait for the new features to come home.

And if you really can’t wait, like I couldn’t wait with Spider-Man, then yes, there are still theaters.

But you will regret it, at least a little bit. When you’ve spent at least $25 per person, and been coughed on by the people around you who are also talking and won’t get off their fucking phones, and then can’t even be fucked to stay the full length of the film, or when you miss an important scene because you got carried away on the 96 oz soda you knew you were going to regret but had to drink and torture your bladder with because of how much money it cost you, just remember that you knew better, and you went anyway.

We all know better. And we deserve better. Start saving your ticket money in a home theater fund. Going to the movies in 2022 blows.

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