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The Unapologetic Geek

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6 Things I Want to See at the Movie Theater

a movie theater
Place where dreams come alive, or the kind of place medieval torture chambers strive to be when they grow up?

I have many fond memories of the movies from my childhood. Whether it was organizing a birthday party that started with a movie or a night watching two Star Trek movies in a drive-in, going to the theater was an integral part of growing up. Unfortunately, over the last decade or so, that has all changed. Going to the movies now is more like organizing a trip to Iraq and hoping that you only get shot once, in a non-vital organ, but knowing that you'll probably get hit by a roadside bomb or two, just like last time. It really does feel like a war zone. They've turned the volume up to ear-bleeding levels in order to combat the string of crying babies, drunken college students, talkative assholes, and people describing the action into their cell phones, and even still, they have to add closed captioning to certain screenings. You walk out of the theater--your ears ringing, your brain pounding, and your palms sweaty--and swear to yourself that you'll never go back there again, no matter how badly you want to see Paranormal Activity 2.

People don't enjoy the experience as much as they used to, and as such, fewer people go to the movies than did ten years ago, people are rabidly building ridiculously decadent home theater systems, and hordes of unsavory Internet users are bootlegging and sharing movies free of charge. Meanwhile, ticket and vending prices have been on a steady rise to combat it, while the people making movies have made changes to deal with the problem, including hatchetting good R-rated movies to get that magical PG-13 they think will make more money, making a 3-D or IMAX cut of anything even remotely action or kid-oriented (they can charge an extra $10 a head!), and trying to recapture the golden days by remaking, rebooting, or sequalizing long-dead franchises at a rate unheard of in the history of film (and that is saying something). If this trend continues, movie theaters will soon start dying slow, painful, and expensive deaths, and the movie industry will collapse. Hope you like independant films, folks, because just like cockroaches after a nuclear war, that will be all that remains in the post-Hollywoodocalypse to come.

There are ways to combat this trend, however, that won't destroy the world. Below are six humble suggestions for how to improve the moviegoing experience, and I believe each of them will help extinguish the trauma of the modern movie theater. They might not all work, of course, and the ones that don't can certainly be replaced with newer ideas. The point is, we have to do something, and the sooner we act, the better. If anybody wants to loan me the money to start my own movie theater (using the liberal definition of the word "loan," which is "to give freely without the expectation of payback or returns"), I will be glad to implement as many of these ideas as I can.


fat man with crying baby
Finally, Joe can go see Sex and the City 2 without offending (as long as he puts a shirt on, of course)

This idea isn't so much an innovation as it is an old concept in need of a comeback. Long ago, in a time nearly forgotten by history (the 60's and 70's), nearly all movie theaters contained small rooms in the back with sound-proof walls and a huge viewing window where parents could take babies or young children. That way, they could watch the movie without burdening the rest of the audience with the wails of their spawn, and everybody was happier for it.

Crying rooms still exist in some places in this country untouched by the passage of time, like Seattle, but they are almost impossible to find. As a new parent, and judging by the vitriole of people who reacted to my blog about taking a six-month-old with me to see a Harry Potter movie a while back, I can't fathom why these things don't still exist in every movie theater.

Seriously, why? I can't see how encouraging more parents to come to the movies would do anything but increase revenues, and if space is so hugely important, just build a bigger theater.


Bruce Willis in Live Free or Die Hard
"Yippe ki-yay, um, you bad person, you"

So now every big movie has a 3-D cut, an IMAX cut, and a regular cut, all shown separately and with different pricing. So why can't certain movies be released with two different versions, one rated R and another rated PG-13? There have been a plague of movies recently that were castrated to get the magical PG-13 rating, and when this happens, nobody gets to see the movie how it was intended to be seen by the filmmakers, at least not until a special edition DVD is released two years later.

Now, I'm not in principle opposed to cutting a movie to make it appeal to a broader audience, but why can't both the cut and uncut versions be released simultaneously? You'd get more asses in the seats that way, which only means more money for the executives and more freedom for the auteurs.

Or do people honestly think it's better when John McClane doesn't say "fuck" every two minutes?


Playbill for The Dark Knight
Try and tell me you wouldn't keep this

Whenever you go see a play, musical, symphony, opera, or just about any other stage performance, you get a playbill that gives you information about the piece and performers. Why don't they do this for movies?

For those thinking that movie playbills would be a waste of money, consider the geeks who would pay to collect authentic, opening night playbills for The Hobbit or the latest Twilight abomination. Yeah, you could sell them for a dollar, and you'd undoubtably make a modest profit.

Besides, it can help the crazy publicists behind the scenes promote whichever star they think is on the rise, why the director deserves your respect, and how plans for the inevitable sequel are already underway. Heck, they'd probably pay you to make the playbills, you could probably sell ad space on them, and then you could give them away for free without hurting your profits. It's a no-brainer.


a drive-in showing The Ten Commandments
Psh, Moses ain't got nothing if he can't part a sea of old cars

I miss drive-ins, but I get why they're obsolete. They are expensive to run, difficult to maintain, and can't seat as many people as a regular theater. However, to the best of my knowledge and ability to use Google, nobody has yet tried adding a drive-in to a standard theater.

Imagine your average multiplex, but in a horseshoe shape. All the regular theaters are on the arms of the horseshoe, but the entire empty space inside is devoted to a single, large drive-in, complete with speaker boxes and a ridiculously-sized megascreen. You could even have big tarps set up to protect from rain, snow, and bird poop. You could have easy access to the theater lobby (and thus concessions and bathrooms), and also have a drive-up concession stand on the way in to the theater. On the weekends, you could show the big movie of the week, and on some random weekday, you could play nostalgic classics or cheesy horror flicks.

It would be much easier to run and maintain, and you could charge a little extra to make up for the lack of seats. I guarantee you, people would come.


man pointing taser
"Silence is golden, bitch, and don't call me bro."

Let's face it, no matter how many warnings flash across the screen before the movie, telling people to not talk, text, or use their cell phone, people are going to continue talking, texting, and using their cell phone. What we need is a movie theater with balls.

Instead of some wussy message that uses "please" and "thank you," I hereby propose this disclaimer: "We at Gestapo Theater reserve the right to forceably expell any patron who talks, texts, uses his or her cell phone, or otherwise causes a disruption during the following film. This is no joke. We will drag your ass out of this movie and kick it to the curb outside. Respect those around you, enjoy the movie, and do not fuck with us."

If that policy is a little too extreme for you, you could send disruptive people to the crying rooms instead of kicking them out altogether. This is just one more reason why you should equip your theater with them.


a call box
"Yeah, hi, this is theater 7. I think you guys are playing the wrong movie in here, because I'm pretty sure Despicable Me isn't supposed to have a Dakota Fanning rape scene."

You've all had at least one experience where something inexplicable started happening on the screen, and it wasn't just because you were watching a David Lynch film. The sound cuts out, Harry Potter's face winds up where his feet should be and there's a huge horizontal line down the center of the screen, or a burn mark suddenly appears and tears through the entire movie, leaving nothing but a blank, white screen behind.

Then you wait for somebody to get up and tell somebody about the incident. And then you wait some more, getting more impatient with those around you while they get more impatient with you. It takes ten minutes before somebody shouts, "Alright, I'll do it!" and then it takes another ten minutes for somebody to fix the problem. If you're lucky, you'll get a free ticket out of the deal, but usually you just get a half-assed apology from the assistant-manager-in-training.

I propose putting in a call box in every movie theater, by the door so it's at least out of the way (if you're going with the airlock design for your theaters, put the phone in there). Mark these things well, and encourage people to use them to report any malfunction or disruption, including volume problems, image crack-ups, lakes of urine-soaked gummy bears on the floor, and unruly, drunk assholes. Have these call boxes wired directly into a handheld radio that is carried by whomever is currently in charge of the theater, and make sure that he or she is ready to do whatever is necessary to deal with whatever problem the patrons may have.

With these additions, some simple and some more involved, I believe you could change the face of moviegoing for the better forever. And if it doesn't work, then it's the fault of the people at large, who have proven time and again that they don't deserve movie theaters anymore. If that happens, just open up an arthouse theater that serves wine and shows the cinema of the French New Wave, because really, the people who frequent those places will pay well and never disrespect your theater. Just don't serve Italian Merlot, because then they'll fricking kill you.

-e. magill 7/06/2010

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