Can You Remember …
… the last time you went to see a movie in the theaters?
I can. It was earlier this year, and my wife and I took our five-year-old daughter to see “Tangled” — in 3-D, no less — at the cineplex up the street.
It was a late-afternoon show on a weekday and my family had the stadium-sized auditorium all to ourselves. It was my daughter’s introduction to movie-going. And as we sat there sharing popcorn and laughing in the darkness, with animated images flickering around us, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
But, more and more, our experience is becoming the exception rather than the rule.
Writing in The New York Times today, film critic Mahnola Dargis takes stock of the different ways that people consume entertainment these days and concludes, inevitably, that there aren’t as many butts in the seats anymore as there used to be.
Here’s the part worth noting:
“New digital technologies have transformed not only how movies are shot, processed, edited, distributed and exhibited, but also how they are watched. And this has altered our moving-image world in ways that, because we’re in the midst of all this change, are difficult to comprehend. What we do know is that for much of the 20th century when we talked about movies, we meant glorious if sometimes scratched bigger-than-life images flickering on theater screens that we watched with other people and, when the next attraction rolled in, were gone, maybe forever. Now we watch digital content on various machines, armed with the new consumer confidence that everything is a click away.”
Guilty as charged, Ms. Dargis.
These days, if I see a movie in a theater, it’s with four of my buddies and the occasion is the release of Hollywood’s newest comic book flick.
The gaudy spectacle of exploding robots, flying fists and Megan Fox, running, in a ripped t-shirt (preferably in slow-motion) is perfectly suited for that giant screen, to be shared in the intimacy of perfect strangers.
And with four of your buddies, when you don’t have to worry about your wife or girlfriend slapping you for enjoying too much the sight of Megan Fox running — preferably in slow motion.
But if I really want to sit and *watch* a movie, often with my wife, sometimes not — as is the case with the films I write about on this blog — then I’m in my living room watching them on TV, or in my home office watching them stream from my new iPad.
There, I can concentrate and not worry about the young couple down the row from me making too much noise. I don’t have to glare at the fella behind me who’s kicking my seat. And I don’t have to ask the guy in front of me to please take his cell-phone conversation out into the hall (and this even after the warning about silencing cell phones and pagers has already blared from the screen at THX levels of volume).
At home, I can rewind a scene in “Casablanca” if I miss the nuance of a line just uttered by the incomparable Ingrid Bergman. And I can pause the film if, as is so often the case, my daughter is asking for one more cuddle from the stairs.
Of course, this wasn’t always the case. As I’ve noted elsewhere in these pages, I spent most weekends in my twenties at the movies, taking in everything from the first installment of “Species” to Edward Burns’ debut in “The Brothers McMullen.”
My moviegoing tailed off in my thirties as my disposable income went to other things — planting and mowing my new yard, paying for things around the house and, of course, baby formula by the caseload.
In her Times’ piece, Dargis makes the entirely credible point that we don’t need to be in a theater in the company of strangers if we want to see a movie. Now, all we have to do is fire up our laptops or smartphones.
And she’s right — to a point.
Maybe I’m getting older and more picky, but I can also trace the decline in my moviegoing to a decline of films in the theaters that I actually feel like I’m getting my money’s worth to see.
Given the choice between spending $50 on three tickets to a 3-D movie, with popcorn and snacks — and, yes, that’s how much it actually cost — and spending $50 on just about anything else in this economy, I know where my dollar is going to land.
I know movies are more expensive than ever to make and thus have to make tons more at the box office just to break even. But it seems to me that Hollywood must have a certain contempt for its audience if it expects them to pay those sorts of prices for movies that will be out on DVD or will be available on-demand through cable TV in a matter of weeks or months after they leave the theaters.
What’s plaguing Hollywood is the same thing that’s plaguing the music business: there’s more product, and some of it is even worthwhile, but people don’t want to pay those kinds of prices.
And until, or unless, the economy rebounds, they won’t. And that means more 4:30 p.m. viewing experiences of the sort my family and I had and less of the communal movie-going experience a lot of us remember from when we were growing up.