The last movie I saw prior to the Coronavirus pandemic shutdown was a preview screening of Bloodshot, a routine and forgettable action picture of Vin Diesel playing a cyborg seeking revenge. I sat there in the theater with the comfy seats, the massive screen, and Dolby sound, not the least bit thrilled with the sight of a CGI Diesel punching a Doctor Octopus knock-off down an elevator shaft. I wrote my thoughts down on the comment card and left as I always did, not knowing fully that this would probably be the last time I’d be able to go to the theater until things ever return to normal.
If the last film I saw in theaters were something as awful as Bloodshot, one might look back on the experience as good riddance. This could be even easier to say given that same day I caught the lackluster provocative thriller The Hunt in the morning. I drove downtown, paid for parking and attended a press-only screening, leaving rather dismayed with sloppy satire.
But notice how I never once decry the theater itself for obvious reasons. I love going to the movie theater, as obvious from going out to cover 1-2 movies a week. I enjoy the allure of the various establishments, the grandness of the gigantic screen and, by far the most important aspect, the community experience. As a freelancer who works from home, the movie theater was the only regular spot I would go to get out of the house. Needless to say, I’m going to be spending a lot more time at the cinema when this is all over.
I miss the theater from both the angle of catching a film in an empty theater and viewing with a packed crowd. Having missed a press screener of Happy Death Day 2U thanks to the weather, I caught it Friday morning in a theater all to myself. I enjoyed being able to scoff so loudly with a big screen all to myself. I had a similar fun time by catching the early morning screening of Dear White People, gushing about such great writing all on my own.
Of course, the more memorable theater moments are the ones with a big group. My favorite theater at the moment is the Alamo Drafthouse in Woodbury, a cinephile’s dream of a theater. For the Angry Birds 2 screening, there was a full cereal bar for those in attendance as well as a showcase of classic commercials and retro video clips while the families filed in. For Doctor Sleep, they had a tricycle race in front of the large space at the front of the screen. And for Birds of Prey, Rollergirls skated up and down the aisles. Wild, fun times.
Watching films with a group can sometimes make terrible films all they more enjoyable. The Nun I recall being a very bland and forgettable bit of supernatural horror from the same universe as The Conjuring. But watching the film with a crowd and watching them cower or freak out at jumpscares is a real hoot. The theater even turned the house lights up halfway through the film, as though they knew I was more interested in watching the crowd.
Easily the best time I’ve ever had at a theater was when I had the honor of hosting a screening of The Apartment at the Emagine Theater in Willowbrook. It was part of a mystery screening where the entire audience had no idea what I would be hosting. When one of my favorite films came up on the big screen, it was astounding to hear that the audience react. They laughed at Jack Lemon’s hapless nature and gasped when Fred MacMurray bribed Shirley MacLaine for her silence. After the film, I explained a little more about the history of the film and had spirited Q&A. Before leaving, I signed a poster for hosting that month which still hangs in that theater.
I miss it all and to think that audiences are just not interested in seeing films at the theater is kinda bunk. If it were true, how did Avengers: Endgame smash box office records with some of the most unbelievable theater traffic I’d seen in years? If audiences really wanted to just watch stuff at home, that’ll have to be proven by the new format of offering new films for $20 rentals, which is already being spoken of with ill.
Movie theaters have always had problems; poor projections, questionable cleaning, overpriced tickets, overpriced food, etc. But, honestly, all those are just minor nitpicks to the true pleasure that comes from the theater. If the theater were really just about seeing the latest movie and not the experience itself, audiences would merely wait for home release. With smaller releases, you don’t even have to wait that long as they’re usually for rent before leaving the theater.
I could go on with the specifics about how nothing will replace the theater experience, but the bottom line that I can’t wait to get back to them. I have a lot of fond and wonderful memories of watching a movie in the theater. Hopefully there are many more ahead of me.