Movie Theatres Are Dead To Me

I went to see The Last Jedi the other day. I was unimpressed.

This isn’t a review full of spoilers, so about the film let me just say: meh. Lots of hype for not much I could really like. Was it better than the hideous first three prequels? Yes, of course. But a pile of dead cockroaches slathered with butter and sitting in the desert sun for a month would be better too, so that’s not saying much.

Maybe I’ll write more about the movie itself sometime — the huge plot holes, the stupidities, the pacing — but honestly, right now, I want to talk about the experience of going to the theatre, and why I have concluded it should be avoided at all costs.

Ads, ads, and more ads.

The entire film industry has apparently gone off in some weird direction, so now they must show moviegoers a million ads before the show starts to make ends meet. Or, I suppose, those in charge all have MBA degrees and want to squeeze every last penny out of the system before it collapses.

I got to the theatre well in advance. As it was a major release (though not on opening weekend) I knew it would be full, and it was. But despite arriving well before showtime, ads were already playing as I entered. As usual, of course, it wasn’t purely straight and obvious ads. No, it’s tiny tidbits of movie lore and cruft interspersed with much longer ads, and most of the things that were not “real ads” were actually sponsored bits in one way or another. Argh.

I was subjected to 15 full minutes of ads (and recall I got there well after most others). There was even an interactive recycling game (played in some way with your cell phone… I have no idea how, as I didn’t get there early enough to see the instructions on which app to download or which website to visit) that was also an ad, for the local recycling chain.

I think this ad stream included at least five different car makers, and two different pharma companies touting their drugs. Why they were treating the audience for The Last Jedi like the usual audience for the nightly news, I have no idea.

So the ads end, right? And then we get the previews, right? Well, no.

We get the obvious signal that the show is starting: the lights go down as the last plaintive thing from the initial ad stream ends. But then we’re hit with a new ad stream, before the trailers. I assume the earlier ads were effectively local or movie theatre chain based/created/produced/marketed. They were for a combination of local businesses and some big companies that have the marketing clout to interact with a movie theatre chain independently.

I also assume this second set of ads was different, that they were packaged with the film itself, along with the previews. Those were handled by the production or distribution company, and were not local in nature. I also bet they cost a fortune to the companies that bought them. Ad time before The Last Jedi has to be on par with ad time at the NFL’s annual championship ad festival and concussion banquet.

OK, so we get through those ads. Now we see the previews. I’ll admit that sometimes I like seeing the previews, but sometimes not. Still, I know this is traditional, and I will sit through them and make snarky comments where deserved. But I will point this out: previews are ads for another set of movies, and they are between me and the movie I paid to see. Lots of previews means lots of trying to sell me more stuff. Specifically more movie tickets.

Aside: this was my first theatre experience in Canada, and it was interesting to note a particular difference. None of the previews came with an MPAA rating blurb. They transitioned from one to another without something saying “This preview has been rated suitable for all audiences by the MPAA.” That was a tiny win in my book: probably a grand total of 30 fewer seconds spent on those pointless rating statements before each preview.

Never-the-less, by the time we actually see the Lucasfilm logo appear on screen — the thing indicating we really are starting the movie now, finally — it’s been at least 30 minutes. And remember I missed a lot of the early ad show, and theatre was basically full when I arrived. In fact, we could not find three adjacent seats in the place, so our party was split up. The movie is starting well after the advertised showtime, and clearly the gaps between shows are huge to get the crowds in and subject them to the maximum time pitching them products and hoping they will go buy stunningly expensive junk food out in the lobby.

It’s all about monetisation, baby. Monetisation.

But let’s take that one step farther. I’m beyond being a cord cutter. I haven’t personally ever had a subscription to a cable or satellite TV service, and my home TV set has no antenna. I can, at least in theory, stream things, but I rarely do. I have a collection of DVDs and Blu-rays, and they get used. Other than that my entertainment experience comes from the internet, and there is always an ad blocker involved. (Ads are now a major source of malware and viruses, so an ad blocker is mandatory.)

I don’t see traditional TV commercials anymore, and don’t understand why anyone puts up with network or cable TV given the incredible commercial load they come with. How can you watch a program — any program — and even keep track of it when there are huge breaks full of loud ads all the time? It’s an awful experience, and I long ago decided I was done with it. The occasional visit to a relative or friend with a commercial signal source only reinforces that I made the right choice.

This theatre trip has compounded that, however. The huge pile of ads they threw at us before the show started was, frankly, appalling. It offended me, and I have no desire to subject myself to that sort of thing again.

Alone, that might not be enough. I might cave and go back to the theatre see something that looks interesting. But ads are not the only issue.

How Loud Can You Go?

In a certain scene in The Last Jedi, the audience clearly expects a huge explosion, with all the accompanying noise and bombast. Surprisingly, it doesn’t happen. I’ve already read a piece on the net about that, and how the director did exactly the opposite of what the audience would expect. Props to him for that one case, but no props for the other 179 minutes of overpowering noise and music.

What is it with theatres and volume these days? Do they assume the audience is all deaf, and needs everything at maximum volume as a result? Are they, perhaps, trying to drown out the chatter of audience members, the rustle of candy wrappers and popcorn, and the occasional crying baby? (Hint: if that is the case, it’s not working. More on that in a bit.) Or do modern movie goers really want to exit the theatre feeling as if they’ve just lost a heavyweight boxing match without ever throwing a punch themselves?

I am not a musician, trying to protect great ears and hearing. I have some tinnitus, and things that bother my wife (who does have great hearing) don’t always bother me, at least in terms of simple volume. But modern theatres do bother me. They are simply too loud, and I don’t know why. Maybe it’s for audiences used to the spectacle of rock concerts. Or maybe it all goes back to the movie Earthquake in 1974, where the sound was meant to make you feel as if the quake was really happening. (Probably not, that was a terrible movie, but it’s an amusing thought.)

Whatever the case, going to the theatre now is an auditory assault, at least if you’re watching a modern, mass market film. Maybe it’s different in the art houses, but I honestly don’t know. I’m not generally in the target demographic for most of those films, and the few that might want me probably have no idea how to reach me given my ad avoiding ways.

In any case, even the music was too loud in plenty of cases this last time out, and that adds to the problems.

How Old Do You Have To Be To See A Movie?

Audiences are awful. There is no getting around it. They stink.

There were kids in our screening of The Last Jedi that had no clue what appropriate behaviour was. The one behind me basically narrated the entire film out loud, asking questions of his father all the time. There was a crying baby. Someone — possibly the kid behind me — spilled their drink. How do I know? I had to wash my coat when I got home… that’s how.

This was a Canadian audience, though. It was, overall, better behaved than an American audience. No one shouted obscenities at the screen, for example, which I have seen in an American theatre. Also, as a rule the adults and older kids seemed well behaved. I didn’t notice a lot of loud talking or phone use, so, congrats to Canada for getting that right. Or perhaps that was going on and I just didn’t notice it for some reason.

In fact the audience really enjoyed certain scenes, and laughed out loud as a group. My only issue with that was that they chose to laugh at only the scenes most obviously trying to extract exactly that laugh. (Why the makers of The Last Jedi thought such scenes were a good idea, I have no clue. They are all minions of The Mouse, however, and there may be some expectations that they had to meet. I could be wrong, but it felt like that. Porgs are, in my opinion, dumb.)

I do have to question the judgement of some of the parents present, however. Should you really be bringing young children to see The Last Jedi? I know there was no overt sexual content, and not really any swearing, but there is a lot of war, people dying, and some pretty questionable things to explain to those kids. Yes, it’s Star Wars, but… really? If the child is going to ask questions out loud to an entire theatre for the whole show, perhaps they should stay home. Or at least wait for streaming or Blu-ray releases.

Where Do You Summer?

Ticket prices are just plain silly. No, they are beyond that. We went to a non-3D, non-IMAX, non-DBOX, boring old plain movie. For the cost of two adult tickets I can buy the Blu-ray of this film when it comes out and watch it any time I want. Those willing to buy a digital copy and stream it can spend even less. I haven’t factored in cost of transport to the theatre — gas or the bus — and don’t even think about a drink and some candy. For those you might have to mortgage a house.

The economics of this just don’t make sense, and yet it is what it is. Ticket prices continue to rise and the theatre experience continues to get worse.

I am much happier buying disks, myself. If I was more comfortable with streaming, I’d be fine doing that. There isn’t much to recommend going to an actual theatre at this point.

(Aside: I’m looking forward to people trying to understand the title of this section.)

You’re Wrong, Fish Breath!

Some will claim I am in error. They usually have one of the following reasons:

  1. They want the “big screen” experience. And maybe for some films that matters. Maybe. But theatre design has changed a lot over the decades, and while the overall aspect ratio of the screen may be about the same, they’ve shrunk. My seat for The Last Jedi was no better than my home seat in front of a 40 inch screen, and that’s pretty small by today’s standards. In my college days I saw 2010 on an ancient — truly huge — screen. That was something, and it could be fun to see some films in that sort of environment, but that is not possible in most modern theatres.
  2. They want that theatre sound. See above, and bring earplugs.
  3. They want to see first run films right when they come out. Yeah, maybe. I get it, I guess. But it’s another aspect of our crazy culture and the decisions the production and distribution companies make. TV shows come out in once a week episodes, but Netflix and Amazon are putting up whole seasons at once. Hello binge watching! Why do movie studios distribute to theatres first? Because that’s what has worked. Early sales of disks cut into first run profits. But there is a huge direct-to-disk market now, and maybe that will change for the big blockbusters over time as well.
  4. They actually like theatres. I have no answer for that. Perhaps professional psychiatric help is in order.

In response to the the reasons listed above, I have my own list of reasons for liking my home as a screening place:

  1. I control the volume. (Funny… I don’t go deaf watching at home.)
  2. There is a pause button. (Need a drink? Pause. Easy.)
  3. The cost is (much) lower.
  4. The audience is people I know, who will behave well, not bring kids to the wrong thing, and treat my home well. Correspondingly, I will do the same if I am invited to someone else’s home to watch a film.
  5. Start times are whenever I want them to be.
  6. I can fast forward through the previews (if there are any) and get right to the show I want. No ads (other than product placement and other, internal, sponsorship stuff).

And In Conclusion…

At some level I realize that this is a first world rant. Those without the money to buy a disk (let alone a TV) can’t do what I do. But their theatre experiences can’t be any better than my own, and they, too, must long for alternatives.

My complaint, though, mostly lies with those who currently control movie making. Why release to theatres first, if not for the money? Why all the ads up front? Why must you scrape every possible penny from the experience, at the expense of making the experience better?

In any case, I suspect if I go back to a movie theatre it will be under strong protest. Every flick I currently think looks interesting will be better seen in my living room than at the local megaplex.