Movie Times

There’s a big debate going on in “Hollywood” about reducing the wait time between big screen releases and DVD releases of movies. The distance between the two keeps getting shorter and shorter, and some moviemakers are advocating doing away with it altogether. Steven Soderbergh, for example, is a supporter of eliminating the window during which movies can be seen only in theaters.

M. Night Shyamalan, on the other hand, has a big problem with the possibility and is warning that it could mean the end of theaters.

Speaking at the annual ShowEast convention in Orlando, Fla., M. Night Shyamalan… [warned it] will not only destroy the exhibition industry… but it will also diminish the artistic integrity of moviemaking.

"Art is the ability to convey that we are not alone," Shyamalan told the gathering of more than 800 theater operators and suppliers at the convention's closing night dinner. "When I sit down next to you in a movie theater, we get to share each other's point of view. We become part of a collective soul. That's the magic in the movies."

Then he added: "If this thing happens, you know the majority of your theaters are closing. It's going to crush you guys."

…Shyamalan said his speech at ShowEast was intended to address what he believes has been sadly missing from the debate: what he called "the human factor" of the moviegoing experience. Simply put, he said, part of what makes movies an art form is that they are viewed on a big screen with a big audience.
I understand and sympathize with what Shyamalan is saying, and I do think there are certain films that are better on the big screen (although, ironically, I don’t count Shyamalan’s films among them). Films like Lord of the Rings or The Bourne Identity or Star Wars are more fun when you see them the first time in the theater. Or, at least they used to be.

Now, movie-going is routinely an unenjoyable experience, and it’s specifically because of “the human factor” that Shyamalan references, which rarely entails becoming part of a collective soul but instead becoming part of a hideous, throbbing organism that seeks to destroy its own parts through unmitigated rudeness. I’ve had the kind of movie-going experience that Shyamalan describes, but they are too few and far between these days.

Years ago, we started choosing which films we would see based on what was playing at the theaters that seemed to have the lowest irritation factor. It wasn’t as much a problem for smaller art films, but if you want to see something even remotely mainstream, or, god forbid, a blockbuster, even waiting until the midnight shows isn’t a guarantee of peace and quiet, since apparently babysitters don’t exist anymore.

And while I feel for filmmakers like Shyamalan, I have no sympathy whatsoever for movie theaters, because it’s their fault. They used to have a thing called ushers, who would make sure people kept quiet, and escort people in and out as needed. Now, ushers no longer exist, so audience members are left to risk getting into it with other patrons by shooshing them themselves, or grind their teeth and try to ignore it, all while sitting in a theater that’s no longer completely dark—because ushers have been replaced by little lights all over the blasted place.

Money concerns, they say. I say, then keep the theater closed during the day. Many of them have done away with matinee pricing except for the very first showing of the day, so unless you want to go to a show at noon, you’ve got to pay full price, anyway. I’d happily switch to having fewer movie times from which to choose if I were guaranteed a pleasant experience when I went. As it is, I hardly ever go to the movies anymore, and when even this movie fiend has been driven home, willing to wait for the DVD, that’s really saying something.

If you want me back in the theater, then bring back ushers. Make the theaters dark again. Quit letting kids into R-rated movies. Prevent theater hopping so I don’t end up with six chattering teens behind me halfway through the film. And stop making me pay to watch ten commercials at a volume that makes me cringe. Otherwise, I’m with Soderbergh.

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