Since middle March, the movie going experience has all but disappeared. Thanks to shutdowns, stay at home orders, and overall fear and anxiety, people are now somewhat cautious of heading over to their friendly neighborhood multiplex to plunk down somewhere between $8.00 and $20.00 to see a feature film for roughly an eighty minute to a two hour plus timeframe–not counting watching trailers as well as ads and “daters”–those announcements that inform you everything from the theater chain’s rewards program that you can join for free or not, to friendly reminders not to talk, text, and overall become obnoxious to those around you that paid as much as you did to experience what’s being seen on the big screen. Of course, we are not counting the cost of concessions that have as much as a 100% markup for the theater to what’s being sold at the counter. (After all, how much would six dollars worth of popcorn cost if one did pay for an unpopped version? About a three pound sack’s worth–not counting the “butter” flavoring one can goo on it–or to lubricate that sticky desk drawer–take your pick!)
Drive-in theaters have made themselves a rip-roarin’ comeback to see movies with the assumption that one can find an operating drive-in, unless one can count a “pop-up” version consisting of a hugh white sheet hastily propped up for a screen, a sound system that can generate the audio through powerful speakers that can throw the sound to the area folks are to be watching the film or through a low power FM signal that radios placed within a two hundred foot radius can pick up, as well as a shack/tent/open table where the concessions can be sold for as much as a 100% markup to the cost of goods for the drive-in management.
Drive-ins are great because not only it promotes social distancing, it holds a nostalgic flavor to it all. This works in two ways. One, nostalgia is one of the best remedies to relieve anxiety, and two, since there isn’t a whole lot of new content presently available, many drive-ins and outdoor places are offering “retro” titles into their mix, many using theme screenings from showcasing classic sci-fi, horror, comedy, and action-adventure titles where most, if not all of its special effects were created through antilog methods! Recently, a real (not “pop-up”) drive-in was placing on their bill, 1950‘s-era sci-fi features such as The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and The War of the Worlds with special effects by Ray Harryhausen and George Pal where you can see the strings attached to the beasts and aliens! (They could have fixed it in post, but this writer digresses!)
Then what about sit-down theaters? What will be their status? As of this writing, many of the movie theater chains from AMC, Cinemark, Regal, and the many others, will plan to stay around. They may have to limit the capacity of their seating space, as well as to re-modify their concession stands with no self serve concessions areas, but the theaters won’t take this form of lack of crowds sitting down! After all, movie theaters have been around since the 19th century, and it’s going to take a long time for what’s been known as an entertainment based lifestyle to totally go away! It’s going to change of course, but it won’t disappear!
What made movie theaters (as well as movies themselves) change was through that device called “television” that could bring video content to one’s home for no additional charge. So movie ramped up their pictures, and the movie theaters followed. Then there was “cable TV” that offered more content–for a fee! Then there was the “premium TV channels” a.k.a “pay TV” where one can pay additional for the privilege to watch recently released movies uncut and unedited. If there were nude scenes depicted in the feature as well as cussing on the soundtrack, you will see the nude scenes and hear the cussing. No “edited for television” disclaimers throughout! And of course, there was no annoying and obnoxious TV commercials to interrupted your viewing.
Then there was the rise of home video. With a handy-dandy video cassette recorder (VCR) machine, one can record programming off the air to view it later that day or that decade! And one can get prerecorded movies on videotape where one can watch a title for as many times as possible–uncut and unedited! If one didn’t want to shell as as much as $100.00 per videotape, one can rent it at a local video rental outlet where a staff of clerks can recommend what to see based upon personal tastes. A few of these tape rental stores may know more than you would want on the subject of movies, as some outlets would hire clerks on duty that are only there to remind you to return the tape on time or pay a penalty. And if you don’t rewind the tape, there’s another service fee attached! So better be kind and rewind!
Then there was the digital video disk-DVD for short. These little plastic disks around 5” in diameter offer the same content found on videotape in better quality picture and sound, and you don’t rewind ‘em! DVDs were much better than their cousins, the laser disks that offered almost the same picture quality, but were 12” in size. Although there was also no rewinding involved, sometimes one had to take the disk to flip them over to its other side to play the second half of the feature. They same way one would play a record!
Best all of, DVDs were more affordable to own. New releases on titles would cost anywhere from $30.00 and less! If one wanted to rent them from the nearby Blockbuster Video (usually staffed by those that know and love the movies) or to a Redbox vending machine where one can rent a disk for $1.00 per 48 hour period, it was just as accessible. (Movie recommendations through a vending machine were not included in its rental price!)
Now there is streaming! Depending on what source one desires to subscribe to, one can pay anywhere from $15.00 per month or less to see whatever the channel is offering! If one desires HBO-type content, one can subscribe to HBO Go/Plus/Now to see TV programs that made the former “Home Box Office” famous ranging from The Sopranos to Game of Thrones. If one is a fan of Disney, there’s Disney+ that has Star Wars, Marvel Comics super heroes, thirty years worth of The Simpsons, and of course, all of the Disney features one can stand for $7.00 per month! (Sorry folks! No Song of the South!) And there is Netflix that is a streaming island in to itself!
Since TV devices and the sound systems that go along with them are now bigger, thinner, sharper, and louder than ever before, one can actually have a home theater system that would rival a home theater setup only movie moguls could once grab. One can keep a movie theater going experience right in own’s personal dwelling, and could view almost anything one desires to watch! (You can even view porn if that was one’s personal schtick!) And you can chow down on all of the popcorn you want, guzzle all of the soda you could drink, and wolf down all of the Jujubes you can cram in your pie hole–for a fraction of the cost!
And if you want to talk through the feature, play with your phone, or even get up from your chair/sofa/bed/floor to “see a man about a dog”, nobody’s gonna call the manager to tell you to shut the phone off, be quiet, or to stop annoying those around you when you keep getting up to relieve yourself just because you drank five cups of fizzy sugar water!
And these notions fall into place where the movie theater managers would see another beginning of their end. Since content is available, the methods of content is accessible, and the cost of all of this experiencing is next to nothing (not totally “free”, but pretty close to it!), the question remains! Why does one need to go to a movie house to view visual content when one can do it at home for less money and effort? Unless one desires the emotional appeal of seeing content with a group of strangers that will laugh, cry, or gasp in horror with the action depicted on the screen and/or one needs to get out of the house for a few hours (or days?), then nothing beats going to the movies without going to the movies!
As the summer “tentpole” season featuring film releases with special effects and loud noises bleeds into the fall and winter period where movies become more realistic, softer in volume, and only exist to cop multiple awards (but are not necessarily entertaining as a whole), only time, tide, and a cure to the virus of the year will only determine if those would be willing to go back to their movie going habits as before. Granted, there’s the notion that old habits die hard, or that if one does picks up a new habit, one won’t go back to their former methods of doing things as previous. (“You can’t go home again”!) But all elements are to be taken within consideration, if not taken with a gain of (popcorn) salt. If movies are to be made and the price is right, they will come. If not, then at least one can spend their moment to binge watch The Mandalorian for the first time of for the 17th! Or as The Child would say, “Thirsty I am for more fizzy sugar water!!”
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