Out-of-focus projection. Lousy sound. Uncomfortable seats. Obscene ticket and concession stand prices. Chattering audiences who won’t shut up. People texting with bright cell phone screens that light up the room. Restless teenagers throwing food and kicking the back of your chair… Once a cherished time that movie lovers looked forward to, the modern cinematic experience has deteriorated so badly that many viewers these days prefer to stay home and wait for DVD, Blu-ray or Netflix. In this week’s Roundtable, we share some of our most depressing theatrical horror stories.
My story isn’t so much about the experience as it is the setup that lead up to the experience. The year is 2004 and, like now, I’m a Miyazaki fanatic. ‘Spirited Away’ blew my mind in 2001 and I’m thrilled that ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ is showing near me. It’s only in one theater in my area, and only on one screen in that theater. My friend and I buy our tickets, get our snacks and sit down to watch the movie in a theater that’s otherwise empty. No stupid kids, no obnoxious teenagers, no nose hair whistling old people. It was as close to perfect as we were bound to get. It was too good to be true. Twenty minutes into the film, the sound starts varying in pitch very subtly and fairly rapidly. Then the picture begins to bounce up and down. Again, it’s very subtle, but enough that the film is nearly unwatchable. I reported it to the manager. He looked into it and couldn’t improve things. I ended up watching the movie in this wobbly fashion to avoid the hour drive that was the alternative. I felt queasy and had a headache for the rest of the day. But I saw my movie.
Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)
The absolute worst experience I’ve ever had in a movie theater was a midnight sneak preview of ‘Ed Wood’ all the way back in 1994. The guy in the row in front of me chanted “F* her! F* her!” during pretty much every single shot in the movie with a woman somewhere in the frame. Whenever Eddie would slip on that angora sweater, this prick would groan “Oh, man!”, I guess in his crushing disappointment at the lack of f*-ing. Ack! It’s been close to twenty years now, and I’m still really annoyed about that.
I don’t think this is the worst experience of my movie-going life, just the most recent. Last week, just as a showing of ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ was starting up, three teenage girls wandered in all in a row, like the three men at the end of the ‘Dr. No’ credit sequence, all of them texting away on their cell phones as they walked. I turned to my wife and said, “Dammit, they’re gonna sit right next to me, I just know it.” And they did. I finally got up and moved down the row, but those three girls spent the entire movie on their flippin’ phones! I just don’t get it. I only wish this Seattle film-goer could have been there to help them reevaluate
It would be uncivilized to go into the details on the why, but the what entailed seeing ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ a second time in theaters. Needless to say, seeing that film once a year is more than enough, let alone twice in a month. Combine that with the fact that the local theater’s Trane air conditioning unit broke down (I know the brand and the part, since it’s kinda my day job and I’ve sold to the people repairing this particular hellhole a few times), and it was summer, and where I live, summer even WITH air conditioning is fucking miserable, and yeah… As much as I hate assholes who talk over a film, or react so loudly that they think the entire world needs to know what they feel about any given scene, I will say that I’d rather watch a film surrounded by those pricks than watch one on in a fucking sauna again.
Truth be told, I usually only head out to the movie theaters twice, maybe three times a year tops. Fortunately for me, I haven’t really had any off-putting experiences yet. There was one time during one of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ movies that I saw a mouse scurrying on the floor in a cineplex that’s no longer with us. And a couple of years ago, I was nearly sat on by a legally blind guy (who seemed to think the spot that I was in was empty!), but that’s basically the gist of my non-typical movie theater adventures.
I have so many horror stories in this regard. I’ll share two of them here.
As some of our readers may recall, ‘The Matrix Reloaded’ was one of the first mainstream Hollywood movies to be upconverted (via the “DMR” process) for viewing in IMAX theaters. At the time, this was still a novel idea that a lot of people (myself included) were interested to check out. The theater was packed, but I got there early in order to get a seat as far back in the auditorium as possible (best view in this venue). I wound up in the second-to-last row, fairly centered. I felt that these were good seats. Unfortunately, immediately behind me sat a woman who I have no choice but to categorize as a yokel or bumpkin. She had apparently traveled into the city not just to see her first IMAX movie, but to see her first movie period. Why this one, I have no idea. Well, she was totally flabbergasted by the experience. Every single time that the movie cut to a wide shot of anything, she’d loudly exclaim, “Oh, Wow!” A city street – “Oh, Wow!” An empty room – “Oh, Wow!” That stupid rave scene – “Oh, Wow!” A conversation between two characters that would cut from an establishing shot (“Oh, Wow!”), to close-ups, to another wide shot (“Oh, Wow!”), back to close-ups, to the same wide shot we just saw (“Oh, Wow!”). Over and over again, all through the movie, practically non-stop. She probably had no idea what was happening in the film, but she was absolutely stunned by watching it. Good for her, I guess, but this grew extremely irritating for me very quickly.
One of my worst experiences due to a crappy theater occurred at the (thankfully) now-defunct Copley Cinema here in Boston. This was a micro-multiplex located inside an upscale indoor shopping plaza next to the Prudential Building. This place sucked. The screens were tiny, the seats were uncomfortable, and the floors in each room angled upwards toward the screen. It was like stadium seating in reverse. Unless you sat in the front row, your view would be blocked by the head of the person in front of you. I hated this theater. Sadly, a lot of interesting indie and foreign movies that weren’t deemed marketable enough for the better theaters in town wound up playing there. One time, I went to see Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s ‘The City of Lost Children’ and the volume of the soundtrack was turned down so low that the sound of the audience breathing drowned out the dialogue. I went out to the lobby to complain, and the dipshit attendant said to me, I kid you not, “What do you need to hear it for? That movie has subtitles. Duh.” It took all the restraint I had not to punch him in the face.
Those are some of our worst movie theater experiences. Tell us some of yours in the Comments.