Monday, July 13, 2009

Five ways to improve movie theatres

Just five years ago, I would see about 12 movies a month in a movie theatre.

Now, I'm lucky if I see even one ("Brüno" was this month's extravagance).

The culprit isn't my busy schedule, work, or a lack of movies I would like to see. Instead, it's the ever-eroding movie-going experience that ticks me off, thanks to theatres that let people talk openly and loudly on cell phones and play air hockey right outside the door of the theatre, while they charge us $1 million per bag of popcorn and ban "outside food and beverages."

I'm hard pressed to think of any other service-oriented industry that treats its patrons with more disrespect and contempt, except for maybe cell phone providers. But that's another story.

So, here are my five suggestions for making the movie-going experience better for everyone:

1. Get ushers back into the theatres

When I used to work as an usher at the Towne Cinema, the job was taking tickets, cleaning up crap off the floor, and patrolling the theatre every 20 minutes. "Feet down," "Keep the noise down," and the occasional expulsion of a drunk were the order of the day, and people actually listened to what we said. Whatta concept.

When's the last time your usher did something to make your movie theatre a better place to be?

2. Check the quality of the projection regularly, and fix it if it doesn't work

The biggest offender here is the Globe Theatre - the place that shows the movies in which I'm most interested, but butchers them regularly so I can never go back.

Highlighted by dim lightbulbs and dim projectionists, who - I discovered the last time I complained - are about 12 years old and don't know shit. Which is why I once had to watch Ararat with a big hairball in the middle of the screen that, unbelievably, no one was able to do anything about.

When I complained later, I was promised that free movie passes would be mailed to my house. They never arrived, which is probably for the best, since I just would've got mad at the lousy projection again.

At the Towne Cinema the other day, the projectionist worked on perfecting the projection while the movie was in progress. Dude, planning is so underrated.

3. Ban cell phone use during the movie and check regularly to see if anyone needs to be whacked

We've all been irritated by the jerk who talks on a cell phone, and by his evil mistress, the person who checks and sends text messages - cell phone a-glowin' - during a movie, the rest of the audience be damned.

At Brüno, something new happened: the teenage kid behind me started playing music out of his cell phone. Loudly. On purpose. So I took out my piece and wasted him.

But, seriously, humans have proven themselves unable to control themselves around their cell phones. So, block the signals, ban their use, and invoke the death penalty if you have to. You'll only have to kill a few before the rest catch on!

4. Enough with the promo reel before the film

I used to make fun of the terrible movie-trivia PowerPoint for dummies they used to show before the movie:

"Who is the actor who starred as Han Solo and Indiana Jones? Hint: we'll show you his face!"

But that was nothing compared to the new, unholy film reel that runs loudly before the movie begins, featuring not only lame trivia, but also advertising and interviews with film-goers that are so dumb, it would make the boneheads on eTalk blush.

At Brüno, I was subjected to a tie-in with the new movie about Julia Child, where the "filmmakers" asked a group of movie goers: "If you could prepare any meal, what would it be? Sample answer: "I'm not good at making anything." Wow, how enlightening.

No one in the theatre is interested, so they generally talk through this piece of junk, which has the effect of making it seem that it's OK to talk when there's something showing on the screen - like, say, a movie.

Which reminds me. Here's an actual conversation I once had with a co-worker when I worked at the Towne Cinema:

Me: Whatever happened to "the conversation?"

Popcorn girl: What conversation?

Me: Not any particular conversation; the conversation per se.

Popcorn girl: Who's Percy?

Wah, wah, wah.

5. Remember: the product you're selling is "movies"

Just because a theatre makes more money selling popcorn and video games than on the movie itself doesn't mean that that's why we're coming to the theatre.

Movie theatre, you can feel free to upsell us once we're in the door, but please remember that the product is the movie. If video games, loud food, and ads get in the way of our enjoyment of the movie, then we'll just rent DVDs, watch video on demand, or download the movies for free. Suddenly, there will be no more audience to whom you can upsell.

Wait a sec - did someone say "free?" Forget everything I just said.


  1. You forgot something else, Kenton.

    I hate showing up early for a movie and getting a good seat, then having people saunter in moments before the movie and try to get good seats.

    I nearly started a brawl one time because the usherette actually made half our row move over to make room for two losers who were too good to get there in a timely fashion, yet unwilling to sit in the lower rows they should have rightfully been stuck in.

    That's one thing that's really nice about going to the Imax: assigned seating and rarely suffering the dreaded sardine treatment.

    Also, why can't all the theatres have comfy seats? Why is it that Grant Park is the only theatre in town with truly comfortable seats?

  2. Right you are.

    Though the seats at Grant Park are comfy, they can be bad - everyone who sits down bounces back and forth in them, hitting the knees of the person behind them (i.e. "me!").

  3. Ahh, touche. I experienced that very phenomenon just two weekends ago at Grant Park. This blonde was talking in a very animated fashion to her friends in front of me and kept bouncing the seat.

    When this happens I usually wedge my knees against their seat so they can't bounce back. That usually gets the message through without a heated verbal exchange. Although, I must admit that I'm a squirmy bugger myself, so I'm likely the ass sitting in front of you. Sorry.


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