The End of the Movie Theater

written by Mike Shea on 6 April 2002

The twenty five minutes of little trivia bits and ads for new SUVs was complete. Popcorn was munched, Raisinettes were opened, Diet Cokes were slurped. The fanfare is over and the picture begins. So does the verbal war between a teenager and a 50 year old guy over the use of her cellphone during a movie. Names were called, threats of managerial intervention were thrown out, chaos ensued. I missed the entire first 30 seconds of Panic Room's million dollar credit rollout wondering if this theater was going to look like Arafat's dining room.

Theaters are dead. Long gone are the days of wanton euphoria staring at the picture screen. With them goes the bliss of the pure unfolding tale of film. What killed them? It wasn't the threat of inferior digital projection boxes, it wasn't the Nazi regime of the MPAA, it wasn't even Jerry Bruckheimer's academy award. It was cellphones.

I remember the day I came up with a classification for "Theater Worthy" movies. Usually it was special effects or cinematography that dragged me out of my fortress of solitude. Sometimes it was simply a sequel or director I had to see. But the thought was that the quality of the theater was greater than the quality of the home. This is no longer the case. Not only is the environment uncomfortable, the equipment outdated and run by monkeys, and the price too damn high, but one factor steps far above. People.

My father had a theory that every Sunday, the pod-people crawled out from underneath the sewers and drove slowly around, destroying traffic patterns and making lines too long in McDonalds. I am beginning to subscribe to this theory. Perhaps it is stress or vulnerability but people are pissed off and taking it into the theater. Instead of sitting quietly, we get the star spangled banner in all of it's glory announcing the call to one of 200 patrons from their codependent significant other. We get fistfights over a laugh held too long. People are the center of their universes and all others be damned. Every person of spirit wants to ride a white horse.

Now, only bad movies are theater worthy. If I really care about a particular piece of film, I'll wait until I can screen it within my own controlled environment. A pant-free environment where the phone is off, the drinks are free and the cat is sedated for two hours of pure entertainment.

There I was, my 100 minutes spent fearing for a riot behind me instead of fearing for the life of Jodie Foster and the soul of Forest Whitaker. There I was, in the final moments of the film, studying the green incandescent glow of the twenty something pod-person fondling his brand new Motorola.

Theaters are dead, long live Home Theater.

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