Sunday, January 15, 2006

I Wish I Could Quit You

Last night at the AMC Empire, as the Acoustic Guitars of Gay Cowboy Angst played in crystal clear surround sound, I came to an important realization: I don't really like going to the movies anymore.

I'm hardly the first person to write about this recently, and I usually attribute my lack of movie-going to a lack of time or general apathy, but the truth is I can't remember the last time I fully enjoyed the experience.

Again, it doesn't seem original to complain about the price of a movie ticket these days, but we had gift certificates and we still had to pay real money because, this being NYC, they didn't cover the full price of admission! (Only $1 each, Boy is quick to point out, but it's the principle of the thing.)

Then, no seats. I hate sitting up close. I'm generally a middle-of-the-theater fan, but given the choice I'd take the last row of the biggest house around over the first five, maybe even ten rows. It doesn't matter if it's not a big action movie with lots of chase scenes. A director and cinematographer worked very hard to arrange those pictures on the screen, and I'd like to see the whole thing, please. If I'm too close I get a headache and a stiff neck before the previews are over. Why do they even put seats there? Brokeback Mountain has been playing in town for over a month, in several mainstream theaters, and we couldn't believe how crowded it was. Yes, it was Saturday night, and yes, we cut it very close on time. Totally our fault. That didn't make it any less annoying.

Then, of course, we had the woman to our right who felt the need to narrate the film. "He's drunk!" "He can't get up!" "They're gonna kiss!" "He's gonna lasso him!" WE KNOW. I don't think she was really talking to anyone but herself. It was like some kind of audience Tourette's. Behind us was an older couple who kept muttering to each other throughout the movie. Not whispering, but quite audibly muttering. It may not have been in English. I glared at them a couple of times and they glared right back, oblivious as to why I might be annoyed. And then they left before the movie was over. But not like "Wait, we didn't know this movie was about homos!" early. Maybe five or ten minutes from the end. The Empire has those gigantic seats that lean back on springs. You know, the kind you can't really recline in since you have to push back to do it, but you can't just sit up straight in them either. The kind children sitting in front of me inevitably decide are just the thing to bounce in for two hours. So of course the departing talky couple had to touch everyone's headrest for balance on the way out, so that we were in danger of being flung into the screen when they let go.

I bought some Movie Manners Courtesy Cards from Glarkware a while back, but I've never actually had the balls to use them. Maybe it's time to start.

Now, that said, it was a relatively well-mannered crowd. There were a couple of full-audience vocal reactions that made me remember why I do like the communal experience of going to a theater (movie or otherwise). I think a cell phone went off once. But I was so distracted by those few people and my stiff neck. And even the best behaved audience tends to bug me. They cough (and last night I was the one doing that), they have annoying laughs, I can hear them chewing their ice and crinkling their candy wrappers and shifting in their seats (me again). It's usually different at a live show, I think largely because of the lack of food, and the fact that most people understand that not just their audience-mates but also the performers can actually see and hear them.

I almost prefer seeing a bad movie in the theater because I care less about being distracted, and there's something fun about sharing that experience with people. When everyone's mocking, it's okay.

I do not have anything that could be called a "home theater." My TV is pretty big, but it's also 8 years old. Even when it was new it wasn't all that fancy. We don't have surround sound, and although the DVD player is hooked up to the stereo I never bother to switch it over. I pay $15 a month for Netflix, so if I only watch 2 movies each month I'm still getting a deal over seeing them in the theater, and I can watch many more than that if I have the time. I can sit on the couch under a blanket, with the Boy and the cat, pause to go to the bathroom, not be self-conscious if I'm eating something noisy or messy, comment out loud if I feel like it, and never feel bad if I decide I don't want to finish something.

I watched War of the Worlds the other day. Not a great movie by any means, but exactly the sort of thing I used to be adamant about seeing in the theater, just because it's a Big Summer Event Movie. "This might suck," the logic went, "but at least the effects will look and sound cool on the big screen." And actually, I quite enjoyed watching it at home. I didn't feel like I was missing anything. In fact, because it wasn't very good, I was happy to be able to do other things while it was on. I enjoyed it enough to watch the whole thing, but I didn't feel like I was wasting my time or my money. The effects looked great on my TV, and I was relieved I didn't have to see Tom Cruise's giant teeth blown up to 2-stories high. Everybody wins.

Anyway. We liked the movie. It's been blogged about to death (for instance, here, and here) so I won't bother. I'm actually glad we waited though, since the hype was countered by a whole lot of "eh," and my expectations lined up with the actual experience pretty perfectly. But I also didn't get spoiled at all on the plot (I mean, aside from the obvious – gay cowboys!), which was nice.

Though it probably would have been okay if I'd waited for the DVD too.

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