“Fixing” the Movies: EW Gets it (Mostly) Wrong

by chubbywerewolf on 1 March 2011

In this week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly, writers Anthony Breznican, Josh Rotternberg and Benjamin Svetkey offer up an article titled “How to Fix the Movies.”

The article—more of a top ten list, really—tackles some of the biggest complaints that we, as consumers, have about the movie-going experience and offers up a few solutions. Most of the usual suspects are covered: the endless commercials, the excessive use of 3-D and CGI, etc… But sadly, it almost completely glosses over what is—for me, at least—the single biggest deterrent to going to the movies: the assholes.

Before I go further, I should mention that movie-going (not just watching movies, but the act of movie-going) used to be a real passion for me. I love the big screen, the comfy seats, even the concessions, as overpriced and as bad-for-you as they are. That said, I attended about a third as many movies in 2010 (42 flicks) as I did in 2007 (around 120 films). And eight weeks into 2011, I’ve been to the theater just four times, so the downward trend certainly doesn’t seem to be in any danger of reversing itself.

There are a number of factors contributing to my dwindling attendance—the rising cost of prices for tickets, the increasingly dismal quality of the films being released by major studios, the bloated CGI, etc… But none of these problems annoy me half as much as the rude imbeciles who insist on talking to one another, shouting at the screen or checking email and text messages on their cell phones while the rest of us are trying to enjoy the picture.

While I certainly haven’t seen it all, I’ve seen a lot. In 2006, at a screening of “Casino Royale,” a well-dressed couple in their 50’s walked into the theater twenty minutes after the movie started. They proceeded to sit directly behind me (even though there were more than 300 empty seats available) and carry on a conversation as if they were sitting in a noisy restaurant (no attempt at whispering whatsoever), and in spite of the fact that many patrons shushed them. A couple of months later, I and a few hundred other patrons at Portland’s Nickelodeon watched in shock as a loudmouth got punched in the face 90 seconds into “Pan’s Labyrinth.” (I do not condone violence for any reason, but if there was ever a well-deserved beating, this was it.) During a 2008 screening of “Redbelt,” I sat in stunned exasperation as three neanderthals smuggled a case of beer into the theater, guzzled it down, burping as loudly as they could (which, in turn, provoked huge doses of laughter… because, you know, burping is hilarious) and then flung the empty cans at the movie screen. When I complained to the ticket counter staff, I was told that a manager would address it immediately… no one ever showed up. This past summer, I walked out of “The Other Guys” after two young men walked into the movie just as it was starting, referring to each other as “n*gga” as loudly as they could, and shouted obscenities at the screen for 20 minutes. A complaint to the manager elicited only an impotent shrug and an offer to let me see another movie of my choosing at no charge.

Of course, these examples are extreme. And thankfully few-and-far between. But there have also been dozens, if not hundreds, of screenings over the last few years that have been disrupted by cell phones lighting up, seat-kicking, talking and other inappropriate behavior.

To be fair, the EW article does touch, briefly, on the asshole factor… albeit in tongue-in-cheek fashion. Number ten on the list is “create separate screenings for schmucks,” akin to the Mommy & Me screenings that some theaters offer. Failing that, the article says, moviegoers should commit to a Moviegoer’s Code of Ethics which would require them to behave like mature adults. Yeah, that’s going to happen.

The notion that a patron too dim to realize that his talking or cell phone usage is annoying other moviegoers would somehow be courteous enough to voluntarily choose to avoid screenings where adult behavior is expected is simply silly and unrealistic. After all, it is not as if these people don’t realize that they are being rude. Its just that they simply don’t care.

The only truly effective fix for this problem is for theaters to adopt a “no tolerance” policy towards cell phones, talking and rude behavior. Nobody wants the movie-going experience to be like, say, the prison camp experience, but discourteous patrons are in serious need of a wake-up call. Would they behave more appropriately if they knew that a single complaint would be enough to get them tossed out? Or perhaps the presence of an attendant or usher for the duration of the movie would be enough to dissuade talkers and cell phone abusers.

So, why don’t theater owners and managers embrace more aggressive solutions? Probably because they know that the effective action (i.e. tossing a rude patron out, refunding his money and asking him not to come back) is going to have a negative impact on the short-term bottom line. Instead, they’ll just ignore the problems (and the solutions) while attendance continues to dwindle and potential customers access movies via other means.

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