May 09, 2004

It's Not an Advertisement, It's ... um, a Pre-Movie!

WE THINK WE HAVE REALIZED why we no longer go to the cinema as much as we once did. Part of it, of course, has to do with the films which our local theatre chain shows. We would not describe them as bad movies, but rather, things which hold little interest for us: comedies which look for the lowest common denominator; predictable high-school films aimed at teenagers; action films in which the film-makers do their best to blow stuff up, and thus don't develop an interesting plot or pay their screenwriters to write a quality script.

Indeed, in the last year, we have seen perhaps two films in the theatre which were not deemed fodder for "Bad Cinema With Ben" -- these being "The Passion of The Christ" and "Lost in Translation." And the second of those we saw in California!

But, as we noted, the dearth of films which we happen to like is only part of why we very rarely go out to the movies. It is because the movie-going experience is no longer especially fun.

We don't know about you, but we are not exactly excited about going to the movies when a seemingly-growing percentage of The Movie-Going Public conducts itself with an appalling lack of comportment. One would think the helpful reminders flashed on screen before each show would convince people to turn off their mobile phones, to not talk during the firm (at least, not during a good film) and otherwise act as if they belonged to a civilized society. Sadly, as these reminders do not seem to work very well, we think movie-house ushers should be given truncheons and the freedom to use them on unruly patrons. At least then, when the ushers came in with their flashlights and distracted you during a crucial point in the film, it would serve a purpose.

But even if such a modest proposal were to be adopted, it would not stop the movie chains from doing their part to make shows less fun. A movie ticket up here in New Hampshire will generally run you around $8 for an evening show; we understand it is more than $10 in New York. This, of course, does not include the cost of over-priced and excessive consumer goods, which are so appalling that even the theatre clerks are embarrassed by it:

CLERK: A small Diet Coke? That'll be $3.75.
US: $3.75? Wait a minute. How small is the small Coke?
CLERK: That's 32 ounces.
US: Thirty-two ounces? God, I'd hate to see the large.
CLERK: Oh, that's $5.75. 64 ounces. It comes in this plastic cup!
US: Whoa.
CLERK: You get free refills with that one.

Quite frankly, we needed about 12 -- maybe 20 ounces -- of Diet Coke during "Van Helsing" yesterday; not 32 and certainly not 64. Sixty-four ounces -- good God. That's a half-fricking-gallon of Diet Coke. We don't even want to know how many ears of corn are sacrificied for each small bag of popcorn.

But perhaps most annoying are what we think could be called pre-movies: not the previews for upcoming films, but the advertisements. We first noticed these when we lived out in Los Angeles. Readers from there will recall those really annoying advertisements for the Los Angeles Times, you know, the ones with the guy monitoring the temperature of the popcorn kernel before it popped and the goofy-looking popcorn jerk? Ah, you DO remember them! We knew you would! Forgive us for bringing them up, though.

Now, we don't deny that such things work: after all, we remember the Times ads, even if they made us even less likely to buy the paper. But back then there was only one ad before the film. Today there are oodles upon oodles of advertisements before a feature, which essentially gets rid of any chance to hold a decent conversation during that time. Indeed, we walked into the theatre ten minutes early for our movie, and we were confronted with several advertisements for television shows we wouldn't watch and products we would not buy unless we under extreme duress.

We have no doubt we were as excited as our fellow movie-goers to learn the Fanta line of sodas -- the red-headed stepchild of fruit-flavored soft drinks -- was still being produced. After all, like most people, we had thought Fanta had gone the way of Eastern Airlines. That said, we did not need to watch minutes upon minutes of a bad short film which, from what we could tell, was dedicated to praising Fanta's powers as an aphrodisiac. We were also forced to watch a lengthy film full of clips from "Sex and the City" -- and while we certainly do not deny that this might have been of interest to some viewers, the clip in which the main character goes into orbit over a pair of Manolo Blahniks only conjured up our Inner Scotsman.

Now, it would have been different if we could have escaped the ads; but there was no doing that. After all, a movie-screen is damn nigh impossible to ignore, and the sound was comparable to a jet engine in intensity. This might be acceptable when watching things blow up, but it is not acceptable when listening to Sarah-Whats-Her-Name's Character Go On About Her Apartment. It just isn't. And when you add in the rest of the ads for upcoming movies, and the filler pabulum about various celebrities, and a seemingly ever-expanding list of previews for upcoming feature films, most of which go over like a lead balloon ...

Well, it's enough to make one very strongly consider Netflix, or whatever it's called.

RELATED: Oliver Willis also addresses the issue.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at May 9, 2004 01:46 AM | TrackBack