Friday, December 30, 2011

Movie Talk

My friend and fellow blogger Mark Verheiden has some interesting comments on the decline of movie theater audiences. His blog was sparked my Roger Eberts' column regarding the same subject (see Mark's link to read both).

I think the #1 reason, one that Ebert mentions, is 'choice'. For those of you old enough to remember, when megaplexes first appeared the idea was that they would show a 'variety' of movies. That is, they would have the current blockbuster (maybe on a couple of screens), a comedy, a love story AND one or two 'art house' flicks. But as we all know, the megaplexes only show a small number of 'art' films. It's usually around Oscar and Golden Globe time (like now) when something like Black Swan gets a bunch of nominations.

I live 12 miles from downtown San Francisco. There are a couple of megaplexes near my home, but I have to go to the City to see anything remotely 'arty'. It's no big deal, because I can be in the City in under 30 minutes minutes by car or take BART and pop out of the station in the middle of downtown in less than an hour (that's door-to-Market Street).

There used to be a theater nearby that would show foreign/art films, but it closed a few years ago. And it was a lousy theater anyway. One of those multi-screen jobs that had once been a single theater with crazy cock-eyed seats.

Mark Verheiden talks about going to an Imax theater in our home town of Portland and says it was a good experience. We have the Imax thing here and I don't dig them but I can see the appeal. I do like the 'grown-up' theaters (not sure what the industry term is). We have one in San Francisco, a Sundance theater, where you can reserve seats that are big and comfy and they show arty films as well as hits. They even sell cocktails that you can bring in and some of the seats have little tables (kinda like an old fashioned school chair/desk thingy) to sit your goodies on. If I had my druthers, I would go there for every movie I see. But it's too little too late.

Like the bricks-and-mortar book and record stores, movie theaters have already lost their audience. They're not coming back. I can buy a book on Barnes and Nobles website for less than they sell the same thing at the actual Barnes and Nobles store. The price should be the same (I don't mind or consider the extra sales tax I have to pay if I go to the store. That's fine. I'm not that much of a miser). But unless you need the book right now, you'd have to be a dolt to pay more to have to leave your house, drive to the store, hunt around for it and then wait in line to give them your money versus push a few buttons on your computer and a few days later have the book sitting in your mailbox.

What were they thinking? Do they actually want the bricks and mortar stores to go away? It kinda seems that way. The problem, as with record stores versus online, is that you no longer 'browse' or are 'surprised' by something. You only buy stuff you already know you want or like.

Movie theaters have a similar problem. I can stream or get the DVD through Netflix or do On Demand and watch movies on my giant Hi-Def TV sitting on my own couch for less than it costs to see it in a theater. Most people (especially older or sophisticated movie-goers who like grown-up/arty flicks) don't care if they have to wait weeks or even months to see it. They don't need to see it NOW. That's pretty much the only advantage to theaters. I can't watch The Artist at home this weekend, so I'll go to the theater. And I'll go to the Sundance theater where people behave themselves and I can reserve a seat.


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