Ahhhh, the summer blockbuster season. There is nothing more heartening to a comic culture geek than knowing that with the end of the academic year comes a glut of interpretations of our favorite graphic worlds. It’s the time when the dark, frigid, Oscar-baiting movies of the winter fade away and make room for lighter, warmer, explosion filled fare.
It is also my single most hated time to try and see anything that I might enjoy.
I’m sure you have shared the experience of going on the opening weekend of a much-anticipated film to find the audience filled with the soft glow of cellphones well after the lights go down. Other patrons sit around you, speaking to their seatmates in conversational tones and volumes best saved for post-cinema lobby chats. Several rows seem to have bladders the size of acorns as they cannot make it through 120 minutes without leaving to go to bathroom, seemingly uncaring about what they may miss onscreen. And as your ire slowly rises, you wonder if it was truly worth it to spend the $15 just to see something in a theater.
I feel for you.
The exercise of attending a movie has changed in the last decade or two. My closest AMC has reclining pleather seats that seem plucked out of a Jordan’s Furniture warehouse. I assume that this is so I have optimum comfort as I sip the gin and tonic I’ve procured from the full bar out front. Lying supine certainly doesn’t help me with my Frito pie, pizza, or chicken tenders and fries entree. But it does make me wonder why they are trying so hard to replicate my living room when I willingly left that place to partake of their giant screen, popcorn, and surround sound.
What happened to the movie theater experience that mimicked going to see a stage performance? Where we all agreed that once the lights went down, our eyes and attention went to the screen in front and not in our laps? This phenomenon is not limited to the big budget action movies; nearly all films suffer from the same disengaged audience. The fact that AMC even BRIEFLY considered allowing for texting inside of a theater felt like the end of days for the 2 hour escapism from real life that seeing a movie in theaters should offer you.
Ticket sales have been on the decline and theater chains have been tossing ideas out left and right to try and lure moviegoers back into the experience. While I am occasionally disturbed by their innovation (the only thing I want to feel is a sticky floor underneath my sneakers, and the only scent should be melted butter and freshly popped kernels) I know that they are simply fighting to stay alive as home viewership rises exponentially.
My one saving grace, my quiet island in the bay of distraction, is the glorious but elusive screening pass. For those uninitiated, a screening pass can be hard to come by if you are not a card-carrying member of the press or someone otherwise in the industry. But if you are willing to do the legwork and have lightening fast internet reflexes, they are very much worth it. And no, my fledgling readership, I am not the press.
The glory of a screener is that you are generally surrounded by people who are very interested in that movie not because there was nothing else to do on Saturday night (screeners are generally weekday evening fare) but because they are interested in that particular title, genre, or its lead actors. It moves from a casual experience to a deliberate endeavor requiring investment. Instead of forking over your credit card, be prepared for the price to be taken out of your feet as you will be standing for anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours depending on the popularity of the film. I believe the longest I’ve personally waited is an hour and a half to see The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers a week early for free.
Did I mention these things are both free and exist ahead of the actual release date? But wait! There’s more!
Have you found yourself wanting to ever-so-subtly throttle the endless texter in front of you, or the talky Tammy to your side? Yeah, me neither. That sounds imbalanced and dangerous.
Well, many studios are deeply invested in keeping their films out of the hands of those who would film one of these screeners and sell it in the Downtown Crossing station or at your local Popeye’s (<– this may just be my hood). I have had to relinquish my cellphone several times, which became less anxiety-inducing with each occurrence. This safety mechanism makes for a wonderfully distraction-free experience once the lights go down. That, and the fact that they generally station security guards in the theater ready to eject disruptive people.
Thanks to signing up at independent sites like GoFobo and Advanced Screenings, local groups like Independent Film Festival Boston, and programs at studios like Sony, Warner Bros., and Lionsgate I have been able to see movies like Neighbors, Beasts of the Southern Wild, The Kingsmen, and Labor Day early for $Free.99, my favorite price. A lot of these movies have also offered swag afterwards to encourage all of us to hype up the film. Labor Day came with an actual copy of the book and a talk with the author. 10 Cloverfield Lane had t-shirts and random survival kits which went in a [terrifying] all-or-nothing melee post screening. And Ruby Sparks, The Way, and Paper Heart had Q&A sessions with Paul Dano, Martin Sheen/Emilio Estevez, and Charlotte Yi. But one of my favorite things about screeners, especially indie ones, is the introduction to actors you may not know much about now but are sure to see later. I was enthralled by a teenage John Boyega in the under-released Attack the Block, and saw early instances of #BlackGirlMagic in the way Quvenzhané Wallis commanded her Beasts of the Southern Wild scenes at such a young age.
And as tired as my feet may get, as curious as I am about what they may be doing with my phone, I will still be there waiting for that email inviting me to indulge in a movie devoid of distractions.
So am I alone in my old lady ire for movie talkers and love for the environment screenings create? Have I become the person I most detested as a teen, or am I crusading for a just cinematic cause? Let me know below.