I used to love going to the movies. The small town closest to the even smaller town I grew up in had an old, one-screen theater called The Roxy. Tickets to the shows were around a buck and for a couple dollars more you could load up on hot, buttered popcorn, cold cola, and gooey Milk Duds. The seats were ancient and barely had any stuffing left. You could feel each and every spring hidden within the vinyl; they pressed into your spine and ass like some medieval torture device and your knees were practically pinned to the row in front of you, ensuring you couldn’t escape. The floors were always sticky, the draped walls with their art deco sconces smelled musty, and sometimes rats scurried through the aisles, scavenging popcorn. But none of that mattered once the lights dimmed and the screen turned that particular shade of blue, letting you know the previews were about to roll.
If there was a movie I really wanted to see – Poltergeist or The Last Starfighter, for example –the week passed excruciatingly slowly. But it was always worth it. I went to the Friday evening showing of Fright Night and loved it so much I was back in line Saturday. And again on Sunday. When E.T hit town, the lines stretched down the block, rounded the corner, and made it almost to the public library. When I was very young, my aunt Connie, my sister, and I all went to see a mummy movie called The Awakening; after the show, while my sister was brushing her teeth before bed, I crept into her room and scurried beneath her bed. I waited just long enough to know that she hadn’t went to sleep yet and slowly raised my hand up over the mattress. Lorrie screamed so loudly my parents probably thought she was being murdered. They came thundering through the house and even though I knew I was in big trouble for scaring my sister, I laughed so hard that I was doubled over and rolling on her floor. Good memories (at least, for me… Lorrie might claim otherwise).
I still love movies, but the theater experience has changed. It’s not the same anymore. And I don’t think it’s simply because I’m older now. For that was the real power of movies: reawakening the child-like wonder and amazement in all of us, no matter what our age. This is a topic I’ve put quite a bit of thought into and I’ve come to the conclusion that there are at least three basic things wrong with the film industry today.
The Bar Has Been Raised Too High
A lot of money is funneled into film production these days, which means movies need a strong showing at the box office to simply break even. No one likes going into the red, investors doubly so. So the pressure is high for every big budget release to be a blockbuster. As a result of this, studios have become skittish. Wary of taking a chance on anything fresh or original, they stick with formulas in an attempt to cash in on an existing fan base or lure people to the theaters with nostalgia. So we’re bombarded with prequels, sequels, remakes, reboots, re-imaginings , and silver screen treatments of boob tube classics. To add even more pressure, people have to be selective with what they see. For a family, a night at the movies, including snacks, can run close to a hundred dollars. If I’m shelling out as much as they charge for a ticket and popcorn, it has to be something I really want to see on the big screen. It has to be worthy of being larger than life. And there’s very few films lately which fit that bill.
The Stars Have Lost Their Twinkle
Don’t get me wrong: I know we live in a celebrity obsessed society. How could I not? But it’s different now. Actors were originally called “stars” because they were elevated so high above everyone else. They had a distant, unobtainable quality to them, like American royalty, and people would flock to a film for nothing more than the names on the poster. The obsession with fame, however, has changed. Now, we can tune in every week to watch a so-called reality show about the ins and outs of a celebrity’s daily life. We get tweets, status updates, and paparazzi reports covering the most inane details. If Brad Pitt farts as he’s leaving a restaurant in Greece, the entire world knows about it within minutes. Movie stars are stripped bare for all to see, relegating their once lofty heights and showing them for what they truly are… ordinary people, just like you and me.
The Magic Is Gone
We’ve all heard the phrase “the magic of Hollywood” and know exactly what it means… but is it truly still there? With the advent of DVDs, the film-loving public has been inundated with bonus content and special features. We are told in great detail how stunts and effects are accomplished. We learn all the little tricks of the trade, incorporating industry jargon such as green screen into our everyday language. This is akin to a magician sawing a woman in half and then inviting the audience to stick around after the show so he can explain how the illusion was accomplished.. Which also violates the first rule of the magician’s code: never real your secrets. Even worse, sometimes this “bonus content” is released before the film even hits theaters, being shown as television specials in an attempt to create marketing buzz. In this situation, we’re being told how the trick works before we’ve even had a chance to scratch our heads and try to figure it out for ourselves. Which, in my humble opinion, diminishes that child-like wonder and amazement even more.