“We’re bad about going to see movies in the theater,” my wife said last night. “And by we, I mean you.”
She’s right, too. I almost never go to the theater to see a movie unless it’s one I’m being paid to review. When my wife and I went to see Jodorowsky’s Dune in the theater last month, it was an aberration. It had been months since I’d gone to the movies just to see a movie: last August, my wife and I went to see The World’s End, and earlier that summer we saw Star Trek Into Darkness. (I also caught Frances Ha in theaters last summer, as well.) It’s not that I don’t keep up with recent movies, either. I saw about 50 new releases in 2013 — that is, movies that came out that year — but most of those were on home video or cable a few months after their theatrical runs. It’s not that I don’t want to see these movies. I just realize that I don’t want to see them the way I always used to, in theaters. I think I might’ve figured out why that is:
• Cost. Movie tickets are usually more than $10 a piece, and there are other incidentals (parking, snacks, etc.) that often come with the package. It’s nice to have a night out at the movies, and I loved being with my wife at the Sundance theater for Jodorowsky’s Dune or the Alamo Drafthouse for The World’s End, but going to the theater on a regular basis gets pricey fast.
• Environment. You, reader, are lucky that you do not regularly attend — in all likelihood have never attended — the free promotional screenings that studios allow critics to attend for review purposes. The crowds at these things are uniformly awful, consisting mostly of 1) people who do not know or care what they are about to see and 2) people who are so fanatically devoted to seeing that specific movie that they started lining up at 2 p.m. and 3) the weird subculture of people who go to these screenings all the time. Dealing with that can get old. Crowds at regular screenings are usually better because they’ve spent time and money to be there, but phone users and talkers still crop up. There’s no stopping it. Yet that’s not the whole of the environment. Even regular screenings can be fraught with picture and sound issues, tech glitches, lighting problems (like when the house lights came up to full level about 5 minutes before Jodorowsky’s Dune ended), or more. There’s also the growing number of trailers and pre-show ads to wade through. I reviewed Noah even though it wasn’t screened for critics, which meant catching a Saturday matinee. The start time was 1:40 p.m.; after trailers and ads, the movie didn’t start until after 2:05. And at most megaplexes, you have something like “FirstLook,” which is just 20-30 minutes of ads and featurettes before the trailers. The feature film starts to feel like an afterthought.
• Ease of Replication. It’s always great to see movies on the big screen, and there are some theater experiences that you just can’t replicate at home. But you can get awful close. I’ve got a decent HDTV, sound bar, and Blu-ray player. This also touches on cost, too: I already pay for Netflix (with a Blu-ray option) and Hulu Plus every month, so it’s easy to watch a relatively new release without spending a lot. And for impulse disc rentals, I have three Redbox kiosks within a mile of my house, where Blu-ray rentals are only $1.50.
Those are all pretty popular reasons, too. I suspect that at least one, if not all, are shared by people who’ve seen their theater attendance decline in recent years. But there’s something else for me, too: I just don’t want to go to the movies because a lot of the time, I just don’t want to see anything that’s out.
Movies can be a form of collective cultural check-ins, a way to feel nostalgic for the moment we’re currently experiencing by talking about the same piece of pop culture. They’re one of the few true mass media experiences left, and keeping up with them can be a way to keep up with a lot of little conversations and jokes. But increasingly, I’m just not that interested in most major releases. I didn’t want to see Godzilla or The Amazing Spider-Man 2. This weekend brings Blended and X-Men: Days of Future Past. I don’t plan on ever in my life seeing the first one, though I might catch X-Men sometime. Next weekend: Maleficent (no interest) and A Million Ways to Die in the West (ditto). After that: Edge of Tomorrow (curious) and The Fault in Our Stars (no interest). The weekend of June 13 actually brings a pair of movies I’d like to see: 22 Jump Street and How to Train Your Dragon 2. Then there’s nothing that piques my interest until August at the earliest.
Maybe part of it’s just the season. Summer’s always an onslaught of plastic tentpoles and half-hearted sequels, and I’m at least 20 years past being turned on by the idea of a fourth Transformers movie or a remake of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But I’m not sure that’s all of it. I don’t really know what it is. I just know that I feel less and less excited by most of what’s coming out, and looking more and more to smaller titles, fleeting releases, and older movies. I love movies — so much, and for so long — and I feel frustrated and confused by most large-scale releases these days. I don’t know if I’m burned out, or waiting for what’s next, or just over most of it. Maybe I’m tired of the self-seriousness and bombast of tentpoles that are never as good as we want them to be. Maybe I just miss seeing real human beings in the movies. I don’t know. But I still love the art, and I’m still looking.