A few years ago I finished with a doctor’s appointment early and since I had taken the rest of the afternoon off, I decided to go to the movies.
I paid for my ticket and the clerk handed me the receipt but before I could walk away, he asked one last question: “Where would you like to sit?”
I stared at him blankly. Where would I like to sit? In the audience, of course.
“We now have assigned seating,” he said, spinning a small screen around. “How about here?”
I looked at the spot at the end of his index finger. The front row.
“Uh, how about something a little farther back?” I asked. He spun the screen back around and studied it as if he was deciding where to place that difficult relative at a wedding.
“Um, what about here?” He spun the screen back around and this time, we reached a compromise.
Once inside the theater, I matched the number on my ticket with the corresponding seat and immediately realized two things: one, the only patrons were me, a middle-aged woman and her elderly mother. And two, my seat was right next to them.
For the first ten minutes of the movie, the lady played with the setting on her reclining chair causing long lines of dialogue to be replaced with incessant buzzing.
After she was settled, she leaned over and whispered, “Did you know these recline?”
Well lady, I do now.
For years after that incident, I avoided that particular theater. I wanted to choose my seats the old fashioned way.
So imagine my horror when my wife and I went to our usual theater a few weeks ago and bought two tickets for a movie before the clerk posed the dreaded seating question.
On that particular outing, 15 minutes into the movie, a confrontation erupted between two patrons regarding the correct seating. The exchange led to the police being called and to me missing ten minutes of the movie. All because we no longer get to pick what seats we sit in.
And I know what you’re thinking, “You still get to pick, you just have to pick ahead of time.”
I don’t want to pick ahead of time. I want to pick when I walk in that dark room and see what’s available. It’s part of the experience. After all, that’s what we’re there for.
With theater attendance on the decline and multiplexes having to compete with streaming services, theater chains are panicking at the empty seats. Their solution: make going to the movies like being at home. Giant chairs, food and drink, no human contact with a clerk at the box office. Convenience. They’re creating incentives for theater-goers to feel comfortable with the theater-going experience.
The problem is, having all the comforts of home isn’t having the theater-going experience.
The best thing about going to the movies is that it’s a living, breathing thing. It starts at a certain time, in a certain place and if you’re not there, you miss it. No pausing to get a sandwich, no stopping for bathroom breaks. You have to go along for the ride and if you’re late, you have to sit in the front row.
Wasn’t that the whole point? That for two hours you turn yourself off. No cell phone, no worries, no questions. You escape into the world of the cinema.
Does that really need to be made more convenient? You literally buy a ticket, grab a snack and sit and do nothing for two hours.
Do it for your health, do it for the fun of it.
If you want to eat a full meal and to recline your chair and to kick off your shoes and to play on your phone, you are welcome to do that all at your heart’s content.
But please, just do it at home.
-Michael Williamson is a reporter for the Journal-Tribune.
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