Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Movies -- viewer experience at its worst

I am a movie buff. I like watching good movies and can watch the same movie 50 times. This goes back to being a little girl and watching movies like Giant or An Imitation of Life with my mom. I can tell you everything about the movie, the stars and the stories behind my favorite movies. The DVD director commentaries were developed for people like me.

Then I met Doug, who made me look like a movie novice. When I met Doug, he basically would watch any movie that came out. He's getting better, but like today, he watched Harold & Kumar Go To Whitecastle on television and is looking forward to the sequel. Still, we are a good match when it comes to movies.

But over the past year we are attending movies less. One major reason is our schedule. It was very difficult for us this fall to have 2-3 hours to catch a weekend matinee. The second reason was just the quality of movies. For most of the fall, there were no great reasons to make time to go see a movie; the so-so movies are ending up on cable soon enough. However, there is a third reason, and it's the one that generally ruins the movie for us -- our viewer experience. It is getting really bad lately here in Austin.

I'm not just talking about customer service -- that's mediocre enough. And some of that customer service is just bush-league stuff. For example, while we don't do Internet tickets, often we purchase our tickets from the kiosk inside the Cinemark theatre. There are no lines and I like to play with the touch screen. But a few weeks ago we were standing behind a guy at the kiosk and I noticed something -- the screen software has changed and the credit card number, in full, and the card expiration date, now appears on the screen. I could have taken a photo of that with my camera phone and made my Christmas purchases using this guy's card. Needless to say, we have started once again to stand in line at the outside box office to get our tickets.

The thing that really ruins my movie experience, however, is the dreaded movie talker. Since when is it okay to talk throughout the movie? Please tell me, as I missed the memo. Is this a new Austin trend that I am missing out on?

At home, if we need to talk or want to make a comment, we hit pause, have our say, then return to the show without missing a word of dialogue (the wonders of digital satellite). I wish I could do the same thing when someone starts talking in the theatre.

Today we went to see Memoirs of a Geisha. School doesn't start until next week and Doug has a couple of weeks until his next contract starts, so what better time to catch up on movies than Tuesday afternoon. Unfortunately several Chatty Cathys thought the same thing. We had two senior women who sat a few seats down from us and they didn't know what a whisper was and decided they needed to narrate the story. I tried my death-ray stare several times, but they were so enthralled with themselves that they didn't notice. After about 15 minutes of this, I got up and moved two rows back. Doug sat there for a minute, looked backed at me and decided to do the same. That wasn't the end of it, though. I could still hear the ladies two rows up and now, behind us, we had some other ladies behind us who were whisperers. At least they knew what a quiet voice was. Still, it was annoying.

This is not a one-time thing. Last week we saw Casanova. Again, only a few folks in the theatre, but a couple in their 50s were in the row behind us and a few seats over. While the wife seemed to realize they were being annoying, the husband could not keep from asking questions and providing commentary and again, did not use his quiet voice. The death-ray stare seemed to get the attention of the wife, but she could not stop the husband. Finally, after about 90 minutes of this, Doug turned and said rather loudly, "sir, we do not need your commentary." The husband responded, "thank you," and then kept quiet for the remaining 15 minutes of the film. At least Doug didn't have to resort to standing up in front of the guy, blocking the view, although he has successfully utilized that tactic a time or two.

Two weeks ago we went to see King Kong. The movie had been open about a month but the theatre was still a bit crowded. Again, behind us and to the side sat the movie talkers. Now one talker, I had some sympathy for -- the gentleman was in his early 20s and was slightly developmentally disabled. I could forgive him, as I realized how thrilled he was with the movie. However, I could not forgive the person who was with him -- maybe it was his mom. Not only did she not make an attempt to let him know that talking was inappropriate, she would respond to his questions in a normal tone of voice. The death-ray stare worked at first to get her to lower a voice to a whisper, but the stare lost all effectiveness when they decided that the theatre was their living room and as such, put their feet on the back of the chairs in front of them (which were next to me). As I turned to give the stare, all I could see were shoes. I don't know about you, but my momma taught me something about not having shoes on furniture.

About the only movie we've seen in Austin this past month wasn't ruined by a talker was Brokeback Mountain. I'm not sure if that's because the audience for that movie is more sophisticated and bigger movie fans, or if just some of the scenes were shocking enough to leave some people speechless. Either way, that was the best experience we had in awhile.

I'm not sure what the answer is ... maybe we do wait until the movies come out on HBO. Still part of the joy of seeing a movie is watching it on the big screen. It's just ashame that the experience is being ruined by a few thoughtless others.


Anonymous said...

I live in Austin, love seeing movies in theaters, and rarely encounter movie talkers in screenings. I recommend trying movies at Alamo Drafthouse, where it's easy to alert the management if someone is talking nonstop. I hardly ever have to resort to that measure, though. I think that in movie theaters that treat people better (by not showing tons of commercials beforehand, for example), people behave better.

Chas said...

Friends and family are often amused when they first visit my home because I have a 65" television that, ahem, occupies my living room.

"What in the world?" is often their response.

I explain to them that several years ago I decided that going to a movie theater wasn't possible any more. Contemperary manners have evolved to such a low level that cell phone ringing, loud talking, and kicking of chairs is the rule rather than the exception.

The last movie I attended was King Kong. I simply wanted to see it in as large a venue as possible.

At first I was hopeful. Five minutes before it was to begin, the theater was almost empty. And then, here they came.

A family of seven, two "adults", three teens, and two young children settled in about 8 rows behind me. I knew what was coming and decided to do my best to ignore them.

What a nightmare! They literally didn't stop talking/commenting the entire movie. Stares, clearing the throat, etc simply had no effect.

In a way, it helped me realize the expensive purchase I made years ago was a good one. For what it's worth, I have had good experiences at Alamo Draft House, but I often watch movies alone at odd hours and don't need to eat, so they aren't a good choice.

I realize my solution isn't practicle for many people, but it sure has brought the pleasure of watching movies back home, no pun intended, to me.

The fact that Hi Definition DVD's will be out later this year will only improve upon the experience.