Movie theaters are dying, we shouldn’t let them

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Not too long ago it seemed rare to see a film premier on a streaming service of decent quality. For a while, oneself could be assured that a meme or two making fun of Netflix originals or adaptations would appear whenever browsing social media, but this has changed. With the closing of theaters and the long period of quarantine, studios got to work filling screens with projects planned for theaters. Trolls 2, Artemis Fowl and the King of Staten Island all not only saw sooner premiers, but a greater cut of profits since they didn’t have to share with theaters. With Disney testing a new Disney+ premier option with Mulan, many may be reluctant to go to Regal’s re-opening, not to mention valid social distancing concerns. 

A surprise to no one is the fact that people like being at home. Pair this with the possibility of screaming kids, an eternity of trailers and expensive food and the reason for decreased theater attendance becomes clear. To many, the only unique element of the theater experience is the premier of good movies and even that comes less true by the day. Though I admit these problems exist, I won’t be saying “good riddance” if Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet,” the film industry’s greatest bet against current trends, trips and falls in the box office.

Employees set up Regal’s new front door leading to a sticker filled box office to mark six feet distances This is one of the many newly implanted rules and guidelines to keep the theater open. (Christian Ledbetter)

Those who think the theater experience offers nothing more than new movies and popcorn are missing something far more important. Sure the giant screen and sophisticated sound system is there to make the film come to life in a way that dwarfs phones and even living room setups, but that alone wouldn’t drag me to theaters. Theaters have something far more important, something that few experiences outside of faith-based ones share, as ridiculous as that may sound. In a theater environment you have a wide collection of people all sitting down together experiencing the exact same story, same performance, same music and same visuals. And it’s here that makes the entire experience worth it. 

Sure, books exist, but reading isn’t a social event. Plays exist as well, but not everyone is experiencing the same performance, and many towns don’t ever see a certain desired show visit. With movies, all one needs is a theater to get in on the action. When watching a movie in a filled theater, everyone is experiencing that same event without as much as saying a word, hopefully. A movie establishes a brief feeling of community, especially if it’s a niche film or Marvel blockbuster where impassioned crowds can clap and cheer at breakout moments. 

At the limited time where I worked at Flix Brewhouse I would constantly see quiet shuffling strangers walk in then out laughing together, discussing the various elements which they liked or disliked. Go to a Star Wars premier and the amount of times the audience bursts into clapping or cheering is sure to give a headache, but that’s the connection: people wouldn’t clap if they thought others wouldn’t. This connection is temporary, sure, but it’s important, especially now with all us existing apart and in our polarized landscape. Reluctance over seat sanitation or social distancing guidelines are an understandable concern, but theaters can’t last if everyone is reluctant, and if theaters go, so does that unique social experience. If you’re concerned, give your theater a call to ask about guidelines and what they’re doing and I’m sure they’d be happy to answer.

As theaters reopen and fill slots for new films many are looking abroad for movies, including the Korean film Peninsula, or the U.K’s new David Copperfield adaptation. To read my column on the importance of watching foreign movies click here.

The views in this column do not necessarily reflect the views of the HiLite staff. Reach Christian Ledbetter at [email protected]

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