19 June 2007

The Future Of Film Is In The Palm Of Your Hand...

I love movies, but I hate going to the movies.

I don't care what they cost. People bitch about this all the time on the phone-in shows when they want to rail against Hollywood, but let's take a closer look: the average ticket price in Canada for a first-run feature is approx. $7.50, but admittedly it's closer to $10 in the Toronto area, and up to $11.95 in the tonier areas, where I tend to frequent, being the bonhomie cineaste that I am.

Even though I own a plasma TV and home-theatre system, subscribe to HD cable, and have collected hundreds of DVDs, I still wanna see the new releases in the size and venue as the director intended.

But really, how many things in this world can you do for 10 bills? You can't go to a museum--the Ontario Science Centre is something like $25 bucks for a single adult admission, and that joint is awash in government plaques and corporate logos. Sports? Forget it--$40 gets you nosebleeds with a non-obstructed view if you're lucky, with occassional spurts of game play between the exhaustive commercial shilling. You can't even see a no-name band or an avant-garde play for less than $15-20. Hell, a fast food meal is nearly 10 bucks. But Michael Bay or Steven Spielberg or James Cameron spend 100 million smackeroos on state-of-the-art spectacle and you can enjoy that for slightly more than the cost of a watered-down drink.

In the old days, big-ticket Hollywood epics usually came with "premium"--that's "increased"--pricing. You wanted to see "The Robe" in Cinerama? It'd cost you more than a double bill of "Man With The X-Ray Eyes" and "Girls' Town" with Mamie Van Doren. Today, whether or not the movie was a backyard camcorder special or the latest from Pixar, the price is the same. Listen to me naysayers: compared to most other entertainment forms, movies are a bargain.

But if people en masse don't like the prices, why do they go? And more so, why do they go on the same nights I do and make my life miserable? I'd even pay $20 to see a movie--well, some movies--if it would keep the jerks out.

These days, the theatre chains, for all of their lamenting about their ever-decreasing profits, take your money and don't do a damn thing to ensure an enjoyable experience. They won't go digital, so we're stuck with emulsion scratches, bad framing, and dim bulbs (those in the projection equipment, and working behind the counter). Commercials were supposed to keep the costs down, but the theatre nearest me has had a price increase per year and I'm seeing more and more ads, to the point where, including trailers, I've had to sit for 20-30 minutes of promos before the feature begins (don't get me wrong, I love previews--bring 'em on!). I couldn't care less about the snack bar--charge all you want, you thieves, I always smuggle in my own can of lukewarm Diet Coke.

The real problem--universally acknowledged across the land--are idiot audiences, and as for policing them--dream on. Spineless employees would rather hand out a roll of free passes and a token apology than tell some clown to put his cell phone away. I've had to leave my seat to complain ad nauseum about noisy patrons and people who sneak in 20 minutes into the flick and no one's ever done a damn thing. Ever--and I average two films a week. In a way, I get it: some kid making minimum wage isn't going to bound into the theatre like Dudley Do-Right and risk getting his ass blown off...and sadly, the big intimidating usher with the police-issue flashlight (a regular fixture at my hometown's two theatres) is as archaic an icon as the whistling full-service gas station attendant.

Since theatre managers are so hopelessly dense and are thus ensuring that their industry will go the way of the dinosaurs, leave it up to the lab coat-and-pocket-protector set to invent yet more technology to save us from ourselves: The U.S.'s Regal theatre chains have pioneered this contraption, the "Regal Guest Response", a hand-held device (that looks like something created by Ghostbusters' Dr. Venkman) that patrons can use to alert the management about problems with the film's projection, an act of camcorder piracy in action, or its most likely purpose, audience disturbances.

Thirteen U.S. locations have been testing the invention with select audience members, and this week the chain has announced it will be distributing devices to more than one hundred more theatres. No stats have been provided, Regal says customer etiquette has improved in the locations using the devices. Sounds good to me.

This, then, is the apparently the future. And if these things ever show up at the Queensway Cineplex or the ScotiaBank Cinema here in Toronto, watch out 'cause I'm gonna be swinging one of these babies like a baseball bat. Perhaps we buffs north-of-the-border can convince the brainiacs at RIM to work up a Canadian prototype that'll add William Castle's "Percepto"--hell, I'll be the first to invest.