Posted by: jgurner | May 29, 2010

The Summer Movie Dilemma

The summer movie season has rolled around again and, sadly, once again I’m not overly thrilled.

I should be, because there is some stuff that, at least potentially, seems like it might be pretty decent. But, for some reason, I can’t seem to muster up much enthusiasm for spending the time, money and effort to head to the local theater, which isn’t exactly local but 20 minutes or so away in Oxford.

Don’t get me wrong. I love going to the movies. I have as long as I could remember. Growing up, we had our crappy little theater here in town that on Friday and Saturday nights (and in the last years, on Sunday nights) would show three movies a night – a kids’ movie, a PG-type general audience movie and then an R-rated movie at the 10 p.m. showing. These weren’t first-run movies by any means. I remember seeing Star Wars (for the fifth time) there more than a year after it was released. It was usually Disney classics, low-budget monster movies and stuff like Fritz the Cat and Heavy Metal. I remember seeing a whole lot of Godzilla movies there.

If there was a new movie we wanted to see, there was always the Oxford Cinema, which back then was a huge theater with a huge screen. Imagine seeing Star Wars on a screen which is much, much larger than any screen you might possibly see it on today. Even when they split it in to two theaters, the screens were still much bigger than those at the local multiplex today.

Once I was able to drive, it seemed that almost every weekend my friends and I would head up to the Cine 4 in the Oxford (s)Mall to watch just about anything. It didn’t hurt that the theater was right across from the arcade and we could spend time playing Tron, Galaga, Gyruss or any of our other favorites while waiting for the movie to start. And once we looked old enough to get tickets to R-Rated movies without being asked for an ID, we would go see everything that was playing. (Ah, those fond memories of Blame It On Rio!)

Since college, however, my movie going has been somewhat uneven. For most of the last almost 20 years, I’ve lived in places that didn’t have a theater and in each case it meant a drive of about a half hour to get to one. That may not seem like much to some, but it’s just another obstacle to over come, especially when you’re strapped for time as it is.

I think last year was the first time in a long time I saw more than two or three movies in a year’s time. And that was mostly thanks to The Amp in Oxford. It still meant a drive, but ticket prices were low and so were prices at the concession stand. Two tickets, a large popcorn and drinks came in at the same price as just the tickets at the Malco. Sure, they didn’t have the latest releases, but they showed movies you probably wouldn’t see at the Malco, and you got free refills on your popcorn and drinks (It’s a bad idea to offer me free popcorn refills). The Amp was the reason I got to see Frost/Nixon on the big screen. Same with Ponyo. The prices were low enough where I could go and see movies I knew would suck, but that, for whatever reason, I still wanted to see. (Yes, I’m talking about you, Land of the Lost and The Day the Earth Stood Still. I make no apologies for the fact that I actually enjoyed G.I. Joe. I still can’t figure it out…)

This summer, however, The Amp is gone. Even though the Malco has digital projection and great sound, it comes at a price – and I’m not talking about tickets and concessions. The theaters are smaller and more cramped. It’s more crowded. and you know that your choice is going to be limited to the summer blockbusters. Smaller movies and independent movies are just left out completely, which is sad. The second best sc-fi movie of the year, Moon, never showed anywhere close to me. And I was shocked that the best sci-fi movie last year, District 9, did show. (Sorry Star Trek. You were great, but these were better. You came in at #3.)

Plus, and I promise not to go off on a rant here, the Malco doesn’t offer a 2D option for 3D movies. I’ve already missed out on Alice and Clash of the Titans because I refuse to drive to Memphis and go to a cruddy theater to see a movie in 2D. (I have no idea what I’ll do when Tron: Legacy comes out in December.) Two of the movies I was really looking forward to this summer, Toy Story 3 and Despicable Me, are both in 3D, so it’ll be wait for the Blu-ray for them.

And that’s the other thing. When you start factoring everything in, in most cases, I’d almost rather wait for the Blu-ray to come out before seeing a movie. Nowadays the time between a movie’s release and the release on video is usually only a couple or three of months, which, considering I rarely see movies when they open. I try to wait as long as possible, especially with big, blockbuster type movies. That means the wait for me, if I decide to wait for the Blu-ray, is even less. And Blu-ray, rather than DVD, does make a big difference, especially now that most theaters have switched to digital projection. Star Trek was the firs movie I saw that was DPS, or whatever they call it, and it was amazing. So, while the DVD quality of the picture is good, the Blu-ray quality along with my HDTV, is awesome.

Plus, you have all of the stuff like being able to watch a movie when you want or to pause the movie to go to the bathroom, not having to mortgage your home for sodas and popcorn, being able to watch a movie in your underwear, which many theaters frown upon, or being able to watch in bed. Sure, the floor’s still sticky, but at least I know what the sticky stuff is in my own home.

Of course, part of the problem, especially this summer, is what Hollywood is offering. There are some interesting looking offerings on the plate. Inception, the Christopher Nolan sci-fi mindbender, looks interesting, as does the re-boot of the Predator franchise, Predators. And I’ve already mentioned Toy Story 3 and Despicable Me. Anything else that might pique my interest – Iron Man 2, Get Him to the Greek, Splice, The Last Airbender – are all either “Wait for the Blu-ray” or “Wait for the DVD in the cheap bin.” And I won’t even go into the resurrection of The Karate Kid or The A-Team. Sure, I ended up enjoying the original Karate Kid after being dragged to see it by my friends back in the day, but I see no need for a remake. And as for The A-Team: Never saw the show so I have no desire to see the movie. Trust me people, there are many better ways to relive the 80s.

For me, especially in recent years, the summer movie season has been very hit or miss. Last summer was a good one – Star Trek, Up, District 9, Harry Potter (even though it wasn’t that great). But there have been summers recently where I didn’t bother. Maybe I would go to see something with friends, but it was about the friends, not the movie. Often, it’s the offerings as much as anything, that keeps me away.

Still, there is that intangible attraction of actually going to see a movie at the theater. It’s not the screen or the sound or the smell of the popcorn. It’s not even the sense of “occasion” you get, or at least I get, when I actually go to the trouble of leaving the house for something other than work. There have been plenty of times over the years I’ve just want to go see a movie and I didn’t care what. Which explains my seeing 10,000 B.C.

Maybe it’s more of a stirring of a memory. All of those childhood memories of the crappy little theater in downtown Water Valley, decades ago, where on an almost weekly basis I would be transported somewhere else. I would sail the seas with Sinbad or fly across the frozen mountains to a land where dinosaurs still ruled the Earth, or be dragged screaming and crying from the theater during the final scenes of Old Yeller (It’s amazing how many people remember that incident after almost 40 years.)

Whatever it is, it can’t be captured sitting on the couch watching a movie. Unfortunately however, it seems as if there are too many forces from Hollywood to the local theater, which are doing their best to extinguish whatever it is that compels me to want to actually go to a theater to see a movie.


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