The Theater "Experience"

Roger Ebert wrote a great article about why movie revenues have been so low this year. You should read the whole thing, and I agree completely with points 1 and 2, but point 3 really resonated with me:

The theater experience. Moviegoers above 30 are weary of noisy fanboys and girls. The annoyance of talkers has been joined by the plague of cell-phone users, whose bright screens are a distraction. Worse, some texting addicts get mad when told they can’t use their cell phones. A theater is reportedly opening which will allow and even bless cell phone usage, although that may be an apocryphal story.

Going to a standard movie theater is an absolutely horrible experience. I can’t remember going to a normal theater and not being distracted by someone texting at least once during the movie. And with Netflix, Redbox, and iTunes it’s hard to justify spending over $10 on a crappy experience just to see a movie a few months earlier.

Obviously the other benefit of going to a theater is getting to see the film on a massive screen with better sound. But so frequently I find that the picture is extremely dim, with scratches or other marks on the screen itself. If I’m paying for a premium viewing experience, it certainly doesn’t feel like it. It feels more like I’m paying a $15 bribe to go down into a shady basement, rest my feet on a sticky floor, and see a movie 3 months earlier than I’m allowed to. In crappy 3-D.

What’s really awful is that it doesn’t have to be this way. As MG Siegler points out in response to Ebert’s post, some theaters are doing it right:

I see a healthy number of movies myself — at least one a week, sometimes two. But I rarely go to the AMCs of the world (in fact, the only time I’ve been to one recently was to see an IMAX). I go to theaters like Sundance which pride themselves on the quality of the experience and the quality of the films they show. You buy a reserved seat and you can buy a drink for the showing. Because it’s a bit more expensive, the audience tends to be better behaved as well. It’s well worth the money.

I love seeing movies at independent theaters. Not just because they are usually airing the lesser marketed titles, but because it’s simply tolerable to watch a movie there. They can be more expensive, but they are well worth it. For me, if a movie comes out that I want to see, here’s my decision making process: