For the first time in 22 months, I said to myself, “I am going to the movies today.”
During the COVID pandemic, I admit that I’ve become a bit of a germaphobe. After buying a digital projector in 2020, I’ve also settled into the habit of streaming/watching movies primarily at home. With a 7 ft./2 meter collapsible screen, and using either our home office for my wife and I, or our garage for movie nights with friends, I’d become a bit too comfortable with home viewing.
With James Cameron’s “Avatar: The Way of Water” (the first of several planned sequels to 2009 “Avatar”) arriving in theaters this month, I thought, this is exactly the kind of high-tech movie experience that demands a large theatrical screening. Hell, I’d even spring for IMAX 3D, to celebrate my return to the movies.
Note: By the way, the price of one IMAX 3D ticket these days is about the price of a permanent BluRay. Just sayin’…
Since my wife didn’t want to see it, I bought myself a single IMAX 3D ticket for 10 am this morning (December 19th, 2022). Then I drove out to the AMC Theatre multiplex near my local mall (where I’d seen many movies in years past), where I arrived about 20 minutes early. The elevators and escalator leading to the upstairs theater were both down (first bad omen), so, I used the stairs. Arriving at the theater, I grabbed my printed ticket and went to the snack bar to see if I could grab something to chow on. Well, thanks to COVID (and inflation), the prices of concessions have risen dramatically. I decided I wasn’t really hungry enough to justify the expense, so I went inside the theater…
To my surprise, it was really dark inside; so dark, in fact, that I had to use my iPhone’s flashlight app just to find my seat. Even the regular house lights were off. Not a good sign. Anyway, I found my seat, which was perfectly centered with a somewhat smaller IMAX screen than I remembered from pre-pandemic days. I was given the familiar plastic 3D glasses, which more or less fit over my own specs, so that was a relief.
The house lights came up a few minutes later, so incoming patrons had an easier time finding their seats than I did. The pre-show adverts also started, and while I could hear the usual parade of trailers, trivia, Coke commercials, and Maria Menounos, there was no image on the screen. This was not alarming; I’d been to a few movies (usually at this particular AMC multiplex) where the ads were heard, but not seen. Besides who wants to see commercials, anyway? This was hardly a problem… yet.
Soon it was 10 am. As Roy Scheider says in “All That Jazz”: “It’s showtime, folks!” But there was still no picture. A couple of patrons left the auditorium to flag down an employee. I was still thinking this was just a momentary technical glitch. However, things soon came to a grinding halt when one of the AMC employees came into the auditorium to inform us that the IMAX digital projection system was down. If we wished, we could go to the Guest Services desk to get a refund or free movie passes for another show.
This was the first movie I’ve left the house to see in nearly three years and, of course, the projector breaks down. Despite the small group inside the theatre, there was already a long line at the Guest Services desk, since incoming patrons were apparently notified of the IMAX snafu before we were. So, the line already had about 20 or so people in it.
Feeling properly demoralized, I wondered when or if I’d ever do this again. At that moment, I decided I didn’t want a free pass—I just wanted to get my money and go home. This presented a problem, of course, since I used PayPal to buy my advance ticket online. I had to explain to a manager—without going too Karen on the poor girl—that I used my current debit card for my PayPal account, so the money goes to and from the same source. To the young lady’s credit, she simply gave me a cash refund, and I sincerely wished her a happy holiday season. She handled it well, and I appreciated her patience. I certainly didn’t want to add to her already stressful day.
With money in hand, I left. Then I tried to buy coffee at my local Barnes & Noble, but they were out of my brand—of course. Not wanting to waste the morning, I decided to run another errand elsewhere in town, when I ran into serious road construction all around my destination. Southern California traffic is a force to be reckoned with, if you’re not familiar.
Do I Miss This?
At this point, it dawned on me; going to the movies can be a major pain in the ass. Did I really miss all of this? Goodness knows I love watching movies (my home movie collection is positively obscene), but did I love the traffic, the crowds, the prices, technical fowl-ups, and worrying about refunds? Not so much.
Yes, there have been times in my youth when going to the movies was a life-changing experience (specifically “Star Wars” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” back in 1977 at age 10). But now? The magic was kinda gone. Ever since my wife and I bought our HD projector, the compulsion to see a movie on a ‘big screen’ wasn’t so compelling anymore. Besides, the ratio of distance between viewer and screen in a darkened room makes more of an observable difference than actual screen size, anyway.
I’ve had garage movie nights (most recently with 1987’s “The Princess Bride”) that have captured far more of the ‘movie experience’ than many prior trips to the cinema in pre-pandemic days. Not to mention that the snacks are cheaper, restroom breaks are only a pause button away, and you can invite whomever you like. It’s like learning how to cook a nice barbecue; why go out for it, when it’s more fun to have a few friends over, and make everything to order?
Yes, someday I probably will see “Avatar: The Way of Water,” and yes, I will most likely stream it at home with my digital projector. No, it probably won’t look as gargantuan at it would in IMAX 3D, but it will look good enough. If I watch it in darkness, and park my comfy bucket chair close enough, that magic distance-to-screen ratio should afford me a sufficiently immersive experience, as I’d recently experienced with Guillermo del Toro’s beautiful, stop-motion retelling of “Pinocchio.”
To those who prefer going to the movies? I’m certainly not trying to rain on your parade. Far from it, in fact. As I’ve said, I can remember times when going to the movies was utterly life-changing for me, and I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from that experience. But at my age and patience level, this was the gentle push I needed to affirm what I already knew; I simply prefer the control of watching movies on my home theater system. Perhaps next year’s “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” will finally get me into a theater again, but that’s still a few months away…
To my readers, I apologize for the lack of “Avatar: The Way of Water” review, and I hope that you and your loved ones have a wonderful holiday season. May you enjoy your own movies to the fullest, in whatever mode you prefer.
All the best.