I had a fine time watching the new Harry Potter movie last weekend -- you know it's a better movie when it features a tree with more personality than some of the characters in the earlier episodes -- but was driven further down the road of hating movie theaters, which once I loved.

Movie theaters are increasingly hostile environments. At this one showing, we had:

  • about twenty minutes of ads, exclusive of the previews (which are of course ads in themselves);
  • a few minutes of live and recorded exhortations to keep quiet and turn off cell phones;
  • a full row of people behind us talking (sounded like a real-time Italian translation of the whole movie);
  • two people in front of us talking;
  • three cell phone calls, unanswered;
  • one cell phone call (directly behind us), answered (at least the Italian translation stopped for the duration of the call);
  • $4 for popcorn and $3.75 for a bottle of water;
  • $5 for parking;
  • $2 in Moviefone fees for two tickets (optional, but at this movie arguably not if you wanted to see it opening weekend); oh, and
  • $19 for two tickets to the movie.

It would certainly be cheaper to buy the movie on DVD and own it forever, than to watch it once for nearly twice the price; the popcorn would be better, cheaper, and faster, and could be topped with real butter instead of "topping"; the water would be tastier, colder, and available for $1.49 per 100 cubic feet; and the talking would be sanctioned or actionable. Plus, no ads. It's no wonder home theater is booming.

One thing I didn't see at this film was the increasingly common kill-thy-neighbor copyright warnings or maudlin pleas to spare Hollywood its looming, BitTorrential Napsterization. (I love hearing that downloading somehow affects the set painters but not the producers. Just once I'd like to see one of those trailers starring Jerry Bruckheimer or Michael Eisner: "If you download movies, we'll never be able to make Batman XXIII -- and you don't want that, do you?") Instead of these tear-jerkers, the Potter producers instead deployed night-vision equipped Voldemort Special Forces -- but predictably, they couldn't prevent Harry and his friends from making it online just after the end of the first showing. That's been a consistent pattern for more than five years, now, and I don't think it's due to get better any time soon.

What the movie industry doesn't seem to realize is that the hostility of the theatrical experience -- up to and including their copyright pablum and their Maginot militarization -- is exactly what will drive people to try downloading movies to their home theaters. They are creating greater incentives for the technologies they fear the most. If Hollywood wants to keep "butts in seats" (as the saying goes), their "only hope" is to make the experience of being in those seats better.

I loved going to movie theaters because the crowd experience can't be matched by any home theater. What would my first showing of Star Wars have been like without the lines, the gasps, and the applause? How can you match the experience of watching the scenes between Daniel Day-Lewis and Emily Watson in The Boxer without a full theater of people holding their breath to see what will happen? It's not the same, and I'd miss not going to the theaters at all; but the experience I had last weekend, as with many of late, just isn't worth it.

  2004-06-08 20:12 Z