Dear Cinema Lovers,
I’ve been thinking about theatres a lot lately. As a film fan who surrounds himself with other film fans, I am upset I can’t go to the theatres to experience cinema the way it was intended. On the other hand, I’m also a realist who isn’t blinded by the bright shiny lights of a “Coming Soon” sign.
There’s been a lot of talk about Streaming and the pandemic dealing the ultimate death blow to theatres. I’ve heard too many cinephiles over the past year treat the fall of theatres as a direct result of external forces. An unfortunate casualty of lockdown.
I think that’s bullshit.
It is impossible for an institution as big as the movie theatre industry to topple in a couple of months unless there is something fundamentally wrong with it in the first place. Don’t get me wrong, I love theatres. Although, I can’t deny how greedy theatre chains have become over the last couple of years. Hiking ticket prices, charging extra for 3D films, 4D experiences, reserved seating, prime seating—or worse, $30+ for popcorn and a drink? I can’t imagine having kids and shelling out nearly $100 just to watch a movie.
Add in rude moviegoers and unsanitary conditions and you have a clear indication of why theatres are losing the battle for entertainment. The thought of bypassing all this for a flat subscription fee and the comfort of my own home sounds pretty good to me. So, before the landscape of entertainment changes altogether, let’s take a look back at some memorable theatre experience.
Theatre: Scotiabank Theatre, Ottawa, ON
Date: **February 2018
I am a huge fan of Alex Garland’s work. I believe he is bringing curiosity back to science-fiction—a genre that has become saturated by alien invasion films.
Annihilation is a movie I think about often when I want to remind myself of a good theatre experience. Big screen plus big sound equals a hell of a ride. There are a ton of moments in Annihilation worthy of shock and awe, amplified only by being in a theatre. None more so than the infamous ‘bear’ scene in which Natalie Portman and co are sitting ducks for a grotesque animal-human hybrid.
Watching this scene in any medium is terrifying. Being in a theatre racked up the tension. I felt the weight of the beast thanks to the bass of the subwoofers. I was shrouded in darkness, just like the characters on-screen. I was fully immersed and shitting absolute bricks. Even though I was hooked by what was occurring in front of me, I made it a point to look around the theatre to see the reactions of others. I wanted to see if my fear was reciprocated. It was. The entire room was on edge and it was absolutely beautiful.
I’ve seen Annihilation since on Netflix. The bear scene still rocks me to my core but it’s missing that atmospheric edge. That physical response of being transported to another world only to come out two hours later, dazed and confused.
Theatre: AMC Fresh Meadows 7, Bayside, Queens
Date: November 2015
Many of us have fond memories of sharing a theatre experience with family. On this day, in particular, my family and I decided to check out the highly anticipated Spectre. My mom, dad, and brother all live and work in New York while I hold down the fort back in Canada, so we don’t really get to do these sorts of things anymore. For our schedules to align long enough to watch a movie in a theatre, in the same country, is a pretty big deal, for us at least.
Needless to say, I was excited. Even if Spectre was, well, Spectre. We got our snacks, found our seats. Plush, double-wide recliners, might I add. Only in America. Little did we know, another family would be creating memories at that screening, albeit obnoxious ones.
It was your typical nuclear family. A mom, a dad, and two kids—a boy and a girl. The dad seemed tired. So tired that he fell asleep, which is okay. It happens. What isn’t okay is snoring. I’m not talking about an occasional snort here and there. I’m talking a deep, bellowing rumble that would put any IMAX speaker to shame. For the first few minutes, it’s kind of funny. After a while, the awkwardness sets in. I remember sitting in my seat, eyes darting across the room to see if anyone was brave enough to break the social norms and nudge the man awake. Luckily, someone did because I am not the confrontational type.
You would think the mom would have enough respect to wake her partner up but she seemed busy. Her son was restless in his seat. To calm him down, she gave him her phone. I’m against pulling out a phone during a movie but if it’ll calm a child down so the rest of the theatre can enjoy the film, so be it. As luck would have it, that kid decided a giant movie screen wasn’t enough of a distraction so he launched a game on the phone—on speaker, with the volume turned straight up.
So, to recap, you have a father with a severe case of sleep apnea, a son with the attention span of a fruit fly, and a mom who’s just over it all converging on this one theatre in Flushing, Queens.
Not the best theatre experience but a memorable one.
Theatre: Cineplex Cinemas, Ottawa, ON
Date: June 2008
Much like the name suggests, my screening of Wanted was criminal. I was 15 when the James McAvoy and Angelina Jolie action-thriller was first released. I was too young to see the movie, which was rated R for nudity, violence, and bullet curving. My friends and I were adamant about seeing it. We made a plan to buy tickets to The Love Guru of all films and make a break for it after the ticketer ripped the perforated seams of our admission.
The plan was successful but not without its hiccups. The theatre attendant caught us going up the wrong set of escalators. Since The Love Guru was a story about an American, raised by Indian stereotypes, who decides to become a hockey player, it was relegated to the B-movie section of the Cineplex. You know, that section that is tucked away in the corner with all the other movies with poor box office sales.
Fortunately, we managed to maneuver our way back to the escalator without being seen and made it in the nick of time, snagging the last few uncomfortable seats at the front of the theatre. It didn’t matter. We felt alive. The movie itself was a senseless, stylized action flick. Just what my 15-year-old brain needed at the time.
Theatre: Mayfair Theatre, Ottawa, ON
Date: August 2014
As I was thinking about theatre experiences to include in this post, my girlfriend brought up our first date at the Mayfair for a screening of Boyhood. There’s not much to the story except that my girlfriend fell asleep. On our first date. No steamy back-of-the-theatre makeouts, on a musty couch, in an empty independent theatre for us.
Luckily, the movie was pretty great. The sheer concept of the film was so impressive, it helped spark my cinephile journey—and my girlfriend and I have been together for almost seven years now so it all worked out.
Theatre: Cineplex Cinemas, Ottawa, ON
Date: April 2019
You’ve probably seen this video around the net. After teasing Captain America’s worthiness in Avengers: Age of Ultron, The Russo Brothers provided the ultimate fan service moment in Avengers: Endgame by fulfilling the prophecy and letting Cap wield Mjolnir.
The scene was a huge surprise but that’s not why it’s so popular. It’s the audience’s reaction. If you were to close your eyes and listen to the audio of the clip above, you’d think you were listening to the winning touchdown play at the Superbowl. Avengers: Endgame isn’t a movie. It’s an event. It’s an experience that is elevated by other people.
That is a very important dynamic moving forward. No matter how we feel, Streaming is here to stay. It is too convenient and too accessible to think otherwise. Theatres will have to evolve in order to survive.
I believe that big event feel is what will keep theatres afloat in the coming years. Theatres will no longer be where one goes to watch a movie. It will be an event hall where one goes to experience a movie with other people. The same way we attend concerts when we can stream a song on Spotify. Or why we shell out money for season passes and overpriced beer at stadiums when we could watch the game at home. It is the thrill of sharing a moment with others we crave.
Avengers: Endgame is by far the most memorable and worthwhile theatre experience I’ve ever had. At one point, I was literally shaking in my seat because my blood was pumping a mile a minute. Not because of the movie itself but the mob mentality that came with being a Marvel fan among others, on opening night.
I genuinely hope the majority of theatres make it out of this pandemic. Being able to buy a ticket and sit in that fold-out seat is one of my favourite things to do in this world. I just hope this whole ordeal has taught theatre operators the value of good customer service and evolving with the times.