After a long absence for a number of reasons, I recently went to a big-box theater, and I was surprised to see how much things have changed.
With all the various ways to watch movies at home, big-box theaters are apparently trying to make movie-going an “experience.” But when the experience makes people feel like they’re watching the film at home in their own cozy recliner, sipping on their favorite alcoholic beverage, and when you count up all the regular movie seats removed to accommodate the big recliners, well, I don’t know if it makes sense.
And now you have to pick your seat when you buy your ticket.
It’s not like I was going to see Bruce Springsteen in concert for goodness sake; I was going to a movie matinee.
It all stems from my fussiness, of which I am fully aware. I deal with my fussiness without infringing on the rights or space of any other patrons. I generally go to matinees, when the theater is way less crowded. I get there early so I can scope out the theater and choose my seat carefully, always knowing that I can and will move to get away from talkers, coughers, sneezers, loud chewers, wrapper-crinklers, amorous couples, anyone who smells of smoke or Axe body spray, as well as anyone under the age of 5 (because everyone knows little kids don’t belong at adult movies).
I like the freedom of being able to change my seat if circumstances dictate, and now it appears that my free-range days at big-box theaters are over.
I learned the tough lesson after I attended a screening of “A Star is Born.” I wanted to see it badly after just about every person I know saw it and loved it and raved about it, so I made plans to meet up with someone for a Sunday matinee.
I was there first, of course, and as I paid for my ticket, the kid in the box office surprised me by swinging his computer screen around and telling me to pick my seat.
“I don’t know where I want to sit yet,“ I said. “I haven’t been inside to scope things out.”
“Gotta pick a seat,” the kid said.
“But I don’t think I should have to,” I said. “And I don’t know where my friend wants to sit. This isn’t right.”
The kid shrugged. “That’s the way it is,” he said, unmoved by my protest. “You have to pick.”
I don’t like being told that I “have” to do something. And I wasn’t aware that there were problems with seating at movie theaters that made pre-selection a necessity — surely the box office knows how many seats are in each theater, and surely its system can compute how many tickets are sold.
Why, then? Why did I have to select my seat before getting inside the theater? This assigned seating business appeared to be a solution without a problem, and I wasn’t going to pick a seat without a fight.
So I asked to speak to the manager.
A kid about my son’s age appeared after a few minutes. He seemed awfully bored as I explained why this seat pre-selection idea was both inconvenient and wrong, and he seemed even more bored (if that were possible) when I asked him to pass my seat pre-selection complaint along to whoever at the theater had the power to change things. (How much do you want to bet that he did?)
Then, I surrendered. I picked a seat.
Of course, I was the first person in the theater. Slowly, other people came in, sat down, and settled in for the movie.
Because we were meeting up and she had no idea where I was sitting, my friend didn’t know which seat I chose. Despite choosing a different seat, she sat by me.
“I HATE that we had to pick seats,” she said. “I’m going to sit wherever I like.”
Lots of other people apparently felt the same because just before the movie was to begin came this flurry of movement as people scooted out of “wrong” seats and into “right” seats. If it wasn’t so distracting (and pointless), it would’ve been amusing.
And then, just after the movie began, the legal renter of the seat by me arrived, meaning my friend had to move.
A trip to the movies shouldn’t be about anything other than the film. I hate to see going to the movies become just like a visit to any big-box or chain business, an experience that is the same whether you’re in Detroit or Omaha or Howell. And now, with the addition of recliners and the serving of alcohol, well, the next thing you know, people will be going to the movies in their pajamas.
Lucky me, I live within walking distance of the Historic Howell Theater in downtown Howell. Its location, ambiance, personality, and wonderfully entertaining and quirky schedule of first-run and artsy films — and the ability to sit wherever the heck you like — make it a true community gem.
I refuse to become a prisoner of an assigned public recliner in a big-box theater.
Long live free-range seating.