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Category:    Home > Essays > Theaters > FIlm > The Cineplex, Single-Screen, Movie Palace and Drive-In.

The Cineplex, Single-Screen, Movie Palace and Drive-In.


Motion pictures are the second largest export the United States has, but the industry is facing the greatest challenge yet against several factors.  Know-it-alls who know absolutely nothing will automatically say catchwords like “digital” and “downloading” as if that would explain everything.  It does not.  The problems began late in the 1980s and now everyone is paying the price.


Once the industry saw films that were not that good could be marketed and profitable, they started to allow just anything to get by, including big budget projects.  In 1990, they were left scratching their heads when Days Of Thunder and Dick Tracy bombed, then ignored what happened and went down a dark path.  Digital sound systems in theaters gave the industry a new boom period and the 12” LaserDisc that did not take off widely still powered the home theater business to the point where it threatens the theaters today.


The threat looms larger for those in the industry who want to con themselves into believing the best digital HD projects out there are better than quality 35mm film prints, though they would cut some costs.  The other problem that has already been proven is that people are more likely to stay home if they feel they are being shortchanged at the theater.  While 70mm and IMAX presentations have consistently proved popular, digital video is still UFO and with two HD discs upon us, that would further close the gap between what you could see at home and in a theater.


Then there is the release gap.  Some companies want the movie to come out at the same time as the DVD, but that has proved to be a big money loser 100% of the time and “downloading” is being used a the very lame excuse for doing this.  Except for smaller companies who might not open a film wide, any major who wants to do this has betrayed the moviegoing audience and the industry that made them.


To many over-digitized, color desaturated productions have come our way.  These mostly heartless, soulless, mindless pieces of garbage even further close a dangerously narrowing gap of what is going straight to video and what is a big screen production worth going out of your way for.


Then there are the theaters themselves.  With more mergers since many of the chains overbuilt locations a few years ago that sent just about all of them into bankruptcy protection, the condition of some places are unbelievable.  When the popcorn machine operator is unable to understand basic geometry and constantly mis-frames a film as it begins, how are the same people going to handle 21st century digital equipment?  That is one pending disaster.  Then all of these colorless color films have actually caused an inane and insane “color-phobia” many viewers are totally unaware they have.  As for fidelity, depth and picture definition, I would be as rich as Bill Gates every time I see the shock of someone seeing a really good film print with color and definition and saying how much better that looks than what they have been seeing for years.


We do not even have to get specific about how bad most of the films are as such an extremely basic level, it is as if people are betting bags of cocaine or crack to see who can market the most idiotic film.  Part of the problem with people talking out of turn, loud to each other or loud on a cellphone at films outside of pure ignorance is that they are bored.  If the films they paid for were better, they might just shut-up and watch!


Forget culture barriers, Hip Hop, racism, political divisions and other excuses for why the movie-going experience is so bad.  It is the product that is the guiltiest, followed by the way it is presented.  Many theaters do not care, which is why outside of the bankruptcy/merger situation, many cineplexes old and new closed sooner than expected or some customers would have liked them to.


Not that most of them are missed when a better set of screens are built, but it is not like the greatness of movie palaces that still survive throughout the country or drive-ins that are still hangin in there.  They are still around because deep down inside, people love movies and add the local single screen house that has higher standards with clever selection and that is direction more of the new places need to go.


Forget the “good help is hard to find” cliché, which is yet another excuse like everything else lately in and out of the film industry where the “nobody cares” mantra is chanted to the point of dribble.  Films are becoming so expensive to go to, but if the right film is out there, people want to see it on a big screen with a good audience.  Multi-channel sound on every film is a very recent development.  The big screen is such because of the image, impact and hard work of talented people, at least when they get to make good films instead of the sequels and remakes by committee from hell that make people think Hollywood has run out of ideas when they are just too complacent to try new ones.  Superman Returns only happened after all the known leads approached turned it down because they knew a three-film package deal would massacre their careers.  Like in 1978, an unknown has the lead, something we see little of.  Instead, Hollywood thinks Jennifer Aniston can be marketed as the next Julia Roberts, despite being on TV for free all the time on the tired TV hit Friends in reruns.  Even she feels like a TV remake, no matter how nice she may be in real life.


Even worse is “The Rock” who keeps finding films no matter how many loose millions, which is just about all of them.  Nice guy?  If he really was, he would stop making awful films.  But this is not just about would-be stars being shoved at us, but the whole attitude.  Hollywood wants the customers to spend billions, but not do hardly anything for it.  They are not the only game in town anymore.  By narrowing what TV and features are, by all this recycling, but the cold machine that has ripped out the heart and soul of what made Hollywood the world leader in commercial cinema, a crisis has developed where the film capital of the world is more out of touch with reality and the public since no time since the late 1960s and much worse.  Some of the better places closing are being lost for the worst possible reasons.


Even the studio’s independent arms are turning out pretentious garbage that no one remembers 18 months later, which sadly causes some very impressive films (Broken Flowers, Proof, The Greatest Game Ever Played, The World’s Fastest Indian) to get lost in the shuffle.  The “youth audience” approach is ironic, because it meant classics like Easy Rider in the late 1960s and airhead films now.  Part of this is political in the dumbing-down of films in general, but people are finally starting to wake up to this after 15 years (what took them so long) as a ticket price becomes as much or more than a quality copy of a film on DVD.


The 12’ LaserDiscs were an expensive proposition, as were DVDs when they first started.  HD formats will start the same way, but prices will lower and then Hollywood will maybe see what they have caused to happen.  The digital in theaters will be better than even the HD formats, but with films looking worse than ever, that will not be any advantage.  In an era where we are advanced enough to see our films and TV shows on devices the size of remote controls, the big picture is literally being lost in many levels.  Those who want to still be ignorant will say that “that’s technology” or “the future” and once again not know what they are talking about or ever seriously given a thought to the words coming out of their mouth on automatic pilot.


Well, if these things continue, all this adds up to a very grim reality:  I have seen the future and it does not work!



Nicholas Sheffo wrote this piece as the April 2006 homepage letter.


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