Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Fun At The Theatre

I just got back from The Dark Knight at the local film house and have some thoughts.

Not on the movie per se; better minds have discerned the grains of eternal truth shrouded in this film's cloak of allegory. My musings are on the movie-going experience.

The first bit of fun is always planning which movie I want to see, and when I want to see it. I enjoy action, comedy, and anything with Ben Stiller in it. Sadly, Tropic Thunder is not yet out. So Batman won out over the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 (by quite a large margin), as I do enjoy DC Comics and any good superhero story.

Next I look at when it plays. In my city, movies generally start at one of two times: 8:00 or 10:00. Naturally, 9:00 is for me the best time to see a movie, considering getting home from work, eating, tucking the kids in bed, and chillin' with the wife (who likes neither action, comedy, nor Ben Stiller). There is some leeway in these starting times; I can see it at 7:50 or 10:05, depending on where I go and how far I want to travel.

Then comes the difficult task of choosing a movie-going companion. Since our kids aren't yet self-babysitters, we either need to hire help, call up one of our "Sure, I'll babysit for free at the last minute" people (that list keeps getting smaller and smaller), or one of us stays home. Tonight, it's her turn to stay home.

I enjoy solitude. My wife enjoys... well, not solitude, and she can't quite seem to grasp how I can see a movie by myself. When Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace came out several years ago, I went to see it on opening day (not at 12:01 AM like the hard-core nerds, but at 4:00 PM like an old post-nerd) and I went by myself. I've observed that people tend to have a one-space-away-from-me comfort zone, so that when two pairs of strangers sit in the same row in the theatre, they'll always leave one seat empty between them.

That's my spot. I got in to see The Phantom Menace in a premium seat about 5 minutes before the show started on opening day this way. That's one of the many benefits of solo excursions. If I had gone with my wife or a friend, we would have been standing around idly in the aisles, gazing dumbly into the audience, hoping that two empty seats would suddenly converge.

But still she tries to convince me to take a buddy along with me. That's one of the problems with the 10:00 show: while it's not too late for me, it's too late for the other members of my social circle. Plus, I really just want to go alone. Eventually she gives up and shoos me out the door.

One of the benefits to the 10:00 show is that the parking lot is usually much more empty at that hour. As I pull in to my spot only a quick jaunt from the main theatre doors, I observe the one sight I despise the most in a parking lot: a gaggle of young men, adorned in droopy garb and hats as crooked as Richard Nixon. They're sitting in Asia's interpretation of a sporty car, pumping loud house music. I've got a theory about this type of person: the rhythmic pounding of the bass, reverberating through his very being, reminds him on a deeply psychic level of the sound of his mother's heart beating while he was in the womb, and it is paradoxically comforting as it tears his eardrums apart. These poor guys really just want their mommies.

I ignore them and hasten through the falling rain into the movie complex. At my theatre of choice, two employees are staffing the ticket counter, and off to the side are half a dozen automated ticket kiosks. The ticket you get from either terminal is the same, and yet there's always a line twenty people deep at the ticket counter, while the machines sit unused to the side. I can't grasp why. If you're paying cash or with a gift certificate, you need to talk to a person, OK, I get that. But if you're putting it on your bank card or a credit card, it's much faster to use the kiosk. You can even pre-order your food there so you don't have to pay again at the concession line.

So I head straight for the machines and get my ticket and my food ticket with no wait. I elect for a dish of nachos and a Coke, and make my way towards the food counter.

I notice right away that there are two lines: one with about ten people waiting, and another with two people waiting. So I head for the shorter one. Then a second employee comes and opens up her till to speed things along. The long line doesn't notice her, so the person right in front of me jumps in first. Fine by me: now I only have to wait for one person, and she's almost done.

Soon Keri greets me and inaudibly asks me what I'll have. She's slouching, her shoulders are sagging, and her long stringy hair is falling out from beneath her uniform cap. I hand her my pre-printed order. Thankfully, I can see that there is just one tray of nachos left under the heating lamp behind her. The trays come with nachos in the middle and two empty sockets in opposite corners for condiments. "Do you want two salsas, two cheeses, or a salsa and a cheese?" she drones.

Easy answer. "Two cheeses please."

"How many jalepeno peppers do you want?"

"Zero." My blunt answer evokes no reaction from her.

At this point, I see that the lady beside me, the one who skipped out of my line for the new line, has also ordered nachos and her server is taking my tray of nachos out from under the heat lamp for her. Grrr. But wait... they've got more. Keri unenthusiastically plods out of sight, then a moment later emerges with a large aluminium tray with 5 more nacho mini-trays on it. She has a long way to maneuver to get back, and has to pass by at least four other people in the cramped quarters behind the counter. Somehow she manages not to spill, and sets the tray down on her confined workspace next to the heat lamp. She takes off two mini-trays and delicately slides them under the lamp, then two more, and finally the last one. "Why would she put it away?" I think to myself. "She has to get it ready for me, doesn't she?"

Instead Keri picks up the empty aluminium tray and plods back around the corner to where it originated. I see them do this at Tim Horton's too, when they pour the last of the coffee from the pot into my cup - instead of giving you your coffee, they make you wait while they get another pot brewing. I guess it makes sense in a foresightful kind of way: if the theatre kept serving food with empty trays sitting up front, things would get awfully cluttered. And Tim Horton's would soon run out of brewed coffee altogether if they kept serving people when a pot got emptied.

She returns and picks up a tray of nachos from under the heat lamp. She ladles gooey melted processed cheese into one side, then the other, while merrily chatting with a coworker. Good - she remembered my order.

Then she lifts a ladle from another bucket, and before I know it there are jalepeno peppers - and the brine in which they were soaking - on my nachos. I almost protest but the movie's starting, and at her pace I'm not confident I'll get in before the halfway mark if she had to start over. So I bite my tongue. Then she scoops up more peppers, and more, and more... five scoops of them (and their brine) in total. Finally she hands it to me with my Coke and, grabbing a straw and some napkins, I rush to Door # 1 where The Dark Knight awaits.

As I round the corner and scope out the crowd, I see that the theatre's pretty full, even at this hour. Being a tallish guy I usually like to sit in the first row of the second section, where there is a wide landing separating the upper and lower decks of the seats - this way I can stretch out my legs. True to my plan, I find an empty seat with plenty of leg room and settle in to enjoy the show.

The nachoes are stale, unnaturally warm, and soggy from the jalepeno brine. The peppers themselves had been soaking so long that they had lost all flavour, so even when I accidentally scooped one up and injested it, I wouldn't have known had I not felt the texture of it with my tongue. And I highly suspect that not one cow was involved in the production of my cheese; in all probability several candle remnants were melted down and had some colour and salt added.

After the movie ends, I head outside for the virtually vacant parking lot. It's raining even harder than it was before, so I pull up the hood on my sweatshirt to shelter me as I walk to my van. It occurs to me that with my my hooded sweatshirt and jeans that don't go up as high as they should (but not for lack of trying), I could pass for a 20-something kid heading back to his souped-up Honda Civic, except that I don't have a gaggle of clones with me.

It's late, and I'm tired. I turn up the music in the van as I drive home, ostensibly to stay awake. But really, I just want my mommy.


  1. Interesting that, in general, if I was going to a movie with a buddy and the choice was two prime "comfort-buffer" seats not adjacent to each other, versus two seats next to each other in a crummy location, I would generally pick the seats that are together. I generally wouldn't talk to my buddy during the movie (unless it's a really really bad movie), and upon leaving I could immediately talk to them about the shared movie experience (even if we hadn't been sitting together), so really there's no quantifiable value to sitting together, except for the warm fuzzy I'm-sitting-beside-a-human-that-I-know feeling. Fuzzy feeling wins against better viewing experience?

  2. Well, seeing as one can obtain the fuzzy feeling beside one's friend in any sort of seat in any sort of building, and also given that the primary purpose of seeing a movie in a theatre must be for the viewing experience, I would suggest that experience must trump fuzz on every possible occasion of conflict.


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