Monday, May 09, 2005

Ranting and raving...

These are all pie in the sky ideas, but anyway.

This year has been abysmal for Hollywood, and so have the last several. The mantra has been, when the films are better, more people will come out. And there’s undoubtedly some truth to that. Yesterday a local TV station ran Return of the Jedi during the afternoon. I had poor reception, and of course there were constant commercial breaks, but I still watched, almost hypnotized, the opening chapter of the film, detailing the rescue of Han from Jabba’s clutches.

Even with the truly obnoxious added CGI effects to that desert pit monster (which actually served to make it less distinctive and cool), the sequence was just terrific. Especially satisfying was the foreshadowing of Luke having come into his own as a Jedi, and his eventual appearance proving it was so.

So it’s not just golden memories. Here was a film that (until the Ewoks) really paid off in a way that the Matrix series could only dream of. (Or, for that matter, Revenge of the Sith. Even if it is as terrific as the buzz indicates, nobody really cared about the last two films, meaning that any ‘pay off’ing actually comes from it’s connection to the original three films.) Even having seen it, even having never been a hardcore Star Wars fan, even with commercials and bad picture and truly stupid updating, the film was mesmerizingly good.

However, that’s really a bit off the point of where I’m going on this. DVD is where the money is now, much more than the cinema box office, and the question is whether this will sustain a crippled, moribund system or encourage a break with the current patterns.

One change already wrought by this, at least in this area (Chicagoland), is the demise of the ‘second run’ house, where you could catch a movie after a couple of weeks or months for three or four bucks rather than ten. Because movies make so much money on home video (DVD) now, they’ve shortened the amount of time before films are released to the home market. Therefore keeping films banging around theaters for an additional month or two, wringing a last few bucks out of them, would be counterproductive, to the studios at least.

Unfortunately, Hollywood is still enthralled by the blockbuster idea, where you make 20 films and lose money on 17 of them, but have one huge monster hit and end up (somewhat) in the black overall. DVD can encourage this, as it adds to the moneys blockbusters can make.

However, I’d like to think that DVDs also allow small films to find audiences and make money, even if, so far, Hollywood isn’t that interested in making twenty million dollars off a film that cost ten million. Again, they want that blockbuster.

What I’d like to see is a sort of return to the second run idea, only instead you’d have too different sorts of theaters. One would show the blockbusters, the Star Wars, etc, and charge a higher price for the tickets. These would feature fewer but bigger screens.

Meanwhile, smaller films would play on a circuit charging smaller admittance charges. This would make the occasional hugely profitable small film more unlikely, but also make the odds of a film being profitable more likely, especially as more adults would return to moviegoing.

One way you could make this more feasible is to allow studios to own theaters again. They used to be able to, but that was made illegal, which is what brought about the end of the Studio System. However, the world is a different place now, and I don’t see why you couldn’t have Universal theaters and so on, or consortium ones. Since so many of the modern theater chains are over extended, they could merge with the studios and sell different venues to different studios. Or, in the case of multiplexes, different wings of each theater.

However, I’d especially like to promote smaller theaters that sold cheaper tickets to lower budget movies. These smaller theaters would have to enforce certain rules, too. For instance, and this is important, they should pay some burly high schoolers or college students minimum wage to sit in each screening room, perhaps with a highly identifiable red jacket or something, and strictly enforce a no talking rule. If someone were making noise of the sort likely to disturb other patrons, the attendant would boot them out. Same if they answered a cell phone in the theater.

As well, no children under the age of four or five would be admitted to the theater, and no young kids would be allowed in R rated movies, even with an adult. I’m sorry if this means people have to actually hire babysitters if they want to go to a movie, but tough. Eventually, the people who can’t shut up would get the message and start taking their business elsewhere.

I’d like to think that this ‘adult’s’ multiplex, where maybe you could go to see, say, In Good Company or Sideways or whatever without worrying that the sound from the bombastic action flick in the next theater was going to leak into your area, or that kids were going to giggle and yak and throw popcorn during the entire movie, coupled with somewhat cheaper ticket prices, would encourage more regular moviegoing by the sort of folks who have given up on going to theaters.

(Also, once you start drawing a more mature audience, perhaps you could use one of the screening room to show revival fare. It would be nice to be able to see the classics in a theater again.)

I realize there are a mess of logistical problems with this idea, but this is all just off the top of my head, and I think there are elements here that could be made to work.


At 2:37 PM, Blogger Christopher said...

Just one of the advantages of the Alamo Drafthouse is their admission policy:

All patrons must be 18 years or older or be accompanied by a parent. Children under 6 are not admitted at any time.

At 3:52 PM, Blogger nshumate said...

Whereas just about the only time I see something on the big screen is if I'm going with children...

At 3:56 PM, Anonymous Terrahawk said...

I'll throw in a couple of additional ideas:

1. Get back to adding some mini-features before the film that will not be attached to the DVD. Add some benefit to going to the flick. Comedy shorts work well and if they match the rating of the movie, aren't a problem (i.e. no R humor before a PG film).

2. Maybe throw in intermissions again. I know some films don't lend themselves to it, but some do.

3. Drop the commercials and limit the trailers to two or three. People don't go to the theater to reproduce the TV experience.

At 6:33 AM, Anonymous twitterpate said...

Interesting ideas, terrahawk. A few comments:

1. The main problem I'd have with humorous short features before the main movie is that Hollywood has, apparently, forgotten how to be funny, particularly in a G/PG way. I'd fear being subjected to 10-15 minutes of grossout comedy.

Of course, if Pixar could get involved, it would work. Their credits are usually funnier than other studios' full features.

2. The idea of intermission is tricky. Putting one in does make the movie seem like more of an "event" - however, it would also make it longer, so you might scare off the casual "hey, I've got a couple of hours to kill, why not a movie?" viewer.

3. For the third item, yes, I'll gladly support killing the ads. They're bad enough on the small screen - to be hectored to buy something by people who are 20 feet tall is intolerable.

At 6:43 AM, Anonymous JazzBow said...

Seesh, I'm surprised a B Movie fan doesn't think of the obvious... double features, except with with back to back B movies instead of a B leading off for an A.

I remember a theater in San Diego, more years ago than I care to admit to, which would rotate between four movies during a run (usually of the same genre). You could buy a ticket and stay as long as you wanted. They even had a glassed in smoking booth in the back.

I wasted many a day in there in me sailor days.

At 7:31 AM, Blogger BeckoningChasm said...

The best idea is what Christopher alluded to, what's been called the "brew and view." These are second run theatres that also serve food (pizza for the most part).

That way, it becomes more of a community thing. If the movie stinx, at least the pizza was good.

At 7:10 PM, Blogger Triviachamp said...

Don't forget that it was believed that forcing the studios to sell off their theatres would reduce ticket prices!


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