Let’s set aside, for just a moment, the one thing that could potentially get people to leave their comfortable wide-screen HD TVs and reasonably priced snacks to brave the inflated ticket prices, eight-dollar popcorns, and an auditorium full of talkers, texters, Tweeters, and asshats: making better goddamn movies. Because I can only speak for myself here, but all the 3-D, comfy chairs, and waitstaff in the world can’t make sitting through 160 minutes of Trans4mers into an attractive proposition.
Yet even while tabling that seemingly unreachable goal, there’s an bizarre contradiction happening here. Box office revenues are flatlining or even declining, their downward trajectory barely hidden by vanishing tricks like 3-D surcharges. This kind of thing happens all the time; this time (as we’ve discussed), it’s a combination of competition for entertainment dollars, people being generally broke, and really good television. When television first posed a serious threat, back in the 1950s, Hollywood responded with copious bells and whistles: CinemaScope, Cinerama, Technicolor, 3-D (the first time!), even such one-and-done innovations as “Smell-O-Vision.”
In other words, to borrow the current parlance, getting people away from their televisions and into movie theaters would require luring audiences “with services they can’t get at home.” So why on earth would theaters want to borrow second screen viewing, which is, at its core, exactly how we watch things at home? I’m as guilty as anyone of watching movies and shows on my couch with the phone out, but it’s always something I do with a fair amount of guilt, because I know I’m reducing the work on the screen in front of me to background. Why would theaters voluntarily do the same?
The goal should not be to make going to the movies more like watching a movie in your living room; it should be to make it less so. Going to the cinema is a distinct, singular experience. If you’re going to encourage us all to fuck around on our phones for two hours and pay half-attention to the movie, you might as well let us watch the movie in our underwear, too. Just out of curiosity, what would the surcharge for that be?