Last weekend, I took the family to the movies. Three of the four of us had read the Da Vinci Code, so that seemed like a good enough reason to pony up the big bucks to view it in a theater.
Now, the movie itself really wasn’t that bad. Nora, the only one of us who hadn’t read the book, was a little confused (What’s the Priory? And how are they different from Opus Dei?), but even she was still entertained. At age 12, she might have been a bit outside the film’s target demographic. I felt it stuck to the book too tightly (maybe this is just a reflection of my not-too-great admiration of the book), but still worked as your basic popcorn thriller. It does make you realize just how thin the book must be, for literally the entire plot to be captured in a two and a half hour movie.
But that’s not why I’m never going to go to the movies again. The reason is the “pre-theater entertainment.” After paying nearly $30 for a family of four to watch a movie and arriving 15 minutes early so as to get a good seat, I now have to be subjected to a noisy barrage of television advertisements, from the moment I reach my seat. I can still remember my first experience with TV ads in a theater — it was in New York about 15 years ago, and the patrons hissed and complained to the management after just one ad was shoehorned in among the trailers.
Now patrons willingly sit through up to 30 minutes of ads, plus the movie trailers themselves. There’s no way to carry on a conversation during the pre-theater entertainment, because the volume is cranked up almost as loud as it is for the movie itself. I thought I was paying the $30 to avoid commercials. Isn’t that what’s supposed to differentiate movie theaters and regular TV? It’s certainly not the picture or sound quality anymore: the pre-theater entertainment is presented in regular old HD video, and the movie, though a standard film print, was so degraded and scratched that I actually would have preferred to watch it at home on my own, non-HDTV.
I’ve read that the pre-theater entertainment was devised by theater owners as a way to increase revenue. If patrons were “entertained” before the movie, they might arrive earlier and buy more overpriced soda pop and popcorn. Plus there’s the bonus of the ad revenue from all those commercials.
Maybe this strategy is going to be a net winner for the theaters — after all, I’m not exactly their target demographic: I probably only watch 2 or 3 movies in the theater in a year. My boycott isn’t going to send them to the poor house. But in the long run, I suspect most people will prefer to stay at home and TiVo through commercials instead of paying to watch them at the theater.