Wednesday, June 04, 2003

Hardly Art, Hardly Starving!

Uh-oh, looks like big-business entertainment is emphatically pulling out its empty pockets again. "Where did all my pennies go?" ask the owners of Canadian movie theatres, according to a recent Stats Can survey.

According to the article, Canadian movie theatres (on average) lost a lot of money in 2000. Although attendance was still higher than it was in 1999, there was less of an increase than in previous years. The theatres, of course, blame the movie industry for not releasing enough blockbusters.

Hello? Not enough blockbusters? In that year, we had (to name a few ) Mission: Impossible II (2000) at $545.4 million, Gladiator (2000) at $456.3 m, Cast Away (2000) at $424.3 m, What Women Want (2000) at $372.3 m, How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) $340.4 m, The Perfect Storm (2000) $325.8 m, AND X-Men (2000) at $297.3 m, not to mention another thirty-four movies that made more than 100 million! (Check out worldwide box office grosses here)

So what is really to blame here?

Behind door #1, we have the movie industry, which apparently isn't making enough exciting movies to get the butts in the seats. And in the past year, we've only had the piddly, weakling offerings of Spiderman, Star Wars Episode 2, Austin Powers 3, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Lord of The Rings, Chicago, Signs, and My Big Fat Greek Wedding. In case you can't tell, I'm being sarcastic.

Behind door #2: the evil, sinister DVD industry, which has made watching a movie at home a potentially better viewing experience than at the theatres, if you've got the right hardware, and a much-much cheaper one, to boot. For $5, you and your friends can watch your favourite movie with digital-quality picture and sound, backed up by a kitchen full of goodies that won't put you in the poor house if you're hungry. And if someone's being chatty, you can stop the movie and throw shoes at the person until they stop. Hard to beat.

And behind door #3....the theatres themselves. If you look carefully, I was alluding to them with door #2. Hey Cineplex Odeon/Famous Players! We like the new theatres, but $14 a ticket each plus popcorn, plus drinks for two people costs about as much as my weekly grocery bill. Now, I'm happy to pay a little bit more for the upgrades (the big comfy seats, the big screens and the better sight lines), don't get me wrong. I'll usually go to the bigger, newer theatres instead of the older ones that don't have the new features, but eventually I'll have to draw the line. With $14 these days, you can buy a pretty sweet DVD. And you can watch it over and over and over again until you can recite every line and drive your friends bonkers, if you want to. With the $50 or more for a night out on the town for two, you could buy a whole assload of DVDs. And even more VHS copies.

The Field of Dreams maxim "build it and they will come" only goes so far. Maybe cinemas should have approached things with slightly different attitude: "build it, make the tickets cheap enough that you don't have to take a mortgage out on your house every time you go, and they will come." Then again, that's a little less catchy, isn't it?

Oh, and while we're offering suggestions, cinemas might be better off if they'd train their projectionist staff better. In the last few blockbuster movies I've seen, a) the dialog track was turned down so low that everyone's dialogue sounded like the actors were being voice-overed by Charlie Brown's parents, b) the music track was pumped to the point that it actually drowned out the machine guns and explosions, and c) the picture was so out of focus that I had to twist my glasses out of shape to make out basic shapes. And I'm paying $14 for this?


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