Thursday, December 1, 2016

Riske Business: Seeing Movies in Empty (or Near-Empty) Theaters

by Adam Riske
Going to the movies is a communal experience. When it’s a solitary one, sadness follows.

• I saw Sully at a Thursday night show at 10pm. The only people in the theater were myself and a man who made a lot of noise fishing around a plastic bag. I’m presuming he brought candy or something with him. At one point, he exclaimed “YES!” when something stirring happened in the movie. It wasn’t really loud, but when you’re in a theater of two you can really hear anything. My experience seeing Sully made me think about my own life and how I’m probably only a few years away from myself shouting in the dark without some drastic life changes. I thought about the girlfriends I turned away in my 20s and how even if they wouldn’t have worked out, I could have had one or two divorces under my belt by now. In the end, I don’t care how many souls Sully saved because he didn’t save mine.
• I went to a theater with assigned seating on a Thursday night to see Inferno. The movie had been out for a few weeks so it wasn’t very crowded. It also wasn’t crowded because it was Inferno. When I got into the auditorium about 15 minutes early, it was empty. Then as the previews started, a smattering of people started to come in. Two of them sat in the same row as me with just a one seat buffer. The rest of the theater was hundreds of empty seats. So, I ask, why did they decide they wanted to sit so close to me when they could have had more personal space? Did they just not look closely at the seating chart? Were they swingers looking to add a third party?

• I was the one person in America that saw Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. I was there opening day for a 10am show and showed up around 9:40am. The theater did not open its doors yet, so I was standing out front waiting for someone to let me in. That’s always depressing. It feels like you’re a drug addict and you’re waiting outside to get your fix. I get in the theater and notice I’m the only person there to see this movie. As 10am rolls around, a greeter enters the auditorium. You see, I was at a chain where before every show a theater employee comes in and does announcements. The greeter says “Good morning” which I said back to him. Then he goes “Welcome to Billy Long’s Halftime Walk.” After that, he mentions that even though I’m the only one in the theater I should please refrain from using my cell phone in case anyone else comes in during the previews. I chuckled because I thought he was kidding. He was not kidding. He also told me that I am free to walk around the lobby to see what other movies are playing and that the bar is open if I wanted to get a drink (it was 10am so I did not go to the bar). He closed by saying “Enjoy Joe Lynn’s Halftime Walk.” The movie that followed was weird too. So maybe the greeting was an appropriate primer for things to come.
• I was also the only person in the theater when I saw Rules Don’t Apply. Being the only person in a movie theater has its advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are obvious but the disadvantages are as follows:

1) You’ll need to make some noise, e.g. clearing your throat or something to effect. It’s eerily quiet. It’s similar to how if you’re at home alone all day and you notice you haven’t spoken and you force yourself to say “French Bread Pizza” or something equally ridiculous just to have something to say out loud.

2) There is nothing scarier than being in a movie theater by yourself and having someone else walk in mid-way through the film. Your mind immediately goes to “how do I protect myself if they try to kill me?”
3) During the 1st half of a movie by yourself it’s fun, like being in your own version of Home Alone. But then around the midway point I, at least, feel sad and just want to go home. I teared up at the end of Rules Don’t Apply and not because of anything in the movie. It was as the credits rolled and Lilly Collins sang the title song from the movie. It’s so melancholy that it made me (again) reflect on my own life. Do the rules not apply to me? Am I a special snowflake? Where are my cyanide capsules? It was all very sad.
In closing, if you’re the only one in the theater, just turn around and see something else or get a refund. Otherwise, you’ll need to get an ice cream on the way home to chase away the sads.

28 comments:

  1. Funny/sad article Adam! It made me laugh/sad! Kind of like the world/matrix lately! But seriously, that greeter situation - yikes!

    You helped me embrace the concept of going to movies alone - I've never been in a COMPLETELY empty theatre - I would have thought that would kinda be the ultimate, but I can see your points. I think we can add the Home Alone Effect to the dictionary for anything you do alone that seems fun for a little while but then starts feeling sad.

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  2. If i could, i would always be alone. More and more i hate going to the movie theatre. It feels like i'm the only one there that want to watch the movie, and the others are there only to kill time while they stuff their face with overpriced food and look at their phone. I've have more than one argument with people that were disturbing me with their phones

    So now i buy blu-rays and i stay home most of the time

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  3. I find that the communal experience is great for event movies like Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, or whatever the most Marvel movie happens to be, where generally everybody is really focused and into what's on screen, but I'm mostly fine being by myself otherwise. I went to see Moonlight the other night and there was maybe one or two other groups in the theater. It was great, and the lack of distraction around me helped improve my experience with the movie. So yeah, my desire for a shared experience just depends on what I'm watching, I guess.

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  4. Haha damn, great article. I too was alone for my first Rules Dont Apply viewing - I took my Mom for a second show where there were about 30 people of a certain age - not uncommon for my theater experiences. Last night I thought I was going to be watching Edge of 17 alone, until two girls walked in during the opening credits. They laughed a lot, as did I and I was happy I wasnt alone, until I realized they were probably making fun of me, the 30 year old watching a teen comedy/drama alone. I was ready for a comeback with "hey its a Gracie Films Production OKAY?" That would've worked, I know it.

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    1. Better comeback would be to find their car in the parking lot (probably would smell like gum or have HS stickers on it) and slash the tires.

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  5. This Thanksgiving me and my parents opted out of turkey and instead saw five movies at the theater. Almost all of them were near empty (two were completely) and all were different experiences.

    We started with Allied which had one old couple in front of us. The man had a sharp, loud inhale that punctuated the film every three seconds. I waited for my ears to get accustomed to it, but it wasn't until some steamy, desert 360 degree car sex that I finally acclimated to his breathing.

    Next was Moana. We were the only people in the theater. It was also the first time I was in a "Dolby Cinema" theater. Big, reclining seats with Atmos sound mix. Film sounded great and I had a good time.

    Rules Don't Apply was next. This AMC was built in the late nineties and has been Frankenstein Monster'd over the past 20ish years. Meaning that while it has a "Dolby Cinema" screen, other theaters aren't even stadium seating. Apparently Warren Beatty isn't a big draw in the 2010s so the film played in small, dirty screen where you could hear the bass of a theater to our right and the concession kitchen to our right. The only other person was an old man two rows ahead. About an hour into the too long movie, his phone rings and he gets up to leave. Except he stops at the end of the aisle and just stands there and takes the call. I was so upset I missed Young Han Solo cum in his pants which really upset

    At this point the movies began blending so Billy Lynn feels more like a fever dream than a film. (I don't know if that's on me or Ang Lee). The theater was empty and all I could think was "I wonder if these long close ups of Hindu(?) Vin Diesel would be more impactful in 4k, 120fps, 3D" I don't think they would.

    The day ended with Arrival. Somehow this 10:30pm showing of a film that's been out the longest had the most full theater. There were about ten of us. A man sat directly in front of us. Five minutes later, a couple came in and sat directly next to him. It became apparent that the man didn't know these two and moved a seat over. I spent the first half of Arrival thinking "I should be liking this more" and the second half thinking "I'm liking this more" I don't know if I like it as much as everyone else but it was definitely in the better half of the day.

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    1. haha that scene w/ Ehrenreich was so ridiculous. I mean, he's already a pro at this stuff evidently since he's "made it" with his girlfriend.

      Billy Lynn is a definite fever dream, and fever inducing.

      I just cant believe that Arrival arrived where it did at the end. No pun intended.

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  6. A small second run theater opened up about a year ago literally across the street from me. I've been there four times, and two of those times I was the only one. I wonder how long they're going to stay in business. (Of course the two movies being Lights Out and Miss Peregrine's Home of Whatever might have something to do with it.)

    I saw The Girl with All the Gifts the other day. Three other people in the theater, and two of them left when the zombie action started (I guess they weren't aware of what they had bought tickets for).

    I also always sit and watch the end credits to the very end, which usually makes me the last person in any theater. Am I the only one who does this? Sometimes it's a bit awkward when I'm the only one left and a member of the staff just stands at the door, waiting for me to leave.

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    1. You're not the only one! I stay until the end of the credits as well.

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    2. I also always stay until the very end of the credits. On sunday I watched Arrival and Sully and was the last person in the theater. Who cares. I paid for the entire movies ;-)

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  7. I saw Fire Walk With Me and Lost Highway in an empty theater. It just added to the experience - I loved it!

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  8. I've definitely been in my share of empty theaters. Midweek matinees tend to provide many a private screening.

    One thing that seeing a movie alone in a theatre does provide is a clarity around how good the film is. Large audiences are great for enhancing an experience, especially comedy, and having a lot of people laughing along makes it that much better.

    In an empty theatre, the movie really has to stand on it's own. The laughs have to be real, the scares have to be real. When they re-released Jurassic Park in 3D I went to see it (more for seeing it in theatre again and less for the 3D) and even though it was me and one other person (and I've seen it so many times), the movie still played even 20 years later.

    The most depressing solo theatre experience was watching R.I.P.D. in the middle of the day in an empty theatre. In that case I completely identified with the existential dread of it all. At least in my case, nobody cared if I texted or twitted during the movie. That made it better.

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  9. Hilarious and touching. "I don't care how many souls Sully saved..." is probably the funniest thing I've read in awhile.

    My most recent almost empty theater experience was the roadshow version of The Hateful Eight. It was the digital version that got rolled out after the film underperformed initially. It was a little sad for a movie that fucking good to fail to set the world on fire, but I have to admit I had a pretty grand time.

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  10. I've only had this happen twice. The first time was me and my gf seeing Four Christmases during a snowdtorm. Not only was the theater empty, the entire Cineplex was. I spent the whole time trying to convince her to do hand stuff. Shockingly, we didn't last long.

    The other time was a 10 o'clock opening night showing of Let Me In. Not only that, it was at the only theater in a small city, and the only theater for 40 miles. 50,000 people, and only I wanted to see Let Me In.

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    1. Surely he means preparing to wave to people in the event they came in.

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    2. I believe it was thumb wrestling actually.

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  11. I love being alone in the theater, but I also only go to see films that I really care about and that I have a good feeling I'm going to enjoy. I think that's where your problems lie, Adam. Stop seeing so many shitty movies! Haha

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    1. Don't listen to him Adam. Incarnate comes out this week, from the visionary director of San Andreas, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, and Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore.

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    2. I'll be skipping that one. I have an allergy to almost all exorcism movies that are not The Exorcist I or III or The Conjuring 1 or 2.

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  12. I was going to say "I love being the only one in a theater", but I go so rarely that it's not the same thing you're describing. Anyway, thank you for the funny/sad one, Adam :)

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  13. Adam, after this and your recent article about theater problems, I'd say seeing movies in theaters are no longer for you. Get the Blu Rays and watch at home. It'll be cheaper and more fun.

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    1. You may be right but when someone tells me what to do I do the opposite. So......yeah....

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  14. I'm within driving distance of one of the eight theaters in the Disney Screen program. Every week they show four Disney/Pixar films on the big screen. This Thanksgiving I saw the Toy Story trilogy for $5. I think there were two other people in the theater.

    All three movies hold up, but what actually made the biggest impression was the Tin Toy short before TS1. See, I've been watching video critic Bobsheaux, who's done a whole series on Video Brinquedo (Ratatoing, Little Panda Fighter, other mockbusters). The sparse setting of Tin Toy looked so much like a shot from a VB travesty. Not for the first time I wondered how VB's computer array compared to Pixar's.

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  15. I tend to be alone for most shows I watch in a theater, just as a work thing. Most of the time I find it a relaxing end to my day but there are a couple exceptions:

    Comedies. Particularly the kind that rely on the audience around you laughing enough to convince you the stuff on the screen is in fact more funny than it actually is. You think Dirty Grandpa is a bad movie? Watch that shit in an empty auditorium as each joke is met by the silence of 400 empty seats.

    Also, anything really depressing. I just got done watching Manchester by the Sea in an empty auditorium. When you sit through over two hours of people dealing with the pain of tragic loss with nobody else around and you exit the empty auditorium at 3am into the empty theater, and then outside to the empty street you're pretty much stuck in that headspace until you get home.

    I'll be perfectly ok watching La La Land by myself though because my friends are all soulless monsters that would have zero interest in seeing it.

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