Monday, May 7, 2007

Sneakin' Into The Movies

Like most of you, I went to see SPIDER-MAN 3 over the weekend, and like most of you I was disappointed in what I saw. In a nutshell, too many characters and too much plot slowed the damn thing down, but Bruce Campbell was great. The audience I saw it with actually applauded when it was done, however, so I guess some people were pleased. After all, it made all that money...

But the way I see it, I'm not really in a position to complain because, to be honest, I snuck into see SPIDER-MAN 3. I went to see another movie before it, which I also sorta snuck in to see, as I paid to see a different movie because I didn't want to actually give my money to the movie I actually saw. I'll get into that other movie later in the week, but I had no problem doing all this not because I felt justified in doing so, but because it was a fairly easy thing to do. The way this theater is set up, there is an above-ground passage that you can take, provided that it isn't patrolled by theater staff, which it almost never is, making sneaking a fairly easy thing to do, providing you have the time and the inclination. You've got to plan it out, but the big crowds over the weekend made it a pretty easy thing to do and considering I saw two films that I wouldn't really recommend I'd say the guilt factor is pretty low. However, my Spider-Man 3 experience was marred by the guy two seats down who would occasionally narrate the movie for his girlfriend ("He's playing the piano!") and by a crying baby in the row behind me, so I guess I got a little karma there.

Thing about all this is, I used to usher at a movie theater and I hated people who snuck into movies and took a certain pleasure in busting them. Granted, it was part of the job and maybe, just maybe, there was a bit of a power trip behind it, but at the same time the types of people who I'd catch sneaking in were, for the most part, jerks, so it felt OK to me. But when I was doing this movies were no more than $6 each (cheaper for matinees), so it's not like you were breaking the bank to go see one. With ticket prices now closer to $10 in most cities (more in places like NYC and L.A.) I get this feeling that the money isn't going to be missed. Now, compared to ticket prices for concerts and Broadway shows, the movies still represent a much cheaper (and sometimes more satisfying) form of entertainment. But there's something about that price that upsets me; I can't quite put my finger on it, but no matter what, $10 is simply too much money to pay to see a movie.

Movies, as we all know, are everywhere, and they're the universal art form of our day. In all parts of the world they know about Hollywood movies and, as VHS-KAHLOUCHA demonstrates, everyone around the world wants to make movies. There's no question that movies are beloved no matter where you go. But throughout most of the world (Asia, specifically) piracy has become a major concern, as it should be. It's easier (and cheaper) to get a lousy pirated DVD or VCD than it can be to get a ticket to most movies out there, especially since most big Hollywood movies don't open overseas for several months (although that window is shrinking). And then there's the matter of illegal downloading. What's weird to me about all this is that when people are asked why they download music and movies online, the answer is that they feel like those industries make so much money, anyway, that the consumer can just take what they want. I don't really understand this logic, but I know that it's had terrible consequences, and I don't just mean that Edgar Bronfman, Jr. was only getting a $5 million dollar bonus this year as opposed to $10 million. People are out of work; retailers have gone out of business and packaged music as we know it could probably be a thing of the past in about 10 years or so. Other industries, such as the health care system, credit card companies or, even worse, the oil industry, have been screwing over consumers in a much more severe manner over the years, but consumers don't seem to be as motivated by this as they do stealing entertainment because I guess you can't download gasoline. The difference between sneaking into SPIDER-MAN 3 and downloading it? Probably not much, except to say that if given the opportunity I would rather take a chance and sneak in simply because I like to see movies in theaters. But most people feel differently and they'll download away.

Now, I happen to work for a big music company and as I'm sure you all know, the problem there is much, much worse. The issue of downloading has single-handedly altered the music industry for good and as a result a lot of people are suffering. Layoffs are becoming the norm, with many music companies scaling back substantially or folding outright and no one has the answer. An interesting solution was presented last week by none other than Peter Gabriel, and while it's a good theory, who's really to say if it's going to work or not (although it's worth a shot). The same could very well hold true for film industry, but it seems that every time they start to feel the pinch, the chains raise ticket prices and everyone is temporarily happy again. Keep on doing that and no one's going to want to go out and see a movie when they can just see it at home 4 months later.

Thing is, I was thinking about this and it occurred to me that most of my life I've probably seen more movies for free than those I've paid to see. I spent many years working in movie theaters and even before that, my brother worked in one and would wave me in. I could be wrong, but I think the only time I ever paid to see E.T. theatrically was during the 2002 re-release. I've only been paying to see films on a regular basis for about 10 years now, but allow me to say that I've paid to see a lot of movies in that time. But yes, I do get into advance screenings and go to film festivals where I sometimes get comped, so I'm not always forking over the dough. But I love going to the movies. I see more films in theaters than I do at home, bar none. For all the DVDs I have (many of which I have also not paid for - what can I say, I'm well connected!), sitting at home watching a movie doesn't compare, unless I'm in good company (not intended as a Topher Grace reference, I assure you). Audiences can sometimes make or break the movie. I've been to countless screenings over the years where the enthusiasm of the audience and that's why I still go. However, we're getting to a point where movies will simply cost to much to see, much less make, and the choice may soon not be that easy. The movies better fucking start getting better than SPIDER-MAN 3 or else we're all screwed.

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