Just Relax

Apparently, it’s been a long time since I’ve been to a movie theater, though I didn’t think so.

Once upon a time, when I was a movie critic for a local radio station, I’d see as many as five movies a week.

Sometimes three movies in one day. You can imagine what a fun date I used to be. (Little has changed.)

Recently, I saw two films, in a theater: Spotlight and Brooklyn.

Both are excellent. But I digress.

Aside from the one-word titles, the movies shared nothing in common. Neither story nor plot, location nor dialogue.

Instead, the commonality was the theater seating. La-Z-Boys! Chairs that both reclined and whose footrest elevated to support an outstretched-feet-don’t-touch-the-floor posture.

Nice. And the upholstery felt like leather, though, doubtless, it was from the endangered Naugas.

The theater wasn’t new or even new-to-me.

And to accommodate the over-sized recliners, the theater must have had to remove 20 percent or more of its standard seating – which is also 20 percent or more of revenues.

When did this happen?

It didn’t seem too long ago that I had attended the very same theater.

The theater’s strategy, it’s clear, is to enhance the theatrical movie viewing experience. Apparently, so that the theatrical experience mirrors with precision the at-home experience.

Feeling the (economic) pinch, contemporary movie theaters seek ways to attract audiences who, today, have more choices than ever before in terms of where, when and how they watch moving picture entertainment.

It’s an old story and strategy, of course. In the late 1920s, when broadcast radio threatened theatrical economics, sound was added to the latter. 1950s theatrical movies introduced widescreen to compete with the itty-bitty television screens invading everyone’s home.

In each example, there was little that was genuinely new. Sound and movies were present from the beginning of cinema, as was screen aspect ratios other than TV’s standardized 3 x 4.

Will today’s strategy work? Probably about as well as it did in the 1950s when theatrical attendance slumped from 90 million a week to 46 million.

But the big news is this: movies talk and they’re in color now.

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