It often seems like life is just too fast-paced for our own good anymore, and that everything has become a rat race. And it occurred to me that even the moviegoing experience has been tainted by this, to some extent.
What got me started on this train of thought was looking in my local newspaper the other day and seeing that the latest Indiana Jones movie is already down to four showings a day in one theater over at the local multiplex. That usually means the movie is soon to disappear from first-run theaters — and it has not even been a month yet since its release.
I remember the summer of 1981, when I was 10 years old. The original “Raiders of the Lost Ark” stayed in the same movie theater where I first saw it for the entire summer, right through to Labor Day, practically. It was a two-screen theater, and the other movie was “Superman II,” which also lingered for most of that summer — though not quite as long as Indy.
Imagine today, being able to catch repeat showings of a movie you love on the big screen two months after it first hits theaters. Those days are gone. Most movies now are lucky to last three weeks, it seems.
The whole moviegoing experience seems to have become about rushing product into theaters, getting the most bang for the buck at the box office, and then rushing it out as quickly as possible so that the next overhyped, undercooked release can be unveiled. The process of making films seems rushed, with many movies clearly in need of more work on the script level before they go in front of the cameras. The exhibitions, as I have noted, are rushed. The release to DVD or whatever the next format for home video will be is increasingly quicker.
Going to the movies during the summer nowadays feels almost like having to be rushed through a seven-course meal — there are so many you want to see, and they come out in such quick succession and, if they are not well received, vanish fairly quickly. You have to gulp them down so fast — always in crowded theaters where ticket prices always seem to go up — that there’s seemingly no time to digest and enjoy what you are watching anymore. And the pacing of movies themselves reflects this. Are attention spans so short that there has to be an explosion or an action sequence every seven minutes?
Think about something like “Midnight Cowboy,” where there is a good deal of dialogue throughout the film, and the movie takes its time in letting the story unfold and the characters develop. So many of the scenes in the city have so much detail going on within the frames, even around the main characters, that you could be rewarded on repeat viewings with little things you hadn’t noticed before. They don’t make films like that anymore. I think the studios really believe that people don’t have the patience to sit through a story that doesn’t go from zero to 90 in 7.5 minutes or less.
Now, I guess this rant isn’t so much about Indy 4 quickly disappearing from theaters; after all, we’ll have it on DVD probably by the holidays at the latest. It’s about what we’ve lost, as moviegoers, as the movie industry has become increasingly focused on marketing and monetary returns, instead of solid, substantive storytelling.
I’m not saying there are never any good movies made anymore; clearly there are. But when you have to spend $10 a ticket to see the latest formulaic release from a major studio, after sitting through dozens of commercials and coming attractions, being deafened by the surround sound and irritated by people who talk, don’t shut off their cell phones, and bring their Game Boys into the theater, and go home afterward not even being able to think of something from the movie to talk about with your spouse because it was just so lacking in ideas, heart or creativity, then something’s wrong.
It means movies are no longer the special, magical experience they used to be.
And that’s a shame.