Modern theatres sell sizzle

We would’ve tuned out long ago. We should’ve tuned out long ago.

But of course we didn’t. The entertainment industry has crawled under our skin like a desert beetle and refused to let us divorce our minds from its grip. What I speak of is the slow and pathetic demise of the classic Hollywood film industry. Movies, as we fondly remember them, have given up the content and spectacle that once existed as a product of directors, writers, actors and tech in favour of the theatre itself. Ever known the packaging to usurp the product? Sadly, yes. Just look at McDonald’s Happy Meals, many computer programs and most conventional drugs–all examples of over-exaggerated and grand packages that contain only 50 grams, a disc of Pascal-rendered garbage and a non-nutritional cardboard wafer with a bun and a choking hazard/toy bound for the waste basket. So how do movies compare to fast food?

Allow me to illustrate with a trip to West Edmonton Mall’s famous Silver City movieplex. It is truly a vision of heaven complete with awesome staircases, super-human mythical movie figures, misted lights and a fire-breathing dragon. Beside a hanging statue of a frightening, giant-sized Yoda stands a never-ending row of automatic ticket machines demonstrating the swift efficiency of the 21st century. Who could ask for anything more?

There’s chrome and plastic everywhere. Over in the corner of the lobby is a video arcade stocked with the newest games of first-person mayhem–a parent’s dream corner that occupies the kiddies for 10 minutes before the show opens. Next door is a brilliantly clean, quick and high-quality food court with nameable pizza, chicken, ice cream, coffee and wrap establishments.

The food selection is overwhelming when compared to the Ma and Pop theatres of yesteryear where all you had to eat was popcorn and twizzlers while you suffered through Cool Hand Luke, the original Star Wars, When Harry Met Sally and Casablanca. Good grief, Charlie Brown, how did we every survive without exceptional THX-enhanced surround sound and the comfort of Laz-E-Boy quality stadium seating? I don’t think I’d go to see a movie nowadays if it weren’t for all the comfort.

By the way, what movie did I go see that day at Silver City? Oh, it was nothing, just nothing. Actually, it didn’t really matter that I went and saw a movie at all. With all the food, lights and smoke, I was just happy to see the pathetic Reeses’ commercials during the trailers. The experience and the glory of the packaging was well worth the $12 entry fee.

If the packaging wasn’t there, we wouldn’t want to go see the movies anymore. Do we really want to pay so much money to see Hannibal (a story about unoriginal, over-exposed, over-the-top characters that induce vomiting) or Josie and the Pussycats (a jumble of mindless pap concerning characters as dimensional on screen as off)? If we were forced to see these movies for the crapfest that they really are, instead of being overwhelmed by the palatial nature of new theatres, we would tune out and build up our DVD collection of the "classics" and universally accepted "good" films.

And–oh no–Hollywood would have to rethink its intellectual content death spiral and focus a bit on churning out quality movies. But then again, utopia wasn’t the economically viable way to go.

Of course, there are those of us who are fooled into believing that the latest John Woo miscarriage of movie making was genuinely good while not realizing it was the packaging that made the product. And if we can’t figure out the distinction for ourselves, we’re bound to see Hollywood murdered by the hand of the shallow, dollar-driven multiplexes. And you and I will continue to tune in to marvel at the beauty we hath wrought.

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