Sunday, March 29, 2009

How about a cinema bailout?

My wife and I had a rare treat Saturday: A kid-free night. So we spent it in a rare way: We went to a movie.

We passed a couple of fun hours entertained by this year's Oscar winner for Best Picture, Slumdog Millionaire. And it was, in our minds after seeing it, a well-worthy recipient of film's most prestigious honor. I'm glad we got to see it on the proverbial big screen, too -- there's nothing to replace seeing a theatrical movie the way it's meant to be seen: Big.

That this film was so worth a night out -- complete with sharing popcorn and holding hands in the dark in front of the big screen -- was no surprise. That we shared it with an audience of only six others was.

Granted, we saw Slumdog many months after its release. And our hometown theater is a small venue in a small town. Still ... as I tallied our total outlay for out little night out, I couldn't help but wonder if perhaps something else was contributing to so few others sharing our Saturday night at the movies.

Perhaps the same thing that makes it such a rare experience for us: the excessive, exorbitant cost.

I realize seeing a movie in Durango is still a relatively inexpensive experience compared with life in the Big City, where seeing a movie can run you upwards of $12 -- but that only adds to my argument.

My wife and I paid $19 for the two of us to see Slumdog down the road from house. Then we coughed up another $6-plus for popcorn -- served by three guys working behind the counter (and it seemed to take three of them ....) even though we were the only people in the lobby at showtime in our downtown duplex cinema.

So, $25 for two of us for a two-hour movie. Is it any wonder we so rarely venture to the movies? That so few others are willing to pay up for a night out?

Now, I'm no economic genius (for evidence, ask aforementioned wife), but doesn't it make sense to ... charge less and put more people in the seats? Have people buying more popcorn and soda, even if they pay less per unit??

I like going to the movies. And I know I myself, and my wife, would go to the theater several times a month -- there's usually that many good movies, and it's that enjoyable to see a film on the big screen (even if those screens keep getting smaller -- our own High Five Theater in Durango now is home to seven screens -- and the average home TV keeps getting bigger).

And I know we would go more, a lot more, if it wasn't $8.50 a pop to go. Half that -- even a nice even $5 -- seems fair. And much more reasonable. And doable.

At that price, I wonder how many more seats they'd be filling. I wonder how more neighbors we'd be sharing our night out with, if the studios and mega-cinema corporations had that kind of vision?

How much more fun would that be?

I also wonder how many teens would be out there, too. I know in a little town like ours -- like in most towns of any size anywhere -- teens are always looking for social things they can do. And they all like going to movies. So, make seeing a movie cost a square and affordable $5, make a bag of popcorn a simple buck or two, and don't you think kids would be flocking in? Over and over and over??

Folk wisdom says motion pictures helped keep America peaceful and together and uplifted during the last depression, during the real Depression.

Where, I wonder, is the wisdom now?
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