ASCII by Jason Scott

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The Big Theater —

Back in September, I talked about the Little Theatre. I still haven’t gone back there; and I may never again. I figured I’d talk more about The Big Theatre, which is where I go, and why.

The Big Theatre is located in Woburn, and is a part of a chain, so indistinct that I sometimes forget what chain until it shows up on the screen. I think it’s changed owners a few times, although they’ve done almost nothing to affect it in any interesting fashion. It’s pretty fuckin’ huge, as far as these things go. You can look at a satellite picture of it here. One thing you’ll note is that it’s huge. Another is that it’s in a huge parking lot, which I’ve never ever seen filled ever. On summer nights, a carnival rolls through town and takes up the space on the left, but even with a full carnival on the parking lot, there’s lot of space left.

So the Big Theatre has, basically, three things going for it over me just seeing stuff at home.

It has first-run movies. Yes, I can download stuff if I’m lucky, but at the end of the day, it does all look better on a big screen with the sound blasting, so if the movie I’m interested in seeing is playing and I want to see it in a big theater, this is the place to go. Obviously if I can wait for it on DVD or for a download, I’ll do that.

It has very late showtimes. In an anemic little town that is lucky to have showings past 10pm, even in the middle of the goddamned city, the Big Theater has showings after midnight. It’s not uncommon to have showtimes of midnight, 12:10, 12:30, and even 12:45am. This works for me because I’m always cranking on projects and get wrapped up in them. I look up, go “oh crap” and see it’s 11:30. With a showing of 12:30am, I really have no excuse; if I couldn’t get the night’s work done or at a cutoff point by midnight, then I’m seriously screwed up anyway and the inability to see the movie is the least of my concerns. This point, alone, probably is responsible for half of my interest in The Big Theater when I’m looking to see a film.

It is totally in the wrong place. Or, more accurately, someone long ago decided this was the place for a movie theater that was the size of a ocean liner sitting on top of a home depot. Whoever he was, he was totally wrong. The Big Theater gets crowds, but not of any notable size. As a result, I often cruise into my 12:30am showing and there is nobody else there. In fact, with very few exceptions, I am almost always the only one in there, unless my buddy Mark comes along with me. It’s like my own private theater, and that automatically obviates any of the usual complaints about going to see a movie in the modern era: cellphones, chatty people, kids, poor seats. I’m it! I can whip out my cell and call people incessantly and talk to them about kids, because hell, it’s my theater.

So what doesn’t it have for going for it? Quite a few things, of course.

It’s expensive. 9 bucks to see a film. So it better be one hellishly good film; I’m not going to go wander in and “hope” the movie I’m seeing is good. It better be something I’m expecting to know is good, or be something that I’m “required” to see, like a specific cultural touchstone or film covering a subject I’m supposed to know about. Additionally, going to see these movies automatically costs me twice as much because I live under the credo of Lessig’s Challenge. There’s a lot of stuff I don’t agree with Mr. Lessig about, but there’s a lot I do, and the challenge to give as much or more money to organizations fighting for more freedoms than organizations taking it away stays fresh in my mind every time I give the Big Theater a ten spot. So really, it’s very expensive.

The projectionist is either a robot, a prisoner on work-release, or a show pony with a stick. While the advantages of having a theater to myself and being able to go late in the day is great, they don’t have very good people working the boxes. I’ve seen quite a few flicks slightly out of focus, or with the side sound channels not turned on, or with the volume a tad low, and so on.

Nobody gives a shit. The guy who takes my ticket is totally zoned out. The people who walk around are zoned out. The rare families I see are talking among themselves. There’s a “social space” of tables near a snack bar, but the snack bar is always closed, and really, nobody would want to sit over there anyway. There’s even an arcade, full of about 4 games I don’t care about. The decor is “hey, look what the central office mailed us this week”. The people at the snack bar are so zoned that they make the other zoned people working the ticket booth seem like royal guards by comparison. It’s just not a happy place. That can be kind of a downer.

The lack of people is kind of eerie. I have had times where I walk out of the theater and there is literally nobody there. I mean, absolutely nobody. I suspect the manager’s in his office or someone’s cleaning another screening area or whatever, but the illusion of it being only me (or me and mark) and nobody else is pretty whacky.

I have theaters I go to if the movie is so utterly critical, I want the experience of being in a room of people, or if the attendees I’ve been invited to go with don’t feel like driving out to where I usually go. There’s a nice theater downtown which I will go to (I saw Lord of the Rings and Snakes on a Plane there). But otherwise, it’s the ol’ Big Theater for my occasional movie jaunts.

If I give the impression my interaction with movie theaters is kind of tenuous, well, it really is. If the Big Theater burned down, it wouldn’t overly ruin my life, and based on its size, it’d burn for weeks. The best it can really do is “Hey, it’s late”, and “Hey, it’s sort of like being home”. Not overly compelling, but a nice little addition when, well… when it’s late.

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  1. pjm says:

    Ha. I’ve been to that Big Theater before; it’s just far enough away that it’s not our first choice theater, but it has showings around 8 when most are either around 7 or around 9. Like you say, there tend never to be many people in the shows we go to there…

  2. beoba says:

    Yeah, I occasionally go to the one by Fenway, as it’s a short walk from where I live. Even with student discount, it’s still something like $7 to see a movie. As far as the quality of the “show”, I guess it’s about the same as anywhere else. I’ve had a couple instances where ads+previews went a good 25-35 mins into showtime, though.

  3. Since you love theaters so much I thought I would take a moment to tell you about ours.

    It’s called MI5 (that’s a capital letter I, not a number one). It’s the only movie theater in Yukon, Oklahoma (as of right now) and is commonly referred to as “the dollar movies,” even though it’s not — I more accurately refer to it as the “used-to-be dollar movies,” which it is. Back when I was a tweenager, MI5 began showing first run movies for a dollar. That price has slowly crept up over the years. For a while we dubbed it the “two-dollar dollar movies” and later, the “three-dollar dollar movies.” These days it’s four bucks for an adult ticket, three for kids, senior citizens, and students.

    Most people assume that the cheap ticket prices are made up in the concession area, but that’s really not the case. They’re not any more expensive than any other theater. In fact, they have a deal where a large tub of popcorn costs around six bucks, and with that you get one free refill, which is enough popcorn for the entire theater.

    Where the corners have been cut is in the theater itself. Two of the building’s five theaters have been upgraded to stadium seating — the other three haven’t. Likewise, the speakers and screens haven’t been updated in a decade or two. There’s definitely no THX action going on in there. Unfortunately the theater’s biggest downfall is, at three or four bucks per ticket, it makes a great babysitting service. I wouldn’t go near that place on a Friday or Saturday night.

    Runmor has it that Tinseltown is building a huge theater not too far from where MI5 sits. It will be interesting to see if our small town will be willing to pay double or triple the cost of a ticket for improved conditions (but the same movies).