AMC and the Collapse of the Cinematic Experience

I live in a small suburb of Atlanta.  When I grew up, this was Carmike Cinemas territory.  The nearest AMC was a good thirty minutes away.  So I grew up on Carmike’s mid-market approach to movie-going.  When I heard AMC was buying Carmike, I was concerned my local theater would suddenly have a dramatic change.  Admittedly, some things did.  They have a bar where the arcade used to be, as an example.  But my biggest fear was allayed.  I was afraid that AMC’s policy of not using masking in a theater would be used in my local cinema.  For those unaware of what masking is, it is the dense black fabric that goes over unused parts of the screen to give a professional and crisp looking picture.  You can see it in the picture above.  Keep in mind, most theaters have a masking and curtain system like the one above.  It was essential in the days of 35mm, but a digital picture is a little crisper around the edges.  It is still a little fuzzy, but not enough that most people will notice.  But I notice.  And I’m not the only one.  Here is a tweet from last year.


And that is exactly what happened when I went to see Ant Man & the Wasp.  I was directed to auditorium 11 at the end of the hall, and was shocked to see that the side masking was no longer there.  Furthermore, auditorium 11 is home to the electrical housing behind the screen.  It comes complete with its own emergency exit and exit signage.  So during the movie is was treated to a picture with fuzzy edges, a view of the springs and scaffolding holding up the screen, and the lovely glow of a red emergency exit sign coming from behind the screen.  All of these problems are easily remedied by adding a masking system which that theater had but must have been removed.  But worse, all of these problems directly contributed to the lack of a cinematic experience.

Theaters have long been taking criticism, and for the most part, I think that criticism is unwarranted.  The price of movie tickets, for example, is not correlated to a movie theater’s desire to make money.  Most of the movie ticket price goes directly to the studio.  There is often talk of studios taking even more, some wanting more than 100% of the box office.  So theaters must get most of their profit from concession sales.  It is hard to blame them for having to raise the price of popcorn so they can stay in business, all so producers can make a little extra cash.  But in the instance of purposefully removing masking, they are completely to blame.

With so little time between a theatrical release and its home media release, cinemas must make a case to the consumer as to why they should spend their dollars at the theater.  I have long held that the only way to do that is to emphasize the cinematic experience.  If you have read my review of A Quiet Place, then you would know just how important that experience can be to a film’s enjoyment.  The dark lights, comfy seats, cool air conditioning, giant screen, and 5.1, 7.1, and 3D surround sound systems lend themselves to forgetting you are watching a movie and immerse yourself in the fictional world.  But when you take away those things, it becomes easier and easier to realize you are in a theater watching a movie.  In other words, if the movie is not presented properly then there is not much reason to see it in the theater.  It would be easier and more economic to see it on Netflix or Blu-Ray.

I’m sincerely disappointed in AMC.  I enjoyed my movie, but no more than I would if I were watching it on my phone, and that is their fault.  The next time I go to the movies, I will sincerely consider going to the Regal the next town over.

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