Living Columns & Blogs

No tapping or talking during the movie!

For a lot of people, going to the movies is still seen as a pleasurable experience.

It’s a time when people, couples, families all sit in front of a gigantic screen and just let the images take them to another place for a couple of hours. And I’m quite certain those people usually like their movie-going experiences to be distraction-free: no talking, no loud noises and, of course, no calling or texting.

It appears that movie theater chains are starting to think that that last bit about silencing the cellphones may be doing them more harm than good. A couple of weeks ago, Adam Aron, CEO of AMC Theatres (which owns the AMC Southpoint 17 in Durham), said in an interview with Variety that the chain was planning to make theaters more accommodating to avid smartphone users. “When you tell a 22-year-old to turn off the phone, don’t ruin the movie, they hear please cut off your left arm above the elbow,” said Aron, who’s been AMC’s head guy for four months. “You can’t tell a 22-year-old to turn off their cellphone. That’s not how they live their life.”

The eventual outcry on social media ensued, with people practically aghast that the head of one of the country’s most popular theater chains was actually endorsing texting during a movie. Many on Twitter even threatened to boycott. Needless to say, Aron backpedaled on his texting talk a few days later, practically saying that he just threw the idea out there to gauge the response. “We have heard loud and clear this is a concept our audience does not want,” he said in a statement.

If this whole thing seems like it reeked of desperation, keep in mind that for movie theaters these are desperate times. Netflix, Amazon Prime and other streaming/video-on-demand platforms have made a night at the picture show a dang-near-obsolete practice. These days, people would much prefer to stay at home and peruse their queue for a movie they haven’t viewed or a TV show they haven’t binge-watched. And even though AMC is becoming an unstoppable, movie-house juggernaut (last month, the chain announced plans to take over Carmike Cinemas for $1.1 billion), even its chief executive officer worries about what can be done to bring younger audiences (or, as you’ve probably heard them referred to ad nauseam by now, “millennials”) into their multiplexes.

Truth be told, in all my years of moviegoing, it’s not just kids today taking selfies and having online conversations that has driven me batty during a flick. As someone who once served as this paper’s film critic for several years, I’ve had to sit through movies with audiences (both young and old) who just didn’t know how to act.

Preview screenings are usually the worst – the house is mostly packed, full of folks who got a free ticket to a movie they probably wouldn’t have paid to see in the first place. These people are usually the ones who bring the noise and the pain, talking and carrying on as though they’re at home in front of their flat screens. But the big twist is I’ve often found older audiences – especially senior citizens who feel they’ve been here so long, they’re entitled to say what they wanna say – to be the most obnoxious and intrusive during a movie. Once you’ve sat around folks who feel the need to describe and/or comment on every bit of action on-screen to either themselves or their loved ones, the sight and sound of some youngster tap-yapping away on his/her phone doesn’t seem as immensely irksome as you’d expect. (A theater manager friend once told me he had to deal with old people who were texting during a screening. That just sounds wrong.)

As long as movie studios keep rolling out insanely big-budgeted, superhero franchises and adaptations of young-adult novels, I hardly think millennials will be disappearing from theaters soon. And once they’re there, they should shut off their phones and enjoy the movie. The same goes for anyone else who mistakes an auditorium for their living room and thinks they can interact with what they’re watching.

It doesn’t matter if you’re young or old – the minute the lights go down and our feature presentation is about to begin, just shut up and watch the movie, man!