Paul Prather

Gray-headed, unhappy movie fans spoke out, and I listened, agreed with them

The Kentucky Theatre in downtown Lexington hosts the Seabiscuit  premiere, July 19, 2003. The movie, Seabiscuit, opened in Lexington  before the Hollywood premiere. Photo by Amanda Odeski | Staff
The Kentucky Theatre in downtown Lexington hosts the Seabiscuit premiere, July 19, 2003. The movie, Seabiscuit, opened in Lexington before the Hollywood premiere. Photo by Amanda Odeski | Staff Herald-Leader

It’s been a while since a column of mine has stirred up as robust a response as the piece I wrote last week about going with my wife to see “American Animals” at a Lexington multiplex.

I’m thinking there’s a small army of gray-haired film fans out there as disgruntled as I am by movie-theater trends toward reserved seating, vastly overpriced concessions and endless blockbusters aimed at either the pre-K set or else 13-year-old boys.

I got so many emails I gave up trying to answer them. That doesn’t include responses on social media.

So allow me to address a few of the issues raised by readers or which I would have mentioned in the original column if I’d had unlimited space:

Several people pointed out Liz and I would have avoided all our irritations had we just gone to the Kentucky Theatre in downtown Lexington, a locally owned treasure where the seats are still first-come, first-served and the concessions are reasonably priced. Plus, the theater is classically beautiful.

Amen and amen. We’re fans of the Kentucky from way back. However, someone told us (erroneously) that “American Animals” had already come and gone there. Of course, we should have double-checked that information; we didn’t.

Watch the trailer for 'American Animals' - a telling of the true story of four young men who brazenly attempt to execute one of the most audacious art heists in US history.

The only issue I have with the Kentucky — readers raised this, too — is that the theater’s sound system leaves me straining to hear dialogue. I don’t know whether the audio system is as decrepit as my ears or if the projectionists just don’t crank it high enough. But if I had a suggestion, it would be, as Lynyrd Skynyrd said, “Turn it up.”

I do understand why the multiplex experience has taken the unfortunate turns it has. Economically, Hollywood is a whole different industry than it used to be.

The industry’s financial model now depends on churning out incredibly expensive blockbusters that can appeal to mass audiences in China or India or Brazil as easily as in the United States.

These films — animated kids’ movies or comic-book-superhero adaptations or the 22nd “Star Wars” sequel — translate well across languages, cultures and national boundaries. They also cost hundreds of millions of dollars to make. Thus, they must gross hundreds of millions more to show a profit.

The massive production costs get pushed down to the theaters, which, as one correspondent said, have essentially become high-end snack bars with movies attached to them. Theaters earn little from the films; $7 popcorns keep the doors open.

None of this leaves room for quiet, quirky, character-driven stories. There won’t be anything like “Marty” or “Tender Mercies” in the foreseeable future.

I get it. I do. New rules. New necessities. New gimmicks, bells and whistles.

That doesn’t mean I have to like it, or that I want to fork over my money for it.

A number of people said they avoid going to movies now because patrons are so rude — they arrive late, talk throughout the film, send texts that make their smart phones blaze up like flash bulbs.

In the one movie experience I wrote about, Liz and I encountered (d) all of the above.

A couple arrived late, then decided another couple had taken their reserved seats. Sorting that out took five minutes and was quite distracting to those of us nearby.

Liz and I were seated apart from each other, but she said the young patrons sitting next to her talked through the entire movie. A guy in the row in front of me checked his phone — and blinded me with its light — a half-dozen times, at least.

A lot of us of a certain vintage now opt to stay home. But that doesn’t mean we don’t still love movies.

Several readers said they prefer watching Netflix, Amazon Prime and/or Turner Classic Movies in the privacy of their dens.

Agreed. I have all three, plus HBO online.

The supply of programming today is nearly infinite — old Hollywood movies, new Hollywood movies, documentaries, independent films, foreign films, original programming, classic TV series.

Generally, you can watch anything you’re in the mood for whenever you’re in the mood to watch it. You can pause it when you want to fix a snack. And no $6 watery soft drinks.

If you don’t like a movie, switch to something else.

Generally, there’s not a strange couple on the sofa next to you talking above the soundtrack. If there is, you can send them home!

If you invest in a big, high-definition screen and surround-sound (not that expensive), the quality of what you’ll see and hear is about equal to what you’d find at a theater.

Plus, if you’ve got a decent pair of headphones, you can watch any of that same fare in bed on your laptop, without disturbing your partner as she snoozes. Or watch it in the bathroom, should that need arise.

We disgruntled geezers do have options, praise the Lord.

Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You may email him at pratpd@yahoo.com.

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