Going To The Movies

Movies, and movie theatres, can be magical things. They may have become a normalcy, especially with the level of advertising, both for, and in, theatres, and our knowledge of profits on a per-movie basis (which now seem to be touted as a measure of how good a movie is: A good movie is not always a successful movie, and a successful movie is not always a good movie. Case in point, Fast & Furious), and sheer speed at which one blockbuster is replaced with another. I could, quite easily, go to the movies twice a week, and still not see all the movies I think I want to see.

But there was a time…

When I was a kid, the very, very first movie I remember going to see in the theatres was 1979’s “The Black Hole”. I don’t think I’ve seen it since it was on cable TV the first year I came to Canada (that would have been 1984). I loved that movie. Oh, I know there’s complaints about *ahem* continuity and flat out “What the Fuck..?” moments, but still. I was 7, and it was Sci-Fi, and there were robots, and there was special-effects, and it was GREAT. It’s still great in my mind, because I’ve not seen it in twenty-five years. The second I remember going to see was E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. you know, before they fucked it up by replacing guns with walkie-talkies and shit, to make it ‘less threatening’ and ‘less interesting’. That, I saw in a theatre in downtown Brussels, Belgium: it was a full day trip for my little brother’s birthday. My turn was to come: we went to the same theatre (and stood in line!!) for my birthday, for Return of the Jedi.

The first movie I saw in a Canadian Theatre (the Cineplex in Milton) was… Ghostbusters!. It was the last movie I had to go see with a parent, I think. Saw it with my Dad and little brother (said little brother was scared to death by the Library ghost), and loved every second of it.

Fastfoward to 1987, and it was time to start sneaking into movies. Not without paying, that never seemed like a good plan: we’d buy our tickets for a PG movie, and then ‘sneak’ into the movie we wanted to see. Movies like The Gate.

I saw the commercials for The Gate, and man. That was a movie that I wanted to see. I’d just turned 14, I could go see it, it was PG13!! I didn’t have to ask or ANYTHING. I could get the ride out to the theatre, put my money down, and go see that movie.

So, on a Thursday night in the summer, my friends at the time and I did just that. All got rides, planned on the 7pm show. Got out there, got up to the gate (heh. Fewer demons at the ticket gate than in the movie, but still…) and…

“You can’t see that.”

My fourteen-year-old indignation knew no bounds. Unfortunately, neither did my public humiliation. I was being turned away from a movie I’d technically been legal to see for more than a year, because…

I didn’t look fourteen. I looked, truth be known, about eleven. I was small all the way through high-school, and I was probably 4’8″, 80lbs, and still thoroughly baby-faced in 1987.

But I was fourteen! And damn her for not being able to tell!

And me, for not having anything that would pass as ID with a valid date of birth on it: it’d be two years before I got my driver’s license, and the validity of ‘realpersonhood’ that came with it. We were turned away.

My friends at the time, geeks and nerds all (and bless ’em for it) didn’t buy tickets as a show of solidarity. We burned ten bucks each playing video games and pinball in the lobby. Which was good, but not what we wanted. We wanted to see that movie!

So, next week rolls around, with another payday (yeah, I was working by then. Day I turned fourteen I started looking for a job, and worked at KFC on Main St, in the kitchen, for the princely sum of $3.85 an hour. Fifteen cents more than minimum wage, I’ll have you know!) to provide the necessary funds for a movie.

So, we went again. We bought tickets for … something else. Strangely, THAT I can’t remember. It was PG, and we’d picked something that would both appeal to ‘us’ (guys, age fourteen) so as not to appear obvious, and had a start time approximating that of “The Gate”.

It was our own (unbeknownst to us) carefully planned Ocean’s Eleven.

So, we got our tickets, our drinks, our candy. We posted our lookout. And we went for it.

It would probably be a better story if we got busted. But we followed a crowd into the theatre we wanted to be in, grabbed some seats in a good spot (but slightly off to the side), made sure there was an adult in the row (so it kind of looked like we were with a ‘chaparone’ even though we weren’t) and watched the movie.

And yeah, if you’re fourteen, in 1987, “The Gate” was a pretty scary movie. Especially when the “workman” falls out of the wall (at 1:17 of the trailer).

Actually, twenty-odd years later, that’s actually still a pretty decent bit of special effects. Well ahead of what was given to us in the rest of the flick. Especially the acting. The acting? Definitely sub-par.

But, it’s one of those movies, at least for me. It was a marker, a milestone for me doing stuff. Yeah, I should have just been able to buy the ticket, and it would probably still have had the same memorable quality as that “first”. But it was maaaaaaaybe better that we had to sneak in. We all still looked young, despite being old enough: Hell, we probably still referred to those around us as ‘big kids’ or “little kids”, and counted ourselves among them. It was fun sneaking in, and I’m sure it made the movie better.

We never tried to up-the-ante and sneak into an “R” movie, either. Don’t get greedy, that’s the thing!

It’s strange. Very few movie outings these days are “memorable”. You go, see the movie, leave, and forget about it. But the ones that hit me, were really good.

The Gate, obviously.

Nightmare on Elm St. Freddy’s Dead IN 3-D! was awesome, at least partly because of screaming girls, and pretending to have the car die on the way home.

On Elm Street.


The first Fast & the Furious movie. Partly because it was free, and really, really, really loud, but also watching the really young’uns leaving the theatre, thoroughly incapable of driving safely.

The Mist, which has not aged well, even in three or four years, but at the time, was what I thought a Stephen King movie was supposed to be: it captured EVERYTHING about that story brilliantly, and all three of us (Jay, and I) were just boggled by it as we left.

Pan’s Labyrinth did the same thing. Partly because it’s a brilliant movie, but also because it was free. And also because of watching someone walk out of a free advance-showing of a movie because “I ain’t stickin’ around to READ a movie! I hate to read! They should tell you that before you come into a movie!”

LOTR Fellowship of the Ring, because, after fifty years, we (my brother and Dad) found a fantasy story that not only did my mom enjoy, but desperately wanted to know “what happened”. All three of the LOTR movies were marker’s for me, because they were a family event, we looked forward to it (always boxing day, for three years) and after we got mom into the first one (“Oh, I’ll go. But it’s not my kind of movie. But it’s a family thing so I’ll go” to “YOU HAVE TO TELL ME WHAT HAPPENS” which was answered with “Go read the books or wait until next year” and was followed with my mom beating my brother and I with whatever was at hand. Ok, that last bit is made up, but you get the idea)

The memorable ones aren’t memorable because of the movie. They’re memorable because of how they make you feel, and who you’re with when you see them: because of their ability to bookmark a moment in your life. And they don’t do that often anymore. Mostly, they’re consumables. And don’t get me wrong. There’s a place in the world for movies as consumables: things you enjoy in the moment, but don’t stay with you. But that spirit has to show up sometimes. They can’t all be defining moments for you, for sure. But some of them should be.

I wrote most of this, here, pretty much everything before this line, in fact, in May. Never got around to posting it! Since then, I’ve seen a few movies: the latest Fast’n’Furious; Thor; Drive Angry In 3D; Priest; Cowboys & Aliens; you get the picture?

The one that got me, though, was Super 8. Super 8 is a throw back to those movies that get you. There’s a lot that feels like them in it: The cast is fantastic, the writing is good, the pacing works. Is it a simple movie? Well, yeah, it is. And it’s not as… naïve.. as a lot of movies used to be. It channels, witout being, a bunch of those movies.

Which ones? Well, The Goonies, for one. There’s something of the ‘kids vs adults caper movie’ to it, as well, things like BMX Bandits, and to a lesser degree, Hackers. A lot of people have compared it to E.T., but I don’t think that’s actually a fair comparison. There’s far more violence in it than E.T.: and while the government cover up has a similar vibe, there’s actually a lot more validity to what the government is doing in covering the situation than in E.T. for whatever reason (telling you would be a major spoiler!) There’s some Stand By Me in there too.

But don’t think for a second that Super 8 is those movies. Those are at best comparative: more, for me to write about it, I’ve got to be able to tell you the feelings that the film drew out of me. And for the most part, it’s very similar to the feelings that those movies got from me.

Temporal setting was important too. You couldn’t make Super 8 in a modern setting. It’s all about, not only the naivety of the seventies and eighties: a naivety that I don’t think most kids have now, but it’s about a lack of communication. All the kids in it, today, would have cell phones and internet connections: they’d be making digital high-def movies themselves, not waiting for 8mm film to be processed; they’d be CONNECTED, and a huge part of that flick is being disconnected. They do something I’ve not seen in years: they communicate, bedroom-to-bedroom, via walkie-talkie.

Super 8 is, in a phrase, what I loved in a summer movie as a kid. I don’t think it’ll ever be a classic. It might. But I doubt it. Classics are few and far between these days: a movie lasts weeks, at best, in the theatre, and if it doesn’t get to number one in its first weekend open? Then it doesn’t get to number one, and that’s that. Gone are the days where word-of-mouth makes the second weekend bigger than the first: we already know (the commercials tell us) that the movie is a blockbuster and everyone loves it, before it even opens.

That was the other thing with Super 8. I skipped all the lead-up. I miss the days where you went to see a movie based on a thirty second spot on TV, that maybe, maybe you’d see twice, and seeing the poster up in the theatre. Now, by the time you sit down in the theatre to see the movie, you already know the plot, you know who the bad guy is, you know who all the primary players are, you probably know the twist, and, something that’s disheartening and becoming more and more common… you’ve already seen the climax in the trailer. Trailers which, I might add, are now approaching double-digit percentages of the movie they’re promoting, in terms of length.

Do we need to be spoon fed that much?

But Super 8, they at least waited until the week before, from what I saw and read, to really give up some details. It ‘felt’ older than it was. Once I figured out that it was going to be one of those, to use a terrible, turn-off of a phrase, nostalgia-inducing movies, I switched off. I actively avoided all the promotional materials, reviews, trailers, and changed the channel when a commercial came on. Because I didn’t want it spoiled for me.

Keep in mind, it wasn’t as bad as most: but if I’d have watched the material, I’d have known was going to happen. And I don’t get that. I don’t know when it happened, but at some point, the audience appears to have told the producers and marketers that they don’t want to be surprised: they want to know what they’re getting ahead of time, completely. It’s like North Americans going to Japan, and eating nothing but McDonalds, because it’s familiar. “I wanna go see foreign places, as long as they’re just like home and I don’t feel uncomfortable or out of place”. I don’t get it. What’s the point?

Super 8, I managed not to be spoon fed. And it was far better for it, I think.

And that’s the thing. Movies have taken one further slip, I think. They’re at best product, rather than entertainment (and there’s a difference), and at worst, they’re simply commercials. See the movie of the videogame and comic book and toys, oh, the glorous toys! (sidenote: the toys are rarely glorious these days, either) It used to be the ‘things’ supported the movie. Now, the movie is simply often just a vessel by which other products are sold: a gimmick, a label to put on things so that they can be sold and consumed. More and more rarely, movies are made and sold as movies. Oh, it happens, but that’s the land of art and drama, which are sold less as entertainment, as well, and more as high-brow product.

You can go to a movie, switch off, and enjoy it, without buying the video game, or the toys, or the fastfood-related-bonus-item. Just like you can go to a movie and enjoy it AND think at the same time.

But they don’t appear to want you to.

And what it means is it’s very unlikely we’ll see another Poltergeist, or Real Genius. And I don’t have a lot of hope for the reboot (and how I’m starting to hate THAT phrase) of FrightNight despite the new cast they’ve tapped.


2 Responses to Going To The Movies

  1. Pingback: Tis The Season. « Life, the Universe, and Everything

  2. Jaimie says:

    I went in to Super8 unspoiled as well, and loved it all the more for that.

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