The New York Times recently reported that a multiplex near Seattle will actually encourage moviegoers to use their smartphones. Owners of the 2000-seat theater, scheduled to open in 2014, hope attract younger audiences who desire a “digital-friendly environment.” It’s a contentious move to say the least, but is it, as the theater’s executive director, called it “the wave of the future”?
I won’t even begin to address the complicated legal implications of this issue. Instead, I’ll speak from the point of view of someone who attended a Christmas night screening of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button behind a crying baby and a horde of texting teenagers (what’s worse, they were texting each other). Now that I’ve had a few years to put things in perspective, I have to say I preferred the baby. He cried for only a few minutes. The teens, however, were flashing their screens, screaming at each other (because the bleep-bloops of their phones weren’t annoying enough, apparently), and generally being jerks for the majority of the film’s 166 minutes. (They were eventually asked to leave by management.)
As a certifiable film geek and college film major, I firmly believe there’s a reason the lights are dimmed at the beginning of the movies. Sure, it makes the screen physically easier to watch, but it’s also to encourage moviegoers to escape their outside worlds, suspend disbelief, and allow themselves to be enveloped by the experience. Not only will the flicker of phone screens physically degrade the quality of the movie-watching experience for everyone involved, the inevitable presence of brrrings and chirps will be rage-inducingly distracting.
The shroud of darkness in theaters also serves as a silent reminder: “It’s not about you.” If audiences are spending the entire movie wrapped up in their rightthisminute tweeting and Facebooking, they’re making it about them — in the worst way possible. Whether filmmakers fall into the auteur category (Scorsese, Spielberg, Tarantino) or simply serve as purveyors of blood splatter porn (Eli Roth, Tarantino again), they make films for audiences to experience on an almost otherworldly level. How can moviegoers interact with a film, find elements of themselves in it, and revel in the thrills of, for example, a particularly well-executed impaling if they’re actively disengaging, pulling their eyes and minds from the screen every 30 seconds?
If that’s too theoretical for you, ponder this: Imagine watching Memento or Avatar while tweeting, Facebooking, or texting. In one you’d be utterly lost, in the other you’d be missing out on the meticulously constructed details that made the film so thrilling. Then again, TV has already gone interactive, and kids these days are more able to multitask than ever. Perhaps this sort of dynamic environment is where the movie experience is going. As for me, I’ll enjoy the moments of silence we have left until 2014.
Okay, PopWatchers, I’ll stop trying to take Andy Rooney’s recently vacated place on the soapbox and turn this conversation over to you. Are you a smartphone junkie who desperately hopes this trend will take off, or do you think movies should be a safe haven from technology?