Jul 7, 2007

IHX: The Audience Is Now Reading

Hello. My name is Irrelephant, and I'm a home theater snob.

I didn't used to be. I used to go to movies in the theater just like everyone else, ponying up my ever-increasing ticket price to see the latest blockbuster or epic sci-fi movie, lead on by ever greater movie budgets and bigger, flashier lists of stars, or drawn in by the promise of another foray by a favourite director. I love movies, you see, much like millions of my fellow movie-goers.

One of my fondest memories is of sitting in a plush seat in the balcony of a real movie palace, watching Star Wars: A New Hope unfold before my wondering, science-fiction-struck eyes. There is something magical about a theater, about the huge blank silver screen, pregnant with possibilities, and the quiet hush of people around you, all their attentions and their anticipations focused on the same screen.

Except that's not how it is anymore.

Nowadays you go to the movie theater and if you're lucky and timed it right it's a matinee so you're only paying $6 a ticket instead of $11. And if you're smart you snuck in a huge bag of drinks and candy and popcorn because if you stop at the concessions bar you're going to end up paying $15 for a "Value Deal": a 20oz drink that's mostly ice, a 2' tall bag of popcorn covered in thin yellow grease and a nice big box of Break It Off In Ya And Make You Like It.

And if you've given yourself enough time you'll find your way to your seat, perhaps a nice center seat, midway between the front and back of the theater, centered left to right, the "sweet spot." When the movie starts the projectionist will play the "Please, no talking during the movie" and "Please turn off beepers and cellular phones" clip that's so old it's more scratches than film, but it'll play every time. Now, is it just me or is that not common sense? And yet you'll hear a dozen or more phones making that scale of decreasing beeps as they're shunted down from Level 7 (Fur Elise/Blow Your Eardrums Apart) to Level 1 (Vibrate Your Bottom.)

As the movie starts you'll have to watch a commercial or two while three teenage boys thick in hormonal sufferage wander in with their desperately anorexic girlfriends and decide to take the seats directly in front of you. There they can and will talk very loudly about the new spoiler that they just installed on the other's lime green and pink Dodge Neon, the one with the the rims that cost more than the car did and the muffler that makes it sound like a chainsaw with tuberculosis. And they will continue to do so with great relish throughout the movie.

As the movie starts you'll hear from the jackass who didn't see the "Please Turn Your Phone Off" warning clip because right in that quiet lull in the incidental music the theater will be filled with the tinny, 16-bit tones of the latest pop song, taking you right out of your connection to the characters dealing with their unfolding plot. And he'll tell them he's in a movie and hang up, only to have another group of his people call. This will happen throughout the movie.

When the first big peak of the movie comes and the surround sound is hammering at your body and you're gripping the seat arms with a white knuckle grip the two infants front row left will start wailing and screaming, startled awake by the sudden increase in volume. And the loving parents who brought their tiny babies to a horror movie start make sushing noises and rock the vibrating newborns which of course doesn't work but do they leave? Of course not! They might miss an important plot point!

You know, I have a fondness for making things more comical than they are when I write about them, but when the wife and I went to see "1408," the new John Cusack/Stephen King horror movie ALL the things I just listed above happened during that single movie. All of them.

And that was the last straw, theater owners across the state. No more. I quit. I won't darken your doorway nor bless you with my currency any longer. I've got a home theater, and I'm now an exclusive user of same.

I used to work for a home theater dealer/installer, and loved the lifestyle. I'd read the magazines hungrily, staring at the multi-million dollar installations that stars and glitterati were getting built for themselves, mini replicas of those picture palaces of bygone time. I'd carefully price subwoofers and THX certified monoblock amps and center channel speakers the size of a car door, and I'd bemoan my fate.

But, with time and careful competitive shopping and a fair bit of legwork learning about home theater equipment I built my own 5.1 surround sound home theater system. George Lucas isn't about to drop by the house and put his Jedi Seal of Audio Approval on the system but it does have enough power to rattle the windows when it's riled up. Equipment by Paradigm and Sony go into it's composition, nothing Wal-Mart level but certainly not top end, it more than fills my movie-goer's needs and my budget. The couch sits dead center in the sweet spot, and if I want popcorn the "pause" is one button away on the remote and the kitchen is twenty steps behind me. I can turn off the ringer on the house phone if I really want to, and I can guarantee that I won't be auditorially accosted by punk kids and their sagging bluejeans. And if things work out, well, maybe in a few years I can afford a widescreen tv, one of those lovely plasma jobs that's about as thick as a deck of cards and hangs on the wall like a picture.

Until then, though, I'm perfectly happy with my overweight 36" Sony Wega, my five Paradigm surround sound speakers and single subwoofer, my Sony DVD player and receiver and my subscription to Blockbuster Video's home delivery/rental service.*

And as for The Grand, the local 12 screen multiplex? You can keep your stadium seating and your forty-foot wide screen and your cellular phones and your mouth-breathing, inconsiderate jackasses with their screaming infants and their complete lack of consideration. I'm willing to wait one more month for new movies to arrive in my mailbox so I can avoid those aggravants and watch in the comfort of my own home, on my own theater that fits comfortably in my living room.

You know, your popcorn isn't all THAT good, either.

* If your curious about building your own home theater, here's a rough guesstimate of what I paid for the equipment some six or seven years ago. And keep in mind that this equipment is STILL going strong and is perfectly capable of eye-poppingly beautiful pictures and ear-caressing sound.

2 Paradigm "Titans" (R & L channels): $230
1 Paradigm "Titan" center channel: $110
2 Paradigm rear surrounds: $160
1 Paradigm PS-10 powered sub: $250
Sony DCP-NS725P DVD/CD player: $150
Sony STR-DE625 receiver: $300
Sony Wega 36" "S chassis": $400
Assorted Monster A/V Gold RCA cable: $ 50

Having my own home theater system I can truly enjoy and be proud of, with equipment that's just as good for critical music listening as it is for blasting "Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan" at neighborhood rattling/ear bleeding decibel levels?

Damned straight it's priceless.


Jean said...

I understand your wrath perfectly.

p.s. you have been meme-tagged :)

Scott from Oregon said...


you just got old...

I did too

Gotta love netflix

Schmoopie said...

I went with the MIL to my first movie at a theater, in over a year. I was reminded of why very quickly. I do not understand why people go to the theater and insist on talking and kicking the backs of the seats throughout the whole movie. It sucked out loud. I am with you. I will wait for the dvd to come out to rent.

Irrelephant said...

Jean, I always wonder about how so many of us can be so offended by so few. *lol*

Scott, you said a mouthfull. At two months shy of 40 I really feel the difference at times.

Schmoop, I utterly refuse to go back to a theater. "Common courtesy" is such a sadly forgotten thing, and is certainly not common.