Movie Theaters

Video: Exclusive–Inside Theo’s Dream Theater

A few months ago, we talked to Theo Kalomirakis about the theaters he was creating for his new home in Greece, including an outdoor venue that was a work in progress at the time. Aside from a couple of small touches, the latter space is now finished and in frequent use. Meant to evoke not just the open-air theaters that are common in Greece but his very first home theater, which he built on the balcony of his parents’ apartment in Athens when he was a teenager, the outdoor theater has a special importance for Theo. He’s even given it the same name as that first effort: Cine Katinaki.

 

Most people doing an outdoor theater would just buy a cheap projector and throw up a portable screen, but Theo has lavished the same level of attention on this space that he devoted to his indoor theater and that he invests in his private commissions. Cine Katinaki displays the signature design flair and carefully wrought details found in the more lavish works that established his reputation while retaining an unassuming simplicity that reflects its childhood origins.

An Epson 5050UB 4K projector supplies the image for a 12-foot custom-made steel-construction screen, with sound provided by a 5.1 Klipsch outdoor speaker system powered by an NAD T 758 receiver. The main source component is a Zappiti Mini 4K HDR movie player, which pulls movies from a Zappiti server in the indoor theater. Other content sources include a Roku Ultra, an Apple TV, and a Kaleidescape player with DVD drive.

 

Since we shot our video tour, Theo has installed accent lights to illuminate the retro ads to either side of the screen, 

pretty much bringing the theater to completion. And even though there are plenty of beautiful outdoor theaters for cinephiles to choose from in Athens—Cine Paris, for instance, features a dramatic view of the Acropolis—Theo’s Cine Katinaki has quickly become a much sought after movie-viewing destination.

Michael Gaughn

Michael GaughnThe Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review, Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs, a couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

A Different World

A Different World

The steady drip of announcements and events that could very well signal the demise of chain movie theaters continues unabated. On the heels of Mulan going straight to Disney+, the Tenet fiasco, and the latest Bond film being held until next April, we’ve now learned that Pixar’s Soul is going to follow the same path as Mulan, earning a Christmas release on Disney+; Dune is being pushed from Christmas to October 2021; and The Batman is being banished to the incredibly distant date of March 2022. And there’s speculation Wonder Woman 1984 could be going straight to HBO Max, which would be a huge change of strategy for Warner Bros., shifting from pretty much forcing theaters to reopen so they could lose their shirts on Tenet to dumping this once-prized ode to gym memberships onto a struggling streaming service’s anemic subscriber base.

 

In another major sign of just how much things have changed, there are reports MGM tried to shop the Bond film around to Netflix et al. in lieu of a theatrical release only to find there were no takers. Is it really conceivable the latest 007 could end up 

so tarnished it could find itself in the streaming equivalent of the bargain bin?

 

It’s time for the studios to relent and take everything else they were going to hang onto until, when, Doomsday? and send it straight to the home market—something they should have done six months ago. It’s not just about the economics. In a world that bears little resemblance to the one that existed at the beginning of this year, do they really expect these movies to resonate with audiences today—let alone half a year, a year, or a year and a half down a very uncertain road? We now live in an in many ways worse and in some ways better world, but undeniably one with only a few tenuous connections to its previous incarnation.

 

The whole sad and in some ways silly tale of Tenet and the movie theaters is just another example of the kind of bass ackwards thinking that’s pretty much determined how everything has played out during the pandemic. To state what ought to be obvious (but there’s little evidence to suggest that’s so): We need to rethink our priorities. The economy isn’t some independent organism that must be fed at all costs, but a man-made and -controlled (when we want to be responsible for it) mechanism meant to serve the needs of people. In other words, it’s nothing but an artificial construct, a tool, a means to an end. Hell, at this point, I’d be happy to see us go back to the barter system—even potlatch—if it would spare us the spectacle of more human sacrifice on the mass scale.

 

Tenet has, rightly, become the poster child for everything that’s hopelessly balled up about the present moment. Something never felt right about that whole exercise in denial—even beyond the manifest irresponsibility of urging theaters to reopen in the middle of a pandemic, and Nolan’s Olympian hubris of thinking his ridiculously expensive little trifle was worth risking even a single person’s life.

 

Tenet tanked not just because releasing it was a brain-dead business decision but because it had been built up so much by Nolan, Warner Bros., and IMAX as something that had to be seen in a movie theater, that, viewed in the context of a global crisis, it ultimately felt trivial.

 

We’ve come—I believe, stupidly—to make huge emotional investments in movies, and especially franchises, when they’re almost inevitably the products of children of privilege indulging their extremely stunted emotional development.

 

Movies, honoring the hipster mantra, have become little more than diversions, distractions, one-note confections able to induce enough of a sugar high to get you to crave the next one but never able to supply enough nourishment to be in any meaningful way satisfying, elaborate yet ultimately crude devices that qualify as entertainment only in the most primitive way, and never as art.

 

I might really be dreaming here, but I’m hoping the current 

upheaval proves to be the ultimate Kryptonite or Death Star or whatever and finally frees us from the tyranny of the superhero movie. No matter how pretentious directors want to get about them, at the end of the day, they’re inherently adolescent, silly, and, worst of all, fascist (Goebbels would have loved Gal Gadot), exhibiting all the overheated excess of a form of entertainment on the verge of collapse. (Which helps to explain why they tend to lean so heavily on kitschy Late Romantic retreads for their soundtracks. Mahler, R. Strauss, and Wagner were harbingers of the imminent demise of tonality.)

 

The studios are willing to commit so much money to producing superhero movies and push them so ferociously not because they’re more entertaining than other genres, let alone because they’re more edifying and profound, but because they more readily lend themselves to merchandising and video games and they help keep the populace in an uncritical state of arrested development. At the end of the day, it’s an economic and marketing decision and never a creative one—not even close.

 

Now, I realize that decades of indoctrination have led to a culture of fantasy über alles, but I’d like to hang onto a slim hope that recent events will shake us from our stupor and get us to realize that almost every mainstream genre we’ve succumbed to since the Reagan era—and this would include action films and other heedless celebrations of war—are ultimately forms of oppression.

 

Just to be clear: The last thing I’d want to see is a world awash in earnest little dramas without flair, socially-conscious efforts that ultimately just reinforce rampant intolerance, and ambitious epics that show no understanding of the rudiments of cinema—in other words, Oscar fodder. If we’re going to reinvent the movies, let’s really strip them down and rebuild them from the ground up. And just to show that this isn’t just some vague and abstract wish, let alone an exercise in nostalgia, I’m hoping to toss out a few suggestions for reimagining in a future column.

Michael Gaughn

 

Disclaimer: My views are my own. They represent neither the general position of this website nor the opinions of any of its other contributors, who I’m pretty sure don’t much agree with me about any of this.

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review, Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs, a couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

Ep. 10: What the Hell’s Going On with the Movies?

The Cineluxe Hour logo

After a longish hiatus, The Cineluxe Hour returns with a wide-ranging, freewheeling discussion of what’s been happening with new movie releases over the past year, and what that means for the movie theaters and for people watching films at home.

 

The episode opens with Cineluxe’s Dennis Burger, Michael Gaughn, and John Sciacca laying out the chronology from how the movie studios initially reacted to the pandemic through the decision to pull movies like Bloodshot, The Invisible Man, and Onward from theaters and offer them for home viewing.

 

At 9:35, John, Dennis, and Mike recount the events that led to the disastrous release of Christopher Nolan’s Tenet in theaters, and the impact that decision has had on other movie releases.

 

At 14:45, Dennis and John discuss their recent columns about Christie’s patent to allow theaters to send first-run movies to people’s homes.

 

18:37: How the pandemic has accelerated the decline of movie theaters and the flourishing of streaming, and how the theaters might not be able to recover.

 

20:25: How the proliferation of inexpensive high-quality big-screen video displays is allowing a much larger number of people to have a better-than-movie-theater experience at home. But John raises concerns that this could signal the end of the “event” movie.

 

27:15: Dennis discusses Disney’s decision to send Pixar’s Soul straight to Disney+ and to reorganize its company to focus on streaming.

 

31:30: Michael speculates that the world has changed so much over the past eight months that movies the studios have been hanging onto, like No Time to Die, The Batman, and Wonder Woman 1984, might seem out of touch and out of date by the time the studios finally release them.

 

And, lastly, at 34:07, everyone nominates their favorite older films that look exceptional after receiving a 4K HDR upgrade.

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Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review, Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs, a couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing for such publications as Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at @SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Disney Turns Christie’s Big Announcement Into Old News

Disney Turns Christie's Big Announcement Into Old News

In his story about Christie Digital’s recently announced cinema-to-home movie-distribution technology, John Sciacca posed a simple question: Is this “a good or bad thing for commercial theaters“? Not to be completely contrarian here, but I think that’s the wrong question. What I wonder is whether it’s relevant at all.

 

And look, I don’t mean to dismiss Christie Digital’s technology out of hand here. To get a sense of what that technology is, exactly, and how it works, I downloaded the patent application and read it from beginning to end. What’s found within is an explanation of some pretty cool tech. What the patent makes clear (and Christie’s announcement doesn’t) is that this new distribution method won’t require the use of Christie hardware on both ends. From the patent:

As described below, these systems and methods provide a hardware based technological solution that enables the mirroring of movie theater content and the insertion of targeted advertisements to offsite locations and devices (e.g., a remotely situated projector, a user’s television or mobile device, etc.). 

In other words, once this new system goes live (assuming it actually does), you’ll be able to log into a website or an app on your phone or smart TV (or, one would hope, your streaming media player) and reserve a viewing of a film. According to images embedded in the patent, it should work just like buying tickets for a show at your local cineplex: You pick your movie,

pick your start time, then sit back and watch all of the attached trailers and promo spots for the concession stand that you would see if you were actually sitting in your local IMAX, along with a few additional ads targeted at home viewers.

 

The one extra step required (if my reading of the patent is correct) is that you may also have to select your playback resolution, as it says 4K streams may cost more than 2K streams (each of which, by the way, would be transcoded to Ultra HD [3,840 x 2,160] or HD [1,920 x 1,080] resolutions from 4,096 x 2,160 or 2,048 x 1,080 to account for the differences between digital cinema and home video formats).

 

While a cinema can have any number of “virtual” screenings, and while they don’t necessarily have to be tied to the start times of in-person screenings, the schedule of these streams will still be dictated by the cinema. So, hypothetically, if you want to start watching Dune at 7:45 and your local cinema is only streaming it at 6:30 and 9:00, you’re out of luck. (There is, buried in the patent, a provision that would allow cinemas to reserve an Integrated Media Block [IMB] and Secure Content Transcoder [SCT] on their end for single-ticket VOD purchases, but I hesitate to speculate what that luxury would cost. At least in terms of server and hardware commitments on the part of the cinema, that’s effectively the same as letting you rent out an entire auditorium, since you and you alone would be consuming the output of one virtual screening system.)

 

If all of this had come out a year or two ago when we were all still speculating about how day & date would work, you could have easily argued that Christie’s solution to first-run movie-viewing at home was the simplest and most likely to succeed.

 

Fast-forward to this dumpster-fire of a year, though, and it all seems too little too late. We’ve already seen day & date work, and it doesn’t require this convoluted Rube Goldberg reliance on someone at your local cinema pressing a button that allows you to start watching at their convenience. We’ve seen films like Onward hit Disney+ as well as other digital platforms like Kaleidescape and Vudu. We’ve seen Bill & Ted do the same. We’ve seen movies like Enola Holmes go from being prospective commercial cinema tentpoles to Netflix exclusives.

 

While we’ve seen so many potential blockbusters get pushed back and back and back again, we’ve seen others—like Hamilton—get moved forward in the release schedule and dropped right into our laps at home. And, of course, there’s Disney’s risky gamble with Mulan, which reportedly paid off big-time. So much so that the company is restructuring its media and entertainment divisions and doubling down on its commitment to streaming as the future of cinema.

In other words, Hollywood has proven to us that commercial cinemas don’t have to play a part in a viable film release. The fact that they continue to do so with certain films is a choice, pure and simple. And much like this country’s broken private-medical-insurance scam, it’s a choice that doesn’t benefit the end user in the slightest, instead benefiting only the racket-like middleman we’ve all been conditioned to believe is essential to the process.

 

When things finally go back to normal, or when we finally arrive at a new normal, and are able to safely attend mass gatherings, I have to wonder if audiences will return to commercial cinemas in anything approaching the same numbers as before. Sure, the pathological extroverts will flock to those sticky floors, busted speakers, and overpriced concessions like moths to a flame, since their own laughter and cheering is meaningless to them unless a few dozen of their closest strangers are there to affirm their emotional reactions. And it would be unfair to overlook people who don’t have high-performance AV systems at home. They benefit from a trip to the local megaplex, as well.

 

But the rest of us have been to the promised land, and we’ve learned from experience that the horse-and-buggy method of film distribution isn’t necessary anymore. And I just don’t see many of us tolerating the vestiges of a dying model (locked-in start times, forced commercials, etc.) when we know it doesn’t have to be that way. You can’t blame Christie for trying, since they have a vested interest in the success of commercial cinemas. But all of this seems to me to be a solution to a problem that doesn’t have to exist.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

Is Christie’s New Patent a Theatrical Lifeline or Another Nail in the Coffin?

Is Christie's New Patent a Theatrical Lifeline?

We’ve been covering the dire circumstances surrounding commercial cinemas here at Cineluxe for some time. From the slow and methodical release-date pushback of summer blockbusters, to the eventual anemic, dismal rollout of Tenet here in the States (where I personally rented out an entire theater to watch it), to the numerous direct-to-streaming releases, to the PVOD experimentation by various studios, to Disney’s subscription-within-a-subscription trial with Mulan, to the nearly complete evaporation of any Christmas blockbuster releases—which ultimately led Regal Cinemas (the second largest chain in the US) to shutter all its cinemas in the US and UK, and then AMC (the largest chain in the States) recently announcing it could run out of cash before the end of the year—we’ve kept abreast of it all.

 

For theater owners, the hits just keep coming, and they’re all terrible. (Who would have guessed that Bond’s 00 ultimately meant he was licensed to kill a theater chain?)

 

Here at Cineluxe, we love movies and experiencing them in the best manner possible. And if you have a state-of-the-art Dolby Cinema or IMAX near you, watching a movie on a giant commercial screen can be an exhilarating experience. I think I speak for all of us when I say that, while I love watching movies in the comfort, safety, and convenience of my own

home theater, I also don’t want commercial theaters to fail and have the opportunity to have that experience go away.

 

With that preamble, Christie Digital made an announcement on Thursday (10/15) that I’m not entirely sure is a good or bad thing for commercial theaters. The company had been issued a patent “on September 22, 2020, which enables exhibitors to stream movies directly to [a customer’s] home using their current technologies in a way that supplements their existing business model.”

 

It’s interesting to note that while this patent was issued recently amidst all of the crises the theatrical-distribution model has been facing, Christie actually filed for the patent back in 2018, so it wasn’t a kneejerk reaction to recent events. Also, it seems you could certainly read something into the fact that the company held making this announcement public for nearly a month, perhaps not wanting to pile on more potentially perceived bad news for theater owners.

 

This patent means that by using Christie’s patented hardware and software packages, along with the company’s streaming and networking products, its cinema partners can “deliver content over IP networks to those at home in real time, directly from the cinema to the sofa.”

 

After a “we have to say this”-feeling intro in the press release about how much the company loves the cinema, how great the commercial experience is, and how the company hopes to see more people returning to the theatrical experience, Christie executive VP, Brian Claypool, added, “We are under no illusions as to the many challenges that exhibitors face. This technology enables exhibitors to securely show customers premium cinematic content on their own terms, opening an additional potential revenue stream, in these difficult times. Offering premium content direct to consumers is now a reality and Christie’s patented approach places the dynamics of when, how and for how much that content is made available to consumers directly in the hands of exhibitors to decide.”

 

Instead of the direct-to-home PVOD streaming where the studios keep all the revenue and commercial cinemas are completely cut out of the equation, this appears to be a potential lifeline thrown to theater owners, allowing them to not only have cinematic releases they can show to any butts they can get in seats but also capitalize on streaming titles for those who don’t want to have the commercial experience.

 

Also, since most commercial cinemas’ revenue comes from concessions—especially during a film’s opening weeks where the revenue sharing is heavily swayed in the studio’s favor—how much this would actually help cinemas is unclear. Even with them taking some piece of the streaming pie, would this option just further cement people’s habits into staying at home instead of venturing out, ultimately killing the theaters in a death by a thousand cuts?

When, in what form, and at what cost and availability this hardware/software package will arrive is also unclear. The announcement did mention “working with Christie’s integrated media block,” which is a Digital Cinema Initiative (DCI)-compliant device that ensures end-to-end security of the theatrical digital content, and said “the system will distribute high-value content to streaming devices that comply with Christie’s strict security and quality specifications.”

 

Whether these “streaming devices” will require new, proprietary hardware or could be software incorporated into something as mass-market as an AppleTV or Roku is unknown.

 

Kaleidescape is certainly known for its robust storage and data encryption—as well as having a safe-and-secure movie store for delivering high-quality digital content now supported by every major Hollywood studio—but whether Christie’s solution could be adapted and approved for use on Kaleidescape hardware is also unknown.

 

With the words “streaming,” “networking,” and “switching technologies” used in the release, it is even possible this might include something that doesn’t just sit on the network but that possibly is the network, where Christie would be in charge of the content and data stream at the router level.

 

Any concerns over quality were addressed in the release’s final paragraph, which stated it will support “from compressed H.265 streams at 4Mbps to uncompressed 8K at 120Hz at 100Gbps, with unprecedented performance and zero latency over affordable Ethernet components.”

 

That “when, how and for how much” these titles will cost is “in the hands of exhibitors to decide” would also likely result in a wide range of pricing and availability variances. Also, it’s important to note that just because Christie was awarded a patent, it doesn’t mean this technology will actually be developed or that any studios will sign off on its use with their films. However, this announcement certainly represents another piece in the constantly evolving and ever-changing landscape of film distribution, and how all the players involved are looking to adapt.

John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing for such publications as Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at @SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

The Movie Theater is Dead–Long Live the Movie Theater

The Movie Theater is Dead

I realize that’s a really obvious—even dopey—title, but how many chances do you get in a lifetime to write something like that and actually have it be true?

 

There’s been such a delicious, grisly irony to events as of late that it all has a premeditated, End Times kind of feel.

 

The most over-hyped director in Hollywood irresponsibly insists on having his film released in theaters—and it becomes possibly the biggest tentpole turkey of all time, causing the movie theaters, operating at a loss, to go sour on the other new 

films waiting in the wings. In fact, Tenet tanked so badly that Warner Bros. finally blinked and opted to not send The Witches to theaters but straight to HBO Max instead.

 

Then, when MGM decided to hold the release of the next installment of the seemingly interminable Bond series for another six months, the owners of the Regal chain, sensing that the latest Wonder Woman dumbshow likely won’t be enough to sustain them until then—assuming it even makes it to theaters—decided it’s time to close their doors, maybe forever.

 

Like it was all that hard to see any of this coming. And like it wouldn’t have been a lot more responsible—and possibly profitable—for the studios to have sent their theatrical slates straight to the home market—like, to the place where people are actually watching movies instead of to the place where they wished they were watching them. (Disney made that work, big time, with Mulan—but why would they want to listen to Disney?)

 

You have to feel bad for any lower-echelon people who might be losing their jobs because of all this, but civilization did just fine in the wake of the arrival of the automated loom, and there’s no reason to think this will be any different. But you can’t feel bad for the owners of the theater chains. They had all done a lousy job for decades of making their properties suitable for actually watching movies. And when they finally woke up to the threat posed by radically improved home viewing, it was way, way, way too late. All the pandemic has done is accelerate the inevitable.

 

But I don’t want to dwell on that very steep downside because the future, oddly, couldn’t look brighter. That is, if you’re talking about the future of watching movies—and about the future of movie theaters, if you’re willing to call any home space that can match or exceed the experience of a commercial cinema a movie theater.

 

As I was writing up a review of The Shining to post later this week, I realized we’ve reached a tipping point with luxury home cinema. We’ve all sensed this coming for a while, and we’ve frequently documented the various developments here on the site. (Vide the sidebar to the immediate left for a sampling.) But the proliferation of big-screen displays capable of cinema-level performance, the 4K release of what would have normally been theatrical titles straight to the home market, and the rush to meet the increased demand for home viewing by upping catalog titles to 4K HDR has created a world where having a movie-theater-quality experience at home is shifting rapidly from being the exception to the rule.

 

As the rise of that market continues to accelerate, you can expect to see the number of older titles receiving the 4K HDR treatment accelerate as well. Sure, every new format has meant seeing the studios shine up their catalogs so they can trot them out yet one more time. But no previous format could match that movie theater experience. This one can. And that changes everything.

 

Both the gear and the playback have gotten to be so good that even putting together a basic system for a secondary room can result in performance that can at least match your local theater (when it’s open). And what you can achieve with a professionally engineered and calibrated system can blow any commercial theater out of the water.

 

We do need some commercial theaters, but only a few, and 

only as revival houses and for savoring the occasional (increasingly rare) film that really deserves a big, big screen. As for chain theaters, who needs ‘em?

 

At a time when it can be damn hard to find an upside to anything, we can at least look forward to a flood of titles once meant for theaters heading straight to the home, and an increasing profusion of older titles looking better than they ever have. All of it to be enjoyed comfortably, on our own schedule, and on a personal system that puts any cineplex auditorium to shame. As a temporary refuge from the raging nuttiness of the outside world, I’ll take that any day.

Michael Gaughn

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review, Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs, a couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

Coming Soon to a Theater Near You

Coming Soon to a Theater Near You

Time for another little thought experiment. Two weeks ago, the Justice Department had the 70-year-old law struck down that said movie studios can’t own theater chains. With the chains currently way back on their heels and their future looking dimmer than one of their overused projector bulbs, the timing of the decision couldn’t be worse—if you own a theater franchise—or better—if you’re one of the unfortunates who has to patronize one of their theaters.

 

I think we can all agree that, while you can be eager to go to a theater to see a film, nobody ever really looks forward to going to the theater itself. We put up with them, but we don’t enjoy—let alone savor—them.

 

While chain owners, sensing their license to extort slipping away, have tried to improve the experience in recent years, all they’ve really done is attempt to adopt the virtues of a good home theater—ultimately just reinforcing the idea that you’re 

better off watching movies at home. In other words, by trying to make movie theaters more homelike, they’ve only made them seem more cold and corporate (and inconvenient and expensive) by comparison.

 

But what if, now free to pounce thanks to the recent decision, Disney decided to swoop in and snatch up one or more chains and turn the theaters into someplace you might actually want to go to, regardless of what’s playing? The company has demonstrated a kind of genius for processing great masses of people while making them feel like they’re being pampered. There’s no reason why that knowledge and experience and ruthless efficiency couldn’t be applied to bringing franchise theaters back from the dead.

 

I’m singling out Disney because, well, no other studio is really in much of a position at the moment to pull something like this off. To name just a few mitigating factors:

 

—Unable to get existing titles released or new ones into production, most major studios don’t have the cash on hand to execute something this big. Disney does.

 

—No other studio can deliver as many event movies, has enough diversity in its stable of franchises, or has a strong enough track record to single-handedly sustain box office for a large theater chain. Able to draw on its Disney, Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars titles—and whatever other franchises it gobbles up in the coming months—Disney does.

 

—Because the other studios don’t have as many event titles to offer, a theatrical run can’t deliver the same kind of promotional kick it would for Disney, which could use its theaters as a consistent springboard for building anticipation for, and actually selling, its films for home release.

 

—Sure, some of the other studios have theme parks and theme park-like attractions, but they’ve never taken them to the level Disney has. And, again, they

just don’t have the diversity of franchises and characters to drawn on. (All those decades of Imagineering have to be good for something, right?)

 

So I think we’ve firmly established that Disney is the studio best positioned to take advantage of this opportunity. But what exactly could they do to elevate theaters from depressing to desirable?

 

This is the easier part of our experiment, and an opportunity for everyone to play along at home. Imagine everything you like best about the theme parks replacing everything you hate most about going to a franchise theater.

 

—Instead of just having some bored employee standing around in a Buzz Lightyear costume because he doesn’t want to go scrub out the urinals, trained cast members could stage vignettes for the patrons waiting on line, themed to whatever’s currently playing.

 

—The food, beverages, and sweets could be unique offerings, similarly themed to the current film, instead of just some stale nachos tossed into a paper container with Darth Vader on it.

 

—A gift shop stocked with high-quality goods, again, tied into the film du jour with most of the inventory in constant rotation and staffed with people who actually know something about what they’re selling.

 

—A handful of high-end theaters are incorporating video walls into their lobbies, but what if every wall of the lobby was an 8K screen setting the mood for the evening by taking you deep into the jungle or to the bottom of the ocean or on a journey down Tom Hanks’ alimentary canal?

 

—And then there are the thousand other touches, from the signage—digital or otherwise—to the lighting to the colors to the seating to the fabrics to the attractiveness, professionalism, and basic decency of the staff—that the chains have traditionally bungled, opting for Vegas c. 1975 over anything that suggests taste, quality, or any kind of empathy for their patrons.

 

So, at a time when most people—including me—assumed the day was nigh when the theaters would be turning off the lights, padlocking the doors, and trying to sell off their digital projectors for scrap, there’s actually a possibility, however remote, that going to the movies could once again become an event as big as or bigger than whatever’s being shown and that we could be looking at a return of the local movie palace, executed with a boldness, ingenuity, and flair that would put their Golden Age forbears to shame.

 

Heresy, I know. But I can’t imagine a better time to dream.

Michael Gaughn

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs,
couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.