Watching a movie neednt be a reverential, iPhone-free experience. Think of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. AMCs experiment is just the latest innovation
Watching TV with a second screen is standard practice for many people nowadays one that networks encourage with the likes of themed hashtags and livecasting. We use our phones at concerts and sporting events; pretty much any entertainment, bar live theater, welcomes them. But use a smartphone in a cinema and its apparently sacrilegious.
When the new CEO of AMC Theaters announced this week that he is open to allowing cellphone use in order to ensure smartphone addicted young people keep buying movie tickets, the news was followed by a barrage of horrified people cursing impatient millennials for ruining everything.
Worse than the zombie apocalypse, tweeted one entertainment reporter, which seems particularly appropriate since The Walking Dead was celebrated as the most tweeted television show last year. The Atlantic called the cellphones in cinemas idea a nightmarish environment, Salon declared it a terrible idea and IndieWire reckoned it was another reason to stay home.
The melee was such that CEO Adam Aron later clarified on Twitter that only a few screens will be testing the new phone rules, since the company is aware that most people dont want someones iPhone beeping and flashing next to them while they regret paying to see Superman v Batman.
But going to the movie theater doesnt have to be like a visit to a holy temple. Maybe you want to search IMDB to figure out who that actress is because you recognize her from something else. Maybe you want to Shazam an excellent song from the soundtrack, or you want to give mini reviews on Twitter in real-time. Maybe you need to text the babysitter that youre going to be late or check if your friends want to meet you afterwards.
Last week I saw a very average movie at the cinema Born to be Blue, the Chet Baker biopic starring Ethan Hawke. The film was a snoozefest, and wouldve felt like a waste of money, but I had an absolutely delightful night out.
Thats because I went to a cinema in Brooklyn, New York, thats like a restaurant in a movie theater. People arrive early to get a good seat and order dinner. You write your order on a piece of paper and waitstaff come and collect it throughout the film. I drank a Born to be Blue-themed cocktail with gin, blackberry and thyme. Food is carried in and out, glasses are clinked and there is a small, unobtrusive light in front of each chair so you can easily see what youre ordering or paying for.
When the movie ended, people hung around to finish off drinks and chat with friends. If I wanted to watch a movie in reverential silence and darkness, void of social interaction, I couldve stayed home.
Theaters already know that the cinema can be an event beyond simply a movie showing on a screen fans have been watching the Rocky Horror Picture Show with costumes and accessories for decades. Many movie theaters, including AMC, offer in-house dining or special screens or chairs. But those are all still the exception rather than the norm. Allowing cellphones in certain screenings, in certain movies is just another reimagining of what a cinema experience can be.
Besides, if youve been to a cinema in the last decade, you know that people are already texting. Maybe theres a way to make that less obnoxious lets face it: the light is an annoying distraction. Maybe texting friendly cinemas, as AMC is promising, means seats are set up so that you see less light pollution from your neighbors. We dont know yet, because everyones too busy shouting down the idea before waiting to see if its workable.