I know my column is supposed to be about television… but lately, when I go to the movies, I feel like I am still in my living room, watching TV and being inundated with advertising.
Now I love commercials. The other day I went to a screening of the funniest British commercials of the past year or two (no, it wasn’t in Milwaukee, so don’t even bother looking). In fact I think of commercials as a clever post-modern art form that grasps the immediate mentality of American culture more so than any other medium. A barometer, if you will, of political and cultural sentiment that could later be studied and analyzed for both good and evil. I’m even looking forward to Sunday’s Super Bowl specifilly for the commercials. (As well as an excuse to eat junk food and get drunk early in the afternoon.)
However, I accept these ads—hell, embrace them—because I’m not paying a red cent to watch TV. But when I go to see a movie and shell out $8-10 for a ticket, plus $40 dollars for a diet Coke and $700 for a small popcorn, it seems obnoxious and unreasonable to make me sit through a series of commercials before I even get to watch the previews. I remember complaining about this YEARS AGO when there were only one or two ads before a movie. Yesterday I counted four… and none of them were even film-related! (Sure Fandango and Moviefone spots are irritating, but at least those have something to do with what I spent $748 to see.) But watching ads for Mitsubishi or Aquafina or Coke is just uncalled for. And it takes up like 20 minutes of time that could be better spent fighting traffic to get to the theater or napping or intoxicating oneself before the show or at least taking the time to find a clean pair of pants. Or, hell, watching more previews. I love trailers and I’d gladly sit through eight consecutive promos for some bad Julia Roberts romantic comedy or crappy Ben Stiller romantic comedy than another ad for a car company or water or goddamn soda. It’s really only a matter of time before they start showing ads for Valtrex or Xanax or Zoloft too -– “Are you in the theater alone because you can’t deal with the harsh realities of the outside world? Or maybe because you’re super itchy down there and need to scratch yourself in the dark? Take this pill…”
Now I understand that movies cost more and more to make each year and then everyone else has to up prices of this and that to recoup losses beuse Tom Cruise gets over $20 million a picture and George Lucas has to spend more money on computer graphics than script writers or extras—which, ironically would probably cost less and conversely make those horrible Star Wars prequels less painful to watch. But why do I have to be the one who suffers? I don’t see movies with Tom Cruise or robots or Will Smith or Julia Roberts or even The Rock. Why do my pretentious art films that cost next to nothing to make (comparatively) have to have the same amount of crap added to the beginning as those which cost billions and billions to make (and are essentially extended vehicles for product placement anyway)? Can’t theaters force the unwashed masses who want to suffer through another crappy Renee Zellweger movie to sit through ten ads so that I only get one? (Or better yet, none?) At the very least, n’t they show the actual time of the movie starting next to the listed time? Or possibly offer a discount ticket for those who are willing to sit through the ads vs. those of us who will not. (I’m just thinking out loud. Please, please, please Mr. Marcus, Mr. AMC, Mr. Capitol Cinemas 12 … do not raise ticket prices again.)
I’m not saying my time is that precious. In fact, it’s probably less important than yours. But I am poor and thus have to spend my dollars wisely. And I really do not enjoy getting roped into watching commercials against my will. So, my fair public, I suggest you revolt in my name and let me know when I can go back to cinema again. Meanwhile, I’m going to stay at home in my pajamas and reacquaint myself with my old friend Netflix. (God bless that DVD fast-forward button!!)
(From February 3rd, 2005)