Like many Americans and fellow Sci-Fi fans, I gave into the collective pressure of seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens on opening weekend. Not the day of release, but on a rainy Friday afternoon, while I was on vacation in Tampa.
Due to the tremendous amounts of promotion and hype leading up to the film's release, it was virtually impossible to get tickets on opening day. In fact, if you hadn't pre-ordered your tickets at least a month in advance, chances are you weren't going to get into one of the first showings because the lines at major theater venues across the country went around the block.
My original intention was to see it on Christmas Day or December 30, at one of the early matinee showings. My concern was that if I waited too long the plot of the film would inevitably be spoiled by all the social media and news I regularly read.
So what did I think of the movie? I hated the experience, not so much that the film didn't meet my expectations -- although I felt the plot was somewhat predictable, re-hashed and the acting was superficial and weak -- my main issue was the movie-going experience itself, which I'm sad to say has worn on me.
First, let's start with the fact that going out to see a movie these days takes up a significant amount of your time. Unless you live in a major metropolitan area with good public transportation, you need to drive to a theater. If you're lucky you live near a multiplex within 15 minutes of your home, but not everyone does.
Because there were only two IMAX 3D venues near us in the St. Petersburg area, we had to drive 40 minutes from where we were staying. We ended up at the Carmike Muvico 19, in downtown St. Pete, which is located in an upscale shopping plaza.
Then you have to park -- the parking garage was across the street but that takes another 10 minutes to get that sorted out. If you're lucky the movie theater or a local restaurant will validate it, so it doesn't cost you a dollar an hour. But you have to factor lunch or dinner into the cost of the overall experience, as well as the extra time it knocks out of your day.
If your theater is located in a mall, there's the extra aggravation of having to compete for parking, which could take a half an hour. Add in a busy holiday season for a major film release and you've already started to raise your blood pressure ten points.
Now you've gotten to the movie theater itself. If you are smart, you'll have bought your tickets in advance and can actually pick out your seats, or you're going to end up waiting on line and end up either in the nosebleed or the Mr. Magoo section, or off to the side where you'll be freezing your neck into place for two hours.
Smartphone apps like Fandango will help you reserve your tickets and seats, but they take a surcharge for this privelege.
Each IMAX 3D ticket cost me $22. $44 for me and my wife.
So now you are in the movie theater. Your next hurdle is the outrageous cost of concessions which is where most movie theaters make most of their profits.
My wife and I can't drink carbonated drinks or eat popcorn, and I also know better, so thankfully I won't get taken for this anymore. But many people will. How do you say no to kids that want their soda, popcorn and candy? Few parents will resist.
All of the above you have to contend with before getting into your seat. Now you're in your seat, where the variables that are mainly outside of your control come in.
Movie theaters in general have gotten wise about more comfortable seating. Some chains even have more premium options such as having large motorized recliners as well as waiter concession service.
But not every theater has comfortable seats, and frankly, when you are dealing with a two-hour or even longer movie, you're going to want to get up and go to the bathroom or just stretch your legs.
At age 46, I'm embarrassed to admit my back starts to hurt when I sit down for long periods of time, and I'm probably in the best shape now that I've ever been in 25 years.
So if you get up and go to the bathroom you're missing out on the film. Yeah, I know all about the apps that tell you when the best time to go pee are. I still want to see the entire film.
All of this stuff is par for the course. It has always been this way, but when you get older, you begin to tolerate this less and less. And frankly the cost increases, while not affecting me personally, I know has to be cost prohibitive for many families.
What hasn't been par for the course until recently have been the patrons that are increasingly rude and disruptive.
I'm not sure what has caused this. It's not even something that I would normally blame millennials for, because I have seen older folks whip out their smartphones in the middle of the film, which causes major distraction.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens wasn't a great film, but what made the experience truly awful was the person sitting next to me, a woman in her mid-50s who literally would not shut up. Several people asked her to be quiet, but to no avail. Every pivotal scene was ruined.
Maybe this person thought it was Mystery Science Theater 3000 night. I don't care, I was pissed.
So what do you do in a situation like this? I considered my options and vacillated between getting up and confronting the person face-to-face, or storming out and alerting the management.
Option A in the State of Florida can have dangerous consequences. Option B is bare minimum going to result in a scene if the patron does not want to be removed, and potentially, the same consequences.
If you're lucky you've only raised the level of disruption and ruined the film for everyone else.
So I just sucked it up and cursed under my breath. I waited until the end, where I went with a few people to guest services and we demanded our money back. It took some convincing, as I outlined the potential for disaster above as my reasons for not coming to them earlier, but we all got our gift certificates in the end.
I don't want to deal with any of this aggravation anymore. There are so many better options now for watching films, as long as you are willing to be patient, or if the IMAX 3D thing is not that important to you.
Movie fans now have their choice of pay-per-view streaming services, between iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, XBOX and a few others. And if you are willing to wait a year or longer after a film's release there's Netflix and Amazon Prime.
Large screen, high quality TV sets and surround sound systems have never been more affordable. And for personal viewing, an iPad, Android or Windows-based tablet coupled with a good pair of headphones can also be a pleasurable movie watching experience as well.
There's tremendous advantages to this. First, the films are far more economical to watch this way. Second, if you're dealing with a rental or pay-per-view, you typically have 24 hours to watch the film, and you can view it multiple times during that window, so if you and your family want to see it, you all don't have to watch it at the same time.
Miss a bit of dialogue due to a chatty kid or a phone call? Need to get up and go to the bathroom or grab a snack? You can rewind. Heck you can turn on the closed captioning if someone's speaking in a weird accent.
Make your own snacks. Make your own dinner or order delivery. You don't need to pull your car out of the driveway, deal with traffic and fight for a parking space. And the only people you need to put up with are your own family -- and even that is optional.
And is there really any better way to watch a film than lying prone on your couch, while propped up against a big smooshy pillow? I think not.
I'm done with movie theaters. How about you? Talk Back and Let Me Know.