Call Me Old-Fashioned, But Nothing Beats A Theatrical Experience

“Stark Raving Fan” is a column about one man’s love for all things involving popular culture – television, movies, and all facets of pop culture from here to there. Of course, it’s not the kind of love that unites a group of people like a bunch of hippies. More like the kind of love someone has when they’ve blown a gasket and have something to say. After all, aren’t we all just driven mad by fanaticism sometimes?

Every year I find ways to take breaks to recharge my batteries, soothe the aches and pains from my limbs, and keep my mental health as cracking as can be. Even taking a Friday or Monday off to have a three-day weekend still counts as something. I’m all for a breather at my age. Finding ways to use 176 allotted PTO hours a year not so easy. Going on trips requires money, making money requires working. Why, hello there, Catch-22!

Though, a week away by the sun and sand? Well, you don’t gotta put a gun to the back of my noggin. I’ve visited the Maryland shore for just about 25 years now. Well, there was one year where I came down for a whole day and turned right back around. Family vacations. Am I right?

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This year, we made the best of every sunny day. Wake up and sip on coffee, spend the day laying on the beach sunning ourselves and enjoying the surf, then spending the evening out and about before doing the same the next day. Ah, now that is the life! Of course, till the heavens open up and you go, shit, what do we do on a rainy day? Why, my most favorite of places – the movie theater. And this year, we indulged in Marvel Studios’ Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings.

Yeah, yeah, what’s the point to this rambling you ask? My point is, even spending a rainy afternoon inside a chilly theater snarfing on popcorn, nothing beats that experience. The crackle of the surround sound, the hum of the air conditioning overhead, a gaggle of people ooh’ing and ahh’ing together, huddled inside a space where you all share a collective imagination for a couple of hours. The theater is the Church of the Nerd to me.

Though, thanks much in part to COVID-19, this sacred practice has evolved into something different. Something far safer in parts, because people can’t be trusted still to this day. Now, instead of forking over your hard-earned dough to come together to watch a movie, you can sit inside the comfort of your own domicile to see the latest and greatest – for the right fee!

Call me an old fuddy-duddy, call me crazy, call me a dummy. (Oh, I know I’m a dummy!) There is nothing finer than crowding inside of a movie or drive-in theater to feast your eyes on the next big blockbuster. Curled up at home on the couch with a bag of zapped popcorn and the ability to pause for a pee break?

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There is something zen-like in going to a theater for me. The fizz that bubbles out of a freshly-poured fountain soda. The warmth of freshly-popped popcorn, gooey butter running to the bottom of the bag. The sounds of an audience collectively laughing, crying, thrilled and enthralled and emotional. To me, absorbing the latest on the big screen with a lively crowd is a feeling that can’t be beat. I’ve seen scores of new releases on opening night for years now, way before you could even pick your seats in advance. The midnight release of both The Avengers and Skyfall back in 2012? My synapses were on fire amidst that packed theater those evenings, a crowd overcome with a fervor that roared like crashing waves.

I guess maybe going to a theater brings out nostalgia in me too. The dimming of the lights, the hum of the projector, the sense of excitement in the air. As a kid, going to see movies in a theater was a real treat. Even seeing 1992’s Batman Returns at the tender age of 8, I remember that my level of anticipation was through the roof. As Burton’s film flickered onto the screen, I had such a grin on my cheeks. And, to this day, seeing the studio crawl to films I’m eager to see day one? I have that same grin. Watching these flicks with a crowd brings me a stupid amount of joy.

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Kinda like this at the right midnight screening – okay, a *LOT* like this.

COVID changed our paradigms on going out in public. Yes, I’m a man of science. And religion. But the science isn’t wrong with this pandemic. There are absolute dangers in being in confined spaces. Those who have COVID coursing through their bodies or are ill. No, you can’t just look at someone and know who’s contagious or not. The Delta variant of COVID-19 can cause more havoc on your body than the original strain too. No, I’m not a scientist and, no, this column certainly isn’t going to get preachy on you. The trepidation that many have in going back to a movie theater is understood by this movie nerd in full. The concerns that many people share? I relate. I work part-time in an essential business and know individuals who’ve experienced the worst symptoms – and lingering after-effects – of COVID.

There’s precautions that we can take to keep ourselves safe. People can still suck it up and wear a mask for a couple hours. (Some of us still do that when we don’t need to. It’s called being a empathetic human being.) Practice social distancing. Hell, wash your hands and cover your mouth and all those best practices. But at the end of day, because we can’t all be empathetic towards one another, we’re at an impasse. Do we just stay home to see new releases or brave our mistrust in those around us as we sit in a theater?

I would never call someone out and say, suck it up. If people desire to stay home and shell out $30 to rent a movie, then by all means – do what makes you happy. I’ve seen a handful of films in a theater this year and, I have to say, theater owners are doing all they can to keep crowds safe. With the relaxing in restrictions, sure, more seats are now open. Yet, I haven’t once felt uncomfortable around anyone. Not everyone will or has shared my views, though, and I would rather y’all be safe in the long run. Do what makes you feel guarded best.

I still feel like $30 is expensive to rent a movie to indulge at home…but I still also buy my movies on either Blu-ray or 4K disc too. But I’ll save that argument for another time. Please, do what makes you feel safe. Go to a theater. Or stay plopped on your couch. But don’t forget, movies are the escape we need to reset our mental faculties. That’s one experience that should never change from our routines. One day, whenever this pandemic eases, we can all reunite inside of a theater again together. But until that day, you can find me parked dead center inside my local cinema for new releases.

I mean – No Time To Die? Dolby Atmos? …yeah. No way I could ever watch that day one at home.

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