Is This Yesterday’s Amusement?

I suspect we’re seeing the demise of the movie theater as a preferred family entertainment source in America. Consolidated Theatres could not have picked a worst time to spiffy up its Kahala Mall property.

We’ve been the world’s most enthusiastic and well-supplied movie country since that first cinema opened in 1905 in Pittsburgh. It was called the Nickelodeon —— nickel for the cost of entrance and odeon the old Greek word for theater.

The interior of the first movie theater in America.

Currently, there are about 40,000 indoor theaters in the U.S. and about 600 drive-ins left — mostly in rural areas. That might be yesterday’s news.

Along came large-screen, high-definition TV sets, affordable at Walmart, Costco and Best Buy. Along came Netflix, HBO, Amazon and Hulu. Disney and Apple would jump in late but with very competitive pricing.

Mainly, along came Covid-19. Theaters were closed and nobody seems anxious to get back in one so long as the virus remains alive and infectious. So people started streaming movies on whatever TV sets they had. Hey, this wasn’t so bad! You could have your own cheap food and drinks (not the pricey stuff Consolidated plans to sell at its new Kahala digs) and pause the movie whenever you needed a bathroom break or another beer, and the price varied from $7 a month to $9 a month to watch a movie every night if you wanted. Such a deal! We pay more than that for just one Consolidated movie!

Why would you want to go back to a movie theater ever? TIME magazine probed the future and said:

Even before the pandemic drove us all indoors, the big theater chains were expecting a significant drop in earnings for 2020. They’ll have to find a way to keep afloat, even as the industry that churns out the very products they show has come to standstill. And there’s no doubt that smaller, independent theaters are in grave danger. Their future is the real wild card in this equation: If too many of them die off, the loss to people who love movies, in communities big and small, will be incalculable.

Another take I found on the internet made this case:

I love seeing faces big, on the largest screen possible. Show me every pore! Also show me the subtlest curve of a smile, or a flash of exasperation or joy or anguish reflected in a giant, projected iris. But also put someone next to me, possibly a stranger who might be getting as much of a thrill out of the experience as I am. Even if he smells bad, I will take him. Though if he tries to use his cellphone, I’ll ask him nicely to put it away—because, buddy, this is not your living room. Nor is it mine, thank God.

Here’s my own pro and con offering. I was able to pay $7 for a one-month trial of Disney+ streaming and I used that to watch Hamilton twice! Yes, with the original cast and uncut. However, I tried a free week of Apple TV just to watch Tom Hanks in Greyhound. That was a bummer, obviously made on the cheap (except for Hanks’ salary) with a single set resembling a destroyer’s bridge and some really hokey anti-submarine sea-combat shots seemingly put together in a bathtub.

“Every drop of water in the movie is digital,” director Aaron Schneider said. “Anything you see out the window or over Tom’s shoulder. In fact, most of the fire is digital, too.”

My wife’s critique matched that of FilmWeek’s critic: “I didn’t learn enough about the characters… I would have felt more emotionally invested.”

So yes, we’ll get a lot of streaming crap such as Desperados and Stateless. But also some flicks you missed in years past at the cinema.

The latter makes my $9 a month worthwhile.


Published by Bob Jones

Journalist since age 19. St. Petersburg Times, Noticias y Viajes in Madrid, Overseas Weekly in Frankfurt and Paris, the Louisville Courier- Journal, the Honolulu Advertiser, KGMB-TV, NBC News foreign correspondent in Africa and Southeast Asia, and MidWeek columnist. LL.B LaSalle University Law. 3 years in the U.S. Air Force. Covered: Vietnam War, Iraq #1 in 1991. George Foster Peabody Award for distinguished journalism for reporting in China. Married to Denby Fawcett, one daughter. Brett Jones.

6 replies on “Is This Yesterday’s Amusement?”

  1. As for the empty theater buildings? How ’bout homeless shelter/service centers?

  2. It’s great fun to watch a movie on a big screen with a large audience of strangers who laugh at the jokes and jump at the surprises. Unfortunately, too many ignorant and selfish people seemed to think they were still at home and would act accordingly, talking throughout a film, putting feet up on the back of the chairs in front of them, constantly checking their phones, leaving trash on the floor, and otherwise acting like trash. Even at Kahala.
    The annoying stream of advertisements before the film was also a bummer. People used to loudly boo when theaters started that crap, then it eventually became “normal” and accepted.
    It’s too bad the wonderful old Hawaii Theater downtown couldn’t seem to get it together to show great classic films that would draw civilized audiences. I’d pay a premium to watch “Ben Hur” on a big screen in a movie palace, even if I had to dodge ranting zombies outside to get to the car.

  3. I must say the theaters with the leather recliners are really nice and comfortable. I used to go on Tuesday when admission was $7.00 and the popcorn was half price. It was a nice affordable outing. However, now when the theaters reopen they will require patrons to wear a mask which ruins the experience for me. I will go when it is safe and masks are not required.

  4. … and also along came the iPad. I’ve been binge watching the Australian series “Offspring” from Netflix after I go to bed. My iPad is light and easy to hold while I watch with lights out. Rather satisfying, actually.

  5. I do not know how you come up with $9.00. My Hulu with Disney Plus is $12.99. My Netflix is $12.99. My Amazon Prime is $12.99. When you add the tax this is over $40.00. Thank goodness that I clean my own house and do my own yard work. Even though I have only a small Social Security check I remember your column that it is a small lifeline of money. I understand that Mitt Romney Wants to shrink our checks. Then I might no be able to afford these services. My lifeline will be severed.

    1. I pay $9.00 (locked in for now) for Netflix. I used a special one month Disney+ price so we could watch Hamilton and then cancelled it before the full price set in. I got one free week of Apple TV in order to watch Greyhound and then cancelled. Our Amazon movies are covered under our family Prime account which we use for online purchases.

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