In Defense of the Popcorn Movie

by Glenn McDonald

21 January 2008

Wanna get me off my DVD-lovin' couch and into a movie theater? Then gimme the movies that make me feel like a 14-year-old.

Sometimes I pretend I’m Jason Bourne.

I’m not proud of this; I simply state it as fact. Something about the Bourne mythology—amnesiac superman assassin—appeals to the 14-year-old in me. (This happens all the time. Me and my inner 14-year-old are pretty tight.)

There’s a lot to like about this fantasy. As a man without a past, I have no real obligations or responsibilities to others. I am A Man Alone. An Island. A Rock. Plus, as a highly trained, impeccably conditioned, elite international assassin, I can kick anybody’s ass. I am ridiculously capable and adaptable. Quick on my feet. Intuitive. Deadly.

Unfortunately, my day-to-day routine is not nearly as exciting as Bourne’s. Rather than racing a motorcycle through Tangiers, I ride the bus in a sleepy college town. I tend to dodge creditors and telemarketers more than enemy operatives. I only have one passport (which I can never find, anyway), and I seldom, if ever, make out with Franke Potente

As such, I’m forced to filter my Bourne fantasy through the rather pedestrian reality of my surrounds. Like the other day, I was at the mall…

I come in here, and the first thing I’m doing is I’m catching the sightlines and looking for a coffee place. I can tell you the name of all six matinees playing at the cineplex. I can tell you that the chick at Cinnebon is left-handed and the teenage mall cop sitting up at the cosmetics counter weighs one hundred fifteen pounds and knows how to handle himself. I know the best place to look for an empty bathroom is the lawn and garden department at Sears, and at this hour of the morning, I can run flat out for 150 feet before my back locks up. Now why would I know that? How can I know that and not know who I am?

Clearly, the Jason Bourne character has gotten into my head. The Bourne movies may be the best action franchise ever, and for my $8.50, Bourne Ultimatum was the best movie of 2007. This is controversial, I concede. Juno, There Will Be Blood, No Country for Old Men, Michael Clayton, Atonement, Into the Wild. There can be no doubt that 2007 was a year of truly great films. Perhaps you sense I am leading up to a point. Indeed I am, and it’s this: Of all these great prestige films, I didn’t see a single one of them in the theater.

It takes a lot to get me into the cinema these days. Something in me snapped a couple years back. The relentless advertising, the ridiculous prices, the bombastic trailers that are either full of spoilers or completely misleading. Even the local art house joint has been letting me down. Last movie I saw there, the projection bulb was noticeably dim, and the projectionist misframed the reel so that the boom mike was visible in half the shots. Made me crazy.

So now I’m the guy that exhibitors are most afraid of—the guy that’s decided to move to DVD and home theater more or less exclusively. I just don’t screw around anymore. When there’s a serious film I really want to see, I wait for DVD. I have a decent TV and sound system now, and staying home gives me more control, more flexibility, and it costs less. I can toggle on the closed captioning when I want it, rewatch scenes, and access the bonus material immediately. What’s not to like? For serious films that I really want to pay attention to, it’s all about DVD.

That said, I was in the theater first night for Bourne Ultimatum. Also, I Am Legend and Harry Potter.. I’ll be there again for Cloverfield. The terrible truth is that only the big, badass popcorn movies can get me to buy popcorn, anymore. Movies where I really want the big picture, the big sound, the “event” feeling that going to the movies can so ably provide.

Legend, in particular, is pretty frickin’ boss on the big screen—all those majestic shots of a decaying and empty NYC.  But I suspect it wouldn’t play as well on DVD. Those cavernous plot holes and that ridiculous ending are easier to forgive in the theater, somehow. 

Cinema purists lament that this is the trend that’s going to kill the cinema experience. All the top-grossing movies are aimed at 14-year-olds, so studios are just going to make more of the same. Fine by me. All of this year’s Oscar noms could have been released straight to DVD as far as I’m concerned. Or even better, made available for instant viewing via cable or the Internet. 

For actually going out and paying $8.50, gimme the popcorn movies—the movies with the big effects and bludgeoning sound; the high concepts and the giant monsters; the boy wizards and superheroes and globe-trotting amnesiac assassins

Gimme the movies that make me feel, now that I think about it, like a 14-year-old.

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