Saturday, December 31, 2011

A thousand trips to the movies

I keep track of a lot of personal movie-related statistics, many of which I've discussed here before.

One of these is the number of movies I've seen for the first time in the theater.

Last night, that number hit 1,000.

The movie that took the title was David Fincher's Hollywood remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. It narrowly edged out Albert Nobbs, which has garnered buzz for Glenn Close's portrayal of a 19th century woman passing as a man. Of the two of these movies, Tattoo was the one that interested me more. But Nobbs was finishing a one-week Oscar-qualifying run in Los Angeles last night, and I thought it would be fun to take my opportunity to see it in time to rank it with this year's films. (It doesn't open wide until January 27th.)

I have actually been to a movie theater more than 1,000 times in my life. There are 20-25 movies I've seen in the theater more than once. But as of last night, it's 1,000 different movies seen in the theater.

What's interesting to note is how that number compares to the number of movies I've seen total, which is 3,422. Movies seen on video outnumber those seen in the theater by nearly a 2.5 to 1 margin. I guess for the average person, it might be much higher, since I prioritize getting out to the theater more than most people do. (Then again, I also watch more movies at home than most people do, so maybe the ratio would be about the same.)

But my 1,000th theatrically screened movie was only one of several blog topics that came to mind about seeing The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo last night. Here, I've created subheadings to discuss the others.

Setting the mood

I picked a perfect night to see The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. I suppose it might have also been a thematically appropriate night for Albert Nobbs, if Nobbs were set on the Scottish moors rather than in Ireland.

See, we had perhaps our foggiest night of the year last night. When I walked out of the house to leave for the movie, the landscape was suffused by fog. Not just a mist, but thick, mashed potato fog. Something that seemed to be a perfect complement to the wintry Swedish atmosphere I'd seen in the trailers for Tattoo.

This was the scene as I drove to the theater, listening to the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo score on my ipod, hooked up through my car stereo. (I don't have the Albert Nobbs score -- strike two, Albert.)

I'm a huge Nine Inch Nails fan (as I've discussed ad infinitum, it feels like), so Trent Reznor's scores (composed with Atticus Ross) for The Social Network and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo have been right up my alley. Except I was having an extremely difficult time getting into the Tattoo score, seeing as how it is a whopping 39 tracks in length, and actually exceeds the movie's 158-minute running time. In fact, I'd been trudging through a bunch of atmospheric ambient noise for 26 tracks in the week before Christmas, before I stopped listening and failed to continue. Last night I finally picked back up, and it was just the right time to do so -- the last ten tracks or so of the score are phenomenal.

The car ride to the theater was only long enough for one or two of those tracks, but then I switched from car speakers to headphones as I listened to the rest, walking up Sepulveda Blvd. to the Howard Hughes Center, where my 8:15 show of Tattoo was scheduled to start. The fog enveloped everything in a surreal quality that was matched by the ethereal music pouring into my ears.

How to shave $3 off the price of your ticket

And why was I walking up Sepulveda to get to Rave Motion Pictures, the theater in the Howard Hughes Center? Because I've decided that the $2 surcharge to see movies at this theater is no longer something I want to pay.

Rave Motion Pictures -- nee The Bridge, or Cinema du Lux at The Bridge -- used to be the crown jewel of the Los Angeles theater scene. When it opened in I wanna say 2003, it was state-of-the-art in modern adult theatergoing, with fancy screening rooms and a fully stocked upscale bar. However, since then, it has been eclipsed by other new crown jewels, making it sort of the Skydome of new theaters. (That's a baseball reference, referring to the state-of-the-art stadium in Toronto that was initially heavily praised for being new and modern -- before a slew of cozy postmodern stadiums made it seem archaic.) But even though it is no longer a destination that would bring in moviegoers outside of the local area, it still has great screens, and is still one of our top few choices for where to see new movies projected in grand scale.

The only nuisance is that the ticket prices are bumped up by $2 for the flat parking fee you have to pay to park in the Howard Hughes Center lot.

And you pretty much have to pay it, because there's no free lot within what most people would consider easy walking distance.

However, I am not most people.

Last night I parked down the hill on a side street, leaving me a 10-12 minute walk to get to the theater. Honestly, I don't know why this hadn't occurred to me earlier. I guess it's not possible to do this when you're rushing to get to the movie on time, but the 8:15 showtime of Tattoo was timed perfectly to allow me the luxury of a gradual arrival. It allowed me to put our son to bed just before 7 and eat a quick dinner, and still have time to get to the theater early enough not to pay for parking. In fact, I hate that more movies don't start between 8 and 9 o'clock. In this case, Tattoo was playing on two screens, meaning there was a much greater likelihood of a starting time in this range. That's really the way to go -- see a movie at a theater where it's playing on multiple screens, and you can find that elusive start time.

However, it was a calculated risk. Although Rave Motion Pictures does have some theaters with assigned seating, the lion's share of them are old-fashioned free-for-alls. You have to get there early if you want to avoid sitting in the front row. And because I couldn't select my seats online -- a great way to tell what percentage of the seats have been sold -- I had no way of knowing, when leaving the house, whether I'd be walking into a near sold-out situation. (That's where I shaved off the other buck -- not buying the ticket in advance, and therefore saving the $1 handling fee. If you aren't buying an assigned seat, what's the point of purchasing in advance?) And since this was a screening of a much-buzzed-about movie that had only been out for eight days, during the prime evening hours in the week between Christmas and New Year's, there was a good chance I was setting myself up to fail.

Fortunately, when I arrived at 7:45, there were not large numbers of people teeming outside the ticket window. Shortly afterward, I discovered that the movie was only 6% sold at the time. Score. It might have been a bit sad to see the movie with less than 10% of the seats filled, so I'm glad to say that they were at least a third occupied by the time the movie started.

What's more, I really enjoyed that walk. Not only did I continue to listen to the score on my ipod, but I approached the Howard Hughes Center from a different angle than I ever approach it. It was cool to see the building's various neon features glowing behind a haze of fog, and I even got to take it all in while riding an external escalator. (It's the simple pleasures, you know.) If I'd parked in the lot, I would have been pretty much inside the building the whole time.

So, did I like it?

Yes indeed. It was by far some of my favorite cinematography of the year, and Fincher created exactly the mood I was hoping for. And as you've heard, Rooney Mara is a revelation.

Still, I have some complaints that may be inextricably linked to the source material. Both in the original Swedish version and in this version, there are story aspects that I think don't have the affect Stieg Larsson intended them to have. (A strange comment to make about one of the most popular books of the last decade.) I'll leave that comment vague for those who haven't seen it, but I guess I will never be a truly devoted fan of the story that's there, meaning that the potential impact of any film adaptation is going to be somewhat limited from the start.

For what it was, though -- quite impressive.

Now, bring on the next 1,000 trips to the movies. I just hope that 1,000 theatrical visits from now, people will still be going to a thing called a movie theater.

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