Arts & Culture News

First Trip to the Movies in 6 Months Reminds Us Why Watching Movies Together Is Better

The Alamo Drafthouse Richardson's Wednesday night screening of Bill & Ted Face the Music included some footage from the NES game based on the first film Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure.
The Alamo Drafthouse Richardson's Wednesday night screening of Bill & Ted Face the Music included some footage from the NES game based on the first film Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. Danny Gallagher

It's been six months since I've seen a hit. My addiction runs deep. It goes back to the earliest days of my childhood when my parents would take me out to get my fix.

The movie theaters have been closed for just over six months and ... wait, did you think I was talking about drugs?

Movie theaters have been closed for just over six months, and I've been dying to go back to the theater. Movies aren't worth watching if you can't see them in a darkened theater.

I've been trying to replicate the experience at home ever since the coronavirus forced us to stay indoors, wear masks and yell ever louder at the TV when we flip past CNN. I moved my speakers to the farthest and highest corners of my living room. I tried to block out any semblance of light except for the saturating glow of my television. I threw popcorn and gum on the floor. It still wasn't the same.

Movies work best when they're a communal experience. You're forced to sit in a seat and stare straight ahead at what's in front of you and you can't make any noise or look at your phone unless you're one of those people who pray for beatings on a daily basis. It's a collective explosion of emotions and feelings. You're all enjoying the richness of a story (or lack thereof, I'm talking to you Cats) together.

Some movie theaters started reopening last week with strict safety guidelines and I set up a ticket for the first available night because I've been dying to go back. I scored a seat at the Alamo Drafthouse in Richardson for its pre-premiere screening of Bill & Ted Face the Music starring Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves, something I've also been wanting to see but was dreading the thought of having to watch it at home.

I knew I wouldn't be able to truly enjoy it because I have the voluntary attention span of a fruit fly on Jolt Cola. A movie theater experience is basically an anchor for my wandering eyes and hands. Even if the movie is good, I just know I'd find myself endlessly checking my social media to make sure one of my witty and socially pointed posts were getting the likes and retweets they deserve like I'm some of kind of digital Bostonian socialite in the Algonquin Society who can't go home until they've gotten more laughs than that insufferable Robert Benchley.

One of the nice surprises happened as soon as I arrived. I could actually park near the front without waiting for a spot to open up. I wouldn't have to hold up a line of angry moviegoers while a sullen teen takes forever to pull out of their spot because they're Snapchatting a friend about how big of a douchebag Eddie Chang was in Crazy Rich Asians

As soon as I'm inside the lobby, an employee greets me, asks me some questions about my health and takes my temperature with an infrared thermometer. There are piles of disposable face masks, but I'm wearing one. I remember that detail vividly because even before I got in my seat, I was obsessing over how to wear the thing without it fogging up my glasses. Once I figured out that I could keep my glasses clear by folding over the top, then I started obsessing over how I looked like a guy who's such an irregular fit that he even needs to buy his masks at a big and tall face store. The movie couldn't start fast enough.

The Drafthouse is known for serving meals and strong drinks during its presentation, but according to the latest safety guidelines, all meals would have to be ordered in advance. And since I'm the kind of guy who worries about his fat face turning his face mask into some kind of mouth thong, I didn't have to worry about remembering to order food.

I won't review the movie except to say that it's awesome. It's something everyone should see because of its characters' ability to create comedy without heaping on mountains of Bill Maher-grade cynicism, something we desperately need in these times of snarky attitudes and perpetual worry. You know things are bad when concepts like "Be excellent to each other" seem like a huge reminder of something we should have remembered as a species.

Everyone laughed at the right parts and it felt like we were experiencing something as a group again.

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The most enjoyable parts besides the film were the reminders of why I love going to the movie theater. The crowd was smaller than usual because everyone was spaced out, which in a way is nice. I could stretch out a little and I didn't have to play Ultimate Elbow Wrestling for control of the armrest. Even so, everyone laughed at the right parts, and it felt like we were experienced something as a group again. We were letting a movie have an effect, and it felt so comforting and wonderful.

Maybe that's something we've forgotten how to do since we've had to be so isolating and so mad at the people who stubbornly refuse to do so. Every time I see a crowd of meatheads partying on a Miami beach, I want to toss a Molotov cocktail into my TV screen. Even though I can't forgive their ignorance, I can understand our stubborn need to be around people, especially in a movie theater.

The movie theater industry may be in tumultuous times, but it will never die because movies are always better when we watch them together. They create stories of that time we all jumped in our seats and screamed like banshees during the scariest parts of Paranormal Activity or cackled like drunk children so hard that we couldn't control our intake of liquids during the opening scene of Super Troopers.

We go to see movies because they are momentous events that can't be replicated even in the most state-of-the-art home theaters.  
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Danny Gallagher has been a regular contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2014. He has also written features, essays and stories for MTV, the Chicago Tribune, Maxim, Cracked, Mental_Floss, The Week, CNET and The Onion AV Club.